When results of the voting come in, and when we announce the winner, it is the most special occasion around here. We yield our site to pure fiction, imagination, and literary talent. We yield our journal to the future of medicine.
First of all, we would like to thank Mr. Aaron Rubin from ScrubsGallery.com, a sponsor of the competition, for offering the prize, an Apple IPhone. We would like to thank the honorable judges that joined Medgadget editors: Allen from GruntDoc, Steven Palter from docinthemachine, Sydney from Medpundit, and Enoch Choi from Doctor Geek, M.D.. And most of all, we would like to thank all the talented authors who submitted their entries, for their wonderful imagination, for their original thoughts, and so many well-written entries.
And now, the moment of truth… The winner, is A’Llyn Ettien with a story called Immigrants, a tale of ethical dilemmas of child bearing and parenting in the potentially bleak realities of the future.
The first runner-up writes under the pseudonym Phredd Serenissima, who submitted an amusing, imaginative story that takes you for a fun ride on a tricycle alongside an anti-socialite of the future.
The second runner-up, who uses the pseudonym Lane Billaes, tells an old tale of perils of immortality with a modern nano-technological spin.
UPDATE: For your convenience, you can print all three stories and have them on the go.
UPDATE: The winner A’Llyn Ettien tells us about herself:
I live and work in the Boston area, and am in school for a Masters of Library and Information Studies. I’m taking a class on health librarianship this semester and am fascinated by all the cool tools available for accessing and presenting information. (I’m getting my degree at the University of Alabama, through real-time online classes, speaking of cool technology.) As part of the class, our professor has us reading medical-related blogs, both with and without library connections, to get a sense of the healthcare culture online. I’m learning a lot and am really enjoying the class and the reading (though it’s dangerous because when reading blogs is part of your homework, that’s way too good an excuse not to get anything else done!).
I was reading GruntDoc one day, saw the announcement about the contest (I wasn’t reading MedGadget regularly at that point), and decided instantly that I had to enter. I love science fiction! I love writing! ”m studying healthcare information! I’ve dabbled in writing sci fi on and off for a while, and have had three little stories published here and there on web-zines, so aside from librarianship, science fiction writing is my secret love…
Best contest ever!
by A’Llyn Ettien
“Hm… caffinex blue, double stim,” said Rin, flicking her finger to scroll the menu down the table, and tapping her selection. “You?”
“Good, but no stim,” said Liena. Rin looked up in mild surprise, and Liena, feeling herself flush, laid her hand on her stomach.
Rin’s face went still, with the carefully expressionless look she used, not entirely successfully, to avoid the impression of passing judgment. “So you did it.”
Liena nodded, cheeks pink. “It will be six months. From now. So, you know, I’m only drinking the prenatal tonic.” She produced a vial of whey-colored liquid from a pocket.
Rin, still expressionless, regarded it.
“It’s medicine, Rin, not one of those potions from the buyer’s-risk pages.”
“And what benefits do you expect to see from it?”
The phrasing was strictly neutral, a doctor’s attempt to gauge the extent of a patient’s seduction by quackery.
“Well, not-it’s just an optimal balance of nutrients, I know it won’t, well. I *know* the science.” Liena made herself stop talking, aware that she sounded like a flustered student at an unexpected exam.
Rin flicked the menu around the table screen. “Of course you do.”
She seemed about to say more, then stopped, ordered something from the menu and cancelled it, and finally said, “The women who work outside the clinic and do it, I assume they just don’t completely understand, they think the magic charms will save them somehow, or they’ll be the 10%, but–”
With a soft chime, the delivery door by the table opened. Rin took her drink. “I’m sorry, I’m staring at the screen but forgot to order yours. Flat caf-blue?”
Liena nodded, and Rin tapped the order and looked up again. “But I don’t understand, really, why are you doing this?”
Liena sighed. “It’s not the same, adopting from Arkenny. When you can even get a child, you know what the waitlists are like, now that their crops are over the wire blight. That’s good, of course, I don’t wish famine on them. And doesn’t it seem wrong, too, to depend on the misfortunes of other planets to give us children?”
Rin looked out the window. The hot season was coming, and the betten trees were sealing their leaves, turning into bristling towers of spines. Like most women on Kanisek, she had chosen sterilization as soon as she reached adulthood. Liena had gone with her, but held back for some reason she had never really been able to explain.
Knowing she was dodging the real question, Liena waited for Rin to look back at her, and spoke as honestly as she could.
