As soon as I enter the hall, I see that they have placed a sign on the wall. The oversized red letters read “Never let strangers into the building.” I reread the notice and nod approvingly. It was high time. There are too many deranged people out there.
This month, they have not cleaned the stairs and the steps are a little greasy. When I arrive at the fourth floor, my apartment key is already in my hand. I walk down the corridor, turn the corner, and then I freeze. Who is the woman standing in front of my door?
“Are you the scientist?” she asks with a heavy accent. I stare at her and take in a deep breath. I know how to deal with this. At work, we all receive training to handle this sort of situations. “I am not a medical doctor,” I reply in a neutral tone. “I am afraid I can't help you.”
She shakes her head firmly. “I know that you are a physicist, Prof. Raymond,” she says. How come that she knows who I am, I wonder. “My name is Raymon, without a d,” I correct her mechanically. She has long blond hair and, for a moment, I wish that she was here just to sell me something.
When she walks up to me and takes a cable out of her pocket, I see my worst fears confirmed. Now I have no doubt that she is one of crazies against whom newspapers so often warn. “What do you want from me?” I ask, shrugging my shoulders. My acting is pathetic and doesn't fool her in the least. “I can't start the battery,” she explains, pushing the cable into my hands. “Can you help me?”
Her apartment is a mess, but the view from the twentieth floor is breathtaking. She picks up a box of electronic components and points at the ceiling. “It is on the rooftop,” she lets me know. I decline her offer of a cup of coffee and climb the last stairs after her. How long has she been working on this?
The spacecraft on the rooftop corresponds to the design publicized by newspapers. I inspect the battery and shake my head. Although the media always portray Alpha Centauriers as mentally unstable, this woman seems surprisingly well-balanced. Does she really believe that she can build a spaceship to return to Alpha Centauri? This is insane.
She informs me that her name is Amy and tells me the story that has been passed from generation to generation. Who hasn't heard of the Alpha Centauri myth? Who doesn't want to believe that a perfect world can exist? I hand her back the cable and start to tell her that I must go back to my apartment, but she cuts me off. “My real name is not Amy,” she says. “It is AmyFri.”
My heart misses a beat. This can't be true. Nobody can possibly know about the names. “I am AmyFri,” she repeats, “and you are RayMon.” I stare at her blue eyes, seeking to be reassured. I want to know that I am not dreaming. Only real Alpha Centauriers possess names ending with their day of birth, Mon for Monday in my case. Was AmyFri born on a Friday? I cheer at the possibility that she might be one of us.
I accept her cup of coffee and we sit on the sofa in her living-room. As we watch the sun go down, we exchange stories about our forefathers. AmyFri believes that she belongs to the Rigil tribe, but she is not sure. “From the forty-six tribes of Alpha Centauri,” I confirm, “Rigils are the most intrepid.” Then my voice trembles and I shut up, unable to tell her that I am also a Rigil.
When I return to my apartment, I close the door and the keys drop from hand. As I stand motionless in the corridor, my mind reviews everything that's wrong with AmyFri's spaceship. It is a long list of unsurmountable problems. No wonder, since the design published by newspapers was nonsense.
I pick up the keys from the floor, walk to the bedroom, unlock the drawer under my bed, and take out my design. It is the blueprint of an ultra-light spacecraft, the result of fourteen years of work at nights and on weekends. I have not looked at it since my fortieth birthday, the day when I gave up hope of ever returning to Alpha Centauri.
As I deploy my blueprint on the kitchen table, I remember the reasons that made me abandon the project. The impossible technical specifications. The gigantic cost. The back-breaking work that it will require. My design is revolutionary, but I know that it can work. With the help of AmyFri, I might be able to build my spaceship in less than ten years.
Through the hours of the night, I feverishly remake my calculations. I find no errors, but I wonder every minute if this is the only way. When the first light of dawn comes through the window, I have already made up my mind. No matter how long it takes, no matter how much it costs, I am going to do it. I am going to build my spaceship for Alpha Centauri and, when it's ready, I will take AmyFri with me.
[Image by Dalbera under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]