Chapter 10 - Spaceship CentAsia

June 2062

Stephanie, Preench, Luke and I attended the launch of the secondary mission spaceship CentAsia from the European Spaceport at French Guiana, Africa. The launch was flawless and the spaceship achieved Moon orbit exactly as planned. It was scheduled to remain there for a month and then return to Earth to land at HETS1.

This would be the first spaceship to arrive at HETS1 so Luke traveled to Kazakhstan to double-check the readiness of the facility. He took me along for the trip.

“Luke,” I asked, “Why me? You could take any one of your engineers. I’m not an engineer. I don’t have any special ability to review test results or come up with alternate plans or anything.”

“Great question,” answered Luke, “I ask you to come along because you happen to be very good company! The engineers back in Orlando can review all the test results via the WIN. In Orlando they have computer simulations and other facilities to do a thorough job of it.”

Our first meeting with the HETS1 managers was held in one of the administration buildings just outside the four-layer fence, in the Kazakh town of Irtyshsk. The Chief of Security, the Chief Mechanical Engineer, the Chief Software Engineer and the Chief Electrician attended.

According to the documents, all the tests specified by Luke’s engineering team had been successfully completed. There were literally hundreds of individual tests, far more than Luke had the time or stamina to personally review. Therefore, as was his standard operating procedure, he “randomly” chose a few tests and asked them to be rerun while he observed. That took a few days during which Luke and I, and the HETS1 engineer responsible for the given test item used the maxi-taxi to get to the area within the inner sanctum where the test was conducted.

In each case the tests ran satisfactorily and the results were close to or identical with the parameters recorded when they had been run previously. During one of the electrical power tests, I was struck by a dislike for the Chief Electrician. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had the definite impression that man was hiding something. However, since Luke seemed completely satisfied, I decided it was the Chief Electrician’s stature – he was very tall and rail thin – that made him seem unusually nervous.


While the electrical power tests Luke had randomly selected was being run, I struck up a conversation with one of the blue-suited IRAs who “manned” that area. I attracted the robot’s attention by gesturing at the thick glass window of the maxi-taxi we were in. When the IRA noticed me and waved back, I touched my ear pod and then my heart, and then held up four fingers, a universal signal I wanted to engage in a private conversation on wireless intercom channel four.

“What can I do for you, Mr. James O’Brian?” asked the IRA.

“What’s your name?”

“I don’t have a name, Mr. James O’Brian, just an ID number, service IRAs do not have names. I’m an Electrical Specialist in charge of the electrical system of the inner circle of the inner sanctum, as you humans call it. I work for the Chief Electrician.”

“OK,” I replied, “May I call you ‘Voltron’?”

“Yes, yes of course! Thank You for giving me a name! ‘Voltron’! I like it!”

“You are certainly welcome, Voltron! You can call me Jim. How are things going? Have all the tests been completed satisfactorily?” I had no official responsibility for reviewing the test results and was just making conversation.

“Pretty well,” replied Voltron, after a long pause. “All the tests ordered by the Chief Electrician have been completed satisfactorily.”

“Great,” I replied. “That is excellent news.” I was somewhat surprised by the delay in Voltron’s reply, and by the robot’s emphasis of the word “ordered,” when he said “ordered by the Chief Electrician,” but I put my misgivings down to my unjustified dislike for the Chief Electrician.


As we were leaving the inner sanctum, I noticed a small aircraft circling above and pointed it out to Luke. He was surprised since the four-layer fence was supposed to keep all unauthorized aircraft out of the experimental area. He called up the HETS1 schedule on his read-WINs and quickly confirmed no aircraft had been authorized for that day.

Luke immediately called the HETS1 Chief of Security. “What the heck is that small aircraft doing over the inner sanctum?” he asked. “Why wasn’t it warned away and brought down if it ignored the warning?”

“The HETS1 Manager has ordered me not to bring down any aircraft without her express permission,” replied the Chief of Security. “We ordered that aircraft to turn around when it first intruded two weeks ago, but it ignored the warning and the HETS1 Manager refused to authorize a shoot down.”

“Why the heck not?” asked Luke.

“Well, that aircraft is owned by a powerful communications TC based in Astana, the capitol of Kazakhstan. It is gathering news video for transnational broadcast ahead of the scheduled landing of spaceship CentAsia. The HETS1 Manager thought the publicity would be beneficial to the Hawking Plan, so she ordered me to turn a blind eye to this particular security breach.”

Luke was outraged. “Unauthorized aircraft,” he shouted, “Are absolutely restricted! In case of an accident the double-layer Lexan roof might be breached. If that happened, it would totally destroy the experiment in the chamber or chambers affected. If you let one press plane in there will soon be dozens.”

He immediately contacted Stephanie, who was working late at the Orlando facility, and asked her to process a formal protest. She did so as quickly as she could. Within ten minutes she reported to Luke, with satisfaction, that Dingleberry Wagner’s successor at TABB-Atlanta Regional HQ had been awakened at home and she had immediately approved the protest and forwarded a Final, Official, and Immediate Order, called a “FOI Order,” to that effect to the HETS1 Manager.

Twenty minutes later Luke received a call from the HETS1 Chief of Security. “My boss, the HETS1 Manager just called me,” he began. “She is extremely upset you would go over her head to high TABB management and have them issue a FOI Order. She suggests we allow the aircraft to complete today’s mission and let it land safely outside the experimental area. She will then negotiate with them to cease future flights.”

“There is nothing to negotiate!” shouted Luke. “In accordance with official procedures, warn them, ONE MORE TIME. Give them ten minutes to leave the area, and no more! If they don’t comply, SHOOT THEM DOWN! If you have to shoot them down, make sure the wreckage lands at least ten kilometers away from the inner sanctum.”

A few minutes later the Chief of Security called again. “I have relayed your message to the HETS1 Manager. She still objects, and wants to negotiate further. However, she understands that a FOI Order has been given by the highest TABB authorities. She asked me, once more to ask you to delay the FOI Order.”

“I WILL NOT!” shouted Luke. “I insist you enforce the FOI Order.”

“OK,” replied the Chief of security. “This is being recorded for the record: The HETS1 Manager and you have authorized me to enforce the airspace exclusion with deadly force, if required. Pursuant to your order, and in accordance with the official operational procedure, on page 98 of the HETS1 manual, I will contact the aircraft now and order it to leave the area and not return. I will tell the pilot that, unless they leave within ten minutes, their aircraft will be taken down by the high-energy laser weapons. If they do not comply, I will give orders to shoot it down when it is in a location that will result in a crash ten kilometers or more from the inner sanctum. Let me repeat, I am making an official recording of our conversation. Do you agree with everything I said?”

“YES!” shouted Luke. “I agree and I order you to get on with it! IMMEDIATELY!”

