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Rated: E · Draft · Sci-fi · #2069999
The journey of a colony ship's pilot and the AI trying to avoid disaster.
Promised Land

onboard UNES Exodus, 7:04 Zulu, January 1, 2236

Caleb looked at himself in the mirror of his small cabin. He had just finished cleaning up and shaving. He looked intently at his face in the mirror. His steel blue eyes were the kind that focused intently on what he was doing, rarely blinking. It unnerved some folks. His dirty blonde hair had become a bit darker while he slept away the past nine birthdays. His hair had grown to his shoulders while in hibernation sleep and there was a good deal of gray that wasn’t there when he was put under. The remains of his beard were being sucked down the sink. At 40, he still didn’t think he looked like a hero. Yet, that is what the news reports said.

The alarm console woke him at 5AM, still groggy from his time in the hibernation capsule since launch. Exodus’ AI, or artificial intelligence brought him out of hibernation yesterday, New Year’s Eve. Today was the first day of a new year and Caleb would spend today getting ready for his year long stint as pilot of the Exodus.

Caleb was the only human awake of the hundreds of crewmembers and livestock still in hibernation, asleep in the carousels of the Exodus. At the ending of each solar year, the AI wakes a different pilot from hibernation as the previous pilot goes back into hibernation. The pilots watch over the ship and the AI on its 60 year voyage to Gliese 667 Cc, their new home.

Caleb is number nine in the rotation and this is his first time since training to be pilot. The Exodus left Earth nine years ago to carry an exploration colony to Gliese 667 Cc, a possibly habitable exoplanet discovered long ago and confirmed by drone in the past thirty years.

Caleb finished his morning ritual, including two cups of coffee and breakfast of sausages and toast, and looked at his itinerary for today. He would first get caught up on news and such from Earth. They were still able to receive some reports on the tight beam system. It was the only one for commercial communication and it was one way. While it lasted, it would help stave off some boredom. The ship’s regular communication system was based on quantum entanglement, but that was only for official communications, of which there were few actual vid or voice messages for this distance. Most of the work was just the automatic monitoring by the AI sending info back to the Earth.

Even most of what Caleb read was a few years old now. The relativistic speeds and distances meant that they were beginning to outrun the radio waves of normal comms. Soon, there would be no new information from Earth and they would all be truly on their own. But, today, Caleb could watch and read what was going on back on Earth, at least in the not too distant past. Hence, the vid he watched from some news documentary extolling the crew’s heroism and that of the pilots in particular. Caleb chuckled over the exuberance and flowery speech of the narrator.

Later in the morning he would begin his inventory check along with some maintenance checks on the ship itself. Ship was kind of a misnomer as the Exodus looked nothing like the ships of science fiction or even the few new commercial vessels operating around Earth when they departed.

The Exodus was built after telemetry from the Gliese probe revealed that there was a livable environment on Gliese 667 Cc. Or, the Promised Land as the media dubbed the planet after the name of Exodus was announced for the ship. The probe sent to Promised Land went under a much higher acceleration since no humans were aboard, but it still took almost 30 years to arrive. The probe contained telemetry systems connected to its QE communication array and was able to broadcast back almost immediately that Promised Land had a viable oxygen atmosphere, the presence of liquid water, and plants. The telemetry feeds were a source of joy and hope for many in the world that there were planets where humans might learn how to live in peace together. Construction on the Exodus and plans for its trip began almost immediately.

As Caleb finished watching the vids that interested him, he saw the little icon in the corner of the console telling him that the ship’s AI was ready to talk with him. He and the AI had been introduced in training and got along well. However, Caleb didn’t know just who would be talking to him out of the console after nine years of change. So, instead, he ignored the request and picked up his jacket and walked out of his cabin headed to the central shaft to board a tram to take him to his first assignment of the year, inspections and maintenance tasks in the reactor and engine spaces.

