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  • Writer's pictureHugo Earnshaw-Saran

Immoral Immortality

PROLOGUE


Sitting alone in their rocking chair, they stared at the midnight sky.


They sipped a bit of a Fizzy Horizon soda. They hadn’t liked it before, but tastes change over 400 years. Stealing immortality had seemed like a great idea at the time, but was it worth it?


Staring at the glaring star a few lightyears away was a beautiful sight, and it allowed them to reflect. As the star slowly shimmered and imploded, thoughts of sorrow soared through their head:


The same thing that happens to stars happens to humans; they fulfil a purpose, and then die.


The interruption of this sequence was difficult to comprehend as a child, but as a being that had been living for centuries, they had seen so many live and die. So much pain and suffering. The only one they hadn’t seen suffer was themself. Their sorrowful, lonely self. But they didn’t think that counted.


They walked through the control room doors of the ship and initiated the self-destruct override. What was to happen to them was to be what happened to all other humans. Life and death, all in an endless cycle…


—-


400 YEARS EARLIER


Creating a computer able to comprehend this much power was not as large a roadblock as it was to choose a test subject. The team of six members had finally created a computer that the global scientific and medical community believed could give the gift of immortality to one being, but one being only. The machine consumed so much of the special fuel they were using, that it could only be used once.


Despite a network of conspiracy theorists online saying they thought the computer wouldn’t work or would create so much radiation that the subject would die instantly, there were plenty of people who were willing to take the risk.


I’m dying to live forever, and would be happy to pay for all the costs of the project so far! one billionaire wrote to the team leader. He forwarded that one on for the others to read, but never responded.


Soon, they would return to Earth. Soon, they would return home, but only once they had made someone immortal.


—-


The Hebe Space Station had been a bespoke build for this mission. The disc-shaped station had two levels - the top level for central control, research and development laboratories, and meeting rooms. The dormitories, which, for a high profile and long trip like this, resembled hotel rooms more than camp dorms, were all on the lower level.


Each room was named after a famous inventor or scientist. The team were all in the Copernicus Meeting Room on the back side of the space station, which had the most windows and therefore the most impressive view of the galaxy.


“Welcome to the team meeting of the century,” Dr. Andy Cohen said. He had been running the project as the team leader since its inception. “How’s everyone doing?”


The team behind Project Hebe—after the Greek goddess of youth—had gathered to discuss the next steps for their incredible machine. The project, which originally started on Earth, had been relocated to space four years earlier, once the goal seemed attainable. This carefully chosen team of engineers, scientists, and programmers had created a machine that could alter the DNA of a person so that they were effectively frozen in time, and could potentially live forever. If their calculations were correct, the person would not die of old age, or diseases such as cancer.


“Amazing. I can’t wait to see how the test will go. When I was a kid, I always…” Shep, a biologist, continued talking and talking. Pavit, head engineer, shot Andy a quick, private message, saying ‘Here he goes again’.


“Paige, how are you doing?” Pavit finally cut in.


“Honestly, I’m just wondering what our page on the Cosmic Archives–if we have one–will say. I hope it praises us for our hard work. I mean, I’ve never worked on something over such a long period of time, apart from my PhD.” Paige said with a smile. Paige was a programmer, who had been with the project from day one.


“Ok, first point of order,” Andy said, “Is to officially name the device. We’ve been Project Hebe up til now, but I’ve been told we can have the first crack at naming it.”


“I think we all liked ImmortaLink500, since it’s our 500th try.” Lisa offered.


“It’s better than Shep’s idea of Immortal Life Inducer! Pavit, what do you think?” Luann said, chuckling to herself.


“Uh… I think… ImmortaLink500 works,'' he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Andy, what do you think?”


“I think –” Andy was cut off by Shep.


“Why isn’t anyone asking me what I think?”


“We’ll get to you. As I was saying –” Andy was, once again, cut off by Shep.


I think that ImmortaLink500 works. What do you think, Andy?”


Andy sighed. “I’m fine with ImmortaLink500. I just hope there won’t have to be ImmortaLink501.”


“Good point. Maybe we drop the number then?” Paige said.


“I love that,” said Lisa.


“Agreed,” Andy said, and everyone else nodded. He looked down at his agenda, “now that we’re ready for the final test, it’s time to get serious about the candidate selection process.” He cleared his throat. “I know we’ve all been approached by different groups suggesting candidates.”


Everyone nodded.


“And I think we’ve each been approached by billionaires of one sort or another.”


“Yep,” said Luann.


“I had a Texas billionaire email me last week,” Paige said, rolling her eyes. “Like, we just need him to pay his taxes, not live forever.”


Several of them giggled.


“So I think we can agree that billionaires are off the list, right? Too problematic.” Andy recorded this in his meeting notes.


