The Immortal Mistake

Eternal Youth. Hope springs eternal, doesn’t it? Most people hope for a small extension to their few precious decades we get on this ball of rock. I don’t; I hope for a permanent extension, especially once I’d hit thirty and found my first grey hair the same weekend. As a biologist, I was determined to do something about that.

I was, I have to tell you, pretty damn amazing in my field, but it wasn’t science that gave me the answer in the end. I hate admitting that, but the witch doctor I found in the back of beyond was the one who knew – and I had to bribe him heavily in order to give me what I needed. The potion.

It took three months to brew it, and just a few seconds to drink it. I probably should have performed some kind of ceremony with it, but I’m being too pedantic now. I don’t even remember what was in it, so why would I remember any ceremony? The contents of the potion nearly made me heave, but I swallowed my reflux. I didn’t want to lose a precious drop.

But nothing changed. At least, nothing that I was aware of. I felt exactly the same as I’d done just a moment before, except now slightly nauseous. That soon faded, and I was left with a sense of vague disappointment. I hadn’t expected to suddenly grow wings, but I’d hoped for some tangible change – some precise example of how my genetics had changed.

I didn’t dare try it again – the book was very insistent on not doing it twice – so I had to just wait. It was a couple of days later that I realised something. The grey hair had vanished. The lines was still there, but … thinner somehow, and the laughter lines had lessened in my forehead.

Over the next few years, I watched myself carefully, as all my friends began complaining about their own physical woes. My face stayed the same, as did my hair and my physique. It was when my circle began their slow, steady descents into their fifties that I noticed a subtle change in their behaviour towards me; their tones became mildly accusatory. What was I doing? Was it botox? Was I dying my hair? Protests about “none of the above” went unheeded; no-one believed me, and annoyance grew at my apparent lies.

As time went on, people began to distance themselves from me, convinced that I was somehow deceitful and dishonest. Even my wife was angry at me. She left me too, when she couldn’t trust me any more. I was lying to her, apparently.

After that, I went off the rails. I slept around – a lot. Girls thirty, sometimes forty years younger than me were still interested. They had no idea that they were sleeping with a man in his sixties, and then in his seventies.

Things changed when my friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen for years, began dying. My parents had died a number of years before, but that was to be expected. It was the natural order of things, for parents to predecease their children. But now I was seeing my friends, my peers, dying. Some died of illness, some from accidents, but most died of old age.

I’d not been ill in fifty or sixty years – not even a cold – and even when I’d broken my leg, it had healed in three days. But everyone else died. Eventually, everyone I had grown up with was dead.

The world carried on. It always does, when someone dies. My world, the one inside my head, didn’t; my self-destructive ways continued. I tried every drug known to man, and nothing changed. My body absorbed, and rejected, every abuse I threw at it and more. It survived.

One day, the fog began to clear. I saw the truth, unfettered and clear; I missed my friends and family, but I could continue without them. Right at that moment, I was friendless, homeless, and old … old, that is, for a normal human being. I was over 100, but still looked 30. I couldn’t continue like this.

So I began, very slowly, to pull myself together; it took me some time, but I managed it, piece by piece. I stopped drinking and taking drugs. I also stopped hanging around the old haunts in London that you get to know if you’re a homeless, alcoholic druggie.

Thankfully, London was a big city and always expanding, so I was able to get help back on the ladder; I used halfway houses to get myself shaved and washed. They also gave me a comfortable bed to sleep in, and I can’t tell you how wonderful that was after sleeping rough for so many years. If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, never go without a bed. Never. It’s bliss.

Anyway, I soon got a job working at a bank. I was always fairly good with numbers and managed to get a few promotions, always associated with transfers to different branches to avoid suspicion about my unchanging appearance. I could only go so far, or so I thought. After all, there were only so many branches to go to, and even the worst-organised personnel department would eventually get suspicious.

Has you been involved in identity fraud? I have.

There are people out there who can create new identities for you with nothing more than a passport photo and a ready supply of cash. I had both; after all, I was a senior manager for a well-respected bank, and I’d had many years to save.