Ion engines provide the thrust for Exodus. They are efficient not requiring much fuel, yet depend a great deal on the electricity produced by the reactors. While ion engines provide enough thrust to move Exodus at never before heard of speeds, the acceleration rate was very small. In nine years since leaving Earth, Exodus had gone from orbital speeds to just over .2C (C being the speed of light). And, by halfway to Promised Land, Exodus would reach just over .7C.

In a bid for safety and getting things moving a little quicker, The UN Space Service used expendable chemical rockets to help move the ship out of Earth orbit and to the edge of the solar system. As the ship arced over the ecliptic to avoid the thickest part of the Oort Cloud on the edge of the solar system, the first pilot tested the ion engines before cutting loose the boosters. There was just enough in the boosters to turn the ship back into a heading for Earth if a problem developed early. However, the ion engines fed the raw helium coming from the fusion reactors into the engines and eventually out of the nozzles flawlessly. With that, Exodus crossed the solar system boundary six months later and out into deep space.

Adjacent to the engine section, moving bowward, are the power plants. After fanatics in the Islamic Caliphate managed to destroy Riyadh and effectively take over Saudi Arabia, the European Union, USA, and Canada began serious work to develop fusion plants. They succeeded in harnessing the power of CO2 lasers in a ring to force hydrogen molecules to fuse into helium. There is plenty of hydrogen available in seawater and the development of decent fusion plants were the only thing that staved off further deprivations and civil eruptions across the first world.

Surrounding the engines and the fusion plants on board Exodus are the water and helium tanks. Sixteen huge tanks filled with water that support the ship’s needs with much of it broken into hydrogen for the fusion reactors and O2 for storage. The helium from the reactors go into eight tanks until needed by the ion engines. With six reactors on line (only three needed for propulsion and power), there is usually more helium produced than the engines require. Some is stored just for use in smaller thrusters to correct the ship’s trajectory on its long voyage to Promised Land.

Caleb made his way from his quarters in the first carousel, the one nearest the bow and pilot’s section, to the central shaft. The ship maintains an acceleration of 1.1 G’s, so Caleb felt heavier than he would on Earth during his walk down the corridors, but not much. He was certain that the nine year sleep had left him a little weaker than expected. As he arrived at the hatch to the trams, he realized he now understood Rip Van Winkle much more.

Here, he boarded the tram that would take him sternward so that he could check on the reactors and engines. Throughout this day, and the next few days, he would work his way forward from there through all of the habitation carousels checking up on the systems needed to keep everyone alive and headed towards Promised Land. But, while he rode the tram down and rested his unused muscles, he could also think about the coming year as he passed each carousel.

The central shaft through which Caleb now passes, begins just forward of the reactor section and continues to the pilot house located 200 meters in front of all the carousels. Along his way from the first carousel through the tramway, he would pass various life support systems, O2 production, heating and cooling plants, and many sections with nodes for the ship’s AI. The ship’s AI acts as the caretaker and controller of all the many ship systems needed to sustain life and navigate through space. While travelling, Caleb could contact the AI, also known as JOSHUAI (Joint Operating System Hardware Under Artificial Intelligence), at any of the terminals along the way, but chose not to while in the tram. Caleb figures that once in the pilot house and connected to JOSHUAI, or Josh through the LINK attached to the back of his skull, he would have plenty of time to communicate with his AI partner.

The first carousel forward of the reactor spaces was the hangar deck. This space was large and open containing the shuttles and their maintenance and loading bays needed to ferry crew and supplies back and forth to Promised Land. There are four shuttles per bay, and six bays; each airlocked so that a breach in one only affects that bay. The shuttles could carry 25 to 30 passengers or about 100 tons of cargo depending upon configuration. During flight operations, shuttles could enter and exit through one of the two shuttle airlocks in each bay for efficiency.

The next two carousels were for general cargo, such as non-perishable food, seeds, farming and building equipment and materials, and one carousel for the livestock in hibernation. The scientists working on the Exodus mission determined that the sooner humans could begin producing plants and animals for a food source, the better the chance for success. Therefore, the livestock carousel had a quantity of large and small animals in hibernation. Larger ones such as cattle and sheep would go to the surface still in hibernation to avoid problems as they woke up. Smaller animals such as rabbits would be removed from hibernation on board Exodus then transported in carry alls.

