I knew it, and then I didn't want to know. Since the day I'd received that application form, I couldn't prevent myself from looking into my mailbox every bloody morning. I don't know what's worse: that it turned into a habit in less than a week time, or that I felt like taking up a habit for something I had never done before. Anyway, I soon found out that habit breaking can also be a chore. And to be blunt with myself, I had nothing else to do.
After three weeks of waiting for a reply (even a negative, deprecative and depressive one), I began to drift on the dark and soft-bellied side of procrastination. On the First of May, I decided not to "work" and stayed in bed. I needed my ratio of dreaming. The situation of would-be space-explorers is an odd one : we are about to accomplish one of the biggest, deepest, wildest dreams ever dreamt by human beings since they realised that the Moon is another planet. Therefore, what could we dream of that could be better ? As a consequence, I was living through a dream-drought, sort of. I needed a new hope, something that went beyond the beyond.
And on that particular morning, something strange happened.
— All right, get up.
Suddenly, there was this voice coming out of the blue. I mean : the dark spacey blue of my paperwall. It woke me up, or so I assumed. The voice (as it should) came out of a human larynx, which was (as it should) set in a human neck. And above this neck, there was a human face. That of a little girl. The rest of her body was invisible, due to lack of light.. or substance.
— Who the heck are you? What are you doing in my house?
OK, I was doing a pretty bad job as a PR of myself, I know. But then, try to look virile and competent and self-confident when you're blatantly shirking on a Sunday morning, stark-naked under the sheet, in front of a ten-year-old girl who just appeared from Nowhere. The simple truth is that she had scared the living daylights out of me.
Is the little girl a pretty girl? she asked in a not-so-disneyish voice.
— What? I cried. Are you.. out of your mind or something? Where are your parents?
— Here and there, she replied.
This gave me a mother of all shudders (to think). I didn't need a degree in deviant psychology to know that this phrase was reeking of double-entendre.
— I will repeat myself once and final time: Who. Are. You?
— I'm Murphy. And I'm a three-dimensional LAZ-air application.
I stopped in my tracks. That rang a bell, although not a loud one.
— What do you mean, "Murphy"? As in Interstellar, the 2010's flatty?
— My very existence was inspired by this movie.
— Well.. that's a bit.. cavalier, don't you think? I don't know which Company pays for this kind of scary advertisement, but I want my money back.
— You can't, as you're not the one who paid for it. And if I may be so bold: you're so strange.
— Yeah, well, you may be right, but you're some strange piece of oddity, too.
— You are so stalling, Eldritch Byron Clamorgan.
— Of course, you happen to know my name. Why am I not surprised?
— I am an application linked to a 500-petabytes database. I know everything about you, bar your dreams.
That sounded like the last straw. I almost got out of my bed. Why should I care being naked in front of a 3D projection? I grabbed the sheet, ordered my muscles to move.. and then nothing. I could't do it. Fucked by education. I stalled again.
— If you're not a frecking ad, what are you?
— I'm here to guide you during your transfer.
— Transfer! Where? What for? I've got no job to attend.
— To ISS HANIWA.
My mind drew a perfect blank. Or did something along this line. It hit a wall, an built-in understanding-barrier. It stopped virtually, physiologically and neurologically. I don't know how long I stayed there, still-lifed, shocked and in awe. I could see her virtual lips moving, though.
— Sorry. What were you saying?
— You are entitled to thirty kilograms of personal belongings in a half-cubic meter volume. We are sorry but this is due to shuttle capacity, not the Haniwa itself, where there will be plenty of space.
— I've been selected.
— You have indeed.
I was sweating and chilling at the same time. Bad for my health, that.
— It's true, then! I blurted.
— What is true, Eldritch? she asked.
— The project. The whole shenanigan! It's true. The Haniwa exists and it's leaving the Earth.
She just smiled and I was grateful for this. I felt an urge to get up, which I did, draping myself in my sheet, wondering why I hadn't thought of this before. Too theatrical, maybe. I must have looked like some sort of Roman senator. She didn't care. I was turning about myself, going nowhere.
— Thirty kilos? What does that mean? I have to sum up my whole life in thirty kilos! That'll never be enough.
— Things special to you will suffice. Clothes and professional tools will be provided on board.
— That figures. And I guess your monstrous databases are reeking with cultural works?
