It was a sad day when it happened. After having longevity being bestowed for so long, to lose a member of the population to death shook everyone up. Was it the start of the decline of mankind?
As historian, I looked over the files. Back in the late 21st century, population was rampant and way out of control. Statisticians had predicted that as the population grew larger than the foodstuffs that some innate genetic agency would take control and our numbers would tail off on its own. They were wrong. We couldn’t even get colony ships away from the solar system faster than population growth.
Then one of the scientists, Capodervaposhi, came up with a practical solution. It wasn’t exactly the fountain of youth but it would cause all of us to cease to age. We would not be exactly immortal but certainly long-lived. With the necessity of having children within our original short lifetime removed, we could reduce population growth down to…well…zero. With a minor tweak of the genetic code at the same time, Capodervaposhi also supplied practical sterilisation until the time when we needed children.
Of course, there were objections. There always are. Mostly this was concerned with the lack of development of our species. We were already advanced. If anything, we were already at the pinnacle of development. With mankind spreading out into the galaxy, our species was unlikely to die. Not wanting to see colony worlds over-populate, some chose to pursue them and give them an equal longevity. Those who objected were offered worlds of their own. We could afford to be generous but with a warning that they should seek their own population control.
For the eighty billion of us left on Earth, we settled into the routine of life. Some things changed quite drastically. Marriages would last a century at most before a desire for change. Science and the arts developed at a slower rate but never actually declined. We had all the time in the world, so we could smell the roses and still get everything done. With time on our hands, terraforming became an interesting pursuit as long term projects really did live up to its name. That and improvements to livestock and vegetation. With no arguments over territory and religion impractical – how can a God have a claim on your immortal soul when you’ll never die? – individual governments died out. We had a different sort of peace. The desire for travel and see new things engulfed those with wanderlust and the pursuit of taking over new worlds and this brought Earth’s population down to twenty billion. Plenty of space for all of us.
What made the death ever tragic was because it was a simple mistake. We could still suffer injury and had all the time in the world to recover. One thing that made this difficult was radiation. We could still be contaminated. It happened from time to time and those who were kept themselves to themselves until their bodies shed their poisoned cells. What couldn’t be anticipated was to receive an acute overdose of gamma radiation and falling into a reactor at the same time. No one could initiate a rescue and he had no choice but kill himself than suffer in perpetuity.
This shook the rest of us up in ways none of us could fully grasp. We all knew our long life wasn’t immortality and we could all die accidentally but this was the first case of deliberate suicide, albeit in unusual circumstances. We were all warned to watch our neighbours as ourselves just in case the herd instinct took over and followed suit for whatever personal reason they might have.
Some thought had to be given to what to do with a population missing one of its number. Should we breed a replacement? There wasn’t an equal number of men and women anyway but that never seemed to matter. Relationships never lasted for long and people always moved on. There would always be a percentage of the population who wanted a rest from others.
The far bigger problem was the name of the person who had died. Capodervaposhi! Only he had the secret to restore the genetic block given for perpetual sterilisation lest someone else tried to expand the population unauthorised. With him dead, we no longer had the option to think that we could all have children one day.
The news of this passed throughout the colony worlds with devastating effect and the less stable found ways to kill themselves and effectively cut the population down to a fraction of its original size. The summer of life for them was over and they didn’t want the winter of despair.
Those of us that chose to live examined Capodervaposhi’s life and records in a hope that we might be able to recreate his work. The secret was encoded in an extremely large prime number which might well take an eternity to decipher. Working anew in genetics was thought to take less time but none of us left was on par with Capodervaposhi. He was to genetics what the late Einstein was to physics. There was so many different manipulations of the genetic code that had to be set up that it would require a man of his genius to find the short-cut to do it. In pre-long-life, we could always hope that the next generation or three might yield a similar genius but we were the ultimate generation now and that didn’t seem likely to happen.
As historian, I looked over the old mythologies. The ancient pantheons of gods had maybe one or two generations of children before they stopped breeding at all. We had stopped even before we reached that stage. We were effective gods but with nowhere else to go. At most, we could probably breed a new species that would not have our restriction but they wouldn’t be Man as we know it.
Had those pantheons of gods realised this? Was that their message about the dangers of immortality or long-life that nothing, even themselves, lasted forever? Was that the clue that was embedded in our past?
I documented this into the myths that would have to be given to this new species. Immortality and long-life might look good on the surface but eternal happiness can also have its downside. It never lasts forever.
© GF Willmetts 2013
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