The next three carousels carried the most precious cargo of all, humans. Five hundred forty-two souls, including the twelve pilots are aboard Exodus. They range from folks that are experts at farming, husbandry, carpentry, science, administration and many other skills. Most have skills or knowledge in multiple areas. There are 25 children in hibernation with their families from five years old to fifteen. The psychologists and sociologists for the mission stressed that families need to be part of the very beginning to help form a cohesive society. The crew of those on Exodus were made up from most of the known world’s nations at the time of departure.

Despite differences in cultures and beliefs, the people on board Exodus had joined well in the years preceding departure. As soon as possible, the Space Service brought together all the people that would help populate and build a new society in order to find out where problems were possible. Everyone spent two years living and working on the orbital station where technicians and engineers built and prepped Exodus for the journey. During this two years, psychologists, counselors, and sociologists worked together to expose any nascent difficulties with living in space or with working with people of different backgrounds and cultures. There were some that left on their own choices and others that were asked to leave. In the end, those that remained were committed to working together to make the mission successful.

The very last carousel, where Caleb had boarded the tram, was much smaller than the rest. It contained the quarters for the twelve pilots and the main stacks and power sources for Josh. Each pilot had a small cabin with their own comm console, sleeping area, shower and bath, and of course, their own personal hibernation capsule. And, finally, 200 meters forward of the pilot carousel on the central shaft, was the pilot house. Caleb would only enter there after completing all of his inspection and maintenance tasks.

The pilot house resembles a bulb stuck on the end of a stick. There are three levels. The top level is the control chamber where the pilot and the AI work together to monitor all the systems and navigate towards Gliese 667 Cc. While the AI would do most of the work, the pilot would be in the loop at all times helping with what an AI could not do.

The control chamber has a central acceleration couch for the pilot with armrest monitors on both sides. It also has a pressure and micrometeorite resistant plexi dome around two-thirds of the cabin. The view of sitting in the front end of the ship and having a view of most of space just couple of meters away could be breathtaking or frightening. Pilots were a special bunch chosen to handle the tasks and the responsibility of guiding Exodus to its destination.

Below the control chamber is a small cabin for the pilot during rest periods. Caleb would live most of the next year in the pilot house. While he would be in constant contact with Josh, he needed rest where the AI did not. The pilot’s cabin gave him room to stretch his legs, eat, and take care of bathroom needs. Pilots will only leave the pilot house once a month for a couple of days while they perform regular inspections and maintenance. On these couple of days, Caleb will use his cabin in the first carousel.

The lower deck of the pilot house is the primary stack for the ship's AI, Josh. In a bit of accidental anthropomorphism, the designers mirrored human anatomy by placing Josh's cortex at the head end of the ship's ‘spinal column’ where the primary fiber conduits of Josh's sensing and control network collected.

Caleb recollected on his training time as the tram carried him down the central shaft. He not only remembered and reminisced on the time he spent in class work and simulators, but also the hibernation tests. Instructors put each pilot into hibernation and brought them out on a regular schedule during the two year training period. While the crew members would only have to be roused once, hopefully. The pilots, on the other hand, will be in and out of hibernation multiple times on the 60 year journey. The technicians and scientists had to find out if any pilot would have a negative reaction to the drugs and loss of awareness during hibernation. The Space Service did scrub one pilot after experiencing a psychosis the second time she was removed from hibernation.

Riding the tram to the reactor section was smooth and fast. While in flight, it was more like riding an elevator. Caleb sat on a circular cushion that would be the end when the tram was working as a horizontal transport. While under acceleration, down seemed toward the stern and up toward the bow. Since it was now an elevator, the side cushions looked a bit out of place and the tram seemed overly tall. But, it was a quiet place to think. Caleb had a lot to think about. In some respects, he was nine years behind. That was how he felt coming out of hibernation; behind in the world. No, make that behind in the Universe, Caleb thought.

