How the Scientists Solved Almost Everything by Mike Anderson Campbell
The day before our father would have died, the Scientists cured cancer. They had a press conference from their secret lab on an Antarctic ice floe.
“We cured cancer,” they announced, then opened the floor to questions.
“How?” a reporter for a Spanish newspaper asked.
“Everyday household items,” the Scientists answered.
“Which cancer did you cure?” asked a South Korean blogger.
“All of them,” said the Scientists. “We cured all of the cancers.”
“Well, that was good timing,” we said. That night we mixed up the cure in our blender, using the recipe the Scientists had posted online (the ingredients seemed obvious in retrospect) and gave our father a glass to drink. He got it all down (“There’s a citrus note that makes it not unpalatable,” he said), and in the morning he was better. He got out of bed. He showered. He said, “Let’s go for a walk. Let’s get an ice cream.”
Within a few days, no one had cancer anymore. New cases still developed, but they were quickly cured. People were a lot happier. Still, there was a nagging feeling that maybe this wasn’t entirely fair, that people were no longer dying of cancer but still dying of a lot of other diseases. People started petitioning the Scientists, calling and writing, sending email and writing mixed reviews online (“3 stars: really like the cancer cure, but wish they could do something for my daughter’s cystic fibrosis”).
The Scientists were not deaf to our pleas, and within a month they had another press conference.
“We figured it out,” they said, bundled up against the Antarctic chill.
“What did you figure out?” asked a Brazilian woman who had over two million subscribers for the daily videos she posted of her eating.
“We figured out all the cures,” they said. “We cured everything.”
“Everything?” asked a man from Houston who sent daily affirmative texts and images to his 6.2 million followers.
“Yup,” the Scientists said. “Everything.”
The Scientists posted the recipe for the Cureall, and it was again free, although they set up a “pay what you want” option. Most people paid nothing, but some donated a few or a hundred or a thousand dollars. Pretty soon, there were no more sick people, and everyone was much happier. Eventually, though, we all got to thinking that, again, maybe this was a bit unfair.
Like, what rotten luck for everyone who died of some disease the day before the Scientists made their second announcement. If only they could have held out for another twentyfour hours.
Wasn’t there anything to be done for those poor souls?
Again the Scientists heeded our beseeching, and, after six months, they held a third press conference.
“No more death,” the Scientists said, looking noticeably fatigued. “We can all come back. No questions today. Visit the website for more info.”
The Resurrection Shot shipped that very day. It was available without a prescription, and most stores sold it for less than $20 (the Scientists really were altruists, but expenses had to be met). Most people thought $20 a more than reasonable price to pay for immortality, and pretty soon everyone was bringing back dead parents and children and grandparents, then greatgrandparents, greatgreatgrandparents, all the way back to ancestors and relations we’d barely heard of. It was mostly curiosity that made us do it, but also that nagging sense of fairness: why did a recently dead person deserve to come back anymore than a long dead person?
People asked the resurrected what things had been like while they were gone—an afterlife and all that—and the resurrected said that, while they didn’t want to rule anything out, they didn’t remember much, and, all things being equal, they were happy to be alive again. The Shot brought people back to life and made their bodies whole and healthy, which was a relief for everyone who had worried about an emerging class of the decomposed, and the resurrected reported feeling better—more energized, more youthful—than they had felt in years.
Abraham Lincoln moved in next door to us. Everyone had hoped to have Honest Abe for a neighbor, but our family lucked out. Abraham, Mary Todd, and young Willie moved into a colonial revival, handsome but not flashy. Abe helped Willie learn to ride a bicycle, although he couldn’t get the hang of it himself (his knees kept bumping the handle bars). Mary Todd was less moody than people had made her out to be, and she would wave and say hello if we saw her gardening in their backyard. The Great Emancipator’s friend Joshua Fry Speed came to town and moved in with the Lincolns. While this might have raised some eyebrows in earlier, different times, people were more tolerant when life was so much longer. “What is there worth fussing about?” our father asked, and we couldn’t think of a thing.
Minor problems came up. Things got a bit cramped for a while, but we figured that out without the Scientists’ help (building up, building down, building offworld). The real dilemma was memory. People lived so long—hundreds, thousands, more years—we forgot almost everything: where we were born, who our parents were, who we loved, what we knew, what we hadn’t learned yet. What was the point of a life so long if we didn’t know we’d lived it?
Once again we entreated the Scientists: give us back what we’ve forgotten. The Scientists worked for a few weeks then posted a video online. They may not have been the same Scientists.
We couldn’t remember what they’d looked like. The lead Scientist held a vial between his mittened fingers and thumb.
