Technology has solved the problem of human mortality but you must pass the Exam.
|Evan Augustus Klein was painfully aware of his superiority. The choice his parents made to have him designed gave him a shot at the Exam but also forced them to have only one child. By four years old he had already decided that a little brother was required for his happiness and his parents gave him the speech that all designer singles received when they pushed for such things. There was the obligatory introEd video that explained in detail the history of the bioMed advances of the previous 50 years. And yes, he could understand such things at 4, he was a designer single. Not that a mediocre or "Med" 4-year old couldn't these days, but they might not synthesize the consequences.
The crowds of immigrants from lower tech countries that had abated at the end of the 21st had swelled again, and they did not care about immortality. Freedom from want and disease was enough for them, but their children and grandchildren were not happy about it. In the US, they don't suffer from hunger or disease just like everyone else, and that is a blessing. That is, as long as they had passed through the wall legally. Good old straight shooting Donald, our 45th President made damn sure if that. Being relegated to service and minimum wage jobs by law and permanently barred from full citizenship doesn't help morale but they believe it is still better than their alternatives.
Evan's stunning deep green eyes rolled back in frustration at the video as it droned on. Its brief but detailed explanation of the advances in biotechnology and its collision with nanotechnology were not of much interest to Evan; Quidditch was his game, and he was missing the Rutgers-Indiana match. Dashawn Jackson was a senior, and it was his last game as Captain and Keeper. Evan hoped he could catch the end.
On and on it went, explaining how nanotechnology progressed to the point where in the early 2050s tiny bots could seek out toxins in the body and pull them apart molecule by molecule. During the following decade, biotech processes progressed to the point where specific compounds and cells could be altered in almost any way. Virology and cancer treatment took a great leap forward when such alien and rogue cells could be identified with astonishing specificity and altered, of course, the problem was delivery. The ultimate solution was a combination of technology that was delivered by the genetically designed genius Elion Blackburn in 2092. As every schoolchild knows, the Russians had recreated Maria Telkes illegally and while she couldn't gain access to any country outside of Russia, she put her life on the line by posting on a new subReddit she created r/immortality. Of course, the tech went viral.
During the next two decades every disease had a cure, every prenatal defect could be cured in the womb, and the possibility of designing babies became practical. The feared over population predicted in the late 20th century had not come to pass but by the roaring 2120s, the threat was real, particularly in the face of what nanoBio could deliver. Practical immortality.
Except for the super rich who have always been a bit beyond the rules, it was decided unanimously by world leaders that every human soul on the planet had the basic right to be free from disease and hunger. Immortality was another matter.
It was decided that access to basic genetic manipulation should not be restricted. Of course, many of the world's religions disagreed, but the movers and shakers relegated that issue to Social Darwinism and figured the passing of generations would sort that problem out. The final decision to restrict access to the tech that effectively stopped aging and for all practical purposes made someone immortal was surprisingly not very controversial. This was partly due to the fact that although life could be significantly extended, human beings required some fundamental design changes to be immortal and therefore only new people, babies, genetically designed from the start, could truly be immortal.
To further assure that the world would not be overrun with immortals, the "Singleton International Accord" was passed. "Any individual desiring an immortal child must pair with another individual to produce that child and under no circumstances would they together or individually or with another individual be permitted to produce a second child."
Even the super-rich were not exempted from this rule, and when the final part of the accord was revealed, the jealousy toward these potentially immortal beings was tempered just enough to prevent disorder.
As a result, the Exam was instituted.
By the end of the video, Evan had learned that he had been designed and would live a long life well beyond that of his ancestors 50 or a hundred years prior. He would be perfectly healthy during that life. He would never have a sibling, and if he chose to become immortal, he would have to pass the Exam.
Evan promptly forgot almost all of this for the next 15 years but he was extremely annoyed at his parents for making him a Singleton and let them know that the only way they could stop hearing about it from him on a daily basis would be to find a way to get him a brother.
His parents managed to do just that the next year by adopting a 4-year old boy. Evan and Denis became closest of friends and as bound to each other as two boys and young men could ever be.
At 19 Evan had a Masters in Discrete Mathematics in his pocket and a prime Chaser spot in a League 2 professional Quidditch team that looked to be moving up to the North American Premier League during the next 2 years, a Doctoral thesis to complete and girlfriend, Kaya, whom he deeply loved for being everything he wasn't.
But Evan was facing the most difficult decision of his life, whether or not to take the Exam. He had to choose prior to turning 20 or the therapy was not guaranteed to work.
Training was over for the day, and Evan faced 4 or 5 hours of focused differential topology thought when he got back to his apartment and was in no rush to face it or Kaya. His trainer Manuel's sure hands brought the release of stress and the popping of the gas bubbles in his joints that Kaya found so creepy.