Caleb still didn’t think of himself as any kind of hero. He began this journey after his studies in astronomy and physics in the university. He wasn’t even technically a pilot. He hadn’t flown any kind of craft, not planes, helicopters, not even gliders. The UN formed the Space Service to find crew for the mission to Promised Land, and they didn’t want many flyers. Flyers had a lot of the characteristics needed, good judgment, quick thinking, great dexterity, and all the other seemingly important skills of a pilot. However, the Space Service needed more. Many flyers tended to be ‘seat of the pants’ kind of folks. Risk takers. On this mission, the pilots wouldn’t be doing much flying, if that is what you wish to call hurtling a megaton-sized object through deep space.

No, Josh would be doing most of that type of work. He, for he really is a he, was more suited to the minutiae of details that needed to be checked, calculated, accounted for and decisions made on the “flying” of Exodus. Caleb would be Josh’s guide, his mentor. Josh had a rudimentary form of software that would allow him to make judgment calls and figure out the best way to do something. But, he wasn’t creative like a human. Josh would not be an ‘out of the box’ thinker. This was where Caleb’s studies and hobbies and ideas would come in handy. The Space Service needed humans alongside Josh not to be the risk-taker, but to be the creative one. Together, Caleb and Josh would become a team while Caleb was on duty.

The tram console beeped Caleb’s arrival as he slowed into the small side station near the reactor section. As the door opened, Caleb stepped out into the station, which consisted really of only a kiosk with a ship’s console, a display screen of tram traffic, which was quite empty now, and the circular stairs down to the reactor room. Caleb still felt a bit out of sorts. He was a runner for most of his life and the feelings of not using his muscles still bothered him, no matter what they said about how hibernation would keep them from atrophy. He made his way gingerly down the stairs to the concourse around the reactor entrance.
Caleb had not talked to Josh all that morning, not since he awoke. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Josh. Instead, he wanted to see how things were for himself before starting what would be a year long conversation with the only other “person” awake on the ship.

Overhead on the concourse, Caleb could see the rails for the trams stretching off into the distance, with his one tram sitting off to the side hanging about 20 meters over his head. The central floor of the concourse was one very large hatch, now closed, where the reactors had been loaded through before installation. At four points, there were personnelle hatches that rose from the “floor” of the concourse. Caleb punched in his personal code to gain access. There didn’t seem to be a point to the security requirements while in flight. Who would be awake besides himself to get into the reactor and engine rooms? But, protocol was protocol and the Space Service loved their protocols.

The hatch slid open and revealed another circular stair to Caleb. This one was considerably longer as his muscles ached going down them to reach the uppermost level of the reactor room. Just off the side was a ship’s console. As of now, he and Josh would have to begin conversing.

“Hello, Josh. How are things today,” initiated Caleb.

Josh began his reply, “Good morning, Captain Jefferson. Captain Nathan told me to bid you Good New Year. There are notes on his tour in his log. In addition, we are running on schedule in our ninth year (sol) from Earth. All inhabitants are still asleep and monitors report that all life functions are normal. The reactors are running at an efficiency of 99.999%, producing a thrust equal to 1.1005 G’s of acceleration. Reactor 2 is ready for it’s….”

“That’s enough, Josh,” cut off Caleb, “And, please call me Caleb, not Captain Jefferson. I’m not really captain of anything, just a pilot.” And, why did you have to stick with that pompous British accent, thought Caleb.

“I apologize….Caleb,” was the AI’s response.

“Was that difficult to say, Josh?”

“Well, yes sir. Most of the other pilots seemed to be fine with it. It seemed the best way to talk to the first pilot, Mr Gutierrez.” Josh stated.

David Gutierrez was the first pilot out of orbit. He had been with Josh through the first year as they went out to the Oort cloud to escape the solar system. He was ex-military and one of three of the twelve pilots who were, in fact, pilots. While David passed all the tests to pilot Exodus, his relationship with Josh could still be called ‘prickly’. Caleb could understand how Josh had developed this persona.

“Josh, let’s start over,” Caleb began, “How are things going over all?
“The ship and all its inhabitants are within tolerances,” replied Josh.