— That goes without saying. Before you ask, we even have 3D-files of famous sculptures; these will be reconstructed later, out of materials found in outer space. Can you imagine Michelangelo's David entirely laser-shaped in a meteorite made of..
— How much time do I have?
— A whole week, she replied, apparently undisturbed by my cutting her up. But not much more. There's a NASA shuttle leaving Cape Canaveral in nine days.
— The launching window, eh? It was no rumor.
— It was not.
She wouldn't say more, I was sure of that. I began to mentally process my stuff. What could I.. must I take with me? I couldn't think of anything valuable. Then the answer came out of my mouth.
— Nothing. I'll take nothing. My knowledge is in my head. And that will do.
— It is good, she said. But there are greater goods.
— Such as?
— Feelings. We cant' record them.
I thought about this for a while. Then said:
— If you were human, you would have put a question mark at the end of the word 'feelings'. Or added 'yet' after 'we can't record them'.
She did'nt reply, which would have cost her a lot of points during a Voight-Kampf test. Which led me to think of something unrelated.
— Why do I feel an unexplained.. affection toward you?
— Because my looks were inferred from your DNA by a reconstructive software.
— My DNA? You mean that you have a.. a plausible DNA?
— Yes, although I'm not physical. Yet? This step is still undergoing experimentation.
— I'll bet it is.. Hey, wait a minute! If you have a plausible DNA, it means that half you chromosomes come from someone else than me. Who else's?
— Sophie Mars-Nansen's.
I had been so certain she would name an ex-girlfriend of mine that I missed my cue. A few seconds passed.
— Sophie Mars? Who the heck is that? A kind of loony?
— A random choice among a database of volunteers.
— Random? Whoa, I'm an engineer in game theories and quantic computers. So I know what random means from a computer point of view. Don't..
— I meant that the choice has been made by a human being.
Silence was quickly becoming my next virtue.
— OK. Murphy or whatever: your skill at cutting someone's ground under their feet is apparently perfect, but..
— I am sorry to hear this.
— Never mind. What I want to say is that if your virtual DNA is based on mine, that makes you..
— The daughter you never had.
I gasped for air.
— That's the most demented idea I ever..
— You are distraught. Would you like me to change my appearance?
— Yeah! Like: right now.
I didn't want to watch her.. it, while it was morphing or whatever. I turned about face and had a long look around at my place.
— I am really sorry if I..
— Shut up, now, I cried. Don't talk. Please. Don't even apologize. You're not human, ok? So I don't have to forgive you. Just.. shut up and wait.
It was a robot, after all. It complied.
It took me a whole minute to gather my thoughts and stop my teeth-grinding.
— Listen, er.. Murphy or whatever. There's nothing I want to take with me. I'm sure of it, now. Is this not supposed to be the whole point? Begin again and all that? You can reply, now.
— Philosophically, yes, I heard it say in my back. Practically, though, people work better with their own usual tools and paraphernalia.
— I'll take nothing anyway. Suits me. Is there another shuttle leaving earlier than next week?
— There is one in three days, from Kuru, French Guyana.
— I'll take this one.
— What if it's already booked up?
— I'll fold myself in the hold or somebody's luggage.
— I've checked. Someone canceled twelve minutes ago. I gave you his place.
— Right. I'll be ready in five minutes.
I started going to the bathroom. Stopped at the door.
— Can I ask you a question?
I almost said "a personal question".
— Of course. I'm here for this.
— Are my parents behind all this?
— They already are responsible for your existence. If I may be so bold, would an answer make any difference to you in the present circumstances?
No, I thought so hard that even it must have got that. But then I slammed the door behind me. I was not ready yet to lose face in front of a freaking software. Facing a mirror was more in my line of business.
I was feeling terrible and odd at the same time! Elated? Yes. Terrorised? Of course. I could have torn the house down with my bare hands, for no reason. The tip of my fingers were kind of pulsating. Was it my DNA itching?
After a long shower that kept screaming at me "I'm the last real shower you'll ever take", I dressed, using only convenient clothes, ones with lots of pockets, zips, and a neck-protecting collar hard as carboard.
— I'm ready now, I said to the CGI3D entity.
It had changed its looks to a non-descript nurse-cum-stewardess, blurry on the edge. It was even subtly non sexual.
— Can I ask you a question? it said.
— Mmh? Yeah. Sorry about my bout, earlier. You don't need my approval to talk, now. Go on.
