Vita Antidotum, as it came to be known, was developed in Berlin by German scientist Albert Braune. Braune, along with his team of scientists, had been hard at work for months creating the serum before it was finally ready for testing. It had been developed as a means of suppressing the growth of cancer cells within the body, and the team had high hopes.
They began by mixing their serum into the drinking water of the laboratory mice as a way of introducing it into their systems. They were soon surprised to find that the mice would not touch their water bowls. They would occasionally walk to the rim of a bowl, but each would merely sniff the contents and walk away without drinking. After a week, Braune and his team had lost half of their test subjects to dehydration.
They began to take matters into their own hands, and used droppers to insert the water and serum mixture down the throats of the mice. It was no easy task, as the small animals would flail and resist, but the team managed.
The results were astonishing. None of the mice in the experiments developed cancer-related symptoms, even when placed in direct contact with known pesticide carcinogens over an extended period of time. Braune was overwhelmed with excitement over the success of the project, but wanted to conduct more tests and research before making his experiment or its results public. He instructed his team to keep quiet about their work and what they had seen thus far.
Months passed, and the health of the laboratory mice did not fluctuate. The team had stopped giving them doses of the serum, and upon examining the mice, found that all traces of the substance had left their systems via natural waste. Despite this, their bodies continued to be unaffected by cancer-causing agents.
The team soon moved on to other tests, trying to induce neurological diseases in their test subjects through exposure with a variety of chemicals and assorted pesticides. Parkinson’s was a common condition linked to this sort of exposure. Braune examined each of the subjects twice daily, but they showed no signs of mental deterioration. They remained in perfect health.
It wasn’t long before the team discovered something else. It had been several months since the initial exposure to the serum, and since then, many of the laboratory mice had reached the end of their expected lifespans. And yet, they appeared unaffected by their advanced age, and in fact were more active than they had been nearly a year before.
Braune collected samples of the test subjects’ tissue, and was taken aback by what he saw. Present in the mice’s DNA was the enzyme telomerase. Not normally found in healthy living tissue, telomerase works to rebuild telomeres: caps on DNA that limit the number of times a cell can replicate. Telomeres are naturally finite in their length, and become shorter each time a cell divides. Programmed cell death occurs when the telomeres are finally worn down and the cells are unable to split.
What Braune had before him were living things with potentially endless lifespans. In gaining the ability to renew the very factor which limited their time on this earth, they had become biologically immortal and also somehow free of the ravages of disease.
Braune shared this discovery with the rest of his team, who were skeptical until the evidence was placed before them.
It wasn’t long until Braune and his team brought their work to the attention of the world. News spread like wildfire, and petitions were written to begin testing the serum on a grander scale. Entire nations became abuzz with talk of the possibilities of a world without death or disease, and words of this miracle lingered on the tongues of the sick and the elderly longer than any other.
Spurred to quick actions by the voices of the populaces, many of the world’s governments began testing with the serum in advance of a wide-scale release. Large animal testing began, and when no adverse effects were noted, human trials followed roughly twelve months later. When human testing led to no ill discoveries, announcements were made. Discussions arose as to the most efficient way to distribute the serum.
Governments independently worked to bring it to their own citizens. Countries engaged in a world race to become the first nation whose people were entirely immortal. The world felt a sense of competition not experienced since the great space race. Governments encouraged everyone to take the serum, now called Vita Antidotum, or Vita for short. Not that the people needed any encouraging.
It wasn’t long before the United States changed their laws to incorporate Vita into the nation’s drinking water supply. Other nations soon followed suit. It was only a handful of years before there was not a single mortal person left on earth.
The effect was beyond words. Hospitals were emptied (Save for those suffering from physical wounds) and the death rate slowed to nearly nothing. Only murders and fatal accidents kept the toll above zero. The world rejoiced, and its people reveled in their immortality, imbued with a new sense of power within the universe. Religions were widely cast aside as people no longer sought comfort in an afterlife. Faces turned toward the heavens to form smirks as immortals began to consider themselves like deities.
Egos were inflated, and excitement over Vita was so great that people didn’t even think about the other effects of the serum. Reports suggested that Vita was potentially linked to stillbirths. Some fetuses would simply stop growing within the womb; they wouldn’t age beyond a certain stage of development, and would be born unformed. Children born healthy would rarely develop beyond ten to fifteen years before they would cease to age physically. It was impossible to say exactly how far they would mature before Vita took hold, trapping them forever in adolescent bodies.
It was several years before reports of infertility began. Vita was not a serum which displayed all of its side effects initially. It was taking time for these adverse effects to reveal themselves and take hold. People were starting to pay the price for their impatience.
It was not more than two decades before everyone was rendered infertile by their exposure to Vita. Therefore, it was even more horrifying to discover that all of the children of the world’s first immortals had been sterile from birth. The world’s birth rate soon fell to zero, and the realization caused panic across the globe. Those who were left would be the last of the species.
The result was devastating. It was human instinct to create new life; to imbue it with knowledge and values, to forward the species. When people lost this power, they lost their sense of purpose and direction. For so many generations, people had found value in leaving behind children and grandchildren.
Decades more passed, and people lived free of illness or fear of death. In fact, they were the healthiest they had ever been. But slowly, living lost its sense of meaning to most. The death rate began to climb for the first time in many years, as people no longer saw the value in living and turned to suicide. Some people had now long since outlived their natural lifespans, and longed for death. Their bodies were young but their minds had grown old and tired. Many were beginning to realize that humans simply do not possess the stamina to live forever.
Some people simply gave up, refusing to do anything. Depression was commonplace, but this was unlike any sadness people had ever felt before. Many people stopped going to work or working to keep their businesses afloat, seeing no point when they had no one to leave it to. Eventually, many people simply sat down to die, forgoing the immortality they had once coveted. They would lie down in bed, or in their favorite chair, or in a field, or on a street corner, and begin the process of wasting away. It took months for some, as even without food or water their bodies refused to die.
And still, there were many who were too afraid to die. They feared death, but so too did they fear being alone. People were dying every day, choosing a way out over the meaningless existence they now faced. It would only be a matter of time (Perhaps a great deal of time, but finite still) before the world became a very lonely place. So now, those that remain have only this to say as they look up to the heavens… “God help us”.