Pandora: The Final Solution
I gratefully acknowledge one of the foremost creative geniuses of our times, James Cameron, for conceiving the lush moon Pandora and the "noble savages," the Na'vi, that inhabit it. This story uses the setting he created for his movie, Avatar. I have not received any money for my work based on Avatar. If I could get paid by the hour for these stories, I would retire and spend all my time dancing and writing in comfort.
This story contains all original characters and situations, set on Earth immediately after the end of the movie. It is the obvious approach to dealing with the Pandoran uprising, with less than obvious consequences. FTL means "Faster Than Light", the fastest communications link posiible between RDA operations on Earth and off-world vehicles and sites large enough to warrant the expensive technology.
Chapter 1: John Winston
John Winston, JW to friends and Mister Winston to everyone else, pores through the latest financial projections and program schedules. He is trying to divine where the corporate bean-counters will attack at the next meeting, and he is working to get his stories straight in his mind and be ready for the onslaught. Anticipating political warfare is a necessary skill to succeed in RDA. He is the President of the Interstellar Operations, Communications, and Remote Sensing Technologies Enterprise, and is personally responsible for adding the "Remote Sensing Technologies" moniker to the organizational name. When he joined this RDA enterprise, it had three main functions, maintaining contact with each ISV, buying the communications gear for the next ISV to leave Earth orbit for Pandora, and retrieving the data brought back by the latest ISV to return from Pandora. Once the first unobtainium mine was projected to play out, RDA was forced to look beyond the fortress of Hell's Gate. JW saw his chance, and proposed the construction of a satellite constellation to wrap an electronic cocoon around Pandora similar to the one that envelops Earth. That proposal and the resultant development effort led to a series of promotions for him, all the way to the top of this enterprise. He now oversees its traditional activities along with the construction of the satellites that will provide time, location, voice and data communications, mapping, and resource identification services for Pandora. Once his satellites are on their way to Pandora, he will move up into the corporate offices in New York City, provided the bean-counters or political rivals don't trip him up first. His wife can't wait, she hates this "god-forsaken desert." He finds the desert beautiful and serene, a nice contrast to his working life. New York City is too much like his job, noisy, chaotic, and very, very busy.
With almost two hundred years of satellite technology to draw on, much functionality is being assembled into a number of small packages. The Pandora Satellite, PANSAT, for short, combines the best concepts from the ancient classics, GPS, LANDSAT, SPOT, TELSTAR, and Iridium, and implemented with the latest electronics and elements from modern communications and spy satellites. The biggest problem is dealing with the electromagnetic interference (EMI) caused by all the moving fields in and around Pandora, especially the flux vortex that is is not well understood. These satellites and the systems that communicate with them include the latest advances in dealing with EMI, putting the development teams on the cutting, read that bleeding, edge of technology. JW's handling of the programs as the technical problems surfaced is what got him to his current position.
This satellite development effort is a big step forward for the group unofficially called "The Museums." With a round trip time of almost thirteen years, Earth time, each ISV is full of obsolete computer and communications gear when it returns. Each ISV has its own operations building in the high desert of New Mexico, away from most natural and man-made disasters, and not far from the ancient White Sands Space Harbor used for one original NASA Space Shuttle landing. RDA contracts with one of the major multinational aerospace companies to design, build, and install the new communications gear going into the next ISV departing Earth orbit, and the ground equipment going into the corresponding operations building. Once the space and ground equipment is turned over to RDA, called "becoming operational," it is used daily until the next refurbishment, logging thirteen years or more of continuous use. Many generations of technology come and go during a single round-trip flight. However, experience has shown that no major changes can be made to the ground equipment, risking a loss of communications with the in-flight ISV. So, the operations building remains essentially unchanged during the flight. In a sense, each building becomes a museum, first with the latest technology, and eventually becoming the last place on Earth where old technologies are still in daily use.
Another building in the desert complex is dedicated to the mission of recovering and distributing the data brought back from Pandora, known formally as the "Media Conversion Lab" and informally as "The Junkyard." Each flight to Pandora carries the latest in computer and networking gear, including the latest data storage devices. The first shuttle to Hell's Gate from a newly arrived ISV carries a backup system to copy every bit of data stored in all systems in the base. The ISV cannot leave Pandora orbit until three complete backups are finished and stowed safely on-board. When the ISV arrives at Earth, the backups are sent to this lab for recovery and reconstruction, as necessary, giving a complete "snapshot" that is saved in current storage technologies. This collection of all data from Pandora is distributed via virtual private networks to other RDA entities for analysis, and possibly dissemination via the Internet. Again, this lab keeps backup systems for about fifteen years, until all backup data is recovered.
