The Callisto Symphony – Chapters 17-19

Chapter 17

George awoke in the middle of the night, his bed drenched with sweat as he swung his head from side to side, eyes wide, still coming to from a horrible vision he dreamed of himself walking alone through a vast span of fog-covered trees on Earth.  He heard footsteps running through the trees, crackling on branches as he tried to determine who or what was circling around him.  The noises got closer and the steps faster.  He looked every direction but couldn’t see anything through the fog, which was wet and dripping down his face alongside sweat from his brow.

As the steps continued to get closer and faster and louder, he suddenly saw a black shadow emerge from the fog and slam into his body with incredible force. His back hit the ground, his eyes closed for a moment, and when they reopened the black shadow was gone.  The fog remained thick.

He stood up from his bed, groggy, still trying to shake the thoughts about the dream from the back of mind.  He walked by Lisa and Jason, who were still sleeping in the darkness with the humming of the ship’s thrusters in the background as it travelled forward at full throttle.  He entered the main control room, took a deep breath and sat down in front of ACE.  Before he booted it up, he took a moment to reflect on everything they had learned the previous night.

Earth was heavily populated, and as beautiful as the mountains, oceans, waves and rainforests were, there seemed to be a great struggle between all the elements, a lack of harmony in how they live.  Jason seemed to thrive as he increased his knowledge of Earth while Lisa seemed to be pulling back.  She was interested in learning more, but didn’t want it to come between the lives they had built on the ship.  Their arguing last night made George uncomfortable.  He had never felt a sourness like that in stomach before, and he couldn’t stop reflecting on how it made him feel.

They had read in almost disbelief about the World Wars, watching videos of people dying, shooting each other and blowing up cities with bombs. He had read of the sinister intentions of certain world leaders throughout history.  And shortly after that had read about another leader, God, who was the supreme being, and creator and sustainer of the universe.  Then he found views that ran counter to that belief, instead outlining a “big bang” cosmic event that created the universe from a series of atoms colliding hundreds of millions, maybe billions of years ago.

He slowly moved his command prompt to the search box, hesitated for a moment, and then typed in “where do humans come from?”  The results enthralled him as he read about the male and female organs, the act of fertilization and the resulting pregnancy and birth of babies.  Never before had he questioned how he was created. He had questioned how and why he was put on Hendrix many years ago, but that seems to be explained somewhat through the Grand Master and his new interactions with Jason and Lisa.  But who were his mother and father?  It seemed almost certain now that he would have a mother and father.

He moved the prompt back to the search box, this time typing in “George Burgess.”  He was surprised at the abundance of data that was returned but found it to be mostly irrelevant.  He received similar results after typing in Jason and Lisa’s names, neither yielding any clues or discerningly important data. It reinforced his notion that Earth contained a lot of people since so many shared their names. He did make note of a directory that appeared quite frequently in the results, “facebook.com.”

Next he searched for “Grand Master,” to which he found several references that he believed might provide clues, but ultimately those too proved to be irrelevant and in some case rather bizarre.  He saw images of hooded figures and line drawings of exaggerated characters with facial features that were clearly not possible.  To this, he shrugged, not clear on how his input and the return information was being processed or categorized.

That was until he typed in “Professor Maule.”  As George scanned the results a line caught his eye, “Professor Gerald Maule, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Professor of Astronomy. Research Interests:  Surveys of the outer solar system, massive halo objects, comets and asteroids.” George opened the subdirectory and was stunned as a photo began to slowly appear on the screen.  He could tell right away that it was the same Professor Maule who had been providing him instruction in the videos, however the image he was viewing now on ACE showed a slightly older Professor Maule, his skin and hair showing signs of age.  George continued reading,

“And as Chief administrator and overseeing counsel for the Gilbert-Arnold Planetarium, Prof. Maule serves double duty leading cutting edge scientific theory and analysis as well as his own cosmic observations and tracking.”  The text was combined with a photo of a beautiful spherical building and a massive Gamma Scope, all with the background of dark stars and space.  This is the building where Prof Maule made his videos, and this explains the different backdrop that George had pondered, and been fascinated with, since he was a child.  The videos from Professor Maule had originated from Earth.

He heard the faint rustling of blankets and sheets in the adjoining room, and turned around to see Lisa walking towards him.

“Good morning, George.”

“Good morning.”

“What are you looking at?”

“You have to see this,” he turned the screen towards her and she gasped as Professor Maule’s photo appeared.

“He’s older.  But it’s him.”

“Yes, I’ve been searching for various topics and names, hoping to find out more about what is really happening on Earth.  He was the first professor I searched for.  But I did find out that he lives in an area called Massachusetts, which I searched for too and it is a small land on one of the smaller land masses of the planet.”

“Incredible.  How long have you been searching?”

“Not long, just an hour or so.  I couldn’t sleep.”

“I didn’t sleep well either.  There are too many thoughts in my head that I can’t sort out.  It hurts my brain even when I begin thinking about them.”

“Me too Lisa. I feel the exact same.  And it’s uncontrollable.”

“I guess we shouldn’t be worried but I am.”

“I’m sure we’ll figure everything out.  Look, at least the engines are still running, and it’s 8:30 now, which means our extra battery power seems to be working.”

Lisa pretended to smile.  Jason suddenly appeared from behind her, “Is that Professor Maule?  He looks old.”

“We thought so too,” said George, “and I was able to find information about him.  He lives on Earth.”  And George proceeded to share all the new information about Professor Maule.  Lisa didn’t listen to it all again, instead opting to go to the Grow Room where she stayed for the next several hours by herself working on the food plan.  She only emerged to bring in BIM for some calculations.

