Storytime with KBC: Immortality
School’s almost out for the year, and I am neck deep in papers that need grading, and I’m pretty sure I accidentally left my T.A. somewhere in the temples of El Dorado. Hey, I needed an extra set of hands to carry all that treasure! Don’t worry, I’ll go back for the gold. The guy! I meant the guy. Just, you know, not right now, because I am swamped! Ever feel there’s just never enough time in the day? Or enough days in your life? You’re not the only one.
Juan Ponce de León set out from Puerto Rico in March of 1513 bound for adventure. Sure, he’d sold the trip to his benefactors as a quest for gold and spices and slaves—the colonial trifecta—but none of that was the real goal. Fact was, Ponce wasn’t getting any younger. He was pushing forty, and naval exploration is a young man’s game. But he’d heard tales of a wonderful place. A natural spring on the isle of Benimy whose waters could restore him to youth. Try as he might, he never did find the place. Instead, he found Florida. Ever been to Florida? That’s about as far from a Fountain of Youth as you can get.
Fact is, life is short. An individual human being is just a momentary blip in history, and some people consider that a design flaw. Ponce de León was no aberration; mankind has never been content with the size of their lifespan, and we’ve gone to some extreme measures to extend it. Thousands have died in the pursuit of a longer life, which I think might be ironic but my grasp of irony is only slightly better than Ms. Morissette’s. It’s not impossible—there are ways to do it. There’s never been any shortage of enchanted springwaters and mystical rituals and alchemical elixirs that claim to crank back your clock and wipe years off your slate. Some were actually the real deal, but the vast majority was snake oil. These days life-extension is big business. The pharma companies are stepping over each other trying to be the first to sell a few extra decades to the preposterously wealthy. Personally, I prefer to hit up the future for my longevity powerups. Futuretech life extension’s got most of the nasty, facemelty bugs worked out of it already. That’s right, I’ll admit it, I’ve had some work done. Nothing major, but let’s just say that ol’ KBC’s looking mighty good for his age. But be it past, present, or future, all of these methods are just buying time.
For some, longevity isn’t enough. Longevity just means that you’ll die later, but you’re still gonna kick it some day. For these folks, it’s immortality or nothing. Working with the Brotherhood, I’ve rubbed elbows with my fair share of immortals. Mostly gods, the occasional godling who hit a genetic jackpot, and a handful of functionally immortal supernats. Decent people, but not really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about normal humans who, for one reason or another, just can’t die. For some it’s a blessing, for others a curse. And some are just having too damn much fun to care one way or the other.
It’s easy to see immortality as a blessing. Who couldn’t use more time to get things done. To enjoy life before your body gives out and you spend your final years wrinkly and toothless and slowly losing your mind. In fact, let’s just skip that part forever. Let’s stay young and energetic forever! Sure seems like a blessing to me. For some people it’s been a literal blessing. Like the three Nephites, who the Mormons say were granted eternal life by J.C. himself. They’ve spent the last hundred and seventy-some-odd years hitchhiking around the U.S.A. and preaching the LDS faith to the truckers and travelers who give them a lift. Or Sir Galahad, who was successful in his quest for the Holy Grail and imbued with immortality as a result. Galahad’s brand of immortality came with a voluntary off-switch, which he used after experiencing a moment of pure rapture. Kind of a waste of eternal life if you ask me.
So immortality sounds great, right? Not everybody thinks so. As often as it’s been a blessing, the inability to die has been used as a real bastard of a curse. Take Tithonus for instance. The goddess Eos took a particular liking to her boy toy, and begged Zeus to grant Tithonus eternal life. Zeus, in his infinite dickishness, decided to grant her wish. Her exact wish. Tithonus would live forever, but since Eos had forgotten to ask for eternal youth, he’d keep on aging normally. He’s still out there, buried somewhere in the ruins of ancient Greece. Just a pile of insane, sentient bones at this point. You might have also heard of the Wandering Jew. One of the more famous immortals, this unidentified gentleman had the temerity to taunt Jesus somewhere between Stations 2 and 10 as he was hauling the cross on his way to get crucified. As you might imagine, he wasn’t in the best of moods, and cursed the man to walk the earth until he returned. Going on 2000 years later, and the dude’s still walking. Bad idea to piss off a quantum magician.
