Chapter 59: Love you forever, for real.
Steven and Chrissy spent a good hour touring the Station after lunch. It turned out that more than four thousand people lived permanently within the Station and none below level 65, or level 6 by Steven and Chrissy’s current chart, which they already agreed to modify upon their return. Many were natives, originally from all Four First Nations, but the majority were non-native Canadians and the rest were trusted friends from around the world.
The place also was clearly multi-generational, with kids born, raised, schooled, and now working in the Station, mostly to make themselves busy and to learn new things. After a short while, they already understood why no one cared to leave. People were able to create windows in their rooms with an exact solar effect in temperature and light level. They could also trigger sunrise and sunset at the desired time, just as easily as one would program his alarm clock. The inhabitants also knew how to customize Builders’ equipment, which Chrissy noticed, were much more advanced than theirs.
Chrissy and Steven felt welcomed and she even spent an hour with a couple of women going through all the settings for the decoration of rooms and corridors, including the modification of temperature, smell, sound and luminosity. She was also reassured that she would be able to do it in Norway, now that everything was in English.
Gill had also explained to them that a lot of the people at mid-high levels, mainly scientists and humanists like Greenpeace members, had been recruited to the Station minutes after their death. At that, Steven joked about the Christians promoting the belief that good people went to Heaven after they died, but it wasn’t the gods that gave them the chance of an immortal life, it was the secular doctors and scientists who did.
Steven was introduced next to a doctor, who had explained to him how to use the Medical Autonomous Regeneration System and although Steven had seen it and even taught Eirik how to use it, he still listened intently. Doctor Collier’s presentation had been informative, even the passage about the automated functions and tattoos. The subject didn’t interest him much. He had no intention to let someone use him as a pincushion, but still he ventured that it could be useful to know about it since Chrissy had one.
“You see, the system considers a lot of things to be defects when they are not, like body art forms for example. If you leave the system on fully automatic mode, it will repair your skin and return your body to its original state. Then, there is aging. The system also considers it to be a disease, like cancer and diabetes,” explained Doctor Collier simply.
Steven’s face changed to show a euphoric smile. “So, you confirm that the MARS will reactivate the immortal gene that is currently dormant within us?” asked Steven, unconsciously grabbing his right wrist and covering his medical bracelet.
“Not exactly in the superman sense of the term,” answered Collier. “I’m a fan of comic books, so I can use that as an example. It would be more like my favourite superhero, Wolverine. He is immortal in the sense that he stopped aging and can regenerate very fast, but he is not invincible. From what I have read, he wouldn’t survive a big enough bomb or a decapitation.”
“It’s a bit graphic, don’t you think?” Chrissy asked from behind after rejoining him. Steven introduced them to each other and Collier continued.
“Yes, but true nonetheless, and nothing that Steven had not considered already,“ said Collier. “After all, Steven has chosen the neuro-vitrification option. So if he were to die now, his head would be chopped off and become frozen and placed at Alcor.”
Visibly shocked, Chrissy looked at Steven. “You told me you were planning to have yourself frozen if you die, but you never said it was only the head!”
“Please, let’s focus on the present. That tech can make you immortal, no need of cryonics anymore,” exclaimed Steven, returning his focus on Collier. “Doctor, please tell us more.” He felt quite annoyed with Chrissy for the first time since he met her. In the Core, he had stopped to please her and just drank some champagne. But this time, the stakes were higher than delaying knowledge given by a virtual woman. Now, they were discussing the ultimate goal humans could ever set for themselves. He wouldn’t risk losing it for anything, anything at all.
“What I can ascertain from the Builders’ psychological profile, and from the information in the database entered by other civilizations over the centuries, if humans had not been born immortal as nature intended, they would have created an organization, perhaps something like “United Nations Anti-Aging Organization” to have the entire world work on the problem. Think about it: What is the point of working hard to be healthy for a while and then die? Unfortunately, the way this bastard reprogrammed our genes, we have lost that desire.” Collier leaned forward with a serious look on his face. “Did you know that cancer is responsible for the death of 24 percent of the world’s population? I agree that it’s a lot and it’s fought vigorously; people even organize marches for it. However, aging would eventually lead to death for all of us. Still, no one seems to give a shit about that one,” said Collier, clearly frustrated with that fact.
“Men are creatures of invention and are usually determined not to accept no for an answer. Humans were told that only fish can swim and only birds can fly, but we have been roaming the oceans for time immemorial and we have rediscovered flying for almost two hundred years now. Men have been told by other men that they would die if they leave the Earth’s atmosphere, but the Russians have been in space for almost fifty years now, and we are going to space all the time. It can be argued that it’s not yet as commonplace as taking a bus, but we are almost there. Doctors and scientists are working on a cure for AIDS, cancers, and anything else that can affect someone’s quality of life, but only a handful of people are actually working on finding a cure for the ultimate killer. So far, only Harvard University is trying to reactivate T65, the immortality gene. However, they can’t progress much further because only a few people are interested in funding their research,” Collier lamented, shaking his head and wondering why people didn’t fight their instincts harder. “Sometimes, I just want to go and give them the solution, but I can’t. Thanks to a lot of people who adhere to their traditions and religions telling them that birth control or stem cell research is evil, introducing immortality back to this world at large would mean the end of this giant melting bowl of ice cream we call home!”
