Posting new work is always a risk for many reasons. Anyone unfamiliar with my fiction may be surprised by how dark or bleak it can get; after all, this is about someone who wants to die. Anyway this is a novel in its early stages, which may end up very different. Or never even be completed.
The snow, the extreme cold, the lack of air. He loved it all. As near to oblivion as it was possible to get and still feel alive. For here, trudging on ever higher, everything could fade into insignificance. That was his hope. Time after time.
It no longer seemed death was the worse thing of all. No, he reflected, the worse thing of all: the loneliness. Alone because they all go in the end. And the ones that don’t die, they just age. Now with the right treatment those can remain physically young. But people grow apart. And they move on. That’s what life’s about: moving on to the next thing, the next career. Even love fades when it had seemed permanent, friendships lose their meaning when life’s trajectories differ inevitably. No avoiding that inevitable arc towards the end however much you try to stretch it. You hope you figure it out before then. Usually only near towards the end, so he heard it said. All those lessons learnt, all that wisdom accumulated … and so much forgotten.
For Toramin there was no discernible arc. Toramin had no end of existence to look forward to, unless by some extreme act of self destruction. To think you had reached the end, only to have it denied. The things inside working diligently to restore him to proper working order. The ravages of old age, once a curse, now something to envy. Saved from all that for a special purpose.
The snow denser now, swirling, obscuring his vision. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see, he knew the terrain already, kept moving higher, rarely getting beyond this point. The one time he had, it was … beautiful. Not a rational word it seemed now to describe the slipping away into oblivion. But that was entirely the point: all this rational, analytical – if subjective – thinking faded to pure experience. Now, still, he could enumerate the process of his mind shutting down.
Higher. But unfamiliar. Cold setting into motion his defence nanites, mindlessly restoring his body to homeostasis, boosting blood-flow, repairing damaged flesh. Eventually they would require an external energy source to recharge. In this desolate environ it hardly seemed possible there’d be anything they could extract. But even here, devoid of sun and solid fossil fuel, there are molecules rich in energy from which they could siphon.
Yet there did come a point when the cold, lack of nourishment, lack of oxygen could finally take him. And although he tried everything to evade them, he failed. Well, this time maybe different.
Hours passed, he ambled on. Stumbled but refused to rest, refused to let those things do their job, extract their energy. They were intelligent enough to know not to extract it from him while he was on reserves. And so, in abeyance, the damage accumulated.
He fell finally. Lay there. Felt it all fading. Thought he’d be allowed to die. And hoped when saw the white clad figure before him – like a man made from snow – that it was merely a hallucination. He even tried to dismiss the words.
‘Toramin. You thought we’d leave you here? Is that really what you want?’
‘Yes,’ he thought he managed to reply. But knew he would not get his wish. Not even after eight hundred and twenty-seven years.
What remained was now suspended in a tank, had been for the last two-hundred and thirty Earth years. She would visit him once a week. Him, Zerrana thought, never it. Sometimes the high commander referred to him as an it, and she had no qualms about correcting him on that point, knowing she would not be reprimanded for that.
‘No, he wouldn’t dare, would he, Roidon?’
Roidon did have a speech synthesizer but these days no longer bothered to use it. He seemed to have existed ever since the B’tari had left their homeworld for Earth. No one could know if he even wanted to continue. This was one of the rare times he was not hooked up virtualator, a rare time in reality. Vital signs no longer even showed depression – there were no significant readings to indicate any emotion. She guessed he wasn’t too pleased to be ripped out of his virtual fantasy back to this banality. Still, it was part of the requirement, otherwise. Well, otherwise what was the point in being in this organic state? Roidon had ‘earned’ his immortal status for so so many years of service – thousands of years. And each time he was brought back did he ever feel privileged to be the oldest organic sentient in the galaxy? No. Of course not. He was a relic of a bygone age, a reminder of how powerful the B’tari once were before the erasure, the patriarchal benefactors of a really quite small part of the Milkyway galaxy. Roidon was the lie they told themselves. The myth that lives.
Roidon’s auditory sensor was fully online. Zerrana’s throat felt thoroughly dry despite taking frequent sips of water. She just had to get straight to the point.
‘Mr Chanley. Roidon, if I may. They want to bring you back, give you a body. They have something they need doing. Our representative needs some assistance.’
Now his neural patterns were redlining. Something, a noise, rumbling from the audio out unit. A growl. How may years, she wondered, since he had even said a word?
‘Roidon,’she said. ‘This is your chance to return.’
‘Return. Return to my virtual world is what I want.’
‘So you can forget who you really are? Live a lie?’ Zerrana was was disappointed. She had to admit to herself. This was the legendary Roidon Chanley, after all.
‘Yes,’ he rumbled. ‘That’s exactly it. Not that there is a definitive me. Belief in that was always a delusion – the lie we tell ourselves.’
‘There is a man like you who has lost his way. Forgotten who he is, and his true objective. He can’t complete the mission alone any more.’
‘Mission,’ he boomed. ‘There is always a mission.’
‘We’re nearly there. We – they think things can be restored.’
‘They thought as much a millennium ago.’
* * *
Back in the bright white place where they made him recover. No choice in the matter, he thought grimly. Just keep bringing me back from the brink like some suicidal teenager who doesn’t know their own mind, or what’s best for them.
At times like this, when some cognitive function failed, he would think of his brain as one of those ancient obsolete computers. The hardware – the base processor – had never been upgraded. Memory capacity similarly remained the same – the RAM struggling to cope with the level of input, permanent memory pushed to its limit. Storing new memories required some to be lost in the rewrite process, or in most cases fragmented to the point where they seemed to merge with newer ones to become types and things of likeness rather than specific events or facts. For that’s what the brain does: compress, break down into generalities. Yet why was it that the most embarrassing or shameful experiences, especially those debauched misdeeds, seemed to remain permanently present? Eventually the shiny sharpness of them does fade, like an ageing tableau washed under the stormy tides of life, becoming just another part of the landscape. Perhaps these memories had to remain, as lessons. But he wasn’t convinced. He’d heard of a technique to excise some troubling neural engrams. Still an experimental practice; still only considered for those who’d been through real trauma.
And what of the software? He imagined it as something less definable: his personality
The nanites ran fixes on neurological damage but only beyond a certain threshold – that which would lead to an imminent death. To remain human without artificial addenda only this minimum could be done.
It was not that he was immortal; no one could truly live for ever. Nonetheless he’d put his lifespan in terms of many hundreds of years to over a thousand. One thing his benefactors had not anticipated back then: there is eventually a decline. The wetware, like the hardware of a computer, just becomes less efficient. He felt the decline now but for a while, had been in denial about it. Not just forgetting the past. He was … forgetting, becoming absent-minded, failing to recognise faces, objects, anything that didn’t strike him as being out of the ordinary. Becoming blind to the outside world. The software kept updating to accommodate.
If you liked this try my previous novel The Captured