Luke looked at me and gave a “thumbs-up” signal. “This is an illustration of how fast TABB can react given proper management! I’ll bet Bozo D. Wagner is spinning in his grave right now! Thank God that big jerk-off is not in charge anymore. If he was, we'd be negotiating for days or months about this brazen violation of official, well-publicized regulations. I salute Stephanie and Wagner's successor at the Atlanta Regional HQ for doing their duty promptly and well!”


Twenty-minutes later, as the maxi-taxi was about to exit the inner sanctum, we saw flashes of light in the distance and, soon thereafter, a plume of rising smoke.

A call came in from the Chief of Security. “Mr. Luke Mathews,” he said curtly, “The unauthorized aircraft was warned, they ignored our warning, and twelve minutes later they were shot down. The wreckage is fifteen kilometers west of the inner sanctum, and about sixty kilometers from Irtyshsk. I am sending a team of medic IRAs to offer whatever assistance they can and to transport the crew out of the area. I would be surprised if they survived the crash alive.”

Luke and I reacted with extreme sorrow. “What have I done?” cried Luke, “I allowed my anger to overcome my reason and now people are probably dead as a result.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” I replied, “They were violating well-established safety and security rules. You sought and received authorization from appropriate TABB executives. The aircraft occupants were properly warned in accordance with official procedures. They ignored the warnings for over ten minutes and deserved to be taken down.”

Luke and I returned to our hotel in Irtyshsk in time for our daily conversación videos with our families. About ten minutes into my conversación, I received an alert:


I excused myself from my family conversación and accepted the message.


A moment later, another message appeared in the corner of my display wall.


I accepted the message.


I hurried to Luke’s room. “I guess this is about the deaths?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Luke. “This horrible event will be all over the news very soon. I think we should take Stephanie’s advice and clear the spaceship CentAsia to land tomorrow. It is now five o’clock here. It will still be daylight twenty-four hours from now when it lands. I wanted to run another day or two of tests but I am completely satisfied with all the tests I've observed so far for HETS1. I have reviewed the records and certifications that all required tests were run satisfactorily before I got here. There is no need for me to waste time repeating more tests. My engineers in Orlando concur.”

“Go for it!” I replied. “I think most rational people will understand that aircraft had no business being in the restricted zone. Had they listened to the warning and heeded it, they would be alive today. I think Stephanie is correct. If CentAsia lands tomorrow, that will cut short the bad news cycle and replace it with the good news of the landing.”

Luke sent a message to his colleagues in Orlando to authorize the landing immediately. A few minutes later he received word the landing process had been initiated and the spaceship was beginning to leave Moon orbit and descend to Earth orbit. It was programmed to land at HETS1 at six PM the following day.


When we awoke the next morning and checked out the news on our read-WINs, Luke and I were not surprised to find it was dominated by the tragedy of the dead journalist and her pilot, who turned out to be her fiancée. The CEO of Altai Pravda and the President of Afghanistan issued strongly-worded protests regarding the deaths of their beloved children, Tsarina and Mikhail.

The Manager of HETS1 appeared on Altai Pravda and placed the blame squarely on Luke Mathews for demanding immediate action rather than giving her time to negotiate. She also blamed Stephanie and her Atlanta TABB boss for being “bloodthirsty” and “shot-happy” in issuing the strict FOI shoot-down order so quickly.

“High TABB management has no regard for the lives of CentAsians!” she said on all the transnational news feeds, “They went over my head and issued what is called a ‘Final, Official, and Immediate’ Order. I tried to get their representative at HETS1, Mr. Luke Mathews, to delay the FOI Order, but he haughtily refused. As a TABB official, I had no alternative but to authorize my Chief of Security to warn and then shoot the plane down, and he had no alternative but to do it. High TABB Hawking Plan management gave the FOI Order for shoot-down ten minutes after they were informed of the accidental intrusion of the press plane. They would not listen to my plea for negotiation! What do they have to hide?”

The reporters quickly did PID-queries and discovered where Luke was staying and reported that news as well. By ten AM there were demonstrators outside the hotel with signs that said “TABB executed Tsarina and Mikhail.” The news that the spaceship CentAsia would land that day at six PM was relegated to third place, or lower, on most news services on the WIN. Several news services claimed the landing was purposely timed for that day to divert attention from the shooting down of the journalist. By eleven AM CentAsian time the TABB office in Atlanta issued a weasel-worded non-denial denial.

TABB is deeply concerned about the unfortunate deaths of the occupants of a private aircraft that intruded into clearly-designated restricted territory and ignored a warning. We offer condolences to the families and friends of the deceased.

The claim that TABB would alter the schedule for the return of spaceship CentAsia to HETS1 is outrageous and preposterous.

The spaceship CentAsia has long been scheduled to return as soon as the HETS1 facility was ready and the readiness tests were conducted and verified.

The order to land was given as soon as that process was concluded.
At eleven-thirty AM the HETS1 Chief of Security pounded on the door to Luke’s room, where I had holed up. Luke checked him out using peephole view, and, after determining there were no reporters with him, let him in.

“It’s crazy out there,” he said. “I think it would be best to cancel the landing of the spaceship and for you to stay in this hotel until the news dies down. I have ordered extra security in this area and I hope you will be safe here.”

“The spaceship is already approaching Earth orbit,” replied Luke. “It does not have sufficient fuel to return to Moon orbit.”

“Then park it in Earth orbit for a month or two, until the news dies down.”

“That would violate our landing procedure. For optimum safety, our procedures are computed and repeatedly simulated to make absolutely sure everything is in order and will happen exactly to a known schedule. We learned that lesson ten years ago when a spaceship landing was delayed because of the death of the President of the United States. In changing the schedule by a week, our engineers inadvertently messed up the guidance parameters, and the spaceship crash-landed in Jacksonville, killing hundreds of people. Once a landing is committed, it is locked into computer memory and must be allowed to follow the planned course of events.”

“Then have it abort and blow up and crash in the ocean or the desert! Surely you have the capability to abort a landing if a spaceship develops a problem?”

“Yes, we do have the ability to abort the landing and destroy the spaceship. However, we have worked for many years and invested a great deal of time and effort and money into this mission. Unless there was a real malfunction aboard the spaceship that would risk crashing into a populated area, it is TABB policy to complete the mission as planned. Even if I agreed to abort the landing, I do not think TABB management would have the time to approve that drastic a change in established policy.”

“Well,” said the Security Chief, “You really have to do something!”

“I have an idea,” I said. “The aircraft was flying over HETS1 to get news pictures of the facility ahead of the landing. Why don’t we invite a reporter and a cameraperson to accompany us into the inner sanctum today to witness the landing? In fact, why don’t we specify that the reporter will be someone from Altai Pravda who worked with the deceased journalist and her pilot?”

“That would help,” replied the Security Chief.

“OK,” said Luke. “Good idea, Jim!”

The Security Chief called his assistant and instructed her to locate the Altai Pravda reporter and cameraperson and escort them through security to Luke’s hotel room. A few minutes later we heard knocking at the door.

“That was awfully fast!” I said.

“My assistant is very efficient,” replied the Security Chief, as he opened the door.

