So, in my world, a scientist (tries to) invents a machine that will recode your cells in a very particular way, making you immortal. He tests it out on a 13 year old male. It goes....extremely wrong.

At first, he is just a normal kid. But 5 second later, he looks like a 53 year old man. 5 more seconds later, he looks 93 years old. 5 second later again, and he looks like he is actively decaying. His skin flakes of, his eyes bulge and and then recede into his skull, along with his nose, leaving behind a skull like face. But he’s still alive while all of this happens. Finally, he’s nearly all bones and a few scraps of clothing, and, after giving out one final hiss, he collapses.

Here’s a diagram. enter image description here

My question is, how could our poor friend survive and then stay alive during his later years, even when he’s actively, and rapidly decaying? Is it possible?

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    While his skin and limbs are decaying, his heart and lungs may be still good and working. We are talking about less than one minute timespan here, right? Good question is how he could be decaying that rapidly. – Alexander Nov 7 at 22:20
  • @Alexander: Remember how the scientist machine was supposed to make him love forever? Well, it supposed to do that by slowing down his cells aging things (I forget what their called) but it accidentally speed them up, causing all this mayhem – Robert Paul Nov 7 at 22:21
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    @RobertPaul I think at the scale of speeding up you have, you would explode due to the insane amount of blood you start to produce. – Shadowzee Nov 7 at 22:28
  • "But he’s still alive while all of this happens." What does that mean to you? "Alive" doesn't have one meaning everyone agrees upon, and they generally diverge rapidly when you start using extreme measures (such as whatever magic the scientist's machine used) – Cort Ammon Nov 7 at 22:41
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    @RobertPaul So one of the things the answer is going to have to approach is how he can speak when he's a skeleton without vocal chords or a diaphragm? (Conscious is trickier, because its another one of those words that nobody agrees on) – Cort Ammon Nov 7 at 22:46
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Since the decay is happening within seconds, he can stay alive as long as his brain still works.

In a time long ago, when beheading criminals was an entertaining spectacle to all bystanders, there where assistants who's task it was to catch the cut-off head and point it towards the cut-off body as fast as possible. Many heads where still alive and concious enough to distort into horrified grimaces upon seeing their own bodies.

The difference to your character is that those heads where well-supplied with oxygen and most certainly adrenalin and did not decay on a cellular level.

To achieve the desired effect, the drug cannot simply kill cells. It would have to start a violent chemical reaction that removed water from the body at an incredible speed. To keep the body alive as long as possible, the reaction would have to start at the outmost layer of skin and work its way deeper into the body. The skull could protect the brain for a limited time, but the eyes would be gone rather soon. Since you need muscles to speak, his last seconds would be rather silent, too.

His only hope his the scientist has developed a reverse function already.

Throws a switch, and instantly reverses the process.

Otherwise the person is decaying too fast to save, as he is dead in less than 30 seconds.

You couldn't even transfuse all of his/her blood that fast, presuming that even helped at all. Which presumably it wouldn't as the scientist has damaged every cell in your body.

Cold would slow down the cells, but in order to slow them down enough to matter the temperature would kill you. At absolute zero, it is theorized that atoms would stop moving, or move so slow as to appear to be stopped.

The person would have to be held in stasis, some how. In star trek universe you could use a transport buffer, and fix the problem before beaming them back. Only the patterns degrade over time so you still have to act quickly.

  • Once you drop below zero, all the water in your body is going to start freezing and since water expands into ice, it would rupture your cell walls and any delicate membranes in your body. Rather than save you, you would of turned their body into a mush of flesh and ice. So you would need some special liquid or formula to stop all the water in their body from actually freezing. – Shadowzee Nov 8 at 4:27
  • @Shadowzee Yes, that is why I said if they move slow enough(its cold enough) the temperature would kill you. And since you can't transfuse all the blood in the body in <10 seconds your dead even if you had a compatible substance. – cybernard Nov 8 at 12:35

Not much you can do against actual decay, but there might be a workaround:

Don't know if this helps too much, but I've heard a story about a buddhist monk who was thought to have been in a state of deep meditation for more than 100 years. He's body was mummified but his mind was supposed to be still alive.

His skin would have become as dry as jerky, and the muscles would have atrophied to the bones.Same would happen to the internal organs as well, with only the slightest of activity.

But the meat wouldn't just 'turn to dust'. Another example are the supposed bodies of saints, which defy decomposition, keeping a jerky-like state for hundreds of years or actual mummies, where the skin and meat is still 'meaty'.

  • This points at the most critically difficult part of this question: what it means to be alive in this state is not something people agree upon. – Cort Ammon Nov 8 at 18:24

What you describe is already magic, there is no scientific process by which it will happen that fast.

Since it's already magic, have him magically stay alive :)

  • How Is it magic? – Robert Paul Nov 8 at 12:48
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    You describe biological processes that take months or years taking place in seconds. Take a look at this for example: a lethal dose of radiation A lethal dose of radiation can take up to 8 weeks to kill you and still doesn't have the sort of consequences you describe happening in seconds. – Tim B Nov 8 at 12:53
  • At least give me a pseudoscientific answer. If doesn’t need to be that realistic – Robert Paul Nov 8 at 13:05
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    @RobertPaul "Just make something up". is too broad to be a useful question. You're describing something that's physically impossible so you can make that impossibility work the way you want just by saying that it does so. – Tim B Nov 8 at 13:15
  • If we assume its along the lines of "The machine was designed to cause rapid cellular regeneration without causing telomeres to shorten, but it failed and now the cells are rapidly dying and regenerating at an accelerated pace," then there's nothing magical about it. It's just a machine that malfunctioned. It's science fiction, sure, but it's still grounded in a scientifically proven process, just taken to an accelerated pace due to the inverse of the scientist's expectations happening. Uncertain direct genetic manipulation in a living organism could hypothetically have such an extreme effect. – Sora Tamashii Nov 8 at 22:57

Well this wouldn't fit your (great) diagram, but if the effects of the aging only concern his external tissue and do not affect his internal organs, then, given my limited understanding of human anatomy, he wouldn't experience organ failure and he'd continue living until that internal tissue became compromised.

  • Thanks, I put a lot of work into it – Robert Paul Nov 8 at 0:15
  • Or if it does include the internal organs but still starts on the outside and works inward, the person could live until their insides fail (actually right up till the brain does) while being visibly decayed. – Megha Nov 9 at 7:14

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