Immortality (a short story)

Avril Origami was not unhappy being the director of bioengineering at Berg Biophysics. True, she had grown wary of constant administrative hassles without the excitement of discovery that can come from managing just one engaging project. But, for a young woman from Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture, she was proud to be wearing Armani outfits and Ferragamo shoes and to bop around town in her $60,000 Audi S5 sportster, paid for with cash from her Christmas bonus.

On the other hand, Avril earned her PhD getting her hands dirty in the lab, not by playing fancy math games. She missed the excitement of hands-on genetic research. She was fully aware that biological research was being taken over by physicists, mathematicians and Big Data experts, who take the most real and valuable thing in the world, life, and abstract the hell out of it, turning it into a bunch of fucking equations. She understood that it was just part of our marching toward The Singularity, and she had no problem with that. What will be will be. Que Sera, Sera. In fact, most of her direct reports were physicists or mathematicians or nanotech engineers. Still …

So she decided to see Dr. Berg himself, to see if he would let her take on direct responsibility for a project in addition to being director of many projects. At worst, he would say no, and he might even say yes. And, if nothing else, she would have the pleasure of talking with one of the world’s most fascinating men.

For starters, Philip Berg had three PhD’s: one in mathematics and one that was shared between mathematics and philosophy, counting as a full PhD in each. His first doctorate is the one that led to his founding of Berg Biophysics. He performed an intensive mathematical study of the ~100,000 retrovirus DNA that make up about 8% of the human genome, and determined a pattern that was common to all of these. He then used pure math to theorize on the makeup of an antiviral that could eliminate all 100,000 retroviruses. Although the CDC will not yet let anyone test his antivirus, he had received a patent and is expected to win the Nobel Prize for it.

His other feat of mathematical (and philosophical) brilliance involved proving that nothing does not exist, i.e., that the “number” zero is a mathematical convenience but one which does not represent any aspect of reality. He had initially come at this view by proclaiming that Plato was right about the existence of an unseen world, but wrong regarding its contents. Specifically, whereas Plato believed there was a world of forms (for example, the perfect triangle), Berg was convinced that that world contained only numbers. Not mathematics, mind you. No equations. No forms. Just numbers themselves, which always existed in pairs of a positive integer and its corresponding negative. 

He theorized that these numbers popped in and out of existence in sync with the standard flow of time: one second per second. Hence, at t = 8,000,000 seconds, there might exist a 5, –5, 21, –21, 1900, –1900, 7, –7, and at t= 8,000,001 seconds there might exist a 4, –4, 21, –21, 1900, –1900. Billions and even trillions of numbers could exist at once.

His real stroke of brilliance was in determining that when the total positive numbers reached 99 factorial (9.33 e^155) and the total negative numbers reached minus 99 factorial, they created a Big Bang resonance. He showed that this happened about every 30 trillion years, and that for every universe that popped out like ours, there was a corresponding “negative” universe. His complete theory involved five pages of set theory, non-dimensional geometry, and tensor calculus, and he was expected to win the Nobel Prize for it, too. He had already won the Fields Medal.

Perhaps most fascinating of all to Avril was that Dr. Berg was an oratory genius as well and he was an extraordinary gentleman. He could articulate any problem more clearly than anyone else in the room, and if you were feeling down or overwhelmed, he would offer words of wisdom that just seemed to wrap around you like a warm coat. He was also a man of strong conviction, a devout Roman Catholic, who would not allow any form of birth control research within his company.

Avril arrived at his office door at 11:00 am to hear him say, “Avy! What a delight to see you. I hope you don’t mind some lunch while we chat. Kobi steak and native trout. I believe you will love the trout … it’s from my cabin upstate. Native trout has a taste that blows stock trout right out of the water!”He chuckles at his pun, and giving Avril his most charming look says, “Now, Suzanne tells me you do not have enough work to do?”

Avril laughed just enough to show she appreciated his humor and his time, and then looking him in the eyes, which was like looking into a consciousness that was light-years deep, said, “Oh, you keep me plenty busy, Dr. Berg, but I so very much miss the hands-on of genetics research, and am hoping you will grant me some leeway to have such a project of my own. Of course, you know I will make sure my duties as director do not suffer from the added work.”

“Avy, I admire your willingness, your desire, to take on more and to stretch yourself. I suppose we have that in common. You might not know this, but I am working on another potential Nobel Prize, which is sort of a Feynman Diagrams for String Theory, or at least that’s the best analogy I can give to someone who is not properly versed in advanced mathematics and modern physics. It makes doing calculations in string theory’s 11 dimensions as easy as doing them in two dimensions.

“But, I don’t want to talk about me.

“You know, I do have something that I believe would be just right for you to work on. Just for talking purposes, let’s call it the Immortality Project. As you might expect, the purpose of this project would be to uncover a genetic basis for immortality. Of course, as a Roman Catholic, I am not concerned with the status of my eternal soul: I believe I shall join the saints in due course.

