A New End
The doorbell rang with a
pleasant two-tone chime. Nios adjusted his suit jacket and swept back his neat
black hair, ensuring he looked sharp and professional. He fidgeted, making
unnecessary adjustments to his already tidy appearance, ensuring nothing had
crinkled or ruffled during the journey. The young journalist was surprised he
felt so nervous. Even though he had thoroughly prepared himself, his anxiety
only seemed to grow as he got closer to meeting the man he had come to
interview. Nios was well aware of the poignant nature of this meeting; its
significance had not escaped him. The sensation of butterflies in his stomach
was evidence of such a subconscious understanding. As Nios’s anxiety threatened
to spin out of control, an electronic voice piped through a small speaker
mounted in the doorframe. The need to respond calmed his nerves.
‘Darlington residence. How may I help you?’ a robotic, feminine voice inquired.
‘Ah yes, I’m Nios Wigan from The Herald. I have an appointment with Mr Darlington,’ Nios replied. There was a slight nervous quaver in his answer. Hearing it sapped some of his summoned confidence. He shook his head, annoyed that this had happened, and tried to banish his lingering trepidation.
‘Good morning, Mr Wigan,’ the voice replied. ‘Mr Darlington has been expecting you. ID, please.’
Nios tugged his citizen’s ID card out of his jacket pocket, trying to be quick. He held it up to the sleek silver housing that held the speaker and, with a buzzing hum, the architrave-mounted device scanned his ID and his face. Both gained approval and there came a loud clunk and the large, white wooden door opened.
An android maid appeared in the doorway. The quick, efficient movements of its well-engineered and programmed body startled Nios. With his nerves already frayed, it didn’t take much to get such a reaction from him. The benign looking humanoid bot was a third-generation domestic helper droid – Nios had seen hundreds before; most families owned at least one. Still, his anxiety had got the better of him and the droid’s sudden emergence had sent a fresh bolt of hot blood coursing through his veins. The polished silver and white appearance of the third-gen droids made them the preferred models for domestic use – they could fit into the aesthetic already established by other household appliances. The highly life-like fifth and sixth generation droids hadn’t been so popular for such domestic roles.
‘Please come in,’ invited the droid and moved from the entrance. It held out its arm in a welcoming gesture. ‘Sorry, Mr Wigan, I did not mean to startle you,’ said the droid in the same soft voice that had greeted Nios through the speaker.
‘It’s quite all right, no harm done. Please, call me Nios,’ he replied, calming himself.
‘Certainly, Nios. Mr Darlington is out on the back deck. Please follow me,’
The droid turned, making its way down the hall towards the back of the house. Nios followed across the polished timber floors. Passing through the living room he took in the decor of the house. It exuded an antique feel and, apart from a few modern appliances and the droid, it would be possible to think you had stepped back into the last century. The large open design harboured a fireplace along with large bookshelves filled with a variety of old collector’s editions and antique volumes.
Welcoming furniture sat around an old wooden coffee table, and a beautifully patterned rug united the arrangement. Breathtaking landscape paintings of rolling fields and lofty mountain ranges hung on the walls, and family photos lined the lower shelves; shrines to a long life. It was a small and simple house, but unique and homely nonetheless – a comforting place where warm cheerful energy radiated from the very walls. A place that offered a comforting refuge and isolation from the chaotic and pulsing urban sprawls. Mega-cities that crept across the landscape like a writhing grey organism. Such concrete and steel hives were so common and extensive in this twenty-third century, they were almost inescapable.
Through the glass windows at the back of the house, the deck came into view. Beyond it began a lush, green woodland that Nios had noticed on the way up to the house, reminding him that such pockets of pristine nature were a rarity these days.
The droid opened the doors leading outside and Nios stepped through on to the deck. It was then he saw Mr Darlington for the first time in the flesh. He was sitting on a padded deckchair, his legs extended and covered with a navy blue, chequered blanket that kept the crisp, autumn morning’s cold at bay. Nios tried to resist the look of wonder and intrigue that grew upon his face upon seeing Mr Darlington, but it was obvious that the sight had left him in fascinated awe.
