The last straw ? Can you spot it in the haystack before it has everything capsized ?
Is a blade of grass noticeably different from another ?
Is it a matter of weight ? Density ? Hue ? Texture ? Length ?
Nobody knows before it's too late. The last straw is the last when it's too late. The long story ends short.
The world may end with a whimper rather than a bang, but my story aboard the Haniwa ended with a snap.
I had received a message from a Sophie Mars, inviting me and a happy few to partake in a cafeteria at a given time.
The subject of this invitation was not clear. Well, not enough in my opinion. Who was that girl, anyway ? I was in two minds about going. Maybe even three or four.
Less than 24 hours were left until the Launch. I still couldn't resign myself to say Departure. Sounded like a train or a subway schedule. How disappointing ! Anyway, how could one use the right word for this ? I've even heard of people using the word Rapture. Fuck'em ! Fuck all religious guys ! They've done enough harm. Let's forget them behind for good and for ever.
I went to the tryst, out of sheer curiosity.
There was another guy and two women. The guy was very tall and uncannily slim. Sophie was petite, fourty-ish and strangely smiling, like someone exhausted but happy. Alice was more the scientific type, dark Italian breed and mid-aged.
I didn't feel too much concerned, what with their speaking French and English and Frenglish and Globish, all at the same time. I could follow, more or less. Their company felt rather reassuring, after a fashion.
Listening to them, I realized something awful that had been lurking above me and my life, maybe for the whole last year. It was hard to figure out, at first but then it took a clear enough shape. It was a mild shock to understand only now that I was utterly fed up with life on Earth. It slowly dawned on me that, had I not been accepted aboard the Haniwa, I would have killed myself.
Believe me, there's nothing dramatic about this. I mean: thinking this didn't make me feel sad or tragically insane. It was a mere fact : life on Earth was dull and I needed more space. I was a space person, at heart. I've been knowing this since the day my parents showed me the 2005 Story Musgrave's interview "I am a space person". Shit didn't hit the fan before I was 17, when mere physiology impeached me from hoping to become an astronaut once.
The Haniwa had considerably lowered the prerequisites to become a potential astronaut. Anyway, only a fraction of the people aboard would deserve to be called astronauts. The bulk of us are just technicians, settlers and idiots savants. Or Guinea pigs, for all we know.
I felt infinitely relieved, among my new friends, to eventually seize the fact that my new life would begin in less than 24 hours. Until then, what was I ? In-between worlds, literally. An alien to aliens ?
I was about to ask their opinion to Alice, Ylan and Sophie when the Haniwa general alarm started to ring out. I thought we had only one second to live. Then, when this second was over, I thought we'd have one whole minute.
Alice was already under the table, and most people in the cafeteria followed suit. Me, I stood up.. doing nothing much.. until some mural screen switched itself on and displayed the Haniwa complete hull, with a growth on its side, a growth that meant trouble.
The whole situation was dealt within an hour, thanks to crowd wisdom, smart applications of simple softwares and a good deal of common sense.
Seven hours before Launch time, the Haniwa accounted for almost a thousand extra crew members, whose skills and knowledge were unknown quantities.
I felt so elated that I wanted to say the final countdown myself, which I told my friends, yelling above the din.
_ Why don't you ask ? Sophie said, smiling like mad.
_ Er.. Ask whom ? You're a bit of a loony, don't you know ? was my lame reply.
She replied with a flourish or maybe a hand sign for the deaf, or a sleight of hand, which meaning was lost to me. Although it was immediately committed to my memory.
Nevertheless, as soon as the alarm were muted, I posted my request on H2O, addressed to no-one in particular. And soon got this reply :
_ Byron Eldritch Clamorgan, you are invited to say the final countdown in three hours and seventeen minutes. Thank you.
_ Where do I go to do that ? was my next question.
_ Any screen will do, was the disappointing answer.
I was a bit miffed.
_ Oh, come on ! Don't you have a command control room ?
The answer baffled the four of us (we had stuck together since the refugees alarm).
_ There is no command control room aboard the Haniwa. Everything has been programmed.
_ Who are you ? I typed.
I briefly hoped it would reply "I am no-one" ; fortunately, it didn't. It wouldn't have been that funny.
_ I am the Haniwa.
_ OK, typed Alice, gently taking my place. What is the Haniwa, then ?
_ A complex of sentiencies, human as well as digital, encased in a tubular vessel, destined to reach a stellar system in the hope of colonizing an Earth-like planet or any other solution deemed suitable for the survival of the human species.
Ylan seized the keyboard :
_ You used the word sentiency to qualify digital entities.. Are you saying that you are an A.I. ?
_ Not just me ; us.
_ That, I typed now, is a koan if I ever heard one.
_ Thank you, Byron Eldritch.
One hour before the Launching, I began enunciating the time left. And I didn't feel preposterous or useless for one bit.
10.. 9.. 8.. 7.. 6.. Oh, you know them, numbers.