This is the short story my unproduced TV show "Immortals" is based off of.
BIRTH AND DEATH OF THE PROCEDURE
THE PROCEDURES BIRTH was a quiet one, taking place in an unknown lab void of university affiliations or government ties. There was no research summit uniting the world’s brightest minds or even a conference posing the question of its possibility. The media was silent about it and the masses seemingly deaf to its arrival. There were no groups to protest or debate it, no figures of religion to condemn it and its blight towards God. There was no one to ask the difficult questions, and no one with the need to.
Its conception was romantic. A common desire shared between a brilliant woman and her equally brilliant but tragically sick husband. They shared their dream with a handful of adept assistants and one or two discreet colleagues. They weren’t motivated by profit, or fame, or a lust for knowledge. Their desire was simple. It was the desire for a long life to be shared in each other’s arms. What they got instead was more shocking than any scenario they could’ve devised.
The arrival of the procedure was heralded to the world by pure accident. It would come from a young man driving carelessly down an empty road with his friends filling the seats around him. They were all in college and filled with that zeal for life without regard for keeping it. They passed a bottle of vodka between them and laughed about the night’s escapades and in a sudden turn of fate they found themselves wrapped around a tree, or I guess I should say, the young man found his car and his friends wrapped around a tree.
It was an accident that nobody should have survived, much less been able to walk away from. The paramedics searched every inch of his body and failed to find a single bruise, cut or abrasion. It was proclaimed a miracle but for those that knew of the Procedure it was a much different kind of miracle. Instead of healing sickness, as the woman and her husband had tried so hard to accomplish, it granted immortality. But, there were side effects.
The first side effect they found was more or less psychological. They uncovered it in the earlier years of the Procedure by studying the young man who’d been in the fatal accident. The young man, or as you’ve probably figured out, one of their first human test subjects; fell into the bottle after his accident. His young life shattered by the deaths of his closest friends. His mind spun into a self-abusive nightmare as alcohol consumed his every moment. Because he was immortal and incapable of dying, the young man would regularly consume more alcohol than it would take to kill a large man.
His health began to deteriorate rapidly until he found himself immobile in a hospital bed. It was in that period of time that the couple realized that while the Procedure granted immortality it did not protect you from sickness. A heavy smoker would still suffer from a shortness of breath or a wheezing cough. A person with syphilis’s brain would still rot, to put it crudely, and as I have personally seen. The difference is their body, their being, their soul continues no matter what.
The second side effect was that immortality did not cure illness. Over the course of many years the couple came to realize that while the husband would not, could not die, he was destined to carry the effects of his illness for eternity. There was no way to reverse the effects of the cancer. While it no longer progressed, neither did it recede. It was no longer life threatening but it continued to drag on their lives. They came to discover that the ailments one has when they take the procedure become theirs forever. I believe had this been known early in the Procedures implementation a lot of people would have waited. Imagine having a cold for eternity.
The last side effect they discovered came about after the Procedure hit the open market, the details of that will follow shortly I assure you. They discovered that the Procedure didn’t take to people with children. At first they just thought that the Procedure didn’t work for everyone. Nothing is perfect, they would explain. But the more it happened the more they puzzled at its reasoning until eventually they realized, all the failed Procedures were with people who had children. Every single Procedure on childless adults was a success. This only confused them more until a large number of clients returned to them with complaints about not being able to get pregnant. They were able to put one and one together and concluded that the Procedure sterilized the client. Why it didn’t take to the clients with children they still wonder today. It’s like the Procedure was omnipotent, waiting to devour it’s subjects future lineage.
In the beginning Immortality had a very high cost. It was not the intention of the woman and her husband to accrue a vast fortune with their discovery. However, as soon as the word was out the capitalists came calling. They hounded the couple incessantly, bothering them at all times and places. Nowhere was their privacy sacred. The capitalists had green the color of money in their eyes and they would not walk away empty handed. Without any accredited knowledge of what really transpired, I would guess the couple just wished to be left alone and finally gave in to their tormentors in exchange for a little solace. Of course, they became extravagantly wealthy at the same time, or at least I’d imagine. Communication has been shut off for centuries so no one really knows what’s become of them.
The Procedure was very expensive. Its cost, in the beginning, made a billionaire blink. But it was immortality. What has a fortune in exchange for never ending life? The wealthy lined up, their greed cutting a scourge through the emerging politics. Within a matter of months thousands of Immortals walked the streets, destined to never age, never die, and for many, never truly live again.
You could spot them easily enough, but not by their designer clothes, sleek sports cars, or lofty air. It was in their body language, their eyes. It was like all the tension that goes with that need to live had been released and had allowed their skeletons to go soft. They weren’t necessarily careless; it’s just, that flaming will for survival had gone out behind their eyes. I guess you could say they were hollow, but that really wasn’t as apparent until many decades later, maybe even a century, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first slew of Immortals had a struggle with identity from the start. It’s not like you can reverse the Procedure. That kind of negates the whole purpose in the first place. When knowledge of the Immortals began to spread it ignited a passionate hatred amongst the religious right. They claimed that the Procedure was an affront to God. The argument turned violent very early on. Sure, there were peaceful protests and debates but when something is irreversible, the side opposing it can never win and that realization was made quickly.
