The year was 2084. The earth had been at peace for over 50 years; the last radicals dying out with a whimper as the new World Congress replaced the enfeebled and disgraced United Nations. A new power source had been found—anti eon particles—and so energy scarcity disappeared, as did pollution. Medical science leaped forward with the help of massive computers who worked at speeds that embarrassed predictions of those in the industry 80 years earlier. Life expectancy increased. Anti eon power’s by-product was intense heat which solved the clean water difficulties—the oceans were distilled in ever growing amounts—and provided world wide irrigation, so food at first was plentiful. Population studies were revised significantly.
The good on the earth, however, was too good. Scientists, decades earlier, had extrapolated correctly—even with the advances, the earth was becoming too small to sustain the population. The fish were long ago extinct from over-fishing; the ocean now receding was thirty miles from Miami because of massive distillation. Birth rates had gone up, not down.
Then another extraordinary medical event occurred—medical redux, when perfected, would add many more years to human life; it was a death notice to earth.
So ships were built and launched into space. It was always a one-way trip; the first explorers accepted their fate. The early years were dangerous. Anti eon particles accelerated the ship at increasing speeds every minute, every day. The early ships hyper radar could spot the larger asteroids, but not the smaller ones. When ships collided with an undetected asteroid or debris, they were destroyed by their own speed and mass. Finally the eon shield was perfected after many ships had been destroyed.
Some ships got through. Only one sent back a message that held hope. The last message from the companion team—Yuri and Anna—said they had found an earth-like world. It was twice the size of the earth, but had almost identical living conditions as earth. There were no inhabitants; only some trace elements of what used to be called radioactive material. Yuri and Anna’s last message said they were taking the shuttle down for the final time. Their lives were coming to an end—they had traveled for twenty-one years to reach their find. They hoped visitors would come to their last home.
The message ended…
o o o o o o o
The room was softly lit; the chairs comfortable. Droids were spinning up and down the aisles providing soft drinks and snacks. There were about 250 people in the room. At the front of the room was a wall with ten doors numbered appropriately one through ten. The soft background music was often interrupted by a synthesized female voice who would announce a name and a door number. I could not detect any apparent pattern to the names being called.
I held my breath momentarily as I heard the voice say, “Mr. Andrews, Mr. George W. Andrews, please go to room eight. I stood up and walked to the center isle. I walked as quickly as my fifty-nine year old body would allow towards door number eight—my knee was giving me a problem again from my ultra-ball days of glory at school many years ago.
The door flashed, “Please state your name.” I said, “George Andrews.” The door slid open and I entered; the door quietly closed behind me. There was a single chair similar to the chairs in the main hall facing a table where a man and a woman sat; a standard plasma computer console was embedded in the table slanted slightly so they could read it easily while I could see nothing.
They both stood up and came around the table to shake my hand. The man was about thirty as was the woman. He smiled at me and said, “Thank you for coming to see us George. My name is Bob and this is my wife Sharon.” Sharon gave me a friendly grin and nodded. They both wore the ship’s uniform—Bob wearing slacks and a uniform blouse in the ship’s royal blue color; Sharon’s blouse was the same color but cut deeper—only starting where the mounds of her breasts began. Her skirt stopped at mid thigh giving me a good picture of beautiful muscle-toned legs.
We all sat down as Bob continued, “I know we have put you through extensive testing over the last few months and at last count we had the equivalent of one hundred pages of questionnaires that potential volunteers have completed, but it is the curse of our profession that we want to ask even more.
“Sharon and I are part of the staff of the ship. The entire ship has a crew of 1000 people—500 couples who are married. Two hundred of us are counselors to the ship. Our background is psychology, psychiatry, neo-psych and neuro-psych. We, along with the ship’s computer, have been tasked to select the passengers for our trip. We will be going with you of course.
“George, why do you want to leave the earth? You will never again see your son and daughter and your eventual grandchildren. And you know the computers project that the expected chance of survival is only forty-nine percent.”