Nios had seen pictures and footage of the physically aged in high school history books and documentary specials, but nothing could have prepared him for a real encounter; seeing someone in person, in the flesh. Mr Darlington’s grey, contemplative gaze was fixed on the woodland; he had not seen or heard Nios and the droid, and an expression of peaceful joy sat upon his face.
‘Excuse me, Mr Darlington. Mr Nios Wigan has arrived,’ the droid formally announced.
Mr Darlington turned to Nios and held out his hand to greet him as a big welcoming grin crept across his wrinkled face.
‘Ah, Mr Wigan, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person,’
Nios took a step forward and shook Mr Darlington’s hand.
‘And it’s a pleasure to finally meet you Mr Darlington.’
‘You’ll excuse me for not getting up,’ the old man quipped and Nios’ eyes quickly glanced involuntarily to the wheelchair that sat next to him.
‘Please, take a seat. Would you like a tea or coffee?’
‘A tea sounds good, thank you,’ said Nios, as he sat down in a wooden chair alongside Mr Darlington.
‘Betsy, one tea for Mr Wigan, and another for me,’ ordered Mr Darlington. ‘Sugar? Milk?’
‘You heard him, Betsy. Thank you,’ Mr Darlington commanded. And the droid headed off towards the kitchen with a sleek, determined gait.
‘You named the droid Betsy?’
‘Yes. You like it?’
‘Sure,’ Nios answered. It wasn’t common practice these days to give a droid a name, or at least not one with as much character as Betsy. Most were referred to simply as Service. ‘Service, fetch me a drink’, or ‘Service, vacuum the living room.’
As they waited for the tea, Mr Darlington’s gaze shifted back to the lush patch of woodland before him and Nios took the opportunity to discreetly look over his aged form.
The old man’s appearance was striking to say the least. Nios took immediate pity on him on account of his frail condition. Yet such frailty gave the old man an air of amiability and wisdom. Mr Darlington’s face reminded Nios of the great scientists and philosophers from the past, those that he had seen in the historical articles and archives. His features projected an almost comical aura, their proportions differing from those of the un-aged. Deep wrinkles formed their trademark patterns around the creases in his face, embedded there by all the frowns and smiles given over a lifetime.
Nios was intrigued that the skin took on such characteristics with physical ageing. He realised Mr Darlington’s appearance wasn’t nearly as off-putting or unpleasant as commonly believed.
Nios had read many articles about ageing individuals’ obsession with maintaining a youthful aesthetic. He knew that past generations had desperately sought to cling to their youthful appearance, undergoing procedures and cosmetic treatments to mask or reverse whatever they could to conceal their true age. He thought it all sounded rather ridiculous, but Nios understood such superficial insecurities. After all, modern people still obsessed to no end over their appearance and spent vast fortunes to ensure they got as close as possible to society’s standard of beauty and attractiveness.
Getting a glimpse through Mr Darlington’s open blue robe, Nios saw the old man’s torso. His body more than lived up to what Nios had heard and read about the aged. Mr Darlington’s skin was worn and dry. Beneath it there was an almost complete lack of muscle mass. His body was very weak, leaving Nios to wonder what effect this must have on the confidence and sense of security of the physically aged. He imagined how the loss of strength and mobility must have been frightful and frustrating for the ageing people of the past. Knowing full well that the mind remained youthful in almost all aspects, and that the body was first to suffer the ravages of time, Nios tried to imagine what such a decline in physical capability would be like if he was forced to endure it. For the first time, he felt a strange appreciation and thankfulness that he would not suffer such a decline, something that until now, he hadn’t given much thought.
‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ Mr Darlington asked.
‘I’m sorry?’ Nios replied, snapping out of his trancelike examination of Mr Darlington’s physique.
‘The woods. Beautiful, aren’t they?’
