For Her Majesty


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Monday, Sol 47 (001.2.47)  08:44 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Thursday, 21 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  199,170,504 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  193,239,248 kilometers
  • Song of the Day:  God Save The Queen (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

Paige made the announcement that came up on almost every monitor in ESEP, on the ship, Earthside, and in orbit,

“CODE ALERT! Message from the Director of ESEP to follow.”

Jenna began,

“All team members, today is a very special day. While we are making history with every kilometer that brings us closer to Mars, our achievements cannot compare with the history that has been made over the last ninety years by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second. Today, Her Majesty is ninety years young, and we celebrate her service to Great Britain, The Commonwealth, and the world.

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II, we take the following action.”

All the monitors switched to an exterior view of the Sagan. It was obviously being taken from a construction pod hovering some distance from the ship. The Core Command section separated from the ship, and fell back alongside the main core. Then another Core Command section moved up into its place. Within three minutes it was done, the Sagan Core Command section had been replaced, officially changing the name of the ship to the new Core Command, the ESS Queen Elizabeth II.

Jenna spoke again,

“Effective immediately, the first ship to Mars is now the flagship of the ESEP fleet, the ESS Queen Elizabeth II. Happy Birthday, your Majesty, and God Save The Queen.”

The music began to play and around the world, and in space people were singing God Save The Queen.



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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Sunday, Sol 46 (001.2.46)  09:22 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 20 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  196,204,876 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  196,204,876 kilometers
  • Song of the Day:  Halfway Gone (Lighthouse)

196,204,876 was not a number most people would remember, but to the crew of the Sagan it meant they were halfway to Mars.

Keria Cho asked Anna, “Captain, do you ever think about how odd space travel is?” Anna said, “What do you mean? Keria said,

“On Earth, we get in our car and drive to the store, and the store and our home haven’t moved. In space we left Earth orbit, but Earth isn’t there anymore. It’s practically shadowed us in its orbit. And Mars wasn’t anywhere close to where it will be when we catch up with it in June.

It even stranger that we’ve traveled almost two hundred million kilometers in two months, but the Commodore is going to return to Earth and will have gone about 36 million kilometers to get back. It’s just odd.”

Anna said, “I can live with traveling between moving targets, but what I find weird is that time is moving slower for us than it is Earthside. Relativity gives me headaches.”

Jenna climbed up into the Navigation deck and asked, “What’s our ETA to the halfway point?” Kiera said, “13:31 NST, Director.” Jenna said, “That’s weird.” Anna said, “What?” Jenna said, “The time. 13:31, one three colon three one. The numbers are symmetrical and a mirror image of itself. It’s odd that the time represents our halfway point is a palindrome. Anna replied, “Yeah, I that is strange.”

Jenna left the Nav deck. After she was out of hearing range, Anna said, “She’s lost it.” Keira laughed and added, “Completely mental.”

A few minutes later an announcement was made to the crew from the Director, “Attention all hands, all decks. As you’re aware, we reach our halfway point to Mars today. We will have a Halfway to Mars party at one PM Noctis time today to celebrate. We will reach the halfway point at 13:31, which is a palindrome.” Jenna heard laughter coming from the Nav deck, but she continued, ” For those of you who find that interesting there will be refreshments. For those of you who find that funny there will be the cleanup crew.” More laughter came from the Nav deck.

Jenna was still smiling when Paige came down to her workstation a few minutes later. Paige asked, “Something funny?” Jenna said, “Our Captain and her Pilot think I’ve lost it.” Paige said, “The palindrome thing?” Jenna nodded. Paige continued, “It is pretty geeky.”

Jenna laughed. Paige then said, “On a more serious note, I need to talk to you about a possible issue. It has to do with the earthquakes last weekend in Nippon.”



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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Saturday, Sol 45 (001.2.45)  10:01 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 19 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  191,960,712 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  200,449,040 kilometers
  • Song of the Day:  Real Love (Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne)

Sam was standing in the Rex Bay looking at a monitor. The screen was almost a meter wide, and three meters tall. She was watching video of Yosemite Park in the early summer. It had no narration, it was just recordings of different sites in the parks from different viewpoints, including helicopter flyovers of waterfalls and granite mountains.

The Rex Bay was designed to be a place for the crew to go and relax, or gather and talk. It had food and drink available, and it served as place to celebrate events.

Zeke came down into the Bay and saw Sam. “Hey Sam, what’s up?” Sam didn’t respond. Zeke grabbed a drink and walked over to her. As he got close he saw she had been crying. Zeke said, “Sam, you okay?” She glanced at him and replied, “Yeah, I’m just being stupid.” Zeke said, “Stupid’s my gig, you’re going to have to find another ship.” Sam laughed a little.

Sam still watched the monitor. Finally she said, “Zeke, how do you do it? You seem to love space. All I can think about is how far we are from Earth.” Zeke said, “I don’t know. I’ve never felt like any one place is my home. I guess I just am a wanderer.”

Sam asked, “Where were you born?” Zeke said,

“Chicago, on the west side, near Garfield Park. I lived there until high school.” Sam said, “You’re a long way from home.” Zeke replied,

“And going farther. When I was about eleven or twelve I was starting to get into some trouble and fighting with my Mom. After school I would go and play basketball. My Mom put me in a basketball program and this coach saw that I was going to end up dead or stuck in nowhere. He got my Mom’s okay to take me on the ‘L’ one day. I hardly ever left my neighborhood and he took me all over Chicago. Every Saturday he would take me on different lines and to different places.

After a while, I became an expert traveler. I even taught my Mom what to do and what not to do. Both of us began to want more out of life than what we had in our neighborhood and she and I became a team of explorers. In a couple of years she found a new job and we moved to a better neighborhood. Eventually, we moved to Denver and I got in a great school, and she had a good job.

I went off to college and in my junior year she died. Not too long after graduation, ESEP began its Mars program, and I became fascinated with going to Mars. It was like a switch was turned on. I knew I belonged on Mars.”

Sam said, “But don’t you miss Earth…even a little?” Zeke says, “Earth is still there. It will always be there. But we’re on the ‘L’ train to Mars. I know I can go back, but right now I’m going to Mars.”

Sam smiled and said, “Man, you need serious therapy.” They both laughed and then Wendy climbed down into the Bay and said, “Can I join the party?” Zeke said, “Perfect timing. Sam says I need therapy.” Wendy looked at Sam and said, “Good diagnosis. I was looking for a new partner.” Sam said, “Actually, I’m the one whose been standing here crying.” Wendy gave a little smile and said, “I was wondering when it was going to hit you.”

Science Project


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Friday, Sol 44 (001.2.44)  10:39 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 18 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  188,355,816 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  204,053,936 kilometers
  • Song of the Day:  This is How We Do (Katy Perry)

The Science Division meeting had just started. It was being transmitted Earthside to allow the ground science team to observe and comment. The issue under discussion dealt with the new mission plan.

Lanny described the new concept,

“We always thought that we would have a main ground lab, but we assumed the main lab would be on Mars Prime. What we want to do is put the main lab on the surface at the Mars ESEP Center, and research labs at any other landing site. This will allow for a quick turnaround on any sampling analysis, and it just makes more sense.”

Jenna asked, “What about Mars contamination concerns?” Alexander jumped in,

“We have extensive safeguards in place, but the reality is that we’ve already been contaminating Mars. Every probe that has landed on Mars has introduced foreign material into the its environment. Our presence on Mars will contaminate the planet, however, the lab has to maintain multiple layers of separation to preserve the integrity of our research, so reverse contamination is highly improbable.”

Lanny continued,

“We already have designed a robust ground lab under the old plan. Under the new plan we would expand that lab, and add additional safeguards if we need it. For example, we could restrict the lab to only allow exterior entrance and exits, meaning, no connection to any other Hab units.”

Jenna asked, “What about the Oxygen Producing Bacteria experiment?” Lanny said, “Phase One would be at the main lab, then Phase Two at all surface labs to duplicate the results.” Jenna said, “Chickens?” Zeke said, “At the main lab for the foreseeable future. I would like to use the damaged Comm core section for the chickens, and possible take it to the surface.” Jenna said, “Talk to Roman and get his okay, but I’m fine with it.”

Jenna said, “What about staff?” Lanny replied,

“In addition to the four we have absorbed from the Charlie One crew, we have eighteen more coming on the Data mission. We will need more staff after we are settled in, but we should be able to handle the initial work with the current staff. Our transition from laboratory for the exploration mission to a research facility should be a matter of weeks, not years, as initially planned.”

Alexander asked, “Can we go back to the OPB? I have been following up on the work done Earthside and I’m concerned about the bacteria’s potential interaction with animals.” Jenna asked, “What’s your concern?” “We don’t have any data on what happens if they are inhaled,” Alexander replied, “They feed off carbon dioxide and if they got into our lungs, I’m concerned they might have an adverse effect….I’d like to do an animal trial before Phase Two.”

Zeke said, “Your talking about my chickens, right?” Lanny said, “Our chickens, and yes, I think that would be a good idea.” Jenna said, “Sorry Zeke, I think you can spare a few chickens…we only need their lungs.” Zeke laughed and said, “Okay, but if you kill them, we eat them.”

Extreme Mission Makeover


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 43 (001.2.43)  11:18 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 17 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  184,306,920 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  207,658,832 kilometers
  • Song of the Day:  Come With Me Now (The Kongos)

Jenna gave her summary of ESEP’s recovery from the aftermath of the security breach that exposed scores of Russian FSB agents in the organization,

“The production of core sections is expected to be back on schedule by next week. Quill production will take a few more weeks, but what they’re talking about is having a surplus inventory of Quill sections in Chile. When the security breach was discovered, we had twenty-one Quills sections in surplus, and now they are down to twelve. They expect to deliver thirty sections by Sol 19 of Sur Three, which would put us ahead of schedule again.

The Data mission is still on schedule to leave Earth orbit on Sol 58, and there are still some crew assignments that are pending. Our friends in Moscow had three FSB agents on the crew.

At this time, our mission is back on track. So, where are we at in the mission redesign?”

Lanny smirked and said, “Yesterday, we flushed the toilet.” Jenna smiled and said, “I was hoping for a little more progress and a little less descriptive.” By this time the Command team all looked like they all ate the last piece of cake, and were very proud of themselves. Lanny continued,

“During the past few days we had been looking at the mission in terms of moving up the schedule on our goals, but yesterday we realized that we were still stuck in the NASA paradigm of ‘mistake avoidance.’ We weren’t looking at the mission from a standpoint of what was possible.”

Roman interrupted,

“Originally, this mission was designed to take one step, then move to the next step, in the same way we used to put a ship together or disassemble one. We now have equipment and the people to multi-task our mission. We can achieve multiple objectives at the same time.”

Jenna said, “I’m intrigued. Where are you going with this concept.” Anna stepped in,

“A completely different approach. First, we launch our satellite network as soon as possible, and put them in orbit as quickly as possible. We then start our analysis of landing sites and then pick two or three. Next we split up the equipment and personnel before we reach orbit and send in the landing missions while Mars Prime moves into orbit. By the time the Data mission gets here, we will have evaluated and prepared two or three options for our ESEP Center on Mars.”

Jenna smiled. This was exactly the type of thinking that she had hoped for when she asked them to redesign the mission. Jenna said,

“Brilliant! You have a go to work out the details of the new mission. Notify Earthside of any resources that might be thin under the new plan. I want them to get anything we need before Data leaves orbit. It took ESEP twelve years to design this mission. We need to design a new one in a week.”

Music Cadet


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Wednesday, Sol 42 (001.2.42)  11:56 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 16 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  181,146,024 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  211,263,728 kilometers

While Miranda gave Jeffrey a complete tour of the San Jose ESEP Center, Megan talked to Kelsey and her husband, Jake. Megan explained,

“Emily was killed by a Russian FSB agent, who intended to kill me. Emily caused enough of a delay that the security team was able to get into the room and stop her. We have tightened our security, but we’re concerned that the FSB will go after other targets outside our security net.”

Jake said, “What do you mean?” Megan hesitated then said,

“Because of Emily’s position, and my attachment to your family through Emily, we believe that you already may be a target of the FSB. We feel that we need to bring you under our security net. The Director already ordered it.”

Kelsey said, “Are we going to be followed everywhere with security guards?” Megan replied,

“Yes and no. In a situation like yours we try to keep a low profile. We would have someone in or near the your house at all times. We would install a security system and video cameras in your house, outside your house, and in the neighborhood. The cameras would be almost invisible unless you knew what to look for.

We would take Jeffrey to and from school, but it we will assign what we call a Nanny-officer. They would appear to be a Nanny to the public. We would also work with the school to have one of our staff stationed in his school, but it wouldn’t look as if he was there because of Jeffrey.

Jake, at your work we would begin video surveillance, and all three of you would have a tracker with you at all times, monitored from our satellites in orbit.”

Jake said, “A GPS tracker program.” Megan smiled and said,

“Not exactly. We will be visually monitoring you from orbit. At any given moment we will be able to see the locations of your entire family and someone will be observing the surrounding area for possible threats. We will see, identify, and respond to any suspicious activity.”

