Quinzel brooded. Not that it liked to brood. To be fair, though, the armchair in which Quinzel was seated did tend to encourage that sort of mental activity. It was lushly cushioned, high backed, and upholstered in the most somber colored fabric it was possible to lay hands on. It was always the perfect location for a solid brood, or really good sulk. Indeed, the chair practically required either a foul mood, or deep malaise, before anyone was allowed to sit in it. Not that Quinzel would have had any trouble with the chair’s requirements today.
As scheduled, the day rained a bleak precipitation. Typical. The meteorological engineers had probably done it to mock Quinzel in all its hermaphroditic distress. Did they know of the failure? But Quinzel had often publicly derided them, so it seemed natural that they would also take the opportunity to mock through weather in return. Yet, it was impossible that they could know. Hardly anyone did. Surely the High-Arbiter wouldn’t have told anybody. It was as much the High-Arbiter’s failure as it was Quinzel’s. Not that the High-Arbiter was prepared to shoulder any of the responsibility. Quinzel picked up a pair of secateurs from the book-table next to armchair, cut off a finger – a different one this time – and threw it into the plasma fire. Predictably, the finger grew back.
Quinzel sighed, replaced the secateurs on the table, and picked up the shiney, beribboned object that had been keeping them company. A medal. Finely enamelled, polished to eye-burn finish – the highest honor that can be given to any of Quinzel’s species. It also came with an equally gaudy plaque. It bore Quinzel’s name, titles, and the inscription: Medal Of High Ingenuity, awarded for acts of supreme cleverness in the face of immortality. The words rang hollow, even though they weren’t a complete lie. It was certainly true that the test protocol, and the weapon that had been its culmination, were both works of a very serious cleverness. Only, that’s not why the award had been given. No, the award had been given because it was widely believed that Quinzel had – with the advent of the most efficient weapon ever produced – solved the Athletual race’s long standing immortality problem. And while the gun itself had been successful in killing the only other immortal being Quinzel had been able to find, it had not been able to kill any Athletual afterwards. Which was the problem. For that is what Quinzel had promised it would do. In fact, that’s what Quinzel’s whole species thought it could do, even though it couldn’t. In their ignorance, and across countless colony worlds, they were all still celebrating. Not that it had been Quinzel’s idea to keep it from them. That was all the High-Arbiter’s doing.
A cover up, thought Quinzel, how distasteful. Quinzel had objected, of course. Strongly objected, in fact. But the High-Arbiter would have none of it.
“Don’t be silly,” the High-Arbiter had said. “We can’t go about telling the masses that, as far as we know, they will continue to live and breed forever. Can you imagine the chaos? The disappointment? The calls to replace all members of the Council Of Elders? No, I think – and the rest of the council aggrees – that we’ll just keep this under wraps.”
“But,” Quinzel had protested, “they’ll find out eventually. Don’t you think it’s better to just break the news to them now. Deal with the fall out sooner, rather than later?”
“I think no such thing. Anyway, I don’t see how anybody will find out, especially since no one will be telling them anything.”
“Surely it’ll be noticed that nobody is being killed by the weapon?”
“No. It won’t.”
“I really don’t see how you can stop that get–.”
“ENOUGH.” The High-Arbiter closed its eyes, took a breath to compose itself, and then gave Quinzel a very serious look. “I understand how disappointed you must feel about all of this, young Quinzel. Especially after several millennia of really hard work. Yet, disappointments aside, the situation remains what it is. The council has decided, in its infinite wisdom, to make the best of a bad situation. As it happens, we have a plan. One that will prevent anyone discovering your failure, but that will also keep hope alive for all our people. Or, more accurately, keep the hope of mortality alive. As it happens, and I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know this, you will play a very important role in the implementation of this plan.”
“Oh yes. What’s more, you’ll get a promotion. You are, perhaps, familiar with the seeming is believing hypothesis?”
Quinzel was familiar with the hypothesis. In Quinzel’s opinion, it was facile rubbish. The way it worked, at least in theory, was as superficial as it was stupid. Simply put, the hypothesis states that if a ‘thing’ seems to be true, ipso facto, it is true. Not, as far as Quinzel understood the nature of ‘things’, how truth actually works. Nonetheless, the High-Arbiter clearly did not care to hear any of Quinzel’s well balanced critique as regarded the hypothesis’ shortcomings, so all Quinzel said was, “I am aware of it. Why?”