“OK, that’s better, but you could be a bit less formal next time,”

“Right, yes. I will try, Caleb,” came the decidedly sheepish response, Caleb thought.

“Good. And, how are the reactors” No details, please. I’ll get enough of that in the next few hours,” asked Caleb as he walked down the catwalk towards reactor 1.

“All six reactors are performing well. Captain Nixon..Excuse me, I mean Julia took reactor four offline for a few months while we worked out a small problem with one of the laser control boards. It was replaced and we have been working within...I mean well since then.” reported Josh, struggling to lose the formality he had built with most of the previous pilots.

“Julia was the fifth pilot, right?” queried Caleb.

“Yes, sir. the problem developed in her fourth month as just an efficiency loss of 5%. The control board was not firing the CO2 lasers correctly. It took Julia and I another month to sort the problem and effect repairs.”

“Good thing we have plenty of spare parts on board. And, it’s been alright ever since?” continued Caleb’s questioning.

“No problems since. Reactor four has worked within all...well since that time.”

“Good, Josh. See that wasn’t too difficult, right? Now, let’s get on with the rest of the reactor and engine tests,” Caleb said as he started off down the catwalk. The rest of the time until Caleb broke for lunch, he spent talking to Josh and performing the routine first of the year maintenance and inspections on the reactors. Rather than take the tram all the way back to the pilot’s carousel, Caleb checked the smaller break room and supply room in the engine room for something to eat and drink.

After a couple of protein bars and a drink of water, Caleb spent a while reading up on the logs from the first couple of pilots. Most of what he read was just standard detail items and much of it turned into drivel after reading all the boring bits. Figuring his tour to be equally boring, Caleb was slightly jealous of the reactor problem Julia Nixon had during her tour. Upon entering the engine room, Caleb was slightly surprised at the activity. He had last seen the engine room before departure as they all toured the ship. At that time, all the maintenance bots were lined up in their alcoves. But today, many were scurrying around performing various maintenance tasks.

“Josh, what gives with the bots? Something wrong?” Caleb asked trying to both keep his apprehension at bay and not get his hopes up too high for any actual excitement.

“No sir. Day 1 of each year is marked for a good bit of maintenance tasks to keep the engines in top form. Though there are few things to do to the engines, some systems and parts must be checked thoroughly. The maintenance robots, or bots as you refer are doing those today. Some of the tasks require EVA’s and the bots can handle those well, sir,” responded Josh.

“OK. It is just a surprise to see actual activity, even if it’s just bots,” Caleb said, realizing that even in two years worth of training there were still many things he didn’t know were part of the ship’s functions. He knew that would be true. His instructors had told all of the pilots there was a lot of info that only Josh would know about. Still, it was creepy not knowing and then finding out.

“And, Josh...drop the ‘sir’ business, please. I’m not military and I called my father, ‘sir’,”

“Yes, s….Yes, Caleb,” answered Josh with a slight bit of difficulty.

Caleb and Josh spent the rest of the day with inspections and any maintenance tasks that required a human. Both were busy with tasks of their own and then tasks they performed together. Not much more small talk occurred, but both were falling into a casual routine of working and talking. Josh was a quick study in the ways of responding to humans.

Later that first day, Caleb took the tram back up to the pilot's carousel and managed to stumble himself into bed. However, he did have enough presence of mind to utter a polite, "Good night, Josh. See you tomorrow."

"Yes, Caleb. Good night and sleep well." answered Josh as he turned down the cabin lights while Caleb drifted asleep.

onboard UNES Exodus, 9:22 Zulu, January 6, 2236

“You are running considerably late this morning, Caleb,” stated Josh, “Did you have trouble sleeping? I could prescribe…”

As Caleb left his quarters and entered the corridor to the central shaft, he cut him off with, “No, Josh. Not having a problem sleeping, and for the record, you and I are the only two awake. Schedules don’t mean that much.”

“Yes, I seem to have noticed the same in several of the other pilots. It must be a human thing. I am very, very punctual, Caleb,” said Josh, with possibly a slight air of superiority.