The question was not a surprise. It was the same question that I asked myself many times since I volunteered to be one of the 5000 passengers on the trip ‘To Beyond,’ as it had been named. I answered Bob as I had answered myself, “My wife is gone. My children are starting their life with their spouses. My business life was successful, but now it is over. My health is only fair. Why not try for second life? It will be a challenge, and if I die, I have lost little.”
Bob and Sharon glanced at their screen. Sharon finally spoke, “George, both we and the computer think that you would be an excellent addition to the ship. You have been told to be ready to go at a moments notice. Are you ready to start now?”
I was surprised and thought, “So quick?”
However, my estate papers were in order, my good-byes spoken. I answered, “Yes.”
Bob grinned and said, “Wonderful. Please go out the door to your right and you will be met.”
I glanced at the door to my left and my eyes questioned Bob. He said quietly, “For those not going.”
The door to my right opened as I approached it. I stepped through the doorway and walked into a much larger room. There was a circular table in the center with the plasma screens blinking ‘STAFF.’ I walked to the table and gave my name. A female about thirty years old who wore the same uniform as Sharon repeated my name into her console. She looked up at me and said, “You’re just in time for an orientation. Please follow the yellow blinking lights to Theatre A.”
A man in the ship’s uniform stood at the podium. He said, “Computer, dim lights,” and then continued, “I am Third Lieutenant Blakely—navigation section; but please call me Sam. It’s my turn for the preliminary orientation, so please relax and I will try to get through it quickly. After I am through I will be here to answer any questions. That pretty little blond-haired third lieutenant sitting in the first row is my wife Gini; she is also here to answer your questions.
“Your schedule is very simple. In the next five days each of you has to complete three objectives:
“First, and most important, you have to find your spouse—the one who will be with you during the trip and who together with you, will raise your children. Your schedule is set so there will be two socials per day—the lunch mess lounge will be one and it will last for two hours. The second is immediately after dinner and it will last for as long as you want. The evening social will be in the night club of the ship’s mockup.
“I know that finding a spouse always causes the most questions and anxiety, so let me answer the most asked question. We want you to find your spouse before your medical redux. Both computer studies and our own counselors agree that the chance for a successful relationship is much better if the physical attraction follows the emotional attraction. Most of our dropouts did not agree with this concept and couldn’t find a spouse. At the end of five days you must have a spouse. When you and your companion agree to marry, you still will have to pass muster with your counselor, but usually that is a formality. However, those who find their spouse on the fifth day usually have a much harder time passing—companionship based on desperation has little chance of success.
“Second, you will all be going through your medical redux. Our physicians have compiled extensive records on each of you, so the procedure is ready for each individual. The medical technicians who you will meet just before redux will also describe what to expect. Gini and I went through it about a month ago, and it was extraordinary.
“Third, you must become somewhat familiar with the ship’s layout and how to operate those machines and computers necessary for your day to day living. You also have to learn not to get lost. The ship’s mockup is very exact, and we will use it extensively to train you. Remember the ship waiting for us in space is almost three kilometers long and two kilometers in diameter. It is huge, but with six thousand of us starting and who knows how many ending, we need something that size. So ship orientation is very important.
“There are 500 of you here for the next five days. You are the last 500 that will complete the passenger list. When the shuttles take you up the ship, our selection process is over and our journey ‘To Beyond’ will begin.
“The counselors who met you in the numbered rooms are your counselors for life. You can find them by going to any screen and say their names. The male counselors are there for the men and the female counselors for the women. Again our computer studies show that same sex counselors bond best.
“That’s it folks. Gini and I are here to answer questions. For those who don’t have any questions, ask any screen and it will give you your room number and a detailed map how to get there. Your room is quite large since it is identical to the apartment layout you will have on board with your wife. Your schedule for the next five days will be on your per-screen and all the ship’s uniforms assigned to you are in your closest—obviously after redux, you will be given new uniforms. Good luck all.”
I went to the nearest screen and spoke my name; there were two men named Andrews, but voice recognition knew which one was me. A small map printed out and I went to find my room.