“I suppose I just want to bear a child, Rin. I mean, it …it’s sort of a biological urge, isn’t it?” She tried a smile, but Rin seemed to consider the question seriously.
“I don’t see how any of us really knows. It’s not an area we study. What’s the point?”
“I think there must be something. I just *want* it. A child that’s from me. At 10, children are already half grown. They already have lives, they remember parents that aren’t you. They aren’t *yours.*”
“That’s an interesting way to put it,” said Rin. She took Liena’s drink from the delivery door and pushed it across the table. “What are you going to do, then?”
“It’s getting so warm, ” said Liena, blinking and looking out the window in her turn. A pale child, five or six years old, was wandering past, staring fixedly up at the sky. She winced and turned her head.
Rin was watching her. “Serves you right for trying to change the subject,” she said, but gently.
Liena emptied the vial of balanced nutrients into her cup. “That’s the ironic world for you.”
“You must have made a decision. You can’t just leave it to the last minute.” Rin made a wry face to soften the sternness of her words. “Or such would be my official advice as a physician.”
“I can leave it a little while longer,” said Liena. She put her hand over her stomach again, a protective gesture from a maternal instinct she had never actually seen in another person. She wasn’t sure if it came naturally, or from watching too much foreign videodrama. She imagined the dialogue: “If the still-imperceptible child taking shape inside me could only stay within, protected by my own immunity from the horror of the K41 nanovirus, not needing the cruel decision of which slim chance to take!” It cast a pall of stupidity over the whole thing.
“Am I a bad person, do you think?” Her voice was low, and she cleared her throat as if to repeat herself, but did not say it again.
Rin was silent a moment. “I think you made a bad decision,” she said at last. “But people have made worse, without being *bad*… people are just imperfect.” She took a hefty sip of her drink, blinking rapidly as the stimulant reached her system. “And if you’re going to go through with this, you’ll have to make another bad decision, because there’s no good one to make. It’s not an easy situation for a good person.”
“They’re still our children, the ones who get stabilized,” said Liena. She had regained control of her voice, and her tone was level, but there was an undercurrent of pleading in it. She had heard this before, in would-be birthparents, arguing with her for the chance of hope.
Rin half nodded, half shrugged. “We don’t know what they are.”
A young man hurried by outside the window, caught the wandering child by the hand, and said something they couldn’t hear, his face earnest. The child looked at him with a sort of distant tolerance and allowed itself to be led back the way it had come.
“So I should just take the chance? That mine will be one of the ones that survive infection naturally?”
“You know I didn’t say that.” Rin, normally intensely resentful of any attempt to put words into her mouth, now only smiled sadly at Liena. Her gentleness was unnerving.
“I know,” said Liena. She sipped gingerly at her own drink, the flavor gone off subtly due to the prenatal additive, and watched the man and the child retreating up the street. In the long evening shadows between buildings, bioluminescent dust sparkled faintly.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said bluntly. It felt strangely satisfying to admit it. “I think I’ll have it stabilized, how could I do anything else? How could I let a baby I grew inside me take a chance with something that kills 90% of infected children? A *baby*. Have you ever seen a baby, Rin, they’re so tiny.”
Rin shook her head. She worked in general maintenance medicine, while Liena had specialized in childhood vaccine research and had occasion to deal with infants. The vaccine had seemed promising when they finished school; if they could only keep the virus at bay for a few years, until the child was 8 or 9, the odds of survival neared 99%. It was still tantalizingly possible in theory, but K41 mutated too quickly and too well, evading everything they tried, and Liena knew better than most how far they were from success. If she-if anyone-could study at the advanced institutions on the up-tech planets, she would be more optimistic, but of course the quarantine was absolute. No one else wanted the nanovirus, and Kanisek was not interesting enough for anyone not from its surface to devote any particular effort to studying it.
“You couldn’t let your child take that chance, could you.” Liena stated it as a fact. “You’d have to give them the gene therapy and let them incorporate the virus. Because then they live. They take it into their structure, it’s part of them, like it is of plants. It never hurts them again. They don’t even need maintenance treatment, like people who are exposed later, and hardly ever die of it. Like us.”
Rin’s face was sympathetic. “But if you want something that’s yours?”
“But if you want something that’s yours, how can you do that?” Liena’s voice rose a little, a kind of desperation creeping into it. A few faces in the café turned to her and Rin, read the signs of a personal and emotional discussion, and politely turned away again.