Shep lifted his hand slightly off the table to get everyone’s attention. “Andy, if I may…the Nobel Prize Committee emailed me with the names of several volunteers.”


“I hear you, and I want to hear about them. But, I know we’ve all been given names of volunteers by the science community, medical community, politicians - everyone wants to talk to us, which is why they put us in space and isolated us in the first place.” Andy looked around at each of them.


“Well, everyone wants to talk to us and they want to know how the machine works,” Luann said.


Andy nodded. “Exactly. We’ve been out here so that our research could be protected, and so that we could be protected. And now we have to be really careful about who we choose. What I want all of you to do is to go away, and compile a shortlist of who you would want to make immortal. We’ll meet in three days and you can each advocate for your choices.”


“Seems fair,” said Pavit.


“I think it's getting late, at least on Earth. I’m going to go get some rest,” Andy said.


“He’s right. I’m going to go to bed too, and I hope all of you do the same,” Pavit said.


“I’m just going to quickly run some more calculations before I go to bed,” Paige said as she headed towards her lab.


“Goodnight, everyone!” Andy said, and they left the room.


THREE DAYS LATER


“I think I know who I want to nominate,” Shep grinned as he settled into his chair in the Copernicus room.


“Great. Who wants to go first?” Andy said.


Pavit raised his hand.


“I think we should wait for when we can give more than one person immortality. It doesn’t make sense to do it for one person only. People will be asking themselves what makes the person we chose so special, and why they themselves didn’t get chosen.” Pavit jumped straight to the point, as usual.


“I’m not sure we’d want to offer it to everyone, but irrespective of that, we should test it on one person first,” Luann said carefully. “The only way to know if it works or not is to test it. Everything else is irrelevant until we know whether it works.”


“Luann’s right. To even suggest not testing it before offering it to the masses is ridiculous.” Lisa agreed, nodding her head a small amount.


“I agree,” Andy said. “We’re testing it. This is a meeting to decide who we’re going to choose.”


“Who do you think should be nominated, Lisa?” Pavit asked, narrowing his eyes the slightest bit.


“Interesting that you ask, Pavit. I believe that we should nominate one of us. Why, you ask? Because we are some of the greatest minds on the planet, well, technically not on the planet at the moment, but we are some of the greatest human minds. Why else would they pick us for this job?”


“But do any of us even want immortality? I know I don’t.” Paige said, looking around at everyone at the table.


“Well, what about you, Andy? You’re the team leader, so you would deserve it the most,” Lisa looked to Andy, sitting at the head of the table.


“I think you’re right that we have to choose someone in this room. Any other choice will end up mixed up in political or factional bickering. But, as for me, I don’t want immortality either. I’d love to live for a long time without growing old. But with this…with immortality, at some point everyone you know will die. Carrying that with me for the rest of my, most likely, thousand-year-long life would send me into despair and depression. I wouldn’t want that.”


There was a brief silence.


“Shep, you said you knew who you wanted to nominate. Who is it?” Andy asked.


“I was contacted by the Nobel Prize Committee, and I went through the list of prize winners. One of them has been given a prize for curing multiple sclerosis. If they can live a few hundred years longer, then they have the time and a chance to study other diseases. This one person could end up saving millions of lives.”


“He has a point. If someone like that is picked, then everyone will likely benefit from it.” Pavit said excitedly.


“Once again, I think we should nominate one of us. If this Nobel Prize Winner is such a great researcher, then why aren’t they on this team?” Lisa piped up.


Andy sighed. “Because to be on this team, you had to be prepared and qualified to go into space for several years.”


Lisa accepted this point quietly. “Well, anyway. We’re the best and brightest, right?”


“Naturally, I agree with your assessment of us,” Luann said with a smile, “But maybe the most fair way is to create a lottery system. Not just for us. Everyone in the world would get a shot. Random selection.”


Everyone paused to consider this.


“I think a lottery is an amazing idea, because it makes the chance of someone winning completely random. It means everyone has an equal chance.” Pavit agreed.


“I, for one, think that a lottery is a great idea. But, I have a question; would any of you want to take part in the lottery?” Shep asked, curious. They all shook their heads, Andy’s reason for not becoming immortal still very fresh in their minds. “I think that makes sense.”


“What if the person that wins the lottery is not a good candidate?” Paige said. “I mean, I assume there will be criteria for letting people enter the lottery, but what if, despite that, we still end up with someone who is not a good person?”


“What do you mean ‘not a good person’?” Lisa asked.


“Well, a good person is someone who is ethical, obviously.” Luann said. “So clearly, Paige means someone who is not ethical.”


“Um…Yes, I would include not-ethical… but I guess I also just mean generally bad?” Paige said.


“So, you mean, like, bad vibes?” Shep said with a smirk.


“Don’t be snarky,” Luann shot back.


“Hey, sometimes I try to ameliorate a situation using humour,” Shep said with his hands up.