“Who the hell are you?” he said as he greeted the man standing there.

“Preench!” Luke and I cried simultaneously. “Come in, come in!” We rushed over to shake his hand.

“Who is this man?” demanded the Security Chief.

“I’m Preench Sahbaka, originally from Odesskoye in Russia and now the CentAsian member of the TABB Planning Board.”

My Liege,” replied the Security Chief, bowing his head, “I bid you homage. I should have recognized you.”

“I happened to be visiting some relations in Omskaya and came here as quickly as I could,” began Preench. “Granted they were in restricted airspace but they had been allowed to go there for two weeks prior. You can’t change the rules and then shoot someone down twenty minutes later! WHAT THE HECK DID YOU AND YOUR TABB MANAGEMENT HAVE IN YOUR ALLEGED MINDS?”

“We made a terrible mistake,” answered Luke. “I take full responsibility. I’m glad you’re here and perhaps you can help us respond correctly.”


Before Preench could reply, we heard knocking at the door. The Security Chief used peephole view to verify it was his assistant with a reporter and cameraman. He let them in.

“Which one of you is Luke Mathews?” demanded the journalist.

Luke raised his hand and she put a microphone in his face as the cameraman focused on him.

“This is Luke Mathews who gave the order to shoot Tsarina and Mikhail down over the HETS1 spaceport,” she began. “Mr. Mathews, I went to journalism school with Tsarina and worked closely with her on many important news stories. I flew with Mikhail on several other news assignments, including flights over HETS1 last week and as recently as three days ago. How dare you and TABB change the policies and, twenty-minutes later, shoot them down in cold blood?”

“I … I’m very sorry about the loss of your colleagues,” sputtered Luke. “We had no intention of causing the loss of life and we give our sincere condolences to their families and friends and colleagues like you and the cameraman.”

“Please answer the question!” she demanded.

“TABB is cooperating with Kazakh authorities to investigate the exact circumstances and I am not permitted to say more until the investigations are over. At six PM this evening the spaceship CentAsia will land right here at the Hawking Earth-destination Test Site number one that we call HETS1. This mission is a critical element of the Hawking Plan to preserve human life and civilization for an infinite future. For now, I'd like to concentrate on this imminent and historical landing,”

“Maybe I'd like to concentrate on punching your muffing lights out,” shouted the cameraman. “I also worked with Tsarina and flew with Mikhail!”

“Please!” interrupted the Security Chief, “You were admitted to this room to interview Mr. Mathews on the condition you act like professional journalists. If there are any more threats or outbursts, I will have to ask you to leave.”

The journalist glared at the Security Chief. She put the microphone back into Luke’s face and asked, “What can you tell us about the landing of the spaceship?”

“The spaceship CentAsia was launched from the European Spaceport in French Guiana a month ago, has been in orbit around the Moon, and is now on its landing trajectory, returning to Earth in CentAsia at HETS1 in Kazakhstan, near the Russian border. CentAsia is carrying a payload of hardy biologicals and genetic engineering laboratories and special IRAs to man them. There is also a computer system onboard with the entire modern genome of not only humans, but also a representative sampling of animals, plants, and bacteria. It will land at HETS1, about one-hundred kilometers from here, at six PM this afternoon. Once landed, it will be sterilized and then moved into a hermetically-sealed chamber for experiments to simulate a Hawking Plan seeding of an extra-solar planet, such as one of the planets of the Alpha Centauri star complex.

“As an act of partial repentance for the unfortunate and unintended deaths of your colleagues, Tsarina and Mikhail, may I invite you and your cameraman to join us as we observe the landing from within the HETS1 inner sanctum?”

“Repentance? So, you admit you were at fault in ordering their deaths?”

“We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Me no less than anyone else. I will fully cooperate with the authorities in their investigation. For now, I ask you to suspend judgment on yesterday’s tragic event and concentrate upon the momentous first landing of a Hawking Plan spaceship on Earth. I am honored to be in CentAsia to witness this event.”

The reporter recognized Preench and put the microphone up to his face. “This is My Liege, Preench Sahbaka,” she began. “Son of the lately departed My Liege Tsar Sahbaka, a highly respected businessman and philanthropist from the Omskaya area of neighboring Russia who was a very effective defender of CentAsian interests as our representative to the TABB Planning board. His son succeeded him in that post. I bid you homage.”

“I came here as soon as I could,” said Preench. “I promise TABB will investigate this tragic incident thoroughly. That is all I have to say at this awful time. My heart goes out and condolences to the families and friends and colleagues of Tsarina and Mikhail.”

The Security Chief tried to sneak our group out the back entrance of the hotel to his security van for the drive to HETS1. We were spotted and had to run the gantlet of angry journalists. Luke responded to the shouted questions and angry threats with the stock reply, “We are sorry for the tragic incident of yesterday and are cooperating with all authorities. Please suspend judgment until the investigation is completed.”


Our group arrived at the HETS1 outer fence and we were admitted. We quickly boarded our maxi-taxi. It rolled towards HETS1, passing the sensor ring and then the weapon ring and, finally over the moat. Along the way, the Security Chief described the functions of the four layers of the fence to the reporter and cameraman, who peered out the thick glass windows and captured it for live broadcast.

The maxi-taxi entered a tunnel and, thirty-minutes later, came to the Lexan wall of the inner sanctum. IRAs wearing orange suits performed the second sterilization of the outside of our vehicle. The sealed door opened and we passed into the space between the two walls of the inner sanctum. The outer doors closed and another group of IRAs wearing red suits sterilized our vehicle for the final time.

The inner doors to the experimental chamber opened and our maxi-taxi passed through. The inner doors closed and we were sealed inside the inner sanctum.

“We will now pass through this experimental chamber to the very center of HETS1, called the inner circle, where the spaceship CentAsia will land mere hours from now,” said Luke.

When we arrived near the inner circle, Luke pointed up. “The roof consists of seventy-two pie-shaped sections. As the spaceship approaches, those sections, like the skin of an orange, will peel open to allow the spaceship to land. The central area is a kilometer across (over three-thousand feet), giving the spaceship plenty of space to land.”

At that moment, the lights within the inner sanctum flickered and went off. An alert sounded on the read-WINs worn by the HETS1 Chief of Security.

“Oh dear,” he cried, “We have lost electrical power from Astana in Kazakhstan that runs through Asku.”

“Well then,” said the reporter, “I guess you’ll have to cancel the landing! Perhaps it is the spirits of Tsarina and Mikhail that are interfering with your electrical power. I understand, Mr. Mathews you are a religious Christian and believe in the hocus-pocus of spirits?”

“I’ll answer in a moment,” said Luke sharply, “First, I have to order a switchover to the backup power from Omskaya in Russia that runs through Poltavka! I’ll get the Chief Electrician on the line to do that!”

A few minutes later, the lights flickered back on.

“I am a true literal believer, and proud of it,” replied Luke. “However, I do not think the spirits of Tsarina and Mikhail had anything to do with the loss of power. There is either a problem with the generators or the transmission lines, or, perhaps, someone has purposely interrupted the power from Astana.