— Thank you. Have you made up your mind about what to do with your family's house?
— What? I.. No. Is there a social program, to take care of this? I'd like the house to go to people who need it. A family of three would be ok. It's been designed for this.
— I am sure it will suit someone. Do you want to be involved in the operation?
— Beside signing the papers, no.. You thought of everything, didn't you?
— A lot of people had a lot of years to work on the whole project.
— And a lot of money, I guess..
— Things being what they are on this world, it wouldn't have been possible without money. I thought you were ready?
— I am, Cerberus. Where do I leave the keys?
— In the mailbox; someone from the social program is already en route to take over and assess the house. Would you rather wait for them?
— No need. I imagine you've called a cab for me?
— Was I wrong to?
— Of course not. Let's go.
Which was a stupid thing to say as there was no other body to move out than mine. At the last moment, I couldn't prevent myself from taking a little token: a notebook that had been sitting on the lobby table for the last six months, maybe more. A moleskine one with a tiny crayon attached on a string, the whole thing smaller than my palm. I put it in one of my pockets. Couldn't say if my Avatar saw me doing it. Didn't care, for sure.
What is it with us, human beings? Will we ever be able to let go of everything? OK, that means becoming buddhists to the core and all, which I'm clearly not. I don't care for religions as a general rule; I'm not about to fall for one that pretends to be a philosophy in order to lure clever people. But then what? Was I forcing myself to feel dispossessed?
The cab was waiting along the kerb. The Avatar did not follow me outside. There was not enough implements to project it there. It caught up with me in the car, though.
— Where do I go? asked the cabbie.
— Thought you'd already know, I replied, a bit too flippant.
— Airport, said the Avatar, which startled the cabbie. We have to make the 1:30 p.m. flight to Acapulco.
— Holidays? the guy asked, with an eerie look toward Avatar.
— Sort of, I said. Eternal ones.
While the driver was doing a three-point turn, I said to the Avatar.
— Could you do something about your looks again, please? Like, be more human than this..
— Of course. Please indulge me with a few indications and I'll figure out something. Literally.
— You have a humour routine? Could you lower its level, then?
— I'm afraid this aspect is not linked to my programming.
— What could it be, then?
— A personality trait?
I couldn't believe it.
— Am I dreaming or you did put an interrogation mark, this time?
— I'm glad you noticed, as I was not sure it would work. You learned me that trick.
— Yes, yes, it worked. The heck it worked! You looked more human for.. a second.
— Thank you, Dr Clamorgan. I'm still waiting for your guiding indications.
— Oh. Well, I don't know. Who do I want you to be? Someone to travel with. A woman, I guess; but not a girl. Sexy.. Maybe not. Er.. Youngish, but.. Why does it matter, after all, you can do whatever you..
That's when I realized I hadn't had a last look at the house, before it was out of sight. And I was the one who triggered myself into this. Not the Avatar. I was going away to the end of this world, taking my subconscious away with me, and it really weighed more than thirty kilos. Thirty tons, more like.
— Forget it, I blurted. Leave it to my would-be daughter. Or should I say "would-have-been"?
The Avatar slowly changed back to "her". Murphy. I could see in the rearview mirror that the driver was overtly focused on his task, now. On my part, I was endeavoring to avoid thinking that, if I had had a daughter, I would have wanted to call her Murphy. And no living (carbon or silicium-based) soul could know that.
At the airport, everything went smooth. Too smooth to be true. I wondered who were greasing the cogs, here; in any case, they were doing a great job. I didn't care, as I could as well have waited eons for this trip.
Murphy chose to vanish when I boarded the plane. She told me it was to avoid distracting the regular passengers. I needed to think anyway. And to help with this, I tried to write something in the notebook. Any thing. Farewell to Earth, kind of. And what's above came out.
It took me the best part of the five-hour flight to write this down. My wrist aches now. My fingers are numb. I even have a blister on the inside of the medius! But I feel good! I feel better as any time since.. seventeen years.
In Acapulco, we're bound to take a helicopter to Kuru, then one of the Project's shuttles to L3-point. Don't think I'll be able to write in any of these vessels. How do you press on a paper-sheet with a crayon in zero-gravity? Don't think that's possible. Must buy special pen at the duty-free.
There are nine other people aboard the Shuttle. The pilots didn't talk to us, apart from safety rules.
We'll survive, at least till the moment we see the HANIWA.