One for Upstairs

[Braille Face flash fiction no. 4, based on Ahimsa.]

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The AHIMSA committee (All-Humanity Interstellar Mission Steering Association) carefully discussed how they would communicate their aims both to the international community on earth and to unknown civilisations beyond the stars. This was not principally a scientific mission, though it would carry instruments and transmit observations back to waiting labs in Florida, Paris and Cologne. Instead, this was a bold, quixotic attempt to reach out beyond the confines of our planet to whoever out there might be ready to know us, at whatever unimaginable distance of years. Artists, thinkers and makers would offer their contributions to encapsulate, or at least sample, the beauty humanity could achieve.

“And representation,” said the Chairperson, “full representation is very important.” There was a murmur of agreement. “There’s a terrible danger the human race we project will be only the rich, white, male, straight, western human race. We have to seek out representatives of minorities. We must give them a voice.”

The resolution was passed and the Chief Administrative Officer assigned a number of her staff to the task of finding suitable people. They were to be given simple recording devices. Into those devices they could record whatever they wanted – songs, stories, or merely the sounds of their world. The technology was to be utterly transparent: easy to record into, even easier to play back. After all, the committee didn’t know how similar extraterrestrial sound equipment would be to our own.

One who received a device was a homeless man called Jeff. Jeff was white, male, straight and western, but he was poor. And he was lonely: he’d been on the street fifteen years, and he’d seen friends die and he’d learned to keep his counsel. He knew where the police moved you on and where the best place to stash things was and which charities to avoid because they only wanted to take you over. He wondered about selling the device for drink – he didn’t do drugs, never had, a stupid vice that he’d never stoop to – but instead he decided to tell it his life story. So he told it about his childhood, and his mom who’d struggled by on two jobs and a backbone of steel; his marriage, which had broken up when he lost his job; his house, which he’d lost when he lost his marriage; his room, which he’d never been properly able to pay for; his friend Sean, who’d taken care of him those first months on the streets and then been kicked in the head by some drunks and died in the corridor at ER; his friend Terence, who was a dude, the funniest guy alive, knew every trick in the book, could sell a man his own stolen wallet and get paid extra for sheer charm, who’d disappeared one day, God knew where to. And he talked about the pain he got in his chest now and the cough at night and how you stayed warm with newspapers. And he recited the poem his mom had taught him, the one he’d never forgotten, about the Road Less Travelled By, and hell he’d done a lot of travelling on that road, none more. And when the smart lady came back with her straightened hair and her iPhone 7 he gave her the device and was glad that, at last, he had a voice and someone was going to listen.

The recordings were collected together and placed in a beautifully designed chrome box in the centre of the capsule. The schedule was tight – the process of gathering the materials had been slower and more inconvenient than expected – and a plan to duplicate all the data for a section of the AHIMSA website was quietly shelved. The rocket was launched at 12:31 on November 5th, 2016, to great acclaim. And it ascended into space and made its way into a billion billion miles of silence.

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