– Did you plan to tell me?
– Listen, Colin, I just wanted to have you back from your trip so we could discuss this face to face. I’ve already had an unpleasant conversation with Mum about it. I don’t need to have another one with you.
– Well, I am back. And what do I find in my vocal box? Messages from our friends. You know, William, Jon, Sarah. Very enthusiastic. And what do they say? “Colin, you won’t believe it. Beth won space travels.”
– You knew I was playing!
– I never thought you would win one day.
– I did. As my boyfriend, you should be happy for me.
– Happy, are you kidding? Do you really want to be one of those nuts who thinks a soul can travel by itself?
– Nuts!?! Are you calling me a nut?
– No. Of course not. You just know how I feel about all those things.
– I don’t care! Leave me alone!
Bang! Hung up on him. That’ll teach him. Anyway, I have to go. Today is my training session day. The place isn’t exactly close. I should hurry.
“World Lottery”. Here I am. I don’t know how many times I’ve dreamt of going inside this building. At the moment, I feel about two feet tall. All is going to be ok, girl. All is going to be ok.
The door in front of me opens and I can see the reception area.
– Beth Smith. I have an appointment at 10 for my training session, space travels? I have my winning number with me if…
– It won’t be necessary. You have been identified as soon as you walked through that door. The medical team is waiting for you. Here is your badge, which will give you access to all the rooms you need to go to today. The lift is at your right. Hold the badge over the grey sensor to call it. It will take you to the right floor.
– I was identified?
– Facial recognition. Your lottery account. Your picture. Very high quality. Congratulations.
– Good session, Miss.
– Er, thanks.
So, a lift. Here it is. Can’t say it’s spacious inside. Wow, it isn’t going up, but down. It must be some sort of basement.
– Would you follow me please, says a young lady dressed in a lilac suit as the door opens.
– Er, yeah.
– Miss Beth Smith for the blood sample, she announces.
The man coming toward me with his hand held out in greeting is barely older than me. Less than thirty, anyway. Cute.
– You won’t feel a thing, he says, holding up his sample pen in his left hand.
I feel a soft tingle.
– We are going to analyze it within the hour. You’ll get the results before leaving. Alice will lead you back to the lift.
I follow Alice.
– Hold your badge over the grey sensor.
– And the lift will take me to the right floor.
– That’s it. Good bye, Miss.
I go up this time.
– Would you follow me please.
– Miss Smith, welcome to your physical test: heart and lung capacity.
It’s a woman this time, in her thirties. I have no idea of what it is going to be done. I’m a little afraid I have to say. It’s not that I am not athletic. It’s just that I’ve always lacked endurance. My style is violent spurts: short, intense.
The woman shows me into what I can only guess to be an analysis chamber in the shape of a giant see-through egg.
– Hold your badge
– over the grey sensor
– to get in. Hold the handle in front of you and push the green button to start the treadmill. We will control the speed. Analysis will be performed automatically with sonic sensors and gas probes. Just follow my instructions.
A treadmill. I am going to run on a treadmill! In fact, I am asked to perform a succession of walks, sprints, and scurries. I am rather breathless at the end, but it’s because the last order was a long sprint.
And again the lift ritual. It is going up this time. High up.
– Welcome at the top of the tower, says the young man who greets me with a big smile. Would you follow me please.
We arrive in a room full of electronic devices that blink and click everywhere.
There are two men waiting for me this time. I understand this is the last place I am going to today. First the stress of entering the travel machine will be measured. My heart must not beat too fast. My brainwaves will be recorded and the return process will be taught to me.
From what I know, this process is an outright conditioning: after a signal, the mind has to come back to the body. According to experienced Snoopers, this is very unpleasant. You feel as though you’re in a free fall in the dark, sometimes with nausea.
The travel unit is a sort of oblong box you lie in. The bottom part is lined, like a cradle with a smooth coating that fits your body shape. Inside, you feel as though you are floating. The top part is the lid. To travel you have to close it. It is in this box that the gas is administered. But not today.
As soon as the lid is closed, I can hear sweet music. Then a voice; I suppose it’s one of the men talking. I understand why they confine you in this box before the big day. I have to say it is a bit creepy, but the voice succeeds in calming me down. I relax totally, and the sensation of floating amplifies.
– You’re safe now, among your beloved ones, your best friend, your lover …
Not that I am panicking or anything, but I feel like I am having an out-of-body experience, or something. It is as if I can see myself in this box.
The voice goes on. I ease up. How could I be so stupid ? I frightened myself. I feel so good now. The return conditioning begins. I am told that a set of three notes will be sent into the box. I have to memorize them and associate them with the return. I will have to pick the three from among various sound samples: street sounds, lively conversation, music. As soon as I hear them, I have to tighten my right fist.
When it is over I feel a prickling in my extremities. It is normal for a first session in the box, they say. I tell them about my hovering and my feeling of having seen myself. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it ?
– Moments of extreme relaxation can give that kind of impression. But it’s your imagination at work.
I take the lift, again. I have to go to a waiting room until my results are available.
In the laboratory on the top floor of the lottery medical center
– We have to report the anomaly.
– She is not the first one to have a panic attack during the training session. After all, she managed it very well. It was just a few seconds.
– That isn’t what I am talking about. I am talking of her hovering. She said she saw herself.
– But it’s simply impossible, it is her imagination running at a moment of strong stress.
– Listen, we’re not here to judge what is possible or not. We have to report the anomalies, and this is one. According to her analysis, she is apt. But we’ll have to make the two Lords aware of the situation when they come to supervise her first trip. And as usual, nothing special will happen.