"Manuel, we have known each other for more than a year now, and I just realized I don't know much about your personal life. Do you have family?"
"Mr. Evan, I certainly do. My wife Marta and I have three kids and a fourth on the way."
It took Evan a beat to process this. He knew many immigrant families had large families but just couldn't comprehend the trade-offs this required.
"Were your children born here or did you bring them with you?"
"Marta and I waited until we could come to the US to have the kids. It was really hard; our families didn't understand. Our brothers and sisters and friends all already had kids, but we stuck it out. It is a lot harder to get through the wall with a whole family."
"Wow, I had no idea." Evan sank into thought for a while.
"You are a Singleton Evan?"
"Yes, I am. Manuel, what did you do in Mexico before you came here? Were you a trainer there as well?"
"Yes sir, but only an assistant. I paid my way through medical school working with the Men's National Futbol team."
Evan sat up. "A doctor? Why did you give that up?"
"It wasn't hard actually. My studies eventually focused on cellular biology and Marta was getting a Bachelor's in nanoTech engineering. It became really clear to us just how little medicine had advanced outside of the, you know, "first world" countries."
Manuel's face grew tense as he spoke, and Evan realized just how difficult the move to the US must have been for Manuel and his wife. It was the first time he had faced the consequences of the immigration laws.
"So you obviously had the intelligence and the work ethic to make it here but I find it hard to imagine how much you have given up."
"I work with mostly wonderful people here Mr. Evan. I have a fondness for athletes, and I take pride in helping you boys win. Being here lets Marta and me raise our children knowing that we will grow old enough to see their children and their children's children. It is not so bad here not being a full citizen, we have so much more than we had before. Our children have the chance to become full citizens as well."
"Do you miss the families that you left behind?"
"Some, but it is good here. Our community is strong, and we live really full lives."
Evan squeezed Manuel's shoulder as he moved towards the showers. "Thank you Manuel."
Evan's thoughts consumed him through his locker room ritual and followed him to his car. He sub-vocalized "Home James" to his car, and it slipped easily into traffic, leaving him to his thoughts.
As he sat quietly lost nursing his mug of Ramen, Kaya came home. Even glanced up at her, a smile trying to creep into his face as she slid her hands from his cheeks behind his head. She pulled him in. She brushed his lips with a kiss. "Where was Boy?"
"Huh? Oh... nowhere K."
"Yes, you were. Tell me." She let go of his gaze and began moving with a dancer's grace around the living room, sorting and storing her work things and his training things. Restoring order to their space. Resting things where they must be. Out of the way but ready for the next time they are needed.
"I was talking with Manuel..." Evan began.
"How many does he have?"
"Three, almost four."
"How do you have almost four? Oh, I get it, his wife, he has a wife right? She is pregnant?"
"Yeah. Don't jump all over me for this, it made me think of the Exam again."
"Evan, you know how I feel about it." She saw the sadness and apprehension grip his eyes and mouth. "Okay, okay, go ahead and talk while I get you something better to eat than noodles. I will listen, I can't promise with an open heart but will guarantee open ears."
"Kaya, you know I only have a few more weeks to make this decision and no matter how either of us feel about it... Hold up, before you say anything, no I am not bowing to pressure from my parents, they have been leaving me alone about this lately. I can't treat this as a non-decision. If I do nothing, that is deciding as well."
"Fair enough. You can quit stalling, what is it?"
"Talking to Manuel put a spotlight on what my parents gave up to give me this, I won't say opportunity, but well, this choice."
"Evan, at the risk of sounding endlessly repetitive, you know the reasons why I oppose immortality and up until this deadline became real, you were on the exact same page. It is a poison on our society. No one needs to live more than 120 years; it is almost three times the medieval lifespan. You know that I agree that extending life has brought a level of artistic productivity and scientific advancement that would not otherwise have been possible but immortality? That is just not right."
She settled down and waited for his response and the cooking oil to heat for the stir fry. Evan sat hunched, not responding.
"Evan sweetie," she began as she tossed the vegetables into the pan and started stirring, "think about what Manuel has that you could never have, that I could never have if we stayed together. Four kids, can you imagine."
The next few days were a bit of a blur. Evan went through the motions, and he, and Kaya spoke less and less. He got what he needed to do done; he performed well on the field, and his research moved forward but he wasn't there. He strained his left quad taking a nasty hit from an opposing beater while scoring the winning goal and Manuel was there for him.
"You okay Mr. Evan?"
"Maybe not Manuel. Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Maybe Mr. Evan, it depends on what it is."
"Well, I don't want to offend you, but I am pretty sure you know more about this than I do."
"I will try to be objective Mr. Evan, go ahead," Manuel said as he drove his thumbs into Evan's quad.
It took Evan a few moments to recover from the therapeutic manipulation.
"Do you think that immortality is wrong?"
