Excerpt of Natural Selection

Synopsis: A man who lives in a society of immortals is suddenly faced with the loss of his own immortality and must decide how to live out his life, knowing he will someday die. Excerpted chunks of a very rough draft are below.




...

The street seemed darker than the surrounding areas, as though several of the ambience-lights had fallen into disrepair. Richard thought perhaps they were intentionally destroyed to send a signal to anyone who would mistakenly think Swamp Street might be welcoming.

His stomach suddenly clenched and his lungs stopped, causing him to immediately gasp for a breath of purified city air. For a moment he was terrified—was he already experiencing the symptoms of his imminent death? The more rational side of him eventually prevailed, recognizing he had merely experienced true apprehension again for the first time in a millennium.

He took another deep breath and forced himself to step onto Swamp Street.


...

A man suddenly appeared at Richard’s elbow, causing him to jump. The shorter man leered upwards, a few of his teeth missing. Richard cringed.

“I see from your expression you’re not one of them nano-heads,” the man said, spittle flying from his lips.

“I… I was,” Richard admitted, unsure of what to say.

The man nodded. “Come this way.” He gestured and then stepped into one of the darkened shopfronts of Swamp Street. Once inside, Richard realized the shop was well-lit, but the windows were covered so as not to interfere with the Swamp Street's sordid atmosphere.

The man sat down on one side of a desk—an actual wood desk, Richard realized. He sat down on the other, wondering what this man wanted to sell him.

“So, you killed your parasites, did ya?” the man asked, filling a glass with some sort of yellow fluid. He offered Richard some, but he declined.

“No, I’m actually not sure what happened. One day they were working fine; the next, they were gone.”

The man chuckled and shook his head. “Naturals.”

Richard’s curiosity was piqued, but before he could ask what the man meant, the man went on to say, “Well, as you know, it’s impossible to put the little mites back. So, you’ve got to be honest with yourself, like everyone else who’s not a nano-head does.”

Richard raised his eyebrow. The man explained, “You’re going to die.”

Richard’s anger suddenly ignited. “I know that, you idiot! Is that what you brought me in here for? To remind me that I’m no longer immortal? If that’s all you have to say, then—” He stood up to leave, but the man reached across the desk and grabbed his wrist.

“No, no, no. You miss my point.” He grinned up at Richard again. “You’re going to die, so what you have to do is, recognize that fact—and vow to yourself that you will make the most of the life you have.”

“What do you mean?” Richard jerked his hand away but refused to sit. He was amazed at the sensations anger awakened within him. His heart was beating faster, and when he looked at his hands, they were shaking.

The man sat back in his chair and pulled out a yellow stick from the drawer. He had something in his other hand and brought it up next to the stick, which he had placed in his mouth. When he put his hands down, the tip of the yellow stick emitted a trace of smoke. A memory tugged at Richard.

“Well.” The yellow stick danced between his lips as he spoke. “When you die, your body will be worthless to you, right? What we here at Independence Unlimited propose is that you sell us your body.”

Richard took a step back. “What?”

“After you’re dead, of course.” The man’s hand caressed the wooden desk, gesturing as if to smooth over the situation. “For now, we will pay you in advance for your organs, your blood, et cetera. You can live the rest of your years as a rich man. You can do whatever you want, go wherever you want, buy whatever you want. The best part is, since you’re no longer inhibited by those damned parasites—” the way he spit the word almost caused the yellow stick to fall out of his mouth. “You’ll actually be able to enjoy it.”

“Enjoy what?” Richard asked.

“Whatever it is you decide to do with the money we will give you in return for your organs.”

“My dead organs.”

“Correct.”

“I’ll think about it.” Richard turned to leave.

“One hundred thousand credits,” the man said to Richard’s back.

“That’s not much."

“It’s not like you’re immortal anymore, son. One hundred thousand will get you anything you need from now until you die.”

Richard felt overwhelmed, and for once was able to put a name to the feeling—despair. “I’ll think about it,” he said quietly and stepped outside. The darkness only amplified his emotions.


...

He turned to see a tall woman with long blonde hair piled on top of her head. Unlike the others, she didn’t gesture him to come inside for a private conversation. He stepped closer to her and asked, “What quest is that?”

“The quest to restore your immortality, of course.” Her voice was no louder than before. He realized she wasn’t actually whispering, but that her voice sounded hoarse.

“The man at Nanotechnology Restoration Group has already assured me he knows how to reawaken my nanoids,” Richard told her, wondering what she would say to convince him.

She waved her hand. “Your nanoids are dead. You know that. Don’t let them fool you.”

“And I suppose you have some method of introducing new, healthy nanoids into my system?” They were all the same, he realized. All of them sold snake oil to the unwary.

She looked him up and down, suddenly making him feel defensive, as though he were the one who had to defend his beliefs. “Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone knows that’s suicide. I propose to give you immortality through ancient methods. Methods unknown to science.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? And I suppose you wish me to pay an exorbitant amount as well, in return for your services. With no proof that I truly am immortal again?” He was willing to bet she'd conned many people into believing their immortality had been restored, since it would take a few years to realize they were still aging.

She smirked, looking him up and down again. “No. The price is simpler than that. I will make you immortal. But everyone knows things happen. There could be a malfunction with the subway, killing everyone inside. Or perhaps one of your coworkers loses his nanoids as you have, but instead of seeking a method to restore his immortality, he allows his newfound emotions to control him and kills everyone in your building in a fit of rage. Or, the naturals attack your people again, slaughtering you.” She shrugged. “There’s always a chance you’ll die, even if you are immortal. Death is a patient hunter.”

“What are you saying?” What price was she asking?

“I’m saying that, in return for your restored immortality, you sign over your immortal soul to me.” Her face took on a malevolent cast. “You pit the odds of your sustained immortality against death. If you win, you are immortal forever, as you wanted. If death wins, your soul is mine. The good news is, immortality through my method is better than through science—you’ll still be able to feel. You’ll even maintain your ability to experience the pleasures of good food, drink, and sex. There will be no nanoids to inhibit you this time.”

Richard’s mind reeled at what this woman was telling him, at what she was asking in return. This time, he didn’t bother being polite and asking for her business card. He simply ran. Ran back toward the light, back from the brink of madness.

Once in the light, he hopped a sidewalk again and was soon on his way back to Atlanta as fast as he could possibly go. They were all insane, he decided. Utterly, completely, insane.



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