Life Extension Technologies represent all the ways that Mankind has developed over the millennia to extend the human lifespan long past its natural duration. In the Imperium of Man death is always present, and for the vast majority of humanity life is often brief and bitter. However, those lucky few with sufficient funds and access to certain technologies can extend their lives for many centuries. The desperate, gifted or insane search for true immortality, a pursuit in which both failure and success can lead to damnation.
The use of rejuvenating drugs, usually referred to as "rejuvenat" treatments, is commonplace amongst the middle and upper classes of all technologically advanced Imperial worlds. With regular use they can slow or even reverse human aging dramatically for centuries by repairing damaged DNA strands with specific enzymes and regularly cleansing the build-up of cellular and metabolic toxins from the human body. But sooner or later even the most expensive chemical treatments fail to hide the ravages of age. At that point the subject becomes more vulnerable to infections and organ failure. After 400 standard years of life few human beings within the Imperium can survive without mechanical assistance.
The flesh is weak, but with proper maintenance rituals, machines can last forever. By exchanging a subject’s organs with mechanical substitutes an individual human being's life can be greatly extended, though the price is the loss of a part of their humanity. With the aid of micro-Cogitators even the human mind can be partly replaced as age takes its toll on deteriorating neurons. The Adeptus Mechanicus both uses and produces a majority of the Imperium's cybernetic augmentations and the most advanced augmetics are reserved for the Machine God’s own servants. Simpler implants are available for those with the right amounts of money and connections, but the price is such that cybernetic augmentations are actually passed down as heirlooms for generations.
For those whose fear of death knows no bounds there are a few extreme measures that even Tech-priests fear to use:
- The Rite of Setesh - At about 500 years of age the strength of most human bodies is utterly spent and death becomes inevitable. However, some Imperial potentates refuse to accept their fate and instead they choose to invoke the Adeptus Mechanicus' Rite of Setesh. The subject's body is mummified alive and permanently sealed within a coffin-like exoskeleton, where he or she can spend several Terran centuries in agony and claustrophobic horror before death finally claims the individual. Many members of the Mechanicus see the Rite of Setesh as a practice bordering on Tech-Heresy. Only the most radical Tech-priests would even consider performing the procedure on another person, and even then only in exchange for a fortune in money or political favours. The Mechanicus itself has no need for such cumbersome life-extending machinery. In their search for mechanical purity they have found better and more lasting ways to preserve their existence, by replacing the flesh entirely with machines rather then conserving it.
- The Proteus Protocol - According to rumours amongst the galaxy's Hereteks there is a way to transfer a person's full intellect, and possibly even their soul, into a machine and thus achieve true immortality. This technology is considered by most Tech-priests to be a myth, but in 240.M41 Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn discovered the essence of the Arch-Heretic Pontius Glaw preserved in just such a device. The machine itself consisted of a crystalline core, containing the transferred intellect, connected to a Mind Impulse Unit (MIU) that enabled Pontius' mind to connect with exterior machinery and control it just as a Princeps mentally controls an Imperial Titan using the same device. Even in his bodiless state Pontius could still make use of his formidable psychic powers. The Renegade Magos-Inquisitor Cyrrik Scayl has for many years experimented with mind transfers and his studies indicate that only the mind of a psyker is strong enough to endure the process.
- Chronophagic Alloys - Weapons such as the Dawn Blade, wielded by Commander Farsight, are composed of unique materials known as chronophagic alloys and are capable of taking the natural lifespan of any person it cuts short, and adding it to the life energies of the wielder.
The static matter of realspace always surrenders to entropy sooner or later, but the dynamic psychic energy of the Warp is eternal. By infusing a creature with the power of the Warp its existence can be strengthened and maintained, though usually at the cost of its sanity and soul.
The Chaos Gods and their daemonic servants are more than willing to lengthen a human life in return for his or her soul and absolute fealty. Valuable servants of the Ruinous Powers can live for many Terran millennia and even return from the dead if it pleases their patron, but such service invariably twists the soul (and often the body) into a cruel mockery of its original form.
Long-term exposure to Warp or Webway energy can have a rejuvenating effect on human tissue. These phenomena are particularly evident in the Chaos Space Marines, who have fought the Imperium for more than ten millennia from the Warp rift known as the Eye of Terror. Life in the Warp also causes space-time to shift in such a way that millennia can pass in the outside universe while only a few years of time may have passed subjectively for a person within the Immaterium. Of course, long-term exposure to the Warp can also lead to madness, death, mutation and utter damnation.
