“There is perhaps no better a demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”
— Carl Sagan in Time magazine, January 1995, describing the Pale Blue Dot image of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft 6 billion kilometers away in 1990.
George had heard this same routine on the 23rd day of May every year of his life. Kang only had 365 days of programming in the system, and nothing new was being added. It was one of the only courses in George’s life aboard Hendrix that wasn’t being updated with fresh content on a regular basis. And George was curious if this was really all there was to know about health and wellness.
“Focus your breathing in between each stretch; pull tightly at the end of each stretch and then breathe out,” Kang said. Following his exercise, George moved to the next room where he grabbed some fruit from a basket and sat down at a small table in the only chair. As he bit into a banana he began to plot out his day.
To deemphasize the monotony of his daily schedule, he would always look for what would be different this day, compared to any other. Yesterday, he worked on PACE, his secret hacking project, which has become almost a daily staple for him when he can sneak it in without the Grand Master or one of the instructors catching him. It was his secret release, and he had high hopes for its success. As he planned his schedule for the day, he was going to try to sneak in some PACE time in the late afternoon.
Today, he would start with the grain, fruit and vegetable harvest from the hydrophonic plants growing in his Grow Room. This harvest would come just in time as his current supply was beginning to get low. Because he is steadfastly focused on achieving the utmost efficiency at all times, George has learned how to time the growing to correlate almost exactly with his consumption on almost a quarterly basis.
This way he will never overeat, and he will maintain a perfect balance in his body between fruits, vegetables, grains and fat, the last of which was the most difficult element to administer in his diet. He would also never waste food because aboard Hendrix, he knew this was his lifeblood. His only other lifeblood was his connection to the Grand Master and his focus and eventual success in his mission, the Callisto Symphony.
Following the day’s harvest, George would do class for two hours, eat lunch, exercise again, read for two hours, and then try to sneak in PACE time in lieu of his regularly scheduled ship inspection. He knew that he could hook into MANOOLA later for his scheduled performance download and deceive the system by having BIM do the scheduled ship inspection.
BIM has been with George for almost seven years. George had built him from scrap pieces of wires from the Work Room, electronics pieces that malfunctioned, old robotic equipment from his early years aboard the ship and his own ingenuity as he learned and read about electrical engineering and computer programming.
BIM stood about three feet tall and walked on four legs. He was designed to look like a creature that George had once seen run by in the background when Miss Palencia, his favorite instructor, was teaching him English courses back in 2008. The image of this creature never left George’s memory, and while the exact details of the hairy four legged creature were beginning to fade with time, there was something about seeing that creature that connected with George. It was the only other living being he had seen outside of the Grand Master and his instructors. Surely it will never be forgotten.
BIM did a better job listening that he did talking, although sometimes he would say something that impressed George. George was still working on the programming of BIM’s analytical processing code, but had become sidetracked with his PACE project which currently commanded all of his free time. BIM would just have to be as is for a while, and George was okay with that.
BIM was helpful around the spacecraft though. George had specifically built him to handle and manage tasks that he found to be less than desirable, and there were plenty of them. BIM would help him later with the harvest. He could fix small mechanical issues around the spacecraft and was particularly valuable in diagnosing technical issues and alerting George to potential problems before they fully manifested themselves. He was also a great co-captain in piloting the ship and was excellent at crunching data.
George first boarded Hendrix in December of 1991 when he was still an infant. The name BIM was derived as a variant of IBM, which was the word that was on all of the robots and electronic components throughout the Hendrix spacecraft. When George was growing up, all he knew aboard the ship were the words IBM. They were, quite literally, the center of his universe and BIM was a tribute to these past memories.
BIM was George’s best and only friend. Sure he felt connections to his instructors since they had been with him for so many years, but he lacked true interaction and challenge from them. BIM provided that challenge, both in terms of his mechanical build which George knew would continue for many years into the future, and also because BIM was like George. They shared experiences.
Four years ago, an event occurred that may have been the end for Hendrix and George if it were not for BIM. George first thought this was the Callisto Symphony event that the Grand Master had warned of, but it turned out to be a cataclysmic event of a slightly different, and less threatening, nature.
Among George’s most time intensive studies, and the one he enjoyed the most, was his study of Astronomy with Professor Maule. Professor Maule was a short, skinny man who intrigued George more than any of his other professors. All of Professor Maule’s videos were filmed with blackness and stars in the background, and George was always fascinated with the thought of where the Professor lived to be able to have such a unique and beautiful background. Most of the instructor videos had classroom seats and benches in the background. After years of watching these videos and analyzing every piece of them, George could never understand these starscaped backgrounds. Where was the Professor?
But George could never ask. His communication was one way which was the motivation for his development and naming of the PACE project which stood for Prohibiting All Communication Everywhere – how could he communicate out to someone, not just have people communicate to him inside Hendrix?
About ten years ago, Professor Maule shared with George news of a comet entering the solar system. This comet was to come very close to the sun and many of the planets inside the system, closer than other similar comets had in the past. Professor Maule told George that this event would lead to a greater understanding of the Callisto Symphony and a full observance was the greatest advancement his studies would see in the foreseeable future.
When the comet approached the solar system, Professor Maule helped George assemble a number of experiments around the celestial belt near the planet Saturn, close to where Hendrix was stationed at the time. The Professor wanted George to help them get a closer look at the comet upon its approach to determine its size, molecular makeup, and provide a close account of its projected trajectory as it entered the gravitational pull of the solar system. Of particular interest was the observance of any changes in the comet’s trajectory as it rounded Jupiter’s strong gravitational pull and any changes resulting from it entering an increasingly warm environment on its approach toward the sun.