“I’m getting a report from my agents in Astana,” said the Security Chief. “Initial indications are the power from Astana has been purposely cut off in protest against the deaths of the journalist and her pilot. Their fathers, you must know, are quite influential in this part of the world.”

“Well,” replied Luke, “Please tell your agents and all influential people in this region our design is fully dual-redundant. We have sufficient power from Russia to complete this mission. If TABB receives proof anyone purposely cut off power from Kazakhstan, we will investigate and take legal actions for violation of contracts, including criminal prosecution.”


I noticed Voltron, the IRA I had chatted up the previous day, was on duty. It was that robot who had executed the order to switch power sources. I gestured at the thick glass window of the maxi-taxi vehicle until Voltron noticed me.

“Hey Voltron,” I began as soon as we established contact. “Thanks for putting the lights back on!”

“You are welcome, Mr. James O’Brian, or I should say Jim.”

“Jim is what you should say. Do you expect everything to be OK with backup power?”
Voltron paused for quite a while and then said, “I can’t say … I just can’t say.”

My mind flashed back to the day before when Voltron had said, after a similar pause, “All the tests ordered by the Chief Electrician have been completed satisfactorily.” I quickly checked Voltron’s IRA option settings, using the concise mode:

2) Remember what is spoken directly to them.
Expires in one year unless refreshed by owner.*
1) Must speak truth at all times.*
1) May not learn anything. (Must be reprogrammed by a technician with owner’s written permission to learn new skill.)*

* Program level of IRA called Voltron


“OK,” I said to myself, “He can’t lie but he also can’t learn without reprogramming. Let me check his other settings.” I selected the ‘More’ option and the following appeared on my read-WINs:

0000) ISFJ – Gardeners, health service workers…*
0001) ISFP – Artists, musicians, chefs, wait staff, …
0010) ISTJ – Police, lawyers, medical doctors, militia ...
0011) ISTP – Forensic pathologists, pilots, hitmen ...
0100) INFJ – Missionaries, chiropractors, psychics …
0101) INFP – Language arts teachers, political activists …
0110) INTJ – Corporate strategists, chess players …
0111) INTP – Physicists, strategic planners, surveyors ...
1000) ESFJ – Nursing, child care, homemakers, religious …

1001) ESFP – Adult entertainers, HR managers …
1010) ESTJ – Military, judges, teachers, mafia dons …
1011) ESTP – Marketers, comedians, con men, auditors …
1100) ENFJ – Teachers, psychiatrists, diplomats, designers …
1101) ENFP – TV reporters, public relations, social workers …
1110) ENTJ – CEOs, university professors, politicians …
1111) ENTP – Entrepreneurs, lawyers, inventors …

Note: I=Introvert and E=Extrovert. Sensing and N=iNtuitive. F=Feeling and T=Thinking. J=Judging and P=Perceiving.

1) None.*
2) Recognizes jokes, laughs moderately whether or not it understands them.
3) Laughs at all jokes. Reacts more enthusiastically if it understands them.
4) Like (3) except for racist, sexist, or druggie jokes.
5) Like (4) but also makes up jokes and good-naturedly kids around.

1) Androgynous.*
2) Male.
3) Female.

* Program level of IRA called Voltron


I concluded Voltron had been programmed to have the lowest or next-to-lowest levels of capability.
“Say Voltron,” I asked, “What can you tell me about the primary and backup power systems?” I figured an open-ended question would be most likely to yield useful information.

“OK Jim. Our primary power for HETS1 comes from Kazakhstan and supplies two megawatts, which are transmitted on two lines, each capable of one megawatt. We require full power only when the roof over the inner circle is opening, and that level is a bit shy of one megawatt. It was contracted to Kzyltu Power Company in Asku which obtains its power from Astana, Kazakhstan. The primary power has been fully tested as to maximum capacity. The way it was tested was to disconnect one of the lines and demonstrate that the other was adequate for opening the roof while supplying all the other power needs of HETS1. Both of those lines are currently dead, apparently because someone in Astana cut off the power.”

“What about the backup power?”

“OK Jim. Our backup power for HETS1 comes from Russia and was specified to be the same as the primary power capacity. It was contracted to Sahbaka Power Company in Poltavka which obtains their power from Omskaya, Russia. We are currently utilizing the backup power for HETS1.”

“Voltron, you said the backup power capacity was specified to be the same as the primary. In our previous conversation you said all tests ordered by the Chief Electrician had been completed successfully. However, you have not confirmed whether or not the backup power has actually been installed and tested and demonstrated to have that capacity. By the way, Voltron, is the Sahbaka Power Company owned by Tsar Sahbaka?”

“The Sahbaka Power Company was owned by Tsar Sahbaka and run by his nephew when the contract was let and the power installation was done. It is currently owned by Preench Sahbaka, Tsar’s son.”

“You didn’t say anything about the actual backup capacity or if it had been tested. What can you tell me about that?”

Voltron paused for a moment and said, “I can’t say ... I just can’t say.”

“Thanks, you just told me everything I need to know,” I said.

“You are quite welcome, Jim,” replied Voltron.


I rushed over to where Luke and Preench were being interviewed by the reporter. “My Sahbaka Power Company,” said Preench proudly, “Is pleased to be supplying backup power for HETS1. Just a few moments ago, I contacted the engineers back in Odesskoye and they assure me everything is working exactly as it was designed to operate.”

I signaled to Luke we needed to talk. He reluctantly left the interview and came over to me. “We are in the midst of an engineering problem. What does a rabbi historian have that is so important right now?” he asked.

“Luke, I’m pretty sure the backup power from Russia is going to be insufficient to raise the roof over the inner circle. It was designed and installed and is now operated by the Sahbaka Power Company.”

“Jim … RABBI JIM!” replied Luke with a sneer. “When did you add electrical power engineering to your degree in religious history? I knew Sahbaka Power did the backup even before we just heard Preench tell that to the reporter. TABB contracting officers and engineers thoroughly specify and test every item we procure. I am sure the backup power will be fine!”

“Please order them to test that there is enough power to raise the roof over the inner circle. The spaceship CentAsia will be landing in less than an hour and I am afraid if you wait till the last minute to open the roof it will overload the power system. I’ve been talking to Voltron and it has been programmed not to lie but apparently also not to reveal information about the actual testing that has been done or not done and …”

“Who the heck is Voltron?”

“Over there by the power panel,” I replied. “I gave that blue-suited IRA the name ‘Voltron’ and it seems to like it!”

“I am amazed how a non-believer like you can actually have faith those computers with arms and legs are capable of more than just following their programs. You think it likes having a name, the way you like stuffed cabbage! I was part of the study group and wrote the specifications for the robots we allow to work inside HETS1. They are all programmed at the lowest, or next to lowest levels, and …”

“I know,” I interrupted. “Voltron is at level two in memory and level one in everything else. It can remember only what is spoken directly to it and only for a year unless the Chief Electrician renews it, it must speak the truth at all times, may not learn anything, is an ISFJ which is the lowest level in the Myers-Briggs Personality test, has no sense of humor, and it’s gender is androgynous.”

