The Callisto Symphony – Chapters 5-8

Chapter 5

George knew he could hear from the Grand Master at any time, but as early evening approached he figured the chances of hearing from him that day were growing slim.  The Grand Master typically contacted George in the morning, and pretty soon George concluded that was likely what he planned to do the following morning.

Before retiring for the evening, George wanted to take a look through the Gamma Scope since he was at a new vantage point.  The Grand Master along with Professor Maule had been very adamant for years about him maintaining the proper position of his spacecraft.  That was why Hendrix was equipped with an “anchor thrust” that would automatically turn on and gently blast enough thrust in the appropriate direction to keep the craft in the exact location.

George assumed the importance of holding his exact position had something to do with the balance necessary for the Callisto Symphony, whenever that time should come, but now that balance was going to be put to the test.  This was the first time since his debris avoidance issue many years ago, that George had deviated very far beyond his original position.

He moved the Gamma Scope into place and began scanning the darkness beyond the spacecraft.  The Gamma Scope allowed him to see several planets in varying degrees of detail but he was unable to see very much detail at all on the first four planets from the sun.  He had studied Jupiter and Saturn the most, and knew from his Astronomy studies with Professor Maule that huge gas atmospheres surrounded the planets and therefore prohibited close viewing from space.

This left George with little idea what was, or was not, on each planet he could see. For planetary bodies that he could see with the naked eye, through the Gamma Scope or on his satellite systems, his knowledge was based on what he could actually see and the selections that were picked for him to read about in his Astronomy coursework.

He knew a great deal more almost about the stars beyond the solar system, with special interest in Andromeda and Triangulum, and the formation of galaxies, black holes and interstellar objects.  His studies also focused on the Alpha Centauri system, a collection of three nearby galaxies that he believed could be inhabited as well as the Oort Cloud, an outer shell to the solar system believed to be responsible for the creation of most comets.  Because the focus of his coursework was on distant galaxies, and rooted in theories that he felt a deep desire to evaluate, he spent most of his time observing systems outside of his own.  And his equipment seemed calibrated to support such activities.

His satellite system was a nice complement to the Gamma Scope, and George would frequently be hopping between the two of them to observe a particular body or event.  The Gamma Scope gave him a real life perspective because he could actually see the elements. His satellite was only dots and connecting lines with instant measurements and data crunching that would be impossible for a human to compute without deep study.

Because of the new position of the spacecraft, George was able to quickly notice a few things out the window that appeared a little out of the ordinary. He first tried to orient himself with how his position had changed. He knew the gravitational fields that he crossed were capable of changing his plane and doing so faster than he was able to counter steer, so it was highly likely that he did not travel in a straight line.

Using the Great Red Spot on Jupiter as a loose guide, and then through his familiarization with the position of distant star clusters in relation to his previous position, George was able to determine that he had travelled in a sharp J shape, ending at the top of the J. The calculations for his return were based on travelling in a direct line between the top and beginning of the J shape.  So he had a slightly wider vantage point than where he was normally stationed.

As George scanned and ticked off each of the distant star clusters and galaxies, he noticed an abnormality that was in his direct line of site, not far from Jupiter’s moon lo.  Something was blocking the view of a select group of stars.  George counted the stars again quickly and realized that there had to be an object in between him and these stars that he had counted on so many other occasions.

What was equally perplexing is that an object this close should be showing up on the satellite but there was no sign of anything abnormal.  Every other nearby object registered on the satellite.  Something was very odd and George’s curiosity peaked.

The black atmosphere surrounding him did little to help him identify the object.  It was so dark that even with the Gamma Scope he couldn’t see anything.  But he was able to confirm with the Scope that indeed something small was obstructing this view.  He knew that Jupiter had several dozen additional small moons that might be in his line of sight, but in the past he had always been able to account for them.  He concluded this was something he had never seen before nor studied about.

Unable to entertain the idea of sleeping with this new mystery object dominating his thoughts, George went to his bookshelf and began digging through his Astronomy books. “Surely the answer must be in here,” he thought.  At the very least he projected that in six hours time, they would have rotated far enough to have enough light for a better view.

He spent that time going between his books, the Gamma Scope and the satellite.  It had still not registered.  He plugged BIM into the control panel too just to see if he could acquire any new information, but even BIM and his precise calculations, failed to show a foreign object in that vicinity.

As the light began to improve, George’s heart raced with curiosity.  With all of his studies, he had hoped to uncover something new that no one had ever seen before.  His coursework seemed comprehensive, and Professor Maule was incredibly knowledgeable, but George knew he was being taught to analyze what existed in order to discover what didn’t, and that was what he hoped to do.

He kept his eye in the Gamma Scope, just waiting to see something, when suddenly the video screen turned on and Kang appeared.

“Alright George, it’s time for your morning routine.”

George shrugged, “Not today Kang.”

The video ran in the background as George tried to tune it out.  Just then the lights went out, and the red lights in the corner of the room flashed.

“This is it,” George thought. His heart rate picked up, and he felt his palms begin to sweat.

The Grand Master came on the screen and right away put George’s fears to rest.

“Congratulations George, you were able to stabilize your position, and you did so incredibly fast.  We are all really impressed.  In the future please carefully analyze your status data at the end of each day.  We need to avoid incidents like this happening in the future.  Good day George, and remember we are depending on you.”

The Grand Master disappeared from the screen and Kang reappeared.

“Remember to breathe at the end of each stretch.  Ok, now stretch the other direction.”

George smiled.  The Grand Master didn’t have to worry about future incidents.  George could now ensure that he would never even know about them.  His reporting was guaranteed to be spot on and it was on autopilot for the foreseeable future.  George was free to do what he liked.

Right now, the focus was on the foreign object, and the light was beginning to move closer to the area of interest.  Soon George could make out what appeared to be a satellite.  He kept watching as the object came further into the foreground.

“Whoa,” George gasped.  His mouth left open in awe.  He started feeling a numbness overtake his body.  It was a combination of nervousness and excitement.

What George saw through the Gamma Scope was a spacecraft identical to Hendrix.  It was unmistakable.  An exact copy.  It even had similar wear patterns on its exterior where the once white had become a dusty black. It had the same solar panel pattern, the same bay openings.  The windows were in the exact same place as Hendrix’s windows. Is this the Grand Master’s ship?  Could someone be on it?  What was it doing there?

George moved over to the control panel and observed the satellite data.  The object was still not appearing on the screen.  “How could that not be showing up?” he thought. “It’s right there.”

Several thoughts raced through George’s mind.  Can he contact them?  How long would it take him to thrust to the other spacecraft?  Can they see him?  If this is the Grand Master isn’t he going to notice Hendrix?  Why had George never seen this spacecraft before?  What was its mission?  And why is it not showing up on radar?  Is it possible it is a mirror image of his own spacecraft, and he is just getting overly excited?

George took a deep breath.  He would have to answer all these questions. His mind could not stop thinking about it.  He pulled away from the Gamma Scope, and remembered what Mrs. Epstein always recommended that he do when he needed to slow down – exercise.

George began stretching, breathing, and light lifting.  His routine was almost in autopilot because his thoughts were so consumed elsewhere.  He finished and ate a quick breakfast.  Again, he was unable to find clarity in his thoughts.

