Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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Soigné Voyage

by George Schaade




The Soigné Voyage was the most extravagant spaceliner to travel the galaxy. Eight hundred meters long with three thousand luxury compartments and powered by four gigantic nuclear engines, the ship sailed gracefully into and out of hyperspace. The spacecraft's imposing size was dwarfed only by the notability of its passengers. Titans of industry, renowned writers and artists, heads of state, distinguished members of academia. It was where the old money opulent met the nouveau riche; and they all clamored for passage on the Soigné Voyage. When these elite ventured from their plush staterooms, they could sample the cuisine of a hundred restaurants, browse a variety of posh shops, attend preeminent theatre and opera productions, pamper their bodies at spas, or just lose themselves in the stars while lounging on the observation deck. Thousands of crewmembers and aides worked constantly to indulge every whim of the ship's passengers. No request was too much for the privileged few that sailed on the Soigné Voyage.

Fifty years ago the idyllic existence on the spaceliner came to an abrupt end. Just as the ship emerged from hyperspace near the Vega star, a series of explosions in the engines rocked the Soigné Voyage and atomized a third of the spacecraft. It was only a flicker of light in the infinite silence of space but it touched off an explosion of controversy and mystery that has haunted the galaxy to this day. Nine hundred twenty-three killed in an instant; many of them with names and reputations that will be remembered throughout history, but one stands out more than all the rest, a man without a reputation and without a name.

He was tall and slender with blonde hair and a strong chin. His green eyes were frozen in a stare that some have described as compassionate and understanding. Clasped tightly in his hand was a heart-shaped pendant engraved with the words "Maximum Love", a popular phrase fifty years ago that reflected one's love for another. Max, as he came to be called, was found frozen in the mangled wreckage of the Soigné Voyage tail section. Somehow his body survived the explosion and the sudden vacuum of space and was perfectly preserved by the icy cold.

The other victims were quickly identified but not Max. He wasn't on the passenger list; he wasn't a member of the crew. He had no identification papers, his clothes gave no clues, and no one came forward to claim his body; even his DNA was of no help. Max was a total mystery.

Today the body of the Soigné Voyage mystery man stands in suspended animation in the central rotunda of the Rabal Vega Museum. Along with many other objects salvaged from the disaster, Max is seen by hundreds of people each day. They file past him and ponder his calm expression, his enigmatic eyes, and the love pendant he clutches in his hand. Who was he? Where did he come from? How did he get on the ship? And who was his "Maximum Love?"


* * *

"Well, what do you think?" Tara leaned back in her chair and wrapped her hands around her cup of tea. Her long dark hair fell far past her shoulders, while shorter strands framed her olive-colored face. As she sipped from her cup, Tara's almond eyes stayed focused on the man across from her.

Geoff put the electronic pad on her desk and said, "It's a great intro of the show. We can start with some file footage of the ship traveling past the stars; then switch to some of the big wigs using the luxuries inside. I'll get the graphics department to come up with a special effects shot of the Soigné Voyage emerging from space and exploding."

Tara nodded in approval. Geoff wasn't the best holo director, but Tara was too new in the business to be picky. None of this mattered to her because she already knew this was going to be a sensational holo show.

"Then I see you walking through the museum," continued Geoff, "with artifacts from the ship all around you. The camera follows you into the rotunda, focuses on Max, and zooms in on his face."

"Sounds good," said Tara. She spun in her chair and poured herself some more tea. "When you pick me up in the museum, I should be continuing the opening narration."

Geoff shrugged. "Sure. But there is something about the intro that I don't get. It seems to be focusing on Max. I thought this was supposed to be about the fiftieth anniversary of the Soigné Voyage disaster."

Tara leaned forward onto her desk and gave a wry smile. "What if I told you that this story is going to be bigger than the disaster?"

"What do you mean?" Geoff was intrigued.

Tara rested on her elbows and lowered her voice a click. "I know who Max is."

"What?" Geoff exclaimed. "Who? How?"

Tara popped up and quickly went to the other side of the desk where she could be closer to Geoff. There was a sparkle of excitement in her eyes.

"Well, I don't exactly know who he is yet, but I will after tomorrow."

"Oh, Tara," sighed Geoff. "You didn't get hooked into believing one of those weird theories, did you?"

