Lenka started coming to our evening catch-ups and also visited us in the docks having a chit-chat with the guys and me during the breaks. It lasted about a week and then she got bored. Looking at our consistently unsuccessful attempts to activate the pods was as entertaining as watching the paint dry. So one morning she simply returned to her dock, boarded the pod and everyone pretended that nothing happened. After that I got a message from Professor Muhamad with just three letters – IOU.
In the meantime, I intensified my own testing programme: each day I spent more time in the pod and tried to replicate as many reports as possible. Lenka’s example showed that even if you were lucky to come across the right mind signal, it could take a long time to repeat the first success. And that time was running out – there were only two months remaining. After a few weeks the new testing regime started to take its toll – I didn’t sleep well, I was constantly tired and sometimes my thoughts were confused. Nevertheless, I pressed on.
One evening, after the traditional catch-up in the bar, I returned to the docks for one more try. I manually moved the pod to the first beacon and started looking through the reports. I flicked them one by one on the head-up display but the combination of beer and weariness made it hard to concentrate on the contents. The letters floated in and out of focus, and I was almost immediately forgetting whatever information I managed to read. After a few minutes of such struggle I nodded off.
I was raised from my slumber by an agitated voice of Professor Muhamad in the commlink, “Vlad, what have you done?”
For a few seconds I was in stupor, trying to understand where I was and who was talking to me. Then I remembered my misguided attempt to replicate one more report and said, “Sorry, Prof, I just drifted off. I think I should go to bed now.”
“I wouldn’t call it drifting, Vlad. There are no currents in space.”
“Professor, I am not in the best shape now and I am a bit slow. Can you please explain what you mean by that?” I asked testily.
“Just look around.”
I turned back and looked at the first beacon – it wasn’t in the right place. All these months it was firmly located 10-15 meters behind my pod; now it was about a hundred meters away.
“Err… what happened, Prof? Did you or Hughard override pod control? But why did you move me away from the beacon?”
“We didn’t do anything. It was you.”
“But last time I used manual controls was when I moved the capsule to the start position.”
“You are absolutely right.”
“So, if I didn’t use manual controls, I…”
“Yes, stupid!” exclaimed Professor Muhamad, “Congratulations! And now tell me quickly what exactly you did.”
At that time I still didn’t realise the significance of what had just happened so I simply went along with Prof’s questioning, “I didn’t do anything special, I was just sleeping.”
“What did you do in your dream?”
“Hmm, I was flying; flying naked in empty space. I wasn’t in the pod but the vacuum didn’t seem to hurt me and I had full control of my movements. I don’t know what propelled me, I simply moved wherever I wanted to go.”
“Very interesting,” muttered Professor, “now, get out of that pod, go back to your room and have a good sleep. Tomorrow, after breakfast I expect you in my office with full report.”
It was only when I returned to my room that I fully comprehended the momentousness of today’s events. I managed to move the pod! I had a real chance to become a capsuleer! I realised that so far I didn’t really believe in it; I was like a habitual lottery player who each week bought one ticket “just for luck”, the one who did not eagerly await the results and did not get much upset when he didn’t win. I think I mentally protected myself against a failure by trying not to think about the benefits I’d reap in case of success. But now, when the opportunity of becoming a capsuleer got real I was at a loss. The eternal life sounded great, but I had no idea what to do with it; I had no plans.
The next few hours could be described by the following lines written by an ancient poet:
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…
I needed a good night’s sleep but an unstoppable adrenaline rush made my heart beat and my head swim. My confused thoughts jumped between the excited recollection of my breakthrough and a horrible fear that I may never be able to repeat it. I felt I was on the brink of developing a bipolar disorder, and to avoid it, that vicious circle of thoughts had to be broken. Exhausted, I made my way to the medical unit where a doctor on duty gave me a tranquiliser. I remember how I returned to my room, undressed and fell on the bed, but I don’t remember hitting it. It was as if I plunged through it directly into my dream, a dream where I flied naked in empty space.