I was taking in my room (I almost wrote "surveyed" but that seems preposterous, given the circumstances) when a blur appeared in the air then settled into a faceless smile before I could say anything witty.
— You gotta be kidding me!
— Hello again, Byron Eldritch Clamorgan, a furry voice said, literally out of the dark blue. I'm glad you made it to the Haniwa.
A cat's face had materialized around the grin.
— Why shouldn't I.. Oh, yes: the hazards.
— There was a pretty fair chance for the U-SpaceShuttle to fail, somehow.
— Well I was aware of it, wasn't I? Besides, what would you have done about it?
The whole cat was there now, floating in the air.
— Nothing, I confess, he said, kind of loosing his smile but not. At the very least, I would have recorded your last words.
— Ha! You're a riot. Artificial and intelligent, maybe, but not bright. In case of explosion, my last words would have amounted to a mere syllable. If that. Come on, Murphy.. What do you want?
— Nothing in particular. See if you're well put up.
— You don't have to speak with me to see that. Spill the beans, now: what do you have to say?
— Well (he had sat himself in an invisible lounge chair - a negative image of it), the Launch date has been set.
— Oh.. When?
— 31st of July.
— That's.. seven days from now? I'm a bit.. space-lagged.
— Six and a third, technically speaking.
— Yeah, yeah. So there was a launching window, eh?
— Of course. And the next favorable one opens in almost a year.
— So it was an emergency, after all. I was right.
— You were indeed. Given the political global situation, waiting too long would have put the whole project in jeopardy.
I chose to remain silent for a while. For transition's sake.
— Murph? Is Sophie Mars-Whatever on board?
— She is. Do you want to see a portrait of her, or contact her through H2O right away?
— No! I mean: no, thanks.
— You're very welcome. I have another news to tell you.
— Why do I think it's not a glamourous one?
— It could be, depending on what you make of it.
— OK, shoot.
— Someone has proposed a contest of sorts. The first of its kind in the history of the Haniwa.
— Not counting the selection process, of course.
— That goes without saying. This one has a more artistic edge.
— Did you hesitate a bit before saying "artistic"?
— ..No, I haven't.
— But you have now. You have to work on your humour routines; they're not perfect.
— Practice makes perfect.
— Make your own proverbs, please. That'll help you getting interesting friends. Now, what do we, happy contenders, have to do?
— Find a nice slogan for the whole project.
— A slogan? You call that.. artistic?
— Is it not?
— Murph'.. there was a time not so long ago when advertisement was not considered an art form. It's still not the case, in my book. All ads are moral and mental pollution, as far as I'm concerned, and a century and a half of industrial communications has made humankind pliable to any empty message and more gullible than it ever was since the dawn of time.
— I'll bear that in mind, so to speak. Well, let's say it's a motto contest.
— Can't say I'm too thrilled. What's to be gained?
— A undivulged privilege.
— Get outta here!
— All right!
The cat vanishes. Literally. For Fox's sake.
— Murph! What do you..? Come back! It's an idiom.
She's back again, under the shape of grumpy cat.
— An idiom? he says. I must have missed the tone of your voice.
— Forget it. Let's go back to this undivulged privilege affair. What kind of moron could have such a blithe idea? Forget it: I don't want to know. I sure don't want to do it.
— So I have to unsubscribe you, I take it?
— Was I? I was considered as subscribed by defect? Murph, listen to me: let's strike a deal, right now and forever. Don't. Take. Decisions. In. My. Stead.
— Even if your life is at stake?
Does this thing ever stop thinking and annoying people? Of course not: it's a serial machine, designed for this very task.
— OK; you win this one and only round: save my life if and when it is in concrete and immediate jeopardy. Deal?
— Deal.. Oh, you've got an appointment.
— Where? When? With whom?
Shit! My impatience just showed.
— I knew you'd be glad. With Alice and someone else. At the BrandNew Cantina, block YB-16. In seventeen minutes.
— Cool. Where's that?
— I can come along with you, or enlighten the way on your I-lenses as you go.
— Let's do that. But please don't talk. And make yourself scarce when I get there.
You know this story about not thinking about a monkey? Well, I'm not even out of my habitat when my brain starts mulling over this damned contest.
Aliens, outta my space!
Aliens, we'll alienate you!
We can read your DNA all right.
Your DNA is ours.
We spread in EVERY direction and EVERY dimension.
We don't break for Black Holes.
Our liberation speed is better than c.
Well.. is that brilliant? These all sound pretty much like bumper metaphysics. Time to meet Alice and consorts. Time for my first rendez-vous aboard the Haniwa.
My first date?