Lem the Immortal


Lem was immortal and it was a bother. Not in the sense that he was a Byronic sort and depressed by the utter impossibility of committing suicide – he had tried all sorts of demises, most of them were rather fun if you liked that sort of thing.

It was a bother because Lem had an awful memory.

Sometimes, when he was particularly drunk, he boasted of his immortality to drinking companions. Sometimes they were drunk enough to listen to him with actual attention.

“So, how were the pubs during Napoleonic times? And the girls of feudal China?” they would ask.

Lem would scratch his head, struck by the acute realization that he had totally forgotten everything about the Napoleonic times and feudal China. He felt like a schoolboy in such moments. Lords and men, I must be the only immortal vegetable around, he thought to himself.

He wondered what life everlasting was good for if you remembered jack shit. He could have known the slow progression in taste while drinking each vintage of a particularly fine wine for centuries, could have heard the actual shift and change in a dialect through generations, could have experienced how the changing morals of civilizations affected the perceptions of passion during love-making.

But all he remembered was getting drunk and working a sequence of forgettable jobs. Truly, I must be the only immortal moron there is.

Usually, at this point of the story, a woman comes along. But there had been so many women and none – sorry! – had been so memorable to Lem that she would serve as a radiant beacon for his attention and memory.

After several millennia he had realized that the only thing he loved was strong drink. Hell, sometimes it was the only thing he remembered. He was convinced that inside drunkenness there was this perfect moment of ember clarity waiting for him…he just had to reach it.

I don’t drink to forget my failures…I drink in the vague hope that I’ll eventually remember them.

He had been working diligently to perfect his addiction.

Now you, dear listener, might be wondering why are we telling the story of such a bland man in the first place? Well, because he is going to save the world.

Of course, you say. It’s one of those stories. Saving the world…I’m out of here.

But stay. Just a bit longer. It’s not quite one of those stories. You could look at it that way: Only a man who has the capacity to completely forget what the world has been like, despite seeing pretty much all of it, would actually be willing to save it.

How do you save the world, anyway? This big lump of misadventures and things gone wrong? Certainly, it’s constantly tumbling down an abyss, but the good news is – that abyss is pretty much bottomless. Lem mused over this while he drank. So, the only way to save it would be to go on. To go on with all your failures, hopes and clear cold mornings.

He had seen endings. He remembered that. People reaching the end of the line…there was so much anxiety and anguish. So much horror, but then this was spent. There was an instant of…well, what was it? Acceptance, perhaps? No, acceptance is too active a word.

It was like a wave…but also like the moment you remember having seen a calm ocean. He moved his glass around and watched the wave of wine break against the concave side. Briefly he imagined the glass swelling to titanic size and breaking…the world drowned by a flood of rather fine Merlot. Then survivors, clambering to shore, too drunk to stand.

Is that really the best thing we managed? Lem wondered, but wasn’t too sure what he meant. The world is saved by tiny acts after all. As long as they mean nothing but what they mean… He got up, not particularly drunk, and walked out into the world to beget a child or two and to see what else was there to do and to forget.