The problem of immortality

Also to be found over at Fantastic Schools and Where to Find Them.

Okay, there’s more than one but I’m going to talk about the problem of starting over.

If one is immortal (in the sense of not dying from old age–we’ll presume you can be hurt or killed) in a world where immortality is not known and accepted, where you have to hide what you are, then you face the problem of having to start over from time to time.  In times past, that might be no problem.  Change venues, show up in a new town as a wandering minstrel or other traveler from a far place and you are simply who you claim to be and are able to pass as.  Gregor the Slow, who people are starting to look at strangely because of how well preserved he is for his age disappears and everyone assumes he ran afoul of a bear or something.   Three towns over, folk who never heard of Gregor look suspiciously at the new farrier come to town but, seeing as they had no farrier of their own having one set up nearby saving them from wasting half a day to have a horse shod at another town soon wins their approval.

There can be complications, of course, but generally speaking, one does not have to go far to find people who do not know you.  You do not have to worry about any difficult to forge government documents which local rulers (whether “democratically elected,” hereditary nobles, or governors appointed by a distant imperial capital) can use to access records going back to your early childhood.  There is no worry that your picture will show up in some news carried to your previous residence leading someone from your old life to recognize you.  So long as you live a relatively quiet life, there’s essentially no risk of anyone recognizing “new you” as “old you.”

Starting over is, in general, is a fairly straightforward task.  Walk out the door.  Keep going for a while.  Set up in new place.

In the modern age, particularly in the industrialized world, it’s a much more difficult task.  There are ID’s, public records, credentials needed for jobs that tie to records leading back into your past.  There are ways around them, but they tend to put you on the outside of the law and always at risk of discovery which can complicate your life considerably.

There is one point, however, where it is much easier to slip into a new life than at other instances:  starting college.  People often attend colleges far from the places where they grew up, providing an instant excuse for being a stranger to those around you.  College entrance exams, SAT’s and ACT’s can be taken by anyone.  You don’t have to be a current high school student to take them. (I know.  I’ve done it.)  You might have to generate a false high school record, although with some research you might be able to find an excuse for said records to be lost.  And if not?  Well, if you’re an immortal with decades or centuries to prepare you should be able to find some way to introduce high school records into the system, the quiet, studious one who sat over by himself and never made much impact on people so, of course nobody remembers him.  But nobody has to remember him to look up his name in the computer and send a transcript to the college.

And so our immortal enters college where nobody can be expected to know him.  Here he can earn credentials to find work providing a visible means of support because he can’t just live on several lifetimes worth of investments (for example) without people questioning how he got that wealth and where it came from.  While in college, his problem isn’t passing his classes for the most part; after all, he’s been down this road before and probably more than once.  Rather it’s getting just those grades that fit the role he’s playing–a reasonably good but not exceptional student (which might cause people back at the high school to wonder why they didn’t remember such an exceptional student), perhaps one finally coming into his own and exceeding what he did in High School (College worked that way for me, even without being an ageless immortal into the mix).

And so he should be good for the next twenty years or so when he has to abandon his new life and start over again, probably at a new college.

In fact, this provides such a natural break point for someone to start a new life that one wonders why it isn’t used more often in stories featuring immortals in an analog of the normal world (Highlander:  The Series, as one of the better known examples).

2 thoughts on “The problem of immortality”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: