The first immortal generation didn’t know. They did not know they would never die of disease, infection, cancer or ‘old age’. They grew up unaware of their eminent assent to immortality. They died too young. Their friends and family died too young. Those that survived aged as any other human had for the whole of human history. They aged and aged, and even as they surpassed their oldest relatives in years lived they didn’t realize that was only the beginning.
As technology and medical science continued to expand its capability at exponential rates few realized how close we were to unraveling the mysteries of the human body. How close we had come to a complete and profound understanding of the mechanical and chemical processes that guide life itself.
As the great killers (cancer, viruses, heart disease and so on) began to fall one by one few were willing to believe that we had in fact become the masters of our destiny. Even fewer realized that the only obstacle to immortality was trauma – car accidents, gun shots, explosions. Avoid the most severe physical perils and live to see your great great great grandchildren (and their great great grandchildren) graduate from college. Just imagine the stories your great great great grand parents would tell you if they were still around to speak.
Well into my life Cancer was a killer, and one to be feared. Our best responses to this scourge were primitive at best – slice into the body and attempt to cut out the diseased cells or simply blast them with poison so severe the patient barely survives the ordeal if they survive at all. You’re not likely to hear an oncologist make the parallel but this isn’t much different from the medieval treatments we so readily scoff at in retrospect.
Several factors, all made feasible by the astounding rise of a myriad of technologies, brought this mighty killer to its knees. One of the earliest realizations of Cancer research was the (simple?) fact that not all cancers are alike, and not all will respond to the same treatment. Eureka! Knowing is half the battle, and now we know that before we can ‘kill’ it we have to identify it and tailor the response accordingly.
The process of treatment was largely automated, industrialized and as such made accessible and affordable to the populations of the planet. In time Cancer ceased to be a concern and no longer claimed throngs of human lives every year, much as vaccines had conquered the plagues of the early 20th century.
In a universe as vast as the mind can conceive the end to cancer was similarly small – engineered nanoparticles, slow to materialize as viable medical instruments, were eventually harnessed to act as the foot soldiers of medicine. Dispersed into the blood stream they have been trained to combat disease on the cellular level. To administer treatment, destroy, monitor and maintain cells of the human body that are otherwise not doing the job themselves. By mid-century we had learned to monitor, manipulate and maintain the mechanics and chemistry of own bodies.
On my 95th birthday I went for a run. I was strong, agile and alert and not at all what you would imagine of a 95 year old man. My own grandfather had attended his 90th birthday in 2010 with a walker, failing vision and hearing. His body showed the trauma of the long and productive life that had all but crippled him. He needed help standing and sitting as his balance was poor.
He could not run. Some 65 years later, my situation is much different.
Expected and unexpected changes rippled through society as the first generation aged beyond their anticipated life span. Marriage vows had to be reconsidered – the assertion that the union would remain intact ‘until death do you part’ rang hallow. Marriage licenses were beginning to be issued for decades long time periods, to be renewed or set aside 50 years later at the discretion of the wed. Many chose to renew, for true love knows no expiration, but it was beginning to be recognized in society that we could no longer rely on death to dissolve contracts.
Government run welfare systems targeting the ‘retired’ were discontinued. The notion of retirement no longer held any permanence as no one could accumulate enough money to last them an eternity of leisure. The system that had been built to take best advantage of the productivity afforded by the human life span was no longer viable, and so over the decades it was dismantled and replaced. Attitudes about work and working changed – safety became paramount and more attention was paid to quality – as anyone now had the time needed to master nearly any skill, the quality of our collective work began to rise.
Governments themselves began to change as people lived and lived and lived without end. They got smarter, as people persisted into centuries of life span it became more difficult to casually forget the lessons of the past. Governments also became more dangerous, as cruel dictators could no longer be counted on to die despite retaining the ability to kill.
A month before my 147th birthday I was married for the 3rd time. I had already raised 5 children (all of whom had children and grandchildren), a relatively modest number among my peers of the first immortal generation.
The anticipated restrictions on the number of childern one could have failed to materialize in most countries, and were being removed where they had been enacted. The expansion of humanity to Mars and beyond had all but removed the resources constraints and concerns of over population. Family reunions were rare simply for the practical matters of available space and cost of travel but I remained in contact with my extended and ever growing families through the various communications platforms preferred by subsequent generations. All told living descendants numbered in the dozens and grew every year.
Religion persists…inexplicably. Faith apparently finds no reality which it cannot exploit and mass immortality proves to be no exception. The new belief systems, which retain much of the ceremony of the old, credit their respective god or gods with humanities new found life span and continue to repress and twist various details of this or that to their own gain. Much of the death that occurs among the immortal generation is due to one faith or another – be it ritualized self-death with the belief of achieving a still higher plane or physical combat against a competing opinion of who’s belief is correct.
While much of the old religions had predicted an immoral and ethically depraved society would result from a limitless term of existence in human form this has not come to pass. Even as the majority of mankind sets religion aside or, as is often the case, retains the ceremony and social aspects while discarding much of the dogma, our ability for compassion and redemption seems only enhanced. The wisdom and grace which as mortals was gained and lost through the course of a lifetime is now retained indefinitely. Humanity has reached a new precipice in its ability to maintain and diffuse the kind of knowledge that used to take a whole life time to assemble and was rarely left behind intact.
People of the first immortal generation and all those that follow still die. Sudden traumatic injuries still claim lives. Medical science has had success in treating all variety of injury and ailment but certain wounds, particularly if suffered in remote or isolated locations, do not lend themselves to treatment.
Wars are still fought. People still kill themselves and each other. It seems even the immortal would sometimes rather not be.
After 200 birthdays the surprise starts to wear off but we celebrate all the same. Cake, candles (numerous though somewhat fewer than 200) and personal gifts abound. Unanticipated guests include friends who’ve traveled incomprehensible distances and children of my very own descendants, some I am meeting in person for the first time. They bring their stories and we share and humanity carries on, assured of its own enduring.
Life has always been thought of as a precious gift, to be cherished and protected. That protection assured the gift glows all the more brightly, expanding to no end and bringing with it the realization of the combined hopes and dreams of all those who came before. The First Immortal Generation carries with them all of human history and all of human potential… and marvels at the accomplishment forever.