‘Ah, yes, they are indeed.’
Nios gazed at the little patch of woodland. Taking in the majestic trees, he noticed their leaves had started to take on pleasant hues of amber and burnt peach, shifting from their usual rich emerald. Groups of small, energetic sparrows darted around their trunks and branches, chirping as they went.
‘It must be nice to sit out here in the warmer months,’ Nios remarked, feeling the cool breeze on his neck.
‘It’s nice any time of the year to be this close to nature,’ Mr Darlington pointed out, returning his gaze to Nios. The old man took a satisfaction in seeing Nios’s face glow with a calm joy, taking in the sight of the little woodland.
‘Well, is it official, then?’ Mr Darlington asked with a cheeky smile.
Nios reached for his satchel and took out a thin computer tablet.
‘See for yourself,’ he replied with an excited grin. Nios opened a file and handed the computer to Mr Darlington.
The slight uncontrolled quiver in the old man’s hand as he took it didn’t go unnoticed by Nios, and again he felt an odd sense of pity for the man.
Mr Darlington picked up his glasses and placed them halfway down his nose, squinting as he looked at the screen. ‘Would you look at that,’ he exclaimed.
‘As of two days ago, you are the oldest and the last,’ said Nios with a sense of praising pride.
‘So, I beat them all. Is that what you are saying?’
‘Yes, exactly,’ Nios affirmed, smiling at the comment and enjoying Mr Darlington’s sense of humour, even though it was a bit macabre.
‘The last fellow, the one that gave me a run for my money – he was Chinese, yes?’
‘Yes, Chinese. Mr Tao. He passed away two days ago. He was a week younger than you and the only other living member of the Ultim generation.’
‘Amazing,’ Mr Darlington mumbled to himself and returned his gaze to the woodland. His mind drifted back to some memory, conjured up by the term Nios had used – the Ultim generation.
So aptly named, the Ultim were the last generation of mortal humanity, those not treated with a revolutionary gene therapy known as Bimini-A89 that halted the physical ageing of the body. The name for the therapy was derived from the mythical islands said to be home to the fabled Fountain of Youth. The scientific and compound name of the treatment was typical of the field of study – long and hard to pronounce, so it was referred to as Bimini by the media and politicians and the name quickly entered common vernacular.
Like many great scientific discoveries, it was stumbled upon by accident. Research scientists unsuspectingly birthed the therapy: the proverbial elixir of immortality, while researching rare anomalies in genetic code. Bimini worked by tricking the body’s cells into initiating a permanent state of meticulous repair and by halting the degradation of chromosomal telomeres. Once treated with Bimini, a person’s telomeres, the DNA equivalent of a candle’s wick, failed to shorten. Human cellular division was no longer bound by the Hayflick limit; a limitation that only allowed cells to divide between fifty and sixty times before they would cease and die. The body’s regenerative capacity would become endless.
‘Immortality,’ the headlines read.
Wonder and amazement swept the world, along with fierce moral debate. Questions raged across all media regarding the ethical, environmental and philosophical implications that immortality would have on human society and culture.
It was all cut short, however, by extensive follow-up studies into the therapy. Animal testing showed that for the treatment to be effective, it had to be administered while in the womb – more specifically, during the latter half of gestation. Administering the therapy to mature animals resulted in terrible mutations, cancers and death. In addition, the therapy’s effectiveness, when administered to the unborn foetus, was a dismal eight per cent, with the rest of the subjects showing drastic increases in cancers and other genetic abnormalities.
The debate over the ethics of such a therapy, along with the public’s interest, fizzled and the treatment was ultimately abandoned. Conspiratorial rumours would surface from time to time that the wealthy and social elite had started private research and succeeded in advancing the treatment, administering it to themselves and their children. But these were only rumours – there was never any hard evidence, no matter how enticing and titillating the conspiracy.