“I think I couldn’t let *my* baby turn into something else,” said Liena. She felt tears well in her eyes, and let them stand. Low pink sunlight fractured into bright splinters, scattering the image of Rin’s face. “You don’t even know what they’ll turn into. Maybe they grow feathers and fly away in the night. Maybe they turn green and hunt bugs in the trees. Even if they’re still shaped like people, they look at you like something from another world.”
“We are from another world,” said Rin, softly.
Liena took a breath, wiped her eyes with her fingers. “It *is* biological, you know,” she said, putting on a normal voice and giving a small laugh to show she was coming around. “I’m saying exactly the things I’ve had 15 other people say to me in the last 10 years, and we all know better, even the ones who don’t work in the clinic. If it wasn’t something innate, we’d all be smart enough that this wouldn’t happen.”
Rin smiled again, her face still sad. “Well, drink your prenatal nutrients. You can wait a while to decide.”
“To decide whether it’s better to let my child almost certainly die, or just mutate into another species.” Liena’s voice wobbled again. “It’s not as if they have family. They can’t even interbreed, with humans or each other. They’re not ours, they’re all alone. Maybe it’s better to let them take the chance, and if they survive, at least they’re *us*.”
Rin folded her arms on the table, shrugging resignation. “That is the choice the world has given us, and that we accepted when we came from the Arkenny foster system.”
“We didn’t know.” Liena sounded almost angry. “We were 10 years old, and alone, and hungry, and we had no way to understand what we were giving up.” She coughed, and the medi-strip blinked mutely on her forearm, signaling an adjusted dosage to soothe her airways. Automatically, not really registering the readings, they both glanced at their strips, absent-mindedly confirming health status.
Rin sighed. Her natural state – impatience with wishful thinking – was reasserting itself. “No one ever understands the full effects of the choices they make. But this is where we live, even if we weren’t born to it and it’s not completely hospitable to us. We have comfortable lives and good jobs and edible crops. More to the point, we can’t leave even if we want to, because of a certain giant military quarantine. There’s nothing we can do but take the choices this world offers and make the best of them. No one has ever been able to do anything else.”
She frowned to herself, her habitual apology when she felt she had been unnecessarily sharp, and reached across the table to touch Liena’s arm. “I’m sorry. It’s hard to be human.”
Liena smiled a little. “I suppose it’s good to at least understand the choices you have to make.”
“Having devoted my career to the pursuit of knowledge, I hope so,” Rin said dryly.
“Anyway,” Liena added, making another point in the ongoing, cyclic argument she had been having with herself, “we don’t know they can’t interbreed. Most of them disappear into the wilderness when they get older, they could be building a civilization out there.”
Rin looked noncommittal, but did not argue.
“They’re still our children,” said Liena, looking into some far distance. “Children always live in different worlds from their parents, one way or another. They have friends you don’t know, they move away, they do things their parents don’t understand. They leave their families and settle strange planets too far away to ever come back, and parents have to let them go.”
They sat quietly for a while, and then Liena looked at Rin. “Will you midwife for me?”
Rin closed her eyes, her lips pressing together in a disapproving line, then sighed and nodded. “I’ll hook in the standards on childbirth.”
“It’s a privilege to be able to know,” said Liena. She blinked, and tears sprang loose to slide down her cheeks. “We want to know. To choose. It’s what we are. Maybe them too.”
The sun disappeared behind the horizon, light vanishing from the sky as if a switch had been flipped, while the ground glowed cool contrast. Outside the window the pale child ran by, laughing, eyes bright, skin lit up like the dust.
And now, the runners up…
DR. LUSCIOUS FRANKS AND THE AMAZING RECYCLOTRON
by Phredd Serenissima
Kevin stopped his trike in front of the house.
The small AI inside the three wheeled vehicle automatically registered the destination, locked the wheels in place and loosened the tension on Kevin’s seatbelt. Kevin unbuckled, stood up, and stretched.
Driving a trike through the streets of Ballard, Washington, was a bit nerve racking. Powered vehicles were banned within the Enclave as unnecessarily dangerous. The chances of running someone over, crashing an art installation or parking more than one hour in the one hour parking zone had guided the Enclave Fathers into pushing powered vehicles beyond both the bounds of Accepted Risk and the city limits of the Enclave.