Kelsey asked, “Is this really necessary?” Megan said, “We don’t do what is necessary. We do what is needed, and this has been determined to be a need.” Jake said, “When do they start?” Megan hesitated and then said,

“The Director ordered it after I visited you and it began before I walked out of your house. As we speak the cameras are being installed in your house. Everything else is in place. Don’t worry, your bedrooms and bathrooms don’t have cameras in them, but if you walk naked through the house, you might reconsider doing that. Before you leave you will meet your Nanny. You can select someone else, but we do a pretty good job in selecting a good match.”

Jake asked, “What if we hate it?” Megan said,

“You are now considered an extension of my family. If you have any problems, you’ll talk directly to me. I’ll make adjustments if I can, but the Director feels very strongly that if I am worried about your safety, it could affect my performance of my duties. I’m sorry, but because of Emily’s sacrifice for me, I’ve have developed an attachment to your family, and I want to protect you as much as she protected me. Believe me, you will come to appreciate it….Let’s go find out what Jeffrey’s learning about.”

They left Megan’s office and the sound of Peter Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do was playing throughout the Center. Megan said, “Teaching Jeffrey about the seventies?” Miranda said, “No. He’s teaching us. He asked Director Wade if they play music on board the Sagan. In her response, she asked, if he had any songs in mind, and he suggested this one.” Kelsey said, “I’m sorry. Jeffrey loves music, all kinds, and he’s become an aficionado.”

They were interrupted by the Director’s response. Jenna said,

“Jeffrey, your selection was a hit with the crew! I’ve never seen so many people play their air guitar in my life! So, I’m assigning you to our crew. You are now the Music Cadet for the Mars mission. Your job is to select a new song everyday to be played on board the ESS Sagan for the entire crew. If you accept this position, Megan will assign you one of our work tablets so you can contact us with your selections. I hope you’ll do it, because we really need some good music on our way to Mars! We’ll need a song for tomorrow, so let us know what you select! Have a great weekend! Director Wade out.”

Megan looked at Jake and Kelsey. Both were beaming. Megan said, “Welcome aboard.” 

First Return


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Tuesday, Sol 41 (001.2.41)  12:35 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Friday, 15 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  177,541,128 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  214,868,624 kilometers

“We’re going to miss you on Mars,” Jenna said to Ken. Ken replied, “Bring me back a souvenir.”

Ken was on a newly created ship christened, Romeo Sierra One. It stood for Return Ship One. It wasn’t a very imaginative name, but it would be the first human inhabited ship to return to Earth from outside the Moon’s orbit. It was also a mission put together in two days.

Romeo Sierra One's Orbital Transfer back to Earth

Romeo Sierra One’s Orbital Transfer back to Earth

Romeo Sierra One is more like a shuttle, than a full ship. There are no Quill sections perpendicular to the core, meaning that the crew of four will be in a weightless environment for the journey back to Earth; however, because Earth and Mars are almost at their closest point in their orbits, the return trip will only be fourteen days. The ship is not using a core Command Section, but is using one of the Quill Auxiliary Command sections that is installed in a core configuration.

The crew of the Sagan was informed on Wednesday of Ken’s mission to return, and Ken asked for three volunteers with specific skills. The ship will be back at Earth Prime two days before the departure of the next Mars Mission, and anyone who wants to come back to Mars on that mission was guaranteed a place on the crew.

Jenna had not informed Earthside ESEP of Ken’s mission, and it was still to be kept secret, but now it was time to let Claude on Earth Prime, and Megan know before they had visual indication of a ship leaving the Sagan.

Jenna asked Communications Officer John Schultz to set up a scrambled video call to both Claude and Megan. When he was ready, she began,

“Claude and Megan. The following message is for your ears only. This is not to be discussed with anyone without my authorization. The embargo is until Sol 54 of Sur Two at 04:00 Noctis Time for need-to-know personnel on Earth Prime, and until Commodore Hart releases the embargo for the rest of ESEP. Pause this message if you need to take measure to secure your communication.

Pause now.

The rest of this message is for Megan DeLuca and Claude Dubois only.

In a few minutes you will probably be receiving reports of a ship departing from the Sagan. For anyone who becomes aware of this, the cover story is that it is a remote controlled ship with Jeramy Prater’s body aboard. That is, in fact, true.

It also carries a crew of four people, one of which is Commodore Hart. He is returning to Earthside to attend to our security issues. Our crew is aware of the mission, but they are under orders to not discuss this with anyone off ship. Megan, please monitor all communication to verify that no one is violating my orders.

They should be docking with Earth Prime on, or about, Sol 55. We have the ETA as 03:35 Noctis Time. It is a short, fourteen day trip. I have given a guarantee that any of the three crew members with Ken, may return on the Data mission that leaves two days later.

Claude, will you make arrangements to shuttle Ken to the surface as soon as possible. If needed, the ship he’s on, named Romeo Sierra One, can rendezvous with a shuttle prior to docking at Earth Prime.

Also note that we are sending the bodies of Lars Wilson and Joseph Volkov back on this ship.

We made this decision two and a half days ago, and I’m sorry I didn’t let you know before now, but we felt it necessary to keep this under wraps. Commodore Hart would prefer to be able to move quickly once he’s back on Earth, and not be under surveillance once he’s on the ground. Megan, please make arrangements for Ken to move from shuttle to his destination unnoticed. He will provide the destination upon arrival.

Sorry for the cloak and dagger, but we seem to be at war, and it’s time for our move. Megan, I saw the message about the new Earthquake in Nippon. Take any action you need to address the situation. I’ll be available for return messages, if needed.”

Emily’s List


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Monday, Sol 40 (001.2.40)  13:13 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Thursday, 14 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  173,936,232 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  218,473,520 kilometers

All morning Megan had been dealing with the impact of an 6.4 earthquake that hit directly under ESEP’s Kumamoto Center in Nippon. It hit after nine PM, and the Center was in night shift for the mission. Enough damage was done that it demanded an ESEP crisis team to be sent in to assist with to restore operations.

But now Megan had a few quiet moments to herself, and that wasn’t always a good thing.

“Ma’am,” Miranda tentatively said. Miranda was Megan’s new personal assistant, and she was trying to get her boss’s attention. Megan appeared to be in a trance. Miranda tried again, “Ma’am.” Megan blinked and said, “I’m sorry. What do you need?”

Megan had just experienced another flashback. This one was the glimpse she had of Emily entering the room as the assassin turned her over on the table. Emily had been totally focused on the assassin, and there was a look on her face. Emily was not scared…she was pissed. Megan had never seen Emily pissed. The assassin had no choice but to deal with Emily. The look would have frightened anyone…even a cold, professional, FSB assassin.

Miranda said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I’m trying to follow through on the list of tasks that Emily had on her tablet, and I don’t know who this person is.” Megan held out her hand and said, “Let me look at.” Miranda handed her the pad.

Megan looked over the list. She was amazed. Emily’s management of Megan’s personal life was much more extensive than she was aware. Megan considered herself to be a detail person bordering on obsession, but Emily took it to a whole new level. She had no idea that Emily was consulting with ESEP top nutritional consultant, nor did she realize that Emily was arranging ‘casual’ time with Megan’s friends. Emily would suggest to Megan, that “maybe she should have dinner with so-and-so tonight,” when Emily had already scheduled it a week in advance.

Megan suddenly realized that had Emily asked her if she wanted to have dinner with a friend next week, she would have said, ‘no’ because her first priority was to be available for ESEP, and the dinner would be cancelled if any issue came up. By arranging the dinner, and then suggesting it to her on the day of the dinner, she would be more likely to do it. Emily was manipulating her, but she was brilliant in making it look like a casual idea.

As Megan looked down the list she saw the item that Miranda wasn’t sure about. It said, 

“BD present 4 Jeffrey – 4/14”

Megan didn’t recognize the name. She handed the tablet back to Miranda and said, “I don’t know who Jeffrey is…maybe she had a boyfriend.” Miranda said, “Okay, thank you,” and headed out of Megan’s office. Suddenly Megan said, “Miranda! Wait a minute.” Miranda turned and came back. Megan said, “I would have known about a boyfriend…let me check this out.”

Megan called up Emily’s file. She saw that Emily had a sister named Kelsey who lived in San Jose. The sister was married and she had a son. Without hesitation Megan called Kelsey. Megan first offered her condolences to Emily’s sister, and talked about how significant Emily was in her life, then she asked, “Is your son’s name, Jeffrey?” Kelsey answered, “Yes.” Megan then said, “Is his birthday today?” Again Kelsey said, “Yes.”

Megan then made arrangements to drop by their house when Jeffrey got out of school. On the way there, Miranda was tasked with picking up a birthday present and a cake. At three PM five SUV’s pulled up in front of Kelsey’s house, while four other SUV’s blocked the street at both ends. No one was taking any chances with Megan’s life.

Kelsey and Jeffrey, who was eleven today, came out with wide eyes. Megan followed by Miranda and the rest of her security detail, walked up to them and said, “Hi. I’m Megan.” She then looked at Jeffrey and said, “You must be Jeffrey. I had the pleasure of working with your Aunt Emily.” Jeffrey said, “Were you Aunt Em’s boss?” Megan smiled and said, “In many ways, your Aunt Em was my boss.”

They all went inside and Megan answered questions about what his Aunt did at ESEP, and about her job, and if she knew Jenna Wade. At that, Megan said, “That’s funny you should ask. She’s waiting to talk to you.” Jeffrey’s eyes got wide again and he said, “To me?” Megan said, “That’s right. Let’s give her a call.” Miranda set a laptop and Megan positioned Jeffrey beside her and spoke to the laptop, “Director Wade, we are here with Jeffrey and his Mom and we are ready for you.” Megan turned to Jeffrey and said, “It will take four minutes and eighteen seconds for her to get our message, and then another four minutes and eighteen seconds for Director Wade to reply. Why don’t we open your birthday present while we wait?”

He opened several presents including models of the ESS Sagan, and ESS Queen Elizabeth II. A little over eight minutes later, Miranda reminded Megan of the video call. Megan said to Jeffrey, “Director Wade’s message should be coming through very soon. Let’s get ready.

Seconds later Jenna appeared on the laptop and she said, “Jeffrey! It so great to meet you! I understand that today is your birthday! We wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday, so a few of us want to sing to you.” At that point, ten of the crew members came into view and they sang Happy Birthday to Jeffrey. He was bouncing up and down and his Mom was in tears.

After singing, Jenna said, “We would like to invite you and your parents for a tour of our Center in San Jose this weekend, if possible, and I would like to talk to you and your parents again. I hope you have a great birthday! Nice to meet you!”

The video message ended, and Jeffrey sent a thank you message back, showing off the gifts he’d received. Miranda then took Jeffrey out to see the SUV’s and say ‘Hi’ to the Security team. All of them knew that Jeffrey’s aunt gave her life to allow them to save Megan, and they were happy to chat with him.

Kelsey said to Megan, “Thank you, so much. Emily meant so much to Jeffrey, and her death coming so close to his birthday was devastating. He loves…loved to talk with Emily about her job and the Mars mission and he begged her to take him to work someday.”

Megan looked at Kelsey and said, “Emily sacrificed her life for me. She worked for me for about a month, and her job was to manage my life so I could focus on work, but when the moment came that someone got through my protection, she protected me like a Mama bear. I can never repay her for what she did for me, but I will do everything I can to make sure her nephew has an Aunt in his life, if you’ll let me. I owe her, and your family that much.”

Both Megan and Kelsey hugged and cried. Megan had found a way to repay her debt to Emily.

Megan’s Debt


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Sunday, Sol 39 (001.2.39)  13:52 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 13 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  170,331,336 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  222,078,416 kilometers

It had happened again. Megan had lost someone close to her that she worked with, and the death was meaningless. If anything, Nick’s and Emily’s murders had made ESEP stronger, so FSB’s intention of causing disruption in the organization had failed.

Megan’s new personal assistant only reminded her of how much she missed that pain-in-the-ass, Emily, who’s sole mission had been to make sure Megan didn’t neglect taking care of herself.

It was so wrong. If Vladimir Putin wasn’t a corrupt, immoral, insecure, little man, he wouldn’t need to try to interfere with the success of others. Megan wasn’t a violent person, but she wanted to do something evil to Putin in retribution for the pain he had caused her.

Megan understood why she was targeted. When ESEP embarrassed Putin by exposing the use of Russian agents to create chaos around the world, he lashed out at anyone he could reach. But the assassin could have just shot her and left. No one else needed to die.

Megan was given a release to return to work this morning, but she was required to see a Counselor everyday. It was almost two PM Noctis Time. She had been in her session for almost 30 minutes.

Phillip was her Counselor. He was professional, but he had a kind and gentle approach, unless he thought his client was holding back. Then he could be a pain.

Phillip asked, “When did you realize something was wrong at the spa?” Megan replied, “It was when I felt relaxed, but I didn’t feel sleepy. It felt like when I had my wisdom teeth removed and I had been given a drug to relax me and take away the pain. I tried to get up, but my arms wouldn’t do what I wanted them to…that’s when I knew.”

Phillip asked, “What did you think about when that happened?” Megan said, “I don’t remember. It was happening so fast. The shot that killed the other masseuse, being turned over, Emily coming in……Emily….poor Emily…I don’t understand…” “What don’t you understand?,” asked Phillip. Megan continued, “She knew something was wrong…she did her job…she signaled my security team…she shouldn’t have come in the room…THAT WASN’T HER JOB!…” Megan began sobbing.