In the cargo bays in the back of Hendrix, George possessed three satellites that were to be used for the Callisto Symphony, but now his plans had to be changed slightly to account for this new comet that would be travelling so close to him.
Professor Maule spent two months working with George to update the software, and upgrade the electronics on one of the satellites. Since George was only 13 years old at the time, it was a hard, arduous process during which he learned a great deal about rocket propulsion, solar panel design, and he got his first look at an outbound communications device, which the satellite housed to communicate back to Professor Maule.
This work was so important that the Grand Master halted all of George’s other classes so he could focus on prepping this satellite for orbit around the outer rings of Saturn.
At one point George began to speculate, that the Grand Master, along with his professors lived on the planet Saturn, and their interest in this comet and its vicinity to the planet stemmed from their own fears of a collision with the planet directly or even a nearby moon. He couldn’t be sure. But as a young kid, who was incredibly well educated nonetheless, he didn’t ask too many questions and proceeded as directed.
Following the two months of nonstop work on the satellite, the Professor concluded it was ready for launch. The three bays where the satellites were stored also included three launch bays adjacent to each one, and while George was young and growing, his perfect physique enabled him to physically move the satellite into the launch bay and he was able to successfully deploy a launch into space.
Upon launch, the Professor, along with the Grand Master, was able to take control of the satellite. George used his monitoring equipment and computer programs to keep an eye on it. The satellite was moved into position and for years orbited Saturn. George never received any of the data from the satellite but he did learn two important things.
First, it was possible for him to communicate back to the humans that were communicating to him. And second, that the equipment for such communication was already aboard Hendrix and to some extent, it was already assembled. He just wasn’t supposed to touch it unless directed to do so.
That was a long time ago, and a lot has happened since. The most recent cataclysmic event that occurred four years ago involved flares from the sun that were taking on irregular trajectories as they travelled through the solar system.
George’s surveillance equipment provided a map of the solar system and he could see other satellites and objects orbiting different properties throughout the entire system. This led to a number of questions that he would spend years trying to answer. He constantly wondered what else was out there and would often times spend his nights analyzing the data and maps detailing the atmosphere all around him, while gazing out through the windows of the space craft.
Four years ago one of the sun’s solar flares was intercepted by a small object George had picked up on his radar. The collision resulted in the object disappearing from radar while the sun flare that hit it continued on its path through the solar system.
George never knew what that object was. The Grand Master at the time showed a level of worry that George had never seen in him before since he was usually a calm, very calculated and composed man. Following the collision, the Grand Master came on the video screen to tell George that there were some cosmic activities underway that remained unexplained. He instructed George to begin a nightly scan of the solar system using his GAMMA scope to observe anything that might be out of the ordinary. George began these nightly scans at that time, and has conducted them every night since.
Five days after he began his nightly scans, he noticed multiple beams of what looked like similar sun flares, and they were travelling very quickly. Upon closer examination he noticed a cluster of meteorites in the direct path of the sun flares, and they were only about 450,000 miles from where Hendrix was currently stationed.
He stayed up during his bedtime to watch as they approached and he was able to witness the collision through his GAMMA scope. It seemed so small through the scope, but his training had taught him, it was likely much larger. His updates through his surveillance map combined with his observations through the GAMMA scope soon alerted him to the fact that the now disjointed meteor cluster was spreading out into the solar system and travelling toward Hendrix. And they were travelling fast.
Given the wide coverage and high volume of meteors, George didn’t know how to avoid impact. He could thrust Hendrix away from them, but it might not be enough movement fast enough.
He quickly skimmed one of the Astronomy workbooks from his library and laid out a chart of the projected path of the meteors. He knew the gravitational pull of different planets could adversely affect his calculations and move both Hendrix and the meteors on varying paths that may or may not be favorable. So he had to be careful and move everything in a perfect order to avoid collision.
As he scrambled to lay out the courses for the objects and for Hendrix, he realized that BIM could do it faster. BIM could download the data and near instantly do the calculations. And accuracy would be guaranteed. George just had to connect BIM to his computer, download the maps, let BIM do the calculation, then re-download them to his computer and output the results on the map.
He connected BIM and began the process. There wasn’t enough time for George to track every little piece of the debris field heading his way, but he was able to chart the larger of the objects, along with the remnants of the sun flares. BIM made the calculations and when he viewed the results back on his computer, George could clearly see the action he must take. The larger debris was heading for him. He could thrust out of the way of the larger debris, catch a bit of the gravitational pull of nearby Saturn and at the very least move into the path of the smaller debris. It could still hit Hendrix, and the amount of damage he would sustain was incalculable. But it was his only chance.
He put both thrusters on high and navigated to port to directly face Saturn. From the observance window in his bedroom he could see the light and objects in the distance. They looked tiny but he knew they were travelling at a high velocity.
With both thrusters on, he gave the ship full power as it roared through the dark abyss. He was underway for a few minutes when he noticed the power start to give. He hadn’t fully charged his batteries since he didn’t anticipate needing this much power so fast. This was a lesson to be learned. The ship slowly started to wind down. The electronics flashed on and off. He saw the beams of light move closer and closer to each side of the spacecraft.
A bright flash nearly blinded him from the bedroom observatory window, and the electronics went dead. The ship lights went out. The only light he saw was coming from the windows as the solar flares made their way by. It was completely quiet. His heart raced as he braced for impact. BIM was next to him and George bent down to clench him, anticipating impact at any moment.
But it never came. Slowly the lights outside began to dim and they eventually faded into the black of space. His ship remained dark, and he would need two days of repairs to reboot Hendrix’s electronics. Upon finally getting everything up and running the Grand Master immediately appeared on his video screen.
“George, are you there?”
George said ‘yes’ even though he knew no one would hear him.
The Grand Master looked away from the video and mumbled something off the screen.
“Can you see him? Is he on radar?”
The Grand Master peered into the video screen.
“George, I know you’re there. Hook into MANOOLA and let me see your vitals.”
George felt a sense of relief, but also a rush of independence. He paused for a minute, and then decided to do a brief workout routine while he was off the grid. He then walked over to MANOOLA, placed the sensors on his body, connected it to the ship’s computer, hit the green transmit button and then turned off the screen.
Harvest day was always a fun one for George. He took great pride in his creations and remained fascinated with what he could grow aboard the ship. His diet of primarily fruits and vegetables contributed to his perfect physique. Now it was time to harvest his creations from the past few months.
His Grow Room consisted of 10 rows of plants all organized by maturity to ensure a proper consumption mix for all days of the year. It is a bright room with the light being provided by the solar shields that cover one whole portion of the exterior of the ship.
The primarily fruits and vegetables that George grows are carrots, which are his favorite, beets, second favorite; radishes, lettuce, artichokes, squash, spinach, tomatoes, bananas and then the occasional watermelon as a special treat. Aboard the spacecraft was a large bin full of rice that was just about half full now, and George would mix the rice with the vegetables for a majority of his meals. He would grow beans too with black beans being his favorite, along with lima beans and peanuts.
Water was by far the most difficult aspect to manage, not only for the Grow Room, but for the ship overall. Installed in the ship was a simple water recycling system that served him quite well for many years. In the early years, he had stored enough clean water to take care of his simple needs, but as his body began to grow his nourishment needs grew accordingly, and when he was eleven years old, a special instructor, Mr. Manion, spent a month teaching young George how to update his recycling and purification system. It had been running smoothly ever since, and George learned even more about electrical engineering in the process, skills that have become ever more important as he engages in his PACE project.
Mr. Manion also taught George about water conservation aboard the ship. One example is how George was able to warm up his rice in Panasonic, a warming mechanism which had a simple door that opened, he would put the rice in, and 45 seconds later it would be warm and soft. He was able to do this without using water.
When it came to watering the plants George would monitor the progress ever so carefully, being sure to never use more water than necessary. He learned that as the plants grow, starving them of water makes their roots dig deeper in the soil, and then at the point where he started to see them strain he would provide the water they needed.
His composting system was second to none. There was never any food waste. Everything went back into the soil to keep it rich and full of life.
BIM also helped with the growing process. He was able to log the growing schedule of the rows of fruits and vegetables and then compare that to George’s eating habits, to ensure the proper balance of consumption versus replenishing. So as harvest began, the first person George looked to was BIM.
“BIM, time on carrots?”
“92 days. They are optimal,” BIM replied instantly.
“54 days. They are optimal.”
“68 days. They are not optimal.”
“45 days. They are optimal.”
They continued through the entire garden. Nearly half of what was planted was ready to be harvested.
“Oh, and BIM, the watermelon?”
“91 days. They are not optimal.”
“That’s too bad,” thought George. He knew what he would be eating for a while now.
George grabbed a small shovel and a pair of scissors and began trimming the plants and placed the vegetables in a small basket. It took 30 minutes to clean the plants, and then he dumped some fresh compost into the soil and raked it together. He would download BIM’s food inventory later to determine what needed to be replanted and in what quantities. This harvest he projected would last approximately 30 days, at which point the other half of the plantings would be ready, and then the cycle would turn itself over once again.
He stored the vegetables in Admiral, which was a large door that opened up in the kitchen that maintained a cool temperature. Admiral helped prolong the freshness and George was grateful that he only had to do a harvest once every month or so. His meal schedule was tied directly to the longevity of each item, and BIM would keep record of everything. Occasionally, he would be forced to eat the same combination of vegetables and fruits for several days, and he always reserved the option to sneak a fresh pick in from the grow room.
After placing all the food in Admiral, he looked at the time and realized he was slightly ahead of schedule, giving him 15 minutes before classes began. Efficiency was everything, and he would always use the extra time to either chip away at the afternoon activities or work on the PACE project. Today George decided to use the 15 minutes to complete some of his afternoon reading, thereby freeing up even more time in the afternoon to work on PACE given that BIM would complete the ship inspection for him. By his calculations, he could gain a full 1.5 hours of free PACE time in the afternoon if all went according to plan.
George’s reading consisted entirely of academic and science books. His reading was structured on a quarterly basis focusing on four key areas of study that mirrored the lessons he would participate in with the instructors: Astronomy, Physics, Engineering and Mathematics. In addition, he had single courses occasionally, such as his wellness course with Kang every morning, and his English course with Miss Palencia. He also had a psychology class with Mrs. Epstein, which was his least favorite.
The Grand Master would hold his instruction on an irregular schedule. When the Grand Master was ready to speak, red lights would flash, the overhead lights in each room would dim and an alarm would sound throughout the spacecraft. For his regularly scheduled courses, a simple green light would flash once indicating it was time to begin.
Right now, George was studying Physics, in particular relativistic quantum mechanics, particle physics, quantum field theory, supersymmetry and invariants and condensed matter physics. As such, he pulled out a book covering Bose-Einstein Condensation and Superfluidity and dug in. Meanwhile, BIM uploaded the harvest data and began computing the daily food schedule for the days to come.
Out of the corner of his eye, George saw the green light flash in the corner of the room. It was time for class to begin, and Professor Miller showed up on the screen.
“Greetings George. I hope you are progressing in your studies.”
George by this point had realized that the greeting at the beginning of every course is the exact same 365 days in a row, and then it changes to a new greeting, with much of the same tone just different words for another 365 days. So when Professor Miller came on the screen George went ahead and mimicked him saying “Greetings George, I hope you are progressing in your studies,” while rolling his eyes.
Professor Miller was a strange looking man to George. Sure, he could only compare to the dozen or so humans he had ever seen in his life, but the two most intriguing to him were clearly Professor Miller and the Grand Master. Professor Miller was really skinny whereas the Grand Master was much larger. But Professor Miller had a wrinkled face, a mess of white hair that stood up on his head, and he pronounced words a little different than anyone else George had seen. He even began talking back to the screen using the same strange sounding words he heard used by Professor Miller.
Professor Miller continued, “Today you should be on book 372 covering the Bose-Einstein Theory of Condensation and Superfluidity.” ‘Theory’ was one of those words that Professor Miller said differently, and George again mocked him knowing the Professor couldn’t hear him while he continued his presentation of the material.
“Yes, Professor, I have the book covering the Bose-Einstein Theory of Condensation and Superfluidity.”
George shook his head thinking to himself “let’s get on with it.”
He had thought about using his course time to work on PACE since it was just a video playing and he could easily skip it. But he hadn’t fully figured out how the download of data on MANOOLA worked. Following the solar flare issue years ago, the Grand Master was able to receive the data from MANOOLA letting him know George was alright. This event has baffled him to this day, and he hoped that his PACE work would help explain how these systems worked, and how he might be able to manipulate them in the future.
George followed Professor Miller’s teaching with his course book. It always seemed like it took forever, and he was getting hungry. Lunch was right around the corner.
Professor Miller finished up and concluded as he always does saying, “And remember George, there is nothing more important than the Callisto Symphony. We are counting on you. Good day.”
George used to think a lot more about the Callisto Symphony, but now that it had been mentioned so many times, and the Grand Master seemed reluctant to share many details, he would just let this line graze right past him. Someday he figured he would understand what this all meant.
Today’s lunch would not be too enjoyable even though he was really hungry. Dinner wouldn’t be much better. Because of today’s harvest timing, his vegetables and fruit were showing the signs of a few weeks of age. He loved eating when his food was fresh, and knew that tomorrow he would begin digging into the fresh batch he had acquired today.
He cut up squash, carrots and mixed in some lima beans. He had started to experiment several years ago with making different sauces to top the meal with, essentially draining the juices from various fruits and vegetables and mixing them together. Today he used the last of a sauce he made that was dark green and tasted mostly like spinach, but it helped liven up the same foods by bringing in a few different aromas and tastes.
Following his lunch, George began his afternoon exercise routine. He began as he always does with a lot of stretching and then moved on to lift some heavy boxes he had manufactured with spare parts to serve as weights for strength building. The boxes consisted of a set of metal pipes with a handle on the top and he could add or remove pipes as necessary to change the weight. He worked his arms, held the boxes over his head to work his shoulders and back, and then would squat up and down holding the boxes to work his leg muscles.
His exercise routines brought him immense joy; the feeling of his body working, the muscles stretching and absorbing the nutrients from the food, and then growing stronger and bigger. He had manipulated the weight of the boxes and number of repetitions on different intervals to experiment with the results, and was now in a routine of high repetition and lower weight. Last year, he tried doubling the weight for six months, and he was surprised at how fast his muscles grew, and the amount of nourishment it seemed to require for him not to feel hungry all the time. It didn’t feel good and so he brought the weight down by removing half of the pipes. This seemed to be where his body and mind felt most comfortable.
He finished his work out with breathing exercises Kang had taught him. 15 minutes of complete focus where he would identify the thoughts that were in his mind and slowly remove them one by one until he was in a state of complete calm, his mind empty. Sometimes he would stay like this for an additional 15 minutes, cutting into his reading time. And he would do so almost without knowing it since he was able to shut down his thoughts and enter a focused meditative state.
He enjoyed reading his coursework when he was relaxed and doing so after exercising accomplished just that. He opened his physics book and decided he would try to cover his current chapter, and then one additional one which would put him one day ahead of Professor Miller’s instruction. He would then be able to focus on PACE even more tomorrow and the timing would be perfect since he would eat the fresh food from the garden he picked today, and his mind and body would be at their peak, ready for optimal performance.
He read quickly but absorbed all of the information. He had experimented with speed reading, using his left finger to scan the sentences because it seemed to help him increase his speed and understanding of the materials. But some of the physics lessons would slow him down given their intricate calculations and complex visual graphs.
His Astronomy courses were the easiest ones to speed read. And he knew the quarter of Astronomy study was right around the corner. He planned to use the increased efficiency to focus even more on PACE in the next 60 to 90 days. The thought of having so much free time excited him. He knew he would have a breakthrough on PACE. It was just a matter of time.
Today, he would have 45 minutes of time to work on PACE. He told BIM to begin the ship inspection so he could start. BIM quickly moved to the various sections of the spacecraft and placed his arm inside a socket, using a coupling that George had manufactured explicitly for this purpose. BIM would download the status data on each inspection point and then upload it to MANOOLA, all without George having to do a thing.
George would of course view the data before it was transmitted, just to be sure everything was in order. But it had become so routine now, that he would sometimes just send it off without review. He figured if something was wrong on the ship, it would be evident enough to him. After all, he knew every corner of the spacecraft in perfect detail. It was all that he has ever known.
As BIM moved from station to station, George went into the main control center of the spacecraft to begin his PACE work.
PACE was a two part project for George. The first part was deconstructing and then reconstructing MANOOLA to determine which parts of the system where responsible for inbound communication and which ones controlled outbound communication.
