In my world, there's a small portion of society who are ageless, and resurrect in a distant location immediately when receiving lethal damage on their body.

And then, there is an organization of "regular humans" which has racist views on these people, resulting in catching them and keeping as slaves or prisoners.

Given the fact that the costs of prisoners are tremendous beyond a point, they must be forced to produce value. On the other hand, if they are free, they can commit suicide easily, and thus, escape immediately by "teleporting" to a distant location.

How can the given organization keep them alive? Would brain-wash work here? (e.g. making them believe that resurrection is much more painful)

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    $\begingroup$ How distant is the location? Can it be predicted? Can they choose where to respawn? Can they respawn in the air, resulting them to fall to death, causing a chain suicide respawn? $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Jun 30, 2017 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ What is the mechanism for the death and resurrection? Can you force them to do slave labor inside some sort of device that will capture their soul if it tries to depart, like a muon trap? $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jun 30, 2017 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ Please add your clarifying comments to your question; comments are fleeting and may be deleted at any time for any reason. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jun 30, 2017 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ Brainwashing is a fallacy. It doesn't work and doesn't exist. Psychological and social manipulation does exist though; see cults & authoritarian regimes. It worries me somewhat that anti-immortal xenophobes want to imprison the immortals, but can't afford to do so. The organization doing so, sounds like a criminal kidnappers instead of running legal authorized prison. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jun 30, 2017 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this as too broad because the missing information pointed out by Vylix and kingleton is crucial to develop a good prison system. Also, we need to know what kind of labor they're doing, what level of tech you have, and your definition of "free", and why you can't stop them from committing suicide while still making them do some sort of labor (I can think of many scenarios where you can use them to generate energy without letting them die). Also, does starvation count as "lethal damage to the body"? $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Jun 30, 2017 at 13:32

6 Answers 6


In the Riverworld series, Philip José Farmer had future humans set up a whole planet to resurrect a sizable chunk of all humans who had died, from the first hominid to the early 21st century. They were resurrected with perfectly healthy, equivalent 25-year-old bodies, and if they died they would be resurrected elsewhere on the planet, supposedly at random (there were no really uninhabitable/inhospitable places in the planet). Of course, humans being humans, there were soon societies built on slavery, and in general lots of situations where people would rather be somewhere else. So the author has to come up with excuses not to have people killing themselves all the time. Some that come to mind:

  1. It's not really that easy to kill yourself. Unless they have severe depression or the like, even under extreme stress people would rather try to stay alive.
  2. It's not easy to kill yourself unless you have the appropriate tools (such as a sharp knife or a gun), which your captors would not let near you in any case. You can kill yourself using your own hands, possibly, or a pointed stone, but most people could not make it to the end.
  3. People form bonds and often end up adapting to appalling living conditions. If you kill yourself you could end up in far worse company. I mean, really: most people on Earth believe when they die they'll be in a better place, yet they don't kill themselves, mostly.

Now for other type of reasons:

  1. Resurrection could be painful or extremely disorienting. For example, you could be resurrected as a kind of adult-baby form, unable to speak or to control your sphincters or your eye focus. You could be resurrected deaf and blind and stay that way for a month. You could lose part of your memory when you die, for traumatic reasons.
  2. The resurrection process could be slightly faulty, each time producing a copy-of-a-copy effect. You don't want to risk accumulated mutations.
  3. In Riverworld one character escapes pursuit by committing suicide 777 times; the last time he's taken for questioning and told he's in danger of not being resurrected the next time because the soul will not join the body (more or less) after so many separations. The resurrection process is artificial/mechanical so that makes sense.

Some of these things may not be true but if you can convince the immortal prisoners that they are, or make them doubt, that would be an extra reason for them not to try to kill themselves. It would help, of course, if these immortals had discovered their own condition fairly recently in historical terms. That way they wouldn't have a "tradition" or clear knowledge of the general effects of dying and resurrecting repeatedly.


Threaten to hurt someone else

Well... since this society of yours have already thrown out some of the human ethics as we know them, you might as well go slightly further and throw out a couple more.

As per the principle in the film Wedlock, you mate each prisoner with someone else. If the immortal prisoner dies, then an automated system kills The Other Prisoner as well, and you blame the immortal for it.

Well of course The Other Prisoner is not an immortal but a plain old mortal.

And as per the movie, this gives you plenty of plot hooks to write your story around. Remember that you do not want this system of yours system to be perfect, because the story is always driven best by flaws and loopholes.

Also a note here: the system does not actually need to work as advertised. Some clever stage magic may convince the immortal prisoners that this is how things are. But then someone finds out...

  • $\begingroup$ Which means they are not only "racist" towards those immortals but also "racist" towards themselves (regular humans) and have a bunch of good old mortal human slaves or prisoners they do not care enough about to not kill them for no good reason? While I think that any real group of slavers would not care much about who their slaves are exactly and certainly would find another group of people to be "racist" about when needed, one should be aware of the consequences for the story/world, especially making that "racism" a lot less special $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Jun 30, 2017 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ 1) I think that if you are going to portray an unethical society, it becomes a a lot less convincing if you bend one, and only that one, principle of ethics but remain on your high horses for everything else. 2) Who worries about convicts sentenced to long term prison sentences anyway? 3) Read the final paragraph of the answer again. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jun 30, 2017 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ 1) I agree but this is still an assumption about the world here that I think is not in agreement with the question. I think it should be pointed out in an answer if one assumes such large changes to the world. 2) Many people do. 3) You present that as an alternative and not as the only logical solution. I'm not saying it is the only logical solution, but that would be the only way it would be relevant to my comment $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Jun 30, 2017 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ A different take on the same idea - If an immortal dies, you torture the rest of the immortals. In general, no one would die because they wouldn't want to be responsible for everyone else suffering. $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2017 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ Those who refuse to collaborate with the slavers would make the perfect mortal group to be imprisoned. In fact, someone in this position could be "everyman" who narrates the story. $\endgroup$
    – Rich
    Jun 30, 2017 at 18:31

