An obscenely wealthy businessman seeks to vanquish the one foe left that can scupper his ambitions, but he finds there are unintended consequences for seeking immortality…
Note: this short piece is a proposed script for an upcoming manga project by myself and John Blake and is really an adaptation of my earlier story Wetware. If you’ve read that, you’ll see what’s coming!
I am Wakahisa-san. You may not know my name, or recognise my face, but I am one of the richest businessmen in the country, and indeed the world. Wherever you are, whatever you do, I promise you that you have used technology created by one of my companies. My success means I can have anything I wish: lavish penthouse apartments, luxurious cars, private jets, my pick of any woman I desire. My life is blessed, but there is one thing that I know can destroy everything I have built. One thing I fear.
I speak, of course, of death.
It stalks us all, but it has weighed heavily on my mind for many years now. When I was young, I watched my grandfather succumb slowly to cancer. He died, in inches, while his children squabbled over his estate. They were greedy. Even before his body gave up the fight, they had carved up his empire and left my father – who had worked beside him most of his life – with almost nothing. I vowed then that the same fate would not befall me. I had no children of my own for this reason, and instead I turned my efforts towards finding a more literal method of immortality.
No man can outrun death, of course. Its final kiss is inevitable. But there are ways that a man such as I can find to avoid even the unavoidable. My most profitable company is the world’s leading producer of wetware and biosynthetic organs. There is not a computer on the planet that does not use one of our artificial synapse processers to ensure it is as quick and efficient as the human brain. Our artificial limbs and organs – cultured in labs from the subject’s own stem cells – have revolutionised medicine. Thanks to our cell-rejuvenation techniques, no one will ever suffer the same fate as my grandfather. The world is in my hands, but I must have more. I must go further.
“Now, we have crossed the threshold,” my most brilliant scientist, Haruko Nakamura, told me as I toured her laboratory one day. “At last, we have developed a computer with enough memory and processing power to equal the capacity and speed of the human brain.”
She was thinking only of computers, but as I stared at the towering server she caressed like a lover, a thought entered my mind. “If it is as powerful as the human brain,” I asked her, “could we not store the contents of one in its databanks?”
And so the seed was sown. I understood now how I could cheat death forever. More research was needed, and endless tests. Many of my scientists baulked at what was asked of them. These were exiled from my presence and silenced forever by secret order when they were distanced enough from me. I could have no one know what I planned. The people would fear me, and what I intended to do.
The next step of my plan took me to my most advanced prosthetics labs. I allowed them to take a sample of my DNA and grow stem cells from it. Then they built for me a biosynthetic body, in my exact likeness, as I was in my prime perhaps twenty years ago. Strong, handsome, robust. Better than a human body. It was a marvel of bio-technology, a work of artisanship on a par with the great works of history. This would be a monument to my glory greater than any statue. When my clone was perfected, he was placed in cryogenic storage until the next stage was complete. Then I had the lab and everyone in it destroyed in an apparent act of terrorism, framing one of my chief rivals into the bargain. I kept only the necessary blueprints to clone another body for, as powerful as my artificial double would be, he too was mortal and would need to be replaced in a few centuries. I would not escape one rotting shell for another.
And so now to the final part of my grand plan. Nakamura stands by me as I begin to download my memories, my thoughts, my very being into her wondrous computer. She looks uncomfortable. I know it will be necessary to dispose of her when this is finished. The thought gives me no joy, but there must be no loose ends.
There is no sensation as the process takes place. I lie in a hospital bed; electrodes inserted into my brain, and relax. Slowly, the databanks fill up. After a few hours, when it is done, I know there are now two of me, somehow. One resides here, in my frail, human body, but the other is held in a soulless machine. Does he experience sensation, that other me? Is he aware that he exists in a prison of circuitry and wetware? In time, I suppose I will know.
“You’ll need to upload your memories again,” Nakamura explains as she removes the electrodes, “it only records who you are now, not who you will become in the future.”
“Perhaps,” I murmur. I know she speaks sense, but the truth is my mind is already made up. I am not old, as most would measure it, but I can already feel my body begin to weaken. My vision is not so good as it was, and passing water has become painful at times. I suffer worse from illnesses, and find the cold weather unbearable. I know the time has come and I will waste no more life in this decaying prison of a body.
All that is left to do is upload my stored memories into the artificial brain of my clone, and then I can begin again, reforged anew by technology, ready to rule my empire for hundreds of years to come. People will fear me but, in a few generations, I will simply be a constant in their lives. An immortal god amongst short-lived insects. The Forever Man.
I open my eyes. What is the last thing I remember? Lying on a bed with Nakamura beside me, electrodes reading my thoughts and cataloguing them for a glorious future. As the world swims into focus, I see I am in a small, colourless room with a woman I do not recognise. She is dressed strangely and, when she looks at me, it is with bored indifference. “How many fingers am I holding up?” she asks without emotion in her voice.
“Three,” I answer. “Where am I?”
“He seems fine,” she says dismissively, and then I see two men, like guards, who approach me from either side. I realise I am strapped to a metal gurney and my first instinct is to try and struggle free, but the men are large and strong and they untie me with brusque efficiency.
“Where am I?” I demand again.
“Through the door,” the woman tells me, pointing to the small room’s only exit. “Everything will be made clear on the other side.”
I walk out, tottering carefully on legs that feel unused. I am wearing only a flimsy hospital gown and my body feels strange – stiff, unlived in, sterile. I feel young though. Young and powerful. The procedure has worked, I think to myself, I have been reborn!
And indeed I have, but not in the manner of my choosing. As I walk into the great auditorium-like space beyond the doorway, I see I am not alone. Thousands of others like me are there too, ordered into lines by more guards. And they are like me: exactly like me. A thousand men, all with my face, my body and – somehow I know – my mind. They are as confused and scared as I am.
I understand then the depth of my folly. A databank can be copied, and blueprints reused. We always wondered whether this was possible, whether an entire artificial human might be constructed. My scientists refused to research further when the subject was first broached, and we knew public opinion would turn against us if we tried it. But how much time had passed? What circumstances had the world found itself in that, in its uttermost need, it had turned to the services of a legion of cloned slaves to satisfy its needs? We had once imagined a database of human physical and mental patterns – a race of synthetic people – but why should it be so? Only one was needed and I had, inadvertently, provided just that.
I was once Wakahisa-san, but now I am nobody. I have a number written in melanin on my hand that identifies me, but it is meaningless: merely a barcode to enable my cataloguing, storage and, if required, recall. There are millions like me, all over the world. We have revolutionised society. There is no war, no hunger, no want of any kind. Humankind lives in luxury in palaces undreamed of in my time.
But in the fields, the Forever Men are bent by their labour to harvest the super-efficient synthetic crops. In the black hell of the mines, we toil tirelessly to bring forth the riches of the earth. In restaurants and bars, we are bowed beneath the weight of laden trays, ignored by the customers who think of us as less than furniture. We haul away garbage and build new cities. We fight the few wars against those foolish enough to rebel against paradise. We live for hundreds of years – the fledgling biotechnology of my time has been perfected in the intervening centuries – and we all remember who we once were as we go about our endless work.
And still the factories produce more of us, emerging confused and terrified into a life of slavery, paying time and time again for our hubris: an endless supply of Forever Men, to bear the world’s sins on their undying shoulders. Man was not meant for immortality. I know that now.