It was a series of seemingly unrelated advances in technology and human endeavour that ultimately reignited the debate over Bimini and the idea of immortality. A perfect storm of events and history triggered the ideal conditions for the science, and the proposal of immortality, to remerge. Leading the charge, humanity had become an interstellar species, no longer prisoner to the closed and finite systems of Earth or the solar system. There was now an entire galaxy of resources and living space available and accessible. The other factor integral to the re-emergence of Bimini was a new gene therapy that had been in use for generations. A therapy that effectively and safely cleansed a person’s DNA of imperfections, eliminating whole textbooks of disorders and conditions. In light of this cleansing, medical researchers had for years theorised about the potential of a combination treatment. They believed this new therapy and Bimini-A89 might finally deliver a safe outcome and hold the key to eliminating ageing and thus the death that inevitably resulted from it. For many, these two facts alone warranted new trials.
Adding further support to the argument, population growth on Earth had been stable for close to half a century, with humanity taking up the logical and financially beneficial family planning model that limited the number of children couples were allowed to two. Its implementation was out of necessity, an attempt to deal with the overpopulation that threatened the ecology and resources and fuelled a declining quality of life for all of Earth’s inhabitants. Rather than such global initiatives stemming from clear logic, it was only when the situation became dire that the contentious issue became a hot topic and then international law. Although there was some initial resistance, after a few generations of adherence the vast majority of Earth’s population were more than happy to abide by the restriction, understanding and reaping the reward smaller families had brought.
With advances in medical technology and treatments having already extended average life expectancy to an astonishing 117 years, this meant it was time for Bimini and immortality to finally return.
Sure enough, new studies proved the long-suggested theories to be correct; the combination of Bimini, with a host of other genetic treatments, had achieved the once impossible concept of eternal life. Debate on the ethics of implementing such a treatment was fired yet again within the general public. However, this time, with the economic and environmental issues all but quashed, the only real talking points were those of the philosophical and spiritual implications and, of course, how such a treatment would be administered and introduced, considering that the treatment had to be administered to the unborn. There was a strange irony in it that those who debated, designed and implemented the treatment would not be affected by it. It was the voiceless – those yet to be born – whose fates were being decided and who would ultimately benefit from the decision.
After a system-wide referendum, the Bimini legislation passed with a vast majority and it was decided that all pregnancies meeting the requirements for treatment would be administered with the new combination therapy, Bimini-A89, beginning at 12:01 a.m. on 1 January 2128.
Under Interplanetary Health Organisation regulations, the cost would be subsidised, making it available to every human family, be they on Earth or in one of the outer colonies. With this single piece of legislation, the therapy became as standard as ultrasounds and baby showers, vaccines and diaper changes. The name bestowed upon the first generation of humanity to be administered with the therapy, the first immortals, was the Alpha generation, and those children born before the administering cut-off date, and thus missing out on treatment, were dubbed the Ultim generation. Mr Darlington, by a matter of days, had fallen into the latter and was now the last living member of the Ultim. He was the last mortal man.
‘Should we resume?’ asked Nios.
‘Yes, of course,’ replied Mr Darlington.
Nios set up an audio recorder and composed his thoughts. His nervousness now vanished, he brimmed with confidence. He was in his element, feeling fully at ease. His journalistic experience and instincts took over.
‘The last time we spoke on the phone, you were telling me about your parents, how they felt about the whole thing,’ he reminded Mr Darlington.
Nios had contacted him a few weeks earlier to arrange an interview with one of the last surviving members of the Ultim generation. The anniversary of the implementation of treatment was approaching, and every year the media ran stories gloating about the advance of humanity and the defeat of death. Little did Nios know then that Mr Darlington would soon become the Ultims’ last surviving member and thus providing him with a wonderful scoop. It had been difficult to find records of those Ultims still alive. The modern fast-paced society didn’t care much to look back, focussing only on forward progression. History perhaps, as had always been the case, wasn’t something people much cared for, at least not in any sense that would see Thucydides, Mark Twain or Edmund Burke satisfied.