“I think the point of the lottery is we are saying no one person gets to decide on any of these things.” Andy said. “If we go with a lottery system, we’re giving up control of the process because we don’t think it’s right for us to decide.”


Several of them made noises of agreement.


“Yeah, okay. That makes sense.” Paige said with a sigh.


“So we’re agreed? I can propose a lottery system to the Infinite Human Alliance?” Andy said.


They all nodded in response.


“Okay, I guess phase two of Project Hebe is on.” Andy smiled.


THREE MONTHS LATER


The lottery had been set up, and billions of people had signed up for a shot at immortality.


The team were all gathered together, waiting to hear the results. Andy got a call, and everyone was eager to hear who had been selected.


“Who is it?” Paige asked Andy.


“They won’t tell me,” Andy said, visibly frustrated.


“What? Why?” Luann was distraught.


Andy sat down. “They’re protecting the identity of Person X for now. They will be sent up here next week, so I guess we’ll find out then.” He looked around. “But we may need to agree to keep it confidential. I’m not sure what their plans are for this person.”


Paige’s eyes widened. She had expected to be able to do some research on Person X in the days leading up to the test.


“But…what if they’re a bad candidate?” Paige said.


“Who is the judge of what a bad candidate is?” Lisa argued. “Us? And it doesn’t matter anyway, we decided on a lottery.”


“But what if they rigged it, so they would win?” Paige was trying to stay calm.


“Paige, it wasn’t rigged,” Shep rolled his eyes. “You have to trust the process.”


Paige went very quiet as the others started to talk about what tests they would need to run on Person X after the machine had been used on them. She had reviewed the protocols of the lottery system the night before, and she believed that she could’ve hacked into it. If this was true, someone else could have found a way to rig the results. There were plenty of people who would have paid millions, if not billions of dollars to do that.


“But what if we all agree that we don’t think they’re the right person?” Paige piped up again.


Everyone turned to look at her.


“We still wouldn’t do anything about it. We decided on a lottery because it was too difficult to decide on one person as a group, so if we don’t like the person, then we can’t do anything. We all agreed to the lottery,” Lisa said.


“But what if it isn’t just to protect their identity? What if Person X’s identity is being kept confidential because people would be disappointed that they won the lottery?” Paige asked.


“I find that unlikely. Plus, there are most likely more ‘good’ people than ‘bad’. Just like Shep said, trust the process.” Pavit said.


“Fine, I yield.” Paige put her hands up.


“Look, we did agree to a lottery, but Paige, I hear your concerns. Why don’t we all take some time to think on it and regroup tomorrow?” Andy said.


There was tension in the air as they left the meeting room one by one.



SIX HOURS LATER


A hooded figure walked into the room with the ImmortaLink. They were in a security camera blindspot, but their face was obscured for good measure. They held up a device to override the security system, stopping anyone with access to the footage from seeing them.


They removed their hood, and opened the chamber door of the ImmortaLink. They walked into it, and started the process.


Conspiracy theorists were right, in that it used radiation as part of the process. It didn’t have enough radiation to kill someone though, as shown by the figure’s illuminating presence after emerging from the machine.


Their footsteps echoed in the light the stars shone upon their space station as they walked back to their room.


They used the computer in their room to see if anyone was rumoured to have won, and found nothing. Mentally and physically exhausted, they went to bed.


——


The next morning, the team woke up to Shep shouting “No! No!”. He was standing in front of the machine; the holographic panel displayed a symbol that indicated it had been used - a digital omen.


Everyone rushed to Shep and the ImmortaLink.


Paige gasped. “All of our work - gone?!”


“Someone has destroyed all of our hard work. But they’ve also taken potentially thousands of years of life away from someone. They’re basically a murderer.” Shep said.


“Shep’s right. Murdering someone who is 20 years old might be taking away 60 years of their life, but taking immortality away from someone might be taking away 6000 years of their life. So whoever it is is worse than a murderer.” Pavit said.


“And this worse-than-murderer is in this very room,” Andy said. Everyone went very quiet. “One of us must have done it. We’re the only people on this space station.”


“Could another spacepod have connected to ours somehow, so that someone could sneak onto the station?” Lisa asked.


“No,” Andy said. “We have an alarm detecting any object larger than a small pod that comes within 40 miles of our ship. But even if you had some kind of cloaking technology straight out of Star Trek, connecting to our ship requires us to approve it on this side, so there isn’t any ‘stealthy’ way to do it.”


Paige raised her hand. “Could it have been the AI system on this ship? You know, like HAL 9000.”


Pavit shook his head. “Firstly, the AI we have isn’t sophisticated enough to do half the things HAL could do. It flies the ship and keeps everything functioning, but we’ve never had any indication that it has evolved in any way.”


