Another evening spent on the beach, contemplating life and time and other heady issues. The light from the thousands of stars in my view has travelled hundreds or thousands or millions of years, each photon locked in its timelessness until perishing just at the moment of its becoming, as it is transformed by my retina into information that that star did once live. The moon looks down upon me as it has upon countless others, perhaps wondering why I am alone when it is staying up late to set this romantic stage once again.

It is a beautiful night, just like thousands of others I've participated in, and yet different. A palm frond has recently fallen from a tree down the beach a ways, and perhaps the gentle breeze has never come from exactly that direction before. Like other experiences in our lives, is not every moonlit evening on the beach worth cherishing? What if I'd not had them all? I saw plenty in my first century — what if I'd not gotten any more?

When I was born, people could live full lives in their seventy or eighty or hundred years on Earth. Not to say they didn't want more, of course; that had been a racial constant since prehistory when our ancestors scrabbled out a twenty-five year span if they were lucky. Were their lives any less full when they were always in sight of the end of them? On the other hand, what if da Vinci had had millennia to draw ever more fanciful machines, or Newton lived to share a chalkboard with Einstein and Planck? (Come to think of it, that might not have been so great. Could even his genius reconcile itself with the complete havoc those gentlemen wreaked upon his worldview?)

Of course, the answer to such questions has always seemed so obvious. Starting with Galen, then Harvey and Pasteur, and increasing exponentially, we have looked to medical science to lengthen our lot. Our reason considered the benefits of culture and society and deep thinking, while our hindbrains saw the benefits of continuing to breathe. Back when it was theoretical, people would point out a few possible drawbacks to living forever, but I don't think any would have spurned the opportunity to try (and when the dream was realized, nobody did). I remember the words of the immortal being Lorien in the 20th century science fiction story Babylon 5: You find that even love does not last forever; the shortlived have the luxury of imagining that it does. We haven't come anywhere near the million year mark like he had, so we may still be ensconced in our delusions, but so far we've confirmed that the love of soulmates can last for hundreds of years, anyway — not to say that the occasional separation of a few years isn't welcome, and even beneficial.

After we found out how to live forever, the focus of our science changed as we devoted more efforts to philosophy and living in peace and less to playing with leptons and bosons. It was the combination of both that led us to discover actual proof that we humans possess souls that outlast our mortal coil. While we still don't know for sure what happens to them, which did allow some ancient arguments to endure, and even gave near-forgotten ones new vitality, it did bring comfort to most. Everyone saw the irony that that assurance had to wait to be discovered until we had, for the most part, stopped dying. We all congratulated ourselves on the discovery, and settled into a smug complacency regarding our uniqueness in the universe. A few peoples' egos had a problem when it was discovered that swallows (the African kind) had souls also. Some old mystics had an even harder time accepting that dolphins didn't, after we'd surveyed them all and found that we and the swallows were the only species so blessed.

It seemed that the stage was set for us to enjoy our eternal reward right here on Earth. What else could there be after such a revolution?

Whereas the team that had proved our souls had been hailed as heroes, Dr. Saied Razi's reception on his grim announcement nine years ago had been more akin to — well, less polite than we've become accustomed to. He probably foresaw that, which is why he quietly had his findings corroborated separately, in private, before going public. Humanity was faced with its biggest ethical quandary ever after we absorbed the shock of learning that our souls began "leaking" after about the age of four hundred. Was this vindication of those, long ago, that believed that man was not supposed to live so long? And the problem now is: what do we do about it? Nobody knows what happens to them, just that by the time a person gets to about eight hundred, and probably not later than fifteen hundred according to the extrapolations, his soul would be completely gone. No theologian thought it reasonable that people might be "gradually" going to heaven, and the only alternative seems to be that the soulless have lost their key to the afterlife. If we have, in fact, gone too far in messing with God's plan, then it seems we must quit ourselves of the longevity we'd spent millennia searching for.

Thanks to the reputation I'd gained over the last two centuries following the publication of my writings and poetry about the nature of life, the human race has come to me for the answer. If I give the word, we will once again become a race of children watching their parents die; a race that will probably never again see thinkers like de Fornier or Ikurasawa.

By the light of the full moon, I walk up the sand to the stone steps and up to the house at the edge of the cliff. The lights are all out so I proceed quietly to the bedroom and sit on the edge of the bureau, where I can indulge in the simple pleasure of watching Edward sleep.

I'd thought I was so lucky to have just missed the last generation of men who had to constantly worry about how much time they had to share with their mahal — and I am. But it's turned out to be yet another example of TANSTAAFL. I got into bed carefully so as not to wake him, and felt him turn to face me as I stroked his hair. I took his hand in mine, the warmth clicking somewhere deep in my animal brain and, as it filtered up to my consciousness, getting translated into the pure contentment I'd been blessed with for these past few centuries, that I'd never found with anyone else. I hadn't thought I could possibly appreciate these times with Edward any more than I'd come to, but these past few days, in the potential shadow of the ancient fear of the unknown returning to us all, I find that I can after all.

I listen to the rhythm of his quiet breathing, and smile as I always do when I notice that, in the seconds since coming to bed, mine has come into synchrony with it. But the smile is accompanied by a slight furrow of the brow as I wonder how many more breaths, how many more heartbeats, remain in our duet.

While the long term consequences of my decision will affect generations yet to come, there is also the question of the people living now. Edward and I are presumably just beginning the slide into spiritual oblivion, though we have a long way to go. Are we to end our lives while we're still assured of Heaven? Yet would that very act deny it to us? Thinking of the high Noumenal Compatibility Quotient we'd received long after he'd declared us soulmates (we'd taken the test more as a curiosity rather than from any doubts), I could visualize it slowly decaying as we continued on. Wouldn't allowing that to happen be the far greater transgression against our Creator?

It is the privilege of mankind to take pleasure in the love of another; are not decisions such as I've been asked to make, properly the bailiwick of the gods?

It's going to be another long night.

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