“This is Rememorex,” he said, his face obscured by his beard and hood. “You can remember everything, and you’ll never forget. It’s in the drinking water now, like fluoride. You should feel its effects within 72 hours.”
The Scientists were right. They had never been wrong. In a few days, everything came back. At first we were so full of memory we thought we would burst. By the next week things smoothed out. Past and present bled together, and time evaporated, shrouding us in expanding clouds, so we all moved through our lives with past and present as one swirling body constantly meeting the onrush of the future. We were living forever, and it all happened all the time, already having happened and coming to will happen.
With Rememorex, and all the remembering, our lives became more full of thought than we could have ever imagined. We were distracted, confused. People were frequently late to meetings, thinking they’d already happened. Some people went days without eating, feasting on remembered meals. We celebrated my father’s birthday for a week straight, spent a whole day walking to and from the ice cream shop, each time feeling strikingly new and disorientingly familiar. It was constant déjà vu. And since nothing was lost, all moments became equal, peaks and valleys of experience flattened out. What mattered when time curved like a mobius strip, wrapping back on itself impossibly? Who were we if we couldn’t cling to some things and discard the reset? In short: where was the meaning in life?
Once more, the Scientists were supplicated: Let us forget. Give us back our beginnings, middles, and ends. Make things matter again.
They responded immediately. Or they waited a hundred years. No one could tell. Each of them held up a pill. “This is it,” the lead Scientist said. “Oblivare. One pill, and you’ll forget everything, gradually falling into a state of new beginning, like being born, which you remember, but you won’t remember it anymore. All the old memories will be gone, and you will walk out into a new morning for the first time in who knows how long. It’ll be on your doorstep tomorrow. Take it. Don’t take it. We’re done.”
In one synchronized motion, all the Scientists swallowed their Oblivare, then turned and filed back into their lab, to wait and forget.
The next morning, miniature drones airdropped packages of Oblivare to every known residence. On the back of each blister pack was printed a warning and directions: “Remember all or forget everything. There’s nothing in between. Think it over. Take one pill with food and water.”
For some, the decision was easy, and within days there were millions of Clean Slates walking the streets. Transition camps were set up, where the Clean Slates were given food and shelter and resources to find their way in the world. The camps were entirely automated, so they would still run when every last person had taken Oblivare and woken up on that clear and empty morning.
We talked it over at home. Life on Rememorex was confusing, and our long lives had grown dull, but was the situation so bad that we would rather hit reset? Would we like each other when we met again for the first time? Or would we wake up with a family of strangers and go off to our separate lives?
“All this life is not much of a life at all,” our father said, deciding for us. He popped his
Oblivare from the package and swallowed it dry. We all followed his lead and sat down to wait. On average the Oblivare takes 36 hours for full effect. Sitting with your family, waiting to forget each other, to forget everything…it’s awkward. We played gin rummy. We solved crossword puzzles, assembled jigsaw puzzles, took them apart and did it again. The active agent in Oblivare is metabolized gradually, and its effects slowly creep in. Time slid back into place. We could isolate and locate specific memories. We could put a narrative together. This story you’re reading wouldn’t be possible without the Oblivare. Then we started to forget, in no particular order, but we could feel it, a quieting in our minds, a cleansing, a gentle purge of those thoughts and moments deemed least essential. When the full effect kicked in for the first of us—mid sentence, a story about a dog at a cabin on a lake on a family vacation, and how the dog chased us into the water again and again and again—we registered the event with the authorities, and an automated care aid arrived within minutes to transport the new stranger to an adjustment center.
“Here we go,” our father said, and dealt the cards.
So we’re all waiting. We don’t say goodbye. We’ve known each other too long for that.
We’ve forgotten again how long we’ve been together. A hundred years. A thousand years. An age. An eon. Not quite an eternity. Another of us forgets, and they are taken away, and we wish them well.
When the Scientists made their first announcement, we thought things could be simple.
But nothing ever is. The Scientists gave us a solution, and we found a problem, and the Scientists gave us another solution, etc. If we could ask the Scientists one last thing, it might be to identify this feeling. It’s in our fingers, behind our eyes, along our spines, in our guts. Is it fear? Is it hope? Is it the anticipation of inching toward an answer, or the dread of sliding into another and the only question?
If the Scientists could hear us, could read this, we’d ask them: why? To what end, if all things end? To what purpose and to what meaning? For what? For whom? For when? For whenever and ever and ever? Why?
But we’ll wait.
Mike Anderson Campbell's writing has appeared in AGNI online, PANK, BULL, and elsewhere. He earned his MFA at Purdue and lives in Boston. Find him on Twitter @mandercamp.