Sometimes, when you have a story idea, you have to choose the right ending. I wanted to explore the conflict of immortality and the end of time. Great idea, but I came up with three endings. Rather than choose, I decided to write all three, which I will be posting over the next three days.
The Problem with Immortality originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Neometropolis. it is through being TOC-mates in this issue that I met local writer and podcaster Jack Mangan, a friendship that lasts to this day.
This story weighs in just shy of 2000 words and was my 5th published story.
THE PROBLEM WITH IMMORTALITY
What happens to an immortal at the end of time? That was the question facing the Relic. Immortality seemed like a good idea when he was young, but how could a mortal man possibly imagine facing life beyond entropy — beyond the very heat-death of the universe itself?
The Relic was born Martin Kent, in the long-forgotten town of Waukesha, Wisconsin, on the North American continent of old Earth. It matters not when. The Relic was raised in an upper-middle-class family. His father was a psychiatrist, his mother, a musician. He grew up with a brother and a sister, neither of whom, to their good fortune, ever attained immortality.
His family died trillions of Earth years ago. So long ago, in fact, that the Relic found it difficult to remember them, but remember he must. Memories were all he had left. The Earth had died when the sun grew into a red giant and engulfed her. The sun itself later collapsed into a white dwarf, dying a slow death by way of blackbody radiation, and even the burned-up cinder rotted away via proton decay. His home was no more.
Most other stars experienced the same fate. The sun was still a young, second-generation star when the Relic became immortal. Third, fourth, and even fifth generation stars decayed away as he watched. Only the black holes held out, and even those fell victim to Hawking radiation, evaporating slowly into nothingness.
The Relic often thought about how he became immortal. Such a mistake. He alone mastered the technique of mind over matter. The theory was one developed by his father — the culmination of a lifetime of work. A strong and focused mind, combined with hypnosis and countless environmental variables in the correct state, (so said the theory), allowed the mind to keep entropy in check.
Thousands of test subjects had achieved a biblical life-span through his father’s hypnotic methods, but they all died eventually. In reality, only entropy of the mind was halted. Entropy of the body was merely damped. It was the Relic alone who was able to transcend the need for a body physical when his finally wore out.
Existence as a thought pattern was difficult to accept at first. In his most shameful moments, he had tried to imprint himself onto others, but was never able to succeed. It seemed that brains were form-fit to the original mind, and no other intelligence could occupy that space. So he waited and watched as mankind left the solar system, first at speeds subluminal, and later, after the light barrier was finally broken, at speeds considerably faster.
He watched the rule of man spread from star to star, gaining power as the galaxy was conquered. The rule of man lasted a billion years, but stagnated and collapsed after millennia of populating the galaxy. Perhaps man’s rule might have lasted another billion had the stars of the Andromeda galaxy been closer.
The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies collided three billion years after the rule of man faded into history. That collision was the first of many, as gravity tethered the two galaxies together in an intricate dance that culminated with a merger of the two into one enormous elliptical galaxy. By then, man was nowhere to be found. Except the Relic.
Existing as consciousness alone, the Relic discovered early that he was no longer restricted to one world. As far as that goes, he learned to exist wherever he wanted to exist. In time, he discovered that he could exist in more than one location. Over the course of a billion years, maybe more, the Relic’s mind expanded to the point where, for all practical purposes, he existed everywhere.
The ability to observe most of the universe gave the Relic a unique ability to study living cultures. After the collapse of the rule of man, the Andromeda-Milky Way Galaxy played host to a confederacy of different races living together in harmony. The story was different in the Virgo cluster, where a race known as the Thrup conquered by brutal violence. Compared to the Thrup, human history looked tranquil. Gone, all of them.
It was during the time of fourth generation stars that the Relic met the only creature, other than himself, to exist as an independent intelligence. Her name was Verite, and hers was a mind more beautiful than any he’d ever encountered. But, she was not immortal, and in time, she passed as all living things must pass. Except The Relic. He stared at the end of time, wondering what was to become of the only immortal being when time came to its end.
Since the last of the stars faded from the sky, he had been searching for a way out — for a way to end this immortality. Had the one version of the Big Bang Theory including a Big Crunch been correct, he wouldn’t worry. But, that wasn’t the way the universe worked.
Instead of ending in a Big Crunch, the universe proved to be inflationary — accelerating, even. And as the universe expanded, so did the Relic’s consciousness. He was aware of the entropy, aware of the increasingly vast distances between the different corners of his mind. Tendrils of the largest features of the universe, the mesh of galactic clusters that had given existence its structure, were pulled taut and snapped, again and again, until no structure remained.
Larger stars had ignited in a cacophony of supernova explosions, and finally fell silent in the form of neutron stars and black holes. Smaller stars, instead, bloated in their brief prominence as giants, then faded away as had the Relic’s own sun in the distant past. Generation upon generation of stars followed those mass-dependent Hertzsprung-Russell paths, until the remaining dust and gas were so sparse that no star could ever form again, and all light vanished.
Then came the boredom, as complete as the universe was dark. Nothing to watch but dead stars disappearing through proton decay. Later, all that was left were the black holes, and Hawking radiation ate them away, too, until only the barest trace of the most massive black hole remained. It is this last black hole that he watched.
And then, the last bit of the last black hole wasted away, and the Relic was completely and utterly alone. The only thing in existence — a true relic. He spent quite a bit of time looking for — for anything. There was nothing to find.
He thought back through his past for some hint of what might solve his problem. Through all of history of all races, all wars, all literature, all invention, and all theory, he searched. He searched for a billion years, perhaps two. No benchmarks remained, so the concept of time was no longer truly meaningful, but he was comforted by the concept of time. It was something to grasp as he pondered everything he could remember. Boredom was worse than death. At least death was an end. The relic saw no end, and no purpose. Then, the Relic remembered one single theory that might hold the answer he sought.
This theory postulated that in a universe such as the one in which the Relic found himself the sole inhabitant, forever expanding, that when space expanded enough, and when the very fabric of space stretched tightly enough, the latent energy bound inside that space would rupture to form a new Big Bang. Perhaps universes were nested ad infinitum.
The Relic pondered how he might use this theory. Perhaps he could help deliver the new creation. He focused his attention on a single point, trying to force his entire existence into that single spot. Pressure built. He could feel it. Focus. Concentration.
Without warning, the universe shuddered all around the Relic as he felt himself hurled in all directions at once. Had the Phoenix risen from its ashes? Was the universe born anew?
Once the Relic recovered from the concussion, he felt all corners of the universe for new matter or energy. There was no matter. Anywhere. And the universe was cold. Everywhere. What went wrong?
The Relic decided to keep trying. There was plenty of time.