They called the project ‘Forever’. Nobody outside the group knew of the existence of the project. Every person involved in the project had to severe all ties with the outer world. There was no formal mention of the consequences of not doing so; everyone knew. Only once during the entire project, a delinquency was detected. The delinquent was never heard of again.
The idea was simple. They would incubate a specially selected baby in a specially created, totally sterilized environment. It would be born there. It would grow up there. The question was, would it die there? Would it die anywhere? On that question, the scientists were realistic. They did not harbor any illusions of immortality. They only expected that this life would last for a very long time. How long, was to be found out.
It was decided that once every ten years, the group would recruit for new personnel. An anonymous mail would go out to specially screened and shortlisted candidates asking them to appear for an interview at a certain location. The group would send one person to meet these candidates. This is what would be asked of them – “Would you like to be part of the most path-breaking work of science in history? If you do, you will not be allowed to return again. Ever. If you say ‘Yes’ now, you will be briefed on the project. You do not have the option of backing out after that.
Most, it was expected, would back out. The rest would follow the scientists’ representative to the project location.
In the first phase of the project, all the members in the group went through a three year complete body cleansing program. At the end of it, two of them, one man and one woman, found to have the best physiological activity and highest immunity, were selected and mated together. Throughout the pregnancy period, the mother was kept in incubation to eliminate contact with any harmful substances. She had no diet (food, in no form, can be assuredly free of intoxicants); she received artificial laboratory created nutrients. The baby, a boy, was born inside this incubation cell. They named him Boy One.
Boy One was transferred from his mother’s incubation cell to his own after exactly one month. In that period, he underwent a rigorous cleansing program and was checked and rechecked to make sure that no stray ailment had gotten into his system. His sources of energy and nutritious supplements too, like his mother, were not food. This was the way he’d live throughout. A specially processed injection, which would immunize him against all immunizable diseases in a single shot (there was no question of inserting foreign matter into his body multiple times), was administered.
His new home was a 50X50 meter area enclosed on all sides by thick, transparent glass. It had a single airtight door through which human help could enter, if such a necessity should arise. A small window had been carved out, also on the door, through which he could be served water, nutrition and other utilities. At other times, this window would remain closed.
There was no inlet for air inside the room. Oxygen masks with long, flexible tubes to facilitate unrestricted movement were installed at various points. At the other end of the room, a small enclosure, named the Relief Cubicle, had been constructed. Inside it, Boy One was to relieve himself into a pit that opened into a drainage pipe through which scalding hot water ran. For his cleaning up activities, they had provided a form of synthesized, moist, medicated cloth-like material that was claimed to kill injurious microorganisms on contact.
For the first four years, his mother stayed with him. She trained him in the art of survival inside the cell. He did not learn any languages; he did not need to. By the time his mother left him, he had picked up a few words of exasperation she had uttered when he wouldn’t cooperate. That, however, did not matter to the scientists; it was the contamination of the body that was to be guarded, not of the mind.
After he was left alone, Boy One cried himself hoarse for the first few days. The scientists had foreseen this. They scheduled planned visits by his mother to the cell. She would stand outside the cell for ten minutes every two hours (when Boy One was awake) and let him see her. On the first few visits, Boy One would toddle his way up to the glass barricade and wail with renewed ferocity. After a while, when he realized that this would be the closest he’d get to her, he looked forward to her visits. On such occasions, he would greet her with his most dazzling smile and show off any new tricks he’d learnt. As time passed, Boy One’s interest in his mother waned. The visits, too, became less and less frequent. By the time Boy One was ten, the visits stopped altogether.
To fill up the boy’s vacant hours, of which he had ample, his cell had been provided with a generous stock of toys and gadgets. As Boy One grew up, more accessories befitting his mental development were passed on through the window. For a few hours everyday, music was also played for him. The choice of music was made based on the observed mood of Boy One; when he was happy, they played peppy music to sustain the mood, when he was sad they played peppy music to lift his spirits up.
The cell was also fitted with a huge projection screen, high enough to be out of reach of the tallest recorded human being. On this screen, various programs were aired to entertain Boy One. The selection of programs posed some difficulty for the scientists since Boy One couldn’t understand language. The scientists agreed that not teaching him language was an oversight. However, there was not much that could be done to rectify the situation.