He had to take action and he had to take action right now.  He had to know more about this spacecraft.  His curiosity about himself, his mission and his purpose began to peak.  For 23 years he had lived aboard this ship.  There was nothing else in his world, until now.

“I must establish communication,” he thought.  “That is the top priority.”

Lacking sleep from the night before wouldn’t matter when his adrenaline was pumping as fast as it was right now.

He evaluated options.

If he could see the ship then obviously the ship could see him. Perhaps he could signal to the ship with a beam of light.  Maybe he could reflect some light from the solar panels.  He would be dependent on the occupants of that ship looking in this exact direction in order to notice these actions, but that wasn’t out of the question.  He needed to have a continuous beam of light so it would be noticed whenever the occupant happened to look out the window in this direction.  They would likely be required to use a Scope too given the vast distance between the two spacecraft.

If the occupant on that ship was savvy in astronomy, it’s also possible that they might discover George in the same way that he discovered them. Perhaps they already had? It seemed like a long shot, but a possibility.

Then there was the idea of moving Hendrix toward the other spacecraft.  This would be completely the opposite direction of the position the Grand Master desired for Hendrix, and it would take a long time to make the journey.  Perhaps he could begin to move toward the craft, and at some point the other ship would see him, move in his direction and help close the gap.

“BIM, calculate approximate distance 4 degrees north of celestial equator,” George shouted as he ball parked the location.

“Approximately 8.13 million miles.”

“How long would that take us?”

“That is the opposite direction of the anchored position.”

“Not what I asked BIM.  I know it’s the other direction.  How many days?”

“I need more information.”

“BIM, give me an estimate.  18,000 miles an hour, 8 hours a day?”

“It would take 56.4 days of constant travel.  I did not calculate gravitational differences on the path that may negatively or positively impact speed.”

“Two months,” thought George.  And at any time in the journey the other ship could see them and travel towards them to shorten the time.  He would continue to deceive the Grand Master of his actual location.  The time stamp was all set to change accordingly and the randomness of the time it would send, along with the slight change in George’s physical reporting, would certainly not be detected for some time.

But what if the Callisto Symphony was to occur, and he was not in his proper position?  That thought was the only one haunting him.  He remembered the smile from Miss Palencia.  Was she counting him, like all the others?

He thought of the monotony aboard the ship.  As far back as he could remember, every memory, every experience, everything he learned was aboard Hendrix.  And that would only change with the advent of the Callisto Symphony?

He had to take a risk, something he had learned not to do, but there was a feeling deep inside him, an unrelenting mark of curiosity that was strong and getting stronger by the hour.  But what if there was no one aboard the ship?  What if the ship turned away from him?  What if this ship held the secret to the Callisto Symphony?  There were many possibilities, both favorable and unfavorable.

He made up his mind. This was his chance, maybe his only chance. He was going to travel toward the other ship.

“BIM set course as previously directed.  Commence in two hours.  Download gravitational field data for the travel path.”

George knew he needed to prepare for a journey of this magnitude.  His ultra efficient mind could not help but organize the tasks as he created them, and he decided two hours was enough time to accomplish them all.

The final plan was not too complicated.  Conduct a full ship inspection including areas that he rarely inspected such as the engine and battery rooms.  He would be fully dependent upon the efficiency of those operations, and needed to make sure they were both operating at their utmost capacity.

Next he would use Exciter for a full inspection of the exterior of the ship, particularly the solar panels.  He would also look for a way to reflect light from the exterior of the craft to make Hendrix more visible.

Then he would view the gravitational field map to ensure he was travelling through areas with the least interference.

Then he would return to the command center, and begin the trip.

Just then the video screen came on in the other room.  It was Professor Miller and he was in the middle of the day’s physics lesson.  The Grand Master had apparently turned the course schedule back on.

George paused for a moment to think, then turned his back on the screen and began the ship inspection.

Food supply looked good.  He replanted some beans, and snuck a small piece of the watermelon that was just starting to bloom.  He was excited, and the watermelon was a small reward to get things started.

Water recycling looked ok.  All hoses and connections throughout ship showed as satisfactory.

Now it was on to the propulsion units and energy supply.  Everything in the engine room appeared in place.  All systems checked green.  In the battery room however, he noticed that one of the 25 ion solar panels was shown as malfunctioning and was not producing power.  This would cut into his efficiency, and would need to be looked at.  He hadn’t checked the room for a while so he wasn’t sure how long it had been out.  BIM hadn’t noticed it, and the sensors on the command console showed power as being strong.

He thought it was a little mysterious, but didn’t worry too much since he had extra panels stored in the work room.  He was planning on going out on Exciter anyway for the external inspection.  Now he would just have to swap out these panels which wouldn’t take too long.

All other propulsion related elements appeared to be in optimal condition.  He walked down to the satellite bays, put a replacement solar panel onto a wheeled platform and pushed it over into Exciter’s bay. Exciter had two long mechanical arms that George could activate that would be able to remove the old panel, and then he would have to come back into the bay to drop it off, and grab the fresh replacement.

He put his suit on and jumped into Exciter.   He estimated he had been working for only 18 minutes so far, so he had 102 minutes left until they would take off, which would be plenty of time.

He launched Exciter and began his visual inspection of the ship.  He didn’t think much would have changed from last time, although the ship was under the stress of maximum operating capacity for a period of time while he fought his way out of the gravitational field.  And he would be operating at maximum capacity again for quite a while, so he was particularly observant on this inspection.

He worked his way around the ship, and again took a look at BIM through the window.  BIM stood there as he always did, not feeling any of the excitement in the air.

He approached the solar panels last, and could not find the faulty panel upon first glance.  He knew it was in the bottom row, but they all appeared to be fine.  He expected the faulty panel to have noticeable discrepancies in the solar cells, so he drew in for a closer look.  Again, they all appeared similar.

He started to think this may take a bit longer than he originally planned, until he noticed a slight difference in the pattern of the cells inside one particular panel.  It was an ever so subtle difference, but the more he looked at it and compared it to the others, the more evident it became.

He activated one of Exciter’s arms and began to slowly unbolt the panel.  It was held down by six big bolts that took what seemed like an eternity for him to undo.  Exciter had a large magnetic rectangular strip on its front that George could place the screws on to hold them.  As the final bolt was being undone, George used the second arm to prevent the panel from falling into space.  He could always use spare parts, and some extra solar cells, if there were any good ones left, could at the very least let BIM charge from the light, if he couldn’t find any other use for them.

As he lifted the panel, he moved Exciter down so he could see underneath it.  He expected to see a large plug which he would remove to release the panel, but instead he saw a series of small wires, almost like the plug had come completely undone.  He was careful not to raise the panel too quickly as he focused on the underside, still surprised by what he saw.

The more he analyzed the wires and their pattern, the more he realized that something was clearly amiss.  He lowered the panel and took another look at the front side with its irregular cell distribution.  Something wasn’t adding up but if he wasn’t careful he would accidentally force the wires out of position, and he might not be able to replace them.

He decided to put that panel back and to remove the one next to it for comparison.  It took him 15 minutes to put the panel back on, and another 15 minutes to remove the second panel.  This one appeared just as he expected.  It had a nice compact plug and all the wires were harnessed together.  These wires looked a little different too, different colors, and there were fewer of them.  The wire pattern seemed to stem from each row of solar cells, aggregate at the end, and then each one came down to join with all the others in a nice organized fashion.