Phillip quietly said, “Do you think she knew the risk when she came into the room?” Megan tried to regain her composure. Finally she answered, “Yes. She would have seen the other masseuse on the floor. She actually stepped over him before she was shot.” Phillip said, “She sounds very brave.” Megan sniffed and said, “Well, she wasn’t doing it out of stupidity…Emily was too smart to risk her life like that if she didn’t know exactly what was happening.” Phillip asked, “Do you suppose she knew she needed to buy time for the security team?” Megan said, “Of course.” Phillip added, “So she traded her life to save yours. What would you say to her now, if you could?”

Megan looked at Phillip and said, “I don’t know.” She then started crying again.

Putin’s War


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Saturday, Sol 38 (001.2.38)  14:30 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 12 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  166,726,440 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  225,683,312 kilometers

Within thirty minutes of Megan DeLuca’s arrival, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center was filled with ESEP Security and San Jose Police. Megan had three layers of vetted ESEP security around her and no one, not even the San Jose Police, were allowed close to her. ESEP administration ran background checks on any hospital staff that attended to her and once cleared, they were given provisional ESEP security badges.

Based on the tranquilizer given to Joseph on the Sagan, the attending physician quickly determined that Megan had been given something similar. She was given a drug to counteract the tranquilizer and she regained movement and speech minutes later.

The toll of the attack at the spa was heavy. Megan’s personal assistant, Emily, was killed. Two ESEP security people were killed in the subsequent bomb blast, and two were injured. Twelve employees and fourteen customers were killed in the blast, and over twenty were injured. ESEP managed to get Emily’s body, and the body of the FSB assassin out before the blast.

It was standard procedure to recover ESEP personnel and anyone harming, or threatening to harm ESEP staff whether they were alive or dead from a scene. Local law enforcement didn’t like the policy, and it was against the law in most countries, but ESEP was able to stretch diplomatic privileges in any situation that involved the security of the internationally operated Mars space program.

Ken gave a briefing to the Command staff of what had been learned in the past day. Ken said,

“…the masseuse had been hired by the spa last month after Megan had been promoted. Apparently the FSB knew she used that spa and set a plan into motion to assassinate her. Some of us believe that they might not have intended to kill her when they put the agent in place. FSB strategy has been to put people in places of contact with the intention of gaining the confidence of ESEP personnel, and then obtaining information, or in an attempt to influence them, but after the breach was discovered at ESEP, we believe the FSB, and most likely, Vladimir Putin, was seeking revenge.

Megan’s personal assistant, Emily, saved Megan’s life by sacrificing her own. She apparently heard the pop when the other masseuse was killed and raised the alarm, then walked in the room, forcing the assassin to deal with her. When the security team reached the room, the assassin was within a second of plunging the hypodermic needle into Megan’s heart.

The method of kill was also meant to send a message. It was the same method used to kill Joseph. Megan and Jessica’s tea was drugged, and the assassin had two syringes. It is believed she planned on killing Megan, and her friend Jessica. Putin wanted to make it clear who was responsible, and wanted to let us know that killing ESEP staff was not enough, but anyone associated with us.

The bomb was meant to be insurance that the job would be done, and meant to cover up any useful evidence that might be left behind. Fortunately, our security team pulled out the assassin and her bag before the bomb went off. We probably won’t gain much useful information on the assassin, because her existence only extends back for three years; however, we are building a solid knowledge of how the FSB plants agents into foreign countries. They have a consistent pattern that law enforcement agencies around the world are using to identify FSB agents.

Already the United States has discovered hundreds of potential FSB agents in the Republican party. Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump was not a coincidence.”

Ken sat down and Jenna said,

“I think we can relax a little on the Sagan. We lost one of our Command sections, but we were able to recover both ICP drive sections. We will miss Jeramy, and work through that loss, but we can stand down. The likelihood of a FSB agent being aboard is remote. We have vetted all the Charlie One crew and they all have cleared the investigations.

Let’s start focusing on Mars, again. In a little over a week, we will be halfway to our rendezvous with Mars. With the added crew and equipment, our mission has new possibilities. I think we should move our current plan aside and start rethinking the entire mission. Let’s start discussing a new strategy at tomorrow morning’s briefing.

That’s all for now.”

The Command team broke up and began leaving, but Jenna kept Ken. When they were alone she said, “Putin’s not going to stop, is he?” “No,” Ken replied, “I have some ideas of how to deal with him, but I need to be Earthside.” Jenna’s eyes became wide, “We can send you back. We have a spare ICP Drive, but that means you’ll not be going all the way to Mars.” Ken said, “It won’t do any good for me to reach Mars, only to have more people die Earthside.”

Jenna said, “Make your plans and pick out a return crew. We’ll discuss this with the Command team at mess. You have an ideal window to get back. Mars and Earth won’t be this close for two years.” Ken responded, “I know. It seems bizarre that we’ve taken 48 Earth days to get this far, and it will take me a little over two weeks to get back.”

Ken then added, “We should not let Earthside know, yet.” Jenna nodded, “We can keep it quiet until Claude needs to know…Ken, is it as bad as I think?”

Ken said, “If you think we’re at war with Putin, it’s as bad as you think.”

The Spa


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Friday, Sol 37 (001.2.37)  15:09 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 11 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  163,121,544 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  229,288,208 kilometers

Megan was reluctant about having her personal life managed, but there were perks to having someone else determine personal needs, and then insisting those needs be fulfilled. In this case it was a spa appointment she set up last week, while she was still in France.

Prior to her promotion, she built her life around her boss, but when she had the opportunity, she would call one of her college friends that lived in San Jose, and they would go to the Burke Williams spa. It was one of about five places she used to reset, and gain perspective on her life.

She had arranged to meet her friend, Jessica, at the spa at two-thirty today, and was considering canceling after the recent issues with the Russians and aboard the Sagan, but her personal assistant, Emily, was not going to allow her to skip it.  Emily, in fact, invited herself along, to make sure Megan didn’t back out at the last-minute.

They were not alone, of course. Megan’s security team swept through the place before she entered, and three people were stationed inside, with five waiting outside, including the three drivers/officers of the SUV caravan. She also had her administrative person on site monitoring ESEP situations that might require an immediate answer.

Megan wished that her job wouldn’t intrude here, but she knew that she was no longer in the realm of normal people.

She and Jessica chatted while they relaxed in a waiting area, drinking tea. Emily, was giving Megan space, but was shadowing Megan’s movements. They moved into a massage room.

As both of them laid on the massage tables, Emily stayed outside the room. Their conversation began to slow as both enjoyed the work of the two masseuses. Megan began to feel a warm glow…then realized that she was not falling asleep. She tried to move but her arms just dropped to each side of the table. She was paralyzed. Her masseur stopped and seconds later she heard a popping sound, then the sound of someone falling to the floor.

Megan was being turned over, and as she turned she saw the collapsed body of the other masseur laying on the floor. Megan heard Emily enter and say something, then she saw a gun with a silencer stretch out above her and fire. By the sound of the thud, Megan knew that Emily was dead. The female masseur was getting something out of a bag or cupboard, then she turned back to Megan. She saw it was a large hypodermic syringe over her chest, filled with a yellow liquid that she assumed to be a polymer solution. She knew what came next.

The next sound she heard was not the pop of a gun with a silencer, but three deafening shots of a gun in a closed room. The masseur flew out of Megan’s sight, with her arms raising in the air and the syringe flying up and away. Before she could fully understand what happened, she was being lifted up and carried out of the room, while a blur of people flew around her.

She watched as the ceiling and walls passed around her, then sunlight, then she was thrown in the SUV with doors slamming around her. She was mostly nude, but the someone to her right took the towel to try to cover her as tires screamed into motion. Someone was hugging her, and she wished she could move, but her body was still not responding.

Just as she was starting accept her situation, a loud percussion shook the SUV. It felt like war had just broken out in the place she used as her sanctuary. She suddenly remembered that her friend, Jessica, was just as helpless as she was, and must still be in the room. Megan then remembered Emily. How many died in the last three minutes?

After just a few minutes the SUV stopped and the doors flew open. Again, someone picked her up and carried her through automatic sliding doors. She was at the Emergency Room. Megan assumed it was Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, which she knew to be the closest. She caught a glimpse of the SUV’s behind her and she saw one of the Security team carrying Jessica. “They got her!” she thought, and then she began to cry.

Another Plan Delta


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Wednesday, Sol 35 (001.2.35)  16:38 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 9 April 2016  2:12 PM PDT 

Jenna then turned to Ken and said, “We’ve really screwed up. We may only have minutes.” Ken responded, “We would have seen Lars go to the Engineering and ICP sections.” Jenna said, “He’s been moving outside the ship and we have three ICP drives.

Suddenly, what Jenna said sank in for the Command team. The ICP drives for the QE II and Charlie One were attached along the core of the ship, and they were in ‘cold’ condition,’ meaning a person would need to be in a spacesuit to enter, unless they were powered up.

Jenna looked at her Engineering Director and said, “Roman, use the cameras at look for Lars on both of the stowed ICP drives.” Roman moved quickly to a workstation and began scanning the drives. Then Jenna said, “Anna, prepare to release both ICP drives, and Ken, as soon as Zeke and Jeramy are done with the booby trap, have them move to the spare ICP drives and prepare to tow them away from the ship.”

Roman came back and said, “I don’t see Lars on either drive, but both sections have wires running where they shouldn’t be. I think both are rigged.” Jenna said, “Damn! Roman, prepare to move the ship away from the ICP drives as soon as they’re clear.” Ken said, “What about Zeke and Jeramy?” Jenna replied, “As soon as they have cleared the drives from the ship, they can move clear of them. Assuming we’re still alive, we will send a ship back for them.”

In the next few minutes everything went as planned. After Jeramy dispensed with the bomb on the pod, he and Zeke attached to the spare ICP drives and moved them away from the ship. Anna and Roman used the thrusters to move the Sagan away from the rigged ICP sections.

And then they waited. If Lars wasn’t aware of the earlier activities, he would know something was up when the ship engaged the thrusters. He had to know the game was up and they knew he was on the ship. Five minutes passed and nothing happened. Then Anna exclaimed, “Charlie One Command section has just released.”

They looked on the monitor and saw the Command section slowly moving away from the ship. Anna regained her composure and said, “Close all hatches.” Then made a crew announcement, “All hands, all decks, prepared for impact and depressurization.”

Jenna was momentarily pleased that Anna was not waiting for orders, but using her own judgement to anticipate what was coming. The Jenna realized that within a few moments of proving her skills as a Captain, she might be dead.

The Command section of Charlie One had no main drive, but the thrusters on it could give it enough ramming speed to severely damage the Sagan. Ramming it into the rotating Hab sections would send out debris that would compromise most, if not all, pressurized areas. The ICP drive on the Sagan could put the ship far away from Lars, but it would take hours to prepare the drive for ignition. The Sagan was an easy target for Lars.

Anna then said, “Full reverse thrusters.” Jenna thought that Anna’s plan would be a desperate act, but it was better to force Lars to hit a moving target. They watched the Sagan begin to slowly back away from the receding Command ship, but Lars responded and rotated the section then began accelerating at the Sagan. He was aiming for the Hab Quills. It seemed like it was all in slow motion, but Jenna knew that by the time of impact the Command Section would be going at over a hundred kilometers per hour.

The mass of the Sagan made it sluggish, compared to the mass of the single core Command section that Lars was piloting. Lars was rapidly approaching and in seconds the Mars mission would be over.

Two pods suddenly flew into view and were aimed at Lars and the Command section. The first pod rammed into the Command section with explosive force. The gash was at least three times longer than the pod and atmosphere, debris, and a person were ejected into space. The pod was embedded in the section, and Jenna couldn’t determine how badly it was damaged. 

The other pod expertly grabbed onto the front of the section and began rotating it away from the Sagan. The thrusters were still active and the section began moving away. Anna commanded, “Forward thruster! Match previous speed.” Slowly the Sagan began slowing its relative reverse motion, then the ship began to move forward.

At the same time, Jenna and the rest of the Command team watched the wreckage of the other ship move off. The second pod released from the front of the Command section and moved down to the embedded pod. It grabbed the pod and reversed it out of the wreckage, then the second pod began towing it back toward the Sagan as Charlie One’s Command section became smaller and smaller on the monitor.

Jenna knew that Zeke was in the second pod. Few, if any, pod drivers could have grabbed a ship moving at a different relative speed and rotated it. They zoomed in on Jeramy’s pod and could see it was severely damaged. Jeramy would have still been in his space suit, but the collision was so violent that shrapnel would have blown through the cockpit.

As the pods got closer the camera was focused in on a gap in Jeramy’s pod and they were able to see the upper part of his space suit. The face plate was partly torn away, and Jeramy’s bloody face was briefly visible. He was dead.

Plan B


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Wednesday, Sol 35 (001.2.35)  16:26 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 9 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  155,911,752 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  236,498,00 kilometers

There had been no movement in the cargo area, nor any sign of life in the construction pod where Zeke believed Lars Wilson, the FSB agent, was hiding. It had been almost twenty-four hours and Jenna’s Plan A, to nab Lars outside the pod, had failed. It was time to put Plan B into action.