Manuel kept working on Evan's connective tissues and time dragged a bit.
Evan spoke softly, "I offended you."
"No no, Mr. Evan. I was just choosing my words carefully. As I have told you, my Marta and I came here to find a life that we thought was better than the one we were leaving behind. Of course, we knew that it did not mean that we could have access to immortality, but we were aware that it could possibly have been a choice for our children and really more for our grandchildren. We know the biology and technology perhaps better than you and most people I suppose. It has been hard leaving our families behind, but we felt that the benefits would greatly outweigh the loss. But we had even more hard decisions to make. We knew that if we had a large family, that our children would probably not choose to have only one child. We couldn't give up so much of who we were, how we prefer to live our lives to make that happen."
Manuel ceased speaking for quite a while, and Evan respected his silence. When he began again, there was a tightness in his throat.
"Evan," Manuel began. "Is it okay to call you Evan?" Evan nodded his ascent.
Manuel pulled him up to a sitting position and sat next to him.
"Evan, you are young, and I guess that why you are asking this is because you are a Singleton and are facing the choice of the Exam, am I right?" Evan nodded and lowered his head.
"It is okay. I had thought so. Do not fear that I have any jealousy, because I am completely free from it. I feel bad for you. If you make this choice, you will never be surrounded by the love, the community that I have." He sighed. "You have lived a life of relative isolation I imagine, no siblings, parents who were ambitious enough to want an immortal child. I cannot choose for you, and I don't think that I can help much. The only thing that I can say to you is that my choices work for my Marta and me. I will live on in the minds and hearts of my children, and their children, and that is more than enough for me."
Manuel continued, "But I am not ignorant of what you would gain. I too might have considered it if I had the opportunity. The things that can be accomplished in multiple lifetimes. The wonder of seeing the world change and grow. Having a child of your own who would not have to watch you wither and die, one that would be your partner for eternity. That must be enticing."
"Manuel, if I choose this path I will lose the woman I love."
Manuel's face expanded in a smile. "Mr. Evan, you are young, you will find more love, I promise you."
"Perhaps," Evan muttered. "All of my friends would grow old and die and more, I would watch my brother grow old and die."
"Oh ho, a brother? How is this?"
"He is adopted."
"But you love him as a brother nonetheless. Ah, the decision weighs on you all the more. I think you know the answers in your heart, Mr. Evan. You will do the right thing."
That day, Evan told his coach he would need a couple of weeks off to study for the Exam. He told his faculty adviser that he would be putting his dissertation off until next semester. Evan began to study.
Kaya was not pleased.
"Evan.." Kaya cooed from the bedroom doorway. Her smooth long legs were bare, and the rest of her was barely covered. She had on a wicked smile, and she reached out a hand to him. "Come to me Boy."
Evan looked up with blurry eyes and at the sight of her, rose to move towards here. But he stopped and stood still looking at her and finally, looked through her. Kaya's hand turned palms up, and she curled her thumb and three of her fingers leaving the fourth to do all of the talking.
Evan sat down hard, and his eyes rimmed with moisture. He sniffed them back and put his head back down.
Kaya tried, every way she could, to engage him. To distract Evan from a future she didn't think was good for him which she found distasteful and even despicable. Finally, sadly, she stopped trying and spent the days they had left making sure he was fed and washed himself on occasion. She also started to look up the process, the technology, and the biology, hoping to find some answers, wishing to find some hope.
Two days before the Exam, they were eating dinner together in their apartment. Evan had realized that he had crammed all the information about every subject he could into his head and that any more studying would simply have diminishing returns. The breadth of what could be on the Exam was daunting and at the end of the day completely unknown. The Exam could cover literally anything, and there were no study guides. No one who passed had ever shared, and no one who failed could ever share.
Kaya could not hold it in any longer, "what if you fail Evan?" I can face losing you because you are immortal, and your perspective on life has changed, but you do realize that if you fail..." she trailed off.
"Kaya, I will not fail. Dumber people than me have passed. One of my friends from High School passed, and he is a knucklehead."
"Evan, they don't let you come home."
"They have to preserve the integrity of the Exam, they can't let someone who has failed spread around the answers, not even the structure of the test."
"Evan, you, not someone else, you will not come home."
He reached out and held her hand. She let him for the first time in a week. He looked her in the eye and said softly. "I know my love." Her gaze fell away.
"Kaya, did you find a way to convince me with all of your investigating?"
"Well.." she trailed off.
"Kaya," he insisted.
"There might be a way that I can join you."
"What? You aren't a Singleton; you know that isn't true."
"Well, you are right, I can't take the Exam, but I found something interesting when I dug deep enough. I spoke to my old BioNano professor, and he told me something that no one is supposed to know. The immortality tech is delivered in pill form."
"How does he know that, it doesn't make sense. Anyway, how would it help."