George and Jason continued to type various search phrases into ACE and each time they were rewarded with further knowledge about Earth.  At one point they searched for “23 year old on Earth” and ended up finding a host of unexplainable videos and irrelevant data with even more new theories on the creation of Earth, followed by audio for something they learned what called “music.”  Both were instantly captivated and they continued listening to more music throughout the day.

That night they finally reconvened around dinner, which Lisa had taken the lead on preparing.  She remained quiet and reserved throughout the meal, and George and Jason rose from the table immediately upon finishing to listen to more music.  Jason left without saying anything while George stopped to help clean the dishes.  “Lisa, you need to come hear some of the music we have discovered.  It comes in all different styles.  Some is loud, some is soft.  It is all so beautiful.”

“Sounds good.  I’m going to finish up with BIM in the Grow Room and then I’ll come in.”

Lisa joined them slightly before 7pm, mentioning how busy she had been preparing the meal plans.  She was excited about the plan and her work, but George and Jason paid little attention.  Instead they were typing away feverishly on ACE bringing up all different types of music that was soon radiating throughout the control room cabin.

Before going to bed that night, George checked on the travel coordinates with BIM, noting that their first day of advancement checked out on schedule.  BIM’s estimated date of arrival stayed the same.  Jason and Lisa had already retired in the other room, so George spent the last 30 minutes of the evening peering through the Gamma Scope.  He was always fascinated by how the universe took shape as he changed his location.  He took particular interest in Earth and the area surrounding it.  The red planet, the fourth from the sun, shone its red color more vibrantly than Earth was showing its blue.  But George knew that would change as they approached, and Earth aligned more favorably into his line of study.

He then turned the opposite way and focused in on the streaking comets that we could seen off in the distance.  Their number was still indecipherable, but they seemed to be growing and getting brighter.  They didn’t look menacing.  They looked magnificent.

As it approached 8:00 pm George heard the engines and thrusters start up.  Soon they were continuing on their journey, hurling through space toward Earth.

 

The next morning George and Lisa both awoke at the sound of a loud voice in the other room.  It was Jason speaking with OptZ, and they appeared to be in an argument.

“I remain concerned Jason.  You are navigating too far from the desired path.”

Jason was beyond frustrated as he screamed, “Take this order.  Change the desired path.  Change the path.”

“The coordinates you provided me are not on the desired path.  I do not understand the order as you have indicated.”

Jason takes a deep breath as he sees George and Lisa enter the room.  “Good morning.  OptZ is stubborn to a point that he is now becoming useless.”

“Let me try,” offered Lisa.  She walked toward the control panel.  “OptZ-“

“Yes Lisa.”

“Please share the desired path.”

“HEND75 76.534 65.336 0769312 332.77 14.877”

“Thank you OptZ.   Those are the old coordinates that were given to us before our plans changed. You are correct in that we would not want to deviant from those coordinates, unless our plans changed.  But since they have we must make a correction.  We want to be accurate.  Can I share the new coordinates with you now?”

“Yes, Lisa.  Thanks for sharing this update.”

Lisa called BIM over who plugged into the control panel and shared the new coordinates with OptZ.  OptZ did some quick calculations after asking Lisa for their speed and travel schedule.  And then his estimated date of arrival was presented and it was two days after BIM’s projection.

“That sounds right on track,” said Lisa.   She looked back at George and Jason who nodded with approval.

“I can’t believe you made that happen,” Jason said.  “Nice work.”

That morning, George and Jason worked out with Kang.  On some days Lisa would join them too.  As a group they would frequently talk to one another, but as the days went on, they began spending more time on their individual projects.  For Lisa, it was working in the grow room and playing with ACE.  She had started hybrid growing experiments with many of the seeds, physically integrating them with one another in an attempt to create new plants.  When Jason and George weren’t on ACE, she could usually be found tinkering around, searching for new terms, especially those around gardening which opened up a vast world of knowledge for her.

Jason was very involved with ACE too but would often search for different topics than Lisa and George.  He took interest in the more unusual videos, photos and music that he discovered, and he loved sharing it with George.  He discovered videos of people riding waves on boards, or jumping off huge snow banks with skis.  George found the videos entertaining but his ACE time was used primarily for building knowledge, not entertainment.

Jason was frequently back in the work room for hours on end by himself, and he shared very little about what he was doing with Lisa and George.  George would try to engage Jason in a dialogue about what he was building, but Jason’s answers were always short and uninformative.  He also showed little interest in what George and Lisa were working on.  They were curious when Jason would begin his work on the invisibility project that everyone had agreed was a top priority, but at every mention of the project Jason would become rather unresponsive.

George was working on a new program for BIM, one that was smarter and faster than what he had programmed years ago.  He also sought to enable BIM to connect to the satellite communications infrastructure so that he could use the search functionality they had unlocked to ask and answer questions.  It was going to be a complicated process but it would completely revolutionize BIM’s role aboard the space craft.

George and Lisa inadvertently, and then more purposefully, began spending more time together as the days and weeks wore on.  Their friendship remained intact and was representative of how they had first felt when they met each earlier in the year.  And while they were raised exactly the same, and shared many of the same opinions, they always found new ideas to discuss and theories to analyze, many of which involved Earth, its people and its way of operating which was becoming more clear, but also more difficult to fully understand.

Their searches on ACE involved history, amazing events and people, geography, oceanography, science and museums, and they would also go back to admire the original Planet Earth video series.

