In the end, it got a bit tedious, queuing to see the millionaire. As befitted our colour, marshals waved us through the outer gates into the court of preliminary investigation; but here we waited for some hours with perhaps a thousand others until, eventually, there were checks on the authenticity of our displays; and then more serious enquiries into records. In eight of our group a deficiency was revealed. Our number fell to twelve.
After that it was the whole day progressing along an upward-spiralling ramp, rehearsing answers to hypothetical questions, eyeing each other until we reached the first level platform and presented ourselves.
"You have been informed," said the evaluator, "that only one qualifies here. I decide who".
Tests continued throughout the night; but I experienced no difficulty in producing correct responses. As the sun rose, the other eleven of my group were on the downward ramp, while I rejoined the slow onward climb.
It was not easy to avoid contact with those around me, who - also sole survivors of their groups - attempted to find out in disingenuous conversation what level of competition they now faced. I feigned an auditory defect and gave short, bizarre, answers. I was soon left to myself.
The second level was reached, once again, some time towards evening. Here the questioning was more indeterminate, designed to pick up motivational anomalies, signs of ambivalence.
But my preparations were adequate. The reasons for wishing to observe the millionaire were seen to reflect an inherent temporal sense, developed to a keen historical perspective. My experience would have novelty.
And so I rose to the third and final level. The thousands which had presented themselves at the outer gate had been winnowed down to some twenty - the maximum permitted at any one time - being those most likely to pass on something of value. It was possible, indeed, that we might be the last. The existence of the millionaire was after all a statistical improbability, and one which grew steadily more improbable as the years passed.
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We passed through various final security screens; but, again, my preparations proved faultless. A chain of locks took us up a gentle pressure gradient and into a hall where the millionaire's chamber hung suspended in an intricate maze of conduits. We began the last stage of the journey: a spiral ramp leading to the viewing platform. I made myself ready.
Looking down at the millionaire in its envelope of support machinery, I found it difficult to believe that such a misshapen, pallid being was of any cosmic significance. Yet its race had at one time dominated our space, not through force, but through the irresistible spread of its freely-shared technologies and cultures.
And now, here was the last of them. The natural ageing of the species had at some point deprived it of fertility; but its biology had been engineered to give each individual effective immortality.
Yet, in the end, they could not defeat the grindstone of time. Accident, conflict, the wear-and-tear of existence had whittled the numbers down: from trillions to billions, and then to millions; from millions to thousands, hundreds, tens; and at last to one, who, according to the records, was over a million years old. The millionaire.
My moment had come. Reciting the codes, I focused energies on the being below, and watched as the radiance flowed from its body, turning the liquids in the surrounding tubes to vapour, the metals and synthetics to liquid. Attendants reached out for me; but it was over. The light below ended as suddenly as it had come, leaving only black dust.
So died the last of the human beings. A thousand civilisations, smothered in infancy by human benevolence, had been avenged.
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