A story about life extension
Wanaka on a September day, the sun is shining and its fifteen degrees Celsius. The ski season is over in this resort town, but the mountains surrounding Lake Wanaka still have a good covering of snow. The lake itself is of a bright blue seen in New Zealand’s South Island. The brilliance of the colour depends on the minerals present. Outside the town, near the pepply lakefront or up in the lower reaches of the mountains, are a number of architectural oddities. Dream houses of billionaires with vision but sometimes lacking architectural good taste. Squashed domes and rhombohedrons are favourite shapes, many of these houses are now abandoned. Unlike like a lot of the planet, the population here has never been high, no squatters have moved in to enjoy faded luxury. Foreigners, mainly Americans, have been building bunkers here for sixty years – but in the last five people have actually started to live in them. Unamused locals have observed the long preparation for the apocalypse has finally caused it to happen. Some of the wealthy, unable to let go of their mansions, have built bunkers right underneath them… Peter, a longtime resident of Wanaka, is one of these.
Peter enters his bedroom with a steaming mug. His sunken eyes and pursed lips sit in a large face. Not tall and definitely not athletic, he’s in good enough shape for somebody apparently middle-aged. He walks past the king-sized bed and opens the door on the opposite wall. On the other side of the door it’s dark, then a sensor light illuminates a descending staircase. Peter walks down a hundred steps and then along a tunnel, his gait is energetic but clumsy. The next door he unlocks with a touch of the thumb. He is now in a recently completed bunker. There is only one chair, a lazy-boy moved from the house above – a favourite, looking very worn in the spanking new bunker. Peter sits, opposite him is a window, in fact, it’s an LCD screen fitted into a window frame showing a live feed from above: windblown trees, Lake Wanaka, and snowcapped mountains. A tic brought on by heavy concentration or stress, Peter’s right eyebrow jumps at irregular intervals.
Once he finishes his drink, Peter goes upstairs and gets ready to go out, changing in a bathroom that is a maze of mirrors. He applies cream to his face and swallows several pills from a cupboard stacked with medicine. After a close inspection, a white hair gets extracted from between his eyebrows. All good, he mutters.
In the doctor’s consulting room there is a cabinet filled with sporting trophies and a huge desk. The doctor, with grey hair and a smooth face, races around this desk to greet Peter. Broad-shouldered, of farming stock, he towers over his patient. His paw engulfs Peter’s hand.
Peter! Not looking a day over forty-five.
That’s what I pay you for.
Sit down mate…
The doctor waves a scanner over his patient’s arm.
Blood pressure fine…heart rate sixty-four…you’re testing all this every day at home?
Yep, twelve percent body fat…
Been putting some time in on the bike? Good… hills around here are killer eh…By the way, I’ve got my hands on some rapamycin you’ll be pleased to know.
About time, I’ll be getting cancer at this rate…
The doctor’s sycophantic smile drops.
I wouldn’t say that, we have you covered by a number of disease suppressants with overlapping functions…the rapamycin helps with self-degradation and renewal of cells – so do the supplements for mitochondria function you’ve been taking. Not as good as rapamycin, but you won’t have gone downhill in a short period. The supply of bacteria needed to make rapamycin was cut due to the conflict in Chile – the stuff is from Easter Island.
I know rapamycin like Rapa Nui, the indigenous name for the place.
Peter hasn’t heard of a substitute for rapamycin – and he has read a lot about mitochondria boosters. That didn’t mean it wasn’t true…but would his doctor know that much? They know less than they think these doctors. They aren’t especially busy at the level they are working at, but often do less research than their patients. They read only one paper about any given issue and so have no idea if a certain medicine has uses beyond what it’s approved for. Wellbeing experts get a lot of stick, as do plastic surgeons, but life extension doctors can be quacks too.
Can you get dark chocolate Doc?
Didn’t realise it was in short supply…
The Chinese are buying all the African stuff…
That’s too bad. Hey, you seen this?
The Doctor swings computer screen around and shows Peter a video. A handheld camera pans a rocky hillside then stops when it comes to a hacked up body.
Yea. Stop it. One of the less rational groups – and that’s saying something – did this. They reckon we are fucking with the mechanism of reincarnation. They’ve read too many books about Tibet. That hacking James up and leaving him for the vultures is based on a Tibetan Sky Burial. Problem is there are no vultures in New Zealand. A few harrier hawks would have taken a long time to eat him up if they had left him somewhere sufficiently remote. But then…what’s the point of such a murder if nobody finds the body?