In addition to reworking BIM’s code, George was experimenting with a sub directory that he had noted earlier, facebook.com.  When he searched for names or people, frequently this sub directory would show up, but he had been unable to advance it beyond a single step in the directory.  It seemed to be a dead end, until he began making notes on the characteristics of the various sub directories under its control.  There was what appeared to be two separate folders, one private and one public, and the size of the private folder was much larger than the public one.  Yet he couldn’t figure out how to switch and gain access to the private one.

Late one night, on November 15, 2015, after they had been traveling for four months, George made an important discovery.  He found an area inside the facebook.com directory where he could create a new account.  He needed something called an “email address” which was little more than another search and a few clicks away.  Using his name George Burgess, and his new email address callistosymphony@yahoo.com, George created his new profile.

A prompt asked him to “write something…” to which he typed his first post, “I am George and I have never visited Earth.  Please write something back.”  He smiled and went to bed.

 

 

Chapter 18

All three of the ship’s occupants established a routine. George’s didn’t deviate far from the routine he had practiced for the last several years.  He would still wake up and exercise with Kang, sometimes with Jason by his side, but instead of the instructor courses, he would tinker away on BIM or ACE, or assist Lisa with her experiments in the Grow Room.

Lisa typically awoke around the same time as George and the two liked to converse in the mornings.  Sometimes Lisa would try to sneak in some time with OptZ.  It was her secret that only George knew about.  Since Jason was always away in the work room down the hall, Lisa could quiz OptZ on various topics, which would inevitably lead to her uncovering the errors in his programming, and she would help correct them by talking it through with OptZ.  After many months, it had become apparent that Lisa was the only one who could truly relate to OptZ and influence his programming patterns.  Jason had created a complex, intricate robot that appeared at times to be beyond even his own control.

On December 2, 2015 after five months of traveling, Jason emerged from the work room one afternoon noticeably elated as he confidently walked down the hall towards George and Lisa, who quickly turned off OptZ and pretended to be working on ACE.

“I cracked it,” he shouted as he came down the hall.  “I finally got it.”

“What is it?” George asked.

“Invisibility.  I figured it out.”

George and Lisa looked at each other, impressed by what seemed like a major breakthrough.

Jason held up a large square device with four cameras mounted at each corner and a viewing screen off to the side.  “Watch this.”  He turned on a light that shone in the middle of the square and then proceeded to dip his hand in the middle of square.  Lisa and George were observing the act on the screen and were astonished as it appeared that his hand disappeared into the square.

“Amazing,” Lisa said.  “How did you do that?”

“It wasn’t that hard really.  It’s just a perfect model, a three dimensional, perfect paraxial model that bends the light around any object that enters a certain circumference.”

Jason handed the device to George who put his hand in and watched it disappear on the monitor.  “Fascinating.”

“And you can put anything in there?  Even a large ship if this was scaled up?” asked Lisa.

“That’s right, and that’s precisely what we need to do.”

George pretended to put that device on top of Lisa’s head. “Let’s test it.”

“It’ll work if her head will fit,” said Jason.

After the joking subsided, they discussed the execution of enacting the same properties on Hendrix, to which Jason felt, “It’ll just take some time and a couple of Exciter trips when we are at rest, but we have the equipment and now the knowledge to do it.”

They decided to begin the following day after Jason and George spent a few hours today assembling and organizing all the materials and equipment they would need.  The Work Room was full of good equipment that was still functional, just old.  According to Jason’s calculations the quality and speed of the cameras and equipment wasn’t as important as the quality and speed of the computer program he had written to operate them.  “The code is sound,” he said.

Evening was approaching as they completed the equipment inventory.  Lisa spent that evening peering through the Gamma Scope and logging information from the Oort Cloud, her curiosity peeking as the date of the Callisto Symphony approaches.  George joined her at the Scope as they each pointed out the major star constellations, the planets, and the moons orbiting Jupiter which was now further away than at any other point in George and Lisa’s memory.

“We’re really doing this,” said George.  “It feels a long way from home.”

“In a weird way it does.”

George woke up early the next day, along with Jason who practiced with Kang by himself.  George walked over to ACE and remembered that he hadn’t logged back into the facebook.com directory since he made that initial post.  Expecting to not see any activity, he almost fell backwards in shock as the screen filled with data.

His post had 7,345 “likes” and 2,134 comments.  He noticed a directory for the comments and moved the prompt to that location, and began reading as they appeared on the screen.

“Michael Jackson is back and he’s alive.”

“My cat’s never been to earth.”

“What is the point of this post? This is why FB is getting so useless.”

“I’d like to create life on Earth with George.”

“plz don’t make me laugh. You work under a model that only benefit a minority of the population, at the expenses of the ecosystem including our specie as a whole.

“If you’ve never stepped foot on Earth, you must live on a boat?”

The final comment was one of the only ones that made sense to George.  He thought about it for a moment, and decided to write back.  “I don’t live on a boat.  I live on a space ship orbiting Jupiter.”

He hit return and waited for a moment, wondering if this would be one of those situations where he would receive an instant reply back.  He waited, and finally received a reply: “You are a certified wacko.”  And another: “Dork.”  “WTF”?  He didn’t understand any of them.

Jason was in the kitchen eating breakfast with Lisa who had just awoken.  George joined them as they planned the day of work on the invisibility system.  Jason and George would take the lead on the project with Jason doing the external installation via the Exciter, and George assembling the parts for him and handling the internal wiring.

Lisa felt a little left out of the project so she made her own role after Jason and George had left.  She would help with something they had not put a plan in place for yet.  She would devise a system with OptZ for testing the invisibility.  She made her way to the control panel and booted up OptZ.  “Good morning, Lisa.”

Back in the Exciter bay, it was clear most of the work had already been complete in the assembly of the modules.  This was really just an installation project, but it could prove to be a tricky one at that.