Steven, with his eyes closed, didn’t want to sound selfish, but there weren’t many ways to say what was on his mind. “But for us, we have the solution right here,” he said, tapping the device with his index finger.
“For us, it’s not a problem. But for the rest of the world, making everyone on the Earth immortals at once would be worse than the Black Plague.”
“I know. The trouble is that people are brainwashed into thinking that life is just like that, the damn human condition,” said Steven, to the discomfort of Chrissy who felt that if she didn’t take the fix, Steven may eventually leave her as she would grow older and he didn’t. For a self-proclaimed atheist, Chrissy, like most religious people, still had some hope in an afterlife, and the reunion with loved ones was a powerful church-prescribed Aspirin for the masses and one pill she herself had taken from time to time.
Chrissy tried to focus on Collier’s speech and agreed with the fact that it couldn’t be offered to the public or reactivated without the people’s knowledge. A change of that magnitude at this time would mean death, not life. Everything was happening too fast and she would have given anything to have a few hours and preferably days, to discuss it with Steven. However, she could see his eyes sparkling and knew that only one thought was present there: When do I get to use it?
Collier was no fool either and he had seen it too, but he had also sensed Chrissy’s automatic objections, like countless others before. He would wait for them to discuss it first. “I need to go and continue my work, but you know now how to use the device. And don’t worry, the nanites can be removed from your system after the repairs you requested are completed. They will pass along with your urine the next time you go to the bathroom.”
“But Doctor Collier, would they remain in the blood if not removed?” asked Steven, hoping the good doctor would understand the implication.
“Oh yeah, they will remain there to fix things for as long as you want,” answered Collier, with a discreet wink. “It would make you as good as Wolverine, but without the claws.”
Upon hearing that statement, his heart skipped a beat or might have stopped entirely until he willed it to restart. Collier had just handed him his most cherished dream on a silver platter. Collier could now see the blood rushing off Steven’s face, like a white blind being rolled down a window. Steven’s eyes were burning holes in the wall in front of him and Collier wasn’t sure if Steven bothered to even breathe. Steven’s brain had also been switched off and the only appearance of consciousness was reflected by the way he absentmindedly played with his medical bracelet with his fingers. The flat silver plate was getting a workout.
It was Chrissy who brought him back to reality, shaking him and asking if he was all right.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” he replied. He was alert again and he smiled at Chrissy. His eyes refocused on Collier and then on the device in his hand. “So, I could use it now like a diagnostic tool? And if something is wrong with me, it will fix it, and if not, it will remain in my blood and stop my aging?”
“If you use it, it will stop your aging now and even if they are discarded later, T65 will remain active and you will no longer age,” repeated Collier, as casually as if an airline pilot had been asked if his plane could actually fly. Collier thought he understood Steven, but he didn’t. He assumed that Steven was afraid of trying it without proper supervision. Thus, Collier motioned to him, simulating where to put the device on his neck.
Steven wasn’t concern for the same reasons. He knew where to get the device at the Norwegian Station and they had just replicated five and sent them to Celina in Africa. But the device was already in his hand and he was a few seconds away, and one single movement from the biggest dream he ever had. His years as a hacker wouldn’t permit him to miss that chance. The time was now or in a minute it could be gone. So, without looking at Chrissy for fear of being dissuaded and because he didn’t want to see what was hiding behind her deep blue eyes, he lifted the device and placed the cone-shaped part, which resembled the end of an ear thermometer, on his neck. It took a moment for a soft chime to be heard and, with the look on Collier’s face, he understood that the deed was done. A strong feeling overwhelmed his mind; he felt he could grow wings and fly. Just like he had felt the first time he had sex with Chrissy, the feeling of discovering that she was his and that it was actually happening. He was now essentially immortal, walking among the gods he didn’t believe existed. As the energy returned to his body, he lowered his eyes to the device in his hand, turned it around, raised his eyes to Chrissy, and presented her the handle as he gave her a reassuring nod. She solemnly accepted the offer without even breaking eye contact. He knew now how it felt to propose marriage to someone you love. Except this time, it wouldn’t be until death do us part, because neither of them would ever die.
Chrissy paused to look at him and finally cracked a nervous smile. She was also experiencing waves of intense emotions and her eyes were shiny with tears. “You are always going to stay with me?” she asked, her voice trembling.
Steven heard and understood the words and, for the first time in his life, he felt he would be able to answer truthfully. “Yes, I love you and I will stay with you, forever.” He waited and watched as she raised her hand slowly. The device touched her neck, the chime was heard after a few moments, and it was done. A surge of emotions overwhelmed them and they fell in each other’s arms and kissed for a long moment in the middle of the medical room. When they opened their eyes and looked around to thank Doctor Collier, he was already gone.
They took a few more minutes to calm down and wipe their tears, then walked back to the meeting room and finished their learning session with Gill, Alexander, and the Inuit whose name they had not managed to remember.