Methuselahs

Methuselah
Image from Steve Bowers
The diminutive Methusela clade,
with the strange backwards pointing knees which give them a gait something like a chicken

Prelude - Life Extension during the Information Age

During the Information Age, gengineering experiments and - later - commercial genemods - were concerned not only with increased intelligence, artistic and athletic ability, physical prowess and resistance to disease, but also general longevity, and "correcting natures mistakes" in order to design a body better able to exist for longer periods. Some of these ideas went back top the turn of the 21st century [1], although it was to be many decades before these approaches became viable in practice.

Lifespan-enhancement involved many factors, each of which had to be dealt with separately. Osteoporosis, cancer, weakening muscles, clogging arteries, organ failure, genetic copying errors, and telomere degradation were only a few of the problems that had to be dealt with. Progress was slow, and optimistic projections frequently failed to eventuate.

By the late Information Age however the developing biopunk subculture, ribophunk freelancers, and big genetech corporations had managed to solve many of these problems, and those that could not be solved without reliable advanced medical nanotech (still over a century away) were at least ameliorated. The result was that the emerging wave of "Homo superior" not only had estimated lifespans in the order of several centuries with bionanotech, and at least 120- to 150 without, but remained youth and fully robust for most of that time.

As such biotechnology was often resource hungry, requiring either wealth, technosavvy, a network of friends and co-workers, or all of the above. Thus in addition to the unofficial but entrenched caste system of digitally literate and illiterate, there emerged the bio-augmented advantaged (sometimes called gattacas, a reference to an old 2D that became a classic among the disenfranchised) and the biologically disadvantaged.

The emergence of Homo methuselus

In the corporate, image, and fad and fashion driven world of 22nd century Earth, looks and appearance were as important as talent and intelligence. Even the biopunks and ribophunks, now feted as celebrities, had become less interested in ground-breaking work on improving the human condition, and more in preserving their public image. Funky feather eyebrows and scaly or leopard-fur skin was cool, a purely functional form that departed from the norm was not. For this reason, the most daring experiments were conducted in the Free Zone micronations like Academion, Mogadishu, and Lyonesse, and later, up the Well in the brave new world of the orbital utopias like New Academion, O'Neil One and Two, Clarke Station, and Orbital Israel.

By no means the most extraordinary of these experiments, but still one to have a great impact even so, was the Methuselah Project, initiated in 2108 c.e. (139 a.t.). A team led by Dr Darwin Jamie Pennak, second generation superbright and part-time consultant for Biotopia, and ex-Modernbody biohack Patricia Heng, decided to pull out all stops and create a true Methuselah - "longevity as if aesthetics did not matter". They took the human body and decided to design it as if evolution had selected for longevity and functional life of a century and more even without bionano or telomerose treatment.

The result was what would have to be one of the least attractive of the "new species" Almost every part of the anatomy was redesigned on the basis of optimal function.

The most obvious difference was in the stature of the new species. The inefficient upright posture was replaced with a forward-leaning stance; the body was also tilted forward to relieve pressure on the vertebrae and the lower back. The neck thrust forward, as well as being thickened, to make it easier to hold up the heads. The height was reduced to help prevent falls and hip fractures caused by aging. The legs were padded with more fat, muscle and thicker bones to withstand falls. More difficult to organise, the knees were made to bend backward, so the wear and tear on the knee and foot joints was reduced. Much of the internal anatomy, the digestive and urogenital tracts, glands, eyesight, and hearing were all redesigned. The ears were enlarged and pointed, to increase the amount of sound they can conduct. They could also move back and forth to better focus sound. The cornea was optimised, balance and coordination improved, and more.

The result was a hominid in appearance remarkably similar to a short and chubby roleplayer's elf.

Life in the Solar System, and Beyond

In 159 a.t. the first of the methuselii, Adam-Methuselah, reached maturity in The Aquarius Free States. He was soon joined by his siblings. Although reasonably intelligent, they did not have superbright intellects, as their whole purpose had been optimised life extension. The Methuselah Project closed soon after; in any case, Pennak, Heng, and the rest of the team had long since moved on to other things, taking the property rights of the methuselah genome with them. It was the low point of despair for the new parahumans. As Adam-Methuselah was later to say, perhaps with understandable bitterness, in his memoirs "no-one was interested in ugly little dwarves who could live forever" [2]. But with the help of several human rights groups and a friendly AI, and after an extended legal battle, the methuselii eventually got legal possession of their geneprint. They migrated up the Well to Clarke Orbital, where they were given citizenship and like many newcomers took the surname "of Clarke", The solar system was being opened up to colonization and development, and the robust and compact little methuselahs found work was available on the frontier, where no-one cared what you looked like, as long as you could get the job done, and do it well.