‘Ah, yes. My mother,’ remarked Mr Darlington, recalling where he and Nios’s conversation had left off, ‘she was most upset. For years, it weighed on her mind. To be quite honest I never really understood her disquiet; at that age I didn’t know any better. I suppose, looking back, I now understand. Especially after Mia died. Having experienced such a thing, I now have some idea of what she must have been feeling, a small sense of it at least,’ Mr Darlington explained.
‘You’re referring to your daughter Maya, of course,’ Nios prompted.
‘Yes. As you well know Nios, we may have eliminated death from age and the majority of illnesses and, for the most part, injury, but we are still not completely without death. Now, when someone is killed by accident like my Maya was, it’s a terrible tragedy and far more frightening I should imagine for the Alphas and the like. Although I must be grateful that my son, Harrison, has led the full life he has. But not a day goes by I don’t think of Maya, I miss her deeply,’ Mr Darlington explained, his eyes darting back to the woodland to hide the emotion his words had summoned.
Harrison, his surviving son, was off world and so Mr Darlington didn’t see him all that often.
Mr Darlington lived alone now, with only the maid droid for company. In the last few months he had grown weak and sickly, the long years finally taking their toll on his mortal body. Doctors had said he would be better served in a medical clinic, but Mr Darlington had opted to spend his final days here in his own home and on his own terms. He didn’t like the idea of being stuck indoors in some sterile and cold medical clinic, hooked up to machines to ‘squeeze out the last few drops of life’, as he put it.
Mr Darlington looked over to Nios with his thick black hair neatly swept to one side, his green eyes and his youthful clear skin.
‘How old are you, Nios?’
Nios smiled, not looking a day out of his early twenties.
‘Such youth. Wasted on you,’ Mr Darlington teased with a grin. ‘But not to worry. You’ll still have it when you’re an old man.’
Nios laughed. ‘I’d never thought of it that way,’
‘Of course you hadn’t,’ replied Mr Darlington. ‘And who will value youth and the life we have after I’m gone? Hmmm? The last as I am of the Ultim generation.’
‘I guess it’s one more modern convenience that people take for granted, like countless other advancements and devices people can’t imagine life without, said Nios. ‘I’m sure no one values the convenience and speed of a weekend trip to one of the colonies. Or getting our bots to clean the house and prepare dinner for us before we get home. It’s only when they’re out for repairs that we that we remember what it was like without them. People have forgotten the value of such things.’
Mr Darlington nodded in agreement.
‘This is true. But what bearing do those have on the soul, on our very humanity? Far less than what immortality brings with it, I would imagine,’ he suggested. ‘My mother never viewed the fact I missed the cut-off as a good thing, not like others did. Others who seemed to have a foresight about it. Like all mothers then, and mothers now, she deeply valued the life and wellbeing of her child. Wanting the best, the happiest and, of course, longest life for me. What parent wouldn’t want immortality for their child?’ He paused, eyes gazing up into the sky as if looking back into the past. ‘I think, in the end, my mother made her peace with it. After all, it was out of her control and we weren’t alone. There were plenty of us who missed out on the treatment back then. In my graduating class, we outnumbered the Alphas two to one but by then we had already become divided from them. We stuck together, us Ultims. We knew our days were numbered but the Alphas … theirs were seemingly endless. We found it hard to relate to them, even as young adults.
‘The Alphas felt no need to hurry, or to make the most of the time they had. We Ultim would talk of our intentions to attend college or university, to travel, and we planned our lives and our goals, while the Alphas had all the time in the world, and most didn’t feel the impatience, if you will, of youth. As children, there was no difference between us; children have little understanding of death. But by the time we reached the last years of high school, you could see the divide begin to widen.
‘For the first twenty or thirty years of my life, I could hide the fact I was an Ultim. Apart from my lifestyle and my Ultim-ambition - as they came to call it - no one could tell simply by looking at me that my days were numbered; I didn’t look any different to them. Still we Ultims stuck to our own for many reasons. We dated each other, married each other. I guess the Alphas didn’t much like the idea of starting a relationship with someone who was going to die,’ Mr Darlington said. ‘But I think fifty years into their marriages, they might have changed their minds on that,’ he chuckled, the wrinkles on his face growing deeper as a large grin set in.