They chose cartoons that contained minimal speech. Tom & Jerry figured prominently in the selections. They also chose Charlie Chaplin. This however failed to excite Boy One; it was impossible for him to understand goof ups and satire when he was not aware of the proprieties that society expected and demanded.
When Boy One was a little past twelve, they started airing erotic programs and porn movies for him. Selecting these did not pose a problem; those things rarely ever have any conversation. He saw unknown men and women, undressed just like he was and indulged in strange activities.
On watching them, Boy One was aware of queer sensations in his body for the first time. He noticed his penis change size and orientation. Often, when he awoke, he found a strange sticky substance had oozed out of his penis. All this scared him deeply. He soon learnt to connect these manifestations with the airing of certain programs on the screen. That scared him further and he demonstrated his disinclination to watch more of such things by closing himself inside the Relief Cubicle and screaming at the top of his voice. They had to stop airing erotic movies for a year.
The oozing reduced in frequency almost immediately. However, very soon, Boy One started dreaming such programs. When he awoke, he would find the oozing had occurred again. By this time, Boy One was more perplexed than afraid. He had noticed that the phenomenon did not cause him any perceptible harm; in fact he felt strangely excited and energetic on these occasions. By the end of the year, his perplexity had made way to ecstasy and was having a thoroughly good time.
The problems surfaced in the middle of the fifteenth year just when it looked Boy One couldn’t be happier than he was.
One fine day, he woke up and found the oozing had happened again. The observing scientists were having a quiet laugh amongst themselves when Boy One started screaming. They looked on astonished as he got up, half stumbled and half pranced around the cell, tearing at his hair and kicking everything that came in his haphazard path. The initial outburst subsided after a few minutes, for a few minutes. Boy One then concentrated his efforts towards the projection screen, which he could not reach. He stood right under the screen and resumed his frenzied screaming. That he could not reach the screen infuriated him further and he smashed his head against the glass walls till he bled. He then resorted to picking up his toys, strewn across the room, and hurl them at the screen. Fortunately, the scientists had foreseen the possibility of such a happenstance and installed an unbreakable protective layer over the projection screen.
The trickling blood sent panic waves amongst the scientists. It put the project in serious jeopardy. They had to do something to stop it; they did not know what. They hoped, vainly, that Boy One would eventually tire. An emergency team had been constituted to go into the cell and tend to his injuries when he fell asleep.
But he did not tire.
As the situation grew desperate, it was decided to send in the mother. It went against all established security protocols but there was no other option left to them.
At the sight of his mother, Boy One underwent an extraordinary change. He stopped where he was, the screaming stopped although the mouth still remained open, and he started weeping. The moment his mother entered the cell, he raced to her and they embraced. For some reason, the mother too sensed tears running down her cheeks. They stood that way for several minutes, before the mother extricated herself and guided him to the corner where he slept. There, she put his head in her lap and gently stroked his hair and face. Boy One did not stop weeping. It was two hours before he felt asleep, still weeping.
Almost immediately, the emergency team entered the cell, injected Boy One with sedatives and tended to his injuries. When they exited the cell, he was blissfully asleep. The damage had been effectively controlled for the time being; how much hard the unforeseen injuries and human contact had caused would have to be gauged later.
Boy One woke up after almost forty eight hours. The observation team watched him get up, look around the cell and finding no one, made his way inside the Relief Cubicle. The team was relieved that the frenzy had passed.
They were wrong. Once inside the Relief Cubicle, Boy One resumed screaming. They could hear him banging his fists (they hoped it was fists) into the cubicle walls and stomping with his feet on the floor. In a matter of minutes, the whole team had gathered there. Another entry by the mother was suggested but disapproved. It could not be turned into a regular exercise. They decided to wait for sometime; perhaps Boy One would calm down this time. Their decision was proved correct when the screaming turned to sobbing and eventually petered out in the next half hour.
It was after almost an hour that the observation team sensed something amiss. Boy One had not come out of the cell. They waited another five hours before sending the mother in.
She found Boy One inside the cell lying on the floor. There was no oxygen mask on his face.
Project Forever ended. The findings were never disclosed.
The scientists admitted to not foreseeing several issues. They decided to incubate two samples (a boy and a girl) next time, use softer material for inside of the cell walls so that they wouldn’t hurt themselves and use oxygen inlets for the cell rather than masks.