It began with artificial limbs. Helpful improvements, fully customizable with time, that helped people in the best ways possible. New mobility granted to the previously unable. Good being done in the world. That's how it started. People help people.
But that isn't how it stayed. We got greedy. We pushed further, and further, and battled nature to advance ourselves beyond the right of man. It was a struggle, a fistfight to be better, then to be the best, better than the best. Humans were the center of the world, our interests at the heart of all our advancement. Science was no longer about discovery. It revolved around the advancement of the human form, and anything we could do to improve that flawed item.
Us, us, me, me.
We eventually reached points where morals became irrelevant, because so many lines had been already crossed. Why stop now, when we didn't at Experiment 648,627—improving the life span of any who could afford it? It didn't matter anymore. So we kept going.
Science was beaten into a twisted, mangled shadow of its former self like a slab of iron—heated by the riots of the public, softened by the spirit of selfishness, hammered into a shape that it should never have embodied.
In retrospect, this path seems obvious, but isn't that always the case? We're flawed, and human. We don't see the repercussions of what we do—but those after us do, bright and clear.
I've been in both classes. I've made decisions, I've done things that lead no one to anything good. But I've had an advantage over my predecessors and 24th century colleagues alike: I've seen the effects, firsthand, of my actions.
Except, I can't stop seeing them. And every day, when I've dragged myself from the cycle of misery to once again don the hat of reason, I can't help thinking what a fitting punishment has been entailed to me.
I was just a child. A child, with the flame of enlightenment in my eyes. To be fair, nearly every child born in the mid-24th century had that same light. It was in the air, the atmosphere of excitement, and discovery—it was the atmosphere that nurtured us; it penetrated every little aspect of our maturing, our learning how to navigate our world and become people, how to contribute to our society. We were the Utopia Generation, raised so overwhelmingly into science that we were the batch, they joked, that would perfect the world—create the utopia humans have been hoping for since it had been lost with Adam and Eve.
I was born quite far from that. I was raised by a family above poverty and below middle class—we got along just fine, but without a surplus of extra funds. My parents were good people, both working hard to support our growing family. My mother was an intern at a monstrously sized scientific research facility. This entailed largely of retrieving notes and equipment, but she was humble enough to swallow it, and had plenty of opportunities to learn. If the walk back to her superior was long enough, she would examine the notes on her way, or she would try to puzzle out any equipment. Some scientists liked to talk for focus, which provided her with further chances to ask about what a set of previous notes had shown.
My dad was a full-fledged scientist a bit out of his league. He had had the misfortune of going into his career as science took several bounds of advancement, and unfortunately, my poor father could not quite keep up as a small, insignificant beginner. My mother tried to teach him about all the latest technologies and advancements of her job, and he in turn taught her the theory behind whatever he happened to be working on at the time. It was a beautiful balance that I watched every day with all the love and adoration of a child.
I didn't know until I was a bit older why they worked so hard. It was for me. I was their firstborn child, though certainly not their last, and was more costly to them than the others because of my one severe defect—the muscles in my calves had grown too short and thin for their respective bones, and crippled me effectively. They were saving up whatever funds they could spare, trying to get me mechanical, working legs, but unfortunately, every time they would amass any considerable amount, it was time for a new wheelchair—and there went the savings again.
So I remained innocent, unaware of what that money was truly for. I watched, learned, and grew, and perceived the order, the balance, between my two parents. I watched them work together, and I thought that the world could be no other way and be perfect.
But the world isn't perfect, as it cruelly revealed to my young mind. Disaster struck my house, in the form of a plague. No one had heard of such a thing in hundreds of years, and so it was able to strike when our defences were down, our offences nonexistent. That ancient medicine had been erased. Gone. We had better things now—but nothing that was meant to face a plague. And so, our semi-poor family was nearly last on the list to receive these medicines. I lost two of my six siblings, and to my far greater grief, my father. He was my role model, my hero, my whole world, and the day he died was the first day I began on the road to adulthood. Gone were my happy, young days. I had to work now, to support my family. My mother had retreated when her loved ones died. She locked herself in her room for days, only cracking the door when we begged her to eat food. At night, I heard sobbing.
Even good people had their limits, was the lesson I learned. And the world has a way of pushing one over those limits.
So, I went into the noble career of science, just as my father had, but at the ripe young age of thirteen, without a proper leg. It wasn't difficult to find a place to start: those my father had worked with recognized his kind, generous heart, and welcomed me into their midst with open arms. I started as an intern, just like my mother. I followed her lead, too; I examined whatever I could, took in everything, seized every possible chance to learn. I fought for knowledge, in the methods of my mother, but with the ambition of my father, encouraged by the desire to walk. And I rose through the ranks quickly. By the time I was fifteen, I was a full scientist at my father's little company. Eighteen, and I was running the place, supervising every project, lab, or experiment that occurred in the tiny company.