“I should think the ‘why’ is obvious,” retorted the High-Arbiter. “Clearly, the hypothesis underpins the entire plan. I should think you’d be more grateful, too. The hypothesis also underpins the whole reason you will get that promotion I mentioned. Especially since you and I know you don’t really deserve it.”
“I suppose I might be more grateful,” admitted Quinzel, “If I knew what the plan was, how the hypothesis informs it, and how it connects to my imminent promotion.”
“You mean you can’t work it out by yourself? You’re losing your edge young Quinzel. There was a time when I could have just said ‘hypothesis’, and you would have had all the details without my having to explain it in full.”
This was not, as far as Quinzel could remember, ever remotely true. Possibly, it ‘seemed’ true to the High-Arbiter, but that just went to show how thoroughly terrible the council’s plan was likely to be. “I regret, that is not the case this time.”
“Really? All that disappointment must have made you quite stupid.”
“Yes, that must be it. Perhaps, as I’m a bit slow, you might want to tell me this plan, then?”
“Want is not the right word. But since you appear incapable of figuring it out for yourself, I suppose I must.” The High-Arbiter struck a pose that said, I’m about to tell you something very important, and delightfully ingenious‘. “We are going to make it seem like many of our people are actually dying at the hands of your weapon, by making them disappear.” The High-Arbiter looked very pleased with itself.
“I’m going to need a bit more.”
“More in what way?”
“More in the way of details.”
“Like what details?”
“Like, pretty much all of the details.”
With obvious bad humor, the High-Arbiter then explained pretty much all of the details.
The trick, so the council felt, was in convincing the entire species that many of them were, in fact, dying. Since, due to Quinzel’s ultimate failure, it was impossible to make anyone die by artificial means, the best that could be hoped for was in making it seem as though they were. Towards this end, a lottery had been organized, and two large starship fleets – Mega Fleets, the military was calling them – had been fitted out. One of the fleets would transport large groups of the species for resettlement on other, far away, worlds. In terms of the plan, those slated for ‘resettlement’ will be called the ‘transported dead’, and their number would be selected through the lottery.
“Incidentally,” said the High-Arbiter, “we’re calling the lottery The Monthly Lottery Of Doom. Catchy, yes?”
“Ummm,” said Quinzel, uncertainly. “I guess so.”
“Whatever is the matter? You don’t seem as enthusiastic about this plan as you should.”
“Well, if I may, I do have a couple of questions, and/or comments.”
“If you must.”
“Well. This… uh… Lotto-Doom, wh–.”
“What did you just call The Monthly Lottery Of Doom?” The High-Arbiter’s eyes flashed enthusiasm, and its photoluminescent skin sparkled colors of excitement.
“Lotto-Doom. Sorry, am I not supposed to abbreviate it?”
“It’s not that. Only it’s very good. Catchy, even.” The High-Arbiter made a quick note of it on a stray piece of smart-polymer. “I think I’ll have a word with Propaganda about using that instead of The Monthly Lottery Of Doom. It’ll fit better on the tickets… and the t-shirts.”
“Oh yes. We have a whole line of promotional merchandise planned. The lottery is sure to be a real cultural game-changer. Anyway, what were your concerns about the… Lotto-Doom?”
“Only, I was wondering why you’d bother having a lottery at all? I mean, it’s not like you’d have a shortage of volunteers. Why not just advertise, make lists of the interested, and then transport them?”
“Did you, perhaps, forget about the t-shirts? Whoever heard of promotional t-shirts for volunteering? That’s just barbaric. Also, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.”
“Okay, I guess that seems fair.”
“You have other concerns?”
“I don’t have time for several. What if you just stick to the one that presses you most?”
“Alright then. I guess what I’d really like to know is how this resettlement plan is any different from our current, and long standing, program of colonization? In addition, how are you going to stop the resettled from coming back and telling everyone that it’s all an elabourate trick? For a start, the resettled won’t seem particularly dead if they reappear very much alive.”
“That sounds suspiciously like two things,” the High-Arbiter admonished. “Yet, I will deal with both of them, but only because I feel like it.”
“Very gracious,” Quinzel acknowledged.