For the first time in history the worlds religious extremists banded together. They bonded on a common enemy, and for that the Immortals really should have been praised, but hate is a divisive thing. As I mentioned, things got violent early on. At first, it was the Immortals vs. the extremists and while the Immortals are, well, immortal that doesn’t mean they can’t feel pain. The clashes were quick. A person might pop out of a crowd and unload a magazine into an Immortal and their entourage, or a bomb might be waiting in a mailbox. The saddest part of the whole thing was the loss of innocent life. The entourages of the Immortals rarely shared the same invincibility, so when struck by a bullet or a blast they perished. That first slew of Immortals got to watch many of their friends and colleagues die in front of them as the same instruments so fatal to their friends cut through their flesh without leaving a mark to signify its searing intrusions.
Many of the Immortals became recluses. Some haven’t been seen since those days so, so, long ago. They’re shut away in their mansions, presumably gazing at the same face in the mirror that greeted them after awakening from the Procedure.
The religious coalition lasted all of a few months before infighting started to knock out the legs. The truth of that violent year is more people were murdered over tiny differences than for standing too close to an Immortal. The coalition doomed itself to failure and after a wave of high profile assassinations amongst the differing factions the whole event drifted into the past, a lesson on how not to deal with our differences.
After only a century, the procedure saw its price drop. You must remember that this was before all but the first side effect had been documented. The customer base was drying up quickly and with the inability to sire families new customers were not being created. The capitalists were forced to put their heads together and the decision was made to lower the cost to something maybe a millionaire might blink at.
A new wave of people lined up for the Procedure and thousands of new Immortals flooded the streets. It was a golden era. New businesses sprang to life like a forest of saplings reclaiming the burned earth around them. Money was thrown wistfully in every direction. The world experienced a healthy growth towards becoming sustainable. Environmental design swept the cities and fossil fuels slowly began to fade in necessity.
The Immortals had come to realize that they would live to see the earth change around them and the fear that what had been would strike all of the beauty from around them fueled a revolution. Global warming was curbed as the carbon emissions dropped. All of the new economic and environmental growth left the world in need of more able-bodied adults than were available. But of course with every boom there comes a bust.
The First Golden Era lasted a little less then 25 years, its demise propagated by the same people it had given newfound fortune and opportunity to. The newly wealthy joined the ranks of Immortals and the very passion and drive that had fueled their rise became an all-consuming greed. They stripped the markets of regulations and lined their pockets. They sought to own everything. They sought to control everything. In the end their greed would use them up and leave them wretched, but that would take many years.
The Procedure remained profitable through the First Golden Era and on into the next few decades, but eventually the client base once again shrank and the capitalists were forced to put their heads together again. This time, they lowered the price to something the upper middle class could afford and millions more joined the ranks of the Immortals. That was not surprising. What was surprising was the large minority of people that could afford the Procedure but chose not to.
It’s at this point that I must fill you in on a few things. The biggest thing you need to know to really understand the rise and fall of the Procedure is that it took around three centuries. This is important because it helps to paint a picture of what the earliest Immortals faced. As I’ve already mentioned, Immortals can’t have children, before or after the Procedure. Now, imagine your group of close friends. You are all at different points in your life, some have a family, and some are bachelors. So lets say, 4 of your 10 friends have kids. They will not be joining you in eternity. Now lets say 3 more have chosen not to have the Procedure due to religious convictions and another two can’t afford it. You now get to watch 5 more of your friends grow old and die. Your employees, grow old and die, your pets, your parents, all grow old and die. In the span of the life you’d already lived up until the Procedure and the three centuries afterwards how many people do you think you would have loved and lost?
For the earliest Immortals there was a sadness to them that was impossible to miss. Many became drunks, drug addicts, or gave way to some form of insanity. All but a focused few battled the ups and downs of depression. While the difficulties of the Immortals weren’t common knowledge to the world, it was to the people that worked with them, interacted with them. In the history of the Procedure almost no psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists had it done. In the beginning they couldn’t afford to, but by the time they could they’d already seen the dark side of immortality and wanted nothing to do with it. Now you know where this large minority of abstainers came from and of course the truly religious always decided against the Procedure.
The Procedure was losing its luster. Its gold flake finish had given way to its bronze paneled reality. 400 years after its discovery found it administrable in a back alley for a few hundred dollars. It’d become a relic of a time past.
So that’s the story of the Procedure, its birth, its life, and its slow death. Its story shares a lot of similarities with the Immortals it created. Each one has to face their own demons, their own eternity. I remember hearing a story about a man that, upon giving up, literally sat on his butt all day eating and watching TV. By the time the neighbors started to complain about the smell he hadn’t been seen in over 40 years. Can you imagine the size a human being can grow to in 40 years? Of course I can’t verify this story. I never met the man, but the story fits well enough with the others I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
The overwhelming majority of the homeless that wander any city’s streets are Immortals. I’ve studied them. I’ve devoted decades to researching why so many can’t make life livable and why so few can. But I’m no closer to the answer than I was all those years ago when I posed it.