He knew he needed to be careful not to make a mistake, especially given the mission he had just planned.  He decided to go back into the bay, park Exciter, and evaluate the situation before he made any concrete decisions on how to proceed.

Back inside the bay he looked at the underside of the replacement panel.  It had a simple plug connector.  There was no way it was going to connect in place of the faulty panel.

His engineering expertise took over now.  He walked back to the command center to get BIM.

“BIM, download ship engineering schematics for the solar cell panels.”

“Here you go.”

BIM went over the control panel, plugged in and projected the wire diagram plans onto the screen.

George immediately noticed a part of the plan was missing from the bottom corner of the panel diagram.  A whole section was just not there.  Everything else around it was present.  Every other panel contained full wire diagrams of their layout including all the connections leading back to the battery room.

George soon realized that he hadn’t located a faulty solar panel.  He had found a large antenna disguised as a solar panel, and it was apparent that someone went to great lengths to prevent him from finding it.

Chapter 6

George immediately started walking toward the back bays, thinking about how big, complex, and powerful that antenna must be. He wanted to access the backside of the antenna’s connections from inside the spacecraft, so he needed to remove a few access panels in between the battery room and the satellite bays.

Removing the panels was a simple process but once inside George found a labyrinth of cables, wires, different computer boxes, some stacked up to the ceiling and a multitude of lights blinking in every direction. He carefully crawled through the cable maze to the very back of the tight space, and that’s where he saw it.

The plugs on the back side of the solar panels were easy to find and he had no problem following the fat bulk of wires all the way back to the battery room.  This made a lot of sense, and every panel was configured the same way except for the one he suspected of being an antenna. The wires behind that panel were scattered between a few different computer boxes and another open circuit board that had a small antenna and green blinking light just like the board George had found under the command console.

The entire technical communication ecosystem aboard Hendrix was now before him.  His heart raced.  There were so many unanswered questions now, and he felt he was on the cusp of making some big discoveries.

He had almost cracked PACE. PACE was no longer about Prohibiting All Communication Everywhere.  The mission had now shifted to Promoting Active Communication Everywhere. At the very least he had all the knowledge now to do so.  It was just a matter of time and effort.  This was a new game.

But he needed a plan.  He knew he had to continue advancing toward the other spacecraft. But when underway, he would not be able to work, and his path would constantly need to be monitored to ensure he avoided any unforeseen gravitational fields.

While the batteries recharged, the ship would be at rest and he would be able to continue working on the antenna and the communications infrastructure. BIM would be able to monitor the ship when travelling and he could sleep during that time, to be well rested for his work.

He would ignore all coursework and studies, but he would keep up with Kang and his exercise regimen.  He hoped he had entered a period that he had years ago deemed “quiet time” when the Grand Master would not interfere with his routine.  As long as the logs kept rolling in every day showing his perfect health, a perfect ship inspection and the appropriate position for Hendrix, the Grand Master had no reason to contact him.  Unless of course, there was a new development with the Callisto Symphony, but George figured he had been waiting quite a few years for that news to surface.  What difference would a few months make?

The adrenaline was still pumping through his veins, masking his complete lack of sleep.  George knew he should travel and sleep in the evening so that he would be awake for the main periods of light, which would help not only the odds that the other spacecraft would see him, but the light would be necessary to facilitate a rapid full charge of his power supply.

He decided to work on PACE with all of its new developments for the next few hours, exercise, then eat, download the gravitational field data to BIM, and then begin travelling while he slept.  BIM would be able to monitor everything.

George began to reflect on his construction of BIM many years ago.  BIM was essentially a computer program that George wrote.  His external components were a shell for a small circuit board, data storage, a camera for vision, a microphone for hearing, small speakers for talking, all run by a hand coded custom operating system George designed for fun.

To create a communications system, George would need to build something similar, perhaps even less sophisticated.  He thought about just using BIM as he was, but he had studied more advanced coursework in the years that followed the construction of BIM.  He knew all the programming advancements he wanted to make to BIM, he just hadn’t found the time to do it.  He decided that this system would have to be built from scratch to be the best that it could be.

He also developed concerns about the path that information would travel through via the antenna.  Would anything he created go directly and exclusively to the Grand Master?  All the health and ship data was transferred this way.  He knew his first task would be to find the computer program that determined the path of transmission.  There was likely only one path in the system.  Then he would need to build a switch that would go around that program and give him free and clear access to the antenna, with the ability to point it and transmit to any location he desired.  It could be switched back at any time.

The most efficient way to begin this process was to have BIM download all the program source code, and George would have to pour through it to find the transmission destination details.  Perhaps this would also give George a clue to the location of the Grand Master, although given the precautions taken for secrecy that seemed evident now, George figured the Grand Master would have scrambled the data, just in case someone stumbled up on it.

BIM downloaded the data from each of the computer boxes connected to the antenna.  He output the data on the command console, and George began his review.  He quickly realized this was going be a long process, one that might take days to complete.  He wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for, and the code was incredibly cumbersome, having been written decades ago.  It didn’t take advantage of many of the coding shortcuts George had figured out in the last ten years.  Its rudimentary nature made it easy to understand, but it was incredibly long.

George worked on code from the first out of three boxes for almost an hour and was exhausted.  He made it one third of the way through and had found nothing that resembled coordinates.

He scanned the other two boxes’ code quickly just to see if something jumped out at him, but again found nothing and his projection for two to three days of work now seemed almost certain.

He would pick this up later. He was too curious about some other aspects to the plan. Next he went to the work room to conduct a brief parts inventory.  The work room housed everything since there was no way to discard anything that was on the spacecraft.  This is the room where everything went.

He built BIM from scraps of some of the other robots and robotic structures that first boarded Hendrix with George in 1991.  These pieces provided some of the best mechanisms with which to create moving parts, plus they had circuit boards, and small cameras along with speakers.  They were used to raise George when he was just a baby, and any memory of how they worked or how they looked in those early years has long since past.

But it was fun to go through everything again.  He began compiling many of the items from the old robots, and also found power cords and wires that would prove necessary.  He was particularly interested in the circuit boards, since the ones he already had seemed to process information too slowly.  He actually outfitted BIM with three different stacked boards and routed the commands and return functionality to each of the specific boards to maximize processing power and output.  That is a big reason BIM operates so quickly.

This new machine, which he had tentatively named ACE for Achieving Communication Everywhere, was going to need to be as powerful as George could make it.  It was going to have to be smart to rapidly switch between his desired communications, both incoming and outgoing assuming he reached someone else, and the communication, in both directions, from the Grand Master.  He would always be aware of timing for the outbound Grand Master communications, primarily the MANOOLA data that transferred during the same time window every day, but the inbound would always be inconsistent, and unexpected.

The first mechanism he built was the switch.  It was a small separate box that contained just one small board and a mini power supply.  This box did one thing – it managed the priorities for inbound and outbound communication between ACE and the existing system.  It required a custom program once he cracked the code on the existing systems.  But the hardware was easy for George to set up.

He set the switch aside and laid out the components for the main ACE computer.  He surveyed everything and felt pretty confident in his ability to assemble it; however, he lacked one key piece of equipment – a monitor.