Luann nodded. “I also made sure there was a safeguard that keeps the machine separate to the rest of the ship’s systems. I actually did that because of the movie.” She looked at Paige kindly and they smiled at one another.


“So it has to be one of us,” Pavit said.


“But-but I don’t think any of us would willingly do that, right?” Lisa said. “Everyone who is on this project – we all believed in it. Why would someone just throw that away?”


“Maybe they had doubts about if the person that won was a good one.” Shep said. They all turned to look at Paige.


“Me? I didn’t do it!” Paige gasped. “Did I have my doubts about Person X? Yes. But we talked about that yesterday and settled it. Do you really think that I could sabotage Project Hebe?”


“Has anyone checked the machine for fingerprints?” Lisa said. “Someone should also check the security footage.”


“Already checked. No fingerprints and there was no camera history for the last 24 hours. Someone must have used a magnetic device to wipe the camera’s hard drive. So even if they showed their face in the video, we don’t know what it looks like.” Andy said, disappointing the group.


“Or, someone could have hacked into it.” Shep looked at Paige, once again.


“Stop targeting me with your random accusations,” she snapped.


“What about testing our radiation levels?” Pavit suggested. “That’s one of the components of how the machine works.”


“What about testing YOUR radiation levels?” Luann snorted. “We all have high levels of radiation just from being on this space station. It would be impossible for the geiger counter to distinguish between us and the person who used the machine.”


“Enough arguing. Person X will be arriving with an IHA crew in 48 hours. Without fingerprints or camera footage, we have no way to find out who did it before then. One of us is lying, and I guess only time will tell. At some point, we will realise that one of us isn’t ageing.” Andy said, frustrated. “The question now is, what are we going to tell the IHA?”


“What do you mean? We’ll tell them exactly what happened,” Luann said.


“Have you thought about what happens if we tell the IHA that someone from this team has used the machine?” Andy asked.


“I think what Andy is saying,” Pavit interjected, “is that if we tell the IHA that it must be one of us, then we will all be put on lockdown–”


“And for who knows how long,” Shep jumped in, alarmed at the thought. “They’ll be running tests on us, possibly waiting years to see which one of us doesn’t age. I don’t know about you guys, but I had plans to have a life after this project ends.”


“I was going to go to Vietnam for two days. You can get great banh mi sandwiches there.” Pavit said.


Paige cleared her throat.


“We could blame it on our computer system. The AI,” she began nervously. “Pavit, I know you said the AI isn’t advanced enough, but most people don’t know that. And there are many people who will want to believe us.”


“If it was the AI, either accidentally setting off the machine, or doing something more nefarious, then no one will be looking at us,” Lisa added.


“There’s a huge anti-AI community and plenty of lobbying groups who would want to use this to their advantage,” Shep said. “I think it makes sense.”


More than an hour passed. Luann and Pavit argued against blaming it on the AI at first, but Shep and Lisa painted a vivid picture of how they would be scrutinised by the global community and reprimanded for not having stricter security measures in place. Eventually, everyone agreed that saying the “monstrous” AI was the culprit was the best route for them to take.


“If we do this,” Andy said, his voice heavy with the gravity of the situation, “Then whatever we tell the IHA is what happened. We cannot talk to each other, or anyone else, about someone possibly having used the machine.”


They all nodded. Andy stood up.


“It was a good idea, Paige,” Andy said.


“Yes,” agreed Shep. He leaned back in his seat and clapped. “Bravo.”


“I’d better let the IHA know then. Paige and Pavit, I need you to start preparing a report to explain what might have happened.”


None of them mentioned the possibility that someone on the team had used the ImmortaLink ever again.




10 YEARS LATER


It was Andy’s 55th birthday, and everyone from Project Hebe attended the party. A few dignitaries from the IHA government also attended.


The Project Hebe team was there first, to have a short celebration before the rest of the guests arrived.


“Let’s start the party with a couple of Fizzy Horizon sodas! Anyone want any?” Andy asked.


“Ew, no thank you,” Paige grimaced.


“Who doesn’t like Fizzy Horizon?!” Lisa gasped.


“Me! I’ve never liked their sodas.” Paige said.


“If you were my kid, I’d tell you that you should try it again. Your tastes can change over time,” Luann jumped in as she poured herself a large glass of soda.


“I guess that did happen with pizza,” Paige said as she took a sip. “Nope! Still don’t like it! Do we have any apple juice?”


Andy handed her an apple juice in a champagne flute before raising his glass.


“To old friendships!” Andy said.


“To old friendships!” They parroted in unison. Then, they all sipped their sodas and juices. Their eyes wandered from one ‘comrade’ to another, wondering who ruined their life's work.


“I guess friendships never die!” Shep said. They all chuckled half-heartedly.


Everyone on the Project Hebe team knew that, behind one of those half-hearted chuckles, was a thief. Not just any thief; an immortal one.


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