The Programmer – Introduction

The scene of empty darkness painted by the occasional bright spot had been getting old for a long time. Still, it had gone well past the point of tedium and had become a feeling of despair. It was morning for me, but it didn’t really matter. I was stuck in space and the scene was always the same. There was no sunrise or sunset. There wasn’t even a point to me getting out of my warm bed.


When I’d first left Earth’s atmosphere, it was the most amazing sight I had ever seen. From where I stood I was surrounded by the universe like never before. The stars and the sun looked amazing. Earth was even more beautiful. I was watching home become smaller and smaller as the ship ascended into space. I was in awe at the beauty of the universe. It’s too bad that feeling couldn’t last when I started to miss home.


Twelve years. It seemed longer, but it had actually been shorter. I had only been awake for four of them. Only? Saying the word in my head showed me what an odd choice of language it was considering those four years were the longest of my life.


I often wondered if I was insane yet, but there’s no point of reference for someone who’s alone. Without all of the computers surrounding me, I wouldn’t have known exactly how long it had been.


My transmitter had plenty of range to reach Earth, but I couldn’t call home for retrieval. With all the computers on this stupid probe, it was the most inconvenient coincidence that the ones that performed communication and navigation functions were broken.


I couldn’t pilot the probe home myself, either. Its course was predetermined and would return to Earth after its mission to take photographs of several of Jupiter’s moons was complete. It was supposed to be on its way home now, but it was just moving slowly in whatever direction it had been traveling when the computer crashed. The whole mission was supposed to take approximately ten years, but I was still there watching for any signs of home or help.


The mission was pretty much designed to run itself. I was on it to provide basic technical troubleshooting for any problems that came up. I was chosen because I was just expendable enough and just qualified enough to do the job with minimal training. I had experience providing basic technical support, which was what they anticipated needing for the types of problems they anticipated. They wanted to send someone who was good enough to deal with the issues that were likely to come up, but NASA didn’t want to risk sending their best personnel on a mission that was farther than any human had traveled.





The funny thing about it was that I was less skilled than they realized. In college, I majored in literature because it was the easiest way to get a four-year degree. With a literature degree finding a job was about as easy as finding a needle that fell on a carpeted floor. Basically, you won’t find it until you step on it, and by then it’s already punctured your foot.


I had no technical education and my experience was limited at best. I couldn’t get a job with the degree I had, so a friend of mine named Ryan recommended me to his boss, Edgar, for a job working with him providing technical support to a bunch of lawyers in a large firm based out of Washington, D.C.


Edgar hired me partly because of Ryan’s recommendation, but mostly because I was a good communicator. It was a small department and he needed someone to write up proposals and explain why the IT department did things. He said he saw my lack of a technical background as a bonus.


Because my knowledge of technical stuff was average at best (or above average when compared to a lawyer), I’d be able to put things in simple terms that anyone would understand. I could explain things in a way that lawyers would understand rather than the technical jargon that he or Ryan would spew.


I managed to get by because lawyers are inherently stupid in most aspects of real life. The job mostly involved me performing simple tasks like fixing “broken” monitors and laptop charging cables by plugging them in. A couple of times I even fixed a couple of paper jams by opening a paper tray and pulling out the stuck paper.


Occasionally, a more complicated problem would come up. I would usually ask Ryan for help with those. He was really smart when it came to computers and technology in general, but he hadn’t bothered with getting a formal education. He dropped out of high school and that was it. Ryan applied for the job initially when he found it on, a website full of classified ads. When Ryan told me that, I couldn’t help but imagine the kinds of people that would apply for a job that’s advertised on the same website where people sell sex and used beds. It was no surprise to me how Ryan got the job when I imagined his competition.


After working for these lawyers for a few years, I realized how boring I had become. There was a time when people would ask me how I was, what I had been doing lately. I always felt like a loser when I didn’t have anything to say. Sitting at home after work watching television or playing video games didn’t make for the most interesting conversation pieces.


I decided to make myself a more interesting person.


I figured I should start by getting some certifications in Information Technology to help pad my resume. The material was difficult, but through mindless memorization (and Ryan helping me cheat) I was able to pass. Armed with a few technical credentials, I started looking at job postings on a regular basis.


My ambition overcame me when I heard about the NASA Jupiter mission. Normally, I wouldn’t have given it a second though, but the job requirements were extremely low. It was one of the strangest job postings I’d ever seen and I figured it must have been a mistake. On a whim, I sent them my resume despite my misgivings.


Luckily – or so I thought at the time – the person conducting the interviews had even less technical knowledge than I did. Taking advantage of that along with my superior communication skills, I was able to bullshit my way into a space mission. Or so I thought at the time. I had no idea that I was the perfect candidate already. I ended up getting the position because I was one of only a handful of people with my level of skill to apply. Almost none of my intellectual peers thought to apply for a job at NASA. NASA’s for smart people, after all.


Well, time was over for my morning reflection on life. Not even looking through the window next to me to see that the sun was still basically in the same place it was when I had gone to sleep, I forced one foot out of bed and let gravity pull it to the floor with a clanging noise from hitting metal. The floor was so cold that my foot could feel it even through my sock.


I turned my body and sat up. It was time for the usual morning routine. I spoke.


“Good morning,” I said to myself.


I frequently spoke to myself, which is part of why I thought I was insane. I had what I thought was a rational reason, though. I didn’t want to forget how to talk. If I was found and got home, speech was one of the abilities I didn’t want to have forgotten.


“Time to start, I suppose,” I said.


I stood up and started walking. Because the room was small, I turned and began walking around the room inside its square shape. Every time I made a turn at a corner, I would say something.


“Good morning… How are you..? What are you doing..? I’m walking… Walking where..? To the next corner…”


I wanted to make sure I was relatively fit by walking a lot every day, but I also wanted to do it for the same reason I spoke at every corner. I didn’t want to forget how to do either activities.


I read books and practiced math problems so that I’d remember all of that stuff, too. I knew it wouldn’t be current when I got back to Earth, but it was the best I could do.


Eventually, my day of walking, reading and speaking aloud ended. My days were over when I was tired, basically. There weren’t any visual cues like light and dark unless I turned off the lights, so I slept when I wanted to and didn’t bother waking up at any particular time.


I turned out the lights and fell asleep pretty quickly. That was one nice thing about space that I still liked more than Earth. Sleep. On Earth, days lasted an exact amount of time and I had to be awake when I didn’t want to be, so I had to compensate by forcing myself to sleep when I wasn’t tired. There wasn’t a schedule in space, so I found it much more efficient to sleep and wake naturally.


I sat on my bed and turned to the light. I turned it off and laid down. I was asleep within a couple of minutes.


When I had dreams, they were almost always about my past. A lot of them went back to childhood. None of them were especially good or bad. They were just memories.


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