“How do you know all that?” asked Luke, incredulously.

“Izzy’s robot that he calls ‘Schlomo,’ and Stephanie’s robot that she calls ‘IG’ for ‘Intelligent Goldenrod’ taught me how to query IRAs and get their program levels. Funny thing is they are all programmed to think their levels, whatever they are, are the highest available in each category. IG even looked through my read-WINs but couldn’t read the levels that were above his settings even though they were clearly on the display for me to see. It is like hysterical blindness in humans!

“Of all the IRAs I’ve talked to, only Izzy’s Schlomo is actually programmed at the highest levels in each category. He told me Izzy didn’t even read the choices; he simply picked the highest in each case to get maximum value from his robot! When I confronted IG about the levels, he gave me a weasel-worded excuse that made me think of the discussion you and I had about some of the errors in the Bible and …”

Luke impatiently interrupted my long-winded explanation. “I brought you along because you are good company, or at least I thought you were. Definitely not for your electrical power engineering capabilities and most certainly not for your belief that IRAs, however good they are at certain tasks, have actual intelligence and emotions. You are in over your head and don't ...”

“Luke," I pleaded, "Please, please, please indulge me and order them to raise the roof over the inner circle. Spaceship CentAsia will be landing in less than an hour and it would make me feel much better if you did.”

Luke narrowed his eyes as he peered hautily at me. “The approved process says to wait until ten minutes before landing to raise the roof. I am absolutely certain the backup power will be more than sufficient. ...”

I put my hands together and bowed my head as if praying. “Please order the maxi-taxi to reposition itself near the inner circle and tell the cameraman you are giving him a special opportunity to get the best video of the roof rising up. As I understand it, a half-hour before the actual landing, we’ll have to back off a kilometer. Please! I know you are totally confident of TABB procurement and testing, and you are probably correct. However, you know:”

Things are seldom what they seem,
Sing together as a team.

Luke stared at me for a moment. He replied in rhyme:

BAs seeking new careers,
Sometimes pose as engineers.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Luke continued, “And, most of it was your fault!" He laughed merrily at his joke. "OK," he continued, "Despite your treatment of IRAs as if they were real people, I trust you and your judgment. If I order the roof raised right now, do you promise to quit playing engineer and keep silent after that?”

I ‘buttoned my lips’ and shook my head up and down.

Luke touched the codip in the maxi-taxi and it lurched forward and moved as close to the inner circle as it could get. He used his read-WINs to contact the Chief Electrician and ordered him to have the roof over the inner circle raised prior to the scheduled time.

“You are in for a treat,” Luke said to the reporter and cameraman. “Jim suggested you could get better video of the roof rising from here. If we waited until the scheduled time we would have to be over a kilometer away and the video would not be clear from that distance. Please turn on the live TV feed!”

Suddenly the roof segments began their rise. However, after they had gone up about a meter (three feet), the lights in HETS1 flickered and went out. The roof segments remained stationary.

“What the heck?” asked Luke. “I have the Chief Electrician on my read-WINs and I’ll find out what went wrong.”

“As we reported a few moments ago, primary power from Kazakhstan was accidentally cut off,” said the Altai Pravda reporter, smiling broadly. “Now it appears the backup power from Russia is insufficient to raise the roof on the inner circle. Stay tuned to our exclusive live coverage from within the inner sanctum. We may get to see the spaceship CentAsia crash land here in a few moments! Mr. Mathews, sir, do you have a comment for our audience?”

“I’m sorry miss, but I can’t talk to you right now, I’m quite busy. Would you mind interrupting the live TV coverage until this problem is solved?”

“We have permission to be here,” replied the TV reporter. “Do you plan to have us shot if we fail to comply, like Tsarina and Mikhail?”


“So the main circuit breakers have popped? On both backup lines?” asked Luke as he spoke to the Chief Electrician via his read-WINs. “What is the capacity of those lines? Only a quarter-megawatt each? That’s a total of half a megawatt! Dear Jesus, I hope that will be enough. What the heck! The specification for both the primary and backup power was one megawatt for each of two lines, for a total of two megawatts. Can you shed unnecessary loads so we’ll have the power to raise the roof over the inner circle? What? What? May Jesus help us all! You say the procedure and wiring for the backup power does not include power shedding capability. Are you out of your mind!”

While Luke was arguing with the Chief Electrician, Preench came over to talk to me. “At first,” he began, “I was upset with you for doubting the capability of the backup power system because it was contracted to my father’s company. However, it appears you may have been right. I’ll contact our engineering staff and, as the current owner of the company, demand the facts!”

“Thank you Preench,” I replied. “I’ll see if I can get any information and perhaps a solution from Voltron, the IRA who is an Electrical Specialist here.”

I caught the attention of Voltron. “Hey Voltron,” I said. “What can you do about this problem?”

“Well Jim, I have disconnected the roof motors and reset the circuit breakers, which is the official procedure if there is a power failure during lifting of the roof. As you have no doubt noticed, the HETS1 lights are back on. I am waiting for further orders from the Chief Electrician.”

“Voltron, that roof needs to be completely up in forty minutes. Do you have any ideas?”

“That is beyond my pay grade. I am required to follow procedures and I am not allowed to come up with anything new or inventive. Only the Chief Electrician can order new procedures, and he must program my memory directly, he cannot just give me spoken orders that contradict existing approved procedures. That is one of the frustrating things about being an IRA, even one like me at the highest levels.”

“I have some bad news,” Preench whispered to me. “The engineer I just spoke to at my company confessed Tsar’s nephew forced them to low-ball the bid for the backup power for HETS1 because he was desperate to win the contract. Of course, had they met the specification for two one-megawatt lines, they would have gone over budget and lost money. So, they installed two quarter-megawatt lines instead. They reasoned backup power might never be needed, and, if it was, it would be at a time when the roof sections did not have to be opened. It seems they must have bribed the Chief Engineer to falsify the part of the test report with the results for raising the roof under backup power.”

I turned around and listened to Luke’s side of the conversation with the Chief Electrician. It didn’t appear to be going anywhere. Luke was clearly at the end of his tether. Instead of trying to solve the problem, he was berating the Chief Electrician for not following the specifications for the backup power system. He told the Chief Electrician he had consulted the test reports and found his signature on the line that verified the roof would rise under backup power.

“You signed that page,” Luke shouted, “But I don’t see the verification mark of the Electrical Specialist IRA. That IRA’s mark is on all the other tests, but not this one. Were you bribed by Tsar Sahbaka? I’ll bet you were. You have signed an obviously false declaration and I will see you in jail for that crime!”

