To begin with, I think that I really should apologize to you,
for the melodrama if nothing else. Bringing you here to my home
under false pretenses... gassing you in your sleep so I could
move you to this complex in secrecy... the apparatus I strapped
myself into... the transparent panels that prevented you from
acting when you saw that I was about to lose my head... The whole
thing is all so very James Bond, isn't it? I can only plead necessity;
I was morally certain that you wouldn't believe a word of it if
I merely told you. That being the case -- and it was the case, am I right? -- I had to show you. And given the nature of what you had to be shown... well,
I did what I felt I had to, and again, I apologize most sincerely.
Truthfully: Would you have believed me if I had said, "By the way, Doctor, I'm immortal."? Of course you wouldn't. What sane person would? Ah, but to see a decapitation at close range, to observe the lack of blood spurting from the neck, to feel the pulses in the jugular and at the wrist, to confirm for yourself the body's unique resistance to death... now, that is a different matter entirely. You have examined my body, have you not? I rather think so. My people conducted a fairly extensive background check, and I rather think you couldn't help but do so, given your personality traits and what you saw.
And then you tried to call for outside assistance, yes? Or perhaps you called before examining the body; I believe you had to have examined me first, but then I am only making an educated guess. I am, after all, hardly in a position to know what you actually did do before you activated this recording.
Which reminds me -- you're a tidy fellow, so I fully expect that you made sure to return my head to its accustomed position after you finished your examination. But again, this is only an educated guess. So if I'm wrong on this point, could you please put my head back, if it's not too much bother? I don't much care either way; whatever your choice, I will heal. It is simply a question of whether I must spend an hour or so for the tendons and such to finish knitting, on the one hand, or two to three weeks waiting for a new head to grow, on the other. Or, if you like, it's a question of how long you would prefer to wait before I am able to converse normally with you.
Curious... I've spent so long keeping my nature secret, that I find it exceptionally difficult to keep to the script I wrote for this little movie; although I genuinely want to reveal myself to you, a rather large chunk of my brain still urges me to abandon this mad plan. Force of habit is a far stronger motivation than most humans are willing to credit, you know...
I'm doing it again, aren't I? Drat. Then again, I do have some time to fill, so what of it?
In any case: I, Doctor, am immortal. I... cannot... die. In my overextended lifetime, I have been subjected to every form and variation of lethal assault. Every form. And I've survived every one, obviously.
Let me give you some background information, so that you can better understand just what it is I intend to ask of you. I'd like to start at the beginning... but that's not possible, for I don't know how old I am, nor have I any memories of my childhood. Rather like that John Carter character in the Burroughs novels, I believe. As to my earliest memory... The one I know to be oldest is of the night sky. I had a planetarium reproduce that stellar arrangement --this was in 1951 -- and it dated back to roughly the 740th Century BC.
Before you ask: Yes, the human species has changed a bit within the past 76 millenia, and no, I wasn't then regarded as a deformed giant. As I recall, my appearance at that time was as unexceptional in that context as my current appearance is now. Clearly, my body has changed with the passage of time, to always match the short-timers around me. I don't know... maybe this happens to all humans who live more than a thousand years, or perhaps whatever made me immortal is responsible. I simply don't know, and it should be fairly obvious why I haven't made any inquiries?
So... 76,000 years. A thousand lifetimes, and then some. Even were I so inclined, I couldn't tell you my life story in any detail; you wouldn't live long enough. In broad strokes, then. There are certain themes, common threads, which recur in my life time and again.
Change, that's obvious. I've seen everything change; myself, other humans, cultures, the very Earth itself. Change both fast and slow. You short-timers want things to be permanent, fixed and unyielding, but the world doesn't care what you want. Here is a thing I've learned in my thousand lives: Given time, everything changes. Everything.
I've seen newborn islands where once was clear water. I've seen mountain ranges shift and shrug. I've seen humanity change from just another bipedal omnivore to de facto lord of the planet and points beyond. I've seen men act in accordance with the highest ideals and the vilest sins, sometimes the same man both times. I've seen what we can do when we put our minds to it...
But I digress.
There's something, call it deja vu, for want of a better term. My memories... I have quite an extensive set. So extensive, in fact, that practically anything in the modern world can (and often does) strike me as a rerun. There really is nothing new under the Sun, least of all myself, and I count it a good day when I can go 15 minutes without being reminded of something that predates the birth of Christ.
Perhaps you think I contradict myself, citing familiarity as a theme in my life immediately after change? Well, it's true -- my life is marked by both change and sameness. When you see the same type of change time and again, it becomes a pattern. And there are patterns that occur over and over again, on greater and lesser scales, throughout all Time and Space.
Isolation is in there as well. You short-timers often react poorly to differences, and Christus knows how strongly I differ from you. The last time my secret was revealed... I was burnt at the stake, as a wizard and a heretic. It wasn't my first time, and I assure you that familiarity didn't improve the experience.
No, I haven't always gotten an unfavorable reaction from those short-timers who have discovered my secret; on more than one occasion, I've been worshipped as a god.
I don't like to think about those times. When everyone around you speaks to you and behaves as though you were a deity... you eventually start believing it yourself. It doesn't take long at all; only a few decades, no more than a century or so. And once you're convinced of your own divinity, as soon as you become secure and comfortable with the gut-level conviction that you are a breed apart, you are better than everyone around you, that it's right for you to perform actions that would be called atrocities if commited by a mere mortal...