"He said that his grandfather was part of the original research team as a grad student, and he worked on the delivery system until he graduated. His grandfather wasn't there when they finalized everything, but he was pretty sure it was delivered that way. The moisture in your gut activates the nano-bio-bots and they go about doing their work. It is no different from any other nano-tech. It just isn't shared with anyone and it actually makes sense why the immortality therapy is shrouded in such secrecy, it is because it is so simple."
"Okay, I can see how that might be reasonable but how does that help us?"
"Well, think about what you know about the tech. Does the doctor give you any different pill than anyone else when you get a cold?"
"I guess not."
"They don't. It doesn't matter if you are a six-year-old or a 300-pound man; you get the same pill. The bots replicate just enough in response to the virus cells and never any more."
"I see where you are going with this, if it is in pill form, we could actually split it."
Evan's forehead crinkled, and his eyes narrowed. "Kaya, you despise the idea of immortality."
Kaya sat up straight, proud and defiant. "I love you more than my principals."
The die was cast, and Evan and Kaya spent the next two days in each other's arms. Painfully aware that they would spend either eternity together or never see each other again.
They held hands tightly, on the edge of pain, as the car drove them to the testing center. They clung to each other as they walked up to the entrance, past the first row of security to the inner doorway and then, they let go. Evan entered, and Kaya was ushered by the guards to the curb.
Evan marveled at the vast Atrium with its soaring fountains, brightly lit windows and triumphant statues. The wealth of immortality he thought. An unassuming man in a lab coat with a name tag that simply said Doctor greeted him and led him to an elevator at the rear of the Atrium. They descended two levels by the indicator lights but Even could not tell at all how deep they went down. They walked down a short hallway, and Evan entered a small room with a desk and chair.
After a few moments, the Doctor returned. He had on rubber gloves and a small device.
"Doc, I am anxious to take the Exam, when can I start?"
The man with Doctor on his chest raised an eyebrow and spoke for the first time. "Have no worries, the Exam will be over shortly, please give me your index finger."
Evan obeyed, and the man pricked his finger and placed a tiny drop of blood on a strip that he then inserted into the device. It beeped.
"Hmm, let's see now," murmured the man with Doctor on his chest. "Evan Augustus Klein I presume," and looked Evan in the eye. Evan nodded. "Very well sir, let me be the first to welcome you to the ranks of the immortals."
Evan sat in stunned silence.
"You must forgive me," the man beamed, "I so love the look of surprise that this moment causes. Living forever can be a bit boring at times. Let me explain. First off, you may call me Albert."
Albert took his time explaining to Evan the truth. The idea of the Exam is to give candidates for immortality pause to reflect on their choice. They must be willing to sacrifice most of their relationships, face the possibility of "disappearing" which might mean death or something else dreadful. In short, they must make their peace with the world and be fully confident in their decision. It also gives the greater portion of humanity a reason to believe that even those fortunate to be eligible for immortality must be "worthy" and must take a risk before getting it. The implication that there is biology in the way also helps. That is also a lie that we tell people. Now that you are one of us, you can be told. We can make anyone immortal. The barriers to doing so are societal. You must by now understand that society would crumble under that weight. You must also understand that the secrecy that you are now bound to is quite literally unbreakable. Any hint of the truth escaping and we wield our power to remove the source completely. We immortals must at times be entirely ruthless in the protection of our common interest. Share anything that you have learned now and in the future about us and you will be removed from life. Everyone you could possibly have told; family, friends acquaintances will also be silenced.
Albert smiled a kindly smile, "Do you understand Evan?"
"I... I do Albert."
Albert left and shortly returned with a glass of water in one hand and a pill in the other.
And here it is. He placed the glass on the desk and the pill in Evan's hand.
"One more thing Evan."
"Before you take that pill, you have to understand one more thing. There is a price to be paid."
"To be immortal is to cut ties with the past and to live the life of an immortal. We have been watching you your entire life. We know that one person binds you to the mortal world."
"Yes. If you accept this life, you will have to end hers."
Evan lurched to his feet, knocking his chair to the ground and backing away in stunned gasping horror from Albert.
"You can not be serious."
Albert calmly sat down on the edge of the desk smiling broadly. "Again my apologies for the drama Evan but I do so enjoy this. It gets even better. If you do not, then you have "failed" the Exam. You will die and painfully I am afraid."
Grinning, Albert set the pill gently on the desk and turned from Evan. "One last thing Evan, you will take the pill, swallow it, and walk out and do this. If not, you will never leave this room."
For a long time, Evan sat hugging his knees against the wall of the room, staring through tears at the pill on the desk. No one came and time passed without anything to mark it. Eventually, he stood. He walked to the desk. He picked up the pill and swallowed it. He walked out the door, down the hall, up the elevator, and to the street. He was immortal.