Not everybody thinks of immortality as a curse though, and almost nobody’s lucky enough to get blessed with it. Everyone else has to work their asses off for a chance at it. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Chin dynasty, spent his whole life searching for the Elixir of Life, only to die of mercury poisoning from drinking a bad batch of the stuff. The Flemels, Nicolas and Perenelle, were more lucky. Their alchemical research resulted in the discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone, which they used to grant themselves immortality. They were seen together at the Paris Opera in 1761, looking pretty damn good for a couple who had supposedly been dead for almost 350 years. Alchemy might have the answer, but Science is still a little behind. Biomedical researcher Aubrey de Grey is pretty sure we’ve got the necessary technology in place to put a stop to the aging process, but we’re just lacking the funding to put it all together. Of course, it might all become unnecessary, as researchers predict we’re just a decade or so out from being able to upload our consciousness into the cloud to live out eternity in some sort of virtual, Matrixy, holodeck-type simulation. At least, we will until our brain scan gets corrupted by adware and we’re virus-scanned out of existence.
Immortality does have its drawbacks. For instance, nobody likes to move, but if you stay in one town for thirty years without aging a day, people are gonna start talking. And there’s a crapload of paperwork involved in constantly faking your own death and reemerging as your own younger relative. Not to mention the inheritance taxes on all the money you leave to yourself. Some immortals figure they’ll just take a shortcut and hang on to their identity for as long as they can. These are the ones that get noticed. People like the Count of St. Germain, who was a well-known aristocrat in 18th century England and France. A talented musician, an artist, a polymath, and a philosopher, the Count was the closest thing they had to a celebrity back in those days. It’s no wonder he was so talented, since he’d had almost three hundred years to master all those talents. The most recent Count sighting was in the 1960s when he was spotted at a meeting of the Bilderberg Group, but I’d put good money on him popping up again some day. There’s a certain type of immortal that seems to be drawn to the limelight. They get famous, get a taste for it, and stay in the public eye for way longer than they should have for someone who doesn’t age. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Paul Rudd! I’ve got my eye on you, Ant-Man! You haven’t aged a damn day since Clueless!
Of course, there’s one celeb that’s kind of notoriously suspected of being an immortal, I’m talking, of course, about Mr. Keanu Reeves. People claim he’s the French actor Paul Mounet, or even Charlemagne, king of the Franks, and in truth, the resemblance is uncanny. Then again, it would be, because they’re all the same guy. That doesn’t make Keanu an immortal though. I mean, the guy’s aging well, but not that well. So how can Keanu Reeves and Paul Mounet and Charlemagne all be the same guy? Come on, who are you talking to here? He’s a fellow time traveler! A few years back some clock-hopping cinephile decided to reward Ted “Theodore” Logan’s acting achievements with his very own time machine. Even customized the thing to look like the phone booth from the movie. Took me for a spin in it once. It’s a little cramped, but sometimes you’ve gotta sacrifice comfort for style. So yeah, Mr. Anderson’s spent a little time in 19th century France, and 5th century Francia, and I’m guessing 32nd century Franspaña for a little of that rejuvenation tech I was talking about earlier. He’s a decent actor, and a surprisingly effective King of the Franks, but he’s no immortal.
So, the moral of the story is that life is too short. Definitely too short to waste going this far over my word count. What was I thinking!? I’m outta here. Gonna go check in on Alex Winter. He didn’t get his own time machine, and I feel a little bad for the guy. Maybe I can talk Keanu into getting the band back together. Wyld Stallyns rule!