Aryn walked to the window and looked through its twin panes at the busy world below. In her sunlit wake dust motes swirled like infinitesimal golden balloons. Her apartment lay neatly behind her, its cool colours fighting with the warmth of the sun. She looked down, pressing her forehead against the glass, and through the mist of her breath, watched grey crowds moving in shoals from mall to mall. She lifted her gaze and focused on the apartment block opposite where a thousand windows stared back at her. Looking up still further, her brown eyes narrowed and examined the blue-grey sphere that was the hull of the vast colony ship hovering over the spaceport outside the city. Dulled with the mist of distance, the ship gave nothing away except its size. It was a blue moon that had been pulled down to earth and tethered by invisible cords. It was the European Colony Ship Lulu. One of a fleet of seven that were due to leave the Earth in three days time for the newly discovered planet, Arcadia.
A decade ago the Central European Government had faced the problem of over-population with surprising originality. Space exploration and observation had resulted in the discovery of a habitable planet relatively nearby and the technology to colonise it. As a result of this the Citizens of the European Community had been given a choice between strict birth control, and the starting up of an extra-terrestrial colony. The people chose, and the number of applications for places on the colony ships came as something of a shock for the Government. However, as with so many ground-breaking projects, the costs soared, and though the construction of the colony ships had been a complete and popular success, it was unlikely that any similar project would be undertaken for a very long time.
Aryn checked her watch. Ten o-clock in the morning. In twenty-four hours she would be aboard the ECS Lulu. In seventy-two hours the Earth would be a dwindling blue-green star she used to call home.
She sighed and turned back to face the room. She wanted a reason to stay. As a volunteer colonist she could back out at any time. There were thousands ready to take her place. Thousands of equally restless souls who felt uneasy in this increasingly comfortable world.
She removed the slim, black smartcard from her belt. It identified her fingerprints and gave an acknowledging bleep. Every European citizen had one. It contained all her personal details and gave her access to the whole of the European community, and that meant almost half the world. Since the break up of the Soviet Union and its subsequent absorption into the EEC, and the decline and fall of the Japanese and American economies, Europe had emerged as the unchallenged new-age super-power. As a result, much of Africa and most of the Middle East had also joined, and China was expected to be accepted in a few years time.
Following her shadow, Aryn walked the length of the room. She was ready to give the Earth one last chance to keep her. She intended visiting as many places as she could during her last hours, in the hope that something would change her mind; something which would allow her to watch Lulu and her sisters leave from the ground.
A smoked glass door slid silently open before her to reveal her travel booth. During the twenty years since EH Dolgen had collected a Nobel Prize for demonstrating the principles behind matter transference, the Central European Government had financed an unpresidented plan to equip every home and street corner with a travel booth. Taxes had been high, but the benefits had been great. The booths produced no pollution, avoided stressful delays, and no life had ever been lost using one. Aryn stepped in and dialled the first number on her long list. The door slid shut behind her. Her body fizzed slightly, and she was a thousand kilometers away. The apartment was quiet and still. The tiny golden spicules drifted gently in the sunbeams.
Twice the calm of emptiness was broken by Aryns return. Once to change rain-soaked clothes, and once to cram an hours deep sleep.
Another cloned day dawned over the city. The sun rose above the skyline and threw bright splashes over the room Aryn had tried hard to make her own. A barely audible pop announced her return. A sadness flowed into the room, wrapped around her weary figure. She had let down her dark hair and looked pale and tired. She threw a large carrier bag onto the couch and made for the bathroom. The room considered the cheap new intruder, IM A EUROSHOPPER, it announced gaudily. Its white plastic skin was stretched tight over sharp bulges. The room accepted the newcomer, but felt uneasy about the sadness that had passed through. It sensed change.
The hiss of the needle-shower subsided and Aryn walked barefoot over to the couch. She sat damply beside the carrier and loosened the towel that hugged her. All the sadness and regret had been washed away with the dust of twenty countries, and had been replaced by a sharp air of decision and excitement. She grabbed the bag and roughly emptied it over the Escher-patterned carpet. She let her eyes roam among the scattered spoils of her trip. Fifteen items, bought at random from fifteen of the one hundred cities, towns and villages she had visited. Fifteen objects which she could have bought from any of those places. Fifteen purchases she could have made from the malls in the streets below her apartment. She had already forgotten where the smiling porcelain doll had come from, or where she had picked up the magazine or from which city the whisky miniature had come from. She picked up a toy dog wearing tartan trousers and sat back.
Now where did you come from? she asked the souvenier. Was it Paris? Or Istanbul? Or was it Seville or Saltzburg or that little Belgian village with the name like a fish? Tell me my little tartan terrier, which country do you come from?
But it was no use. Every place she had visited had been like every other. Every street contained the same shops. All the shops sold the same goods and the same brands and at the same prices. All the people spoke the same language. Everyone paid for the same goods with the same money. Fashions swept the continent in hours, and everyone looked the same.
Falling borders and faster travel had not only broken down national barriers, but had eroded and blended cultural differences and traditions. The advent of the travel booth, of instant travel, had brought an end to national identity forever. The whole of Europe was just one big, bland metropolis. You couldnt go anywhere without feeling at home. There wasnt anywhere that offered a new experience or a sense of adventure.
Aryn remembered the excitement of travelling by bus and train and car when she had been a child. How she had looked at the world passing by, daydreaming about the faces and buildings that fled past her. Now, the railways were being dismantled, and the roads were being reclaimed for farmland. The channel tunnel had been flooded; obsolete before it was twenty years old.
She stared hard at the booth and hated it. Through it you could be anywhere in an instant. And because of it, there was nowhere to go. Everywhere was here. She could buy a vodka at a bar in Moscow, or a cafe in Budapest. She could eat a pizza in Rome, Hamburg or Amsterdam, and theyd all be made to the same recipe. Everywhere was a few paces and a few credits away.
The clock on the wall told her it was almost time. She stepped over her days purchases and went to dress. Ten minutes later she re-appeared, smartly dressed in her sensibly designed colonists uniform, and carrying a case that contained the ten kilos of personal belongings she was allowed to take with her. Smartcard in hand, Aryn entered the booth and tapped in the number for the ECS Lulu.
At her destination Aryn stepped out of the
booth and smoothed the static out of her hair.
A steward greeted her, took her case and led her to a check-in desk where she handed over her smartcard. The man behind the desk smiled pleasantly at her as he fed the card into a slot. From another, wider slot, a document slid out. The man turned it around and pushed it across the desk. He handed Aryn a pen. If you would just sign here Miss Sanchez, then well show you to your cryo-bed.
Aryn was familiar with the contents of the document. Once she signed she would no longer be a European Citizen, she would be an Arcardian. She held the pens nib above the paper. Just tell me one thing she said, looking at the man across the desk in the eye. Tell me were not taking travel booths with us.
No, Miss, I can assure you that there will be no transfer booths on Arcadia for a very long time.
Aryn signed the paper and was led away down
a cool blue corridor to a long and very cold sleep.