I said my name and the door quietly slid open. I walked into a fairly large living room. A smaller kitchen area was on my right with a table that could sit four. The right side wall of the room was plasma glass; the stars were visible. I guessed it was a picture of where the ship waited for the last 500 passengers. The left wall of the family room had media screens and an entertainment device with new holi-effect software.
I walked to the bedroom. On my right was a doorway that led to a small office. A working table and per-screen were visible.
Ahead of me was the master bedroom. The king-size bed dominated the room. There were two small closets for uniforms. The bathroom was large by any standard. The shower was walk-in with four shower heads; there was no door on the shower. In fact, there was no bathroom door. I thought to myself that privacy in the bedroom area was not meant to be.
My per-screen sounded an informational tone; its screen flashing. Lunch was to begin in twenty minutes and the computer knew I had not left the room. The computer said in a low modulated male voice, “George, please change into your ship utilities quickly and then you must go to the main mess room. Discard all your clothes in the recyc hamper. If you go with us, you will never see them again; if you stay on earth, they will be given back to you. Please hurry.”
I felt silly. The uniform had satin quality shorts over which I pulled my pants; it adjusted to my waist size with its live-elastic material. There was no undershirt. The outer shirt was a comfortable material, but my stomach protruded. I thought of the old beer belly joke, “I don’t know how big it is, I can’t see it. The ultra light shoes fit perfectly—the marvels of computers I thought.
I punched in my meal selection on the food droid’s menu board, and sat at a table with six people. I was the last to arrive and introductions had already been made. People were nervous. Two of the men spoke with loud voices as if to dominate the table. The average age was probably about fifty-eight or so. One of the women, a busty, yellow-white blond, kept laughing at the jokes of the two loud men. The other two women remained quiet, staring at their plates and eating.
The droid brought my meal; I ate quickly, wished everybody a good day and left. The mess hall led into the lounge where the social get together was to be held shortly. I stood at the doorway looking into the mostly empty room when she said, “There is something sad in trying to pretend you are twenty again.”
I looked around and saw a slim woman about sixty with white hair and gray-green eyes leaning on a cane. Standing upright she might have been about five feet six inches tall. The eyes seemed intelligent, but her body language was nervous. I said, “My name is George Andrews and the silly thing is for my body to try to fit into a uniform designed for a thirty year old. Every pound of my stomach is showing; I feel like an idiot.”
She laughed and said, “Don’t be silly. There are more men with bulging stomachs than not here. Age has caught up with all of you; as it has with me. By the way, my name is Nancy Winters.”
The lunch crowd began to come into the lounge and one of Nancy’s lunch companions came over and took her away to show her the new holi-software video the lounge had. I was mildly irritated, but my knee was hurting. I stayed around another twenty minutes and went to my room.
The next two days went by quickly. The crew knew they couldn’t push us old farts that hard, but they did the best they could under the circumstances. Bob, my counselor, sent me a message on my per-screen and asked how things were going and to feel free to call or see him if I needed any help.
The third night I was sitting on a couch in the ship’s night club taking stock. I had met three or four women who seemed nice, and three or four others that were so aggressive I thought I might have to call for rape intervention. I was tired from the three active days I had just gone through and thought, “Two more days of the same, and I still have a major problem—no wife.”
My eyes must have closed since I jumped when a voice behind me asked, “Can I join you?”
It was Nancy. I had seen her on and off during the last two days, but we had only spoken that one time. I replied, “I would like that,” and started to get up.
“Don’t get up George; just relax which is what I am going to try to do. My cane is a poor substitute for a leg.”
We talked. I talked more than her. It was questions. Every time I slowed down she asked another question about me and my dominant side took over; I had to answer the question in every detail. Then it dawned on me; I was being stupid. I said, “Nancy, you made me do all the talking and like an idiot I didn’t give you a chance to say anything. I promise to shut up for at least five minutes; tell me about you.”