They fucked James up bad. What a waste. Millions of dollars went into making that ninety-year old young. You must be worried Peter…
Yes, I am.
What are you going to do?
What I can, the roads, airstrips are being watched. James was in the North Island…we’ve got a better handle on things down here.
How many of these groups are there now Peter?
Not sure…they’re united in the idea that we are hogging resources…But it’s not a zero sum game. The research that we fund has a trickledown effect – useful in general medicine…The continued decline in birth rates has nothing to do with us.
Thanks for the info Pete. I work in the field no less! As for the bloody birth rates – you sure none of the research projects that you fund? No, I don’t want to know…
Sorry…shouldn’t lecture you. I just sometimes imagine being confronted by one of these terrorists.
In your ivory tower? Or concrete basement Pete?
The name is Peter.
Sorry mate. Hey, we’ll see you in a week’s time.
The living room in the bunker is now furnished with three red leather chairs and a sofa. There are two video screen windows, one shows waves crashing on a beach in Hawaii, the other the Hollywood Hills at dusk. Peter sits in front of the waves, picks up the remote and changes channel. Now he stares at Pacific Heights, San Francisco – a city with a very small human population. Peter knows the system, the infrastructure of the city is still there, still developing. In his old office tower drones take the elevator with packages to be received by the unpersoned reception desks. The jump from the human creator to the AI auto-creator has almost been realised. Almost…nearly, but it doesn’t happen, Peter is tired of this jump being predicted. Unlike biological evolution there is still a watchmaker present and in control of technological evolution – the elites, who if they were allowed to get on with it, would save this miserable planet.
Peter jumps to his feet. A stranger stands in front of him holding a gun. A woman, taller than he is, and, he reckons, about seventy years younger. His eyebrow jumps almost to his hairline, trying to calm himself he gestures for her to sit down. She does so, and proceeds to have a coughing fit.
That sounds nasty…
I’ve got tuberculosis. Her accent, like his, isn’t local.
Have you got medication? I can sort that.
No…I mean…don’t bother. You can’t do anything for me.
Are you a drug addict? Weakens the immune system. Tuberculosis – thought that was extinct! Is this the best your group of crazies can do – send a tubercular footsoldier?
You need to get out more Pete, and I’m not talking about the golf course. Antibiotic resistant strains of Tuberculosis are hitting the US in epidemic proportions.
Peter looks horrified.
And you’ve come here to spread your infections…one more reason for the travel ban…
You don’t need to worry about the travel ban do you? How much did you pay for New Zealand citizenship back in the day? Great investment. But that’s what you’re good at it, Pete.
Peter now sits:
You ever think that your disease is the reason why you’re here – your mission? TB causes states of mild delirium, doesn’t allow you to think straight. By the way, there are problems with antibiotic resistant bugs down here that aren’t common elsewhere. Some very nasty flesh eating viruses…but say they word – I have access to stuff that can protect you. The bugs here like to eat ears especially. Used to be that replacement ears were made from cow cartilage grafts and grown on the back of mice. That’s too slow these days – there’s good money for donating your living ears…
Apparently lost in thought, the woman doesn’t respond. Peter is gaining in confidence.
So who trained you and what did they tell you? I’m evil. I’ve crossed some line because I take ninety pills a day…because I have toxins that cause aging removed by a process I don’t really understand but works. Do your friends use moisturizer? Do they know that the active product in it was tested on suffering animals?
The woman has been looking at Peter’s chest, she now makes the effort to look him in the face, doing so makes her wince. She speaks slow and tired…
People weren’t meant to live forever. You have your time, and then someone else has theirs. If you have your way there will be no more swings, no more summer ice-cream trucks – just bunkers and video clips.
Peter cracks a thin-lipped smile…
If you have your way there will be no planet, no nature… We are going to bring back grasslands, tigers, forests. Yes, there will be fewer kids. What is more important Planet Earth or the right to give birth to another miserable being?
