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Timing

by Will Sand

 

This was how he would think of it, of himself:
He was an idealist gone bad. He could live with that. Once too good, now too bad...

He had never done anything wrong before. He had never had anything turn out right before. He was better than that. (He was better than this.) But no one would ever know. He would make them know. Know his name.

It took him months to rig the instruments and falsify the read-outs. Hell, it took him a full week to destroy the ship's sensory array just the right way to mimic a meteoroid strike.

But as Benver turned his ship back toward Earth, he knew he would get away with it.

He would return with that rarest of findings, a pearl in the vast shell of the galaxy: a blue-green planet, another Earth.

In a century of looking, only two others had been found. Gigantic seed-ships had been launched each time and humanity had twice again spread itself. Now Benver would give them yet another shot at immortality.

Benver had done the simple math of his deceit. By the time a new seed-ship could be launched and travel the vast distance twice (once at ova-and-sperm-protective sub-light speed, and then back at sterilization-be-damned faster-than-light speed), he would be well over 100 years old, and certainly dead. He would have spent decades luxuriating in his fortune and fame; and, by dying, have avoided suffering the eventual ignominy of foisting the ultimate fraud on the human race.

And who would be hurt, really? The ova and sperm? Not hardly. The Earth-bound masses who had sent their dreams heavenward? Hell, it was all just remote entertainment for most of them; and there were other dreams, other seed-ships, other blue-green planets. OK, then, how about the several pilots and technicians of the seed-ship? Actually they would live half their lives rich in the satisfaction of noble sacrifice, of forwarding the human race. And after they discovered a dead planet at the end of their journey, and raced back indignant (and sterile and old) with the news? Well, they could write a book, maybe have their own modicum of fame.

It was the ideal crime; an idealist's crime.

*   *   *

Benver looked out at the prestigious crowd gathered to honor him. The Lord of Authority himself presented Benver with the ten-million-dollar check. Beautiful and elegant women smiled at him, their eyes glistening with tears.

Suddenly, through the palaver, Benver realized he was being offered an additional, unexpected honor.

"...and it is with the deepest appreciation that we as a people extend to you our highest gift, an invitation to the Legacy Club."

The Lord of Authority chuckled at Benver's confused look. That good-natured chuckle was picked up by the crowd, who looked on Benver with pride and affection.

The Lord of Authority continued. "Ten years can be a long time in terms of medical breakthroughs, and a lot has happened in your absence. Though for expense and demographic reasons we can offer it only to a few thousand highly accomplished honorees each year, we now have the ability to effectively double the span of a human life to 200 years."

Although momentarily stunned, Benver managed to proffer a faint perfunctory smile. Well, he thought, he would just commit suicide at age 100 or so. A bit of an inconvenience, that, but he still had 60+ years to live it up as a hero. He hadn't actually lost anything he thought he was going to get.

But the Lord of Authority had more to say. "And you'll be pleased to know that technological advances now allow us to transport ova and sperm safely at greater-than-light speeds. Your discovery will bear fruit in less than a year!" The Lord of Authority paused to smile benevolently. "Your statue will be completed by then and we'll see you back here again for its dedication in no time."

Benver sat exposed to the crush of explosive applause and bared teeth.*

 

Story copyright © 1999 by Will Sand <wsandtt@redshift.com>

Artwork "Moment of Conception" copyright © 1999 by Michael Beckett <mikebeckett@denial.freeserve.co.uk>

 

 

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