"Lucien..." began the Secretary, and then hesitated. He began to sigh, and it occurred to him there was much sighing going on in this meeting. The thought forced him to smile momentarily, but also almost turned his sigh into a cough. Quickly, he mentally waved away this frivolous thought, and again turned grave. "Lucien, I know you won't want to hear this...."
The President could think of but one thing he wouldn't want to hear at this point; anyway, only one thing that he might perceive as qualitatively worse than the situation in general. And so he said, "You're right." There was a stern look on his face, but after a moment he allowed himself to sigh, and added, "But carry on, anyway."
"...Of course," said the Secretary, "there's no time for a general referendum on the matter. Besides, such a thing would likely produce no useful results, and anyway might do more harm than good to the public psyche. Yes, it would be nice to let them know that the absolute end they've been dreading may not be quite as absolute as they thought, but it's unlikely to produce much relief in their minds, really. And it's almost certain to produce... more negative results, as well. So the few of us who know of this device's existence thought it best to keep the knowledge from the general public, for their own good. However, there is very little question that someone should make use of this unbelievable opportunity. And so, a vote has been taken."
"Without my knowledge."
"Obviously. But you'll of course have the opportunity to address those who have already debated and voted on the matter. You may even reverse their decision, or simply refuse it. But the choice hasn't been made lightly."
"So, it's you, Lucien. It's got to be you. You're simply the best candidate, bar none. It isn't a matter of your being President. I know you would personally object, because you value other people's lives above your own, but you also know deep down that it's best to do... well, what's best for the majority, whether they would see it that way or not. And I know you would politically object, feeling that, whatever the real reasons for the choice, it might seem you'd been chosen because of your position. But as I said, it isn't because you're President. Besides, if no one knows about this at all, no one can get the wrong impression."
Yet again the President sighed. "So... run down the reasons. I know what you're going to say, but I want to hear it said outside my own head, anyway."
Taking a breath, the Secretary launched into it. "First of all, there is a certain twofold practicality of location. The device exists on your homeworld, and the public would expect you to be there rather than at the Capital, at the end...."
"Common knowledge, that has been my intention always."
"Yes, quite. The other practical aspect I was going to mention is actually pure speculation, but, it's the best guess we've got. Now, you know of course that shortly after the discovery a century ago about the actual nature of the Big Crunch, the flurry of research produced a subsequent discovery about the true nature of the Big Bang. That being that within the space of a few minutes, the Universe would be created in its full-formed state. The rest of time until the next Crunch would merely be expansion. Sure, entropy plays its little small-time game of death and birth of stars, planets, and the like, thoughout the trillions of years of expansion, but that's really of no more consequence than a few hands of Solitaire, in the scheme of things. Life and civilizations will most likely spring up on the initial worlds created by the Bang itself."
"Again, I learned this in grade school. Get to that speculation you were talking about."
"Yes. Well, our guess is that each time the Universe is reborn, it will be very much like every previous Universe. There may be trivial differences here and there, but largely it will be the same."
"So why bother preserving our knowledge, if it's only going to come about again on its own?"
"Physically... the Universe may be the same. Even the sentient races may be the same, but sentience is as you know the greatest wild card in the Universe. Any Universe. Perhaps it is the only true wild card. Hell, with enough knowledge of the laws of physics, even quantum uncertainty can be predicted and compensated for. Psychology, on the other hand, has never been an exact science. Every case is purely anecdotal, and any sentient being, no matter how closely they seem to conform to pre-identified patterns, can make surprising choices. That being the case, there is no reason to believe any civilization will develop on any world, in any Universe, in quite the same way it did before. There will no doubt be similarities, but there should be at least as many differences."
"And I think these new societies should be allowed to develop naturally. Surely you don't want me to guide them, to impose our knowledge or culture on them?"
The Secretary had expected him to say that, had tried to prepare a response, but... while he hadn't had much time, and obviously had more pressing matters on his mind, all the time in the world (disregarding the fact that that was at this point only a month) might not have been enough to come up with an adequate response. So, he was stuck winging it. All he could come up with at this moment was, "I... I don't know. It isn't for anyone to say. It's not a decision that can be made without knowing what things will be like. Only the person who goes through will be able to make such decisions, as they arise."
"And what of... the other? You said there was room for two."
"Yes... well, if you had a wife, I think we'd all expect you to take her. But... you have no one. We can think of no one. If you can... or maybe we could draw lots... Or something. But I really don't know. In fact, some of us believe it might be best for you to be alone. You could find a way to make records of your knowledge, which the new civilization might someday discover, but you yourself could allow our line to die with you. Especially if, as you say, you don't want to influence their natural development."
After a few moments' silence, the President said, "Fine. But now... I don't think you'd gotten to the practical aspect..."
"Yes, that. The thing is, if the next Universe truly is much the same as this one, it stands to reason especially that the device will exist on a world which is, again, much like the one to which you were born. Your race is obviously particularly adapted to such a world, and you'll know how to survive on it."
"Unless things seem the same but are actually different. I might come across what appear to be raspberry bushes, for example, and the berries might look, smell, and taste just like raspberries, but turn out to be poisonous. As I say, but one of countless examples."
"We've considered that. And our only answer is, if such differences turn out to be the case, it must be that you were not meant to survive, to cross over. In which case, what's been lost? You were going to die, anyway."
"I suppose you're right about that."
"Yes. Anyway, those were the two main practical reasons for you being chosen. It being your world, you'd be expected to be there in the end. And you'd be able to survive there in the future, if our guess is correct. Also of course if your race develops there, you would be able to interact with them without undue suspicion or anything... if you so chose. Aside from that... it was important to choose a candidate with extensive knowledge in many fields. Survival, for example, depends on more than knowing which berries to eat. You've had survival training, you can take care of yourself with no prefabricated technology. You can fashion your own simple tools of the raw materials available, and so on. And you understand science... And many other fields. Languages, though I suppose the same ones wouldn't develop unless you introduced them, but at least you'd be equipped to learn whatever language develops, too. You understand sociology, politics, um... first aid... carpentry and architecture, stonework... It's astounding how adept you would be at living in any stage of your people's society, from the earliest times to the modern era. Few people are that versatile. Yes... invention, agriculture... you're a man of many skills. The list goes on, but you know your own life well enough."
The President had to admit, "I do."
"If you want me to make further attempts to convince you of your suitability for the job, let me know. But I think most importantly, you're a good, fair, reasonable man. If anyone deserves this chance, all skills aside, it's you. Your very reluctance to accept the fact plainly demonstrates that."
"Enough. I won't argue. I'll see your little inner circle who've voted me into the next world. I still have my doubts that anyone need avail themselves of the device. But I'll be going home soon, anyway. Until then, you'll have your chance to work on me... I will accept that if anyone goes, it's me. I don't like it, but as you say, I've always known how to do what's best for the majority, even if they don't like it... and even if I don't like it. Your next task is convincing me anyone should go at all. But once I leave for home, your time is over, and I'll be left to contemplate the matter on my own." The President allowed himself a little grin as he added, "None of you, of course, will ever be aware what I choose, in the end..."
With that, the President stood and left the Secretary's office.
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