Saturday, November 13, 2004

Aurora & Tithonus

In the year 38809, on the colonial planet of Asteron, orbiting the binary star-system of Tellus Minor, Aurora and Tithonus were celebrating their 95th wedding anniversary. Okay, if you're going to get technical about this, it was really their 34,675th wedding anniversary, to be exact.

Tithonus was thawing out in his stasis chamber as Aurora brought a candle-lit cake into the bedroom, topped with 95 candles, which was--all things considered--a more manageable arrangement than a cake topped with 34,675 candles.

Aurora and Tithonus originally moved to Asteron in the year 2320. After medical science had solved the secret of death, back in the year 2193, the blue planet underwent a population explosion.

At first, anathanatonic technology was kept under wraps and reserved for the Nullifidian Order. But as the Nullifidians ceases to age, sicken, and die, the Solafidian underclass naturally grew a mite suspicious--not to say--restive, demanding equal access to anathanatonic therapy.

After a general strike, the Nullifidians gave in, but enacted Draconian birth-control measures to depress the ranks of the Solafidians. The Solafidians, resenting yet another the double-standard, and spotting a chance to shift the balance of power, skirted the measures at every turn until their seed outnumbered the sand and stars.

In due course, the Nullifidians were so overwhelmed that they fell from power and went into exile, taking their anathanatonic technology along with them. For their part, the Solafidians, having cast off the yoke of old Pharaoh, were content, once more, to embrace mortality in the interests of a blest immortality to come.

Having revived from his cryogenic deep freeze, Tithonus was ready to join in the festivities--if "revived" is quite the right word for it.

Aurora and Tithonus had married at the optimal age of 25, as was customary for the Nullifidian Order. Because all Nullifidian marriages were arranged by a computerized dating service, compatibility was assured and divorce was unheard of. And so, for 15 years, they each enjoyed their quantized quota of nuptial felicitude.

And at the age of 40, they both underwent their mandatory course of anathanatonic therapy. The process was irreversible, but accurate to the 99th percentile--followed by some unmanageable string of decimal places.

Yet, much to the misfortune of Tithonus, he beat the stochastically calibrated odds. As a consequence, Tithonus was made immortal, without making him ageless.

At first no one took notice, but after a few years the terrible truth was evident to all--gray hair, crow's-feet, and other such blemishes too dreadful to name. Since nothing could be done to reverse or even arrest the aging process, Aurora and Tithonus, after consulting with the best medical advice, agreed to have him put into stasis for 364 days a year, and reanimated once a year on the day of their anniversary, so that he'd only age at a rate of one day per annum.

This arrangement worked out admirably enough for the first few millennia, but as his metabolic age began to catch up with his calendar age, his personal participation in these anniversaries became progressively less--how shall we say?-- participatory.

Until he reached 70 or so, they could still enjoy a night of love, albeit with rather less vigor and vitality than in times past. And even when the libido began to wane, despite the latest generation of genetically-enhanced aphrodisiacs, Tithonus could catch up on all the latest news. Indeed, it was no small feat to compress several thousand years of history into a few hours of lucidity.

But as the signs of senile dementia began to show, even these pleasantries became a trifle one-sided.

On this anniversary, the difference between his waking state and suspended animation was, as it were, a matter of Scholastic refinement.

After blowing out the candles, Aurora put his cake in a blender, poured it out into a tumbler, and stuck a straw in is mouth so that Tithonus could suck on the layer cake in its reconstituted form--or formlessness, as the case may be.

Due to the technical perfection of digitized match-mating, Nullifidian marriages were ordinarily monogamous and indissoluble. But due to the mechanical mishap in their particular case, Aurora was granted a special dispensation to consummate a bigamous union.

Out of tact for her first husband, she, of course, contracted this arrangement without his knowledge--which, in any event, presented no great obstacle.

Yet that did not solve all her problems, for under Nullifidian law, a couple’s property was held in common, and could not be debited or disposed of without the mutual consent of both parties. Since Nullifidians were normally in the pink of health, there was no provision in law for the power-of-attorney in case of diminished responsibility or mental impairment--which, at the metabolic age of 120, was sadly descriptive of her husband’s condition.

And in this matter, a special dispensation was out of the question, for while the Privy Council of Asteron could be lenient in matters of the heart, yet no such indulgence was permissible in matters of the purse. Why, once you began to meddle with hereditary prerogatives, you might as well be a lowborn Solafidian!

