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Invulnerability, Indestructible and Immortality: an article by: GF Willmetts.

August 1, 2021 | By | Reply More

Before we start this investigation, there is a need to distinguish between invulnerability and indestructiblity. We have several recognised examples of near invulnerability with Kryptonians and Daxamites, susceptible only to radioactive kryptonite and lead respectively. Presumably, their invulnerability also allows air through or they would seriously suffocate. How their bodies can distinguish between toxic gases and not be killed by it has never been explored unless there is some osmotic porosity involved or their bodies are selective as to their body requirements.

Then again, considering both super-powered species can survive in space for extended periods, we are talking a whole different type of super-kryptonian/daxamite. Then again, its no more absurd than Achilles, whose only vulnerability was his heel and anything could kill him through that. So even these powerhouses are not completely invulnerable.

If invulnerability can be produced temporarily, then we have to look to those who produce force fields like Susan Richards aka the Invisible Woman or Angelo Unusicione aka Unus The Untouchable. By varying their force fields, they can permit enough air in to breath. At close proximity, Richards’ force field can absorb light and hence her invisibility.

Both of their force fields have variable density so again not totally invulnerable. Both are also of a psionic nature and pretty rare overall or all of those who such powers would have this talent amongst their abilities. They are only invulnerable to a particular level and could be caught off-guard. I’m keeping this to ‘natural’ abilities rather than mechanical devices like Querl Dox aka Brainiac 5’s force field belt.

Both sorts of invulnerability do present problems of how they respire, sweat and eat that also need to be examined with those who would be described as indestructible.

For the latter, we have three examples who have this particular talent from different sources.

The first, Paul Metcalf, known by his Spectrum rank and codename as Captain Scarlet was reconstructed by the Mysterons after they killed his original body. He was the second of their constructs. Unlike the first, Captain Brown, whose body needed to be unstable to spontaneous explode, Metcalf’s body was made more durable and after a limited time under their control had his own mental control restored. Presumably, their control was limited to a short time period. The Mysterons used this calibration to ensure future mysteronised humans were killed before their original minds reinstated themselves.

Discussion on how this process works has been covered in a previous article. Sufficient to say that Metcalf’s body matrix attracts matter to rebuild it as it was to the way it was just before he ‘died’ the first time. It is only extremely high voltage that will disrupt this process so he isn’t truly totally indestructible but does share one vulnerability that will also kill humans.

The most well-known indestructible is the mutant Logan aka Wolverine. Once he reached maturity, his body was set and he had an extended life-span and able to recover from any injury. His body was exploited by Canadian scientists for the Weapon X Project and his bones were coated with adamantium. He didn’t need to worry about his bone marrow as a means to produce blood as the rest of his body would do it automatically.

The procedure did some serious damage to his mental make-up and he was deemed insane for a time. This also gives some clue to his particularly indestructibility. Wolverine retains all of his memories which tends to suggest his stem cell structure is radically different. The coating of adamantium probably messed with the nerve endings to his brain and it took a while for different connections to be made. This would further suggest that there is a limit to how many cells he needs for a full reconstruction.

Although it was never shown in the original Uncanny X-Men # 141-142, the sentinel totally annihilated this future Wolverine. It is possible that some brain cells remained dormant in his adamantium skull and could regenerate. This raises some question marks on where does Wolverine draw his body material from beyond normal repair. In some respects, one could compare this to, say, a vampire. Feed in enough new material for his body tissue and it could then regrow.

The third example is the time traveller Javic Piotr-Thane aka Captain Jack Harkness amongst many other aliases. He became an indestructible time paradox ‘fixed point’ when the then temporarily omnipotent Rose Tyler bestowed upon him his immortality. This doesn’t mean Harkness can’t be killed, just that he reappears memory intact at the point of his murder as time resets itself.

Although not granted any use of the time vortex, Harkness is literally inside and outside of time at the same time which accounts for both his indestructibility and immortality at the same time. A true temporal anomaly, knowing life and death simultaneously.

The exploration of this process needs further examination of Rose Tyler herself, who accidentally absorbed or became one with the time vortex that the Gallifreyan Time Lords amongst other species use for time travel. The time vortex probably deserves an article to itself as it probably exists outside of regular timelines but makes it possible for time machines such as the TARDIS to transverse space and time far faster than conventional travel.

Should we include the Gallifreyan Time Lords here? Although they have extended lives by regenerations, this ability tends to change not only their bodies and basic elements of their personalities, they are neither invulnerable, indestructible or immortal. They are literally not the same people in comparison.