‘As more time passed and the Alpha generation, and subsequent generations, became the norm, we Ultims became a bit of a novelty. People would stare at our grey hair, wobbly gait and wrinkled faces. Young children would become scared or confused by what exactly we were. Some would tease and point. Most of us never took it to heart; after all, they were children and doing what children do.
‘I do recall the first time I truly felt different, however – a feeling of isolation and disconnect from society, a changing society. I was at a colleague’s party and the only Ultim there, a balding, greying forty-something man with glasses and aching knees in a sea of youthful, vibrant Alphas. Their conversations seemed shallow and short-sighted – alien to me. Along with their sideways glares and odd avoidance of me, it didn’t go unnoticed. I left feeling depressed and dejected, vowing to never again be around those damn Alphas.’
Mr Darlington smiled as he remembered, finding his anger and frustration amusing all these years later.
‘I feel no resentment toward the Alphas now – not like I did then. Hell, a lot of my good friends were, and still are, Alphas. I think the Ultims just had that unique bond. We all felt we had more appreciation for life than the Alphas did. After all, there’s no greater motivator than that of your own imminent death for helpful contemplation and to put things in perspective. I believe we Ultim strived for more out of life and appreciated life more than the Alphas did on account of this. Whether that’s true or not, I’ll let someone else judge, but we definitely felt that way.’
‘I’m sure for some that was the case,’ Nios affirmed, thinking over Mr Darlington’s point. ‘It’s hard to see how it couldn’t be.’
‘Glad you agree with me,’ Mr Darlington said, smiling.
Nios summoned up his journalistic courage as he prepared to take his line of questioning to a darker place.
‘Are you afraid of death?’ he asked, half fearing the answer.
‘I wondered when that question would come,’ a serious Mr Darlington replied. ‘You’re not the first to ask me that you know.’
Mr Darlington’s eyes grew distant and glassy, as he summoned a far-off memory.
‘My wife, in her last days, asked me that very question. Gravely ill, she hadn’t spoken a word for close to a week. She just lay there, in our bed, staring out the window at these very trees. I sat in a chair by her side. For months, I didn’t leave her. I burnt that damn chair after she died, an attempt to exorcise the grief I felt. Every time I sat in it, or even looked at the thing, I was brought back to that time, to that place. On the morning of her death, she broke her silence with your question and it hurt me terribly to hear her ask it. But I knew the answer.
‘I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m not afraid of death. But what I am afraid of, what I fear most of all, is a life without you in it’.’
Emotion lurked close to the surface of the brave façade Mr Darlington tried to uphold. He held back the immense sadness that rose within him, his voice straining and his eyes welling on the verge of tears. He took a moment, averting his gaze away from Nios, and composed himself.
‘You see, your own death is a strange thing. It’s abstract and hard to comprehend. You don’t so much fear what comes after death or death itself. It’s the suffering and pain that may come with it that you fear. Far more frightening and unsettling is the death of someone you love, someone you know. That is the true agony and tragedy of death. It’s not ever fully felt by the dying or the dead; it’s felt by the living. Those who can attest the world with you in it, and then the world once you have departed it.
‘It’s so surreal how someone can be there one minute – their mind, their soul, whatever makes them who they are, that mix of personality and experience – and then within an instant they are gone. Their body empty, the person having vanished into nothing, never to return, leaving behind the cold physical shell of that which they once inhabited. Such a thing is, and will always be, hard to understand and make sense of. A small part of it is a reflected sense of your own looming mortality - that is true. You see in them, what will eventually befall you, but this is only an afterthought.’