So, every few decades, I’d change identity. One thing that never changed, however, was my nationality; I always remained English. Not, to be frank, because of any particularly patriotic reason – I’d never really felt that particular urge – but because I couldn’t do accents. I’d never been able to, and believe me; I’d tried. American, Australian, Irish – I tried them all, but I sounded drunk or ill.

Sometimes I moved to a new bank, but other times, I’d just retrain; I took degrees in medicine, law, criminology, chemistry, history, and various others. I tried my hand at everything, and watched London change beyond all recognition. It grew tall and out, taking over more suburbs. It shrank when the floods hit and then rebuilt when the civil engineers came in to repair the damage – including, for a few years, me, having seen the tides coming and retraining just in time.

I loved the city, but eventually it began to get stale.

I made good friends there, but they all left eventually, either through choice or through death. I tried being completely heartless, but that was impossible; I just couldn’t do it. I mourned them, and that helped keep me human and sane.

I began to travel. I could afford to, after all; my investments were smart and always moving, with new financial advisors every couple of decades increasing my wealth exponentially. My work was travel; I saw the world, a couple of times over, and watched it evolve. I could observe war ebb and flow across continents. I witnessed people torture their fellow beings, and always berated myself whenever I failed to intervene – and always tried to do better the next time. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed.

I saw rainforests destroyed and bombs fall … once, just once, a nuclear bomb fell in a densely-inhabited capital city, and then no more fell ever again. I shared in the joy of those around me as I saw nuclear bombs being stockpiled and then destroyed. I saw innocent children die and cruel adults survive. I talked to dictators and compassionate leaders of local communities. People were dispossessed, and people were re-homed. I saw love and hate and joy and rage.

I don’t know how long I spent away from home – London was still home, no matter what – but it was a long, long time. I’d wanted to see everything, and it was only when I began to try that I realised I couldn’t. Instead, I watched people and events and causes and construction and demolition and humanity.

There came a point, after a millennia of moving around, that I knew I needed to stop, so I returned to London. My word, it had changed, but the buzz hadn’t. People still loved living here,

Space travel. I bet you’re wondering about that, aren’t you? Well, yes, space travel began on an industrial scale, with improvements made every generation. The deep space sleeper missions were eventually overtaken by newer, quicker ships, which had the rudiments of artificial gravity and life support, allowing astronauts to shed the clunky spacesuits of old.

The search for extra-terrestrial life was on. When it eventually arrived, tens of centuries after our proper forays into the cold vastness beyond the edge of our solar system, war broke out again. I watched more battles raging.

The galactic war eventually ceased; we’d even seen some of that conflict on Earth, the first for centuries on our soil. Naturally, I’d done my bit to help the war effort. I learnt how to pilot star fighters, how to repair space shuttles, and how to survive the sudden evacuation of air from a 200-seater personnel carrier. But I always came home, and I saw the war over, with humanity the victor.

We continued to spread out through the stars; we broadened our horizons dramatically. But despite our determination to spread throughout the galaxy, I always returned to Earth. London was home.

Every species evolves over time; humanity was no exception. Survival of the fittest and all that. I could see subtle and not-so-subtle changes in our genome. The appendix and coccyx, those annoying parts of our vestigial ape ancestry, were finally engineered out of existence, along with cancer, arthritis, and various other ailments. My own, potion-altered body prevented disease, but I still had my appendix and coccyx, as well as my own unique spinal column and brain structure. I was being left behind.

As humanity stretched out into the galaxy, and developed the ability to live on new and exotic worlds alongside aliens the like of which you couldn’t begin to imagine, I was more of a curiosity than ever before. I was closer to the apes than any of my descendants, and I was beginning to even look different; humanity was growing taller and broader and stronger, and I most certainly wasn’t.

For a while, I tried to keep up. I tried surgery, chemicals, potions (more of the bloody things), and experiments, but nothing worked; I always remained precisely the same, and every surgeon reported it as a fight to get anywhere near the area I wanted to change. My body was impenetrable, inviolable, and completely unwilling – or, more likely, unable – to evolve.

Language. No-one ever considers language when they want to live forever. Do you honestly think that language was going to stay the same? I picked up new slang and idioms quickly enough; after all, I was living in the culture, wasn’t I? But when I travelled, I began to pick up bits and pieces of other languages too. I wasn’t always fluent, but I could usually get by.

