He could do it.

One death, to prevent millions of deaths.

He was, of course, familiar with all the time travel yarns. The intrepid traveler always went back in time to kill a destined tyrant while he was still a harmless student...or better yet, to prevent his birth. Or maybe he went back to foil a plot to assassinate a revered leader, or prevent the assassin's birth.

And the traveler always failed, because the web of history was too complex. If a culture was ripe for the rise of a tyrant, the removal of one candidate for the role would make way for another. If a public figure was controversial enough and security lax enough that one assassin could have killed him, another would probably be waiting in the wings. If not, the leader would prove the thwarted assassin had been right about him by morphing into a tyrant.

That was fiction.

This was different. This one death would occur at an early enough date to assure preventing the nightmare future.

Unfortunately, it had to be a death. He'd sought to prevent the birth, could have prevented it. But he'd made the mistake of getting to know the woman. And she was so nice, wanted a child so desperately, that he'd let himself be swayed by sentiment.

He couldn't let that happen again.

One death, to prevent millions of deaths.

One death that would also prevent millions of births.

This execution--no, he told himself, this sacrifice--would eliminate an entire people, the luckless youth's descendants.

A people who would never be oppressed, victimized, slaughtered in inconceivable numbers.

A people who would never retaliate for those atrocities by striking out blindly, trying to destroy another people who'd done nothing to harm them.

A people who would never bring humanity to the edge of nuclear extinction.

He could do it. Almost too easily. He didn't even have to do it himself. He'd already ordered the execution--sacrifice, sacrifice! Just don't rescind the order...

But then he made the mistake of looking at them. Of gazing down at the two pairs of eyes turned heavenward.

Two pairs of eyes that streamed with tears. Man and boy, father and son. Both innocent, both trusting, both terrified yet foolishly ready to accede to his will.

He couldn't do it. The future would have to fend for itself.

The god Yahweh gave a mighty sigh, and the exhaled breath sent his thought winging into the man's mind. "Abraham, Abraham! Lay not thy hand upon the boy..."

(The End)