"No, no." Tara insisted. "Just listen to what happened."

Geoff leaned back in his chair with a skeptical look on his face.

"When the network gave me this assignment, I immediately started doing some research. One of the first things I decided to do was a computer search on Max's DNA."

Geoff chuckled. "That's been done hundreds of times with no results. Besides, back then it wasn't mandatory to register your DNA."

"Twenty-three times," said Tara. "And the last time anyone tried was fourteen years ago. I knew the chances of a match were small."

"More like non-existent," injected the director.

"Just listen, Geoff." Tara slid back onto the top of the desk. "Normally it would take weeks to get access to the DNA Bureau's database but I've got a friend there that was able to sneak me in for a few hours with it. When I looked for a straight match, I came up negative. So I revised the search to check for the closest matches. I thought it might bring up a relative, but nothing."

Geoff gave her an I-told-you-so look.

"Then I expanded the search to include any medical database."

The director's brow furrowed. "Geez, any database? That'd take days."

"No, just three hours. But it was worth it. I got a match."

"You got a DNA match for Max?"

Tara smiled when she saw the excitement on Geoff's face. "No, but I found Max's son." She tossed a long strand of her hair over her shoulder. "It seems that Max's son had a liver cloned and replaced three years ago. The match came from the clinic that did the procedure."

"Well, who is it?"

"Philip Conway, CEO of Quantum Technologies and on the board of dozens of other companies." Tara paused to let Geoff appreciate the size of the story.

"My, God." Geoff blinked a couple of times as it all sank in. "How come no one ever noticed this before?"

Leaning forward, Tara had wild electricity in her eyes and a big smile. "That's where it really gets good. According to the public records, Philip Conway is the son of Colonel Jason Conway and Margaret Hanover-Conway. They were both on the Soigné Voyage. She survived. He didn't. Nine months later Philip was born. I checked the tabloids from the time and it seems Jason and Margaret's marriage was on the rocks. I think Margaret and Max had an affair going. After the birth Margaret used her money and influences to change the DNA records."

Tara stopped for a breath, and then continued her rapid fire account.

"Tomorrow I've got a private interview with Philip Conway. I'll give him the facts and we'll see if he knows who his real father is or not. Either way we've got a story that will rock the galaxy and once I..."

"Wait! Wait!" Geoff interrupted. "Slow down. Let me get this straight." He thought for a moment. "You're saying that fifty years ago Max somehow slipped past security to get on the Soigné Voyage where he had an affair with Margaret Conway right under the nose of her husband. When the explosion took place her husband died, Max was frozen, and she survived to give birth to Philip Conway, one of the most influential men in the universe. Is that right?"

Tara smiled and nodded.

Geoff laughed and said, "This is going to be a hell of a show."


* * *

It took Tara almost an hour to be cleared for her interview with Philip Conway, but once it was done she found herself sitting in a plush chair in a small, elegant study. As Tara surveyed the room, a door opened and a tall, older gentleman entered.

"Good Morning, Miss Powell." Philip Conway crossed to his desk chair and sat opposite Tara. He was impeccably dressed in a very expensive suit and his light brown hair was neatly quaffed.

Tara quickly scanned his features for similarities to Max. Maybe the eyes. Definitely tall. A bit like his nose.

"Morning, Mr. Conway. Thank you for..."

"Please call me Philip." He leaned back in his chair. "I don't give many interviews, Miss Powell, but I must say you're very persistent and persuasive. I decided to do this to ensure that the image of my parents isn't tarnished by misinformation or conjecture."

"I assure you the holo will be done tastefully and with complete respect for your parents and all others involved." Tara took a recorder from her purse and put it on the edge of the desk. "We just want to..."

"That won't work here," interrupted Conway.

"Pardon?"

"The recorder. It won't work in here. This is a null room. I'm afraid you'll have to conduct the interview the old fashion way."

Tara looked around the room. "Oh, uh." She rummaged through her purse and finally found a pad and pen.

"Now, what would you like to know?" asked Conway.

Tara cleared her throat and regained some composure. "Well, to begin with, how did your parents come to be on the flight?"