Still, even a human powered trike was dangerous and exposed Kevin to all kinds of liabilities, lawsuits, lawyers and tortuous tort. If it weren’t for Kevin’s special needs, he doubted he would have gotten the license to operate the trike.
Kevin was a diagnosed anti-social, with non-consensus building tendencies.
As part of his recovery, the medics made the determination that Kevin required structure. With great regret, the medics ordered him into probationary treatment.
Kevin was told to get a job.
Kevin went and looked through the classifieds, and finally settling on becoming a tricycle messenger. He’d bought a franchise, used the community fabricator (under supervision) to print out the latest tricycle design, hung out the proverbial shingle and waited for orders.
In three or four months, he’d had about as many orders. He’d delivered one painting, a bag of diamond rock things, and a paper contract. He delivered to relatively wealthy citizens who either didn’t trust fabricators or wanted originals. They were troglodytes to Kevin’s way of thinking.
Earlier that morning Kevin had received a call on his handy. It was a work order and the instructions were strange:
* MEET FERRY FROM PORT OF SEATTLE/0800
* ACCEPT DELIVERY OF PACKAGE FROM J. VILKNUS, BRATISLAVA.
* DELIVER PACKAGE TO DR. L. D. FRANKS, BALLARD LOCKS, GEOCOORDINATES AS FOLLOWS… ..
* PAYMENT CREDITED.
Kevin didn’t even bother responding. The rich were nuts, as far as he was concerned. He dutifully met the ferry under the Ballard Bridge, received the package, and triked his way up to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, found his way through the gates, through the botanical gardens, up the hill, to in front of a small, yellowing, free standing wood sided house. He confirmed the geocoordinates on his handy and figured he was in the right place.
The sign in front of the house read, simply,”Dr. Luscious D. Franks’ Evil Laboratory (A Limited Liability Cooperative).”
Kevin looked at the sign and chuckled. Yup, he thought, nuts.
Kevin grabbed the small, cool, box out of his basket and walked up the neatly arranged rock path to the door. He dodged as a ‘roadrunner’ beeped-beeped across his path, followed quickly by its pair-bonded ‘wiley coyote’. Kevin was unfazed. People released all kinds of homebrew nano-genetically modded creatures these days. The first thing any kid seem to do, when given their first full up fabricator, was bypass the embedded genetics right management, create some characters from a prehistoric cartoon and release them into the wild.
Kevin stood in front of the door and waited a good three count. When the door did not greet him, Kevin began to feel uneasy. He reached forward with his free hand and pushed the door open. Stepping through the entryway was like going back to another century. A small doctor’s waiting room, done up in warm pastels and sterile furniture, met him. A man in a severe suit, thin tie and impossibly immobile hair was squawking from the black and white television set. The man was talking about the failure of the Martian Colony and how the communists were likely behind it and how we all needed to be vigilant and pray for the brave souls, who, for freedom, had… as Kevin tuned him out. Kevin had no time for men in severe suits, wearing thin ties, with impossibly immobile hair. No time at all.
Kevin turned towards the reception desk and what he saw caused his jaw nearly shattered on the floor.
The most beautifully asymmetric woman he’d ever seen was sitting behind the desk. It was if Picasso had taken over the Playboy Feed and hired her as his first model. Her hair, done up in a honey blonde beehive, was the only concession to this”doctors office.” Everything else about her was aggressively modern. The tribal tats, the tight white nurses outfit, the arrangements of limbs, her several eyes… Kevin instantly fell in love.
If she were human, he’d ask her out. If she were a venter slave, he probably couldn’t afford her design.
Kevin forced the lump back down his throat and spoke:
“Ah humph. I, ah, I have a delivery for a one Dr. Luscious Delirious Franks, proprietor of these parts,” he said, as formally as he could.
The receptionists, her name was”Monica” according to the nametape over her gorgeously supple breast, nodded slightly.
“Dr Franks is in his laboratory. Through there,” she said, pointing to a nondescript door.
“Thanks,” Kevin said, flashing her a high wattage smile that stated his intent to come back out and chat her up. Or maybe it said that he was mentally deficient. Kevin had learned that women interpreted these things differently.
Kevin walked swiftly to the door and went in, intending to deliver the package to the old coot and make his way back to the reception area.
Kevin entered a room full of, well, stuff. Someone, evidently with plenty of time on his hands, had trucked in a mess of tubing, pipes, globules, canisters, generators, and pumps,
covered them in glue, stuck a stick of dynamite in the center and exploded them against the wall. Every square inch was covered with some obscure implement, except the very center of the room, where Dr. Franks was.