With Jason in the Exciter, George propped up the first of the four lenses that would serve as both a reflector and deflector.  Each one was attached securely to three large arms that would then be attached to the ship.  The biggest challenge was going to be assembling the rear modules far enough away from the ship’s thrusters to not be disturbed when traveling at speed.  But Jason was confident they would work.

They assembled and installed the first two easily and rather quickly, fitting even stronger and more cleanly than Jason had envisioned.  The back two would be a bit more of a struggle.  Jason surveyed the attachment area and decided to try bending some of the metal tabs protruding from the installation area on Hendrix to make the installation flush with the ship for durability at speed and when the thrusters were burning.

It wasn’t until the fourth, and last tab, that an issue occurred.  His confidence was increasing with each one, as was his speed, but the last tab snapped under the force, shot immediately back hitting the window of the Exciter before drifting into space.  The event startled Jason for a moment, but he took a deep breath and glanced around the Exciter looking for damage.  Everything appeared to be intact.  Where the tab broke on Hendrix though, he noticed a sharp protruding edge created by the tab breaking.  It was small but would still prevent a fully flush install of the module.  Using his Exciter arm he tried to file the edge down but it didn’t budge.  They would just have to work with it.

He made his way back to the bay, picked up both of the modules from George who had them ready and waiting inside the bay, and then installed them without incident. The starboard module with the rough edge went on pretty firmly, and he felt confident in its ability to hold under force.  The job was complete.

Back aboard the ship, George and Jason were elated.  The installation took just over three hours, and everything was now in place.  They walked back to the control room to hear Lisa speaking with OptZ.

“Everything set?”

“Yes, it is,” said Jason.

“I’m ready to test it.”

George and Jason were surprised as Lisa spoke commands to OptZ.  “What is your location, OptZ?”

“CLAP75 56.633 65.337 0759313 352.77 24.557”

“Thank you. That sounds about right.  What are the coordinates of the nearest ship?”

“HEND75 56.644 65.337 0759442 352.77 24.557”

“He thinks he is right next to our ship, not in it,” Lisa said quietly. Jason and George nodded.

“I did not hear your command Lisa?”

“Please ignore.  That was nothing.”  She whispered again to Jason.  “Now, go turn on the invisibility.”  Jason used BIM plugged into the control board to activate his invisibility program.  “It’s live.”

Lisa paused for a moment.  “OptZ, what are the coordinates of the nearest ship?”

“One moment Lisa…I do not detect any objects in our immediately vicinity.”

“Yes!” said Jason.

“Hi Jason, I did not understand your command.”

George, Jason and Lisa all smiled.  That night, they would celebrate with some new juice that Lisa had fermented, this time using cherries, strawberries and blueberries that blended into a dark purple color.  It was delicious.  The night was loud.  It was joyous.

 

One month and 4 days later, on January 6, 2016, approximately one year before their scheduled arrival on Earth, the lights dimmed and the red lights shone.  BIM moved over to the screen and activated the first message from the Grand Master that they group had experienced in several months.

“He knows we’re not in position,” Lisa said.

“I don’t think so.  But we will know now,” said Jason.

The Grand Master appeared on the screen.  His hair now entirely gray, his face and upper frame appeared thin and fragile.  His eyes darted around slightly confused as the message was delivered.

“Good day George.  We are glad to see you are in position for the Callisto Symphony.  We are just a little more than one month away and I hope you have completed your additional studies to prepare for this important event.  I will not be able to communicate with you for some time following this transmission.  As the Callisto Symphony begins, you will be alerted to objects that must be intercepted, burned down and whose path must change to collide with Callisto or deviate to a degree great enough to avoid the pending catastrophe.  Your ship alarm will sound with coordinates for each object that must be met with resistance.  Be alert.  Be ready.  The alerts will be generated upon detection, so they may come at any time during the day or the night.  Remember George we are counting on you.  You have trained your whole life for this moment.”

Then the Grand Master was silent for a moment, his eyes staring directly into the middle of the screen as the video flashed out.

“On plan and on schedule,” said Jason. Everyone smiled as their deception progressed.

George spent his nights on ACE and his facebook directory.  The communication with others on this directory had reached new heights.  Back and forth dialogue was regular and instant.  His recipients were taking great interest in George and the aspects of his life that he shared.  They asked for photos and he had always refused, until finally one of his “contacts,” jbremer1995, asked, “just share a small photo, anything, please.”

George developed an interest in jbremer1995, particularly because she was kind to him in all of their communication.  She had indicated she was a girl, slightly younger than him, and she continuously said how interested she was in his story, although he had only vaguely shared details.  He remained reserved about sharing too much and being detected.  Most of the communication he found to be rude and disparaging.  Some of the more memorable quotes recently included:

“You are FB trash.  Garbage.  Filling up the Internet with the type of fairy tale bullshit that distracts from everything good in the world.”

Or another: “Anyone can sit here and hide on FB with a fake name and fake story.  It takes a real man to fess up to who you are, and live with it.  Get real, or get out.”

He tried to ignore these negative comments, and he didn’t share them with Lisa and Jason.  jbremer1995 was different.  She was curious and gentle.  Today George decided to send a photo.  He moved ACE towards the window in the control room, oriented his camera into the black, star sprinkled abyss outside the craft and recorded a two second video, in which very little could be seen.  He had already discovered the “media” directory and placed this short video in his media folder.  Ten minutes later, new comments came in.

“What, did you take a video out your bathroom window?  I can do that too and hopefully you’ll see a reflection of me on the shitter”

“Stupid, doesn’t prove anything.  You need to prove you are living in space.  Shouldn’t be hard.  Just take a photo of Saturn out your window (or E.T. if you run into him) and send it to us.”