“But, I do believe man can only come closer to God by (1) living longer and (2) becoming much more intelligent. I have in mind something like The Technological Singularity. While most people do not look on the singularity in a religious way, I do believe that the only way we can know God is through his revelation, not through our own puny minds, and that the only way we will get more revelation is to be much, much smarter. I think he has already revealed to us as much as our very limited minds can understand. But, I believe he wants us to draw closer, which we can do if we become much smarter and live longer.

“Do you agree, Avy?

“Well, sir …, Phillip, I’m not sure I really understand. Are you suggesting that a single gene might be responsible for the length of life, maybe the way the FOXP2 gene was once thought to be responsible for human language?”

“Yes, Avy, exactly that. While FOXP2 showed us that it’s hard to tie a specific behavior to a specific gene, given all the permutations and combinations, we are getting better and better at it all the time. I believe your instincts, determination, dedication, knowledge, and brilliance are the keys to unlock the puzzle of life, to find ‘the immortality gene.’ I am convinced there is one, because I believe God wants us to find it, so he can reveal more of himself to us.

The caterers began clearing the table and bringing out a huge chocolate brownie for each of them, smothered in vanilla ice cream. Avril looked at it like it was heaven, and dug in, unashamed to show that she was a desert-aholic. Dr. Berg just smiled.

After a couple of bites, she told him that she appreciated his confidence in her more than she knew how to say, and that she would love to begin the project as soon as practical. He told her she could begin it that day, and within an hour she began setting up a new lab and working with HR to ensure they understood the qualifications her new assistants must have.

Later in the day she felt a headache coming on, and decided to head home. She knew a migraine was on its way, scolding herself because chocolate sometimes did that to her. But what was done was done, and she could always give herself a shot of Imitrex, which she did as soon as she got home.

Without even undressing, she got under the covers and let the medicine do its work.

Hours later, she woke up from a dream of, of all things, Jesus’ crucifixion. She was not religious and did not understand this, but the dream seemed so realistic. The realism had even caused her to wet herself and to perspire all over. She could still see him hanging on the cross, tormented by the heat, the pain of the nails driven into him, the beating he had suffered, the weight of his body bearing down on his hands and feet.

As the essence of the dream continued to soak in, she suddenly knew that the crucifixion of Jesus had been a real event. She knew that it really happened and that it was not just some story made up those who admired him and his works.

This bothered her very much, but she was also determined to not let it eat away at her. She decided that a hot shower and a drive to the beach would help clear her mind and that she would go into work early and begin laying out a project strategy.

Although flashes of the dream crossed her mind several times, the day was basically uneventful. Well, except that she had decided that they should begin their look for the “immortality gene” in the brain. She was also pleased with the position descriptions that HR had come up with, and decided to celebrate by getting a good night’s sleep to help offset last night’s nightmares.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. She got to sleep early, all right, but there was that dream again, and this time the dream included not only the crucifixion but the resurrection of Jesus as well. And, just as before, she had new knowledge that Jesus really was resurrected. She knew it from the core of her being.

Slipping out of bed, Avril went to the kitchen and put on some coffee. She even opened a pack of cigarettes she’d squirreled away a couple of years ago. What the hell was going on? Why was she having these bizarre dreams? Why did she now believe in something she considered impossible a few days ago?

She didn’t want to have anything to do with this religious stuff, so why was her brain coming up with it? What was her subconscious trying to tell her? She even wondered what God was trying to tell her, but convinced herself to leave the supernatural out of it and out of her thinking. She had never turned to God for help before, and was disinclined to ask a God of dubious existence for help now.

She figured it probably had something to do with Philip Berg being so religious, even attaching a religious motive to genetics research. Somehow her subconscious had taken her mission and her respect for Berg and combined them in a way that created the dreams.

Then it hit her like a ton of bricks: the key to immortality was through resurrection. Yes, this seemed ass-backwards, since one would have to die in order to be resurrected. But the subsequent activation of the “resurrection gene” would restore life and would make one immortal.

She turned her coffee pot off, had one more cigarette, and started getting ready for work. While filled with doubt and confusion, at her core she also believed she could find the resurrection gene. She also believed it was the key to immortality and maybe even that Philip Berg was a prophet.

On the way to work, Avril kept seeing a cross in her mind. She figured she would be seeing dream residue for a while, so she really didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. But, when she settled down in the lab, she began to think it was another “hint” about her project. In fact, she considered that it could mean that when her team examined brain tissue at the molecular level, they should focus on any genes in the area surrounding what appeared to be a cross.

So she assembled her newly formed team and instructed them on how to proceed. She did not mention that she was looking for a resurrection gene, telling them instead that they were looking for an immortality gene. She had decided that, if there is a resurrection gene, the only way to test it would be for her commit suicide and then have her resurrection gene activated a day or three later. Dr. Berg would not approve of this, of course. Nobody would. She would be on her own, and she recognized she was literally betting everything on finding the actual resurrection gene. She had not figured out how to deal with the fact that her reputation would be destroyed by the magnitude of her ethical violations. But she was not going to sit around and worry about it.