She takes her eyes off Peter and is engrossed in looking at her gun. When she speaks this time, there is more life in her voice…
Do you believe in that Utopian bullshit? That scientists and rich people will devote themselves to revitalising nature? No, you’ll stay in your bunkers concentrating on new ways to get rid of your wrinkles. Maybe you will allow some to have babies – just so can pump yourself full of their blood…
Peter leaps to his feet, outraged…he dares to take a few steps forward.
Hey now, that’s more fake news used to turn people against us, vampire stuff. We don’t take young people’s blood… You are a cynical young woman, good, a sign of intelligence. People will continue to be selfish – but with fewer people, the world will recover no matter what. Think about what happened in Chernobyl and Fukushima…radiation was leaked from a nuclear plant and people abandoned the area. Within a few short years forests grew and wildlife numbers soared – although there were a few mutants…Even the demilitarized zone in Korea became a nature reserve. Fewer humans, healthier Earth…but to kill humans who are already alive? Wrong.
She looks drawn and pale, suppressing another coughing fit. Calmly she raises her gun.
And where is your line that YOU won’t cross? When will you get sick of living? What perverted fantasies will a five-hundred-year old man have to invent to get off? Or will you just be a race of monks and nuns?
Whatever fantasies can be carried out in virtual reality. They won’t affect anybody. Unlike Roman and Chinese emperors we won’t have to send minions to gather the prettiest virgins from the provinces.
Because there won’t be any!
Peter takes a step backwards…
In your world, the inhabitants of a barren trash-filled wasteland won’t stay virgins for long. The population can’t keep expanding, understand that? You’re just like a Muslim fundamentalist who can’t cope with change. Brainwashed.
Where do you want me to shoot you? In the chest? We don’t want to wreck that expensive face. Good work there, you look forty-odd, but the eyes give it away… it’s your irises. They are slightly translucent and bleed into the whites. My grandmother who lived to be ninety-nine had irises like that.
Peter runs his hand over his face uncomfortably.
You want to look in the mirror?
Peter turns and looks in a long wall mirror. He can see the woman behind him, her face a mask of hatred.
Peter we are going to get out of here.
The path through the bush is faint. Peter makes his way clumsily, slipping on mossy rocks. The woman, behind him, makes sure he walks faster than he is comfortable with. She has a longer stride than Peter and amazingly, given her disease of the lungs, has more stamina.
Come on Peter, I allowed you to get your hiking boots on.
Yes, but these are new, not worn in… I’m getting blisters. What is the point of this – aren’t you just in the business of doing away with us?
Get a move on.
At one stage they negotiate a patch of spiny gorse which rips at their forearms. Peter thought this weed had been eradicated, invasive organisms are so hard to keep at bay. New Zealand was declared free of pests both floral and faunal twenty years ago – false marketing.
By the time they get to the third clearing, Peter is too broken to argue when she prods him to keep going. They’ve been going up hill for three hours. The bush is now thicker and the path even less defined. Peter shivers, a strong wind blasts the treetops. At the fourth clearing they stop. There are two tents there. From the larger tent a man emerges, somewhat overweight, with a long grey beard. He hands Peter a steaming mug. They are high up and have a good view of the slopes below. Down in the valley a road follows the path of a river, cars appear now and then as coloured dots. The woman disappears inside the smaller tent and can be heard coughing. Peter tries the drink he’s been given and grimaces.
Not to your taste? The overweight man asks smiling.
What have you brought me here for? Peter is finally giving in to fear, his right eyebrow is really jumping.
We want to save you Peter. Here away from your doctor you can die a natural death – instead of being imprisoned in your bunker forever. The bearded man’s voice is deep, his accent local.
But you can’t do that, Peter has panic in his voice, do you have any idea of what might happen to me without my pills? Nobody does.
Well Pete, we’ll see – think of yourself as a test case. You’re getting off lightly. Some of us wanted you to suffer more. A natural death in a beautiful place – what punishment is that? We could infect you with malaria – or beriberi – heard of it? That’s when your limbs swell up with liquid. Nasty. Actually it’s caused by vitamin deficiency…the kind of thing they used to get in tropical prisoner of war camps.
That all sounds like fun…still I’d prefer to be back in my bunker alone. It’s only when us humans get together that we really begin to suffer.
Don’t be so dramatic Mr Peter T….we are going to have a good time here, you’re going to be de-bunkerised, return from paranoia and isolation. Do you want another cup of tea? Maybe something to eat? You do eat right?