There were plenty of monitors aboard Hendrix, but no extras.  He had the main video screen for the Grand Master and his instructors.  That one was out.  He had displays monitoring the equipment and status in the battery and engine rooms, but those displays were so critical to the ship that he could not risk using them.  On the main control console, he had several monitors, but again, they were too core to his journey, containing his course chart, and spatial field data.

Although it would require more work, he concluded that his best choice was to have the battery and engine data share one screen.  If he wrote a program that would display each one for 30 seconds and consistently change between the two, he would have adequate access to this important information.  Plus it would be all in one place which might be even more convenient.  Because the monitors only display the data in one place aboard the ship, George was confident that this wouldn’t interfere with his daily ship status reporting back to the Grand Master.

He detailed his plan for the rest of the day.  First, spend one more hour analyzing the transmission code programming in hopes of finding the final location data.  Then he would exercise, eat, work on the cabling and wiring necessary for the sharing of the monitor.  Then review the course chart and spatial field data with BIM, begin the journey and fall asleep, waking up that much closer to the other spacecraft.

Before all of that, he peered through the Gamma Scope again at the far away craft.  It had not deviated from its location.  His mind began to race again thinking about the occupants of that ship when suddenly a voice from the other room commanded his attention.

“George, I hope that you have been keeping up on your studies. Today we are going to review portions of Plato’s Symposium and Aristotle’s Nicomachean and discuss the path to human excellence and the achievement of human purpose.”

It was Miss Palencia.  George raced into the room.  He had already read both selections a few years ago when he was fighting one of his bouts of depression.  These books had helped inspire him and now he would able to study their meaning with his favorite teacher.

The plan was on hold until Miss Palencia finished her video.  She smiled multiple times throughout the video, and George would stare right into her eyes, wishing that he could cause the expression on her face to change, even slightly.  Sometimes he felt that he did.

She concluded the video saying, “Take care George.”  And then she was gone.

He stood there for a minute looking at the blank screen.  She always made him feel warm all over, and George wanted the feeling to last as long as possible.

A minute or two later he felt anxious to keep going, and he switched back to the plan and was combing through line after line of code, but was again, unable to find what he was looking for.  It was time for exercise and dinner, and then George was back in the engine room connecting various pieces of cable together to connect the two screens.  Logistically, this was not too difficult, and he knew the real challenge was in the programming.

After an hour George unplugged the battery screen from its data source, and plugged in the cabling he had run from the engine room.  Sure enough, the engine data appeared.  All it would take was a simple program to alternate the display between the two incoming sources.  For now, he plugged in the battery data and confirmed he had a full supply of power.  He plugged the engine display back in too just for the night until he could write the program.  Since he would be running the engines hard he wanted to make sure he, and BIM, had access to the data.  Now, he was almost ready to begin travelling.

Back at the command console, BIM was waiting with the course data, and had everything on the display, ready for George’s review.

“Thanks BIM.  This is going to be exciting.”

“What’s going to be exciting?”

“Just wait, BIM.”

George carefully studied the data, and noticed another area in his travel plan where the gravitational fields appeared extra strong. He circled it on the screen.

“BIM, we will need to travel around this,” he said.

BIM quickly worked up a new plan, and it added two days of travel to the original arrival estimate.  George figured it wouldn’t matter; he couldn’t risk being pulled down into one of those irregular fields again.

“BIM, we are ready to go.  Commence engines.”

The ship began to vibrate as the engines and thrusters started up.  The auto pilot slowly applied throttle and the ship began to move.  The vibration and noise became much quieter as the ship got underway.  George peered through the Gamma Scope at the other ship, wondering if its occupants were now aware that he was beginning to travel towards them.  Hopefully they maintain course, or even begin to approach Hendrix he thought.  He didn’t want them to turn away from him.

More than anything, he knew he needed to communicate with that ship, and if he could do it soon, he would likely alleviate any fears its occupants might have about his approach, as well as address his curiosity, and slight fear, about what or who might be aboard this unknown ship.

Through the Gamma Scope, George could barely make out the ship as the light began to give up to the darkness, and the speed of Hendrix complicated matters even more.  He would need to look again the morning.

That evening George lay on his bed, looking up at the ceiling of the spacecraft. He couldn’t stop all the thoughts that were running through his head.  He told himself time and time again, that a good night’s sleep was necessary for optimal performance the following day.  But his curiosity had control.  Despite not sleeping the previous evening, George was awake for a full three hours before he was able to fall asleep.  At the center of his thoughts were all the activities he hoped to accomplish in the next several days.

When he awoke the following morning, he ignored Kang’s exercise routine on the screen since he had bigger things to do today. The ship and its engines were quiet. He walked over to the command console and looked at the magic number, the estimated days to arrival, which read 57.1.  Since the original estimate was 56.4, and the new path around the gravitational fields added two, overnight had actually reduced the number of days by 1.3.  Not bad, he thought.

He gave a quick glance through the Gamma Scope and observed the other spacecraft far in the distance.  It had not moved.

There was no time to waste.  He ate a quick breakfast of fresh fruit and decided that he was going to find the destination stamp in the antenna box code.  He was going to read through the entire thing until he found it.

He completed a review of the first box’s code and came up empty handed.  The second box’s code was written in an even more cumbersome manner.  “Add an extra half day for this,” he thought.

Then he found a string of numbers that seemed out of the ordinary.  It read: “HENDX75 98.234 69.556 0749304 246.77 14.933.”

He had seen a string of numbers like this before, and it took him a minute to realize when that was.  Professor Maule had taught him how to program coordinates like this many years ago when George conducted his experiment with the neighboring comet.  George was required to launch the satellite, and he wrote a string of numbers in a similar progression that indicated the position of the satellite.

He was sure this was it.  He grabbed a notebook, and split the numbers according to their meaning as he remembered it.

HENDX75 = Name of craft

98.234 = inclination

69.556 = ascension of ascending node

0749304 = Eccentricity

246.77 = mean anomaly

14.933 = Mean motion

This was clearly the positioning data for a satellite.  It wouldn’t take long for BIM to bring up its location.

BIM downloaded the data and projected an image of the inner solar system on the screen.  There was a small blinking light near the third planet from the sun indicating the position dictated by the numerical sequence.  George’s data when he tried to observe this planet always seemed inconsistent.  And it was just out of reach of his Gamma Scope.  The Grand Master wasn’t as close as he originally thought.  And he wasn’t in the spacecraft George was approaching.  He was several planets away.  George wondered why, and what else was in that vicinity?  His studies had always been focused in the opposite direction, into deep space.

More than anything else, George now knew something that would be vital to his communications efforts.  He knew how to bypass the antenna’s default transmission data, so he could broadcast his own message anywhere he wanted in the solar system.

 

 

Chapter 7

George was inspired now.  Everything was within his grasp.  It was just a matter of time until he could complete each task and begin to see the results.  Writing the complete operating code for the communications system he was building was likely to be the most complicated.  In order to do that he needed to have all of the pieces of equipment necessary to assemble the hardware.  And in order to do that he needed a monitor.

So he started back in the battery and engine monitoring rooms.  He had already laid the cable to connect the two systems to a single screen.  Now he needed to get inside the code of the system controlling each one, and write a script that will alternate the two reports on a single screen.

