Krapinsky placed the palm of his right hand flat against the panel. A light scanned it and turned green for a positive identification. The door split in two, each half sliding apart to admit him into the secured area.
There was someone there, a shadowy figure looming over Krapinsky’s work station. Krapinsky tensed. Clearing his throat, he inched forward.
“What are you do –”
He relaxed when he recognised the stoop-shouldered form of Ossie, one of the janitorial staff.
“Hey,” he greeted the custodian, “You shouldn’t be in here, Ossie. My shift is about to start. Whole lotta classified shit about to go down.”
Ossie shrugged but did not move from the bank of monitors at Krapinsky’s desk.
“Is radio,” he grunted.
Krapinsky pulled a face. “In a way, yes. But that’s a very limited way of looking at it. It’s much more than a radio – in the sense that you mean. You’re not going to pick up the hit parade on this baby. In fact, you’re not going to pick up anything at all. This is for transmission only. The receivers are in the other wing – Say! I’ve probably said too much already. Now, go on, scoot!”
But the janitor remained where he was, staring intently at the equipment.
“You send message.”
“Yes. That’s what we do here.”
“To who you send message?”
“That’s hardly your concern. Now, please, get out of here. If my supervisor catches you, she’ll fire you on the spot. Me too, probably.”
“Is no matter,” Ossie’s drooping moustache twitched. “I finish here now. I finish everywhere.”
Krapinsky frowned. “What are you tal – Oh, wait, that’s right. Today was your retirement party, wasn’t it? How did it go? Did you save me some cake?”
Ossie ignored the question.
“If you don’t mind me saying,” Krapinsky persisted, “you don’t look old enough for retirement. I hope they gave you a good package.”
“Is sufficient,” Ossie conceded with a sniff. “Will cover funeral expenses.”
Krapinsky’s jaw dropped with understanding. “Oh, Ossie! Oh, man, I’m so sorry. Here, take a seat.”
Ossie managed a chuckle. “I not pop clogs this minute. But you send message. You send message for me?”
Krapinsky shook his head. “I’m sorry, man. You should go to Western Union or somewhere.”
It was the janitor’s turn to shake his head.
“You send message to space. This is what you do here. You send message for me.”
Krapinsky laughed. “You want to send a message to deep space? Who to, Ossie?”
Ossie frowned. “Who you send to?”
“You send message into space. Message travel far. Many, many years. Centuries. But who get message, no one know.”
Krapinsky grinned. “I guess cleaning this place for years has let you in on our little secret.”
“How long, Mr K? How long message go before it fade?”
Krapinsky pulled a face. “Indefinitely, I guess. This is new technology. We’ve found a way of wrapping the radio signal in these quantum sub-particles – we call them ‘lamarrs’ – after the actress, you know? She was a pioneer in wireless technology. Theoretically, any message transmitted in this way will travel on for ever. The signal will not degrade. You see, out there, everything that was ever broadcast: radio, television – is out there, travelling out of our solar system, but by the time it reaches anywhere they might be able to receive it, it will be nothing but sporadic, meaningless nonsense.”
Ossie grunted. “I know television.”
Krapinsky laughed. “OK, then; I’ll humour you for a second. What’s this all about, Ossie?”
The janitor sighed and lowered himself onto a chair.
“Have no family,” he began. “No kids, nobody, no nothing. And I never made nothing of my life.”
Krapinsky cut him off. “Hey! That’s not so. You’ve been keeping this place spick and span for what – twenty years. That’s an important contribution.”
“And tomorrow somebody else will do it. I never made nothing. Never wrote nothing, created nothing. When this – (he tapped the side of his head) – thing inside me, pulls plug, that is end of Ossie, gone forever, finito, kaput.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“But you send message for me. Message outlive me.”
“Well, yes, the message will outlive everyone you know.”
“Message will go on after world end.”
“Well, yes, it will. Although, when you consider the asshole currently in the White House, that might not be a long time coming.”
“And when the sun, he burn out and solar system is destroyed…”
“Yes, the message will still be out there, journeying through the universe, when nothing else of us remains, when there is no other indication that humanity ever existed at all.”
Krapinsky blinked. It was a sobering train of thought.
“And some time, some place, somebody will get message…”
“It’s very possible, when you consider the probability of intelligent life elsewhere.”
Ossie jumped up with a start. “I look busy. Supervisor, she come. Here.”
He handed Krapinsky a folded scrap of paper and bustled out with his mop and bucket.
Krapinsky logged onto the system. What could it hurt, he reflected? Along with transmitting the highest achievements of civilisation, the works of Shakespeare, Mozart, Da Vinci and so on, what could it hurt to include a few words from Joe Public, an ordinary guy, in case some far-off alien race believed we were all over-achieving geniuses?
He unfolded the paper and prepared to type.
In an almost child-like scrawl, the janitor had written, My name is Osman Diaz and I was alive