I continued to meditate on the world around me. That was one thing that didn't change with age. My mother went back to work a couple years after her tragedy and fall, but without that same zeal and enthusiasm that she had brought to her marriage. The balance of the world, as I saw it, was broken—how could a scale retain stability with one side weighed down by a lifeless body?
So as I grew in my skills as a man of science, I thought on how to restore equilibrium to the world in my own way. I experimented with anything I could get my hands on. It began with chemicals and rats and mechanics, and eventually I burst past those realms into studies of the human body—it didn't matter to me, at the time, whether it was dead or alive. I fixed my own legs, through hard work and research, instead of relying on someone else's innovation. Science was science, and I delved into it headfirst, with no intention of turning back. I wanted to be the hero who fixed the world, and so far, the only way to do that seemed to be through immortality. My family had been broken by death, and maybe I could make sure no one else suffered that fate.
So I deviated from my previous little experiments. I stopped trying to examine the pulses of rats, or to create a new machine to solve a smaller humanly problem, or creating new medicines to make sure another plague was never again able to scrape us from our earth. I focused instead on eternal life. If the only way for balance to come back into my life or to touch the life of any other person was the absence of death, then I was most certainly going to make such a thing happen.
It wasn't easy. The Perpetuity Experiments, as I so-called them, fought me on multiple occasions. At their very start, I was faced with the question of where to begin. What needed to be affected in order for my goal to become reality? What could affect that? In what aspect of our being lies mortality?
It started with a serum. If electricity could force movement, and the brain could manage that movement, all I needed was something to conduct electricity to the brain. Life. All it would take afterward was a little electricity. So, I made a serum. I tested it on animals, for the legality of executing primary experimentation on humans was yet dubious. I started with a fruit fly, as many of my contemporaries have, because the natural lifespan of such a creature is a month, give or take. My first subjects lived for 3 months, until I began stabbing the small creatures—a fate from which they did not recover. My potion had worked to extend the lifespan, perhaps into infinity if uninterrupted; however, it did not ward against violent attacks.
Hundreds, thousands more of these experiments occurred, growing by size of animal, until they at last passed the law. Humans were acceptable subjects for science; but only those who offered themselves. Largely this was the very poor, as most experiments offered money in exchange for participation. With this new movement, it became far easier for me to complete my experiments, and I set up a reward system for anyone who wanted to help me.
It was a small reward, but the foreseen risks seemed so small and the possible effect so great that I filled my laboratory with volunteers within the month. I was ready.
I had done so many trials on so many different animals that my serum was all but perfect. It had been prepared for this reason, and now was my time to let it fulfill its telos. I measured out a tiny amount for each person—they needed 25 milliliters per person, no more, nor less. And soon, every person in that laboratory was holding a small cup filled with sparkling, liquid, immortality serum.
I took a breath and stood at their head. This was a huge step for humanity. If this worked (and I hardly dared to let myself think otherwise), I would have made man eternal. I couldn't think of the repercussions of such a thing, except that balance could finally be restored forever to so many lives. So I stood, and I told them to drink, and as one, they did.
Then we stood there, me reveling in the glory of my seeming success, they a little confused, not exactly sure what to do or feel.
The first person fell within thirty minutes of the observation period. She screamed suddenly, convulsed, and collapsed. Those directly around her picked up her scream, and she was dead by the time I got there. I collapsed by her side, confused and dazed. It had worked so well…all the creatures I had used had survived—no, thrived. What had gone wrong? Maybe it was the—
My thought was interrupted by another scream as a man at the opposite side of the room followed his peer's suit. He collapsed, still convulsing, and died as he hit the floor, curled into a ball, screaming in agony. The other people around me began to murmur nervously, shifting and looking at me through suspicious, terrified eyes.
Twelve more died that day, and thirty-four in the night. I didn't cry—I was too stunned, too dazed, to cry. My serum had been perfect. It had worked for me thousands of times. This should not have happened. It was a rude awakening to my own flaws. I realized that humans were different from the animals upon which I had experimented. We had reason, for example. None of the small creatures I had previously tested could have even imagined eternity.
So I changed it. The Experiments fought me as hard as any great discovery ever had. By the time I was ready for more tests, one hundred thirty-two of my original one hundred fifty-four participants had died—ninety-seven in a fashion similar to the first two, and thirty-five by their own hands, so unable to stand eternity that they killed themselves.
So my next batch for testing would not have that option. Violent death had been a weakness to my science for as long as it had been in existence, but with this next batch of Experiments, I had taken that option out. When I stabbed the tiny flies, they healed—for that was what I added. Regeneration of the vital parts. If I stabbed through the heart of an experimental creature, the wound would scab up, that organ of beating life repair itself. All I had to do was add stem cells and enzymes. It took me a while to figure out, but finally, I was ready. I put out new flyers, I advertised for volunteers. After a month, I had received 2 applications.