The desert complex is off limits to the general public, but the RDA does run a full scale and very popular museum connected to the terminal building of the New Mexico Spaceport. This museum receives some of the best obsolete equipment from the desert complex, along with large displays of artifacts returned from Pandora, including plants and animals encased in clear plastic and items made by the Na'vi. Other artifacts and equipment are sent to museums around the world, including the China Space Museum in Beijing, the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow, and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. One of the oldest and best known artifacts sits in the main lobby just outside his office suite and the RDA conference center here, a wood sprite securely encased in a dense, clear plastic cube. Looking a bit yellow and beat up, this artifact travels to numerous capitol cities for part of the year, and spends the rest of the time here where he and all other RDA employees in his enterprise can see it on a daily basis. Millions of humans have viewed this artifact in person, and almost every human alive has seen it on the RDA web site devoted to Pandora. Mr. Winston has one assistant whose sole assignment is handling requests for artifacts and obsolete equipment, scheduling exhibits, and arranging access to the old equipment still in use for maintenance training, engineering analysis, and documentation verification.
A red window pops up on JW's screen, right over the budget spreadsheet he is examining. He has his system in privacy mode, so this window could only be an emergency alert from his administrative assistant. She has not sent an alert like this for months, so it is definitely hot. It shows a highly classified email addressed to him, and reads:
MOST SECRET—RDA ONLY—NOT FOR DISSEMINATION
Please clear your schedule and gather your staff. The Chairman, several board members, and select staff are flying to your location and will visit you and your team this afternoon. They will provide the necessary details at that time. Keep this meeting off the record as much as possible.
/s/ Executive Administrative Assistant for the Chairman
END OF MESSAGE
JW hits the intercom to his secretary. "Thanks for the alert. Please clear my schedule. Have my staff meet in my office in ten minutes. Also, connect me with the chief of security right away. Thanks again."
His phone rings. He picks it up, and hears it ring once. "Hello. Chief of Security".
"This is Mister Winston. I have VIPs flying in this afternoon. Please handle the arrangements."
"Yes, sir. Corporate Security has already contacted me. The landing has been scheduled and hotel rooms booked. We will be ready for your visitors, even though the visit is off the record."
"Thank you for your very efficient and discrete handling of this matter. Goodbye."
"You're welcome. Goodbye, sir."
JW disconnects and quickly dials the head of off-world ops. "Jerry, this is Mister Winston. Is anything hot going on right now?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Winston, but I can't say on this open line. I got paged by your secretary, and I'm on my way to your office. Fill you in when I get there."
"Good, the whole staff should be here by then, so you can tell us all at once."
"Yes, sir. Please order a secure link to your office from the ISV Venture Star FTL feed and archive. See you in ten."
"Thanks for the heads up, Jerry." JW hangs up the phone and wonders what on Pandora would bring the Chairman and staff out here to New Mexico from New York City.
He calls the chief of security directly. "This is Mister Winston again. I'm authorizing the activation of the secure link to my office. Set me up with all ISV Venture Star comm and archives, particularly FTL, and the same for all Pandora comm. The email request is forthcoming, with the highest priority. Please get your staff on the network changes immediately. Thank you again." He hangs up the phone and buzzes his secretary. "Please fill out a security request for secure comm to my office. Need everything available on Pandora and ISV Venture Star. Need it immediately. Don't know how long our visitors are staying, so request seven days. I'll extend it if necessary. When it's ready, send it to me for signature with highest priority handling. Thank you again."
He picks up the phone again, and calls his wife. As usual, he gets her voice mail. "Hello, dear. Something big has come up, and I may be stuck here tonight. Don't know how late I'll be. I won't know until this afternoon, so I'll call when I know more. Love you." He hangs up and sits back in his chair for an instant.
"Well, as long as this disaster is in progress, my rivals won't be able to harass me with the routine stuff." he thinks. "How can this become an opportunity for me to get ahead of the pack?"