There were several steps to the plan. First, two crew members, Ian and Peyton, were to approach the hatch to the construction pod from inside the cargo area. They would listen and try to confirm that someone was in the pod. Regardless, the second step would involve Jeramy, who was already in a space suit and waiting outside the Quill, near the pod, to attach a tow line.

Zeke was in another pod hiding near Jeramy, holding position with the other end of the tow line attached. As soon as the tow line was hooked up, Zeke will move away from the ship. At the same time, Ian and Peyton will release the docking clamps holding Lars’ pod to the ship, and Zeke will pull it away from the Sagan. Jeramy is also prepared to drill a hole in the pod to breach it, rendering Lars unconscious within a few minutes. This will likely require him to stay with the pod after it detaches. It will all take place in seconds.

Ian and Peyton quietly moved into the cargo area and to the hatch where the pod was docked. The inner hatch was closed and sealed, but they couldn’t tell from the camera view if the pod hatch was closed. If it wasn’t, the plan wouldn’t work because the docking clamps couldn’t be released without both hatches closed.

As they approached they realized that the pod hatch was open. Peyton backed out of the area and let the team know the situation by using a coded message. She said, “Zeke, I can’t meet you for dinner. If you’re willing to wait, I can meet you later.”

Plan C was trickier. It meant that Ian and Peyton would open the hatch and try to grab Lars. Two other crew members joined them for the assault. Ian and one of the Charlie One crew members, Diego, stood ready to move into the pod, while Peyton stood behind them with holding a taser over their shoulders. She would shoot Lars and paralyze him, while Ian and Diego leapt into the pod and grabbed him. The fourth person, another of the Charlie crew, Sam, would open the hatch. Once they had the hatch open, the docking clamps could not be released, even if he managed to get the pod hatch open.

Sam held up five fingers to give them a silent countdown from five. Sam folded in her thumb, then one finger at a time. When she made a fist, she pressed the button and the hatch began softly clicking, then the hatch began to open…and then it stopped. Sam saw it first, a small wire was keeping the hatch from opening. She grabbed the hatch and took the pressure off the wire. She said, “It’s a booby trap!” They all froze.

Ian made a quick survey of the interior through the partially opened hatch. Lars was not in the pod, but there was a device wired to a small fuel pellet. It was luck and fast action that prevented the wire from pulling out and triggering the device. It looked to be a simple trigger. The wire was hooked on the hatch and it was just a matter of unhooking it. It was a trap in case someone got too curious about the pod, and it almost killed at least four people.

Peyton called again, this time her voice was less convincing. She said, “Uhm, Zeke, I’m not sure if we can meet later. I have a new problem to deal with and I need to call Jeramy for advice. I’ll call you when I’m done.” Sam immediately called on her tablet, “Zeke and Jeramy, I’m with Peyton. Just stay there and we’ll come to you.”

Sam immediately began typing a message to the entire team. It said,

“Lars not on pod. Booby trap w fuel pellet. Unhooked trigger wire. Close hatches & release pod? Z pull pod away? J ride pod out & open pod & dispose of bomb?”

Within seconds came the response from Jenna, “Go.”

To Catch A Boris


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Tuesday, Sol 34 (001.2.34)  17:04 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Friday, 8 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  152,306,856 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  240,102,896 kilometers

Because Zeke was an expert on stowing away on a ship, Jenna used him as a resource to develop a plan to catch the alleged stowaway that came with the Charlie One ship. Zeke knew that it was too risky to hide in one of the Hab Quills. The combination of people and cameras in those areas would make it an unlikely hiding place.

Unfortunately, those are the areas that were under surveillance, in the belief that the FSB agent was one of the crew. Most of the cargo Quills were also poor places to stay for an extended period because they were areas of severely restricted life support. Some Quills had been sealed and had no life support. Others were under conditions that would be unbearable for extended periods.

One of Zeke’s first questions was whether or not a construction pod was missing from Earth Prime. Claude confirmed that one was missing. Once he knew that, he guessed that Lars Wilson used the construction pod to access Charlie One. This was how Zeke was able to avoid security and cameras to board the ESS Queen Elizabeth II.

New protocols had been put in place to avoid someone to repeat Zeke’s trick, but those protocols had been suspended because of the emergency. It was the next day after Charlie One undocked that a post-launch inventory discovered the missing pod, but since all personnel were accounted for on Earth Prime, the issue was put aside.

Zeke believed that Lars was using the construction pod to live in, and resupplying it from a cargo area. Using the cameras on the exterior of the ship, they determined that the missing construction pod was, in fact, attached to a cargo section that had been part of Charlie One.

When Zeke told the Command team he added, “This is the bad news. A construction pod can do a lot of damage. Just using it to ram a ship could create enough structural damage that the ship might not be able to fire up the ICP drive for fear of tearing the it apart. If Lars knows we’re on to him, and he’s on the pod, he has a weapon we can’t defend against.”

Ken said, “We could wait until he’s out of the pod, but he’s a threat every moment until we grab him.” Zeke said, “I have an idea, but it’s risky. I know Lars, and I’m a better pod driver than he is, so if I can come up on his blind side, and if someone is there to hook up a tow line, I can pull him off and keep him away from the ship.”

Jenna said, “You’re right, that’s very risky. If he got lucky, he could ram you.” Zeke replied, “I’m confident he doesn’t have the skill, and if we could cause a small breach on his pod he would only have seconds before he would be unconscious.”

Jenna said, “Any other ideas?….Okay, let’s see if we can catch him outside of the pod, first. Let’s not be too aggressive. Station people away from the cargo area, but close enough to move in behind him if he leaves. We’ll keep an eye on the area with our cameras. He he moves, we’ll grab him. Then if he doesn’t do anything, we’ll go with Zeke’s plan in twenty-four hours. Zeke, work out a detailed plan with Anna and Ken. Let’s keep this quiet until we’ve got him. I don’t think we have another FSB agent aboard, but let’s assume there is, and that he can contact Lars.” 

Another Rat


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Monday, Sol 33 (001.2.33)  17:43 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Thursday, 7 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  148,701,960 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  243,707,251 kilometers

Two days had past and they still didn’t know who killed Joseph Volkvo in the brig. Knowing there was a murderer on board was bad, but knowing that the murderer was probably tasked with sabotaging the mission meant that at any moment a catastrophe could take place.

The Director’s Mess was just about to start when Jenna, Ken, Naomi, Anna, and Wendy received a Priority call from Earthside. They all went up the Command deck to take it at Jenna’s workstation. Most of the message had been received, but because of the four-minute delay, the message was still downloading. Naomi started the message, which was a split screen image of Megan transmitting from ESEP in France, and Claude transmitting from Earth Prime in orbit around Earth.

Megan started to talk, “Director, Commodore Dubois has new information about who might be your murderer. Claude, go ahead.” Claude said,

“First, let me apologize. We should have caught this earlier, but this person is obviously good at deception. We had a worker, by the name of Lars Wilson…at least that is the name we have for him. When we lost transmission with you, he received news of a family issue that required him to return to Earth. We thought he left on a shuttle and was on Earth. After we discovered  the breach, we found several emails that indicated that he was either being influenced by a FSB agent, or he was a FSB agent. When we tried to track him down, we were told that he was camping in a remote area in Wyoming.

While we were trying to reach him, we also backtracked his movements and discovered that he did not arrive with the Earth bound shuttle. We interviewed the captain and he said that they had received word, before they left Earth Prime, that Mr. Wilson would be on a later shuttle. We now know that message to be fabricated.

We have done an extensive search of Earth Prime and he is not on the station. We can only conclude that he snuck aboard Charlie One and is now on your ship. Again, my apologies.”

All four were dumbstruck. They had thought the FSB agent was one of the known crew members, but now they learned that the murderer was a person hiding on the ship. Jenna tapped her pad and in a second a voice said, “Good evening, Director.” Jenna said, “Zeke, I need you on the Command deck now.”

The Twin Protocol


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Sunday, Sol 32 (001.2.32)  18:21 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 6 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  145,097,064 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  247,312,688 kilometers

“Jenna, they found the mystery woman,” Ken said as he joined the Director’s Mess, “Unfortunately, she was killed and put in a convenience store dumpster in Reno, Nevada. Two men were seen dumping the body and attempting to pour gasoline and light it, but the clerk on duty chased them away. He got the license plate, but the car was stolen.”

Roman said, “She had to know she was expendable when we discovered the breach.” Ken added, “I suspect she didn’t even try to get out of the country. They’re trying to find out who she was, but it’s likely everything about her was fiction.”

“What Putin saying about all this?, asked Lanny. Jenna replied, “He denies everything, and says it is ESEP propaganda; however, the reality is that Russia is feeling the heat from the rest of the world. the FSB had agents implicated in every member country, but China.” Ken added, “The links from the FSB agents embedded in ESEP led to exposure of their network worldwide. It was a massive blow to their spy network and they are still uncovering more Russian rats.”

“What about our people on board?” Anna asked. Ken answered, “We’re still interrogating people, but everyone seems to have an alibi and we can verify their stories. We have a few people who were alone in their quarters and we are focusing on them, but whoever murdered Joseph was a pro and he knows our ship.”

Anna asked, “But what about emails and text messages? Don’t we have leads there?” Jenna said, “Megan is looking into that, but other than a few attempts to influence people, the crew appears clean. They are focusing on the Charlie One crew now. That would have been the easiest route to put an agent on board.”

Jenna then sighed, and said,

“We have to face the reality that whoever we are dealing with is not going to be caught easily, and every moment is an opportunity to sabotage us. For that reason I’m going to establish new security protocols. Tonight, I am going to establish a curfew at eight PM. All off duty staff are to be in their quarters or in the company of another person. Tomorrow, at six AM, all crew members will be restricted to their area of operation and anyone needing to move through the ship must follow the twin protocol….yes, all movement throughout the ship must be in groups of at least two people or more. I already have added one person at the monitor bay watching the whole ship, but their job will be easier if we don’t have lone wolves going through the ship. Engineering has worked out additional safeguard to the ICP drive, power, and life support.”

Naomi said, “Eventually, this guy’s luck is going to run out.” Jenna replied, “On the contrary, time is on his side.”

Death By Polymer


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Saturday, Sol 31(001.2.31)  19:00 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 5 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  141,492,168 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  250,917,584 kilometers

Dr. Kayla Summers had experience in an investigative criminal lab as part of her preparation for the Mars mission. It was assumed that some of the crew might die, and that sometimes their deaths would be undetermined. Her training was to pay attention to small details that might tell the story of the cause of death.

In the case of Joseph Volkva, his death was not obvious. He was found lying on his bed in the brig, not breathing. The first person to find him was Ian who was his guard. He had assumed that Joseph found a way to kill himself, but there were no visible signs. He called Dr. Summers immediately.

It took Kayla about a minute to rule out suicide. She noted he looked too relaxed for normal sleep and that meant he was probably drugged before he died. She then searched his body for an injection site. She found it in his chest. Whoever killed him was not hiding the location of the fatal injection.

When Jenna arrived she asked the obvious question, “How was he killed.” Kayla replied, “He was drugged…I’m guessing orally, then they injected something directly into his heart. I won’t know more until I do the autopsy.”

Later Jenna got Kayla’s report. It said he had been tranquilized with the drug mixed in Tequila. After he became immobile, he was injected with a polymer substance that filled the heart and flowed to the lungs. The polymer took a few minutes to harden, but death probably occurred within a minute. Once the polymer was injected, he could not have been saved. The method was meant to leave nothing to chance.

When Jenna met with her Command team for the morning briefing she was looking for answers. Jenna asked, “We know Joseph was murdered, and we know how he was killed, but how did anyone get to him without being caught on camera? He was under constant video surveillance and was checked on every half hour.” Ken replied,

“He met with Wendy from 16:10 to 17:18. We know that he was given a meal at 18:12. Peyton said one of the Charlie One crew delivered the meal to him, we know he ate the meal and Peyton collected the food container and returned it to the mess at 18:28. According to the video he must have been given a workpad with the food container. He turned his back to the camera holding the food container and put it under his pillow.

He was checked on every half hour until he went to bed at 22:12. At 11:46 he put the workpad in front of the camera with a device similar to what Zeke used. The tablet was playing a loop of him sleeping in the dark. At 04:23 someone removed the tablet and left the brig.”

Naomi asked, “What about all the other cameras on the ship. Anyone moving in that Quill had to be seen.” Ken shook his head and said, “That’s what is strange. We see someone move down and then back up, but they have some type of cloth or bag over them. The fabric completely covered them. We can’t even tell their height or weight. When they got to the core they disappeared.”

Roman said, “What do you mean, they disappeared?” Ken replied, they covered the cameras in the core section at the end of that Quill, and we don’t see them come out that core section. It wasn’t until after we found Joseph dead, that anyone noticed the cameras were covered. We have people moving into that core section, but we can account for everyone that went in or out of that section. There was no one who left that section without already entering it.

Jenna said, “We have a murderer on board, and they are likely a Russian agent. Their job isn’t over. I think we can assume they were Plan B for the Russians. No one is safe until we find them.”