George was always nervous when he started tinkering with MANOOLA because it was clear that certain parts of the system were designed to never be tampered with. The core of MANOOLA was a combination of body sensors and ship sensors, which were easily visible and these were what George used every day to create the data to be transferred.
The sensors ran into a box that George decided was the primary control box, or brain, of the system, responsible for aggregating all of the data and packaging it up in an easily transferrable file.
There was one thick blue cable protruding from this box that ran into a much larger, long black storage area, tucked under Hendrix’s command control system, and this is where the problems began. This area had been bolted up solid and flush underneath the control pane but George was beginning to back out the bolts without stripping them away. He had one bolt to go and he knew that if he accomplished nothing else today, he was getting that bolt out and would then be able to have a look at the back side of MANOOLA where he knew some secrets had to be housed.
George had a number of tools aboard the spacecraft, but nothing designed to help with these bolts. It almost seemed intentional given the bolt’s irregular design and odd shaped head. But by combining two small wrenches, George was able to construct his own tool, and while it was slow going, he finally started to see the threads of the final bolt as it came loose. He held his hand under the black storage cover that was now coming undone, gently placed it on the floor, repositioned his flashlight and glanced inside.
There were a great deal more cords inside than George expected, but they were organized and grouped quite clearly. The colors didn’t seem to make any sense, since they were red, blue, yellow and green all tied together. On the far left side he noticed a large black and red block that had what appeared to be battery terminal connections on one side, that were hooked back into the main MANOOLA system. “So the system had a back up battery,” he thought. This explains how the Grand Master knew the ship was stable when the sun flares passed by several years ago. The battery backup would also mean that any interruption in the continuity of the signal would be unexplainable unless of course the battery wore down.
George followed the battery cables through the maze of cables so he knew which ones those were. The next batch of cables he followed connected to a small circuit board that was mounted on the far rear part of the storage area. There were three separate cables, all different colors that connected to the circuit. He noticed on the top left side of the circuit board there was a small antenna that stood up and a light underneath it that was blinking green.
The rest of the cables where simply a split from the main control box cord so George honed in on the circuit board, the antenna and the blinking light. He had not seen one of these antennas anywhere else on the ship and this one was far too small to transmit beyond the footprint of the ship. He figured there had to be another antenna receiving data from this circuit board that was much larger and capable of transmitting it back into the solar system.
The deconstruction of MANOOLA was only one of the aspects to PACE. The other work took place in the back bays of the space craft, where George knew outbound communications gear was likely housed – inside the remaining two satellites.
The Grand Master had made it quite clear that George was never supposed to enter the satellite bays, but ever since George had to release a satellite years ago, it has been one of his favorite places aboard the ship since he knew that a plethora of information about the world beyond his ship was contained inside these satellites. And if the Grand Master didn’t want George to go back there, it gave him even more motivation to explore.
The satellite bays consisted now of one empty chamber, two full chambers and a large bay adjacent to the satellite bays where George stored Exciter, his small manned spacecraft that he used to jet around the outside of Hendrix for his annual full ship inspection or when the ship detects an external problem that requires up close investigation. George would occasionally take Exciter out for a joy ride when he was bored. It gave him a chance to feel like he was truly outside the spacecraft, floating in the middle of outer space.
Exciter moved slow and was connected at all times to Hendrix for power and oxygen, so its joyride capability was somewhat limited. The idea of cutting Exciter loose always appealed to George but depending on where Hendrix was in its orbit, the strong and sometimes irregular gravitational pull of Jupiter always made navigating a challenge, even at times when he was connected to the ship.
As George stood there looking at satellite number two, whose communications equipment he was still in the process of disassembling, he decided to explore the outside of the spacecraft to see if he could locate the other antenna that was receiving signals from MANOOLA’s circuit board.
George would always wear a pressurized suite while in Exciter, even though the cabin would be fully oxygenized, just in case something unexpected ever happened to the connecting manifold. After he was aboard, he initiated the power-up process, oxygen transfer began, and the lights on the control panel all lit up. George waited for the pressure chamber door to close and for the external door to open. He always backed in Exciter so he could pull straight out. It was another one of his efficiency tactics since he figured that in an emergency, he might need to pull out quickly and backing up Exciter was always a challenge.
Soon George pulled away from the external bay door. He moved slowly and the connecting manifold only allowed George to float fifteen feet away from spacecraft. While he was excited to look for the antenna, he decided to take a minute to enjoy the new environment.
Exciter offered many more windows than Hendrix so George took adequate time to absorb everything he saw in every direction. He would slowly spin Exciter in circles, on all different radii so that he could view the entire 360 degrees of the world around him. Jupiter loomed in the distance. He saw Jupiter’s moons of Io and Europa but Ganymede and Callisto were out of view on the other side of the planet.
He fixated upon the moons as they hung in perfect still balance in the foreground of Jupiter, tiny little dots, just as Callisto appeared to him in previous Exciter trips. He couldn’t help wonder about the Callisto Symphony. What was it about these moons that were so important? They appeared so gentle, so still. What did the Grand Master have planned? What was the importance of this mission?
There were flashing numbers on the control panel which read 24:00, letting him know that he had been on Exciter for 24 minutes. In that time he had hardly moved, but as the curiosity about the antenna grew inside him, he grabbed the joystick control and began to slowly hover around the sides of the spacecraft.
The outside of Hendrix appeared a little aged but everything seemed to be in good order. The once all white panels had become a dark speckled black in most places. He checked some of the vital connections on the outside panel near Hendrix’s main control system, and everything appeared as it always had, with no visible external antenna. He spun around outside his bedroom window, the Grow Room, his small kitchen and main living room. He stopped to catch a glimpse of BIM standing on the floor completely motionless. He had obviously completed his ship inspection, and now awaited the next orders from George.