Even from these three examples, we can draw some kind of comparison to the god-like beings of Norse, Greek/Roman and other pantheons and their definition of immortality. There would be some similarity to Wolverine’s retro-metabolism, especially in terms of body and memory survival. Considering so many of these pantheons span from the conception from one father-like figure, this would suggest them as a zero-figure. It should be recognised that the majority of such ‘gods’ are infertile. Before anyone raises Loki who fathered three monster children, he is only the adopted son of Odin, coming from a giant species stock, although not a giant himself although shares their prolonged life.

For someone to be truly indestructible then there is no need for sustenance and the body to feed itself. As the latter rarely seems true, one should adjust that to include being able to survive or metabolise any poisonous substances. Surviving the absence of an air supply is questionable but also seems pretty common suggesting that the redox, that is converting oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the body, can occur without taking in a fresh supply. Where this does not work, the body can remain unconscious or comatose until normal respiration can be restored.

All of this suggests a complex biology. The fact that such people rarely begets more like themselves reduces the chances of a galaxy over-run by such beings.

The nearest comparison in the more traditional Science Fiction realities are the Howard families as created by Robert Heinlein in, amongst others, ‘Methuselah’s Children’, ‘Time Enough For Love’, ‘The Number Of The Beast’ and ‘To Sail Beyond The Sunset’. The Howard families were selected and cross-bred for extended lives to the point when surgery and medication could extend their lives further. Although Woodrow Wilson Smith aka Lazarus Long aka the Senior is regarded as the oldest living human of a life-span over two thousand years, it does appear that the majority of his descendants have a life-span mostly of 150-200 years, suggesting he is the anomaly survivor. None of the Howard families members should be regarded as invulnerable or indestructible, just long-lived under normal conditions.

One final point that should be noted for not having immortal people is that unless their lives are in continuous flux and prepared to change, such societies are likely to stagnate, not take chances or develop. Although mankind has not reached that state yet and we are now in a Science Fiction Age taking attributes from fiction, none of this has been towards prolonged life. It is statistically thought that with the right genome with extended telomeres at the ends of chromosomes, that there might already be a human with extended life-span or likely to be in the near future. The only proof of that will be the identification of such a person, should they be discovered. However, the likelihood of becoming a lab rat for the rest of his or her life might not sound appealing and should there be a self-realisation of this state, then keeping away from such examination means it would be unlikely to find such a person.

Just as I thought I covered every option, I found I neglected Octavia E. Butler’s famous character Doro from her ‘Patternist’ stories. When in a fight, he swapped bodies with his antagonist, effectively killing him and possessing a new body and effectively immortal. Whatever constitutes the nature of the mind could be transferred suggesting the body was only a physical manifestation. He also developed a breeding programme although could not replicate anyone like himself, obviously, because he no longer had any genetic information of his own body, although his children instantly recognised him.

Of course, there is my perennial favourite, Gilbert Gosseyn from A.E. Van Vogt’s ‘Null-A’ books. Lavoisier had access to the technology and broke the connection of his body series, so Gosseyn could continue with his own set of initially fake memories in the plot to break Enro and his Greatest Empire’s desire to conquer the galaxy. By presenting to one of its leaders, Jim Thorson, a demonstration of immortality, by moving personality/memories to a new body/clone, it turned his attention from the war on Earth and Venus. You can read the novels for yourself, but I’ll focus on the mechanics here. The continuation of personality/memories is a form of immortality limited by the age of the new bodies/clones you could transfer to.

They appear to be grown in batches of three and Lavoisier warned Gosseyn that the next batch were still only in their late teens and not to ‘die’ too quickly. Presumably, should either of them had their run of extra bodies been killed, their personality/memories may have been retained until the next batch had been grown sufficiently to develop their extra brains and continue the chain. As such, although the mechanics of this cloning and memory transfer is a little beyond us, it could be perceived as a means of limited extended immortality and might actually provide the means for surviving interstellar travel by conventional means.

The general conclusion from all of this is whether a being is invulnerable, indestructible or immortal or at least long-lived, these are not absolutes. Without such weaknesses as described above, they would truly be unstoppable. I haven’t even explored just how unsociable that would also make them. After all, the significant ones pointed out are invariably seeking out members of the opposite sex who might be similar to themselves or limited relationships, knowing that they could also outlive them.

It would hardly be surprising that they would also become drifters. It would explain why the Daxamites prefer not to leave their home planet, no matter their power incentives. That and being mentally controlled by Mongul, illustrating that invulnerability doesn’t protect them from it in either normal or super-human phase.

Although these beings have been shown acting normal, a lot of that can be put down to the limitations of the writers not really exploring what it is like to be this way. Granted some of them might do this to blend in and have some elements of comradeship, they are truly outcasts in most forms of the word. After all, scientists are curious in the mechanism of immortality let alone replicating it and any endowed being less concerned about being confined so there is always going to be an impasse.

© GF Willmetts 2021

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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