Dr. Franks sat with his back to the door. His entire being seemed focused on the holographic display in front of him. It was obviously a Network feed, but nothing Kevin had ever seen before. Kevin knew the top thousand feeds by heart. Anything beyond that was useless chatter. Peering over Dr. Franks’ shoulder he saw non descript blobs performing a sort of ballet, orbiting and linking, delinking and moving apart. Why someone would watch crap like that was beyond Kevin. He cleared his throat.
“Ah, my young delivery man,” said Dr. Franks, spinning slowly in his chair. The Doctor appeared younger than Kevin himself. He was dressed in a kitschy Hawaiian shirt, a pair of shorts and a long, white, lab coat. He smiled warmly. He had a politician’s hair. Kevin did not trust him for a moment.
“Sir, I have your delivery. From a Mr. J. Vilknus of Bratislava. Will you acknowledge delivery,” Kevin asked, reaching for the handy clipped to his belt.
“That won’t be necessary. Just place the package on the table there, Kevin. It’s is Kevin, isn’t it? Of Krazy Kevin’s Messenger Services.”
“Good to meet you. As you have probably guessed, my name is Dr. Franks.”
“I can see you’re not very friendly, Kevin,” said Dr. Franks, grinning slightly.
“I’ve got a condition,” replied Kevin. Something about the entire setup disturbed Kevin. Most deliveries he was in and out, with the client barely acknowledging the passing of the wind. Being asked his name, chatted up, well, that didn’t sit right with Kevin.
“I know. You’re anti-social. You don’t participate in the Network, choosing instead to just observe. You are not a Camp Follower, don’t attend Festivals, and avoid crowds in general. You can access the Network, but choose private, offline storage when backing up your experiences and thoughts. You have very few friends. You are an oddball in our world, Kevin.”
“You seem to know alot about me.”
Dr. Franks smiled widened by millimeters.
“I’ve made it my job to study you, Kevin. You are beautifully unique in a drearily plain world,” he said.
“What do you know about the world around you, Kevin?”
“I don’t know. It rains alot?” replied Kevin.
“We live in fractal times, Kevin. We have seen wonders. Nanobiological desktop fabricators provide for our wants, where once entire factories were required. Human life has spread to the Moon and sought refuge on Mars. Artificial Intelligences think alongside us. And we are on the verge of the greatest hack in the history of our species. Do you know what that is, my friend?”
“Life, Kevin. We are about to hack the stuff of life. A Maker’s dream, my friend.”
“Look man, that’s nice and all, but I’m here to deliver…”
“Craig Venter? Steen Rasmussen? Ever heard of them?”
“Craig? Yeah, wasn’t he the guy who started Venter Meats, back when?”
“Yes, Craig Venter,” spat Dr. Franks.”Yes, he was the first out the gate. He commercialized his so called ‘artificial life’ products for the masses. Meats, animals, slaves…yes. Craig Venter. Hero to some, I’d imagine. Take enough carbon, get a decent enough fabber, buy his patents and you and yours are eating a fat goose for Xmas. Or so the sales pitch goes. Venter the hero. Fark Venter. He and all the other top downers were frauds! Venter did nothing more than introduce two proteins together, had them shake hands and hoped they did something. He no more hacked life than a fast food cook prepares a meal. Mixing ingredients is not hacking life.”
“Calm down man,” urged Kevin.”If it means anything to you, I don’t give a damn about Craig Venter or whatever it is you’re so upset about. Man, I just want to…”
“Now Steen Rasmussen, he was a hero,” continued Dr. Franks, warming to his subject.”Steen worked from the bottom up. Sought to reshape real life, the stuff of you and I. But he could never conquer the protein folding problem, not before his death. But I and few others never gave up on his dream. We have perfected a method of hacking what is known and making it ours.”
“Nice. Look, you know what, screw you. I’m going to roll out of here, get the number of the hottie out there and leave you to your nuttiness. Cool?”
“I’m afraid not, Kevin,” said Dr. Franks, sadly. He produced what looked like a homemade gun and pointed it a Kevin’s chest. Kevin broke out in a sweat.”I must complete my tale, Kevin. So that you’ll understand. Later I mean.”
“Well, talk, then.” Kevin said, more bravely than he felt.
“Do you know what a prion is, Kevin?”