The ship’s main thrusters were around back and while George thought it was an unlikely place for the antenna he sought, he navigated Exciter in that direction. Hendrix possessed three huge thrusters, powered by large engines housed in Hendrix’s engine room, alongside the battery vault that was constantly recharging through the solar panels that lined Hendrix’s entire top side. George had extra solar panels stacked in the work room in the event that they lost their chargeability, which had not yet happened in his 23 years aboard the ship.
He didn’t find any sign of the antenna he was looking for. Then again, he wasn’t sure exactly what it would look like. But he knew that something had to be moving the information from the circuit board and short range antenna aboard the ship to a larger transponder capable of transmitting it to the Grand Master. He would just have to keep looking even though he felt he knew every square inch of the ship.
He glanced down at the time which now read 37:00. His PACE time was coming to an end, and he would need to quickly make his way back aboard Hendrix, get the info from BIM, take a quick look to make sure nothing stood out as being out of the ordinary, and then download the data to MANOOLA. He also had to reassemble the MANOOLA unit, which he figured he would do after the data transfer, so he could watch for any change in the blinking green light when the actual data was transferred.
He backed in Exciter fairly easily this time. When time was tight George prided himself as working better and more efficiently. He always had the next two steps planned in his head. As he walked across the satellite bay he peered over toward satellite two thinking to himself that even more answers had to be in there.
As George approached his main control room, he shouted out to BIM in advanced as he frequently did upon entering a room. He liked to think he surprised BIM and that someone was there waiting for him.
“BIM, get over here.”
BIM marched over. His right front leg and back left leg always moved in harmony, and same for the other side. As a result, BIM didn’t really walk but he marched in a stance that appeared stiff. When programming BIM, George tried desperately to remember how the creature had walked that he saw in the background of the video many years ago, but he was never able to understand how the four legs worked in unison. His programming took a while but it seemed to work and BIM rarely fell over. He was just a little slow and for someone who seeks the ultimate efficiency, it was one more thing that George knew he needed to do to advance BIM’s capabilities.
BIM downloaded the data onto the control screen, and George asked him to go ahead and transmit it while he ducked under the panel to watch the open cables, circuits and antenna that he had exposed below.
When the data was transferring the light turned a solid green. George watched as it remained a solid green for 90 seconds, and then it went back to blinking regularly. Wherever this second antenna was it couldn’t be far he thought as he loosely reassembled the cover to the cables, gently screwing in the bolts so it would be much easier to access next time.
It was time for dinner and as George finished under the control panel, he turned and walked toward the kitchen, calling BIM to follow him.
He had a productive day, and he learned a lot about how MANOOLA operated. One thing he had not taken the time to do was review the ship inspection data before BIM had uploaded it. As he walked towards the kitchen he failed to see a lone red light blinking on the control panel among a cluster of controls. The label next to the red light read “Orbital Balance.”
George spent that evening like he did most evenings. He would slowly reread some of the English coursework from Miss Palencia, in large part because it was lighter reading than his physics work but also because it made him think of Miss Palencia. He had seen only a handful of women in his lifetime, and because Mrs. Epstein, his psychology instructor, did not appeal to him at all, Miss Palencia was the center of his female world.
Miss Palencia was different. She was gentle in her words. She seemed to genuinely care about what she was teaching George. And she had a smile at the end of each video broadcast that would be the highlight of the day for him.
The English coursework was rooted in grammar and clearly edited vocabulary since many of the pages were torn out or missing, and certain phrases and words were blacked out. But the practice and learning of sentence structure was appealing to George since the phrases often contained hints to the world beyond.
Many of the phrases were about people, particularly in his signal word analysis work, that taught him to recognize word clues in sentences to learn their meaning. He read a few passages from his workbook:
“I have found Michael rather duplicitous at times; for example, he encouraged me to apply for the promotion but then he voted against me.”
“Unlike her sister, who enjoyed time alone, Sylvia preferred the camaraderie of her colleagues.”
“Fred was confident that he had performed well. Several people in the audience went even further and called his performance superlative.”
His mind would wonder with thoughts of people being together, joined together, doing things as a group. He pictured all of his instructors together teaching a large group of young kids, with all the desks filled. But everything he had seen took place in a conference room. The only other setting he could conjure up in his imagination was the starry background that was often seen in Professor Maule’s videos.
While his mind cycled through these thoughts, his eyes moved to the window and he glanced out into the blackness surrounding him. Some evenings George would use his Gamma Scope to scan through the solar system, hoping to see something that might alert him to where the Grand Master and his instructors were located. For many years he focused on his current solar system, but as he grew older, he began to notice the size, scale and beauty of surrounding solar systems, and he concluded that everyone he knew was much further away than he originally thought.
George also continued his stretching and breathing exercises in the evening, before he went to bed. He was about to begin when he noticed BIM standing in the corner of the room nearby. This evening he decided to pass on the exercises and the Gamma Scope in order to play with BIM.
Hide and seek was one of their favorite games. George would do most of the hiding, and then BIM would use his internal map of the ship to try to track him down. BIM’s programming was such that he wouldn’t pick up on patterns, which made the game less fun for George, but it also let him know another area of BIM’s analytical thinking that needed a bit more work. He wanted BIM to have a stored memory of all experiences, not just information or data that BIM downloaded.
But to run around the ship, and find new hiding spots was still fun for George. Not as much fun as when he was younger, but outside of improving efficiency, creating new games was always a focus.