Conway folded his hands in his lap and stared at them, as he began to recite a story he had given many times before. "My parents had married a few years before, but my father's work had prevented them from having any real time to themselves. So, once he had finished his tour of duty in…" Abruptly, Conway stopped and turned to Tara. "This isn't the kind of questions you wanted to ask, is it?"

Tara was at first taken back but glad to be relieved of the preliminary questions.

"You're right, Mr. Conway. But I'm not sure how to approach the issue."

"Just give me the short version, Miss Powell. You'll be surprised how quickly I can grasp the complex."

Tara took a breath; then got to the point. "I have reason to believe you are the son of Max...from the Soigné Voyage."

Conway didn't blink. "I see. And what makes you think that?"

Tara pulled a copy of the DNA match from her purse and handed it across the desk.

Conway leafed through the pages, focused on one, and sighed. "The liver clone." He frowned. "A silly mistake, but easily fixed."

"Then it's true," said Tara. "And you knew about it."

Conway again leaned back. "Yes. My mother told me all about it a couple of years before she passed away." He turned away from Tara as his thoughts went back in time. "Mother and Max met several months before the Soigné Voyage trip." He paused a moment. "My parents never had a lot of love for each other, probably because Dad was away so much. Max filled that void for my mother."

Tara saw the rich, powerful man immersed in memories, but her own mind was racing with questions.

"Do you know his real name? Who is he?"

"His name is Benjamin Farley. You won't find any records on him. He got rid of them. I don't know much about him myself. I don't think my mother did either. But I do know she loved him very much."

"How could someone with no documentation get on the Soigné Voyage?"

Conway pulled his chair closer to the desk. A small grin appeared at the corner of his mouth.

"You know it's quite refreshing to talk to someone about this. But we're getting into an area that will be very difficult for you to believe."

"Try me, Mr. Conway," said Tara.

"Max... Benjamin... my real father had a special gift--an ability. It was something in his genetic make-up, something he was evidently born with."

Tara was confused. "I don't understand."

Conway became very serious and looked deep into Tara's eyes.

"Max could read people's minds. He could nudge the images in their heads to see what he wanted them to see or get them to do what he wanted them to do. And he could erase memories that he didn't want them to have. That's how he got on the Soigné Voyage."

Tara couldn't find the words to respond. She was stunned. Was this man crazy or was it a clever ruse?

They stared at each other for a long time, and then Conway asked, "Does anyone else know about the connection between Max and me?"

Tara quickly decided it was safer to lie. "No. Just me."

"What about your director Geoff? You didn't tell him yesterday in your office?" There was surprise on Tara's face. "It's all right. Just something else that's easily fixed."

As she looked at Conway, Tara felt herself being drawn deeper into his gaze. Her pen slipped from her fingers but she didn't move. "What?... How?"

Conway smiled broadly. "How? Well, Miss Powell, I am my father's son."


* * *

"Tonight we've looked at the myths, the rumors, the theories, and most importantly, the facts surrounding the ill-fated flight of the Soigné Voyage."

Tara slowly strolled across the marble floor of the Vega Museum.

"We started with questions. What caused the explosion? Who were Max and his 'Maximum Love'? Why did so many die and others live?"

She stopped in the central rotunda and the holo cameras moved in for a close-up.

"We've exposed the fiction and examined the theories, but in the end we're left with the same questions. Questions that intrigue us but will probably never be answered. After fifty years the Soigné Voyage retains its mysteries and it's those secrets that continue to fascinate us."

The holo cameras pan up to the face of Max.

"For History Review, I'm Tara Powell. Good night."

THE END


© 2013 George Schaade

Bio: George Schaade is a retired history teacher living in the Big Thicket forest of East Texas. He's been an avid SF reader since he was first introduced to the genre by Robert Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. Although he occasionally ventures into fantasy or horror, his true passion is writing science fiction for his wife, Cathy, and anyone else that will listen. His publication credits include "Tough Negotiator" published in Anotherealm Magazine Sep. 2012, "Clothes Call" published in Strange Halloween 2012 by Whortleberry Press Sep. 2012, and "No Beginning, No End" published in Strange Lucky Mysteries 5 by Whortleberry Press March 2013 publication. His last Aphelion appearance was "China Express" in September, 2012.

E-mail: George Schaade

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