It never lasts, of course. Even a god can die, or at least be replaced by a newer deity. And then it takes me a few years to regain my sanity, followed by a century and a half of recurrent nightmares about... well.
Godhood has its perks, but a god is isolated, I can speak from experience. You don't befriend a god, you worship it; you don't converse with a god as you would a comrade, you listen and obey.
On the whole, I think I prefer short-timers to react with hostility. It's none too comfortable for me, mind you, but the hostile reaction is quicker, it all ends up the same either way, and there's so much less collateral damage.
Although it may seem incredible, death is a very strong theme in my immortal life. True, death has never touched me directly, of course. But...
They insist on dying, you know.
Friends. Pets. Lovers. Descendants. Role models. Enemies. Cities. Nations. Cultures. Everybody. Everything.
They all keep dying on me.
Is there an afterlife? I wish I knew. I wish I could know. What I do know is, this life ends. Always, with myself the sole exception, to every living thing... comes an ending. Everyone I've ever loved, cared for, liked, or even just given half a damn about... they die. All of them leave, embarking on a journey that's forbidden to me. All dead, all gone, all ended. And each ending leaves a mark, one more scar gouged across my soul.
Of all the things I knew and loved as little as a thousand years ago... all are dust now. All I have left are memories.
Yes, death is a very strong theme in my life.
Pain is a thing I am on intimate terms with; it's death, and only death, in specific, that I am immune to. Well, that and every disease I've ever been exposed to -- my antibodies are apparently the microbiological equivalent of Navy SEALs, able to take on any foe and win. Including HIV, in case you were curious... and I'm digressing again.
Would you like me to describe the sensations of having one's heart skewered by a sabre? I can, you know. I can even distinguish between that and having one's heart skewered by a rapier. Burned to a cinder? Five times in the last thousand years alone. Not pleasant, believe me. Losing a limb? Pick one, and specify how long the remaining stump should be. No matter what the combination, I've lived through it. Head cut off? Guillotine or executioner, I've suffered both... you don't want to know how many times. I fought in the Battle of the Somme, in which...
Damn. I did have to go and remind myself of the fourth-bloodiest battle of my life, didn't I? Nightmares this evening for sure. Not your fault...
Pain can live in the mind as well as the body, of course. And sometimes... There have been times in my life... Times when I simply couldn't take it any longer. Times I'd lived through one death too many to bear. Times when the years weighed so heavily on me that my mind broke under the strain. Times when I have killed and maimed at whim, for any reason or no reason, caring not at all for myself, and caring even less for the short-timers around me. Times without hope, other than a thin, wavering, half-hearted prayer that maybe, just maybe, when I'm beaten unconscious this time I might not wake up.
There are other themes I could mention, but I think I shall leave off with this: Fatigue. Not the tired sensation that comes with physical exertion, but, rather, the mental state which comes from doing the same things over and over again, day after week after month after year after decade after century after millenium. There really is nothing new under the Sun, Doctor, least of all myself. By all that men hold holy...
As God is my witness...
I am oh...
Deep in the bone...
Don't misunderstand me; I am not suicidal. It isn't living that I'm tired of, it's just... it's the eternal part of "eternal life" that I grow weary of. What I want, what I've never had before, is... I'm not sure if "closure" is the right word, but it's near enough to serve. I want my next funeral to be my last, and not just another sham like thousands before it. I want someone else to have the opportunity to mourn for me, as I have mourned for so very, very many others. I want to know that one day, the Sun will rise on a world that doesn't include me any longer. I have seen more than any man has a right to; I want to be able to close my eyes and rest.
I have been there. I have done that. I've seen the movie, worn the T-shirt, read the paperback novelization, told the joke, attended the Broadway musical, munched the corn chips, bought the soundtrack album, drunk the cola, played the board game, rode the rollercoaster, eaten from the lunchbox... you get the point. I've been there, I've done that, and I don't want to keep on doing it forever.
And now... now I reach the point of all the maneuvering and secrecy, the reason we're both here. I need you, Doctor. You, or someone else like you. No matter what you think you know of me, I am no intellectual giant; if I'm honest, I must admit that I'm of average intelligence at best. Yes, I am well able to follow in the footsteps of others, and I have a thousand lifetimes' worth of experience to draw on... but I am not an original thinker by any standard. And what I want from you... I have a puzzle whose solution lies outside the memories of my thousand lives, a puzzle far beyond my understanding.
The puzzle I want you to solve is immortality.
How can I continue to live with a totally severed neck? What is it that prevents my body from aging as every other human body on Earth does? Why do I heal so much faster than other men, and so much more completely?
I repeat, I am not asking you to kill me. Instead, I just want you to make it possible for me to die. Whatever resources you need, you would have -- you'd be surprised how many shipwrecks never did get recorded in history books. You wouldn't be working to a deadline, either. I've lived a thousand lifetimes; to me, a snap judgement is one I've thought about for less than five years.
And finally, of course I'll take "no" for an answer. Say no, and you'll wake up in your hotel room unharmed, your memory will tell you that the proposal I laid before you is something very different from what I'm talking about now, and you rejected that proposal. And then you'll return to your normal life, and you and I will never meet again.
What say you, Doctor? Will you help me... or not?