The Last Remaining Shadow
Note: The following short story is part of a shared writing project I’m going with a fellow writing friend. Basically we’re both taking a concept — in this case, the tale of the last remaining mortal human on Earth — and writing a piece of fiction to our whim from there. I’m a bit out of practice, so we’ll see how this goes.
I woke up from my mandated rest period to see him laying there, eyes struggling to stay open as he breathes in and out, continuing the imprisonment of life that has been thrust upon him. It’s supposed to be impossible to feel remorse for this man, yet here I am, lounging in a hospital chair, just wishing he’d die already.
As the humanity has evolved, we’ve managed to save a great many things. The Earth, once a planet in such catastrophic danger that they were sending ill-fated mission after ill-fated mission to Mars in an attempt to colonize a new planet, has been saved. Climate change — global warming as it was once correctly, though over simplistically, called — has stabilized. Population too has stabilized, thanks in large part to scientific advancements and policy changes adopted by nearly all of the world’s nations. Those countries that had the foresight to plan for the well-being of everyone have prospered. Those countries that tried to fend for themselves or who made petty squabbles more important than the survival of humanity crumbled and died out. Quite literally on that last point, I might add.
Around 85 years ago, a scientist by the name of Krysia Nosek and her assistants discovered a drug that would grant immortality to human kind. In a very un-human like turn of events, Nosek and her team turned the drug over to the Polish government, which then in turn funded Nosek’s Krakow based lab to allow the scientists to create enough of the drug to make sure that everyone in the world had the opportunity to live forever. Not just everyone in Poland. Everyone. Everywhere.
There was quite a bit of uproar from the global community thanks to the decision to make this drug, Damodrine as it would eventually be marketed, available to all for no cost. The concern was that if people were given the ability to live forever regardless of their actions, the majority of people would stop being the structured life-loving individuals that inhabited the Earth and would turn into a world full of anarchists. Some of the existing media which had built its empires upon the foundation of scare tactics and chaos tried to argue that Damodrine represented the end times or was ‘a way the devil was going to implant the number of the beast in humanity’. Humans were so primitive.
The first mass shipments of Damodrine went out to just shy of 100 million people across Europe and Northern Africa. Though there were a few isolated incidents of violence — all of which would be quelled by an antidote known as Andamodrine reversing the immortality effect — those who took the drug went on about their daily lives. If anything, those people became happier and more productive individuals. Damodrine largely eliminated the need for sleeping and eating beyond small quantities. It acts as a vaccine for more known deadly diseases, and the ones it doesn’t prevent or cure cannot overcome the power of Damodrine. The modern human now views HIV in the same light that those of 200 years ago viewed the common cold. Though HIV cannot be prevented, if it were to enter the body of a human who had consumed Damodrine in the last 7 days (likely considering the pill should be taken every 10 days for maximum effect), the virus would be killed instantaneously.
As the use of Damodrine spread across the world some more isolated or conservative nations banned the drug as an import. No one paid these nations any mind until a funny thing happened. At about the same time as the 2 billionth dose of Damodrine left Krakow, people in nations that had banned drugs import — countries like North Korea, Hungary, Israel, Turkey-Bulgaria and the United States — began to leave their nations in droves in order to obtain the drug. Like millions of Ponce de Leons, they sought out a fountain of youth that was proven to exist and work sucessfully.
It’s difficult to fight a war when the enemy combatant cannot die. They can be blown to tiny, tiny pieces, effectively killing them, but literally ending their lives doesn’t work. Hungary learned this the hard way, as it invaded Slovenia on September 5, 2240 — 82 years ago today — in an effort to stop Hungarian citizens from leaving the country and entering Slovenia. The Slovenian armed forces had been on Damodrine for nearly two years when Hungary invaded. The Hungarian army managed to accidentally (or intentionally, depending on who you believe) kill more Hungarian refugees and their own soldiers in the conflict than Slovenian citizens or soldiers…by a count of 250,000 to 25.
As the majority of the world’s then-14.8 billion people had started a Damodrine regiment, the United Nations put forth laws surrounding use of Damodrine. If immortality was to be a reality, that was acceptable with nearly every nation in the world. It was also a reality to recognize that fertility rates would never be zero, and thus the world’s population would continue to grow. With the world fertility level hovering around 1.85 each year, it was determined that those in the oldest 10% of people alive in the world would be put into a lottery each year. At that lottery, 18% of the name in the lottery would be chosen. Those individuals would then begin a three week regiment of Andamodrine, ending their lives while still providing 21 days for them to tie up any loose ends. The remaining 82% of the names in the lottery would survive another year.