Post Trauma


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Friday, Sol 30 (001.2.30)  19:38 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 4 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  137,887,272 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 06 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  254,522,480 kilometers

Wendy, like many other ESEP employees, was in shock. She was a professional. She had a doctorate in Psychology. She always felt confident she could read people. Now she discovered that the person who she reported to in ESEP, the Director of Counseling and Evaluation, was a Russian FSB agent.

She never questioned his requirement to report all significant issues to him immediately. She felt he respected her when she challenged his assessment of a situation. Even when he stood with the engineers behind the management coup, she believed he had the best interest of ESEP in mind.

But he didn’t. He was just manipulating her, and she didn’t see it. It didn’t help that it was Jenna that caught it. When they learned that ESEP had been infiltrated with FSB agents, Jenna had told her and Ken to keep it between them.

But the first thing Wendy did was send a text to her boss. Had he received that text, he would have warned all the other FSB agents in ESEP, and they would have all disappeared, taking vital information about the infiltration with them. Wendy could never be sure of her ability to read other people again.

It was about 7:30 in the evening, and Jenna came to Wendy’s door. Wendy invited her in, and Jenna could see the cloud hanging over her. Jenna said, “You remember when I was feeling self-pity about losing Nick?” Wendy replied, “When I told you that was a side of you that I didn’t need to see?” Jenna said, “Exactly. Everyone  has a blind spot. Your’s was your boss. He couldn’t be using you, because he was a professional. Well, he was a professional, but not the one you thought. He was good, and he knew how to play you, and everyone else around him. Accept the fact that a professional spy is an expert in deception….and then get over it. We need you back, especially now. You can relate to what many of our people are going through because it happened to you. If I need to make this an order, I will.”

Wendy smiled, “Don’t sugarcoat it.” Jenna smiled, “Seriously. I’m amazed at how easy we were all sucked in by it….and even now, even when it is completely exposed, I still have some jackass in the brig that thinks he’s still in the game.”

Wendy said, “What are you going to do with him?” Jenna said, “I don’t know. I’m hoping he gets off this, ‘I’m-doing-it-for-my-country’ bit. He was suckered by sex and now he thinks he a born again Russian patriot. What do you think? Will he come back to reality?” Wendy started regaining her professional composure. She knew his type, and had too many strikes against him. Wendy replied, “It was the girlfriend who restored his dignity, and now he finds that was a lie. If he gives up on her, he returns to his failure as a person. I think he has to stick with the lie and pretend he’s a Russian patriot. He actually is more dangerous than a Russian agent, because he needs to prove himself. He is the perfect model of a terrorist.”

Jenna said, “Tomorrow, would you talk to him, and try to confirm your prognosis. I need to decide his fate, and if we can’t reach him, then my options are limited.”

They continued to chat for a while, then Jenna headed back to her quarters. Jenna dealt with some texts and emails, checked in with the Command deck, and then sent a message to Paige. Tonight she just needed someone close and her relationship with Paige was moving to a place where they didn’t have to have sex every time they were together.

In the morning Jenna woke up first and quietly worked while Paige slept. Jenna decided she would shower and then wake up Paige. Jenna was almost finished when Paige came in and said, “Jenna, there is an urgent message from Ian.” Jenna rinsed off and grabbed a towel, then used her tablet to call him. Jenna said, “Ian, what’s wrong?” Ian said, “Director, Joseph is dead. I called Dr. Summers and she just got here.” Jenna said, “Dammit, I thought we had him on suicide protocols!” Kayla broke in, “Director, this isn’t suicide. He was murdered.”



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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 29 (001.2.29)  20:17 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 3 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  134,282,376 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 06 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  258,127,376 kilometers

The Command team of the Sagan had gathered in the Director’s quarters after mess. All of them were aware something significant had been happening on Earthside during the day, but communication from Earth had been sparse. 

Jenna began the meeting,

“As you are probably aware, there has been a lot of security activity going on back on Earth. After we discovered the saboteur on Charlie One, we began a broad investigation into possible security breaches. Last night we were informed of a significant issue that involved the woman connected to our saboteur. Ken, would you brief them.”

Ken said,

“The sister of the saboteur had been visited by a woman, who we now believe to be an agent of the Russian FSB, the successor of the KGB, and she encouraged his sister to tell him to take action to force our mission to be aborted. We believe that the woman was really pushing him to do more than sabotage, but that she didn’t want the sister to think they were asking him to sacrifice himself. The woman gave her $10,000, and said she would be back in two weeks, hopefully to celebrate her brother’s success.

Because of this security breach, we sent out our people to our suppliers to see if there were any more security issues and we got lucky. A recruiting firm in San Jose was given $10,000 for every applicant hired by ESEP. The firm was sent people who would tell them that ‘Dina’ sent them. The applicants had impressive aerospace and science backgrounds, and ESEP had hired almost all of the people sent through this agency. The owner of the agency identified the same woman as his contact as the woman whom had visited our saboteur’s sister.

In reviewing the agency’s records, we discovered that 33 people had been hired who we believe were trained agents of the FSB. We immediately took custody of 28 of them and seized all their records and electronic devices. Three others took their own life before we could arrest them, and two others were able to elude us.

What we have discovered is a massive effort to infiltrate ESEP. We believe that up until recently, the FSB was focused on industrial espionage; however, they clearly have shifted to a mission of sabotage in order to slow us down. We have evidence that the plane crash that took the life of the Director and some of our senior people was not an accident.

It will take us some time to identify how far the FSB have infiltrated, but there is no doubt that we have not eradicated the threat.”

Jenna said, “Megan has sent us an update.” Megan’s came up on Jenna’s largest screen. She began,

“I assume you are now aware of that the FSB has been infiltrating our organization. What you may not know is the scope of the infiltration, nor how long they have been doing it.

Based on emails, phone records, and hiring information, the Russian FSB has had agents in ESEP for at least five years, and maybe more. The 33 people we discovered have been working a network of people, some may not realize it. Based on emails sent to the engineers that participated in the management coup, an effort to plant seeds of confusion, and disillusionment with the ESEP leadership have been occurring for years.

Some FSB agents have been working a network of people to gain information, and some have been building confusion and resentment. Since last night we have been watching all emails for particular activity and we have found several people who may either be FSB plants, or are being manipulated by FSB agents inside ESEP.

We now believe that FSB has been manipulating at least 5,000 of our team members. We believe that Joseph Volkvo was identified and set up by a FSB agent in ESEP. It will take us months to identify which people the FSB agents have manipulated, and we will have to create educational programs on how to identify FSB agents inside the organization.

It has become obvious that FSB is aware they have been caught. We have many employees who are disappearing. As of the last count, there are 41 people who have not shown up for duty, and we have lost contact with them. There has also been a rash of burned homes and apartments of ESEP employees that have disappeared.

Interpol is taking the lead on the investigation; however, the FBI is now posting the names and images of the suspected FSB agents at all U.S. airports, ports, and border crossings.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll have more at the morning briefing.”

Jenna said, “That’s all for now, we’ll talk about this in the morning…Ken, Naomi and Wendy, would you please stay.” The rest of the Command team left and then Jenna said, “Wendy, I have blocked all your incoming and outgoing emails since last night. We need to talk.”

The Break


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Wednesday, Sol 28 (001.2.28)  20:56 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 2 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  130,677,480 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 06 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  261,732,272 kilometers

The two ESEP security people had entered the office of SpaceTech. It was an employment agency that found temporary and permanent employees for high-tech industries. SpaceTech was a major recruiter for ESEP on the West Coast, and it was established by two people who left another recruiting agency to specialize in finding people for ESEP and their suppliers.

Bob Williamson became the sole owner of the company, after his romantic relationship with the other founding partner ended. He had three recruiters working for him now, but he was ESEP Recruiting’s main contact.

He welcomed the ESEP people into his office and asked them to sat down. He was nervous, but he didn’t want to show it. “How can I help you?,” he said. One of them replied, “Mr. Williamson, we won’t take up much of your time. We are making security audits of our suppliers, and if we could just ask a few questions, we’ll be on our way.” Bob smiled and said, “Fire away.” The other ESEP person said, “Mr. Williamson, have you ever been approached be someone who ask you to send certain applicants to ESEP…maybe they even offered you extra money to do it.”

The ESEP team could tell that Bob was surprised by their question. He became visibly nervous. Bob felt his core sink, and suddenly he was trying to remember what he did that might be illegal. He tried to seem calm when he asked his next question, “Is that illegal?” The first man said, “Probably not; however, it is an important that we learn about the situation. So you have had someone ask you to send us certain people?” Bob said, “Yes, there is a woman who represents someone who is trying to help people get high-tech job at ESEP, but they are doing it to help these people…and they all have excellent qualifications.”

The other ESEP person pulled out a picture of the woman at the Maui airport and said, “The woman doesn’t happen to look like this does she?” Bob’s eyes grew large and he said, “Yes, that’s her. Who is she?” At that one of the ESEP people stood up and went outside Bob’s office to make a call.

About five minutes later Commodore Ken Hart received an urgent message from his Earthside security office. It said,

URGENT!  We have a hit on the woman. A recruiter at SpaceTech has ID’d her as one who has been supplying ESEP people with excellent qualifications. Protection and recovery protocols ordered. Determining size of breach. FBI informed. Containment in process. Will duck blind SpaceTech for as long as possible.

Ken contacted Jenna and Wendy to meet. A few minutes later they gathered in Jenna’s quarters just as Paige was leaving. Ken said,

“We may have a major breach. A few minutes ago one of our Security teams found a recruiter who has been sending us applicants supplied by our mystery woman. We don’t have any information yet, but we are taking the recruiter and his staff to a safe location to be interviewed, and put in our own people in his office. We are also copying all their records. We should be able to find out what agents of FSB have been sent to us, and if we’re lucky we might be able to get the woman.” 

Jenna said, “How quickly can we arrest the planted employees?” Ken said, “We have teams ready to go once we have names, and we won’t stop with just those hired. We will go after anyone sent by the woman. My best guess is that we have about six hours to act before FSB begins to realize something is happening.”

Jenna said, “When will we know more?” Ken said, “I’ll have them give me an update by midnight.” Jenna said, “Let’s keep this between us and meet again at midnight.” Wendy and Ken left. Jenna contacted Naomi and said, “Naomi, manage all Comm traffic until further notice. Let Ken and my traffic flow. Redirect all other traffic through me.”  

Fool’s Day


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Tuesday, Sol 27 (001.2.27)  21:34 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Friday, 1 April 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  127,072,584 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 06 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  265,337,168 kilometers

Joseph Volkvo had been separated from his crew for almost twenty-four hours. He had been questioned about his girlfriend and his loyalties. The questioning had only been been for about an hour last night and then he was confined to a spare quarters on the Sagan under guard. He knew he was in trouble, but he didn’t know had bad it was.

During the day he had been given food, and allowed to go to the bathroom, but he was not allowed access to anyone, nor was he allowed to communicate back to Earth. It was now 9:30 at night and he was summoned to the Director’s quarters.

Jenna, Ken, Naomi, Wendy, and Anna were already there. He was told to sit down in a seat facing Jenna workstation. Jenna brought up a video of his sister. She began to speak,

“Joseph, I am safe. ESEP had people come to take me back to the mainland. They tell me that my life was in danger, but that not being held hostage. They are offering to protect me, and I will be allowed to go almost anywhere in the world under a new identity. They say that if you accomplished your mission for the FSB, that I would have been killed because I could identify the agent that visited me. I know this is true. They say that once that agent is caught, the less reason the FSB would have to kill me. They have also arrested your girlfriend.

It is over. We should cooperate with them. They have pictures of her at the airport when she left Maui. They will find her. I hope all is well.”

The message ended. Joseph looked up at Jenna and said, “So you’re holding her hostage.” Jenna shook her head and said,

“She wouldn’t even be involved in this if the FSB hadn’t brought her into it. Don’t you get it? The FSB can’t be associated with sabotage of the Mars mission. The entire world would be coming down on Russia if they were exposed. There were three options. If you sabotaged this mission she would have been killed within hours, if you had tried and failed she would have been killed, or held hostage until you got back and then they would have killed both of you. If you decided not to do anything she would have been killed to cover their tracks. You put her life in danger. We’re trying to save her, you fool.”

Joseph laughed, “Maybe some things are worth dying for. Maybe I don’t care.” Jenna leaned down to him and said,

“For your sake, I hope you care. I don’t think you understand our situation here. As of last night you are no longer a member of this crew, and only members of the mission are going to Mars. Your sister is cooperating and as long as she does she will avoid charges of espionage. If she stops cooperating she won’t be a hostage, she’ll be an inmate. What I’m asking for is simple. I want to know how you met your girlfriend and what you know about her. I want to know what she asked you to do, or what she implied you should do, and I want to know what you know about FSB operations. You have to convince me you are worthy of being on this mission and you have a long way to go.”

He smirked, “What are you going to do push me out into space?” Jenna looked him in the eye and said,

“Put yourself in my place. You have limited resources and a dangerous multi-year mission to Mars. Now you have a saboteur on board that will be a constant threat to the mission and the lives of the people on board. What would you do?”



