Chapter 5

Ithaca, New York – Cornell Campus

Michael Livingston hated snow, to which he referred to as “white shit” at every opportunity. How he ended up in Ithaca, one of the snowiest places in the United States, was both an honor and a curse. He hated the weather, but as the newly appointed director of the Laboratory of Interplanetary Studies at Cornell he had reached the zenith of his career at forty-three. Born in Naples, Florida, he started out his teaching career as an adjunct professor at Skidmore College. After working his way to full professor, he had declined tenure in order to pursue his dream job.

He now held the same position once held by Carl Sagan, the famous Cornell professor and leading light in the field of astronomy. Great, he thought, wonderful. Thank you God… but would it have been some great imposition in your master plan for the job to be in Florida or California? Freaking Nevada would even work. But he was grateful for small blessings.

The job could have been in Alaska.

He looked out the fourth floor window of his office and warmed his hands with his mug of coffee. Six feet… or seven feet, and drifts and piles of white shit up to twelve feet. He had given up on his car weeks ago. It was currently lost under a mountain of crapola blanca. He’d rescue it some time mid-summer, drive it for a week, and then the anti-manna from heaven would surely begin to fall again. Fuck. He turned his attention back to his desk. He had to finish going through applicants for the Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration, six positions for four hundred and thirty two applications. He had read two. He blamed the white shit for his lack of progress. It just depressed him.

He turned to his mail instead and started to rifle through when the phone rang.

“Hello,” He answered, dropping the mail and answering the phone in one motion.

A deep sigh and a small sob preceded a creaky voice, “Michael, it’s Dad.”

“Dad? What’s wrong, is Mom all right?” Michael’s parents were in their seventies, and not a day went by when Michael didn’t worry about receiving a call with bad news from one parent or the other.

“Michael, Robert is missing. He hasn’t called us in three days. We called the observatory and his voice mailbox is full. Your mom and I are very worried. There is no answer at his apartment or his cell. Have you heard from him?”

“No Dad, I haven’t heard from Pudge in a while, but we talk nearly every week. It’s just that with the new job and all, I haven’t reached out to him in a couple of weeks,” he winced as he responded. Michael had given Robert the nickname that would haunt his brother for the rest of his life, and his parents hated to hear him use it. They never called him Pudge, even if everyone else always did. Michael and Pudge had not been close growing up – Michael had picked on Robert mercilessly, Robert had done everything possible to annoy Michael in return – but they had become much closer as adults despite the geographic distance, or maybe because of it.

“Can you make some calls to some of your colleagues down there and see if they have heard from him or know where Robert is?” His voice broke when he used Robert’s name.

“Sure Dad, and don’t worry, I’m sure Robert is fine. I’ll find Robert and have him call you.” Michael was sure of no such thing, but his parents needed to hear reassuring words.

“Thank you, Son. Please call us back as soon as you can with news,” His Dad said. Michael could hear his mother crying in the background. He knew she would be standing behind his Dad, a hand resting on his shoulder and a handkerchief in her other hand.

“I will Dad. Please give my love to Mom.”

As he hung up the phone, Michael swore to himself. Why the fuck is this kid always causing mom and dad worries? He thought, now, like always, I have to save his fat ass. Where could he be? As kids, like in seemingly every family, there was a responsible child and a wild child. Pudge had always been a free spirit, guided by desires and wants and never by needs and responsibilities. Michael had been the one to try to please his parents.

He hated to do it, but he decided to call Anibal Ramos, the director at Arecibo, an old colleague he was not too friendly with. As post-graduates at Cornell, Michael had been constantly derided and belittled by Anibal for no apparent reason. Michael remembered when he had angrily confronted Ramos after a class where the small Puerto Rican man had expertly and coldly dissected Michael’s argument on the possibilities of Faster Than Light travel. Ramos had used this confrontation to report him to the Dean as a dangerous and possibly deranged student that could not control his temper. He then added that Michael might just show up one day wearing a black cape and toting a shotgun. That had been it.

Michael had had to endure a semester of “visits” to a “rage counselor” to avoid expulsion.

As he reached for the phone he noticed an envelope with his brother’s writing among the mail stack. He reached for the letter instead. He opened it and removed a single yellow post-it-note with a number on it. He looked inside the envelope but there was nothing else. He turned the post it note over and found a single word handwritten on that side: “Life”.
Looking again at the numbers on the other side he read: 15192507432019.9ly.
What the fuck? He thought.

He picked up the phone as he continued to look at the yellow note, put the phone against his ear and shoulder and looked up the phone number to Arecibo in his Outlook contacts. Michael dialed the number as he carefully looked at the note, trying to decipher the meaning of the long series of numbers with the y at the end.  He decided to be civil and professional with Ramos, but to the point.

Buenos dias, Observatorio Espacial de Arecibo, press one for English” He did.

“How may I help you?” A harried, accented voice responded.

“Director Ramos, please, this is Professor Michael Livingston from Cornell.”

A slow romantic bachata played as hold music for a few seconds before he heard the snobbish voice of Anibal Ramos.

“Hello Michael, what a surprise! How can I be of help to our venerated colleagues from the frozen North?”

Michael bit his tongue.  His dislike for Ramos was nearly visceral; he always used words that that should be complimentary like ‘venerated’ sound like an insult. And the fucker lived in the Caribbean.

“Listen Anibal, I demand to have all efforts of your institution dedicated to finding my brother, and if you don’t give me all your assistance I’ll personally bring some of the “frozen North” down on the next plane with me.” Michael threw civility out the window. Venerate this, He thought.


“Don’t interrupt me. Do you understand that my parents are worried sick about him? What efforts have you undertaken to find him?” He was quickly losing his cool, the injustice done to him by this small man years before driving his anger.


“And by the way, I am not your “colleague”. You are an arrogant, pompous bully. Now, where is my brother?” Michael had revved himself up so quickly that he was beginning to see black spots dancing before his eyes. But it felt good to put this man in his place.

“Michael, your brother is sitting right across from me. Would you like to speak to him?”

Chapter 6