Just a few weeks later her team found a gene they believed could impact longevity. The gene seemed to exist only in the human genome, as the team could not find it within chimp or mouse genomes. That alone suggested that there was something special about it. Also, throughout their massive testing of numerous samples, the gene appeared to be in stasis and not activated. When the group did activate it, it appeared to initiate several other changes in numerous genes. It would take a lot of time to track down the changes and what impact they had.

Everybody was excited, and Avril rushed in to share the news with Dr. Berg. She told him that more testing is needed, but that she felt that she and her team deserved, needed a vacation. She suggested rewarding the team members with a one-week paid vacation to anywhere they wanted to go, and Dr. Berg agreed wholeheartedly. He was very excited and repeatedly told her “Great job, Avy! Great job!”

Avril had planned this well. She had no intention of taking a vacation herself, but would instead test the resurrection gene. She had worked with her nanotech engineers to develop the nanotechnology that would bring her back from the dead. Basically, they created thousands of miniaturized electronic devices with a 22 nanometer lateral width, with each being able to land on an individual neuron and send a signal that would activate at least some of the resurrection genes in the neuron. (The engineers knew nothing of the gene that would be activated … Avril made sure the engineers did not know more than they needed to.)

The trick was timing. The nanotech had to be injected into Avril’s carotid so it could penetrate the blood-brain barrier, and all of this had to be done while she was alive (of course). (None of the engineers knew that she would be dead at any point.) Then, the nanotech would begin a countdown (via simple nanotransistor timer circuits) so that it would set off the activation 24 hours later.

Avril went home after receiving the injection and killed herself using a chemical she had specially prepared.

About 23 hours later, the nanotechnology did its work, and Avril indeed resurrected. As soon as she did, her body transformed in many ways, and she was again given new knowledge: specifically, she knew that the resurrection gene activation expires after 1,963 years.

She certainly had not anticipated this. She thought a lot about its consequences and soon came to realize that it meant that Jesus is now dead, just based on the math, in that his resurrection genes would have deactivated. Would it be right for her to let people know this? What if it destroyed their faith? What if it destroyed Dr. Berg’s faith?

She decided that she could not allow the immortality project to go to fruition. She was not going to be responsible for destroying the religion of billions of people. So, she went to the lab after hours and destroyed all evidence of the team’s findings. She could not destroy what was in the heads of her team members, but they really didn’t know the dangerous part anyway.

What she did not know is whether she could commit suicide or not (can you kill yourself when you’re immortal?), or whether she had to live with this secret for 1,963 years. Either way, she decided that she had to disappear from public life, to make it seem as if she had simply vanished. Her reputation would go to hell in a hand basket, but at least she would live according to her principles.

The main problem that Avril did not foresee, though, was that she had not realized the extent of corporate spying in the bioengineering world. The Chinese had indeed been monitoring everything that Avril and her team had been doing, and knew absolutely everything that Avril knew. They had even used some experimental thought monitoring equipment on her to learn the parts that only she knew.

And, of course, the Chinese did not give a rat’s ass about anyone’s religion, and decided to go public with “their” findings on the resurrection gene. As soon as they did, though, world governments agreed that they needed to develop policies before letting people use the resurrection gene. There were already 10 billion people in the world, even with people dying daily.

But the damage to the Christian religion had been done. Oh, there were many who denied the reality of the resurrection gene, and several conspiracy buffs promoted the theory that the government was just trying to eliminate religion. But, hundreds of millions gave up on Christianity: what good was a religion with a dead god?

Several months passed and the suicide rate went up, and there was great angst and acedia in the western world.

Then, one morning, Jesus actually comes back.

Someone asks Jesus why he waited to come back until there were almost no Christians left. He said that people apparently had a misconception about religion, in that he and The Father did not care what people believed, but only wanted people to be full of love and to act out their love. As to people who are not filled with love, he said /red/“Woe be to the haters. They will be given electroshock therapy to see if that will fix them up, but, failing that, they will be cast into a black hole.”/black/

Jesus went on to say that he had encountered some delays in his return to earth: /red/“On the way back, I ran into Richard Feynman and asked him to tell me everything he knew about math and physics. That took about 1,500 years. I had no idea he knew so much, but I sure am glad I met him.

“Then, I bumped into some Hare Krishna’s at the Alpha Centauri airport, and learned that it can really be hard to get away from them. Then, some atheists from Vulcan kidnapped me because they were afraid I was going to put a halt to atheism on Vulcan. I told them that The Father and I were not disturbed by the sin on Vulcan, because it was done in such a logical manner. They decided to let me go, but I hung around for a while, hoping to bump into Mr. Spock.”/black/

He added, /red/”Perhaps you all are confused about resurrection genes. They do exist and are just a product of evolution. But, The Father did not activate my resurrection genes. He resurrected me through magic, as that is sort of His M.O., how he likes to do things.

“Anyway, it’s good to be back.”/black/

____________

Narrator note to Editor: As you can see, this essay turns fictional toward the end, as we all know that Jesus’ actual return will be as stated by The Church. I felt that this interjection of a fictional twist would be a good way to exercise the reader’s imagination, though, don’t you think? Besides, the part about Feynman seems so plausible that it just sort of felt right.