Language changes. Tongues change. Speech patterns change. I’d meet fellow English people on my travels, and their speech was evolving. I began to panic. How would I be understood? Thankfully, the media helped, and I watched enough news to understand some of the changes. It was slow and painfully hard, with my un-evolved brain refusing to give in, or to make it easy during every painful rehearsal. My accent and speech must be so different to how it was when I was first born.

The centuries and millennia rolled past, and I watched as the world changed and adapted. Major wars had long ceased, and the world was politically united, both internationally and inter-galactically. It turned out that humanity was actually one of the oldest species in the galaxy. I watched as, in time, my fellow human beings – if you can still call them that – began to evolve beyond the need for physical bodies. One by one, humanity ascended to a higher plane of existence. It was a joyous time of rapture, and I watched with amazement and fascination. And more than my fair share of envy. I remained resolutely physical.

Eventually, the Earth was deserted, except for me. I remained, alone, and savoured the silence of London – a first, after all these millions of millennia! No other human ever returned to visit, although I wasn’t surprised; after all, why would they? They were in a different realm, savouring new experiences and new lives, and there wasn’t anything left for them on Earth. I doubt I would have done any differently.

I’d wondered if other species might start to colonise the world, or if some of the lower life forms that were left might start to evolve. I soon realised why neither of those things would happen; the sun was becoming engorged.

Every year, it got fractionally bigger, and every winter seemed a little shorter. I began to wonder if I was seeing things, or hallucinating due to lack of human contact, but the sun was getting bigger. No wonder no-one else wanted this world; soon, it would die in a fiery heat death.

My god, it was hot. I sweated buckets, towards the end. Soon, it was permanently daytime. Mercury had undoubtedly been destroyed by now, as had Venus. One day – a Tuesday – it was the Earth’s turn.

Earthquakes – massive, huge, vast earthquakes – split the world into pieces, cracking it apart from the core to the surface. I found myself on a county-sized piece that was ejected out into space, just as the sun finally swallowed the planet whole.

I was alone and in darkness. The small asteroid I now called home – one of the last vestiges of my home world – was hurtling through space at incredible speeds. I was transfixed; I could see the night sky transform before my very eyes, and I almost wept with the beauty of it.

How did I survive? I don’t know. All I can say is that I’d been given eternal life by that potion, and I knew now that it was entirely accurate. Nothing could kill me, not even the cold, dark depths of space.

I flew past supernovae, clouds of interstellar dust, warring space fleets, planets that were breaking apart, and beautiful space creatures of immense size and complexity. I savoured every sight and every moment, even though I could never share my experiences with anyone. That wasn’t important; I still watched and learnt.

Over time, I began to see more and more supernovae. I even got to see suns explode before my eyes, the space dust always coursing past – and through – me like it was nothing. I knew what was happening, after a fashion; I’d had the time to consider it, after all. The heat death wasn’t just confined to my own tiny corner of the galaxy; the entire universe was getting old. It was dying.

More suns exploded and tore their planets and solar systems apart. I was able to watch, from my rock, efforts to prevent this star or that from being destroyed – and slowing the rate of death and contraction. Nothing worked; the universe continued to shrink. There was a strange pressure that gradually increased; I could feel it in my ears and pressing against my head, but still I survived.

The gaps between stars and planets grew larger and larger until, after an untold amount of time, there was nothing left. Even my asteroid had crumbled away to nothing, and I was left floating in a silent, empty void. There was nothing; no colour, no air, no … anything.

The universe had died. I was all that was left, compressed into a minuscule space that prevented me from moving. There was nowhere for me to go.

So what now? I don’t know. I don’t know what will happen next. Will I help cause the birth of a new universe? Will something come out of the death of the only universe I’ve ever known? My only real question – the only one I actually care about – is whether or not my species, in their astral forms, have managed to survive the universe’s death. Are they still out there, or have I, in my basic, un-evolved form, outlived even them? I don’t know if I’ll ever know the answer to that question, and I suspect that my science degrees outlived their usefulness a long time ago. All I could do now was wait. I’d become exceedingly good at that.

It was then that I felt the tap on my shoulder.

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