Every two to three years, George would begin to get terribly bored and lazy. He would go through the routine of his coursework without absorbing much, if any, of the material. He would half haphazardly conduct the ship inspection. Little or no time was spent looking through the Gamma Scope, or tending to his other projects. He would sleep and if he wasn’t asleep he would be laying around. His fruits and vegetables were barely tended to as his food consumption would slow down. His extensive knowledge would begin to diminish and his body would get thin. He would lie on the bed in the mornings listening to Kang walk through his exercises.
Even when the Grand Master would come across the screen George was largely unresponsive during these bouts of downtime. He would listen but he wasn’t engaged. He did hook into MANOOLA during this time, and after a few months of logging his inattentiveness, Mrs. Epstein would all of a sudden appear on the screen and his psychology coursework would begin.
He would ignore Mrs. Epstein for several days, but eventually the comfort of another human being, even one via a screen, started to become attractive and even desired. George would slowly become more engaged, and soon the Grand Master would appear with an important message that made George feel good.
“Congratulations George. You have made it to the Senior level. You are excelling fast, and your mission is on track. You are doing an excellent job. Continue on your coursework and remember we are counting on you.”
Combined with the teachings from Mrs. Epstein, this message from the Grand Master would gradually help renew his sense of purpose. He would get stronger, eat better and exercise more. He would work to engage his brain in intellectual challenges, and many of these involved the creation of new games.
This creation of new games is how the PACE project was born. It became a game for George. His focus on efficiency was a game.
Sometimes, immediately following a MANOOLA download on his status, George would grab the controls of Hendrix, remove the auto-anchor which held his location, and freely use the joystick controls to spin Hendrix. His goal was to maintain a perfect course during the spin, something that was incredibly difficult to do without the autopilot.
Driving Exciter was a game. Building BIM was a game, and perhaps one of his favorites. It was certainly one of his most challenging.
He thought about all of this while hiding in a closet in the bedroom. He heard BIM moving outside in the adjacent rooms. BIM was opening cabinets so it was only a matter of time before he entered the bedroom and found George. George knew he could confuse BIM’s search map if he could sneak around and hide in an area BIM had already cleared on his map.
He opened the door and tip toed out of the closet. Just that minute BIM entered the room but George was able to duck next to his bed and cut off BIM’s line of sight, which he knew was limited to a small scanable area right in front of him. BIM moved over to the closet George had just exited and as he did so George dashed behind him, through the door and into the other room.
George knew it would take BIM a long time to recover and recalibrate the maps after missing him. He walked into the bedroom and stood in the middle of the room, giving up. It took BIM a moment, but he scanned toward George, it took a second to process, and then he walked toward George as quickly as he could. George felt a surge of warmth as BIM walked right up next to him. He moved to the bed, laid down with BIM standing on the floor next to him, and went to sleep.
He woke up the next day and began his workout with Kang. He was only 10 minutes into his workout when the lights suddenly dimmed and red lights flashed around the whole ship. It was the Grand Master.
George’s excitement built as it always did when the Grand Master signaled. He stood anxiously in front of the video screen.
The Grand Master appeared, and did not appear happy with a rather stern look on his face; but that wasn’t too out of the ordinary. George would instantly look for clues as to the Grand Master’s location – objects in the background, a window perhaps, or any elements that changed from time to time. Covering almost the entire background were shelves full of books. The left hand side of the screen was a blank wall. Not much to go on.
The Grand Master himself was wearing a collared white shirt, similar to one that George had that stood out in his wardrobe that consisted mostly of plain colored t-shirts and pants. George did notice that the Grand Master appeared slightly bigger than in his last video; his stomach and face were a bit larger, more full. And his trimmed beard, that was normally a dark black, had a sprinkling of white hair intermixed. His long hair pulled back into a ponytail behind his head also started to show signs of the white hair. The part of the beard around his mouth was also longer than the rest, which gave him a different appearance than in previous transmissions.
The Grand Master didn’t waste any time.
“George, your satellite data shows you to be off course. Your orbital balance is being compromised by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. I hope that you corrected this last evening when you noticed it on the control panel. I’m surprised you even transmitted the data without first correcting course. But perhaps you had to build your power supply in order to pull away.”
“Regardless, if you wait too long you will be unable to recover and your entire mission will be jeopardized.”
George was stunned. On the one day that he didn’t check the MANOOLA data, something goes wrong. But it had been less than 24 hours, and he was sure he could correct his course.
“George, please update MANOOLA when this is complete. We will hold all classes until we hear from you. And remember we are counting on you.”
The transmission ended. George immediately headed for the control panel as BIM followed.
“BIM, you need to let me know these things. How could you have uploaded the data without telling me there was a high alert?”
BIM didn’t answer.
George immediately began flicking switches on the main control board in order to determine his current location and compare that to his planned stationary position. It was instantly apparent that he was indeed slowly being pulled out of position. He was further away than he thought and the force against him was beginning to get stronger.
He started up the engines and all three thrusters, waited for them to warm up and then applied power against the gravitational pull. He was able to slow the rate at which he was being pulled off course but he wasn’t able to fully counter the force. He continued to apply more power.
The engines roared and the ship began to shake.
“BIM, plug into the control panel and see if you can help me get on course.”
BIM moved slowly towards the console and plugged into the custom attachment George had engineered.
George was beginning to get a little worried. He had never encountered gravitational pull so strong that his ship was unable to break free.
The ship began to shake even more and George had applied as much power as the ship could take. He looked at his speed and noticed he was still being pulled, ever slightly. He was close to breaking free but wasn’t there yet.
“Please see differences in gravitational force,” said BIM.
