ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the July 7, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] rix_scaedu and Anthony Barrette. It also fills the "worrying" square in my 5-8-15 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem touches on some sensitive topics. Highlight to read the detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. Dr. Bukowski's research into longevity reveals the path to human immortality. Afraid that his supervisors would abuse the information, he tracks down Dr. Infanta, expecting that she will quite likely kill him. So that's either a consideration of suicide or murder, depending on interpretation. It doesn't happen, but his head is not in a great place because he has anxiety issues. There are also oblique references to human experimentation and other touchy things. The solution to the problem involves consensual removal of selected memories for transferral to someone else, which is a bit risky, but a lot better than the alternatives. Please consider your taste and headspace before clicking through.


"To the Bearer"


Dr. Infanta stared at the nervous scientist.
"You've made quite a pest of yourself,
trying to find me," she said.

"I, I need to talk to you. It's really urgent."
Dr. Kir Bukowski tapped his fingertips together.
"I was, I work in longevity research. Or I did.
It's going great. Too great. I found this --
we don't have the technology yet, but soon."

"Technology for what?" she prompted.

"Human immortality," he said.

Dr. Infanta jerked back. "You mean
you could make people immortal. Anyone."

"Not yet, but I found the key," he said.
"Another five years, maybe ten, and
the tech will be there." He shook his head.
"Then we'll really be screwed."

"What makes you think that?" she asked.

Dr. Bukowski sighed. "Experience. History.
Look what a mess we've made already,
and that's with changing the guard
every generation as people die.
Without that, we'll stagnate."

"Most people don't notice that,"
Dr. Infanta murmured.

"Well, I'm good at thinking ahead,"
he said. "I knew my employers would
want this discovery, and I don't want them
to have it. I'm worried that someone might
read my mind or torture me to get it."

"Why are you so worried about this
getting out?" said Dr. Infanta.

"I think it's too dangerous," he said. "We aren't
ready for this, may never be ready. So then I
asked myself who could handle it, and decided
to approach someone who already does."

"What did you think I would do?"
Dr. Infanta asked.

"I don't know ... kill me, maybe?"
said Dr. Bukowski.

"And waste all that talent?"
Dr. Infanta exclaimed.
"Couldn't you think of anything else?"

He shrugged. "I already tried asking
a telepath about removing unwanted information,
and ... he kind of slapped me." One hand
came up to rub the side of his face.

Dr. Infanta glanced at Nanette, who
waited patiently in a corner chair.
Nanette gave a subtle nod.

"I happen to know a telepath who is
less fussy about such things," said Dr. Infanta.
"I admit I'm surprised that you'd think of it.
Most scientists are protective of their life's work."

"I don't know what I'll do without it,"
Dr. Bukowski admitted. "I just can't
stand the thought of how much harm
it could do in the wrong hands. That could
mean the end of the world as we know it."

The most powerful supervillain in the world
raised her eyebrows. "You think that
mine are the right hands?"

"For this, yes," he said, steepling his fingers.
"If you know a telepath who can help, then we
have better options. Instead of killing me or
destroying the secret of immortality altogether,
you could hold onto it. I can't think of a safer thing to do
with it than giving it to the bearer of the same superpower.
You're best suited to deciding if or when to release it."

"Someone else might discover
the same ideas," said Dr. Infanta.

Dr. Bukowski shook his head. "It's possible,
but I doubt it," he said. "My discovery relied on
serendipities that aren't likely to recur."

"Assuming we agree to help you,
what will you do after that?" she asked.

"I have no idea." He scratched
the back of his neck. "My employers
will probably have me blackballed."

"Mmm," Dr. Infanta agreed. "We can
find you a job where that won't matter.
How would you feel about working with soups,
researching our abilities and how to handle them?"

"I thought that was Go Home Charlie
territory," he said, eyes widening.

"It is for people who don't ask permission
or who try to take advantage of us,
which is most of the market there,"
said Dr. Infanta. "We could really
use someone with your integrity."

Dr. Bukowski took a deep breath,
a thoughtful look coming over his face
as he considered what he was giving up
and what he'd have left after that and
where he could go from there.

"All right," he said. "Let's do this."

Dr. Infanta beckoned to Nanette,
who moved to sit beside Dr. Bukowski.

"This isn't going to be a quick nip and tuck
like removing a memory of an awful date,"
Nanette warned him. "It could take days.
It could also do some collateral damage,
although I'll be as careful as I can."

"Understood," he said, lifting his chin.

Nanette settled her hands over
his head and began the lengthy process of
sorting out the relevant memories.

Inside her own mind, Dr. Infanta riffled
through images of possible futures, and
a few of the darker ones fluttered loose
to disappear into the shadows like
cards lost beneath a table.

Dr. Bukowski might not think of himself
as a hero, but he had just sacrificed
his life's work to save the world.

