I am not sure what else you want me to talk about. My job, as you know, is to name all the space vehicles in this galaxy, from close-in shuttles to deep space explorers. Apollo, Challenger, Enterprise: you Americans have heard those before. Tomorrow, when I turn 117, I will retire, and a new Namer will take my place.
You asked how I choose the names. The answer is more complicated than you might think. For example, when naming vehicles being launched from Earth, I am not allowed to use words from any modern religion.
Imagine the headlines: Baby Jesus Crashes Over the Atlantic. You take my point? No words that have negative associations in mythology, either. Icarus is out of the question. I select only words with muscular and daring connotations. But the specifics vary from one solar system to the next. On Formana, a satellite of the red star Cariopa now settled by Earthlings, water is worshipped. So, there the public responds well to spaceship names such as Oceana and Nyad.
I suppose you could say I am an anthropologist of sorts, learning the cultures and nuances of every planet where sentient beings might encounter space exploration. There are more than a million planets in this one galaxy; beyond lies infinite space where untold planets circle points of light too beautiful and too fearsome to imagine.
I have been told it is better not to think about that, about what is beyond our galaxy. We Namers have enough to occupy our thoughts.
My work begins the first of every month and continues to the 20th without a break because, once my cerebral cortex is hooked into the universe’s Great Encyclopedia, severing the connection is dangerous. If done incorrectly, the maneuver would cause a reverse current, and all the knowledge in my brain would be sucked back into the data base, corrupted by my personal biases. The next user to hook into the encyclopedia would find facts tainted by my sexual and religious preferences, or worse: gibberish. So I am only unhooked once per month to lessen the risk. And frankly, I like having ten consecutive Earth days and nights off for relaxation at the end of the month.
Outside of my module, when I’m back home, my life is ordinary. For instance, during a recent break, my husband and I discussed the failing health of our dog. We walked to the Palace of Giving, arm in arm, he carrying the leash she never tolerated and I the collar. Inside, we found the Hall of Portions, high-ceilinged and resonant with all the pleadings made by others. As instructed, we knelt on the cool glass tiles and each in turn offered a portion of our own lives to her.
"Two years," I offered, "but healthy ones, not blind arthritic ones," and, "two more from me," my husband whispered, handing the leash and collar to the technician for the life-force transfer.
"At least she will have four," we comforted each other on the walk back home. "Four’s something, isn't it?"
Life force transfers to animals came at just the right time for us. It used to be that only human babies could receive donations. I was fortunate in that my parents had just one child, so I did not have to share their portions with siblings. At my christening, all their friends gave me a year, each. In their twenties, my parents gave me 17 years apiece. I am not privy to the exact amount of time I have left –no one is – but I suspect that I still have time to travel to Formana. It will be rewarding to travel on a vehicle that I myself named.
You ask what it’s like to live and work in a Naming Module. I will confess, it took some getting used to. Not everyone who takes the training can tolerate module work, and some who can, initially, will lose their minds as time goes by. There is no way to prepare for that life, not really. I have heard about companies that charge immense fees for “pre-module preparation,” but I believe the talent is genetic. If I had carried the gene defect for claustrophobia (located on the top right arm of the 23rd chromosome), no amount of preparation would have saved me. We are what we are: the sum of all our proteins, writ large in flesh and blood. It is a great privilege to be chosen for this work because so very few beings in the galaxy are allowed access to the Great Encyclopedia containing all there is to know about every planet and star. True, there are many who feed facts into the Great Database, but only a hundred or so in the entire galaxy are hooked up as receivers to access the Marvels.
The egg-shaped module in which I work was designed in 2323 as a place where beings like us could empty our minds completely. The interior is spacious enough for walking around, and everything is smooth and white like the inside of an eggshell.
We Namers enter by first swimming into a lake-like body of clear fluid, finding our numbered module (I was assigned the number 18, the Hebrew symbol for life) and entering through a hatch in the module’s side. There, I assimilate my surroundings for three hours; then I lie or sit in a reclining Smart Chair and place a small cable into the USB port in my skull. For 20 days, I absorb knowledge about the universe from the Great Encyclopedia and search out new names for spaceships. I am fed, washed and evacuated by the Smart Chair during that time. Twice daily, although I cannot feel it, my body is vigorously exercised so that I do not lose muscle or bone mass.
On the 20th day, a technician swims up to my module and carefully unhooks me according to a strict protocol. For three hours afterward, I spew out names for spaceships as well as secret information of a culturally relevant nature about all the planets I have researched.
I suppose you heard that I have the best recall among all the Namers. Is that why you have abducted me? Because, no matter how vigorously you interrogate me, it won’t do any good. You didn’t know that recall only lasts three hours? I can’t tell you what I found out about some distant planet or other, weeks after I’ve been unhooked. It just doesn’t work that way.
I couldn’t give you secrets from the Great Encyclopedia even if I wanted to. They chose us when we were stupid children so that we would not question the complex programming or inner workings of the process – so that we couldn’t be abducted or, if we were, we couldn’t spill secrets to enemy scientists.
For 108 years I have been absorbing and regurgitating the secrets of the galaxy, and I am very tired.
Please. I need to rest, now. Please.
May I have a glass of water?