And then something from jbremer1995: “That’s beautiful George.  Thanks for sending it to me.  It must be interesting to be up there and look out and see such a spectacular view.”

George paused, took a deep breath, and scrolled through the comments as they continued to pile up.  The note from jbremer1995 was the only one that made him feel good.  He moved the command prompt to the top of the page.  His followers had now reached 855,349 and the amount of comments he received to every one of his sporadic posts had grown exponentially over the last few months.  It was time for a change.

“Thanks jbremer1995.  I am going to take some time away from commenting.  I have some work that I need to focus on over the next few months. Signing off, for now.”

As he logged his text, one comment came in before he shut the directory down. It was from stgangsta420: “ya dog, you save the world, yo.” George shook his head and closed down the facebook directory and ACE for the evening.

That night he contemplated what they were doing and the reaction of the humans on Earth to his communication.  It was unexpected but also not entirely understood.  The elements of the language that were used baffled George, rendering all but a small sliver of their conversations useless.  He felt unwanted on Earth and scared to find out how they would be welcomed.  No one seemed to understand the pending peril that the Grand Master had projected for them.  Perhaps they knew it was going to uneventful?  Perhaps the Grand Master was located elsewhere, or was protecting another community of humans?  George’s brain raced with ideas and speculation, most leading to increased confusion and further worry about what the next year would hold for them.  After one hour of lying in bed, staring straight up at the ceiling of the ship with his sheets becoming moist from anxiety-driven perspiration, George fell asleep.

A month later, it was February 15, 2016, the date of the beginning of the Callisto Symphony as projected by the Grand Master.  George, Jason and Lisa were up early and began logging activity as far as they could see in the Gamma Scope.  The comets were approaching Jupiter, and their previous home in the solar system.  But now they were half way to Earth, observing the aftermath of the Callisto Symphony from a distance, hoping they made their calculations correctly.

As they surveyed and charted the trajectories, the biggest fear, besides George’s apprehension with how they will be accepted on Earth, was the comets unexpectedly striking an interplanetary object, or each other, and then breaking into numerous smaller pieces, taking on unpredictable paths and in the end, hitting Hendrix. But there was nothing anyone could do to help avoid that.

During the days that followed, Jason continued to spend time alone in the work room.  He was becoming removed from the group, saying few words, and some days George and Lisa would go the entire day and to bed without seeing him.  They weren’t certain where he slept or what he ate.  And they wondered why he didn’t take greater interest in observing the incoming comets.

Lisa spent her time in the Grow Room, the Kitchen and the control room, still working on the programming and reasoning calculations of OptZ.  George was obsessed with ACE and with learning everything he could about what was happening on Earth. He frequently visited the reddit directory where he read a host of interesting news along with the more frequent crazy, unexplainable story.  But he was starting to build an understanding of the classes of people, and in his always efficient mind, he began a system of “smart contributors,” “average contributors,” “smart non-contributors,” and “unneeded non-contributors.”  His goal was to focus on those people and their related posts that fell into the “contributors” category, while not completely ignoring “smart non-contributors,” although he had to keep them an arm’s length away. Under these classifications, his comfort level grew.  He identified with the “smart contributors” and knew that he wanted to be considered one of them.

One night Lisa approached George as they were getting ready to go to bed.  Jason was nowhere to be seen.  Lisa sat next to George behind ACE.

“What are you finding?  Anything new?”

“Yes, a lot Lisa.  I now believe that there is a good and a bad on Earth, and I’m not sure which one is a greater force.  Perhaps the bad.”

“You need to focus on the good George.”

“I know.  I try.  But the bad is so different that it’s hard for me to pull away from it sometimes.  It must take a certain person to be capable of doing the things I read about.  I am not that person.  And I am worried about what happens when we reach Earth.”

“I worry about that too.  There’s a reason why we were chosen to be placed on these ships, and to grow up in a different way than everyone back there.  We need to find out what that is.  Why us?  We need a full understanding.  We’ve make some big discoveries, and come a long way, but we aren’t done.”

George lowered his voice.  “What do you think about Jason?  He hides from us all day, says very little; seems to have lost interest in being aboard this ship with us?”

“I’m worried about him too.  I am not sure what he is doing?”

“Turning bad?”

“I hope not.”  Lisa moved closer to George and a brief moment of silence blanketed the room as the comfort of their close proximity settled in.  She smiled.  “George, let’s look at something that is more fun.  How about this?”

She leaned over George, brushing him slightly on the shoulder as she typed next to the command prompt: “Miss Palencia”

Images started to download onto the screen. They showed women in small clothes, none of whom were Miss Palencia.  Much of the text was written in Spanish which Lisa and George were both able to read.  But there were no clues to the Miss Palencia they knew.  So Lisa changed the search: “Miss Palencia English.”

Lisa scrolled down the page, much of which was again written in Spanish, but it told of a city called Palencia in Spain.  “That must be where the language originated George.”

“Wait, there.”  A directory read “Professor Miriam Palencia, Associate Professor of English, Georgetown University.”

Lisa opened the directory.  There was a small photo of Miss Palencia and some comments. “Professor Palencia – New York University, B.A. in English, Summa Cum Laude; Ph.D. Georgetown University. Professor Palencia studies every period of American and British literature, focusing on broad areas including Modern Drama, Dramatic Theory, and Performance; Cultural Studies; Psychoanalysis and Literature; Renaissance Drama; Gender Theory; Visual Studies; Media Studies; Detective Fiction; the History and Theory of the Profession.”

“She studies a lot of areas.” Lisa said.