I grew weary, and began to venture away from my laboratory and my home for the first time in years. I walked the streets, smelled the scents, watched the people and the sights. I stopped by a billboard for an update on the world I had neglected for so long.
On it, was my name, and the word "Failure." I stared for a minute, then read the article.
The main object of its interest was my previous failure at immortality. "85% failed, None succeeded." I felt my strength give way, and forced myself over to a nearby bench. Of course this was why I hadn't gotten any volunteers. Fear was a powerful weapon, and aimed against me, it had exacted more than its due. I buried my head in my hands.
I left. Went back to my laboratory. I never went back.
I knew my serum was safe now. I had tested it on creatures so great as monkeys. I had made sure that this time, I would get it right. This time, it would be better. I was smarter now, more mature.
But not even I could make this work without help. I posted more flyers—what else was I supposed to do? I even applied to my family and friends, promising over and over that I had gotten it right this time. It would work; I knew it. I showed them the calculations, the science behind exactly why.
All of them turned me down. The most painful was the rejection of my mother. She had gone back to work years and years ago; she had been on the road to recovery. But the moment I asked her, she grabbed my hands and sat down with me, her eyes already swimming with tears. "Son," she said in a hoarse whisper, "is this really what you want?"
"Is it what your father would have wanted?"
I paused. Had I ever really considered such? Would my father, if given the chance, have taken an offer of eternal life?
But only for his family. If on his own, I realized, my father would never have wished for such a thing.
I shook my head numbly. My mother nodded. "This is not right. You're so much older than you were, but you are still young to me. Darling, if you live long enough, you'll find the prospect of living forever gets to be very unappealing." I sat unresponsively. "Someday, I will get to see your father again—and that is a very beautiful thing."
I cried that night, for the first time in all the years I had been working.
I left home again the next day, with no luck and no new volunteers. For the last so many years, the years I had spent on this project, I had lived essentially from my laboratory. That is what I consciously resolved to do now.
There had been a reaction to my latest fliers. The people were protesting, waving flags, beating on my door. I asked them what they were doing, and a man from the crowd immediately recognized me. "You killed my daughter!" he screamed. Rocks were thrown, and bits of metal found along the street. A particularly sharp piece hit my cheek, and I stumbled inside as quick as I could, turning the lock in the midst of flying fists and heavy objects.
Then I was inside, and the lock again set, and safe. I looked around. Most of my lab had been empty of actual equipment for some time. It had all been packed away and stored while I waited for help. The only thing left out on the counters, of course, was the serum.
No one was going to help, but I still needed to know. If it worked, I could go out and spread the word to that mob. They would be able to beat me all they wanted, and I would survive. And if the serum didn't work, how much of a loss would there even be? The mob was hoping for my death anyway, my mother felt she had lost me. I was alone, and my only purpose lay in this potion that I had spent decades of my life developing. This was it.
I downed 25 milliliters of my serum.
And it worked, or I wouldn't be here to write this now. It worked in a technical sense, but the potion changed me. I became angry, depressed, anxious. After that original generation died out—my generation—I kept the truth from everyone. I feared what they would think, and I was too weary for their judgment.
I let myself become ruled by my emotions—because when you have forever, what else is there? I became helpless and miserable.
The worst part was watching my family die. When my mother passed, she held my hand and stared me in the eye. She whispered that she loved me––no matter what.
I couldn't help but think that I had never made her proud.
Her last breath gave way to my third tear-soaked night, the first of a long line. After that, each consecutive death was slightly easier, but painful enough that I learned to stay aloof, not get attached. Instead, I spent my time watching. Learning. I watched scientific ideas and theories come into and exit out of power. I watched the people, how they changed with each year, decade, century. I watched, and I learned, and I meditated upon what I saw.
I figured out how narrow-minded and simple my idea of balance had truly been. Death was the balance. Death gives way to new life, just as the life cycle, as it is taught in young schools, preaches. Of course the answer wasn't eternal life—I was now a forever blemish on the face of the world. I had no purpose, no being, no cares. I had forgotten my name a long time ago.
I tried killing myself, slashing so hard and for so long that I hoped maybe the serum would wear off, or not be able to heal that last one. It did. It came through. I had succeeded. And eventually I came to think of it as my punishment—for killing those first one hundred fifty-four, for being prideful enough to go up against the mob, for consuming myself in my goal so completely that I lost sight of my motive, flawed from the start.
I became a myth, a legend, but that served its purpose. I was okay with that. My fate serves as a warning to each generation I've watched, and I have yet to see a headline of successful immortality since my own. I have yet to meet someone with the weight of eternity in his eyes. So it remains, just me, and the world.
I live on as a warning, and this is my tale. Heed it, live life one day at a time, and you just might find yourself with a life to live.