Back when Professor Maule helped him program the satellite, he was advised to use an old keyboard that he would simply plug into each system to gain write access in the code.   He hadn’t used that keyboard in a while, but he was able to successfully track it down in the work room.  This was clutch because his only other alternative would have been to disable the keyboard control from the main command console.  Fortunately he wouldn’t have to do that.

He plugged the keyboard into the engine computing system first, and rather quickly was able to locate the display code:

(#displayout)engine

Which he changed to:

(#displayout)engine, fx: ‘scrollRight’, speed: 3000, current = (current==items.length-1) ? 0 : current + 1; //increment or reset setTimeout(“rotater()”,howOften*1000);

Then he made the same change to the battery system after locating its display code:

(#displayout)battery

This code was incredibly clear and efficient compared to the antenna code, and other internal system code that he had viewed on the ship.  He deduced that some of the more complex code was purposely designed to be difficult to decipher.  There was no other explanation.

He plugged the cables back in the way he had arranged the prior night, and along with the new code saved in the system, he had successfully eliminated the need for two monitors.  One monitor would rotate between the two, giving him appropriate information quick enough to conduct almost any review and ship inspection.

He removed the other monitor and laid it out on the work room floor with the rest of the equipment.  He began to solder metal pieces together, creating the design as he went along.  He knew he just had to leave access to the various ports on each piece of equipment in order to connect them together.

On one side he put the camera and speakers and below that he placed 4 stacked circuit boards, the storage drive and the port to connect the keyboard.  On the opposite side was the complete power supply with the monitor above it.

He dragged over a box full of wires and cords and began stringing everything together.  This would be a pretty advanced system if he could write the code to make everything work together.  As he soldered some of the wires together he became concerned about having enough power to control all of these pieces operating at once.  He decided to run a separate line for the monitor since that was sure to be a big power draw.  The rest, he figured, would be alright.

He powered everything up, and after about two minutes a small command prompt appeared on the screen.  George smiled.  “This might work, but it’s going to be a lot of work, and it is moving awfully slow.”  With that thought he began feverishly typing away, coding a new operating system to power the system.  His skills and speed had vastly improved since he coded BIM.  It all just made sense as he enabled each piece of equipment into operation, and wrote a system that would join them all together.

The first piece of equipment he tested was the camera, which he turned on and pointed directly at him.  His face soon showed up on the monitor.

Once he had each piece of equipment functioning properly, he would need to write a program that would package the data and transmit it, as well as receive and unpack incoming data.  He decided to work on this all day.  He sat in the work room, with extra pieces of equipment and cables scattered all about, staring up at the monitor and typed away.  He knew his work would have some bugs; that was inevitable.  But it was going on pretty clean.

He took a short break for lunch and dinner, and would hear the instructors on the screen in the adjacent room.  They just kept on with his lesson plans like he was right there in front of them, engaged as he had been for years.  It all began to seem a bit senseless, the routine, the monotony, the coursework.  Now, none of it seemed to be that important.  A new world had arisen.  His challenges felt as though they had real importance.  He truly cared about the outcome of everything he was doing.  He had never felt like this.  He had never felt purpose like he did right now.  His development of this system and his outreach and contact with this foreign ship were all he could think about.  It became a passion, the first real passion in his life.  The excitement was overwhelming.

In the evening he walked back to the work room and continued playing with ACE.  It was working but it was processing very slow despite having 4 stacked boards.  And then he remembered the communications systems in the two remaining satellites.  There would undoubtedly be some useful equipment to borrow from them, so he made his way to the back bays, boarded one of the dusty satellites that hadn’t been touched in years, and opened a panel exposing its inner workings.

He wondered if he was going to need these satellites later for the Callisto Symphony and hesitated to pull any components from the fully assembled units.  The Grand Master and Professor Maule had hinted he would need them later.  And he was already down to two from an original three that were loaded on board.  If the Grand Master was to sound an alert about the Callisto Symphony, George was already out of the position.  Tampering with the satellites and stealing pieces from them would only compound any problems he would have.

George left them as is.  ACE was working properly and appeared to be capable of doing exactly what he intended for it to do.  He could always come back to these satellites later if needed.

He went back to his work room and finished his coding on ACE.  He wrote a program that would bypass the set transmission coordinates on the antenna for any outbound communication from ACE, and then immediately reset it for MANOOLA.  This way, he should be able to communicate without the Grand Master detecting it.  There was no way to test it except to try it, but he was pretty confident in his programming.  He took pride in doing it quickly, and writing it as efficiently as possible so that the slow circuit boards would be processing at their peak capacity.

That evening he conducted his nightly scan of the solar system, paying special attention to the area around the other ship.  It still had not appeared on his satellite map which continued to frustrate him.  This just didn’t make sense.

George checked the course data with BIM and then proceeded to start the engines and take off.  He laid down on the bed, thinking about what he needed to do the following day, and still pondering how the ship could be visible to him through the Gamma Scope but not on his radar.

 

He awoke the next morning, sleeping a bit later than normal.  Molly was ringing in the distance and Kang was on the screen about half way through his course.  George had caught up on some much needed sleep.  The ship was quiet as he grabbed some fruit and sat down at the command console.

He looked through the Gamma Scope toward the other spacecraft. But it wasn’t in his line of sight.  George rechecked the coordinates but they were the same as the previous night, even automatically recalibrating based on their distance travelled.

This woke him up rather quickly and he continued to scan the horizon looking for the ship.  He noticed a small light in the top left corner of his field of view inside the Gamma Scope.  “Oh, there it is,” he thought. And then rather alarmed, he said out loud, “And it’s moving.”

His heart picked up.  He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“BIM, check the…never mind,” he said as he realized the craft was not appearing on radar. BIM was of little help now.  George was going to have to do some manual calculations.  He took notes on its current estimated location, and compared those to his previous coordinates. He wrote quickly, and calculated the results. It became clear right away that the foreign spacecraft was traveling away from them.

“Oh no, BIM.  We must have scared them.”

George knew he couldn’t lose them.  He also knew a lot about that craft and its capabilities assuming it really was just like Hendrix.  He wouldn’t be able to close the distance between them if the other ship was travelling at the same speed he was.  And with seven million miles still separating their locations, he would need to do something fast.

It was time to test ACE.  George assumed the other ship likely had communications equipment aboard that was similar to what he had aboard Hendrix.  He would do a test signal, and try to send something to himself first.  If he could do that successfully, then he could enter transmission coordinates near the other ship, and send a message that would hopefully be received.

He moved ACE into the ship’s main control room.  From here he would be able to test if what he sends is able to be picked up on his main video display as an incoming message.  The first thing George did was write some quick code that would override any existing incoming signal with the most recent one. He had to do this because Professor Miller was on the screen right now giving George his next physics lesson.  Soon Professor Miller disappeared from the screen and it went blank.

George booted up ACE. He watched as each component turned on.  The monitor flickered on and soon the command prompt appeared.

George typed feverishly as he ran a manual program on ACE that would activate the camera and speakers, and process the transmission back to his incoming receiver and then broadcast the signal to the video screen in the other room.

But the screen in the other room remained blank.

“Test.”

He waited, and 15 seconds later he heard the word ‘test’ emanate from the screen in the other room.

A tingling sensation overcame his entire body.  George smiled.  He was close.  Something was wrong with the camera though.