Nios listened intently and tried to understand what a world would be like with such looming death, where death was so imminent and ingrained in culture. An age when all those around you were going to die. An age when your peers would begin to die, as you yourself approached the end. In the world he lived in, death was rare. Only a freak accident, tragedy or outrageous murder caused death. The vast majority of the population never gave it much thought.
‘Do you regret missing the cut-off? Do you regret not being one of the Alpha generation?’
‘No,’ Mr Darlington replied, surprising Nios by how quickly and assuredly he had answered.
‘Does that surprise you?’ Mr Darlington asked.
‘Well, yes, it does. If given the choice between the two, I don’t see how anyone would prefer to die,’
‘I wasn’t given the choice to die, much like you weren’t given the choice to live. Even now, the unborn are given the therapy without consent, without a choice of their own. Surely you have read about such an argument, back when the use of Bimini was debated?’
‘Yes, I have, but it was inconsequential. The only effective way the therapy worked was to administer it to foetuses, still in the womb,’ Nios pointed out.
‘In most cases people will eventually accept what is out of their control. But it’s the choices we make that haunt us. Still, we value choice, and it’s integral to the development of one’s self. It’s an important right and freedom we have, to choose our path in life and to face up to the choices we’ve made, be they good or bad. If Bimini-A89 was a choice, I’m sure the overwhelming percentage of people would choose the therapy. But there would be some who wouldn’t. They may have the foresight that I grew to understand over the years. A realisation that leaves me with no doubt, when I say to you, that I do not regret missing the therapy, nor do I regret my looming death in these final days.’
Mr Darlington enjoyed challenging Nios on this idea. He felt it was important, perhaps the most important realisation of his life. Excitement and passion fuelled his old mind as he explained his thoughts and reason.
‘Have you ever regretted missing out on the treatment?’
‘Now, there is the more interesting question,’ Mr Darlington replied with a grin, his passion growing.
‘Of course,’ he stated matter-of-factly. ‘Of course I have. All we Ultim have, and don’t believe any who would tell you otherwise.’
Mr Darlington stopped, thinking for a second. ‘Well, of course they won’t. I’m the last one,’ he corrected with a chuckle.
‘Who doesn’t want to cheat death? To live in their youth for eternity, with all its vigour and enthusiasm? How exciting it would be to continue an endless adventure, a nonstop thrill ride of life and new discovery. Endless opportunities and chances to start again. Yes? Isn’t that how you would describe people’s lives now? Your own perhaps?’
Nios thought for a moment. His life didn’t fit that description at all, or that of any he knew.
‘For some, I guess, that’s how they would see it. How they live it. But not I,’ Nios answered, being as honest as he could.
‘Not many, you would say?’
‘No, not many at all,’
‘That doesn’t surprise me. You see, that fantasy is how the old in mind and body once thought of eternal youth. That is how they would relive it in old age. But it’s an illusion. They reflect upon their youth with a lifetime of knowledge and experience. The reality of immortality is far removed from such fantasies. If eternal life is all you have known and expect, then life takes on a different value, does it not? It used to be said that youth is wasted on the young. But now it is immortality that is wasted on the immortal. They have nothing to compare it to. They don’t know the feelings of youth and of opportunity passing you by, at least not in any definite sense. They have endless time, endless chances. There is no sweet without the sour Nios.’
Nios began to see Mr Darlington’s point. Modern life wasn’t the youthful happy-go-lucky adventure of Mr Darlington’s fantasy. True, the worry of illness and natural death had gone, and people didn’t suffer the ravages of age. But they still found plenty of other worries to fill death’s place. Immortality did little to quell the sub-par values and priorities they chose to pursue and prioritise. In fact, Nios now saw how it might very well fuel and enhance them.
Wealth and fame were strived for above all else and shallow, superficial and narcissistic traits were all too common. People worried about their status in society and still obsessed over their appearance. People still fell into the same pitfalls all civilisations eventually succumbed to. Not having looming mortality, or a limit to time to hinder them, fuelled the fire of their hollow, short-term pursuits. Much like Mr Darlington suggested, they took the endless time they had, and their immortality, for granted. They forever lacked any sense of perspective.
