by Ramez Yoakeim
Nearly blind, the farmer navigated the forest floor by touch. Her gnarly fingers scattered the snow from the flaring trunks of ancient pines, in search of tubers and hardy mushrooms. When the concussive booms of atmospheric entry scattered the accumulations off the branches, she lifted her head, as far as her hunch would permit, and looked with milky eyes towards the horizon, and the arc of fire splitting the heavens.
The curious farmer followed the rivulets of molten snow up the low hill, to the cratered grave of the cometary fragment, where it lay sizzling from the ordeal of its extra-solar journey.
She caressed the fractured glassy exterior, and scraped her liver-spotted skin on the shard-riddled interior; sparing the meteorite’s fragile molecular passenger Sol’s lethal ultraviolet deluge.
Grim soldiers came knocking but the farmer’s sole surviving son answered only in grunts. Two weeks passed before he first noticed the beginnings of his mother’s metamorphosis. It took three-months more for her back to straighten, eyes to clear, and hair to regain its long-lost chestnut luster. Though imperceptible day-to-day, a crone more vibrant than blushing maidens could not go unnoticed by the villagers for long.
Word spread, drawing dour white-coated men brandishing tools to prick and prod, analyze and scrutinize. Within merely a year of its earthfall, the molecular traveler unveiled itself, for it never intended to remain hidden.
The cellular rejuvenation it imparted obviated the need for division, and the unavoidable accompanying risks of DNA degradation and runaway growth. Intensive study ensued, charting the molecule’s many boons. From immunity to pathogens, to heightened mental acuity, and elevated cognitive function. Medical types and philosophers alike whispered breathlessly, shyly pondering the demise of humanity’s most ardent foe. Short of accident or foul play, what avenues to those endowed remained for death to intrude?
A dozen months passed before the mighty could refrain no more. They drank thirstily from the interstellar gift’s fount, drawing the ire of all. Those once ailing at death’s door reemerged from intensive care wards flaunting vigor no surgeon’s knife nor physician’s elixir could bestow.
Overnight, those living under the yoke of presidents-for-life had an eternity more to lament their woes. Aspiring heirs to billionaires were left rudderless and distraught.
Clamoring masses–witnessing the monopolization of the ultimate prize by those who already owned everything–thundered in the streets. Make whole our broken, they roared, cure our ills. Let the heavens’ gift lift the downtrodden and lame, as it once did a gnarly penurious farmer.
Voices long-practiced at casting doubt on the tumult of a convulsing planet in the throes of calamitous change, suddenly discovered their inner conservationists. How could Earth cope with billions of immortals, with a billion more added every decade or two? Responsibility, stewardship, and stability all demanded that the miraculous gift be rationed; restricted to a few.
Only those who had earned favor may partake of life everlasting. Only those deemed worthy could be permitted to turn away from the indomitable Reaper. Prove yourself then, before praying for a reward, the mighty exhorted, as if the miracle was their own.
A pervasive ranking system sprung to judge the worth of all. Do as told and rise, fall short and have solely yourself to blame. For privation, infirmity, and death. Climb then, with your worthiness score, the rungs of an endless ladder, sprouting more steps than the stars.
Kicking those below and clawing at those above, humankind set to climbing, gleefully imagining eternity attained. Until the all-consuming race to the promised immortality spluttered to an uncertain fearful halt. Long since grown accustomed to the benefits due the first immortal, one morning the farmer failed to arise from her slumber.
Shock and disbelief ensued. How could she perish? Had she been poisoned? Was it even possible to envenom the perdurable? Could her silks have spelt her doom? She had indulged to surfeit, the glitterati droned, eaten to excess, strained to exhaustion, rejoiced immoderately, lived too fully. Surely, the fault was none other’s but her own.
The autopsy showed frayed arteries and veins, liquified organs, and the decayed vitals of a crypt postponed. Cells once rejuvenated by the molecule were undone by its machinations; deconstructed to constituent biochemical ingredients. What it once bestowed, and more, the molecule slyly reclaimed.
Whilst they sought its largesse, none questioned whence it came, or to what end. Turn away from the gift horse, they insisted, avert your gaze from its mouth. With death within the stride, however, they dissected the horse; hide and all, uncovering isotropic timers buried deep within the molecule’s intricate innards.
All told, one hundred forty-four thousand received the molecule’s pourboire. Presidents and prime ministers, queens and princes, billionaires and celebrities, grifters and sycophants alike awoke to tidings of certain doom.
Frantically they counted the days since they received the molecule’s bequest, and the days that then remained till their eternity ended. They spared no effort searching for an antidote. At first, one that retained immortality while diffusing the accompanying fuse. Failing that, means to purge the molecule altogether, reverting to what once had been. Finally, any means to stave off a resurgent death; even if only until dawn.
The molecule’s makers’ aim had been to depopulate the earth, ready it for those who sought to conquer it with nary a photon beam. Using instead an irrepressible ailment disguised as a boon.
Their failing, and humankind’s grace, had been in gravely overestimating our community mindedness. Cooperative we might be when requisite, but only as a molehill stands at the foot of the Everest of our greed. We proclaim commonwealth even when our biology demands we hoard every advantage within grasp’s reach. Even those that spell our ruin. The farmer’s son witnessed the internment of her remains alone. After, in their old hovel, he retrieved a shard she hid in a wall, and pricked his finger. Then again, to be sure. It mattered not the manner of death he met, if for three scores and ten months he lived secure.
Ramez Yoakeim’s academic research once involved engineering perfectly believable details out of nothing. Fiction seemed like the obvious next step. At one time or another an engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, these days Ramez devotes himself to charting humanity’s future, one tale at a time. Find out more about Ramez and his work at yoakeim.com.