The human soul is potentially immortal, but in most cases is too weak to stand against the chaotic fury of the Warp after death. By absorbing large quantities of Warp energy during life a human can strengthen his essence and thereby transform himself into an immortal Daemon Prince. Daemonhood is usually a reward from the Chaos Gods to their most loyal servants, but through dark rituals Heretics independent of service to Chaos can ascend to this elevated stage of existence on their own. Sometimes the Dark Gods provide daemonhood as a curse rather than a blessing. Plaguebearers and Furies are said to be products of this ironic cruelty: transformation into a Fury is reserved for those who wish to wield the power of Chaos but who refuse to become the servant of a particular Chaos God, whilst transformation into a Plaguebearer daemon is the only salvation Nurgle offers to Mankind to earn immunity from his virulent plagues.
A few psykers and Sorcerers have mastered their art well enough to utilise the Warp's revitalising effect on their own bodies and thereby take control over the aging process. The greatest master of this ability is the Emperor, who kept himself alive for more than 40,000 Terran years before he was interred within the Golden Throne. He could even extend this power to preserve valued servants, such as Malcador the Sigillite, and this gift is still evident in many of the Living Saints of the Adepta Sororitas.
- "Beyond those forbidden heights, gated and bound by bonds that man should never break, waits a throne that gods would fear to take."
- — Note found in the personal documents of renegade Inquisitor Erya Nephthys
On some Dead Worlds, in the volume of space at the rim of the galaxy known as the Halo Stars, travellers sometimes find alien artefacts left behind by long lost civilisations. The strangest and maybe the most powerful of these are the so-called Halo Devices. Many rich fools search for Halo Devices as an easy way to cheat death, but only the most unfortunate find what they are looking for. Prolonged contact between a human and a Halo Device does form a bond that rejuvenates the physical body of the human host, but at the same time it initiates a horrible transformation. The host stops aging and gains inhuman strength and resilience, but his body and soul begins to change. Visions of alien worlds fill his dreams and unholy thirsts plague his days.
After years of use the Halo Device becomes an integrated part of the host body, which itself mutates into an alien monstrosity. In the end nothing remains of the host’s human personality, but the cunning xenos menace which has risen in its stead is practically immortal and can even return from the dead to serve its unknown purpose.
Life Through DeathEdit
Since everything living is destined to die, some scholars search for a ways to make dead tissue regain its function and intelligence. Even in the ranks of the Mechanicus a radical sect known as the Hippocrasian Agglomeration are searching for ways to revitalise necrotic flesh. The Emperor Himself is in a way an undead being, powered by the arcane psychic energy of the Golden Throne. Some of the Imperium's most extreme Death Cults, like the legendary Night Cult, try to emulate their saviour. Through the use of forbidden technology, such as the Sarcosan Wave Generator, they raise the dead to serve His purpose.
The lust for immortality can overcome even the Emperor's strongest servants. Inquisitor Erya Nephthys began her career as a dogmatic member of the Inquisition's Puritan Monodominant philosophical sect, but after a near-death experience on the world of Sinophia she became obsessed with preserving her own existence and for that reason embraced heresy. Through a combination of sorcery and dark technology, much of which she stole from the Hippocrasians, she returned from the dead several times before the Inquisition succeeded in destroying her corporeal form. Even as her body was burnt to ash, she swore she would rise yet again to avenge herself on the living. Her ashes are still kept in a sealed vault within an Inquisitorial fortress, just in case...
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition), pp. 6-7, 24, 49, 57
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (4th Edition), pp. 34,46
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 153, 242
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor’s Handbook (RPG), pp. 139-140, 190
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 44, 62-65, 97-101
- Dark Heresy: The Radical’s Handbook (RPG), pp. 236
- Mechanicum (Novel) by Graham McNeill, pp. 358-363, 451, 373
- A Thousand Sons (Novel) by Graham McNeill, pp. 317
- Age of Darkness (Anthology) edited by Christian Dunn
- Eisenhorn (Novel) by Dan Abnett, pp. 30, 164-176, 395, 761
- Ravenor:The Omnibus (Novel) by Dan Abnett, pp. 64, 183
- Atlas Infernal (Novel) by Rob Sanders, pp. 12, 88-89
- Codex: Tau Empire (6th Edition), pp. 65, 67