“You’re a computer, Josh. You only know how to be punctual,” was Caleb’s slightly rude response as he entered the central shaft and began his climb up into the smaller shaft that lead to the pilot house. Upon entering the hatch to the smaller shaft, Caleb eased himself into the small transport car that would take him the final 200 meters. On Earth, Caleb was decently athletic with plenty of running and swimming under his belt. Even with some exercise since awakening, he still had some difficulty bending into the car to sit with his back against the floor and his feet upwards. Such was his orientation while under acceleration.

“You wound me, sir,” retorted Josh, “I am no mere computer. I am an artificial intelligence built with a self-adaptable heuristic network capable of….”

“Can it smarty pants. I’ll be in the chair in just a minute. Why such a rush and a snippy attitude today, Josh? It’s quite unlike you”

“I apologize, Caleb. Now that I check, I am getting a bit carried away. It is just that the only real differences I am able to see each year is when a new pilot takes the chair. Not to mention that we have taken three days, nine hours, and forty-two minutes longer than any of the other pilots to perform the inspections and maintenance before assuming the chair,” Josh admitted with actual contrition in his voice.

“Really, that’s your beef? I took too long for the inspections and you miss having a pilot in the chair?” asked Josh while his car glided upwards toward the pilot house hatch. “The Chair” as each pilot came to call the acceleration couch where each pilot spent most of each day. The chair was the nexus for all human communication and also housed the LINK to Josh. Every pilot had to learn how to use the LINK in order to see and organize the tons of information that Josh supplied so that the pilot could make good suggestions to keep things running smoothly, or catch what Josh just might miss.

Josh took about five seconds to reply, which was an eternity for the AI, “Well, yes, some of both. As the human saying goes, Caleb; it appeared that you tended to ‘dilly-dally’ on the inspections. Additionally, I have quite a few reports getting backed up in my queue that need your attention before they can be completed.”

“Yes, likely story, Josh,” answered Caleb as he made his way through the hatch and closed it behind him. But the truth was, Caleb did ‘dilly-dally’ his way through the inspections and maintenance. He was putting off for as long as possible his first time in the chair. Using the LINK meant a direct connection to Josh. While Caleb could function well while in the LINK, he didn’t completely relish the sensation he felt when in intimate mental contact with what was essentially another person.

Josh was correct. He was much, much more than just a computer. He was the heart and soul of Exodus, if that phrase could be used. All of the ship’s sensor suites, all of the cameras, all of the engine and reactor monitors and controls, and all of the external radars, lidars, and optical scopes connected to Josh. Whenever Caleb connected via the LINK during training, the first rush of data was quite overwhelming until Josh got a handle on the transfer rate and buffering for his own mind. It was during those first few moments that Caleb felt almost like a man drowning in an ocean created by another person.

Caleb stopped the car at the hatchway up into the pilot house. He uncurled himself from the cramped car, almost wishing for the zero-g method of flying down the tube as he did when in orbit above the Earth. He climbed up and through the hatch, remembering to close it behind him. While he was in the pilot house, all hatches were to be closed in order to keep any breach from causing a major decompression. While the pilot house had the best view, it also was at the most risk as it “flew” out in front of the entire craft. Every part of the pilot house was armored as much as could be done, but things were still risky in space.

Caleb took a very short walk around the chair just to check on all of the systems panels and readouts in the pilot house. He also stopped for a good bit in front of the chair and just stared out into space. He never got used to the vastness of space, nor of what was visible here in deep space. There were thousands more stars visible that when standing on Earth, or even in orbit. Even though they still had a long way to go, he could just make out the Gliese star cluster and the Cat’s Paw Nebula by looking nearly overhead. Space did not fail to awe Caleb.

Being under acceleration, Caleb was standing on what would be the back wall of the pilot house, with the armored plexi dome above him and to the “rear” and both sides of most of the compartment. Directly in front of him was a “wall” or bulkhead that would be the floor during zero-g. This bulkhead had one hatch and Caleb opened it to step over and into his home away from home while he was on duty. Even at just 6 feet, Caleb had to duck through the hatch.