He started to dig through the code that made the camera operational.  He had done this successfully for BIM’s vision so wasn’t sure where he went wrong this time.  Then a minute later he saw his face on the screen, assembled in small square video blocks some of which were still blank as they continued to load.  His mouth spoke the words ‘test’ but the audio was silent.

There was a huge delay, and George wasn’t sure how to fix it.  The processing power of the combined circuit boards and the memory he outfitted in ACE just wasn’t enough to push all the data through fast enough.  He would have to solve this problem later.  For now, he was curious what would happen if he transmitted a signal toward the other space craft.

He looked through the Gamma Scope and saw the spacecraft was continuing to travel in the opposite direction.  He briefly thought of what to say.  If the communications system aboard the other craft was like Hendrix, then the occupant would be caught completely by surprise when a voice came through the screen.  Travelling 7 million miles would also likely make the transmission lag between audio and video even worse.

George thought for a minute about only transmitting audio.  This would leave an element of mystery to his identity until he knew more about what was going on with the other ship.  His goal was to stop the ship from travelling away from him, and hopefully to travel to him.  He hoped to meet whoever was aboard.  He knew the Grand Master was likely located far away from where they were, but maintained a certain guard given the mystery still surrounding this ship.

He was also contemplating how the other ship would communicate with him.  This ship didn’t appear to have outgoing transmission capabilities otherwise he thought they would have sent a message to him prior to deciding to travel away from him.  He could see the thrusters through the Gamma Scope, and they were visible enough at night that George figured they might be the best way to communicate back to him.  A version of Morse Code, which he had studied, using rocket thrusters.

“Ok,” he thought. “I’m ready for this.”  The hair on his arms stood up as he nervously entered the new transmission coordinates into ACE.  He ran the program for the audio and video, figuring that he would start by saying there was a lag between the two.  And then he began.

“Hello, my name is George.  I am travelling in the ship that is approaching you, approximately 7.6 million miles away.  I have built a communications system that I hope is able to reach you.  The video transmission will follow the audio after a few minutes.”

He paused, feeling like he was talking to absolutely no one.  The ship was quiet.  BIM stood off to the side.  He had never heard his voice quite like this, speaking to another person, introducing himself.  He became self conscious about what he was saying, wondering what, if anything, the person on the receiving end of this transmission was thinking.

He continued, “My ship is Hendrix and it looks just like yours. I have been on this ship for 23 years with a mission from the Grand Master to work on the forthcoming Callisto Symphony.  I mean no harm.  I would just like to know who you are and what you are doing.”

He paused again.

“I ask that you please change course heading, and travel towards us.  I will monitor your course to see if you have received this communication.  In the event that you do not carry outbound communications equipment aboard your craft, I can see your thrust clearly through my Scope, and we can use it to generate Morse Code that I can read from here.”

He looked through the Gamma Scope hoping to see the craft change its course, but it continued to pull away.  He could see the thrusters roaring away at the back of the ship.

“This isn’t working,” George thought as he sunk his head in his arms.  He analyzed different scenarios trying to figure out what he might have done wrong.  If the test he sent made it out through the main antenna and then back in through his video screen, there’s no reason why a similar signal wouldn’t be able to be transmitted to another location.  He thought about the lag that existed just in the small area around his ship where he conducted the test, and realized the transmission would likely take a few minutes.

He waited anxiously, staring at the small speck of light from the thrusters through the Gamma Scope.  And then the light went out.

“Yes!” George exclaimed.

He could barely make out the craft through the Gamma Scope, but it appeared to be holding into position having now stopped its forward course.

“Turn around, turn around,” he yelled out loud.  His excitement growing to levels his body had never felt before.

His hands were shaking as he held his eye up to the Gamma Scope.  The other spacecraft was motionless.

“Come on.”

But it didn’t move even as George stared at it upwards of 30 minutes.  He went back to ACE to make another transmission.

“I see you have halted your forward course heading.  If you rotate your thrusters 45 degrees, I will have a direct view of the light from them, and I believe using short bursts of thrusts in various on-off increments according to the Morse Code method, that you will be able to communicate to me.  I am looking through my Scope now, if you care to try that.”

His heart continued to race as he looked through the scope.  He desperately wanted to receive a signal from the other ship.

Ten minutes past and there was nothing.

Then he saw a faint burst of light, and it appeared the ship was slowly turning.  His limbs became numb with the excitement.  He was communicating to someone. But who?

The ship made what George approximated to be a perfect 45 degree turn, and then he started counting the thrust blasts as the light turned on and off.  He started writing on the screen next to him.  It was slow but decipherable.

“H-I-I-A-M-L-I-S-A.”

He looked down, his neck almost completely numb from excitement.

The light paused.

“I-A-M-L-I-K-E-Y-O-U”

George smiled. It was the most amazing moment of his life.  He walked over to ACE and spoke quickly, “Hi Lisa.”

More information came through the Scope.

“H-A-P-P-Y-T-O-M-E-E-T-Y-O-U”

George spoke into ACE, “It is nice to meet you.  I have approximated that it may take 50 days for me to reach you at your current location.  If you can travel towards me, it will cut that time in half.  I would look forward to docking our craft together.  This is very exciting for me.  If you are like me, I imagine this will be exciting for you.”

He waited patiently for a reply, but this time it was taking longer than before.  He worried for a moment that he may have said something wrong.  Did he frighten her?

Soon he saw light from the thrusters.

“M-U-S-T-S-T-A-Y”

There was a slight pause, then more flashes of light.

“C-U-R-R-E-N-T-L-O-C-A-T-I-O-N”

George looked at all the words that he had written on the screen.  He focused on the phrase “I’m just like you” and realized that she was unable to leave due to the daily reporting required on her MANOOLA system.  After all, his deception of the reporting system was the only reason he was able to travel to where he was.

“Lisa, I am going to ask a series of questions and please indicate yes or no to all of them.  I will do this all at once because of the lag time in the system.  Here we go.  Are you unable to leave because your position is reported to someone?   Is this person the Grand Master?  Is your mission also called the Callisto Symphony?  Would you like to dock together if I can help deceive your reporting system?  And lastly, because I really want to know, did you live your whole life aboard that ship?”

He waited nervously for answers to these crucial questions.

The first one came back.

“Y-E-S”

And then another, “Y-E-S”

And another, “Y-E-S”

“Y-E-S”

And finally, “Y-E-S”

But the lights continued and George kept taking notes.

“P-L-E-A-S-E-H-E-L-P-M-E-E-T-Y-O-U”

He looked at the screen, excited as ever, “I will Lisa.”

 

 

Chapter 8

“I will help you,” George said into ACE.  “Give me a minute and I will be back in touch.”

Because it was morning, George knew the incoming videos from the instructors would be arriving any minute.  He pondered how the communications systems would work for both him and Lisa. She was receiving his signals via her incoming transmitter, the very same one that would be used for the incoming instructional videos.  He figured there was no way that an interruption in the regularly scheduled videos would be communicated back to whoever was sending them.  Lisa’s video screen would simply play the most recent incoming signal, overriding what may already be playing.

The only time there would be a problem that would be detectable is if his outgoing communication were to ever interfere with his MANOOLA reporting.  Because he randomized the time of that reporting for a small window, George would just have to be sure not to transmit his outgoing communication while MANOOLA was trying to use the system.  Easy enough.