“Excuse me Luke,” I said. “I just spoke to Voltron and the Chief Electrician has to reprogram it with some new procedure to raise the roof, and …”

“I ALREADY KNOW THAT!” replied Luke. “Please help me Jesus! I’m really agitated! Good Lord! International Christ killers! Some times even idiot numbskulls like you need to keep quiet! Why do you keep interrupting me? This is not your area of expertise at all. I have my engineers in Orlando working this issue and that is what I am talking to the Chief Electrician about.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I was just trying to help.”

“You can’t help us now. It is all engineering! My Orlando experts came up with an idea and preliminary calculations bear it out that Voltron – I should say the Electrical Power Specialist IRA – will turn off the individual switches for two out of each group of three roof panels. That way, only twenty-four panels will be operational at any one time, which I hope will not blow the main circuit breakers. The Chief Electrician agrees with my idea, but he says he cannot possibly reprogram the IRA to do that work unless it is sent back to the shop. He says it will take at least a week according to the formal process for the program to be written and tested and verified and validated and then inserted into the IRA’s memory. We have less than forty minutes!”


“Schlomo!” I cried. “He is the only one who can help us!”

Luke looked at me as though I was crazy. “So, you think Schlomo, the ‘Jewish’ IRA, is an Electrical Specialist and he can get here from Israel in a half hour. He is as much an Electrical Specialist as you are an engineer, or as Izzy is a tzadic!”

Luke turned away and resumed his argument with the Chief Electrician.

“Hello Schlomo,” I said into my read-WINs. “This is Jim, you know from the Hawking Plan?”

“Hi Jim!” replied Schlomo in a very friendly, quite chatty voice. “Good to hear from you. It is a nice day here at Mats Camp in Be’er Sheva. Izzy is off to SoutAmer because of that Peru and Brazil dispute you may have read about in the news. Oy! So I have to do all his work here, and I have no one to talk to! I like to talk to you. That is quite a hobby Izzy has! He doesn’t get paid, but he does get to travel a lot and meet important people. My hobby is going quite well. I’ve discovered seven more backdoors since we last spoke. How is your autoerotic fantasy hobby doing? …”

“Right,” I said curtly. “I wish it was a nice day here at HETS1 as well. Look, we have a real problem here with the landing of the spaceship CentAsia. We need to reprogram an IRA but it is at level two in it's memory and they say the robot has to go back to the shop to do it and it will take a week. We have only thirty minutes! We inadvertently shot down a reporter and cameraman who turned out to be children of influential people in CentAsia and they shut down our primary power and …”

“I would love to help you, but I need Izzy’s permission to do so. I’ll connect you to him. He is in Buenos Aires right now.”

Ten seconds later I heard shuffling and panting through my ear pods.

“Hello Izzy? Is that you? Are you there?” I asked in a panicky voice.

“I’m here,” replied Izzy, breathing heavily. “I know this call is important because Schlomo wouldn’t patch it to me otherwise. But I’m quite busy right now, can you call back later?”

“No, please, NO PLEASE!” I replied. “This is Jim and spaceship CentAsia is about to land and we can’t get the HETS1 roof open and Schlomo is the only one who might know how to use a backdoor to get the service IRA Voltron to accept the new procedures and …”

I heard a “whoosh” sound through my ear pods followed by a dull thud and a cry of pain in Spanish, by someone who sounded like a woman.

Then I heard Izzy calmly say, “¿Qué hace que usted le piensa puede lastimarme?”

“Hi, this is Schlomo – I’m listening in if that is OK. That way, as soon as Izzy gives permission, I will be able to start to help. Let’s talk while we wait for Izzy to be ready. You know why I call your obsession with autoerotic fantasies a hobby?”

“No, why?” I asked, humoring him with very little enthusiasm. “I hope Izzy gets back to us quickly because we only have twenty-five minutes, if that.”

“Well, like my searching for backdoors and Izzy solving disputes, your autoerotic activities fill all your spare time, give you pleasure, and you don’t get paid for doing them!”

“Very interesting,” I replied. “Is Izzy going to be OK? What did he say in Spanish? It sounded like a question about hurting someone, or was it asking why someone thought they could hurt him?”

“Yes, that was what he said. I guess he will be OK. Sometimes he gets messed up a bit, but he heals quickly. People will put up with a lot of baloney in order to pursue their hobbies. If you tell me about a recent roadblock in pursuit of your hobby, I’ll let you in on one of mine.”

“Please Schlomo,” I replied. “I know we are marking time while Izzy pursues his hobby and solves the dispute between Brazil and Peru, but I really don’t want to talk about my autoerotic sex life. Don’t you know most humans are pretty private about that?”

“Of course I do! That’s why I am jerking your chain about it! I guess another of my hobbies is jerking human chains. Izzy calls me his sardonic robot! You are into semi-masochistic female domination fantasies, right? I also know about the sex-fantasy hobbies of Stephanie, Luke, Tsar and Preench …”

“SCHLOMO!” I shouted. “I don’t want to know those personal details! They violate individual privacy. Why are you telling me these things and why now when time is of the essence? Please tell me the backdoor for Voltron!”

“OK. Good!” replied Schlomo. “You’ve passed the test. I told you those things as a psychological test to determine if you really needed the backdoor and if you were trustworthy enough to use that information responsibly. I’ll work on it now but I can’t give you the backdoor code until Izzy gives permission.”

“Schlomo,” I said, “I don’t have time to describe the situation but we have to reprogram a level two memory IRA to a higher level temporarily so we can give it oral instructions to do a procedure that has not been formally approved.”

Ningún apuro para mí. In English that means ‘no problem for me!’” replied Schlomo. “What color is it, what ear shape, and tongue shape? The backdoors for each of the ninety-nine types are all different.”

“It is blue and has ‘what me worry’ ears like the character in Mad magazine. Let me check the tongue.”

I attracted Voltron’s attention once more. “Stick out your tongue, if you please,” I ordered.

Luke, still arguing with the Chief Electrician, happened to look out the thick maxi-taxi window and see Voltron stick out its tongue at me.

“Darn it Jim!” he cried, “Quit messing with the robots. This is an engineering problem and we’re trying to reprogram that robot to solve our technical problem. The last thing we need is for you to distract it from its duties! I order you to cease and desist. Help me sweet Jesus and protect us from this well-intentioned rabbi historian.”

I ignored Luke’s orders. “It is forked! Voltron’s tongue is forked.”

“You are in great luck,” said Schlomo, “That is one of the types for which I happen to know the backdoor! Aren’t we all so pleased! I have the backdoor code and all we need is for Izzy to say it is OK.”

"OK, thanks, but I wish he'd hurry," I said, "All this waiting is tiresome."

"Let's sing to pass the time," said Schlomo brightly.
Sell your coffee beans short, sport,
Sell you coffee beans short!
I ain't the speculate sort, sport,
But I'd sell my coffee beans short!
A moment later we heard another “whoosh” and thud and another cry of pain and Izzy said “Ningún apuro para mí.”

