Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2018 Day 10: there Can Be Only One

By Robin de Voh on 2018-10-10

"It is very boring," Samuel said to Layla. "So very, very boring."

They were sitting in a café which specialized in Italian-style coffee. They had received numerous awards for their coffee, but also for their decoration. Wood panels, black and white pictures of the Italy of a hundred years ago. Their table was near the window, offering a good view of the street and the nearby park.

"But isn't it amazing? People over the history of humanity have been dreaming about it," she responded, putting her coffee down after taking a sip.
"Yeah, it's amazing, but only for a while. After the 4th century, you just get tired. Immortality is a gift that turns sour over time. And the problem is, with the amount of time you get, it won't stop getting more and more sour."

Samuel looked out of the window and sighed.

"Well, to me it still sounds pretty awesome. I'd be able to literally travel anywhere. I wouldn't have to worry about my safety, so I could finally get over my fear and give in to my wish to, say, skydive or bungee-jump."
"Of course," Samuel said, looking back at her, "that's the kind of thinking I had too. Of course, when it happened to me most of what I was thinking was how I was guaranteed to survive the war I was fighting in at the time."
"You were in a war?"
"I don't want to talk details, but yes, I was. Multiple, actually. And when I became... This," he said as he moved his hands in front of him, "I knew that I might just be the ace in my side's sleeve. I could take risks nobody else would, because they weren't risky to me. I could walk, slowly, onto the middle of the battlefield. The first time I did that, I got shot -- oh, I don't know -- maybe 50 times? The front of my uniform was shot to bits, and there were only soot marks on my chest."
"Jesus..."
"Yeah, that's what I thought as well. See, I didn't know if it would work at that time, but I definitely thought it would. And afterwards, I knew I was unkillable."

Layla picked up her coffee and seemed to be considering something deeply.

"Okay, so, you're immortal, right?"
"Yes."
"You can't be killed. Can you get hurt?"
"I'll feel some things, but most things just sort of itch at the most."
"Can you drown?"
"No. But funny that you mention that, it is one of the most painful things I've been through. Because I still need to breathe, it hurts like a ... A lot. It hurts a lot."
"Have you drowned a lot?"
"Many have attempted to get rid of me that way, yes. Also burning."
"Burning? Jesus, really?"
"Well, there were times where what I am was considered witchcraft. And there were stakes. And fire. And people were very creative in getting rid of things -- and people -- they just didn't understand. Didn't want to understand." "Was burning worse than drowning?"

Samuel laughed.

"What, did I say something wrong?" Layla asked, leaning back a little.
"No, no. I've just never been asked that before. But to answer your question, no, it's not worse than drowning. Drowning instills an almost overwhelming desire to get out of that situation. It causes a significant mental anguish. Fire hurts, a lot, but any amount of pain can be gotten used to. Especially if it won't pass until the fire dies down."

He picked up his own cup of coffee, which had gotten lukewarm by now, and took a sip.

"One thing I'll say is that coffee has improved massively over the past 100 years. The first espresso literally tasted like burnt soil."
"Oh, of course, you were around for that..." Layla said quietly, suddenly realizing how much older Samuel really was.
"Yes, and while it was a bit of a revolution -- at least in Italy -- it's been an upwards trend ever since. Okay, so Starbucks doesn't help, but when you get a good cup of espresso now, it's truly good."
"Hm," Layla said.

Samuel furrowed his brows and looked at her.

"What's wrong?" he asked, leaning forward a little bit.
"Well, I don't know, really."
"If you've got any questions, please ask."
"Okay, so, this immortality, how'd you get it?"
"Ah, well, I don't know, exactly. It just happened. I was shaving, thought I'd cut myself, and found out I hadn't. After a couple of times of that happening, I tested whether my theory -- completely crazy, of course -- was correct. I tried to cut myself and it wouldn't work."
"You cut yourself? What, and you couldn't break the skin?"
"Nope. A real shame, I found out later, since a good couple of decades ago I quite fancied getting a tattoo, but the needle just won't penetrate deep enough."
"That's an interesting downside," she said, laughing.
"It is!", he also laughed.

The conversation fell silent for a little while again.

"You said it was boring."
"Yeah, it is. Things change, sure, but the core of humanity and what they do doesn't change at all, they just use different tools."
"I kinda get that, I think," she said. "So why are you here?"
"What?"
"Why are you here, Samuel, if you're so bored?"
"I don't know, we were chatting and I thought it was fun, so I asked you out for a coffee. Right?"
"Right. And how old are you?"
"Well, okay, so, that depends on your point of view, okay? As far as I'm concerned I'm 34."
"But you're not, are you?"
"Uhm, again, that's a matter of perspective."
"What's your birth year?"
"I don't..."
"What's your birth year, Samuel?"
"Fine, it's, uhm, I don't... Fine. Okay, so, it's... 1374."

Layla laughed an uncomfortably loud laugh. Other people in the café looked at them, surprised.

"You're 650 years old?"
"Well, a little under, but yes."
"I'm 29, Samuel. And there's no perspective to be had here. I'm objectively, absolutely, without any kind of disclaimer or hidden truth, 29."
"Yeah, so?"
"And how old will you be in 10 years, Samuel?"
"A little over 650, I guess?"

She laughed again, still a bit too loud. One of the other patrons looked at them with a cranky look on his face, shaking his head in disapproval.

"First you obviously prefer 34 years, but now you prefer the 600-something age. Funny, that. No. In 10 years time, you'll still be 34, as far you're concerned, right?"

Samuel sighed and rubbed his forehead with a thumb.

"Yes."
"So, do you see the problem here?" Layla said as she crossed her arms.
"Yes."
"I'm sorry, Samuel. You seem like a really nice guy, but this isn't something I'm up for."
"I get it. Like I always do. It's not like this hasn't happened, oh, a hundred times before over the centuries," he said, looking away annoyed.
"Now don't get pouty. Perhaps you shouldn't start a first date talking about how immortal you are."
"And what, hide that? Like that won't become a thing later on?"
"Yes. Hide that. Hide that deep inside. And when someone asks you why you don't age, make up some bullshit about good genes. Dye your hair grey and pretend you're aging."

She leaned forwards.

"But talking about this immortality shit on the first date? Either you're going to seem like an insane creep -- which I'm sure has happened to you --", she said, pausing for a response.

He eventually nodded and sighed.

"Exactly. Or you are believed, and then this question pops up. And it's uncomfortable, Samuel. It's really weird. You're older than my family's had its current last name. That is weird."
"It's not like I chose it!"
"Fair! But it is your choice how to deal with it. And some truths? Better left hidden."

She got up and put on her coat. She put some bills on the table.

"That should pay for the coffee. I think you're a good guy and I wish you the best. But I'm going to find a mortal somewhere and eventually grow old together with him."

And with that, she left, flipping off the cranky patron, who was still scowling at her.

Samuel lowered his head as the bell on the door signaled she was gone.

"Every. Single. Time."