It was during this time that the name "the squats" was first used to refer to these stocky tweaks. It was part of the frontier culture, along with "gookle", "etie" (for space adapts), "tinhead" (for cyborg) and "beastie boy" (for rianth). Some wore the handle with pride, others resented it

With longevity and rejuvenation treatments available for those who could pay, the growing Methuselah clade were the first true immortals - their bodies were optimised for 200 year lifespans even without any treatment at all; with longevity treatment they could continue for literally thousands of years with little need for further augmentation. Many invested in long-term projects like Oort mining and interstellar development

The attitude of the methuselahs to wetware and other such augmentations was variable. Although A-M ofClarke enthusiastically embraced the new technology "as a way of staying competitive", others, especially the faction headed by his younger brother Noah ofClarke refused to have anything to do such things, an attitude Adam-Methuselah himself found puzzling. On the other hand there were some who went for radical augmentation and hybridization to the extent that they were no longer recognisably methuselan. Thus, from even a relatively early period, the small clade was rent by dissensions and schisms. But in all this, Adam-Methuselah retained a firm hand of leadership, although some put this down to several hyperturings, including Tarith-5 of O'Neill, and another Adam, Adam-24-c of New Academion, who had advised him with legal matters in the fight over Methuselah genome ownership, and were actually grooming the clade for reasons of their own (most probably scientific or anthropological curiosity, although in his autobiography Adam-24-c has strenuously denied this ).

Like many outward moving clades, the methuselahs were little effected by the nanoswarms that brought such devastation to the inner solar system, but the isolation of the surviving habitats only served to deepen the rift between the Adam-Methuselites, the Noaites, and the various cyborg factions of the clan. By the time the First Federation had revived civilization, there were no less than half a dozen methuseline species and subspecies in the Sol System, and an unknown number already outsystem (we know that the Clan Lamech reached the Barnard Belt in 882 on the "backyarder" vessel Jerry Pournelle). Each of these one claiming to be the "true methuselah". And while Adam-Methuselah's faction (the largest of the 6 solsystem clans) voted almost unanimously to join the Federation, most of the others, fearing assimilation or subversion, chose to remain autonomous.

The methuselahs found their talents in high demand in the Federation. As ships were not yet capable of relativistic velocity, there was need for long-lived bionts to serve as crew during the long voyage. The stolid, phlegmatic tweaks were quite happy to spend decades having the run of the ship, especially if there was a suitable commission (usually anywhere from 0.5 to 2% of new planetary development) as part of the deal. Not only many paranoid anti-ai groups, but even mainstream venture start-ups, found this a reasonable offer. As a result, the methuselahs grew very wealthy indeed. Even the emergence of relativist ships did not phase them, for not all corporations or individuals could afford the technology or the amount of amat needed to push a ship to such a high fraction of the speed of light.

With the development of the wormhole Nexus, the rise of the archailect empires, and the increasing availability of amat and reactionless drive vessels, the methuselahs fell from prominence. Even so, managed investments ensured that those who wished to remain in the settled worlds could do in comfort and luxury. And those that wished to move outward to the ever expanding frontier, to find new worlds and investment opportunities, were also able to. Many established successful and long-lived populations in many of the ordinary (non-transapient managed) middle tech societies, and a lesser number of high tech societies, especially in the Inner Sphere and Hinterworld regions

The Methuselahs Today

Among the Old Houses in the galaxy, methuselahs today are renowned as the most stolid, unimaginative and dull of all. They have no pomp, no spectacle, no servants (not even turingrade drones), no finery. They are more likely to invite the visitor into their habitat for a bulb of biofabricated coffee, and are known to raise the bemused eyebrow if ever addressed with standard aristocratic honorifics like 'Excellency" or "Majesty" or "Greatest Zar". They have also changed remarkably little in the last ten thousand years. They still look like a baseline six-year old with pointy-ears on steroids. Most have minimal wetware augmentation, usually only enough to interact comfortably with the household appliances. Many have been cheated out of their inheritance by more cunning sentients, but have just shrugged off the whole affair and taken up a life on the spacelines, or some development project in the Outer Volumes, where they seem to enjoy doing the sort of long-term tedious maintenance work they have become renowned for.

Not a single methuselahs is known to have ever breached even the first singularity toposophic - hence the expression "about as likely as a hyperbright squat"

References

Adam-24-c, My Life and other Stories, vol.1 node e-iii, Eden Interactives, 3851 a.t.

Adam-Methuselah of Clarke, Unfinished Memoirs, Atlantis Media Webooks, O'Neill Three, 2451 c.e. (482 a.t.) (reissued Alexandria Archives - Memory Node "C")

S. Jay Olshansky, Bruce A. Carnes and Robert N. Butler, Scientific American, March 2001 c.e. (31 a.t.) (reissued Alexandria Archives - Memory Node "C")

Darwin Jamie Pennak, Patricia Heng, Morris Mkome, and Sanyo Lee, (ed.) The Methuselah Project, New Academion Modern Classics of Science, 2112 c.e. (143 a.t.) (reissued Alexandria Archives - Memory Node "C")

 
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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev

Initially published on 28 September 2001.

S. Jay Olshansky, Bruce A. Carnes and Robert N. Butler, Scientific American, March 2001 If Humans Were Built to Last