In addition, the UN added a small caveat to the Damodrine usage laws that prevented a small handful of known criminals, fascists, and those whose medical conditions had deteriorated to the point where Damodrine wouldn’t help improve quality of life from every procuring the drug. For the last group, it was a mercy killing. For the former two groups, it was a death sentence for their deviant and destructive ways.
The man in the hospital bed before me is one of those who cannot take Damodrine. Sort of.
His name is Christopher Mehmet. Mehmet was born April 26, 2199 in the American state of Angeles. His parents, Craig and Dawn, blended into the background of society by being lifelong teachers. Christopher was the second born of four children — a large family by the standards of the late 2100s and early 2200s. Christopher’s older brother, Daniel, was paralyzed as a child due to a freak accident where he slipped and fell down a flight of stairs. Christopher also had two younger sisters, Evi and Jessica, both of whom were nurses and both of whom were winners of the Andamodrine lottery in 2318. It’s rare that elder family members get the opportunity to pass on together in the way that Evi and Jessica did, so national governments try their best to recognize the occurrence.
As for Christopher, he grew up in a relatively nondescript manner. He graduated 119th out of 440 in his high school class, finished his undergraduate degree in business from Cal-Berkeley before receiving his MBA from the University of North Carolina. At the age of 29, he married Ana Castillo, a waitress from a restaurant near Christopher’s home in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Had Christopher Mehmet died before the age of thirty by some freak accident, there would be no mortal humans left alive. Prior to age thirty, his life was boring, much like mine. But because he continued living — and still does — he’s an example to the world and a thorn in my side.
Two days before Christopher’s 30th birthday, his manager and two other high ranking individuals at the company flew to Liverpool, England for a business trip. Christopher’s company, Soulivair, researched genetic economics — the study of how one’s DNA, culture, race, and other genetic factors impacted the socioeconomic status an individual was able to attain in the world. Soulivair’s business practices were suspicious at best, unethical at worst. This trip would be Christopher’s first foray into field research for Soulivair, though it most certainly wouldn’t be his last.
Field research at Soulivair typically involved a team of grunt employees abducting 6-10 randomly selected individuals from a town or region of the country being studied. These test subjects were stored in empty warehouses or other isolated locations that the subjects would never return from. Soulivair testers (a group ominously called human resource inspectors) would then complete hundreds of tests analyzing the DNA of those subjects while Soulivair’s electronic engineers (read: computer hackers) would dig up as much financial data as they could on the subject. Finally, this data would be synthesized by a results team (of which Christopher Mehmet was a part) in an effort to find what genetic traits went into the most economically successful human beings.
It’s presumed the end goal of Soulivair’s research was to create a master race of individuals that would run the planet in such a manner so as to make the planet as economically viable for themselves as possible. Soulivair would get shuttered in early 2241, just after the unrest in Hungary, but not before Christopher Mehmet went on to become one of the most heinous criminals in modern history.
In addition to his actions as a member of Soulivair’s results team, Christopher directly participated in the killing — resource disposal, as it was referred to by Soulivair — of over 150 test subjects. The International Court session on Soulivair was particularly appalled at Christopher’s decision to abduct his own wife, as well as their two year old daughter, Roslyn, for use as test subjects. Ana and Roslyn Mehmet’s bodies were eventually found the ruins of The Gnoll in Neath, Wales, presumed to be the site of one of Soulivair’s final abductions. Christopher Mehmet was also found to have bribed numerous officials in the American, British, French, Spanish, and Catalonian governments to look the other way for travel for all Soulivair employee activities in those nations.
With today being September 5, 2322, Christopher Mehmet is 123 years old. Prior to the invention of Damodrine, the average life expectancy here in the United States was 83 years, with a man expected to live 81 years and a woman expected to live 86 years. Even with advances in medical science over the last 80 years other than Damodrine, the typical nonimmortal would have been expected to live around 95 years (93 and 96 for men and women, respectively). Christopher Mehmet shouldn’t still be alive. I know that. He knows that. Everyone old enough to comprehend what Damodrine and Andamodrine do knows that.
I look up from my communicator to find that Christopher has opened his eyes fully and begun his tenuous process of sitting up. He locks eyes with me and addresses me the same way he has for the past eleven years, save for the three days per month I get to leave the hospital.
“Good morning, Judit,” he said, his voice gravelly and hoarse from the passage of time.
“Good late evening, Christopher,” I replied.
“Do we really have to do this every time? You’re waking up from your rest period. It’s morning for you. I sleep whenever my body tells me to.”
“It’s 9:50pm. I refuse to call this morning, regardless of when my mandated rest cycle falls.”
“Any updates?” he asked.
I look down at my communicator again, scrolling through the various messages I’ve received. Because of the nature of my position, I can only receive messages from people outside of the hospital during my rest cycle. There are minor exceptions made for emergency situations or Protocol Marta, however much of my communication with friends, family, coworkers, and my wife occurs in fragmented messages spread over the course of days.