Torture is worse than death. There are lots of circumstances where an individual gets an opportunity to escape (for example, defectors or prisoners of war) because the individual realizes that the ones left behind (family, comrades) will suffer because of that individuals actions. If a super knows that committing suicide will mean his comrades get tortured he will not do it.

Leverage against the social group is the most powerful leverage there is and the only sort of leverage effective against these supers.

  • $\begingroup$ You could have recaptured the escapist and tortured them themself or just tell them you could do it, but torture other people is easier and cheaper because you avert the search costs, you are right. $\endgroup$
    – Henning M.
    Jun 30, 2017 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ In this circumstance the escapee is not recapturable because he has been respawned at a distant site. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ so you have to search at different places and not just around your gulag? $\endgroup$
    – Henning M.
    Jul 1, 2017 at 19:46

Being productive doesn't have to mean that you're in a position to hurt yourself.

An extreme example might be where prisoners are restraint in such a manner that all they can do is use a keyboard connected to a computer. The prisoners can do virtually anything with the right software installed on their machines.

There are also other ways you can profit from the prisoners, even if they aren't actively exerting themselves. For example, depending on the value of blood in your world, the prison may just be worth the cost if you force them to donate blood on a regular basis.

Alternatively, the immortal prisoners could be used as test subjects for experimental drugs. Since there is even a small chance of dying, regular humans could even rationalize the behavior by pretending they are doing them a favor.


Keep them on suicide watch. Have them fitted with a straight jacket when not working and have a guard accompany them everywhere. Make sure that their cell has padded walls and Floors. Give them no access to Sharp or Hard instruments. Give him the job of answering phones or filling out paperwork nothing that will make it easy for them to commit suicide nothing with heavy equipment or tools.

  • $\begingroup$ Paper has a sharp edge. However, it hurts disproportionately when you cut yourself with it, so that wouldn't be viable. A pencil or pen could do damage though, if jabbed into the correct artery. First aid could prevent that... unless there was a way for them to produce or procure a toxin that they could inject into the pen ink. Paralysis would be a significant risk. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Jun 30, 2017 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Which is why you have the guards accompany them keep them at exactly arms length. So they can prevent any suicide attempt. $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2017 at 1:55

Apologies for the revelatory nature of this answer, but, in essence, it would be counterproductive for them to commit suicide for the purposes of resurrecting elsewhere, for the same reason it is counterproductive for humans now to commit "social" suicide by going off the grid and "respawning elsewhere", namely, under a new identify, cut off from society, with no access to banking, ability to earn funds or use services. I.e. they lose the ability to buy, sell, and be a participating member of society.

If your 'slaves' lose their identity cards / implants etc upon respawning, they're essentially unable to buy, sell, communicate, etc, and are therefore condemned to an isolated life of misery. They're basically outcasts, with no access to food, water, shelter, electricity, communications, etc, and actively sought after by police and despised as 'filthy beggars who should get a job' by 'normal' people.

Obviously for this to be a complete disinsentive, however, the slaves must have something to lose in the first place, i.e. minimal rights to food, shelter, and participation in society in the first place, or some vague promise that they can return to this after doing part of their sentence. Otherwise they might be tempted to form "outcast tribes" who stick off the grid together. (then again, bunching together would make it easier for the authorities to track them down, so it is not without danger).

  • $\begingroup$ (furthermore, the fact that this kind of scenario is no longer entirely fictitious should terrify you :p ) $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2017 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ Along the same lines, the christmas special of the "black mirror" series is an excellent example of how painful it can be to be a "non-person" among otherwise normal society. If you went a step further and required that all communications are vetted electronically via implants, such that resurrection deprives you of an implant, then you'd essentially be "blocked" by everyone who is "normal" and therefore "implanted" (i.e. except other outcasts). $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2017 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ Respawning with nothing at all sucks, but depending on the way the prisoners are treated, they may figure that a respawn is preferable over an eternity of slavery and possibly having to respawn anyway if their captors just happen to murder them (accidental or otherwise). Another consideration is that the immortals probably have already lost everything at least once already. They know the drill and probably haven't built up much of a social network or tangible assets. $\endgroup$
    – Sazanami
    Jun 30, 2017 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Well, from a more practical 'surveillance' perspective, if the respawning radius is limited, and non-chipped people stand out (by virtue of not displaying the necessary augmented reality info to the guards on instant visual inspection), they can be easily spotted by guards within that radius and re-apprehended efficiently. $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2017 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ Another, perhaps better, equivalence might be drawn with refugees, who "commit social suicide" in their nation of origin, by selling everything for passage to a foreign nation in order to avoid political or religious persecution. In many ways, this is far worse than the imagined "respawning", because you are still mortal, you have historical baggage, you have no hope of reconnecting with family left behind, etc. and yet people still do it. $\endgroup$
    – Rich
    Jun 30, 2017 at 18:36

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