“First,” began the High-Arbiter, ignoring Quinzel’s sarcasm, “when I said resettled, what I really meant was marooned.”
“Quite. We will be transporting all of the lucky winners of the Lotto-Doom to various worlds, and stranding them there. Can’t come back if you’ve been marooned properly. It’s really just that easy. Conveniently, it’s also the solution to the second ‘thing’ you asked me.”
“But surely people will still notice. One of our starships is bound to chance past one of those worlds eventually.”
“Ah, but that is the beauty of it. We’ll be stranding winners very far outside of our own space. Moreover, starships won’t ever be able to chance on such a world, because we’ve created a no-go zone just beyond the limits of the territory we already possess.”
“I don’t see how you’d be able to stop ships going there?”
“Oh yes. As we speak, new charts are being drafted that will demarcate the no-go zone as a navigational hazard. In a few weeks, it will be reported that a certain Mega Fleet Of Exploration – that’s the second fleet, you may remember I mentioned – came-a-cropper at the limit. Thus, all ship Captains will stay clear of the zone.”
“Came-a-cropper? First of all, I’m not sure what that means. Second of all, I don’t see how that is going to be an effective deterrent?”
“Of course you don’t,” the High-Arbiter condescended. “But you don’t need to worry about those details. Which brings me to the matter of your promotion.”
Quinzel had almost forgotten the matter of its promotion. Given the poorly thought out nature of the plan the promotion was part of, this was surely going to be no kind of promotion worth receiving.
“You,” the High-Arbiter enunciated in official tones, “are to be the Supreme-Admiral of that second Mega Fleet Of Exploration. Good news, eh? Congratulations.”
“But, you just said that fleet would be lost. Or, rather, would ‘come-a-cropper’. I won’t ever be able to come back.”
“Well spotted. But don’t worry, you won’t really be lost. We’re making the whole ‘navigation hazard’ thing up. Anyway, you’ll be too busy doing the job the second fleet was actually created for to worry about ‘coming back’.”
“Glad you you asked. The job of your fleet is to ‘sterilize’ all the worlds outside the no-go zone in preparation for mass resettlement/marooning.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t. It’s simple. Your fleet, pushing out into the vastness of space, has the job of killing any life you come across.”
“But, surely there are enough uninhabited worlds out there to maroon all the lucky Lotto-Doom winners. Why would we need to sterilize worlds with life on them?”
“One word: witnesses. You are aware that some of the life out there either has, or will eventually, explore space themselves. If they come across one of our lottery winner worlds, and then make it into our home space, they could leak the plan to an unexpecting public. Obviously, that would undermine the whole project. We can’t have that. Which is why your orders include the sterilization of worlds with even the rudiments to evolve life that might someday develop space travel. You’ll document all the life first. That part of your exploration cover is true, at least.”
Quinzel was stunned. “How many worlds are we talking, over how many light years?”
“Well, all of them, obviously.”
“What the entire universe? But that will take forever.”
“Lucky you were unable to solve our immortality problem then, isn’t it? You’ll have heaps of time to carry out your orders. By the way, how many of your team know that your weapon doesn’t work?”
Quinzel gave the number.
“Good, good. Just leave a list of their names with Naval Personnel, and we’ll make sure they are assigned to your fleet.”
So, thought Quinzel, that was the truth of it. Not a promotion, but an exile.
“Oh, and you’ll be receiving the Medal Of High Ingenuity next week.”
“I will? Whatever for? I failed.”
“Yes. You know that. I know that. The council and a few others know that. But our culture at large does not. You need to receive it for the sake of the plan, and to justify your promotion in the eyes of the public. Buck up. You’ll seem to be a hero.”
And that was how Quinzel, came to receive an award it did not deserve, get a promotion it didn’t want, and end up sitting in the chair of brooding. The sound of someone clearing their throat from behind the chair’s high back caught Quinzel’s attention, and pulled the once great hermaphrodite from its memories. “Yes. What is it?”
“Sorry to bother you, Supreme-Admiral, but the transport is ready to take you to the flagship.”
“Very good. I’ll be along shortly. I just have change into my uniform.” All things considered, there was some consolation in the fact that the High-Admiral uniform was classy. Quinzel had always had a fondness for gold braid and tasselled epaulettes. At least the former weapons designer would look really stylish while it documented and sterilized all those uncountable worlds.