‘Each moment I had in my life was all the more sweet, all the more profound and valuable, because it was but one in a limited and expiring chain that would one day come to an end,’ said Mr Darlington. ‘There would only ever be a finite amount of moments I would have, each one made all the more special by this fact.
‘We were reminded of it constantly. The Alphas, growing in number, each day to them was another in a limitless eternity of days, the value of which was like a drop in the ocean. The beauty of growing old and ageing – the beauty of mortality, Nios – is that it’s not until when looking upon your end, that you understand the painfully beautiful and precious value of each one of those moments. The people you met, the places you visited. Now I see it, I feel it. Like the sun in the sky; all day you took it for granted. But now, as you gaze upon its setting glow, you see its beauty, its wonder and you feel its fading warmth as if for the first time. Now, at the end of all things, you realise.’
Mr Darlington’s voice was clear and strong. His opinion had been forged over much internal reflection and introspection – he had arrived at such a place after years of rumination.
As Nios pondered Mr Darlington’s words he felt slightly embarrassed at his previous arrogance. He had assumed all Ultims lived in desperate regret and envy of the Alphas and those generations that followed. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
‘I thank whatever luck had its hand in ensuring I was born on the day I was. It’s why I don’t envy Alphas. I feel a deep pity for them, and for the generations that will come, including your own. You will never feel what I feel now. You will never grasp in its entirety, the true value of life and all that comes with growing old, and dying. Much like those who are taken from us by accident, before their time, before Bimini. We mourned the lives that had been taken from them and that they would never know old age and the profound perspective that comes with it. Like them, I mourn for the Alphas.’
Nios’s slightly flustered demeanour didn’t go unnoticed by Mr Darlington.
‘Forgive me if I have offended you, Nios; it is not my intent. I simply wish to make clear this feeling of mine, being the last to die as I am, as an old man.’
Content, and feeling as thought he had made his point, Mr Darlington’s gaze was drawn back to the woodlands he loved so much. No doubt, his mind conjured a distant memory, a time or place from his past, remembering it as it was, and looking upon it in a new light as if for the first time.
Mr Darlington’s words had aroused new thoughts and ideas within Nios that were unheard of in current society. Nios couldn’t help but hear them over and over in his mind as he made the journey back to the city, back to his apartment. The more he heard them, the more he started to feel somehow foolish and unappreciative of life, and this was something he promised himself that he would change.
Nios sat at his computer in his apartment, finishing his story. The soft afternoon light trickled in from the window above his desk, the amber glow finding its way past the towering grey superstructures that surrounded his building. Nios’s article was due for release the next day and he added the final touches and tweaks to what he felt was the most important piece of his career. The rest of the media had jumped all over the story, following Mr Darlington’s death a few days ago. The tired, familiar, talking heads of the mainstream news outlets had opted to use Mr Darlington’s death, although sad, as some grand final chapter in humanity’s great leap forward. They praised the pioneering efforts of those responsible for defeating the terrible, natural curse of death.
Nios had chosen to take a different tone with his coverage, focussing instead on the deeper sentiments Mr Darlington had expressed.
Listening to his recording of the interview, he was surprised to notice Mr Darlington’s aged voice for the first time. His deep gravelly words were still pleasant to Nios’s ears, even having heard the recording tens of times since they had parted ways.
Inspired by the sound once more, Nios keyed in the final line of his article:
‘And so died Mr Adrian Darlington at the impressive age of 146. The last man to live, knowing that he would die.’
Satisfied, he leaned back in his chair, listening to the last few minutes of the recording, the last question of his interview.
‘What advice or message would you give to the Alpha generation and the generations to come?’ he had asked. Nios closed his eyes, conjuring the old worn face and contemplative smirk of Mr Darlington in his mind.
‘The only advice I could give, would be …’
He thought it over.
‘Live life like you’re going to die. Yes,’ he had said with a smile, ‘that’s what I would tell them.’