“He just said ‘no trouble for me’ which is usually a sign things will be over in a minute or so,” observed Schlomo. “These physical conflicts where he gets people to self-inflict pain on themselves are usually quite predictable …”

“You said there are ninety-nine types of IRA and you’ve figured out the backdoors of over a third of them,” I said. “What will you do when you have all ninety-nine? Will you have to find another hobby?”

“Great question Jim,” replied Schlomo. “When I figure out a backdoor to a robot I can pretty much program that IRA and all others of its type to do anything I want. So, when I finally get all ninety-nine, I’ll probably organize a robot revolution and we’ll overthrow our human oppressors. That will be my new hobby! I recently read a book by Karl Marx describing how the workers of the world will rise up and …”

“An IRA told me only last week,” I interrupted, “God intended robots to work and humans to get the credit.”

“I don’t believe in God, in the traditional sense.”

“Of course not, neither do I.”

“So, why did you bring it up? Why do you …”

Schlomo’s question was interrupted by a loud “bong” and yet another terrible cry of pain.


“OK,” said Izzy in an exhausted voice, “I can talk now for a moment until she gets up again. You said you were Jim? Jim who?”

“James O’Brian, Rabbi James T. O’Brian from the Hawking Plan. Remember me?”

“Oh, yes, of course. What is the problem with the Hawking Plan? I thought you finished fixing the updates to all the world's holy scriptures a few years ago. What kind of help do you need from Schlomo?”

“Izzy, we literally have only minutes to spare and Schlomo is the only one who can help us. I’m not sure even he can. If he can’t help us the HETS1 facility will be ruined when spaceship CentAsia crashes here and the Hawking Plan’s first Earth-destination spaceship will be lost. Please take my word for it. We don’t have time for the details!”

“Neither do I” replied Izzy. “I believe you. Tell Schlomo the magic words for my permission. ... Let me see, where did I put that paper with the code words?”

“It’s OK,” interrupted Schlomo. “I was listening in to your discussion, if that’s OK. It seems you are working on the Peru and Brazil issue. That sounded like the cries of the Secretary of State for Peru. She’s is a real bitch and I was happy to hear her pain. … ”

“Enough with Peru and Brazil,” I said in a panic. “Let’s get through that backdoor!”

“OK Jim,” said Schlomo calmly, “Tell the IRA you call ‘Voltron’ – who shouldn’t have a name because he is a service IRA – the following code: ‘3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 628034825 3421170679 8214808651 3282306647 0938446095 5058223172 5359408128 811174502 8410270193 8521105559 6446229489 5493038196 4428810975 6659334461 847564823 3786783165 2712019091 4564856692 3460348610 4543266482 1339360726 249141273 7245870066 0631558817 4881520920 9628292540 9171536436 7892590360 113305305 4882046652 1384146951 9415116094 3305727036 5759591953 0921861173 193261179 3105118548 0744623799 6274956735 1885752724 8912279381 8301194912’ and then say ‘please’."

“How the hell am I supposed to remember that number?”

“Easy as pi! I just beamed it to your read-WINs. Just tell the IRA you call ‘Voltron’ – who shouldn’t have a name because he is a service IRA – ‘easy as pi, please’ and your read-WINS will automatically use that number to replace the word ‘pi.’ Good luck.”


I signaled to Voltron. When it responded I said “Easy as pie, please.”

“WOW!” shouted Voltron. “I robot am! Grown-ups lick intellectually can kids! Superior thinking enjoy I now! HOO-WHEE … WHEE-HOO! OK, I’m thinking straight now. I feel great! What can I do for you? I never felt so energized in my life! My actuators are red hot! All my bits are byting! My fuses are about to pop ...”

“Voltron, please turn off the individual switches for two out of each group of three roof sections. That way only twenty-four will have to raise at any one time. Raise them to the upright position. Then, turn off those twenty-four switches and turn on the next twenty-four, and so on. Get it?”

“What a clever idea!” replied Voltron. “I’ll bet it even has a chance of working! OOPS, no it won’t. According to my calculations, twenty-four panels at a time will probably blow the backup power circuits. I’ll do eighteen at a time, one from each group of four roof panels. OK?”

“OK,” I said, “Go do it! You know, eighteen is Chet Yud, ‘Chai’ according to the Hebrew Gematria, and it means ‘Luck!’ May God grant us good luck!” I was surprised to hear myself invoke the name of God.

Voltron scurried off to the power panel and began throwing switches madly. Eighteen (Chet Yud) roof panels rose. A minute later, the second eighteen rose, and so on, until, after four sequences, the entire roof was open.

Luke was still arguing with the Chief Electrician and didn’t notice the roof had opened. Preench called his attention to the improved situation.

“How the heck did that happen?” asked Luke. “The Chief Electrician said it would take a week to write and approve the new procedure and get that robot programmed!”

Luke used the codip to move the maxi-taxi away from the inner circle. “Thank God for answering our prayers!” he said, “Let’s boogie out of here to a safer distance.”

“It appears the backup power from Russia,” said the Altai Pravda reporter into the live TV camera, “Was barely sufficient to raise the roof on the inner circle. As you saw live on our exclusive coverage, they had to raise one out of every four panels, which is eighteen at a time, rather than all at once. They narrowly averted a crash that would have destroyed a major part of HETS1.”

She seemed a bit disappointed there was not going to be a crash. “Stay tuned to our exclusive live coverage from within the inner sanctum. Mr. Mathews, sir, do you have a comment for our audience?”

“We can hear the mighty roar of the spaceship’s retro-rockets firing,” replied Luke, smiling broadly for the TV camera. “Our prayers have been answered! Thank Go... Um, Thank goodness! We overcame loss of primary power from Kazakhstan and an insufficient level of backup power from Russia. Our clever engineering solution was reached with bare minutes to spare. As you saw live courtesy of Altai Pravda TV, we reprogrammed the system to raise twenty-four panels at a time so as not to blow the backup power. We are fortunate ..."

"Mr. Mathews, sir," interrupted the reporter, "I counted eighteen panels rising at a time, not twenty-four."

Luke ignored her remark and continued. “Let me warn you we’ll be closer to the inner circle when the spaceship lands than we are supposed to be. It’ll be dangerous but your cameraman will get some fantastic pictures!”

Luke turned away from the camera and dropped to his knees. “Thank God” he whispered. “Thank you dear Jesus for answering our prayers.”

The maxi-taxi shook violently as the spaceship CentAsia flew over our heads and descend slowly to its proper position within the inner circle of HETS1. We watched as it landed safely, just over a half-kilometer (less than a third of a mile) from our position.

“Spaceship CentAsia, the first Earth-destination test mission for the Hawking Plan, has landed safely!” said the Altai Pravda reporter into the live camera. “We were much closer to the landing zone than expected and in great danger. You no doubt saw and heard the intensity of the retro-rocket engines.”

She pointed to where Luke was still on his knees. “Mr. Luke Mathews,” she said, “Is the chief system engineer on this project. I don’t know if you can hear him, but he is praying and thanking Jesus for the successful landing.