Then he wondered if he could teach Lisa how to deceive her MANOOLA system by changing the timestamp and maintaining consistent positioning data just as he had.  He assumed her training was the same as his.  There was no reason to suspect otherwise.

“Lisa, you are probably wondering how I am able to travel while still maintaining my MANOOLA reporting.  I have deceived the system by automating the reports and changing them slightly every day, while keeping my positioning data constant.  There is a timestamp at the top of each report.  If you can manipulate the timestamp to generate a new report for each day sent at a slightly random time, that shows your desired position and changes just your health reporting marginally each day, you should be able to travel undetected.  Do you want to do this, and can you do this?”

George waited, and soon he saw the communication from Lisa come back.

“Y-E-S-I-C-A-N”

George transmitted several more times with Lisa and it was clear that her training was very similar to his.  She was perhaps able to grasp the concept even faster than he did.  He looked forward to the day when they would meet, and now it appeared that day would come much sooner than he originally expected.

He worked with BIM to chart her course, which also included navigating around a gigantic gravitational field, and it seemed to George that she had also charted a similar path.  He wondered if she had a BIM-like robot that was helping her.  Regardless, she had successfully changed her MANOOLA reporting data, and would soon be on her way.

They agreed to travel at night following George’s existing schedule, and they would charge up during each day.  At one point in the communication, George asked her if she feared the Grand Master detecting their plan, and she responded that she did.  They needed to be careful.

George was also very curious about her knowledge of the Callisto Symphony but she indicated that she, like him, did not know exactly what it was, and when it was supposed to occur.

He asked if she had worked on a communications system, and she responded that yes, she was working on an outbound system but had not perfected it to a level of being entirely comfortable.

The Yes-No questions going back and forth took a lot of time, and George offered to help her develop the system remotely, but it proved too hard with the communications lag, and the fact that only one of them could fully communicate outbound. They were only 25 days or so from a potential meeting, and both had waited years for this opportunity, so a little while longer wouldn’t matter. George longed to hear Lisa’s voice and for her to communicate in more depth than the Morse code.

Over the course of the next several days, they spent their days communicating back and forth.  George was doing most of the talking and after each transmission, he waited anxiously for her reply.

He asked if she was scared and lonely aboard the ship.

“S-O-M-E-T-I-M-E-S”

He wondered what she wanted to do when they were to meet.

“T-A-L-K”

One night Lisa transmitted what George quickly realized were coordinates, and upon looking through his Gamma Scope he saw a beautiful stream of light off in a distant galaxy that she wanted to share with him.

They talked about the Grand Master and his potential location, but Lisa didn’t know much more than George.  She didn’t know where the instructors were located either, but speculated that there was a ship in a nearby galaxy.  George shared his knowledge of the transmission location of the MANOOLA data, to which Lisa replied, “S-O-C-L-O-S-E.”

He also learned that his ship did not appear on her radar, which is what spooked her at first.  She noticed the beams of light curving around an object and was frightened that perhaps a small black hole had entered the solar system and was travelling toward her.

George chuckled, “That makes sense.  But it wasn’t as exciting as a black hole.  It was just me.”

Some nights their conversation would get a little deeper.  George inquired as to what she thought their purpose was.  She responded, “C-A-L-L-I-S-T-O” and then “N-O-T-A-L-W-A-Y-S-S-U-R-E.”

He asked if she had travelled far beyond her current location, to which she said “N-O.”

They also speculated as to whether there was anyone else out there like them.  She didn’t know, but hoped there was.

George was curious about her early memories aboard the ship.  He learned that they were almost the exact same age, and Lisa, like George, remembered growing up among robotic arms, which she also had stored aboard her ship, which he learned was named Joplin.

The days ticked by as they closed the gap between them.  George felt he knew a lot about Lisa, but he was curious what she would look like.  She could see him, but he only had a picture of her that he created in his own mind.  He would have no way of knowing how accurate it was until they met in person.  Finally one night he asked her.

“L-I-K-E-Y-O-U-B-U-T-G-I-R-L,” George smiled.

About half way through the voyage he received a long transmission from Lisa that made him think.

“N-E-E-D-T-O-T-H-I-N-K-H-O-W-T-O-B-O-A-R-D-S-H-I-P”

It sent George’s mind racing.  She was right.  He assumed she had an Exciter just like his that was connected to the craft through a manifold which housed the power and oxygen.  But there was no way to disconnect the manifold if he were to enter her loading bay. There was also the question of room inside the bay for two Exciters.

George told her that they would have to find a solution, and then remembered that one of his satellite bays was open.  Lisa indicated that she would have to board his ship using that open bay since all of hers were still full.  He was thrilled when he asked if she had any ideas on how to board.

She responded, “I-D-O”

George anxiously waited as the days continued to count down.  Neither of them had any issues with the MANOOLA reporting during this time, so he was confident that the timestamp change had deceived the system for both of them.  There had also not been any messages from the Grand Master, which wasn’t abnormal yet.  Sometimes a few weeks would pass between his communications.  He always seemed to have something to share when he would contact George, and perhaps, everything looked fine to the Grand Master at the current time.

As the distance between them grew shorter, the view of Lisa’s spacecraft became clearer.  Because he had seen Hendrix from Exciter so many times, he could tell that her craft, Joplin, was an exact duplicate.  It was assembled from the same pieces, in the same design, with the same thrusters, and, at least from what he assumed, the same battery design.  He looked over her solar panel design on the exterior of Joplin, and knew that one of those was likely the secret antenna, just as he had aboard his ship.

George was curious what plan Lisa had assembled for making the transfer to Hendrix.  He kicked around quite a few ideas, but each of them seemed risky.  Indeed, no matter how they decided to do it, there was bound to be an element of danger.

When they were within four days of meeting, Lisa sent a message.

“U-S-E-S-C-O-P-E-S-E-E-M-Y-W-I-N-D-O-W”

George pointed the Gamma Scope toward Joplin in the distance, and focused in, first on the main control window that was blank.  Then he moved to the bedroom window that was also empty.  They were close enough now that George could see pretty clearly into her ship.  He knew that he might get his first look at Lisa any minute.

He moved over to the kitchen window, and he noticed a dark shape behind it.  It seemed like a head and shoulders.  But there was what appeared to be a white square in the middle of the image.  He tightened his focus, and made out what appeared to be words written on paper held up to the window.

It read, “Can you read this?”

George leaned over to ACE, which now was transmitting to Lisa much faster given their closer proximity.

“Yes, I can, but barely.”

He looked through the scope again, the paper shuffled, and a new message was displayed.

“Can you see me?”

“Only a dark outline,” replied George.

He could see the paper go back down, and then it returned a second later.

“Tomorrow morning will be better.”

George couldn’t wait, but knew he had little choice.  He looked nervously into ACE.

“I can wait Lisa.  Let’s also figure out our docking plan.  I know you were working on something.”

He read one last note from Lisa before they prepared for that evening’s travel.

“I have been working on it.  Will share tomorrow.  Need your help.”

“No problem,” replied George.

Previously, he had many sleepless nights but this one ranked right up towards the top as his mind raced through various emotions. As he listened to the engines hum, his thoughts bounced between Lisa and Joplin, and his own ship and life aboard Hendrix.  He wondered what it would be like meeting her?  How long would she stay on, or keep Joplin near, Hendrix?  Would she really be just like him?  What information about their mission might she have that he doesn’t know about?  How did she spend her days aboard the ship?  What kind of food did she have?  What would it feel like to touch another human?  How was this meeting going to change things for him?  What would happen in a year from now?  Two years?