Kevin thought back over his rudimentary education. Basic Science. Sociology. Anthropology. Gender Identities. History?
“Um, a small hybrid electric…”
“No. It stands for ‘proteinaceous infectious particle’. We used to be afraid of prions, my friend. They used to cause all kinds of diseases. Mad Cow. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Encephalopathy. And you know how they did it? Abnormal protein folding. A prion would get in the brain and change the protein conformations. Turn it into mush. Many saw this as something to fear, but I knew it was an opportunity. Nanobiologicals were the key. I could hijack prions and get them to do my bidding, friend, I could fold proteins to my will. None of this artificial life mess, I could manipulate real life.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Kevin, I hold the very keys to life itself. I can take our fragile bodies and remake, no, a better word, recycle them. I can kiss life into old clay!!” he said, breathlessly.”Imagine. With so much of our personalities embedded in the Network, with nanobiological widgets bridging the gap between our real selves and our copies, I can make it so no man need ever die a final death. Do you know what this crude room is? It is a Recyclotron. With it I can recycle life!!”
“Look, why are you telling me all this,” Kevin said weakly. He already knew.
“I need to prove my theory, Kevin. Prove that it can be done.”
Kevin began to breathe faster. A knot formed in his throat.”Why me? Why not some dumb animal?”
“Because who would believe an animal. It can’t talk, can’t tell us it is what it once was. Besides, it is unethical to experiment on animals. You can’t ask an animal for permission.”
A ray of hope.
“So you need my permission?” Kevin asked.
“Of course. I’d never be so impolite as to shoot you without so much as a by the way.”
“Well, seems to me like you’re on to something, Doc. But if it’s just as well, I’d like to stay alive.”
Dr. Franks lowered the gun and his head, simultaneously. The joy he’d had moments ago drained away.
“I understand, Kevin. The problem with people today is that they lack faith. I’d hope you were different.”
“Yeah, well, sorry,” said Kevin, backing towards the door he’d just entered, several lifetimes ago. He felt himself back into the door and reached around for the door knob. He tugged several times, his palms sweaty, and finally got the door open, turned, and ran… ..
Smack into a shotgun held by the lovely Monica.
“The problem with Dr Franks is that he’s too much the gentleman,” she said.”Besides, don’t you want to live forever?”
Monica pulled the trigger and slammed Kevin back into the room and out of this life.
“Kevin? My friend? Can you hear me? I had some problems, Kevin. But I think I’ve sorted them out. Some of it was my fault. I didn’t consider the problem with your messenger RNA. But that’s fixed now. The other, well, cracking the encryption on your memories took awhile, but I finally did it. The Russians were very helpful. Kevin, can you hear me?”
“Where am I,” Kevin asked through a fog of confusion. He could barely make out some dude hovering over him. Out the corner of his eye he saw a beautiful nurse. His throat was dry.
“You’re in my laboratory, Kevin. You’re still floating in the Recyclotron Tank. You had an illness, Kevin. A terminal illness.”
“A terminal illness? What was it?” Kevin asked.
“Life, Kevin. It kills us all, but I’ve cured you. I’ve cured us all.”
by Lane Billaes
My name is Alexander. I have had other names, names given to me by my parents, nicknames and titles, but I have long since forgotten almost everything that constitutes me. I do however remember that you are my son. You probably have brothers or sisters, but I really don’t know. I may have a wife or a friend somewhere, but I forget. I just know that you exist, and I need you to listen to what I have to say. I am now well into my second millennium of existence and I am dismayed to report that the brain is ill-suited to such a temporal expanse. Over this many years, one’s memory is not good for much except the important spikes in one’s life – those moments that brought immense joy or unforgettable pain. I see my life as vignettes, as moments in time surrounded by a haze through which I cannot see. Physically, however, I remain a fine specimen. My frame has sustained numerous bruises and breaks over the centuries, but I keep on. My body is scoured by nanobots that repeatedly deny my cells their natural fate. I did not choose this state; it was forced upon me in the year 2067, one and a half millennia before your time.
I am writing this letter today because I have found a way to infuse my remaining days with meaning. Tomorrow, at noon, when the sun’s golden rays will peak through the planetarium’s growing pores, I will execute a plan to remove the nanobots from my body. I will then be free. Until that day, that hour, I am a slave to my own existence. I can neither fully remember the past nor do I value the present or the future. My days consist of wandering the right wing of my planetarium and ruminating on the meaning of this life, this life without death, this life of mere existence. Each day passes and it is much like the last.