“Indeed.”  George focused in on Miss Palencia’s photo.  He missed her videos and wondered if she had sent through any new ones since they had turned the system off.  Did they go unwatched, and unnoticed? Was he betraying her by not watching them?

George pondered that question as he walked into the bedroom with Lisa.  They stayed awake for a few hours conversing further together in George’s bed.  Lisa fell asleep first.  It took George another 15 minutes before they could turn his brain off enough to fall asleep, a challenge that he was facing almost nightly with so much activity around him and thoughts processing in his mind at all hours.

Two weeks later, on March 1, 2016, one day before Jason had predicted, the first comets from the Oort Cloud reached Jupiter’s vicinity.  The strong gravitational forces of the planet pulled all of these early comets into its orbit where they would stay until they disintegrated into its atmosphere.  But there were many more coming. The Callisto Symphony had begun.

 

 

Chapter 19

“Amazing,” said Jason.  It was the happiest George and Lisa had seen him in many months.

The three of them were standing in front of the control panel.  BIM and OptZ pulled double duty bringing in all the relevant data from the Callisto Symphony.

“There’s JC22 and JC26.  23 through 25 must have been too small and dissolved already on their way in,” Jason said.

“And they’re traveling faster than we predicted,” said George.  “Jupiter is really pulling them in and blocking almost all of them.”

“But as Jupiter orbits away from their path, the possibility that a big one could sneak past increases substantially,” Jason said.  “JC189 is one of the first big ones that fall into that group.  It won’t be long now.  Just another couple of days.”

The old Jason appeared to be back.  Lisa controlled OptZ, which normally perturbed Jason, but today he wasn’t showing any signs of being upset.  Lisa had integrated him with Hendrix’s system alerts which the Grand Master had indicated would be helping them identify the objects.  Combined with his own mapping and projections, OptZ became the center of command for the Callisto Symphony.

OptZ interjected with a short buzz, “Alert, JC41 successfully cleared Jupiter’s gravity.”

“Bring up the projected trajectory,” said Jason.

A red line appeared on the three dimensional chart showing the comet’s path through the solar system.

“That one’s going right into the sun, almost a straight shot,” said Lisa.

“Yes, nothing to worry about there,” said Jason.  “We’re looking good.”

By early evening, nearly 60 comets had been tracked and determined to be insignificant events.  Some were too small and dissolved.  Others were trapped by Jupiter.  And still others showed a non-threatening path through to their eventual demise as they approached the sun.

Jason was the last one to go to bed that night, and JC129 was the last comet he counted.  For each one that made it past Jupiter’s pull, OptZ would sound an alert, and Jason would run in the room to observe its projected path.  By morning, they had only reached JC147 and only one comet set off an alert throughout the night.  It was JC140, which OptZ detected had cleared Jupiter.  Jason took particular interest in JC140 because it was in a path in the direction of Earth, as well as the Callisto moon which was sliding around the backside of Jupiter into the comet’s path.  This was precisely the type of comet that they were instructed by the Grand Master to intercept.

It was a small comet that was moving fast enough to elude Jupiter’s pull.  And it was beginning to cause alarm for Jason, who monitored its path throughout the early morning hours.  George soon joined him.

“What’s that?” asked George pointing to a red line whose trajectory went very close to Earth.

Jason explained the situation, as Lisa also joined them in the room.

“Do you think we need to be worried?” she asked.

“What concerns me the most is that we were off in our calculations,” said Jason.  “I’ve been reworking some of our calculations to see where we went wrong.”

“Maybe we didn’t,” said George.  “OptZ, bring up the gravitational fields around Jupiter.”

“Please be more specific with your request, George,” OptZ said.

“OptZ,” said Lisa.  “Can you please bring up a map of the gravitational fields surrounding the planet Jupiter?”

“Yes, Lisa. It is coming up now.”  As the maps appeared on the screen, Jason and George looked at each other, puzzled, shoulders up as to say “what?” in disbelief at OptZ’s loyalty to Lisa.  But they didn’t say a word.

George saw it right away, “There,” he pointed. The large field that had once nearly pulled him and Hendrix into Jupiter’s orbit was in a direct path between the comet and Callisto. “It will pull JC140 into orbit.  This one will never even make it close to Callisto. Our calculations included knowledge of this extra field, but we believe the Grand Master’s calculations did not.”

“I bet this is one that had the Grand Master alarmed,” said Lisa.

“It likely is, but he doesn’t know as much about what’s out here as we do,” said Jason. “OptZ, please monitor path of JC140.  Provide notification of any change from projected trajectory.”

“Yes, Jason.”

“Sometimes he still listens to me,” Jason then grabbed his pillow and walked back to the work room to catch up on sleep.

Lisa looked at George, “I’m wondering if we need to be more worried about this?”

“Perhaps.”

Jason slept most of the day while George and Lisa watched the radar as the comets continued to make their way towards the inner solar system.  The quantity of comets began to pick up and by the early afternoon, they were up to JC188, and then not a moment later, OptZ sounded the buzzing alarm as JC189 was approaching.  This brought Jason back into the control room.  The map was a scattering of red dots.  Through the Gamma Scope, even from a distance, the comets lit up the darkness of far away space.

“It is a big one, especially compared to the ones we have seen so far,” said Jason.  A few minutes later, its trajectory appeared on the screen.  It was headed for a near direct collision with Earth except that the Callisto moon was projected to intercept it half way through its journey provided everything stayed on a consistent course.

“Let’s hope this is accurate,” said Lisa.

“It’s as accurate as we will get,” said Jason.  “OptZ, please provide notification of change to trajectory of JC189 please.”

“Yes Jason.”  Jason smiled at the affirmative response, nodded toward George and Lisa, and headed back to the work room.