BIM displayed a diagram on the screen that showed their current location surrounded by the various gravitational fields and their respective strength. George noticed that they were near the strongest of the nearby fields. In fact, this current field was behaving even more strongly than the numbers would indicate.
To his port side the pull was even stronger, but if he piloted Hendrix starboard he might eventually get to where the fields were slightly weaker giving him enough wiggle room to generate forward thrust. He would then have to be careful not to fall back into the stronger gravitational fields as he set the craft back into his mapped position.
His practice turning Hendrix came into play here as he was easily able to turn to starboard while staying on plane and he kept the max force on the throttle. There was one area where the pull would be stronger, but once he got past that he should be fine. He watched as his drag coefficient increased and increased, and then it slowly began to get smaller. And smaller.
He stayed on his path and watched the map as the pull of the nearby gravitational fields gave way. His speed began to increase and soon he crossed a key threshold indicating that he was back in control of the ship. It was the slowest he had travelled, especially with the engines running so high, but he was getting where he needed to be. He continued on the path an extra 60,000 miles to ensure he was out far enough to prevent this from happening again.
But because he had deviated so far out of position, his path out of the gravitational fields only put him in a safe zone. He estimated that he was still at least 185,000 miles away from his planned station point. To cover that distance, George calculated it would take him approximately two days since he would need to recharge following the day’s events. Plus he estimated that he would have to recharge approximately half way through the journey to create enough power to make it all the way back.
Although he had a sense of relief having powered to a safe place, he knew he would have to plug into MANOOLA and that the Grand Master would be incredibly upset that he didn’t recognize Hendrix was out of position earlier so that he could have done more to stay on course.
It would be apparent he had slept through the night and missed the alert. How would that be explained?
But he could correct it. There was a way out of this.
“BIM, power status?”
“16% of capacity.”
George knew that it would require a full 12 hour charge to get close to 100% of stored power. And then traveling at a max speed of 18,000 miles an hour would eat the power pretty quickly. Then a 12 hour recharge. This is all assuming the gravitational pull doesn’t increase as he moves back near the stronger fields.
He started to estimate his travel calculations closer to six to seven days. The Grand Master would not be happy. He would get word of George’s location this evening and George wasn’t quite sure what would happen after that. Was he jeopardizing the Callisto Symphony? Would seven days really make a difference? Even if everyone was counting on him?
There had to be another solution.
“BIM, start a full recharge.”
BIM was still plugged into the control panel and lights began to flicker on the console as he began to replenish the power supply. On the outside of Hendrix, the solar panels turned toward the sun where they would remain until the spacecraft was back underway.
George had an idea, a long shot, but something he could try. If only, he was further along with PACE.
“BIM, do you still have the calculations you downloaded from 2 days ago?”
The screen on the console showed the ship inspection data along with George’s vitals. The data showed the ship in the desired position, just as the Grand Master would expect. If they could transmit this data tonight, the Grand Master would think they had quickly recovered from the mispositioning and he would have no reason to think the incident had any adverse effect on George, Hendrix or the mission. It would allow them to essentially step back in time from a data reporting perspective. And in the meantime, George could work on actually getting the ship back.
While he didn’t know where the final transmission antenna was for MANOOLA on the ship, he did now know how the data travelled from the download on the control panel, through the cables under the console, on to the circuit board and out through the small transmitter with the blinking green light.
He never needed to manipulate the data previously, and now was starting to think that it was going to be relatively easy to do. He just had to hope that it worked.
He was only five hours into his day, with five more to go. He figured if he updated MANOOLA now, he may hear from the Grand Master again before evening and then he would know that everything had worked as planned. So he reviewed the data one last time, and noticed what appeared to be a time and date stamp on the top of the first screen of data. It read:
George’s mathematics studies helped him immediately decode this time stamp.
He brought up the data from today just to be sure he had it right. It read:
“Didn’t even need you for that one BIM.”
It was clear that the string was the day, the month, Roman numeral for the year and the time.
George was never quite clear what the year meant. For him 2015 was just a number like any other. He just assumed there must have been 2015 years. Without an understanding of history, which was never part of his studies, this number didn’t provide him any context. It was nothing more than a time stamp.
“BIM, please set the time stamp to ‘2405MMXV1752’ but use data from ‘2205MMXV1752.’ Moving forward on the data, keep the ship inspection data and radar data the same. Vary my vitals slightly each day by a factor of no more than 0.5%. Regarding the time stamp, progress the first two numbers one increment daily starting back over at 31 for this month and then move to standard calendar year for future months. Leave the rest alone, but randomize the last four numbers each day to fall somewhere in between 1650 and 1850.” This would correlate with the time he regularly uploaded data to MANOOLA each day.
George slowly walked over to his living area and rested on the couch trying to play every possible scenario through in his head. What was he missing?
He felt every base was covered. It was time to give this a shot.
“BIM, send today’s data please.”
After it was transmitted the wait would begin. George planned to stay up all night waiting to hear from the Grand Master when he discovered something inconsistent with the reporting and George’s location.
With classes on hold, the power charging, and the data on its way to the Grand Master, George had time to relax and think about his situation. He looked out the window in the living area, and then sat up. The new position of Hendrix several hundred thousand miles away from his previous location offered a slightly different view of the surrounding stars and planets.
For the first time in his life, George felt freedom. No one knew where he was. He wasn’t completely clear from detection, but he was further along than he ever had been before. This is the biggest secret he had ever held, the most daring activity he had ever participated in; it was the first time he had truly broken the rules. He could feel the intensity throughout his entire body. But this was only the beginning to the numerous deep secrets that would become a part of George’s life in the days to come.