The questions kept coming throughout the night.  But everything would soon be answered.

George finally drifted off to sleep sometime in the early morning hours, and awoke not long afterwards.  He sprang from his bed, noticed Molly hadn’t made any noise and then he realized he was awake an hour earlier than normal.  The ship’s engines were winding down from the long night of travel.

“Only three days left,” he thought to himself. He grabbed the Gamma Scope and looked toward Joplin.  His eyes got bigger.  He could see her.

He could see long dark hair surrounding a young face, certainly much younger than any of the other women he had ever seen in his life.  When she turned and moved her long hair swung around her shoulders.  She appeared to be the same height as George, or perhaps slightly smaller when he compared her height in relation to other objects in the background of the ship that he was familiar with.  She wore a green t-shirt tucked into tan colored pants, similar to clothes that he also had in his closet.  Her arms stood out to him as appearing very thin, which was something he had noticed among his female instructors.  Their arms were always much thinner than the men’s.

He became more anxious as he panned the scope around.  She moved in the kitchen area and began eating breakfast.  It was difficult for him to make out many more details, but he could see the inside of the ship faintly, and it was just like he expected, laid out identical to Hendrix.

A few things stood out as being different.  Her kitchen table was turned the other way.  Furniture was positioned in a different spot.  She had fruit and jars of dark colored liquid on the kitchen counter.  The most notable differences were what appeared to be articles of clothing strung across the walls and ceiling, creating what seemed to George to be a spider web.  This was interesting.

He turned on ACE and said “Good morning” then immediately ran over to the Scope and waited for her to react.  She was still in the kitchen and he watched until a minute later her head spun around toward the video screen.  She got up, walked over her command center and looked through her Gamma Scope.  George gave her a little wave and smile.

He continued to watch as she scribbled notes on a piece of paper and held it up to the window.  With the light now starting to enter their space, it was much easier for him to read.

“Instructions for docking.  Please confirm through video.”

“Ok, go ahead.”

“You set position. I come near you.  You open satellite bay.”

“I’m following you so far.”

“We both get in Exciters.  I can detach mine from Joplin.”

“Really?” George was curious.

“Yes.  You must use arm to pull me into bay.  Then close door.”

George took a deep breath.  “Let me repeat this back to you.  It sounds as though you have constructed a way to detach your Exciter from its manifold. And that you might lose power, or have limited power when you disconnect?  So I need to use my Exciter arm to pull you into the open satellite bay. Then we seal that bay door and you are in.  Then I pull in the Exciter bay. Correct?”

He watched her through the Gamma Scope as he awaited her reply.  Then he saw her head nod, and she wrote, “Yes, and I will be ok.”

George thought about the plan for a moment.  Lisa must have developed something that would allow the Exciter manifold to connect and disconnect from Joplin.  He was intrigued and began to wonder how such a mechanism would work.  Regardless, it was clear that Lisa had studied engineering in great depth to be able to create such a system.

George spoke into ACE, “Ok, I’m ready to do this then.  Just two days away.”

He could tell that Lisa was beginning to become affected by their forthcoming meeting, in a similar way as he was.  She asked him if he was excited, nervous or worried about meeting her.  George replied saying all the above.  Lisa did too.

George was spending every second looking over the inside of Joplin in great detail through the Gamma Scope until Lisa acknowledged that she could see inside of Hendrix through hers. Then George decided he better not be caught looking at her all the time.  And his excitement grew to new heights.

They conversed more about the docking plan.  According to Lisa, their ships would be in the approximate vicinity of one another when they awoke the next morning.  Then she would have to maneuver Joplin into a desired position next to Hendrix.  There would be a short period of time where Lisa would be completely disbanded from both spacecraft, during which time it would be imperative upon George to grab her Exciter with his mechanical Exciter arm, and ensure she doesn’t drift off into space.  When she disbands from Joplin she will lose all control and power.

George was confident in his ability to maneuver Exciter.  It was what he did for fun.  They agreed that a circular latch on the top of Lisa’s Exciter would be the optimal place for George to hook on and guide her into the open satellite bay aboard Hendrix.

The plan was in place. It almost seemed surreal for George that night.  They were both periodically looking inside each other’s ships.  She was almost there.  They were almost together.  The conversations over the last few days continued to grab George’s attention and he became nervously excited for the next day.  Lisa was the first human he had ever seen.  For 23 whole years, he had been aboard that ship, by himself, with just BIM, and now his whole world, his whole routine, was going to change.

He was ready.  Deep down he longed for this to happen, but now, lying on his bed the night before contact, he became nervous and the questions wouldn’t stop.  What was Lisa going to bring from her ship?  Did they need to share supplies?  What about his food supply? Would it be enough for both of them?

He was tired but again unable to fall asleep.  He strived to remove all of these questions by thinking about something else.  He needed something to occupy his time for a few hours, a distraction of some sort.

He fumbled around with the command center controls, then made BIM chase him.  Then while still thinking about tomorrow’s docking of the craft, he walked into the satellite bays and observed where her Exciter would soon be parked.

He walked into the work room, and put a few pieces of equipment back where he stored them.  This was about all the clean up that he felt was necessary since he lived with so few objects.

Then it hit him, something he had forgotten to do in all the excitement around meeting Lisa.  Since he knew the coordinates of where the Grand Master was having the MANOOLA data sent to, what happens if he points ACE in that direction?  He wondered if there would be a signal, or anything that was being communicated outbound from that area.  There had to be a reason why the Grand Master chose those coordinates.  And there would have to be a satellite there to receive incoming transmissions and likely mange outbound as well.

He went over to ACE, opened up its root programming log and changed the incoming antenna position to match with the coordinates from the MANOOLA data transmission.

It was late into the evening and the ship vibrated heavily all around him as it travelled through space, toward their eventual meeting point tomorrow.  The engines were loud, but the noisy travel environment onboard the ship at the time did little to shift his focus.  He had just found the ultimate distraction, and something he was very compelled to want to answer.

It would take a quite a while to receive a signal from 440 million miles away.  George waited and heard nothing. He asked BIM to bring up the coordinates on the map so he could see them in greater context.  It seemed to George like the coordinates were pointing to a huge open space above the third planet from the sun.  But not to the planet itself or the large moon that was orbiting it.

That made little sense to George, so he changed the antenna positioning to coordinate with the position of the moon surrounding the planet.  He waited and again didn’t pick anything up.  He felt he was just shooting in the dark.  He aimed it toward the nearby planet and programmed BIM to move the signal three degrees every 30 minutes.

He laid on the floor next to ACE, not far from one of the speakers, and listened to the constant white noise that was radiating from it.  He listened intently to its consistency, hoping to hear anything that would jar him from his comfortable position on the floor.  He was almost asleep when the thoughts of Lisa and their meet up tomorrow overcame him.  He was excited, but tired enough that he fell asleep.

The white noise continued on ACE for a few hours.  Then the noise broke with an indecipherable voice flashing in and out among the inconsistent radio frequency.  The voice was high pitched and squeaky, and a minute later it had disappeared.  The event was logged into ACE’s root directory, and BIM’s internal storage.