“What is he doing back there?” asked Lisa.

“No idea.  But I suspect more than sleeping.  He’s tinkering with stuff.  I can hear him.”

“But at least last time he did this he emerged with an invisibility solution.”

“Maybe he’s working on a new invention.  But I’m not going to ask since he seems to want some privacy.”

George had not logged into ACE in weeks, and was beginning to feel disconnected from his contact with Earth via the directories.  But the excitement of the Callisto Symphony overtook any urge he had to do much else.  George and Lisa stayed up late tracking the comets, remaining in awe of their bright color and long hazy tails.  They knew that soon many of them would track close to Hendrix as they continued their course.  Not one would come within 20 million miles of their route, but they looked forward to getting an even closer look at the comets as they came to their closest point with Hendrix.

George and Lisa retired for the evening around 10:00pm, just a few hours after the engines kicked on for their travel throughout the night.  15 minutes later, as they were just falling asleep, the red lights flashed on Hendrix.  The lights were already dim.  Everyone jumped up.  BIM plugged into the video monitor.  It was the Grand Master but he was not talking to the screen.

He was pacing back and forth in a room, passing the video screen every time he went by but he was not paying any attention to the screen.  He was talking to someone else in the room who wasn’t visible.

“Why don’t you tell me…,” the Grand Master said.

“Tell you what?  Where we went wrong?  I have no idea.  You confirmed the positioning.  You confirmed the messages. Why don’t you tell me?” the other voice said.  Both voices were getting louder.

“You are the planner, Gerald.  You are the expert.  I found a solution and was willing to execute.  All you had to do was figure out the goddamn plan.  How many people do you have.  100? The best of the best?  I don’t think so.”

“The odds still remain very small.”

“I don’t want small odds, Gerald.  I don’t want any odds.  That’s why I hired you-” the Grand Master stopped midsentence.  “What?  Don’t try to quiet me down.”

The Grand Master stepped in front of the screen, his face beat red, his eyes worn, wrinkly, chest moving in and out fast with heavy breathing.   He reached his arm up.

“Goddamn you-“ The video went dark.

The room was quiet for ten seconds before Jason broke the silence, “They know we’re not there.”

Lisa looked scared.  She leaned on George who was deep in thought.

“It’s JC140,” Jason said.  “They think it’s going to impact them.”

“They don’t know that it will hit Callisto,” said George.

Lisa had tears in her eyes. “We don’t know that either, for sure.  What if they’re right?”

“They are not right,” said Jason.  “We can’t know for sure, but I am confident in our calculations.”

George knew there was nothing else to say at this point, “I am confident too.”

Jason went back to his bed.  Lisa laid down on hers and pulled the covers close to her face.  George went into the control room to observe the course of the two stray comets, and recalculate his predictions for how they would travel.  He was not as confident as he had put forth.

Working into the night with BIM and OptZ, who had become quite a team although George caught faint hints of a little competition flaring up, George was able to run a few other possible scenarios for the paths of JC140 and JC189.  They were long shot course trajectories dependent on a number of unlikely factors, and only one of those projections showed JC189 making it past Callisto.

It was possible that another fast moving comet that just appeared, JC226, would be pulled closer to Jupiter than originally predicted, leading to a slight probability, of maybe one or two percent chance, of colliding with JC189, an event that would be almost impossible to chart, leaving an even smaller possibility of JC189’s new path becoming cause for concern.  So George calculated the likelihood of all of this occurring and becoming a cosmic catastrophe in one way or another of less than 0.5 percent.

He shut everything down.  He would be able to rest a bit better now.

The night was quiet.  Not one alarm sounded despite more than 100 more comets making their way through the system, the latest of which was JC331.  It wasn’t until the afternoon of the next day that comet JC345 set off an alarm.  Everyone gathered around the mapping system.

“This is an odd one,” said Jason pointing at the red line trajectory that wasn’t nearly as straight as the others.  “This one is curving off course and then falling back on course.”

“It must be an irregular shape,” said Lisa.  “Could be one to watch out for.”

“I don’t like it a bit,” said Jason.  “I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.”

“I wonder what will happen if it curves out far enough and establishes a new path?” said Lisa.

“The odds are pretty slim that it will fall into a danger zone for us, or Earth,” said George.  He then proceeded to share his calculations from the previous night, to which everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.  “I am now convinced that we have above a 99% chance of getting through the Callisto Symphony without issue.”  Lisa smiled.  Jason nodded and walked back to the work room.

“Hey Jason,” said George.  “What are you working on back there?”

“Oh nothing.  Just tinkering away.  Trying to play with some of the resources that we have aboard the ship.”

George and Lisa watched him walk back.  He stopped in front of the work room door for a moment, and then walked back and climbed inside his Exciter.  He shut the door.

George spent the evening in the Grow Room with Lisa, harvesting a new batch of fruits, vegetables and grains.  They would be eating well to celebrate the potential end to the Callisto Symphony.

At 7:15, right after they completed a nice dinner which Jason failed to join them for, an alarm sounded from the control panel.  It was an update from OptZ about JC140, which had been snagged by Jupiter and was now orbiting the planet.  They all smiled.  “One down,” said George.  That night they slept peacefully and without any alarms sounding.  Until 8:10 the next morning, as George and Jason worked out with Kang as they still tended to do together; OptZ sounded an alarm.  JC189 had collided with the Callisto moon as they had predicted.

The comet count approached 400, marking the near end of the Callisto Symphony.  Only the small, easily predictable comets remained.  JC226 was also snagged by Jupiter’s gravity.  It was time to celebrate.