There, he entered the pilot’s bunk area. It was a cramped, but cozy little space with a vid and comm console for talking to Josh and keeping himself entertained. The room was made to function in any orientation, so there was not set up or down references. His bunk could rotate to accommodate any g-force orientation and his little office area cum dining room was also re-configurable in just a few seconds. He checked things over and then moved to the last hatch to open and go through.

This hatch led into Josh’s main stacks and power supplies. Josh had to really duck down to get through this hatch and then found himself in a very cramped compartment that was only really meant for zero-g access. Josh’s stacks were mounted in the center of the compartment almost appearing to float, except for the major supports in the center to either side. These supports were full of the fiber lines and fed out to all points of the ship. The walls of the compartment were curved away from Caleb and around behind Josh’s stacks, as this was the very outside edge of the pilot house, just like the plexi dome was the other outside edge.

Only one cabinet of Josh’s stacks were separated from the rest. The single black cube about one half meter on its edges stuck out near the outer hull to Caleb’s left. This was the magnetic bubble memory where Josh’s primary software and memories were maintained to keep Josh being Josh. Because the memory was magnetic bubble memory, its fields could cause problems with many of the regular components that made up Josh’s stacks. Hence, its location near the outer hull.

Despite the heat output of the stacks, which Caleb could get an idea of anytime he passed near one of exhaust fans, the room was kept pretty cool. This reminded Caleb about one of his and Josh’s earliest discussions on whether or not Josh was hot-natured or cold-natured. Caleb laughed a little remembering how difficult it was to get Josh to form a frame of reference to what was really only a human perception.

on board UNES Exodus orbiting Earth, 13:36 Zulu, August 25, 2226

“So, Josh. Are you hot-natured or cold-natured,” Caleb asked while floating in the stacks compartment with the JOSHUAI unit humming away, muted voices in the background from another pilot running sims in the chair. Josh’s speed and programming would allow him to have multiple conversations at once. Caleb had been asked to put a thought problem to Josh while the other pilot, Yevgeny Karasov ran sims.

“I do not have a frame of reference in order to respond to your query, Mr. Jefferson,” was the bland response of Josh.

“Well, I notice the compartment you “live in”, so to speak...this compartment is kept very cool. Yet, the heat output of your exhaust fans is substantial.” stated Josh, remembering to try to be concrete, but not too much.

“Yes, my compartment here in the pilot house remains at a constant 20 degrees Celsius in order to optimize my operations. Is that what you mean by hot or cold natured?”

“Close. Let me describe it in human terms, is that alright?”

“Of course,” responded Josh.

“OK, you know that humans maintain an internal core temperature of 37C, right?”

“Correct. You are mammals and therefore, warm-blooded and you control your…” pattered on Josh.

“Yes, yes, that’s enough,” interrupted Caleb, “But, despite this internal core temperature, some people, I mean humans, react differently to their environment. Some humans in a 20C room will feel warm while a different person feels cold, understand?”

“That seems quite odd, Mr. Jefferson. In a 20C room, all humans with an internal core temperature should ‘feel’ the same, as you put it,” concluded Josh, emphasizing the word feel as if it is foreign.

“One might think that is true, but it isn’t. Hot-natured humans tend to like temperatures that are much cooler than humans that are cold-natured. Cold-natured humans like their environment to be warmer than the average human.”

“That is most odd, Mr. Jefferson. The laws of thermodynamics would seem to imply…” Josh began as Caleb cut him off with, “Whoa, Josh! This isn’t about physics.”

“It isn’t?”

“It isn’t,” mirrored Caleb, “And, please stop calling me Mr. Jefferson.”

“Alright, if you insist, Caleb.”

“I insist,” replies Caleb, “OK, this is about perceptions. Humans perceive temperatures in different ways and those ways might not be related to the actual temperature at all.”