There’s a video message from my brother telling me my cat is doing well. I save that one for later when Christopher is asleep. There are a handful of non-vital written messages from coworkers that I can handle whenever. There’s two video messages from my wife, Sara. I know better than to open those around Christopher. I’ve learned that nonimmortals can’t control their sex drive the way the rest of us can, and I can’t stand the way he lustily comments about Sara’s voice.
I reach the end of my list, looking back up at Christopher to give him the same update I’ve given him every day for eleven years.
“No updates,” I said solemnly.
“Perhaps another day then,” he replied.
I sigh and walk across the room to the small refrigerator on the opposite wall. I retrieve two cups of applesauce, opening one and placing it on a table by my lounging chair. I bring the second over to Christopher.
“Would you like to try this yourself today?” I asked quietly.
“You know that I want to,” he answered, “but I’m going to end up with half of it on me if I try.”
“Sorry. I just figured I’d offer.”
“You do every day. I appreciate it. At least someone here treats me like I’m human.”
I scoop a small spoonful of applesauce out of the cup and begin feeding it to Christopher. The nursing staff will be by in ten or so minutes to bathe him, change his sheets, and tend to his other needs. The 90 minutes or so that’ll take will give me time to walk around outside and remove the smell of death from my nose. There’s a quiet room on the first floor of the hospital that I can make a monitored call to Sara from, so long as I use the hospital’s line. Sara’s been very kind in knowing that she can’t ask about my job over the monitored line. I can imagine it’s very difficult to be married to the primary person responsible for keeping guard over the only nonimmortal and the most notorious criminal still alive. I should get her a present to thank her the next time I get home. I’m thinking daffodils.
“Do you think they’ll let me die someday?” Christopher asked, licking a dribble of applesauce off his lips.
“It’s likely it’ll come sometime,” I replied. “I don’t think the Tribunal Court would be keeping me here all day, nearly every day if they just planned to keep you alive indefinitely.”
“They could just give me the drug that Polish doctor made. Either one works. Either I live forever or I die tonight. Then you could go home.”
“I’m not a patient here. I’m a symbol. I don’t know how they keep me alive, but I know why. I’m the last remnant of the world they tried so hard to stamp out. Without an idea of what could happen if rules aren’t followed in place, what incentive does anyone have to follow the rules?”
Christopher (largely) wasn’t wrong. World governments did view him as a symbol. They kept him alive with just enough Damodrine in his system to stave off death, but not enough that he’d require Andamodrine to kill. The entire point to my being here was to enact Protocol Marta if world governments so chose to do so. Protocol Marta would end the life of Christopher Mehmet in reality, though his symbolism would live on. Governments would report his death in a slow, controlled manner, so as to allow their own infrastructure time to prepare in case of an uprising of immortals who wished to keep Christopher’s name live. No intelligence existing believed this to be the case, however the precautions were put into place for a reason, I’ve been told.
As I fed the last spoonful of applesauce to Christopher, a tall, blonde nurse came into the room. His name was Tobias, one of the regular nurses working on the floor.
“We’re here for Mr. Mehmet’s bath and other essential actions,” Tobias said.
“Thank you, Tobias,” I responded. “I shall return before 11:30pm as normal.”
“Thank you, Miss Judit.”
I grab my applesauce and my communicator and make my way out the door, shuffling around two other nurses coming into the room. I ride the elevator down to the first floor quiet room, entering and locking the door behind me. While no one ever knocks at the door, especially late at night, I just feel safer locking the door if I’m reading Sara’s messages. It’s the closest I can get to having privacy with her when we’re not together.
The quiet room is dark, save for a small window letting moonlight into the room and a wired phone on a table near the door. I could turn on a light, but I don’t. I’ve been in the room so many times I can tell you where everything is with my eyes closed. Immediately on the left when you enter the room is a small end table with the aforementioned phone on it. A light brown wooden rocking chair sits immediately to the table’s left, providing me with a place to sit while on the phone. A half-sized Murphy bed is folded out from the wall on the window-side wall, giving me a place to take some extra rest if I’m impatiently awaiting any sort of messages from the outside world. On the bed are three pillows, two of which I use for my head and one of which I place between my knees to help my back with the necessary side sleeping the bed dictates. Otherwise, the room is empty, beige walls and beige carpet aside, that is.
As I sat down in the rocking chair, I feel my communicator begin to vibrate. Looking down at the screen, I see five words staring back at me that I’d been both waiting to see and dreading to see for eleven years.
Activate Protocol Marta at midnight.
I sent back a quick and direct message to the sender, whoever he or she may be. There is a rotation of six people that man Protocol Marta at the Tribunal Court daily, though I’m the only one in the field.