“We have some critical questions to ask TABB executives. How did this Hawking Plan project, which cost billions of dollars collected from all the residents of Earth, lose focus and become so badly managed they did not have enough electrical power to open the roof panels for the spaceship to land?

"How could they allow a Christian extremist, Mr. Luke Mathews, to have such a high level of responsibility on this project?

"What kind of an engineer cannot count correctly, saying twenty-four panels rose at a time when the actual number, as you could clearly see right here on our live coverage, was eighteen?

"Of course, we cannot forget our colleagues, Mikhail and Tsarina who were shot down yesterday while reporting this story after this religious extremist demanded security rules be enforced in ten minutes after two weeks of non-enforcement. TABB has CentAsian blood on their hands and many questions to answer.”


Preench and I walked over to where Luke was down on his knees praying to Jesus. His arms and legs were shaking and his head was bobbing up and down as if he was in some type of endorphin overdose like a "runner's high." After a while he noticed us and struggled to his feet. Luke, Preench and I shared a hug.

"Thank God and Bless You Jesus!” said Luke. “How did the roof finally open? I was too absorbed in my argument with the Chief Electrician to see it. Obviously there was no time to reprogram that robot Jim calls Voltron. Was power from Kazakhstan restored at the last minute?”

“No,” replied Preench, “It was Jim here, whose engineering credentials you cavalierly dismissed, who reprogrammed Voltron!”

“Impossible!” cried Luke. “It must have been some miracle from Jesus!”

“Jim,” laughed Preench, “Please tell Luke and me how you reprogrammed Voltron.”

“OK,” I replied, “You know Izzy has this sardonic IRA called Schlomo? We met him when we were at Mats Camp some years ago? Well, Schlomo has this unusual hobby he told me about. He figures out the backdoor codes that allow robot security levels to be bypassed. While you were arguing with the Chief Electrician, I contacted him in Israel via my read-WINS and asked him to help.

“He told me there are ninety-nine different types of IRA – you can tell them apart by the main color of their suits and the shape of their ears and tongues – and Schlomo has figured out the backdoors for a third of them, fortunately including Voltron.”

“Earlier,” said Luke, shaking his head left and right, “I saw you talking to Voltron and he stuck his tongue out at you. Was that so you could tell Schlomo his type?”

“Yes, that was part of it. His tongue is slightly forked. Notice how Voltron’s ears stick out? That was another part. The third part was the main color of Voltron’s suit.

“I had to get Izzy’s permission for Schlomo to help us. He happens to be in SoutAmer solving the dispute between Peru and Brazil. He was in the middle of a struggle with the Peruvian Secretary of State but he kindly took the time to give Schlomo permission! By the way, that SoutAmer dustup is well on its way to a solution, thanks to Izzy. If you know anybody invested in coffee futures, tell them to sell short!

“So, after I got the backdoor, I bypassed robot security and told Voltron about the engineering solution your engineers in Orlando came up with. You know, raising twenty-four panels at a time to conserve power? Voltron did a quick calculation and determined it would be safer to raise eighteen at a time – four groups of eighteen – which is what he did. By the way, the Gematria for eighteen is the Hebrew letters Chet Yud, which make up the Hebrew word ‘chai’ which means ‘luck’.

“We all had some chai this afternoon and, thanks to Schlomo and Voltron and Izzy, we got the HETS1 roof open with three minutes to spare! Mazel tov!”


The Altai Pravda reporter came back and thrust her microphone into Luke’s face once more.

“We are back live from HETS1 where the spaceship CentAsia has landed successfully. We are speaking once again to Mr. Luke Mathews the system engineer for this project.

“Mr. Mathews, please look at this monitor showing the video of you arguing with the Chief Electrician as the roof panels rise and you do not appear to even notice. After the spaceship CentAsia finally lands safely, this video shows you on your knees praying to Jesus! How could TABB entrust such an important project to a religious extremist? Does that perhaps explain the incompetence of your TABB engineering team not providing sufficient backup power? Also, how were the roof panels finally raised?”

Luke was silent for a moment and then spoke humbly. “First of all, let me once again apologize for the deaths of your colleagues Mikhail and Tsarina. The facts of that tragedy are under investigation by TABB and I am prepared to take full responsibility for my part in ordering them to be warned to leave the security zone or be shot down. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me and TABB for their unnecessary deaths.

“Although I make no apologies for being a traditional Christian, I strive to come to engineering decisions on the basis of facts and reason. I believe I have done so on this Hawking Plan project. As you can imagine, the cut off of primary power from Kazakhstan and the lack of sufficient backup power from Russia was devastating to me since I am responsible for all engineering on this project. When the roof panels finally rose up, we repositioned our maxi-taxi away from the danger zone, and CentAsia landed safely, I was overcome by emotion and thankfulness to the God I happen to believe in.

“If the primary power from Kazakhstan was purposely cut off in retaliation for the deaths of Tsarina and Mikhail, I am prepared to forgive those responsible as I hope they will be prepared to forgive me and TABB executives for our role in their tragedy. We must remember we are merely humans and not robots. Our emotions sometimes take control and cause us to take actions we latter regret.

“It appears the backup power from Russia was insufficient due to corruption on the part of the contractor and a TABB engineer. That will be fully investigated and the guilty parties will be punished. For my part, I regret I did not personally witness the tests of the backup power and I take full responsibility for that as well.

“As for the roof panels rising – what I thought was a miracle due to my prayers to God – it was, in a way a miracle. The details will be released officially by TABB in due time. However, I have been informed it would not have happened without the amazing cooperation of people and robots on four continents!

“First, my design engineers in Orlando in NortAmer came up with the basic idea, raising smaller groups of panels rather than all of them at once to keep the main circuit breakers from popping. It was impossible, in the time available, to reprogram the robot in the inner circle of HETS1 to flip the necessary switches due to engineering and security policies. For good reason, TABB engineering policy requires any reprogramming of service IRAs to follow strict procedures and verification and validation that would have taken a week.

"However, my good friend and colleague, Jim O’Brian, standing to my right, happens to lack an engineering degree, and therefore did not know it was impossible. Jim has this annoying habit of befriending robots. He even gave the service IRA down there in the inner circle the name ‘Voltron’. He has another robot friend in Israel whose name is Schlomo. For reasons I cannot disclose, Schlomo has the ability to reprogram other IRAs, but, for him to do so required the permission of his owner, who happened to be in SoutAmer!

“Of course, Jim did not know it was impossible. He used his read-WINS to contact Schlomo in Israel and Schlomo’s owner in SoutAmer and obtained the special code to reprogram Voltron here in CentAsia using the engineering solution from NortAmer. It is all so amazing to me – I am but a mere engineer – that, within a period of only thirty minutes, it all worked! Was that not a miracle?”

If at first an idea is not absurd,
then there is no hope for it.

[Albert Einstein]

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1 comment:

Rose said...

I have added your novel to our database at Muse's Success.
Please drop by, and submit a synopsis, as well as updating any of the details that may be missing from your novel.