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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Monday, Sol 26 (001.2.26)  22:13 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Thursday, 31 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  123,467,688 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 00 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  268,942,064 kilometers

The crew of Charlie One were surprised and disappointed when they were told they would have a twenty-four hour quarantine in their Hab section. They were told that Dr. Summers had ordered it at the last-minute, but it had actually been ordered by Director Wade. It gave time for Ken to get his security team to Maui.

Jenna had informed them that at the end of the quarantine they would meet in Charlie One’s Mess section for a welcome and orientation. Now, her Command team enter their Hab section slightly less than twenty-four hours after the ships were merged. Ian Banks and Jeramy Prater casually waited outside. They were under orders to not allow anyone out that was not under escort by a Sagan crew member.

Jenna welcomed them and thanked them for their quick response to the emergency. She continued,

“You have been put into a very difficult position. Each of you had only hours to decide to join this mission, and at the time you didn’t know if it would be a rescue mission, a recovery mission, or a mission to go to Mars. Now you are committed to at least a two-year adventure that you didn’t know you’d be a part of two weeks ago.

Our crew is under the observation of Counselor Wendy Stevens and her Earthside team. Each of our crew was evaluated after I selected them, for final approval for this mission by ESEP. Each of you will now undergo a similar evaluation as you are oriented to duties on the Sagan.

Don’t worry. We are not going to put you in a pod and send you off in the general direction of Earth; however, it is important we know how we can assist each of you to transition into the reality that we have thrown at you.

For the time being, we will keep you assigned to your current quarters. Eventually, some of you may be moved into quarters that make more sense based upon your assigned duties. If there are things you need from Earth please give the list to Ling Cho, our Logistics Officer. The Data will be launched on Sol 58 and we can add almost anything to its cargo that we may need. It will arrive at Mars in 64 Sols after it leaves Earth orbit.

We are establishing a three-week orientation program for all of you. After that, we will give you an official assignment; however, I would guess most of you will know what that assignment will be within a couple of weeks. We will not be making any decisions about surface assignment for several weeks.

I will be interviewing each of you over the next several days. My Chief of Staff will be giving you your schedule. For tonight, please get some sleep, and we will begin the orientation schedule at eight in the morning. Also, each of you will have a physical exam tomorrow with our medical staff. Again, thank you for your sacrifice and welcome to our crew.”

Jenna and her Command team shook hands with the eighteen new crew members and then headed back up to the core. Naomi walked over to Joseph and said, “Mr. Volkvo, the Director would like to interview you now.”

Charlie One’s Red Flag


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Sunday, Sol 25 (001.2.25)  22:51 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 30 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  119,862,792 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 00 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  272,546,960 kilometers

Zeke had worked with Anna and Keira to establish protocols on merging Charlie One with the Sagan. This time the integration would all take place over the next hour. Charlie One stood a kilometer off to the side of the Sagan and it finished a six-hour deceleration to match speed with the bigger ship.

Ken crossed from his workstation to Jenna’s and said, “Can we talk in your quarters?” Jenna looked surprised, but got up immediately and they started down the Quill. On the way Ken called Wendy and ask her to join them.

Wendy was just a few feet behind them as they climbed off on to the level of Jenna’s quarters. After they all entered and the door was closed Ken began to talk, “We may have a problem. You asked me to look at the Charlie One crew from a security-risk standpoint, and I believe we may have one of their crew that could be a problem.”

Jenna responded first, “What type of problem?” Ken said, “Joseph Volkov is the Captain of the ship. He was selected because they had no experienced Captains immediately available, and he had pilot experience. It was a risk, but they decided that if a Captain was needed, another ship would be sent.” Wendy said, “That doesn’t seem to be a problem.”

Ken nodded and said,

“No, but he was a pilot for the Russian Air Force, and washed out of the Russian astronaut program. He flew for Aeroflot for a while, then he moved to the United States. NASA wouldn’t let him into the program because of his background. We let hired him and he was competent as long as he was sober, but he’s had a few issues with drinking. About a year ago he apparently had a girlfriend that straightened him up and he was doing better, but in a review of his emails, it seems she’s been pushing him to get on a Mars mission.

His sister moved to the United States at the same time he did and she now lives on Maui. Recently, she pushing him to remember his birthright and recently told him that their aunt from the home country sent them $10,000.”

Jenna said, “Let me guess, they don’t have an aunt.” Ken replied, “They don’t have any relation. They didn’t when they came here in 1998. Also, the girlfriend…she doesn’t exist prior to three years ago.”

Dina Does Vegas


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Saturday, Sol 24 (001.2.24)  23:30 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 29 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  116,257,896 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 00 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  276,151,856 kilometers

She looked out her window at all people walking the strip. Even in the daylight, lights flashed and electric signs pumped out messages that no one read. Dina felt Las Vegas was the perfect example of capitalism. Hundreds of thousands of people spending their money on ridiculously small chance to be rich, even if it meant they would not be able to pay their bills this month.

It was all such a waste. The gullibility of people in the United States made her wonder why someone like Donald Trump hadn’t been their President for decades. They were all mesmerized by shiny things while rich men reached into their pants and stole their wallets. Get drunk, act stupid, and give your money away. Typical American.

It was time to go. Her meetings with him were in a public place with lots of tourists, and always at an off-hour time. Today, it was to be at 2:23 at the on the southwest side of the Bellagio fountains. Not as crowded as the street side, but a location two people could stand looking out at the pool without it looking out-of-place, and it was between shows, so they would look like two people waiting for the next display.

_DSC2198She arrived two minutes early, and he was already there. She walked to him, then looked out at the water and brought her phone up as if to take a picture, then she moved to the rail about a meter away from him. She looked over at him and said, “Isn’t this place amazing?” He nodded and said, “Yes. Is this your first time?” “How did you know?,” she replied.

At this point they would make gestures and facial expressions that made it appear as if they were discussing the scene around them, but the conversation had nothing to do with the view. He said, “Where are we?” She said, “We have one on board the rescue ship. He’s not one of ours, but I’m working through his sister. He’s to work for an abort.”

He said, “What about the rest?” She replied, “It’s an open door. We need as many of our people with skills to apply. We will have them saturated with conservatives within weeks. Confusion will be maximized.” He just said, “Go.” She accidentally dropped her phone, and he picked it up and gave her a phone that looked exactly like the one she dropped. He then put his other hand that held her phone in his pocket and said, “Enjoy the rest of your stay,” and walked off.

The Mars mission was about to hire to be infiltrated with agents and saboteurs dedicated to create confusion and mayhem throughout the program. Russia may not be one of the partner countries in ESEP, but it now was going to prevent the organization from succeeding.

Death Valley Dina


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Saturday, Sol 24 (001.2.24)  00:08 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 28 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  112,653,000 kilometers   Time Delay:  4 mins 00 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  279,756,752 kilometers

She pulled into the rest stop. She had selected the spot. In the city she preferred meeting with people in places where there were crowds, but in a small towns, locals like to pay attention to new people. She wanted a place where she would look like a tourist stopping for a few minutes and in Death Valley there were plenty of quiet places to pull off the road.

Death ValleyHe wasn’t here yet. She parked and got out of the car. She took inventory of the place. Two picnic tables. One under a small gazebo. A small out building, probably a small toilet, but she couldn’t see the door. Someone could be inside, so she would stay near the car. If a car approached that wasn’t blue she would get in and drive off.

She could see the intersection less than a quarter of a kilometer down the road. A blue car was approaching from the south, and then it turned east. In a few seconds she saw the car stop, and it turn around. “The idiot,” she thought to herself.

The car turned right and drove up the road to her. She recognized him, but she left the driver’s door open just in case. He pulled into a parking space and then got out. He said, “Took the wrong turn. We could have met in Beatty. It’s not far and they have food.” She said, “What do you have?”

He never liked dealing with her. She was all business, and he could never tell if she was happy, unhappy, or ready to kill him. He didn’t know much about her, except that she had access to money, people, and things, and beyond that, she wasn’t very talkative.

He said, “I can get at least a dozen more on the payroll. They’re looking for engineers, botanists, geologist, the full range. They’re on an accelerated schedule. They have to have the qualifications, but if you have people with the background, they’ll take them. There’s talk that some of the new hires may go to Mars by the end of this year. It’s crazy.”

She looked at him and said, “Good. The applicants I send you will tell you that ‘Dina’ sent them. They will have the qualifications. We have people who have worked for many leading aerospace companies, and others that have agricultural experience. The normal fee, we will pay you $10,000 for each one ESEP hires.”

He shrugged and said, “Okay, but I’m just your basic head hunter. You could find these jobs for them online.” She smiled and said, “Yes, but then it would be obvious we’re helping them, but he doesn’t want anyone to be aware he’s helping them. Some of them have been through very difficult times and we’re trying to give them a fresh start. Besides, we’d like to help you.”

He cocked his head and said, “You know, we could have done this by phone.” She said, “Please understand, the person I work for demands that I do my most important work face to face…..I’m sorry I had to make you come all the way out here. I would have come to meet you in San Jose, but I have to be in Las Vegas tonight. Maybe next time I can fly you to Los Angeles and we can have dinner, how would that be?”

He smiled and said, “That sounds great. I have a brother in San Diego I can stay with.” She said, “Don’t bother with that, we’ll put you up someplace nice in Los Angeles. I must go. Be safe driving back to San Jose.”

As she left him she made a mental note to find out who his brother was, and where he lived. It was another loose end that would have to be dealt with soon.

In the Pocket


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Friday, Sol 23 (001.2.23)  00:47 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 27 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  109,048,104 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 54 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  283,361,648 kilometers

“Your brother understands how important he is to us, yes?,” said the woman wearing a sun visor. It was breezy on Maui and it had rained earlier. The Sun was shining now but the clouds were periodically blocking it. “Yes,” answered the younger looking woman, “but you’re not asking him to kill himself?” The woman in the visor said, “No, no, no, he just needs to make sure they don’t get to Mars. He needs to find a way to force them to abort the mission, and there are many ways he can do that. They should have turned back already, but Wade seems to need more convincing.”

Maui houseThe woman dug into her purse and pulled out a packet of money, “I have $10,000 to give to your brother,….here, I’ll give it to you, and you can give it to him when he gets back.” The younger woman took it, and the older woman said, “What am I thinking? We should be paying you for your trouble. You keep that, and I’ll bring you more money to give to your brother….well, I need to go. I have to go to the mainland. I’ll be back in two weeks. Perhaps we can celebrate your brother’s success, yes? Proshchay.”

The woman in the visor stood up and went to the door. She didn’t look back as she left the house. She wanted to make sure she had the last word. She climbed into her rented SUV and started it up with the air conditioning on high. She couldn’t understand why people would want to live in a place that is humid and hot.

She turned down the road and headed toward the highway. Grabbing her phone, she dialed a number. “I talked with Joseph’s sister. I think he will do it. I told her I would be back in two weeks. I gave her the money and told her I would bring more. She’s hesitant, but she knows what’s at stake……yes, we need to deal with her immediately if Joseph is caught….I know, she’s a loose end regardless. It’s an island, accidents happen.”

The China Syndrome


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 22 (001.2.22)  01:25 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 26 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  105,443,208 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 54 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  286,966,544 kilometers

François was a very distinguished looking man. He sat in a small restaurant called Casa Sansa in Perpignan, France. It was ten at night and he was eating alone. 

The attractive young woman walked in and sat down across from him. “How was your flight?,” he asked. “It was fine,” she answered, “I don’t like flying during the day.” François asked, “Would you like something to eat. The food is good.” “No, thank you,” she replied, “Claude says you know what is going on in China.”

François noticed that two men and a woman had come inside and took a table near the door. He looked at her and said, “Do you know them?” She glanced over her shoulder at the trio, and looked back at François, “Sorry, they don’t let me go anywhere without my protection. I’m trying to become accustomed to them. I can have them wait outside.” He smiled and said, “No, that won’t be necessary. As long as you know them.”

François continued, “You want to know about Mr. Musk and the Chinese.” Megan said, “Yes. Can you help us.” He signaled to the waiter, who came over. “S’il vous plait apporter du vin pour la dame et lui apporter un apéritif. Surprenez-nous.” As the waiter left, François looked back at Megan and said, “It would be rude for to not have something. If you don’t like what he brings, we will order something else.”

François took another bite and then a drink of wine, then spoke, “There are two things you should know. First, the Chinese have no love for Elon Musk. They have seen through his gift of talk and see him as….what you might call…ah, used car salesman. They’re cautious of his desire to build a car factory in China, and they definitely are not interested in getting into bed with him in a space race with ESEP. They like being on the team that is already going to Mars.”

The waiter came back with an appetizer and a glass for Megan, which he filled with wine. François beckoned Megan to eat as he took another bite. He then continued, “Do you know the saying about rats and a sinking ship?” Megan nodded yes as she took a bite of the appetizer. She suddenly realized she was hungry.

He said, “There is something that happens before the rats leave the sinking ship. The captain chases all the cats off. Once the cats are gone, the rats take over and the ship is eaten full of holes and then it sinks. Mr. Musk has gotten where he is because he had great people around him. A while back, he decided that he no longer needed his cats. In particular, his personal assistant, who was a buffer between Mr. Musk’s despicable personality and everyone else. Others left, and eventually he was left with just the rats.