It wasn’t always like this. There certainly is a prurient pleasure in a life without consequence. I lived with the Devil, I tell you! I flew without wings; I soared over the forest green trees; I felt free from the constraints of mortality. Soon, these exhilarations grew tiresome and I turned my focus inward. I memorized and then forgot Beethoven’s concertos and Shakespeare’s sonnets. Then, after untold lifetimes of futile existence, I began to feel listless. The crushing weight of boredom overwhelmed me. It seemed to me that all of life’s pleasures had lost their luster. Time itself began to stand still for me. The extraordinary seemed ordinary, the impossible became the inevitable. This despair that set in was universal. Men forgot why they lived. The feel of a woman’s embrace, the joy of watching your children grow, and the beauty of the setting sun had all lost their meaning. My skin felt numb. I was, I really was, numb to the world.
You do not know the history of my generation – the first generation of immortals, the last to have known life as it was meant to be lived. You are young and may not yet appreciate the distinction between mere existence and life. There is much for you to experience, to feel, and to become. If I pass anything along to you, I want you to know what it means to live. You assume that we are here by our own devices, that my generation chose immortality over life, that our current suffering is the ironic product of our own greed. Indeed, there is irony in that for so long the human story was about man’s conquest over life itself, his yearning to become more human by approaching God. But when we prevailed over everything, our bodies, our planets and our destinies, and we began to prolong our existence beyond our moral capacities, the distance between us and God expanded, and we became something else, something inhuman.
My generation was bitterly divided over the issue of whether humanity was ready for immortality, but the majority prevailed. We were weak and frail; we suffered greatly from infection, rotting, broken bodies and nerves. Our bodies were fragile; we were at the whim of chance, and we could only whisper to ourselves at night that tomorrow would come. In retrospect, I understand why we were so desperate. Our times were trying, and we sincerely felt that a fierce wind was blowing on the flame of human existence. We were plagued by violence and disease, by storms and earthly tremors. I can’t remember who I was; I forget my occupation, and I only remember loving a woman, but I don’t remember who. I’ve done my best to block my memory of these times. I vaguely recall there were some proponents of the plan to apply advanced nanobots to our bodies and they framed it as our moral imperative to preserve the species. We already used nanotechnology, of course – but this was different, these men promised immortality! I was a cynic, and this I remember clearly. I wanted to be left alone to live until my well-contented day. I prayed, I remember praying. I asked God to forgive me, to forgive all of us. I knew that we would soon all sin, and I only wondered if hell had a place for those who would never knock at its doors. The cloud was released and we were all consumed by the scourge of life. With mortality removed as a mathematical constraint on our growth, and death no longer a curse for our most brilliant minds, we aimed for the stars. Now we are dispersed thinly among the stars, but even our most brilliant scientists couldn’t foresee that despite our mastery over vast distances temporal and physical, despite all the advances and accomplishments of the human mind, the heart would forever lag behind.
I have wondered for centuries whether I would give back all of this, all of these years, and all of my experiences for just one day with meaning. As you can gather from this letter, my decision is clear. I recall a diary entry that I made back when keeping such a record seemed full of purpose:”I plan soon to meet my newest son for the first time. I will see in his eyes a curiosity about the world, a wonder of life that I have long ago lost. I hope this encounter will solve my current malaise. It will therefore be more than a first encounter between a father and a son; I will for the first time in centuries feel alive again.” Unfortunately our meeting was bland. We shook hands, and introduced ourselves, but our conversation was about nothing in particular. I do not expect that you remember that day, for it probably is full of as much meaning to you as any other day. Not even the bond between a father and a son retains its meaning over the expanse of dull eternity.
Oh, how I look forward to what tomorrow will bring. I will walk the paths of the planetarium that I have trailed for centuries, crossing the bridges of which I know every rivet, and streams of which I know every current. Even so, everything will feel new and foreign and wonderful! I will stare up at the noon sky and see the familiar sun. I will feel the crisp fall wind on my bare skin, and I will again remember what it means to love, to cherish and to hope. I will be alive! Son, I want you to visit me again. This time, our encounter will be full of meaning. Visit me! I know it is difficult for you to appreciate what it means to me, but I beg of you, I plead with you, visit me for just one day out of all eternity! I want to feel alive again.
Alexander, your father.