Space travel

The Trillionaire's Return

On the day before his one hundred and fiftieth birthday, as the Kosmo Odyssey ship neared the sweltering Earth, Birn Davos, the world’s first trillionaire, who extraction empire had once spanned the globe, watched the moon growing closer. The sight was crippling. His compartment was private, so no one could see the emotion warping his features, or the tears burning his eyes, the first time he had experienced such feelings in decades. Something as simple as the moon. All these years with poor substitutes—who could have known how this luminous and immemorial companion of humankind lived in the depths of each soul? He had to come back to understand what its absence had meant. Memories flooded his old heart and he couldn’t fight them. And he knew just how damn tired you are at a hundred and fifty.

Life on Orchard Base Ares had grown weary. The misery, predictably, was more psychological than physical, for the operation and maintenance of the sprawling complex in Gale Crater was efficiently managed. The solar power bases, oxygen, water, and food production systems, waste disposal—all of it ran smoothly. Leaving the idle rich to—what? Recreate and procreate. Recreation had degenerated almost entirely to the realm of the pharmaceutical with all its fog and despair. As for procreation, Birn had fathered more children than he could count, with an endless variety of mates, and that had been an enjoyable way to pass the time for many years, even if he didn’t know any of the brats and they were scattered throughout Orchard Base Ares, several other newer bases, and on a variety of orbiting stations. But the whole procreation business, augmented by the age-reversal technology that only Birn and his ilk could afford, had grown loathsome. Birn couldn’t even remember what sexual attraction felt like, nor what the allure of the tedious act had ever been. And his progeny—they meant nothing to him. One offspring is a child; a hundred are a statistic.

In hindsight, the whole business, starting with the astonishing hubris of the very idea, had been inauspicious. The failure to see aging and death as the natural and merciful process they are. The delusion that the sumptuous comforts of Orchard life on a sterile world of dust storms and barren vistas, though it had once known liquid water and life itself, could offset the affinity of a species’ DNA for the environment in which it had evolved. The failure to predict that a small contingent of that species, those necessary engineers and managers who kept them alive, would, under the stimulus of great opportunity, overcome those privations and not just flourish, but gain control. And finally, the presumption that one could return to one’s prior position in the infernal quagmire one had helped cause then abandoned to fend for itself.

Where the Union was more in control than their propaganda led you to believe.

Birn had expected trouble in boarding the ship. For “Purpose of Trip,” instead of the more accurate “escape,” he had put “to meet the progeny of my original family.” It was a tense moment. Then an official showed up and he was waved through. The six-month trip back had been the height of luxury. But so had everything for a hundred and thirty years.

There had been two missiles. No one doubted that, though it wasn’t “true.” The Union had sprung very publicly into action and within three days had made the appropriate arrests. All of which supposed culprits vehemently denied any role in the matter, and some of whom had credible alibis. But none of that was “true” either. They simply disappeared, and as the investigation was “ongoing,” the entire business vanished from the news.

A small cadre of conspiracy bloggers kept the two-missile theory alive on-line. But if anybody other than those diehards wanted to hear it, which nobody did, its impact would still have been drowned in the long list of the other, equally “ridiculous,” conspiracies they espoused. But there had been two missiles, one from the hills to the east, the other from a boat offshore to the west. It had taken only a couple of telegenic “experts,” using terms like distorted parallax, triangular obfuscation, and visual fallacy to nullify the evidence of a hundred amateur videos. They made the voices of the eyewitnesses sound shrill, but everything was shrill in those times. No outrage could hold public attention for long. The ubiquitous phrase among the people, who had enough to worry about, was what are you going to do?

The result, in any case, as the two missiles hit less than a second apart, had been the incineration of the Kosmo Odyssey ship as it descended over the landing pad in the southern desert of the region formerly known as the State of California, and the torching of a trillionaire that most everybody was happy to see go.