Acknowledged. Will confirm when protocol is initiated.
I shuffled through my communicator messages staring blankly at them as they went by. I know I played the message from my brother and cat, though I couldn’t tell you what it said. Sara’s first message was simple and straight forward, talking about her love for me. Admittedly, my mood caused me to forget the words as soon as I heard them, even though the meaning stuck. Her second message was much more lewd, as was the usual when I’d been gone a while. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it at all, though that wasn’t Sara’s fault. She was everything to me.
My mind couldn’t stop racing, wondering why now was the time. I had sat in a hospital room with a dying, but not dying man for eleven years of my life. Why now? And why make me kill someone I’d developed a rapport with? While everyone else referred to him as Mr. Mehmet or just Mehmet, I called him Christopher. you can’t spend eleven years in the same room with someone and not end up on a first name basis with them, no matter how devious their past.
As time ticked by second by second, minute by minute, I thought about how I would deliver the news. In light of my position, there was a very formal reading I had to make when initiating Protocol Marta. But just saying that seemed unfair to a man whose life was about to end. Immortals are granted 21 days when they begin Andamodrine. Why shouldn’t Christopher be given some sort of closure? And once I’ve returned home, I can finally tell Sara the specifics of my job. How will she react to know that my classified job — on that she’s spent countless hours worrying about my well-being for despite not knowing my circumstances — was to essentially be guard duty for the most hated man in the world today?
I arrived back to Christopher’s room at 11:23pm, seven minutes before the time I stated to the nurses. As Tobias and company finished up their duties, I sat in my lounger, sipping on a cup of coffee I’d brought up from the cafeteria. As the aromatic steam invaded my nostrils, I considered what it would be like to sip on coffee for the final time. I too would die someday, likely via Andamodrine just the same as every other immortal. Due to the nature of the world around us, specifically the lottery, I can’t imagine it’d be any time soon. In the immediate future though, I hold the life of someone in my hands. What human would ever desire such a responsibility?
Christopher was asleep as the nurses left, so I let him rest until midnight hit. As my communicator hit 12:00am, I rose from my lounger and walked over to the side of his bed. I placed my hand on Christopher’s arm, rubbing it lightly until he awoke.
“It’s time, isn’t it?” Christopher asked.
I nodded and began to walk to the end of the bed. I face him, staring at his withered skin and bald head. Eleven years ago, Christopher still had a few strands of white hair wisping around his skull. Those are long gone.
“Christopher James Mehmet,” I began, “by the orders of the Tribunal Court, the United Nations, the United States of America, and the state of New Hampshire, I am hereby required to inform you that your life will be ending. You will be provided with an opportunity to speak any final words, have a final meal, and speak with either a member of your designated religious services group or a representative of the Tribunal Court regarding burial proceedings. You may choose to waive any or all of these amenities, though you are not required to waive any of them. Do you understand the information I have provided to you? If so, please affirm with the statement ‘yes, I understand’.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Do you wish to speak with a member of your designated religious services group or a representative of the Tribunal Court regarding burial proceedings?”
“I do not,” Christopher replied. “They may do with my body as they see fit.”
“Acknowledged. Do you wish to partake in a final meal?”
“I do not.”
“Acknowledged. Do you wish to make a final statement?”
“I do not.”
I sighed and took a deep breath.
“Before I finish this, Christopher,” I stated, “I want to thank you for not begrudging my presence as I’ve been here the last eleven years. I know it must have made you uncomfortable to have the physical manifestation of your impending death watching over you since even before I got here. But thank you for being personable all along.”
“Thank you,” Christopher replied. “Now you’ll get to go home and see Sara.”
“Yes. Yes I will.”
The air hung silent for a few moments after I spoke. It really was all finally coming to an end. I could go home. But not without first ending the life of a man who had committed terrible, inhuman crimes, all while still treating me kindly and with respect.
“I’m ready, Judit,” said Christopher.
Christopher closed his eyes and tried his best to drift off to sleep. As he did so, I removed a syringe with a sedative from my bag and inserted it into the lines running to Christopher’s body. It would take just a few seconds to make him fall asleep, then would come the next step.
I threw the syringe in the medical waste box, paying careful attention to not stick my hand near the opening. Back in my bag, I produced a second syringe, this one filled with a liquid that would end Christopher’s life. I inserted the syringe into the line, just as I had done before, emptied the vessel, then threw it away.
In the hospital lobby, a young man in a dark blue suit waited for me. He took my bag from me and escorted me to waiting transportation outside. The young man would be taking me to pick up Sara and our belongings, then moving us to a secure location on Svalbard, Norway, well away from everyone else in case all hell broke loose as a result of Protocol Marta. It was my reward for a job well done, they said. But to me, it felt like a job that never should have existed.