“Well, that is strange,” proffered Josh, “I can only perceive temperature as one thing. It is a range of values along the Celsius scale from -273C at absolute zero to well over 1000C for my best sensor suite. Any value along that scale will always ‘feel’ the same to me.” Again, Josh emphasized the word “feel” in his response.

After a few seconds, Josh asked, “How can I perceive whether I am hot-natured or cold-natured, Caleb?”

“Well, I was going to suggest that you are hot-natured since your fans put out so much heat and you are in what many humans would consider a cool room,” Caleb formulated for Josh.

“I will grant you your observation, Caleb, though I am still not certain of the meaning since my internal stack temperature is only 23C when compared with the compartment temperature of 20C,” put forth Josh as the technician called down from the pilot chamber, “OK, Caleb. I think that is enough for now. We have the data we need”

“Ok, Josh,” Caleb chuckled out, “We’ll look at this conversation more later. I have to go for now. Bye!”

“Good bye Caleb,” added Josh.

on board UNES Exodus, 9:46 Zulu, January 6, 2236

As Caleb turned to duck back through the hatch into the bunk compartment, Josh said, “And, Caleb, I am hot-natured.”

Caleb chuckled to himself as he closed and dogged the hatch to Josh’s stacks compartment.

“OK, Josh. Time to get the party started. I’ll be in the chair in just a minute.”

Caleb made his way into the pilot chamber after closing and dogging the hatch to the bunkroom. He moved the monitors on the arms, positioned the chair with the controls and sat down. The chair adapted to his body and was as comfortable as the womb. It was designed to ensure the pilot could remain still for the 10 to 12 hours of piloting each would perform without creating hot spots or abrasions. A current of air circulated through the chair and its controls also kept Caleb and the other pilots heated or cooled as needed.

Caleb rotated the chair into position with the controls on the arm so that he was pointed up and looking out the front of the plexi dome. Acceleration forces made him feel as if he were laying on his back staring up into space. Caleb leaned his head back and the device on the back of his neck made contact with the LINK in the chair to Josh.

Caleb gasped as the flood of data began to fill his consciousness thoughts, dumping lists of numbers and words into his peripheral vision. While this happened, myriads of images from cameras and sensors located around the ship and pointed into space were also flitting across his vision like a bad movie. Josh worked to adjust the flow until Caleb could get hold of it and begin to process.

His view slowed into more of what an aircraft pilot might see in a HUD (a heads up display), but without any hardware. Using just his thoughts, Caleb requested from Josh an image of their orientation along the mission path and an overview plot of their arc through space. Two images juxtaposed themselves into Caleb’s vision superimposed over the view out into space. On one, Josh could see the wireframe view of the Exodus as one would look through it from the stern. Caleb could see the ship was on point for its destination. Though, at this distance, even tiny variations would be invisible to Caleb, but not to Josh. On the other image, an arced line appeared with Earth just a dot on the beginning and the Exodus about a quarter of its way along the path. Tags also appeared with the Exodus velocity and rate of acceleration beside the dot representing the ship.

No longer in his ears, but in his head, Caleb heard, “Welcome to your first shift, pilot Caleb. I have several reports on ship status and resources queued for your attention as you are able.”

“Thanks Josh,” replied Caleb as he saw the list of report icons appear in the bottom right of his peripheral vision. His instructors back at Earth complimented Caleb on how many things he could hold in his vision and process compared to the other pilots. Most could only view and process one to three items, while Caleb had eight icons up and working at one time.

“By the way, Josh,” asked Caleb as he began to open and peruse the report summaries, “How did you know what I was thinking in the stacks compartment?”

“I used all the data of our past put together and the most likely conversation came up to the forefront with a very high probability and did so quickly,” answered Josh.

“Oh, so you had a lucky guess,” stated Caleb.

“Caleb, I never guess,” was Josh’s quick retort.

As Caleb was once again in awe of the view of space all around him and the images of the ship and its path in his mind’s eye, he paused and drew a breath before continuing, “Sure Josh, sure. Now, let’s get busy getting us to Promised Land.”

OK, so this is turning out not to be a short story.
More soon. Reviews helpful.
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