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Death Be Not Proud
“Can you believe it’s almost over?”
Yurda’s roommate lay supine on the bed. “I mean, 20 years of study and we’re done!” It was true. They had reached the end of their Sagharsa, the period of trials in which they were mandated to partake before they finally reached Nirvana. “Yurda, do you realize that in a week’s time we’ll practically be gods?” Yurda rolled her eyes. Her roommate was making a bit of an exaggeration. We’ll be more like potatoes actually.
2892 years and 3 months ago, mankind had reached the pinnacle of its achievement. They had finally conquered that greatest of enemies, death, which they had been desperately fleeing ever since sex replaced mitosis somewhere out in the primordial soup. Through the centuries, mankind developed from tribal communities to industrialized societies, and finally to a state in which each year, each month, in fact, brought an achievement once called utterly impossible. In a great exponential rush of scientific accomplishment, mankind completed its J shaped loop of success: scientists learned the key to an eternity of pleasure, and a cessation of bodily decay.
At one’s 20th birthday, one is now started on an organophosphate and opiate drip, which shuts down all sympathetic nervous system response, induces the parasympathetic system, and provides complete loss of pain, and complete euphoria. “Fight or flight” no longer being necessary, mankind is freed to “feed and breed,” and drool and defecate into colostomy bags and catheters, utterly helpless and utterly blissful, for all eternity. It was the end Yurda and her entire generation had been working toward since birth, studying a mix of science, history, and theology which was supposed to help them decide whether to give themselves to immortality or to the status of an unaltered and transient Efimera. It was a load of bullsh-- of course. No one in their right mind would give up their godly existence just to spend a measly 80 years as an Efimera, cleaning the bed pans of their betters.
Yurda nestled in the pillows of the dormitory bed and stared out the window at the crumbling, empty streets. The cars of the ancient past had been replaced long ago by underground, automated ferry networks. Yurda was provided with everything she needed in this housing complex. She had never left, and neither had her roommate. She would be shipped out for the first time this Sunday for one of the Bliss Palaces, where she would enter her Nirvana state.
Yurda glanced at a book that lay open on the floor. She never studied. There was no need of the knowledge when she was going to reach happiness anyway. On the page lay that J shaped curve of mankind’s story. It had turned logarithmic 2892 years and 3 months ago. The flat line seemed to Yurda to go on for as long as she would live, forever and ever and ever: an endless plateau.
Suddenly Yurda rolled out of bed and started pulling on a fresh pair of clothes. “I’m going out for a walk.” Her roommate lolled her head to the side, puzzled. “I thought we agreed we would just lie here until they come to get us on Sunday. We completed our lifetime walking requirements two years ago.” Yurda sighed. The requirements were stupid. They were made by a few moralistic creeps in the bureaucracy somewhere that had decided to extend outdated practices centuries after they should have gone the way of the telephone and childbirth. They were required to walk 100 miles in their lifetime, which to Yurda seemed absurd when they could just have the Efimera or some machine wheel them around in chairs. But Yurda felt terribly antsy tonight for some reason. Perhaps her milkshake had been laced with snow powder again, a mild drug similar to cocaine that the Efimera sometimes used to wake them up and get them to move around. Yurda shuffled down the hall and out to the courtyard, rubbing her mild bedsores. She should have rolled over more often last week.
The yard was empty and bare: a concrete block lined by benches and twenty foot walls with nothing in the way of ornamentation. The moon hung low, and Yurda remembered a legend of men who once set foot there. They set up a base there too, in the century before mankind reached Nirvana. The air felt like ice. She shivered. Why am I out here?
One of the Efimera sat in the corner on watch duty. There were four Efimera in this complex, for 400 under-20’s. They were in charge of monitoring the automated upkeep mechanisms, and doing manual labor in their stead when they broke down, which was often. This one looked haggard. They all looked haggard. Lines grooved its face. Age was clearly peeking through.
Hardly even aware that she was doing it, Yurda wandered over to the creature, and sat down on the bench beside it. It was reading a book. Something by a man named “John Donne.” It looked up at her, and began to stand to guide her back to her room.
“No,” a voice spoke from Yurda’s mouth. Was it hers? “Efimera, why did you deny yourself life?” The Efimera smiled. “Take a cookie, and I will tell you.” Yurda took the cookie, sat next to him, and began to eat.
“Do you remember your studies of mythology? Hercules was faced with a choice between a long life of bliss or a short one of struggle. He chose the short one. Do you remember why?” Yurda did, surprisingly: “Because he wanted immortality. But that was stupid. He died horribly anyway. Sure he was made a god in the end, but that stuff is all just religion. Now we really can live forever.” “Dear, you’re missing the point.” The Efimera smiled and shook his head. “The ancient greek idea of immortality as a god may have been hokum, but the true moral still remains. A short, meaningful life beats a long, useless one every time. The ancients found immortality in legacy and action rather than physical presence. They made art, discoveries, started ambitious projects, had children. Has it ever occurred to you that in my brief time on this earth I will have accomplished more than you will in your eternity? Your accomplishments follow a horizontal asymptote. They will flatten. Mine will exponentiate. If you learned anything from your studies, you know that you work faster and better with a deadline near.”
Yurda frowned. The Effimera made no sense. “You seriously expect me to believe you are accomplishing so much scrubbing bed pans and babysitting robots and drugged up zombies? You’re just justifying some lousy decision you made when you were 20.”
“Don’t judge so quickly. Who holds the real power here? You or I?” Yurda was about to say, “Who wipes my ass?” but then realized the Efimera was leading her back to her room. Her head felt cloudy and she thought of the cookie crumbs in her palm. She thought of who monitored the machines, who kept the curfew, who kept the hundreds of millions of gods hooked up to their IV drips and catheters. Through the growing mind fog, Yurda vaguely recalled a concept of the king as a servant. Could the reverse possibly be true as well? Could the servant be the king?
“I will die in the next fifty years,” the Efimera was softly saying, “but I will continue mankind’s legacy. I will experience life, while you will only exist, should you choose to enter Nirvana. I will grow and change, and yes, decay as well. But at least I will not be deadened to who and what I am. Have you ever seen a thousand year old man? He is a pile of respirating flesh, tubes and pleasure drugs. How is that man not dead?” Yurda’s head was spinning. She was fading in and out of consciousness. The Efimera was making no sense at all. “Of course it can seem cruel, but it is also necessary. The world is overpopulated as it is, and we have to put people somewhere. If they are drugged and blissful, all the better. We essentially store them in mass mourges when they reach 500. The actual functioning population of earth is small enough now to be manageable. Immortality is just humane euthanasia with a little maintenance…”
Yurda sunk deep into the warmth of her pillows. The hallucinogens and depressants swarming her synapses made the pillows into clouds. “Choose wisely,” the voice of the universe purred, distant and familiar.
In three days, she would be a god.