“George,” she said, “My story is simple and short. In my younger days I was a bit wild—the new songs, the fad dances, even the neo-drugs—but I finally got married at thirty to a very nice, quiet man. We had five beautiful years together, but then he caught one of those new, unprotected virus diseases; he died quickly before the computers could determine how to combat it.
“I was a widow at thirty-five with no children and my young world had past me by. I went back to teaching young children—the early grades—and have been teaching for the last twenty-five years. I live by myself in a quiet apartment in the City Center Tower. When I heard of ‘To Beyond’ I asked myself, “What have I got to lose? They need people; they need children; and they need teachers for those children.”
We both stopped talking and sat in comfortable silence. Finally, I said the obvious, “Nancy, I can be a jerk sometimes when I get stubborn, but I think I’m usually a good person. We don’t have months to see if we are compatible. I think I like you and I will try to make it work. Will you join me?”
She looked into my eyes and stared. Finally she said, “My impression of you is that you are a very nice man. There is no time. Before I say yes I want to tell you that I have had no sex for twenty-five years; I’m afraid of it. I won’t say I can’t change but any sexual drive in me died when my husband died. If you still want me after that, my answer is yes.”
I paused for a while. I had not expected that statement, but then, I hadn’t had sex—other than masturbation--with a woman since my wife died five years previously. Why not take a chance that Nancy and I could work it out. I looked at her and said, “Please be my friend, my companion, and my wife.”
I wiped a tear from her eye and helped her up. Tomorrow was a big day.
That night I left a message for Bob that I had found my companion and said her name. When I woke to the tone alarm, the message screen was blinking. I said, “Computer, read my messages.”
The computer voice said, “George, this is Bob. Congratulations. Ignore your schedule and please come to my office at nine o’clock. Sharon will be here and so will your Nancy. We will talk together for a while and then separate—you and I together and Sharon and Nancy. If nothing bad comes up, you and Nancy will be accepted.”
We met at nine o’clock. After some general conversation, Sharon asked us, “A three day courtship is an accelerated event; you barely know each other. So to ask you if you have any doubts would be silly. However, if you had any one main fear this relationship won’t work, what would it be? George?”
I ignored the question and said, “I am confident things will work out.”
There was a silence and then Nancy spoke softly, “Sex may be a serious problem. I will try very hard, but it has been so long.”
Bob quickly broke up the meeting. Nancy and Sharon went to Sharon’s office. Bob looked at me and said, “Nancy gave a more truthful answer than you did George. Why did you hold back?”
I was embarrassed to have been caught in my deception. I answered, “I just thought that we could work it out together.”
Bob was quiet for a moment and replied, “George, what we are trying to do is monumental and the risks are enormous. One of our biggest risks is that the society on our ship fails to develop properly. There are 200 of us counselors on board to help society form. You must give up some of your personal privacy to us if things are going to work out. If Nancy and you have problems, you must ask for help. Will you do that?”
I knew the question was not asked lightly and I knew my dominate personality had caused me problems in the past. This time I thought I better face reality. I answered, “If I need help, I will ask you for it.”
Bob stared at me and then nodded. He said, “Good for you. Now I think you had better get ready for your medical redux. Do you know what that means?”
I answered, “I read that we now have the ability to rebuild internal body parts so that they are as good as now. My knee will no longer hurt and I guess my eyesight will be corrected. I assume that it will extend our life cycle a few more years.
Bob laughed and answered, “George, it is much, much more than that. Redux gives you your younger body back. Haven’t you wondered why Sharon and I look about thirty years old, as did Sam and Gini—in fact all the crew members look thirty years old. Physically we are thirty years old, but in real years Sharon and I are in our early sixty’s. The same is about to happen to Nancy and you.
“Unfortunately, we have had to mislead the earth’s general population about redux. The arithmetic is easy and terrible. If everyone on earth has redux, every couple will be able to produce. The number of people to feed would overwhelm the earth in a matter of years—less than ten. If we banned children, we would become an Orwellian state. Our best scientists and the computers both projected anarchy if the earth went to that alternative. The unfortunate fact is that redux is only for those leaving earth.”