At the end of this month, Mr. Musk is starting to take orders on his cheaper version of his unprofitable Tesla car. You don’t build a car for $70,000 and not make a profit, and then make a car for half the price without sacrificing half of the quality. It is very likely that his new car will be a failure once people start driving it.” He took another bite, and a sip of wine.

François signaled the waiter for more wine, and then continued, “His employees hate him, his car venture is about to crash, his space program is laughable, and now he’s divorcing his second wife, for a second time. The word on Wall Street is that his Tesla stock is about to take a dive, and that makes perfect sense. He is a desperate man who has fallen off a cliff and is screaming as he is racing toward the ground. You have nothing to worry about from Elon Musk. If anyone should be worried it is Mr. Bolden of NASA. He’s attached himself to a star that is about to implode. Would you like some more wine?”

Private Jenna


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Wednesday, Sol 21 (001.2.21)  02:04 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Friday, 25 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  101,838,312 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 48 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  290,571,440 kilometers

It had been a big day. It took awhile for Jenna to settle down after Paige’s unexpected kiss, but she finally napped from 7:30 to 11:00 AM when she asked to be awakened for an event at noon. The event was a celebration of travelling 100 million kilometers, and all of ESEP paused to take note of the historical moment. Actually, the Sagan was only about 50 million kilometers from Earth, because Earth, the Sagan, and Mars were all on curved parallel paths with the Earth racing to come up even to both of them.

Jenna stayed up after the celebration to work in her quarters for a couple of hours, then she took another nap. When she woke up at 6:30 PM, she was groggy and disoriented. Her whole day seemed to be unsettled by working the night shift. She was also distracted by her almost constant awareness of what happened with Paige. She knew what she was feeling, and she didn’t like that she couldn’t seem to control it.

Her adult life had always had one rule; don’t become involved with the people she worked with, but ESEP’s rules took account that Mars missions would subject crews to long periods of working around the same, small group of people. It was unrealistic to forbid romantic relationships for two years or more, so ESEP allowed for romantic relationships with co-workers under certain provisions.

Jenna knew that, technically, she was allowed to pursue a relationship with Paige, but it went against a basic rule of her self-discipline. Now she had to decide, whether to do what she was allowed to do, or do what she believed was the correct leadership model.

After mulling over this for a few hours, she decided that she should call in help. The ship’s Counselor, Wendy Stevens had predicted that Jenna would have difficulty dealing with a romantic relationship several weeks before, and had told Jenna to let her know when she needed help. At about 9:00 PM, she texted Wendy,

“u were right. Need help.”

Wendy showed up within minutes. As she entered Jenna’s quarters she said, “From a professional standpoint I am required to be uninvolved in your situation, but in full disclosure, I’m going to enjoy this.”

Jenna looked a Wendy and said, “This isn’t funny.” Wendy replied, “Oh, I know it’s not funny…to you, but something doesn’t have to be funny to be enjoyed.” Jenna scowled at Wendy, but Wendy continued, “Okay, break out the wine, and I’ll explain. As I have said before, you are one of the most unique, and talented people I have ever known. You are extremely intelligent, and can assess a situation, and come up with the perfect solution, but you have one weakness…you have sacrificed relationships with individuals in order to maintain relationship with everyone around you. Now you are faced with a relationship with an individual, and you are afraid it will destroy your relationship with everyone else. Am I correct?”

Jenna had poured the wine and was handing Wendy her glass. As they both sat down she said, “That’s probably correct. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms.”

Wendy asked, “Is it Paige?” Jenna’s eyes got big, and she said, “How the hell?” Wendy laughed and said, “You forget, I see all sides of relationships on this ship. In my talks with Paige, you have been a major fixation. Not that others don’t have a strong admiration of you, but Paige’s eyes sparkle when she talks about you. I was afraid that you would reject her as part of your reflexive response to workplace romance, which would practically destroy her….you didn’t reject her, right?”

Jenna said, “No, I haven’t said anything…I couldn’t say anything….she just kissed me…I didn’t know what to say.” Wendy asked, “Did you kiss her back?” Jenna looked down and said, “Yes…I don’t know what I was thinking…but I definitely kissed her back.” Wendy said, “When did this happen?” Jenna said, “This morning, after the morning briefing. She came to tell me how much she appreciated how I have treated her…and then…wham, she kissed me.” Wendy asked, “Have you talked to her since then?” Jenna said, “No. I don’t know what to say.”

Wendy said, “You have feelings for Paige, that seems obvious.” Jenna insisted, “But I didn’t know that until she kissed me.” Wendy continued, “Jenna, you don’t let yourself have romantic feelings for people. There was no way you were going to recognize what you were feeling until it stepped up and kissed you.” Jenna nodded in agreement.

Wendy began again, “Jenna, you know to maintain a decorum in the workplace. You won’t show your private feelings inappropriately. That said, you can establish private relationships with anyone you want, providing that the person doesn’t receive special privileges because of their relationship with you. And if you’re worried you might slip up, it’s my job to monitor these situations, so I’ll let you know if there is a problem.”

Wendy and Jenna talked while they finished their wine, then Wendy left. A few minutes later Paige received a text from Jenna. It said,

“I need to see you in my quarters when you are available.”

Paige showed up within minutes. Jenna let her come in and closed the door. Paige decided to break the tension and said, “Look, Director, I know that I probably shouldn’t have…” Jenna put her fingers over Paige’s mouth to silence her. Jenna then looked up and down Paige’s body. Jenna looked Paige in the eye and said, “Undress.” Paige said, “Ma’am?” Jenna replied, “Tonight, you’ll call me, Sir.” Paige gave a little smile and quickly started removing her top. 

Night Shift


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Tuesday, Sol 20 (001.2.20)  02:42 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Thursday, 24 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT 
  • Distance traveled:  98,233,416 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 48 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  294,176,366 kilometers

Jenna didn’t normally work the night shift, but with all the work done to repair the Comm section after the meteoroid strike, she wanted to give as much of the crew a good night’s sleep as possible. Paige also volunteered to work the shift, and it was decided that the ship’s computer could monitor the systems, which allowed the engineer on duty to sleep, unless there was a significant problem.

It was now a quarter to three in the morning. Jenna was reviewing the manifest of Charlie One. The chase ship had been launched the day after ESEP Earthside lost contact with the Sagan. Before the launch of Charlie One, it had been decided to have it continue to the Sagan, even if contact was restored. The only thing that would have turned it back would have been if the crew had been lost.

Since it was unlikely that Charlie One would immediately return, it treated as a Mars-bound journey, and it was loaded with as much of the cargo as possible. With the crisis resolved, Charlie One would now merge with the Sagan and its crew would join the Sagan’s crew.

“They certainly loaded up Charlie One,” Jenna remarked to Paige. Jenna and Paige were at two workstations in the Operations Center of the Command Deck. Jenna’s normal workstation was two deck lower, but the night shift usually worked on the same level to allow conversation and to back each other up.

“It will be strange to have new people come on board,” Paige said. “I think Mars is testing our adaptability,” Jenna replied, “but the new people should help reduce the workload, and it was a good test of our rescue capabilities. Claude put together a full ship in less than twenty-four hours.”

It was quiet for a moment, then Paige said, “Did you expect this…all the surprises?” Jenna thought, then answered, “My background was in the Royal Navy, but my combat experience was limited. We trained to make field decisions, but most of the time everything was planned to the last nut and bolt. When I was in her Majesty’s service, I wondered how I would do if I faced combat conditions. I guess this is my answer.”

Paige said, “You’re amazing to me. It seems like nothing rattles you.” Jenna smiled, “Can I tell you a secret? Losing Nick really hurt. I didn’t realize how much I depended on him until he was gone….and there’s another secret….it was the people on this ship that kept me going, like when you stepped up and protected our computer systems, and then broke into the ESEP system. It was brilliant, and it allowed me to do everything I needed to do in the situation.”

Paige said, “Thanks, but I have to tell you it was a bit fun taking down the curmudgeons who tried to take over ESEP.” Jenna smiled, “Yes, but they wouldn’t have lasted long. People like that never really accomplish anything.”

Paige and Jenna chatted most of the night. It was the most relaxed Jenna had been in days. At 6:00 AM, she met with her Command team for the morning briefing, and as it broke up she got a text message from Paige, asking if she could see her before she went to sleep. Paige came down to Jenna’s quarters and Paige closed the door.

Paige said, “I wanted to tell you that for the first time, I don’t feel like Anna’s little sister, and that is because of you. Being selected for the crew was…amazing, but I knew it was in part because they wanted to study siblings on a mission…but when you brought me in to help Dane, and then asked me to give the word to begin the countdown, I felt like I was worthy of being on this crew.

Jenna responded, “Perhaps I….” That was all she could say because Paige suddenly moved forward and gave her a passionate kiss. Jenna didn’t resist. She was actually surprised by how much was enjoying it. Then she started kissing Paige back. After several minutes Paige slowly pulled back. Quietly she said, “I also wanted you to know how much I want you…in case you’re interested in spending some off duty time together.”

Jenna was speechless. Paige said, “I’ll let you get some sleep, and maybe we can talk later.” Paige gave her one last kiss, then turned and walked out the door. Jenna was an expert in dealing with almost any crisis that could come up, but nothing had the physical or emotional impact on her as Paige’s kiss. Jenna’s entire reality changed in a matter of seconds.

Elon’s Female Dog


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Monday, Sol 19 (001.2.19)  03:21 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 23 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT  
  • Distance traveled:  94,628,520 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 48 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  297,781,232 kilometers

It was a pleasant day in southern California. Two men sitting on the deck at the Cheesecake Factory at Marina Del Rey did not seem out-of-place. It was two o’clock and they were enjoying the Sun, the ocean breeze, and a late lunch. One man was wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap and sunglasses. The other was overweight, and looked like a tourist.

“I hope you understand that we have to move fast,” said the man in the baseball cap. The other man answered in a heavy Russian accent, “Mr. Musk, I assure you, we understand the urgency of the situation; however, we cannot pay for your space program on our own. If you can bring our friends in, then I think we can do business.”

Musk leaned forward and said, “The United States is no problem. After this election, ESEP will be as hated by Republicans as much as the Mexicans, and as for China, I’m working on them. They’ll come around.”

The overweight man replied, “But Mr. Musk, it does not seem that the Republicans will win this election. I don’t see how this helps us.” Musk answered, “Liberals hate space programs. If they win their will be no money for ESEP, but we can leverage the Republicans to demand funding for our program as a matter of national honor. Americans have to be one of the elite, and if we offer a Mars program that is exclusively run by the three super powers, they will not want to be left out. In fact, they will leap to be in a space race with ESEP.”

“Well, Mr. Musk,” said the big man, “you are very good at talking. Rest assured that if you bring the US and China to the table, we will be there, too.” Musk smiled and sat back. He had two partners in the bag. Now he needed China.

“Excuse me,” Musk said as he stood up, “I have two launches next month and I need to get back. Thank you again, for your support, and please let Mr. Putin know that he is welcome anytime to come to Texas and see our facility.” Musk walked through the restaurant and headed to the front door. As his driver opened the door he pulled out his phone and called Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA. Musk started the conversation, “Russia’s on board if I can bring in China. What can I offer them?”

Musk’s call lasted almost all the way to his office, with several outbursts on his part, reminding Bolden that NASA was rapidly becoming irrelevant. In the end, Musk had what he wanted. China would build, Russia would launch, and the NASA would let SpaceX run the show. If Bolden didn’t feel like Elon’s administrative assistant before, he did now.

Jenna’s Press Statement


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Sunday, Sol 18 (001.2.18)  03:59 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 22 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  91,023,624 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 42 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  301,386,128 kilometers

Jenna was up early. She wanted to record her statement for the 7:00 AM Nippon Standard Time press conference, and then focus on the morning briefing. The ship was hit by three meteoroid fragments and passed through the Comm section. The damage was so extensive that the Comm section was considered a total loss.

Fortunately, the benefit of having Zeke Jackson on board came through again when he was able to help the engineering team take a Quill section and refit it with the communications equipment in storage and antennas from the original core section. The team accomplished a week’s worth of work in twenty-four hours, and was able to reestablish full communications with Earth. Redundant systems would also be reestablished, but with Charlie One on the way, the rebuilt Comm section would only be needed for a few days.

Jenna showered and dressed. She then made some tea and sat down at her workstation. She began recording,

“Good morning. As Megan has explained, I am recording this statement for the 7:00 AM news conference. I will have several of our staff available at that time to answer questions; however, we will end the press conference at 8:15 to allow our crew to resume their duties. Megan will give you a list of people who will be available and you may submit your text questions at any time during the conference. We will do our best to answer your questions. Because of the time delay, there will be no follow-up questions.

As you are now aware, the Communications section of the ESS Sagan took a direct hit of three golf ball sized meteoroid fragments that passed completely through that section. We believe that one of those fragments or debris from the impact damaged a Quill section in the First Hab section. That section also had a hull breach; however, we were able to repair that from inside the ship, with further work done on the outside after it was repressurized.

The core Comm section damaged or destroyed all of our data, voice, and visual transmission equipment, as well as the main and redundant power conduit through the section. We were able to receive data and voice from Earth on a redundant system, once we had power routed to it. We knew that Earthside ESEP was aware we were intact.