It isn’t that Aurora was by any means destitute. Her second marriage sustained the lifestyle to which she was accustomed by birth and breeding.

Indeed, Nullifidian society was an egalitarian aristocracy. Everyone was rich, and, what was worse--everyone was equally rich! A graduated income tax redistributed the wealth to forestall any unstable class envy between the merely rich and the filthy rich.

But that was just the problem. A nobleman among noblemen was no better than a pauper among paupers. The whole point of social class is to be a cut above. And this worked out well enough when Nullifidians were living and ruling on the blue planet. But when the entirety of the upper crust were packed off to Asteron, there was no longer anyone to look down upon, and I needn’t tell the reader how depressing that could be. Even the very latest generation of psychoactive drugs had been unable to lift the general malaise.

And here was her drooling paramour, astride a tax-exempt pot of gold! If only she could tap into that dormant account, plush with well-nigh 35,000 years of compound interest, she would become the instant queen, nay, the empress, of high society!

Nor must we attribute this deliberation to low motives of greed. Her motives, in her own mind, at least, were as pure as fresh fallen snow. For this would be a restoration of the grand old order, before the Nullifidians were banished to Asteron. A dash of class envy would give the dispirited masses of the idle rich something to live for. Should we wear emeralds or rubies to the ball?

Strictly speaking, the immortals were not essentially deathless. Although they could not die of natural causes or terminal illness, yet even immortals could die in a tragic accident. And in that sad eventuality, the surviving spouse would inherit the estate.

The question, then, was whether his stasis chamber could be adjusted to precipitate an unfortunate accident. This would not be murder, not at least to her high-minded way of thinking. Nay, this would be for the common good. The rights of the many outweighed the rights of the few, or the one.

True, she would be the immediate beneficiary of his princely estate, yet she was but a tool of destiny, consecrated to a solitary and sacrificial destiny. If wealth beyond imagining was the price she must pay to liberate her people from their affluent ennui, then she was prepared to bear the aweful cost alone.

No doubt the estate tax was an onerous affair, but with that kind of money to spread around--a bribe here, a kickback there--the tax rate could be modified upwards--considerably upwards!

These solemn thoughts passed through her head as Tithonus was slurping up his layer cake, in little starts and gurgles, quite oblivious to his signal role in the great scheme of things. What better way to honor her husband? If he could speak, this is what he would want. It would be a mercy to all concerned. Indeed, she was startled by the moral clarity of her vision.

The next question was how she should arrange the accident to make it look--well, to make it look--accidental. Gazing at Tithonus, a flash of inspiration seized her. Suppose she sort of spilled his liquid cake on the controls? If this shorted out the unit, then he would pine away quietly in the night. Yes, there would be an official investigation, but as long as it appeared to be an innocent accident, no charges would be pressed.

She removed the tumbler from his fist, shut the lid, then tipped the tumbler the to one side. The contents spilled out, pouring over the side until they reached the controls. The liquid began to bubble and burn and smell, while the control panel began to sputter and smoke and spark.

In the morning, her second husband came into the bedroom. Aurora and Tithonus had had 24 hours alone, to celebrate their private anniversary.

But on the floor, in a pool of lumpy goo, lay his prostrate wife. Evidently, Aurora was so entranced by the short-circuitry that she failed to notice the slop trickling and dripping onto the floor below, and spreading all around her slippers. When she took a step back, the wet floor conducted the electrical current, shocking her senseless.

After a week, in the hospital, Aurora was released. Although she had escaped electrocution, yet a battery of body scans diagnosed some physical anomalies, the significance of which the medical team was unable to explain.

At first no one took notice, but after a few years the terrible truth was evident to all--gray hair, crow's-feet, and other such blemishes too dreadful to name. She underwent another battery of body scans. Apparently the electric shock had left her immortal, but no longer ageless. Since nothing could be done to reverse or even arrest the aging process, Aurora and her second husband agreed to have her put into stasis for 365 days a year, and reanimated once a year on the day of their anniversary, so that she'd only age at a rate of one day per annum.

Her stasis chamber was set alongside Tithonus who, thanks to an emergency back-up system, had survived the "accident" unharmed.

This arrangement worked out admirably enough for the first few millennia, but as her metabolic age began to catch up with her calendar age, her personal participation in these anniversaries became progressively less--how shall we say?--participatory.

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