I stare at the little grey pill in my hand. It has many names. The optimists call it Ever After, the pessimists call it Reaper, but most just call it the Schrödinger pill.
The young man opposite me checks his watch. It looks expensive. Everything about him looks expensive. His suit probably cost more than my house. It bloody well should, based on how much I’m paying him. He says, “It’s normal to have second thoughts…”
“I’m not. Just tell me one more time how this works.”
He busts out the sales patter a little less enthusiastically this time, “Our founder, the great Dr. Shakes, was the first to discover the secret to eternal youth some fifty years ago. The compound you are holding in your hand changes you at a molecular level, prevents your cells from aging another day. It’s as if you’re body becomes frozen in time. Unfortunately the treatment comes with some potential side effects.”
“Must we go over this again?”
He rolls his eyes, “Headaches, nausea and death. In that order. Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have time to worry about the headaches or the nausea.”
Yes, there’s that slight complication. This pill either grants you eternal life or kills you on the spot. Speaking of which, there’s one question he won’t give me a straight answer to. I try one more time, “So what exactly are the odds?”
He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, “I can’t say for sure, we don’t have a large enough sample size.”
“Ballpark it for me.”
“To be completely transparent, from what I have personally seen it’s more likely to kill you.”
“How much more likely?”
He pauses before answering. Eventually he says, “A lot more likely.”
“And you’re certain there is no way to know the outcome without taking the pill?”
“I’ve seen rich men waste their lives and fortunes trying to answer that question. If there is a way, we haven’t found it yet. They have tried it on twins and gotten different outcomes. They have split the same pill between two people and gotten different outcomes. They have tried mixing in other drugs, but that normally just makes the death that much more painful. A few even tried having the best doctors in the world by their sides when they took it. All that achieved was making the doctors a little richer. The unfortunate truth is that if you’re chosen to die, then you die. Nothing and nobody can save you.”
I twiddle the pill between my fingers. My heart beats loudly in my chest. I’m not learning anything I don’t already know. I’ve thought this whole thing through. I chose the day after my twenty fifth birthday for a reason. I’m in peak physical shape, well besides from the hangover. I’m healthy, which is important if you’re going to live forever. I don’t have a wife or kids yet, or anyone else that would miss me if I drop dead. I’ve had my fun, boy have I. Let’s just say if I survive today I’m going to have some monumental debts to pay off. Now is the time for the next chapter, for me to grow up and take life more seriously. What could be more serious than a life or death decision before breakfast?
The young man stands, “Perhaps you would like me to come back at a later date? Give you more time to think?”
This decision won’t get any easier. If I don’t do this now, I never will. I tip my head back, open my mouth, and throw the pill down my throat. As I swallow I wonder what I might be giving up. A very normal life flashes before my eyes, wife, two kids, scruffy dog, 7.5 hours a day in a tiny box with walls covered in felt. Good riddance.
The pain starts as a tingle but quickly crescendos. As my head tries to split down the middle I fall to the ground and clutch my skull. The young man shakes his head, “Well darn, I really thought you might be the one.” My vision starts to fade as he pulls out a voice recorder, “Test patient one thousand, one hundred and nine has also failed to achieve immortality. Why has this suddenly stopped working? This can’t just be a run of bad luck, that’s statistically unlikely. Perhaps we have reached some kind of limit? Maybe a sacrifice has to be made…”
His voice rises with excitement, “Wait, that’s it! That’s what the drug is doing. It’s a cull! It’s thinning the herd to make room for more immortals. I wonder how many more lives will be lost to achieve the right balance?”
My stomach starts contracting uncontrollably. I would throw up, if I hadn’t already spent the morning with my head in the toilet. At least my hangover was good for something. Suddenly an ordinary life with a wife and two kids seems like the best deal in the world. Why was I willing to throw away my whole future, simply for the promise of more time? The more I think about it the less it makes sense. It’s hard to think straight at the moment.
The young man leans over me and places his hand on my shoulder, “Thank you, if it’s any consolation you’ve been a huge help. I can’t believe it’s taken me fifty years to figure this out! In my defence, I didn’t know my little invention had done anything for the first ten years, so it was really only four decades. Listen to me droning on, you should be the one talking. Any last words you’d like to capture?” He holds out the voice recorder as the room goes dark. I have to think of something inspirational, my final contribution to this world. This is how I’ll be remembered, it may even be written on my gravestone. There’s really only one word to sum it all up.
This story is from the Flashdogs Time Anthology, which includes two other stories I wrote. You can find more details about the anthology here.