* * *

Notes:

Dr. Kir Bukowski -- He has golden skin, blue eyes, and wavy black hair cropped short so that the waves make it stick out in messy tufts. His heritage is Russian, Polish, and Chinese. He has been moving around, mostly in Europe, following opportunities for different science projects. His life work went into longevity research, but when he discovered the foundations of human immortality, he got cold feet.
Qualities: Master (+6) Ethics, Master (+6) Scientist, Expert (+4) Dedication, Expert (+4) Extrapolation, Expert (+4) Smart, Good (+2) Asking for Help, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Integrity, Good (+2) Science Fiction Fan, Good (+2) Swimmer
Poor (-2) Anxiety

Nanette Abraham -- Nanette is tall and lanky, with fair skin and brown eyes. She has long straight brown hair, which she usually puts up in a ponytail or French roll. Her face is plain, even horsey. Nanette is one of the Guardians in service to Dr. Infanta.
Origin: Nanette was born a telepath. It made her life awkward growing up, especially before she learned to hide it.
Uniform: She usually dresses in nice but reserved women's clothing.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Patience, Good (+2) Conversationalist, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Nanny, Good (+2) Smart
Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Dr. Infanta
Powers: Expert (+4) Telepath
Motivation: Keep Dr. Infanta safe and happy.

* * *

Anxiety can make people uncomfortable, or downright miserable. Anxiety disorders are common in people with high-stress jobs. Understand how to stop worrying and manage stress. There are also tips for helping someone with anxiety. You can't fix the anxiety directly, but you can often lift the weight of practical concerns, which may indirectly relieve some of the tension.

Longevity research is popular because most people want to live longer, healthier lives.

Immortality research also has a long and checkered history. This includes both biological immortality where people don't die of entropy, and true immortality where they can't be killed at all. Dr. Infanta has true immortality; Dr. Bukowski has probably stumbled across biological immortality; but they are related. Dr. Bukowski is unusual in anticipating the downsides of immortality. Others are much less sensible, and rich powerful people have been pursuing immortality for ages.

(Mad science links are gross.)
Scientific ethics include both the moral principles of science and the practical concerns of research. Throughout entertainment, scientists are often portrayed as being willing to do anything in pursuit of science. This sometimes happens in real life. But when someone sticks to his ethics, you get a very different story -- and in Terramagne, they aren't always murdered for being an obstacle.

Most telepaths in Terramagne are mentally fastidious. That makes a majority of them unwilling to participate in a memory gambit or memory erasure. To them, "Can you make me forget this thing I don't want to remember?" may fall anywhere between "Will you fix my computer?" and "Will you have sex with me for a million dollars?" A lot of them really will smack people for asking. In local-America there is research into turning memories on and off.

Serendipity has always played a significant role in science. Of course, you need the knowledge to recognize the relevance of unusual events. This is actually the second time that someone has made this kind of discovery about human immortality, but with 700 years between these two established examples, Dr. Bukowski is right about a recurrence being unlikely. The two versions are not identical but probably do share some common ground. Read about some real-life accidents that inspired amazing discoveries.

Imprisonment and experimentation are credible threats for soups in Terramagne. It's also how Dr. Infanta got her superpowers in the first place.

A "Go Home Charlie" is slang for supervillains killing someone who violates their code, for instance a mad scientist who experiments on people.

Memories can be transferred instead of destroyed completely. The donor may or may not retain a copy, and in this case does not want to do so. In Terramagne, mnemocision is the intermediate level of mnemoparesis or mindwiping, in which a memory node is actually removed. It may leave fragmentary 'ghost' memories that were stored in or connected with other nodes. It requires more power, and also more precision to minimize collateral damage. It's easy to slip and cut into neighboring territory. The effects resemble drug-induced blackouts where the mind's ability to form long-term memories is temporarily unavailable. The process is not reversible through ordinary means, although a skilled telepath may manage to reconstruct some awareness by splicing together any fragments left. Not as many telepaths can do this; it is typical of Expert rank. Few who can do it are willing to. The term means "memory cutting" or "memory removal."

Changing the future is possible, and a key decision may wipe out a bad possibility.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-10 11:08 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Whoa, how about a Gross/Icky warning on that link about real-life mad scientists? Because I hit example #2 and it was NopeNopeNope BackButtonNow!

I really like this poem. Dr. Bukowski is indeed unusually forward-thinking; a lot of people never stop to consider, oh, things like the reason for the maxim that "advances in science take place one death at a time". Not to mention, what would that do to the population issue? Mere advances in longevity and health care have already brought us to the brink of what the planet can handle, because our birth rate now far exceeds our death rate. If people don't die at all but still continue to have babies... things would get Very Bad Very Fast.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-12 10:56 pm (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
I like Dr. Bukowski. Like this poem.

I also like the picture of Nanette, she looks good-humored.
Edited Date: 2015-07-12 10:58 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-11 02:07 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
I like the idea of Prolong, the process in the Honorverse which simply extends life instead of making one immortal. There is still aging and death, but humans have time to explore families, careers, and love, with time enough to resolve the inevitable conflicts between them. My beloved wants full immortality, but I think I should be quite content with a few hundred years to accompany her.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-11 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janetmiles.livejournal.com
The idea of immortality, or even Prolong, squicks the hell out of me. If someone else wants to try it, that's fine, but not for me.

Yes...

Date: 2015-07-11 09:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
It makes sense. There are always some folks who get a clue.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-16 02:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kestrels-nest.livejournal.com
I am envisioning that conversation with someone who looks and sounds (in terms of voice quality) like a 7 year old girl. That would be interesting.

I would like to live a bit above a century, I think, if I could do so in a reasonably functional body with a fully functional brain. More than that? No, I don't think so. There is such a thing as overstaying one's welcome.

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