Hendrix’s three crewmates, stayed up late, indulging on Lisa’s juice.  They played games with BIM, tried to play with OptZ but even Lisa couldn’t trick him into participating, his logical mind asking too many questions to be any fun.  They all fell asleep hard that night around 12:00 and awoke feeling sick.  The next day was spent lying around Hendrix, the ship almost completely silent most of the day.  It was a nice change from the mixture of mayhem and excitement that surrounded the Callisto Symphony.

George logged onto ACE in the afternoon.  His head was pounding and his stomach felt upset.  He hadn’t eaten anything all day.  It had been so long since he logged in, that he couldn’t wait any longer, even though he knew he would have to communicate with some of his dreaded “non-contributors.”

Inside the facebook.com directory, he had 31,075 likes and 22,871 comments.  He read them briefly.

“Looks like someone went dark pretty quick after being discovered.”

“Are you f’ing serious?  You really thought this dude was in outer space?  WTF?”

He shook his head, and scrolled quickly through the text looking for anything from jbremer1995, but didn’t see anything.  He only saw more of the same negative comments and wanted desperately to correct them.  He wanted to tell them how the world had just been saved since there was no mention of the Callisto Symphony anywhere.  Did they really have no idea?

He opened up the Google directory and typed in “Callisto Symphony.”  It brought up references of music and of course the moon of Jupiter.  As he dug in further he found a small post on new directory called 4chen.  It read, “A sensational cosmic event predicted by Jan Oort in 1991 outlining the explosive release of thousands of stray and unpredictable comets into the milky way with a high likelihood of catastrophic consequences to the people on Earth.  The event was never logged and no timeline for its commencement was outlined before Jan’s death the following year.  Most professionals in the scientific and academic communities balked at Mr. Oort’s claims, finding them to be without merit or scientific backing and they viewed the Callisto Symphony as being just a final publicity stunt before the end of his career and life.”

He scrolled further down.  There was one comment from callistomaniac “Let’s hope the professionals are right.”

And that was it. George wondered why the Grand Master was so alarmed about the Callisto Symphony, yet most people did not.  Or perhaps the Grand Master had more information at his access, which seemed evident through what he shared in their final broadcast.

George caught a streak of white light out the corner of his eye, and he turned to see a blazing comet in the distance slicing through the darkness with its bright light and long tail.  Surely, he thought, the people on Earth can see this.  The proof is right here.  The Callisto Symphony is real.  It is occurring now.  And it is a not a danger to Earth.

He felt the need to share this information but was reserved by thoughts of disclosing too much about their current Earth-bound aboard Hendrix.  The Grand Master already seemed to be suspicious of their activity, although to what degree wasn’t clear.  On the other hand, George knew he had less to lose now.  The Callisto Symphony was almost complete, and it was a bust. If they are detected traveling towards Earth, is it really that big of deal?  Plus no one will expect them to be as close as they are right now, within nine months of touching down.  And Jason didn’t seem all that concerned by it, only doing the invisibility shield because everyone else had demanded it.

He moved the command prompt back to the facebook directory.  “Yes, I am back.  We just observed the completion of the Callisto Symphony, a cosmic event that held potentially devastating consequences for the people of Earth.  I know you were not made aware of this event by your leaders, but please look it up on your Inter Net.  Proof is there right now.  Look toward the night’s sky, in the direction of Jupiter through your Gamma Scope and you will see the numerous comets traveling through the solar system right now.  Do not worry.  They will not impact you or your moon.”

He reread the passage quickly and without thinking any longer hit “post.”

The replies came back immediately.

“You talk like an alien.  Or is that retard????”

“Are you serious man…how many times have you already been called out on here?  And you’re back with these wacky predictions?  You have a mental problem.”

“I don’t have a Gamma Scope aboard my spaceship.  Sorry.”

“Our Inter Net?  You are on the Internet already dumbass.  Not clever.”

“I believe you, George.  I am going to look into it now.”

The last post was from jbremer1995.  More posts continued to appear underneath, but George refused to look at them.  He felt he was only capable of connecting with this one person.  Why could no one else understand?  Why did no one else want to understand?

He tried to fight the anger that was slowly beginning to build and finally reached a point here it broke free.  There was no reason to hide the truth.  He picked up ACE and began hitting the record button on the video camera repeatedly as he pointed it out the window, and then he turned it inside the ship, and finally on himself.

The files logged on the screen and were posted simultaneously.  The first three clips showed a bright streak in the dark sky.  It was a distant comet but it was difficult to make out.  The next four short video clips showed the inside of Hendrix, beginning with the lights on the command center, and completing with a close up of BIM who happened to be standing next to George.  The view was dark given the ship’s minimal lighting when underway but certain objects and elements could be noticed.  And the last two clips were of George.  The first was a shirtless shot from his chin down to his waistline.  The second was his hand in front of the camera, blocking most, but not all of his face.

He shook his head at his impulsive behavior.  And now he knew all the “non-contributors” would make more rude comments.  He wanted to go to bed without reading them, but knew his mind would not move far from wondering what they said.

“Freak.”

“Is that your basement or something?  You win best spaceship basement I’ve ever seen.”

“This spaceman is ripped.”

“Those shots are a little freaky. You seriously live there. Where is that?”

“The resale value on your house just went down the shitter.”

“These photos prove nothing other than you are a) human and b) not going to give up on this one anytime soon.”

George felt powerless now.  His heartbeat and breathing accelerated as he read more of the comments. They were all the same with the same negative tone.  But he took comfort in knowing that he had now done it, shared with them the truth, and provided photographic evidence. It was no longer a secret.  Yet, he remained baffled at their response.  How could no one believe him, except maybe jbremer1995?