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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Tuesday, Sol 38 (1.1.38)  7:17 AM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 10 February 2016  2:00 PM PST

Each crew member on the ESS Queen Elizabeth II carries a personal tablet or pad that connects them to the ship and the onboard communications system. It can be used for video calls between crew members or to any department of Earth Space Exploration Program (ESEP) Command.

However, normally tablet communication is audio only and off ship communication is channelled through the Comm Center on the ship or through workstations around the ship. This protocol can be bypassed under certain circumstances, so when Rear Admiral Jenna Wade pad indicated she had an incoming call on her tablet from ESEP Actual, she knew it was important.

“This is Mars Mission Actual,” she said. The Director of ESEP, Nick Castillo was not usually somber, but his voice had a very serious tone as he skipped all pleasantries and said, “Jenna, I need you in your quarters for a video call. I also need Ken and Wendy there.” Wade knew there was no point in asking why. Castillo clearly needed to discuss something without anyone else hearing the conversation. Jenna said, “On my way.” Wade was about to end the call when Castillo added, “Jenna, I also need Dane to go to his quarters and wait for a call.” Wade simply said, “Acknowledged.”

From Castillo’s tone and instructions Wade knew there was some type of emergency and everything else would have to wait. Wade called Commodore Ken Hart and Counselor Wendy Stevens and told them to report to her quarters immediately. She then decided to have Paige Flores, the Comm Officer, contact Dane Paris. The Comm Center contacting Dane for a private video call would not be unusual, but coming her it would indicate something ominous.

Wade had surmised that this must be a personal issue for Dane as the ship’s Counselor would not be needed if the emergency involved the ship or the mission. As she arrived at her quarters Wendy Stevens was waiting outside. Stevens said, “What’s up?” Wade said, “Nick wants to talk to us, but it must be something about Dane.” As they were going in Ken Hart arrived and asked the same question. Wade said to both of them, “Nick has something for us and Dane has been asked to go to his quarters for a call, my best guess is a major personal issue.”

Wade crossed to her office and touched a flashing icon. Immediately Castillo was on the bigger video monitor over Wade’s desk. He was standing in his office talking to his assistant who was a younger woman whose focus was solely on her boss. He turned to them and said, “My apologies, give me a moment.” He then turned back to her and said, “Tell the pilot to hold station until further notice. Let him know the Tortuga may have to go back.”

At that point she turned to a console behind them and a man sitting at a Command station on a shuttle appeared. She was talking to him she was on a headset and was obviously trying not to disturb her boss’s conversation with them. Castillo came closer to the camera and said, “Jenna, Ken, Wendy, we have a problem that is going to affect your team. About seven hours ago Dane’s father-in-law had a severe heart attack and was picked up by ambulance.”

Wade’s heart sank, but Castillo went on, “For whatever reason his mother-in-law stayed behind until Dane’s wife arrived. The two of them were driving to the hospital, and I don’t have all the details yet, but apparently they arrived at a light that had just turned green and the went through when another car was racing through the intersection trying to beat the red light. They were hit square on the driver’s side and both Dane’s wife and mother-in-law were killed.”

Wendy spoke immediately. “Does Dane’s daughter know?” Castillo said, “Not yet. She gets out of school in about 45 minutes and we’ve asked the police and the school to let us handle it. Dane’s mother and sister live in Denmark and his wife’s sister lives on the East Coast. There is no family near his daughter…uhm…,” Castillo glanced at his pad, then continued, “Abigail, to pick her up or stay with her.”

Two minutes ago, Dane Paris was preparing for a trip to Mars. Everything in his world was about to change.

Castillo continued, “I asked you to order Dane to his quarters so he would be occupied while we talked. Dane has checked in with us and is standing by. Before we talk to him I need your decision Jenna.”