Our engineering team had to pull out the Comm section and replaced it with a smaller Quill section. The antennas from the original section were transferred, and Comm equipment meant for Mars was used to reestablish full communications. We did have the option of trying to establish a data transmission unit first, which would have allowed us to contact Earth one or two hours earlier, but it would have delayed the establishment of full communications for an additional six to eight hours.

We still lack some redundant systems, but now that Charlie One is in route, we have decided to forego additional work and simply integrate the new Comm section into the Sagan.

No one was injured as that section is usually uninhabited and as most of the crew were still in their quarters. We did experience a pressure loss in multiple areas. The Comm core section took over seven hours to patch and reseal the section; however, it is now attached to the Command section of the Queen Elizabeth II and the hatches are closed in case one of the patches fails.

We also increased velocity by a few kilometers per hour in order to move out of the debris field that resulted from the meteoroid strike.

The ship is back to normal operations, and we are looking forward to bringing the crew of Charlie One aboard in a few days.

We will now answer questions.”

Press Conference


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Saturday, Sol 17 (001.2.17)  04:38 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 21 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  87,418,728 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 36 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  304,991,024 kilometers

Megan stood behind a plexiglass lectern and faced the sixty reporters that had been given credentials for the press conference. She was not accustomed to making formal press statements, but she was always close by her former boss when he did, and she had advised him on what questions might be asked, and how to answer them.

However, being the person with the camera lens focused on them, was different from supporting the person with the camera lens focused on them. The room had been noisy when she walked in, but now there it was silent. She began,

“As you know from our first news conference last night, we lost signal with the ESS Sagan at 5:48 AM Nippon Standard Time, 1:48 PM Pacific Daylight Time or 5:04 AM Noctis Standard Time. The Sagan had traveled approximately 83.8 million kilometers.

As we said last night, we have visual confirmation that the ship is intact; however, we cannot see enough detail on the ship to determine any physical damage to the ship.

Our engineers have gone over the possible scenarios that would cause a loss of signal with the ship, and the two most likely scenarios are an explosion on the ship, or a strike by a small meteoroid. Almost any explosion would cause the ship to spin and/or deviate from course, which has not happened.

We believe that a meteoroid strike is to most likely explanation for the loss of signal. Specifically, a meteoroid strike in the ship’s Communications or Comm section would be able to disable all the communication temporarily; however, the Sagan has two Comm Sections. The one in use was the section that was originally part of the ESS Queen Elizabeth II. The Sagan originally had a smaller Comm system that was used prior to the merge of the two ships. It is located in front of the QE II’s original Comm section. It is possible that both were damaged, or for some reason, the crew is not able to access either Comm sections. 

Two hours ago we sent a chase ship after the Sagan. This ship, designated Charlie One, consists of a Comm Section, an ICP drive section, a fuel storage section, one Hab section with four, seven-section Quills and eight cargo Quills each with four sections. It is coming up to velocity, which will be just over 300,000 kilometers per hour, or twice the speed of the Sagan.

However, because Earth has been moving in the same relative direction as the Sagan, the distance between them is only 43 million kilometers. It will take nine days for Charlie One to overtake the Sagan, which will be sometime on March 30th or Sol 25 of Sur Two. It has a crew of 18 on board. 

I’ll now take questions.”

“What possible reasons might prevent the crew from reaching the Communication sections?”

“To your question, if this was a meteoroid strike, the section would be sealed to prevent the loss of atmosphere. They would have to repair the damage to the section to repressurize it, before they could enter it and begin work of repairing or switching to the other Comm Section. There is also the possibility that the damage is to both sections. We should face the possibility that we may not have contact with them until Charlie One reaches them.”

“Elon Musk has said that ESEP has moved too fast and that this situation is a direct result of ESEP ignoring the safety concerns of several engineers and the former Director of Security, who committed suicide because of his despondency over the situation.”

“First, Elon Musk has no capability of getting out of low Earth orbit, let alone to catch up with our ship, so he cannot know the cause of this situation. Second, the people he is referring to were all involved in the criminal takeover of ESEP in attempt to create a dictatorial-style management over our space program. They used the tragedy of the loss of our Director and several others to kidnap and lock out the people who were the decision-making authority and they illegally took command of the Mars mission and attempted to end it. The Director of Security was the leader of this group and his suicide occurred after he was arrested for multiple felonies associated with his actions.”

The room erupted in reporters asking questions, but Megan’s focus was on one person. The Mission Director had walked into the room and was now coming up to whisper something to her. She listened and then held up her hand to silence the unruly behavior of the journalists. She turned back to the lectern and said,

“We have contact with Director Wade. The crew is safe. We will have another press conference later today after we have had a chance to talk with her.”

Megan then left the room as the journalists erupted into an even louder outburst of questions, none of which were intelligible. None of that mattered. Everyone was alive. 



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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Friday, Sol 16 (001.2.16)  05:16 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 20 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  83,813,832 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 36 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  308,595,920 kilometers

Megan was not happy. She wanted to be up by 3:00 AM NST, so that she could put together her morning briefing for the Director and her team. But because she spent a late night working on the Musk issue, her personal assistant thought she should sleep in an hour. She had a few critical words with her assistant and then stormed out to the SUV waiting for her.

Upon arrival at the ESEP Center in Nippon she was met by her administrative assistant,
“We’ve lost signal with the Sagan,” was all she said. Megan walked past her office and into the Comm Center. Megan said in a loud voice, “Give me the rundown.”

The on duty Mission Director came over to her and said, “Twelve minutes ago we lost signal with the Sagan. There was no forewarning, and there has been no contact since. Our last data indicates a loss of pressure in the core section and the hatches were sent a command by the computer to seal all sections. We only have about two seconds of data following the first indication of trouble. Whatever happened, it took out the communications, including the redundant systems. We’re trying to figure out how that can happen, short of a catastrophic event on the ship.”

Megan had been looking the Mission Director in the eye as he explained the situation. She knew what he feared. Loss of signal, meant loss of ship. She looked around the room and then looked back at the Director and said, “Call it.” The Director nodded and walked back to his workstation. He opened a flap and pushed the button under it. Instantly every screen read,


The code stood for Crisis Event Protocols and put into place a set of procedures that canceled normal duties. The protocols required that the Council members be informed of the crisis and confirm that the event is a legitimate crisis and gives the Director certain authority to act on behalf of ESEP. There was a contingency that if the Director was not able to perform his or her duties, that the Council would name an Interim Director.

Megan turned and left the Comm Center to go back to her office. At her workstation she contacted Claude Dubois on Earth Prime. Claude was one of the Council members, but she needed to put some tasks into motion before she talked with the rest of the Council. Claude responded, “Megan, we’ve lost signal also.” As Earth’s orbiting spaceport, they maintained contact with every ship and the Commodore knew the nature of the crisis before Megan contacted him.

Megan said, “Do you have a visual on them?” Claude replied, “We still have the ship, but they are over 80 million kilometers away. We have no detail.” Megan said, “I’m calling a Council meeting in six minutes. Give us whatever you can.”

The next hour became a blur. ESEP sprang into action with predetermined teams following a set of protocols that had been devised and revised many times. Most important was a message sent to every ESEP employee. It said,

At 5:04 AM NST, all contact was lost with the ESS Sagan. We have a visual on the ship and we know it is not a catastrophic failure; however, all efforts are to be made to identify the cause of the LOS and how to restore contact.

The Council has met and has confirmed the CEP. Crisis Event Protocols are now in place. In addition, Megan DeLuca shall be the Interim Director until we have regained contact with Director Wade and/or the crew of the ESS Sagan.

Earth Prime is directed to configure and launch a chase ship within twenty-four hours if we have not had contact. If your department is not directly involved in the event activities, you are directed to continue to maintain the current duty schedule.

More information will be provided as it becomes available.

The Smell of Musk


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 15 (001.2.15)  05:55 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 19 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  80,208,936 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 30 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  312,200,816 kilometers

“What did you find out about Musk?,” Jenna asked. Ken replied, “We’ve confirmed he is talking to the Russians. He also contacted at least two of our suppliers and tried to work out an exclusive arrangement with them if they dropped our account. He’s actively working to sabotage us, but I think there is more to it than what we’ve found so far.”

Roman had just walked in to Jenna’s quarters for the morning briefing from Megan. He asked, “Who are we talking about?” Jenna said, “Elon Musk. We’re on his enemies list.” Roman replied, “That’s not good. He doesn’t like to play fair.” “What do you know?,” Jenna asked.

Roman replied, “I know he’s smart, and he likes taking advantage of the stupid. He played several states against each other when he was making noise about building his lithium battery plant, but the only place that had an active lithium mine in the North America was in Nevada. Nevada already had no income, corporate, or tax, but he managed to sucker them into over a billion dollars in tax breaks, even though it made no sense to build the factory anywhere in but Nevada. Then he contracted with a minor lithium mine in Mexico to put pressure on the Nevada lithium mine. He bullies people, and he seems to enjoy it.”

Ken added, “He is talking to the Russians about a partnership with SpaceX, and he’s trying to interfere with our suppliers.” Roman replied, “That sounds like Musk. If he follows his pattern, he’ll make a big show of it and try to manipulate people by scaring them.”

Naomi broke in to the conversation, “Director, I have Megan’s briefing ready.” Jenna said to everyone, “Let’s get started.”

Naomi started the recording and Megan’s image came up on the large monitor,

Good morning. The first item today is Elon Musk. We have learned that he is trying to create a private-based, joint space venture with Russia, China, and the United States. He is asking the United States and China to cut off funding to ESEP immediately, even though they have a five-year commitment. He has been working on this for some time, but has been aggressively pursuing his goal since your remarks on the Charlie Rose show. He also has contacted almost half of our suppliers and is offering them eight percent more per contract than what ESEP is offering. He also is posting bail and providing legal assistance to the ESEP engineers that were involved in the management coup. Apparently, he plans to tap them for their knowledge. He also is talking to Donald Trump. We don’t know what that is about, but I suspect ESEP is going to become the target of U.S. conservatives. We’re following the situation and our PR team is coming up with some ideas. I’ll be interested to see what your reaction is to this…

Jenna suddenly interrupted, “Naomi, pause that, please.” Naomi paused the playback, and Jenna continued, “I know what we need to do, but I want to hear everyone’s thoughts. Let’s deal with this now and get ESEP Earthside to start moving on it.

Ken said, “His whole game is to bluff people into doing something. We need to be careful at how we react.” Naomi added, “But we can’t ignore it. That also plays into his game.”

Jenna said, “We’re not going to play his game, we’re going to play ours.”

Morning Briefing


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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Wednesday, Sol 14 (001.2.14)  06:33 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Friday, 18 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  76,604,040 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 16 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  315,805,712 kilometers

The Command team had gathered in Jenna’s quarters for the morning briefing from Megan. Morning shift did not begin until 8:00 AM NST, but because Jenna was now the ESEP Director, they had to be ahead of the Earthside ESEP administrators, so the day now started at 6:00 AM for her team.

Megan was going over the status updates she had received,

“The target date for launch of the Mars Computer Complex is now Sol 51 of this month. All three segments will be launched on that day. Earth Prime’s Computer Complex will go up five days later. Claude told me yesterday that they will have the ship ready to leave orbit by Sol 58. It will arrive at Mars at Sol 4 of Sur Four, or July 7th.

Because they need to follow human stress protocols for the G-load of the computer systems, that ship will have a crew. Claude is working with the engineers on the configuration, but it looks like the ship will be about the size of the QE II. The name of the ship?…are you ready for this?…it is to be called Data…after the Star Trek android character. 

On board the Data should be most of the replacement and administrative personnel you’ll need. They won’t have much time to train.

As for my personal assistant staff, thank you. It’s going to take some time to get used to, and I still think this is a revenge thing on your part, Jenna, but I suppose it is necessary. I’ve never felt so safe or pampered.

Regarding the new Mars schedule, Earthside seems to be in agreement that everything on the accelerated plan can be done on time. The target date for the next mission is now Sol 2 of Sur Four or July 5th. We are now looking at an early or mid-August launch for the 4th mission, and an 5th mission in late October or early November.

This is pushing our launch facilities up to capacity with two to three launches per day. Chile is moving forward to building two more launch pads and we are about to break ground on our Nippon launch facility.

Quill manufacturing is ramping up. Our biggest problem has been the American-owned, investor-run, companies. We are fortunate that the former Director established a policy of minimizing our relationships with investor-run companies. Fortunately, our suppliers in France, Germany, Spain, Nippon, Great Britain, and Korea have stepped in to pick up the slack.

Earth Prime has been using the new procedures in assembling the ships and it is shaving months off the schedule. Claude is very happy.

Elon Musk is upset about your SpaceX remarks on Charlie Rose. Apparently, your point that his entire program is based on reinventing thirty-year-old space technology sent his stocks into free fall. I think he’d like to come up and give you a good lecture…if he had a craft that could get out of low Earth orbit.

NASA is not too happy with you either, but I suspect their employees know that your analysis of their program is spot on.

That’s all for now. I’ll talk to you later this morning, unless you have something more urgent. Have a great day!”

Ken looked at Jenna and said, “We need to talk about Musk.”