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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Saturday, Sol 42 (1.1.42)  4:43 AM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 14 February 2016  2:00 PM PST

Jenna couldn’t sleep. It was almost 5:00 AM and she had been awake for two hours. This week was not the week she had anticipated and later this morning the 10-day countdown would begin to send them off to Mars.

The replacement pilot came on board two days ago, but the crew, including Jenna, was still dealing with the emotional circumstances of the loss of their former pilot, Dane Paris, on Tuesday morning.

He lost three immediate family members in a matter of hours and suddenly was a single parent. ESEP was able to get him from the ship to his daughter in less than 24 hours, which was a small miracle performed by a dedicated ESEP team.

Jenna had talked to him briefly on Thursday, and Nick Castillo, the Director of ESEP, was forwarding reports to her from the Counselors that had been assigned to live and care for him and his daughter while he worked through the grief and life changes resulting from the loss of his wife and in-laws.

As for the crew, they had been trained to accept the loss of a crewmate and move on, but this was different. They lost a crewmate, but he was still alive and he was suffering. They couldn’t be there for him.

Even worse was the reality of the situation. Every crew member knew that during the two-year mission things might change with the people they left behind. None of them realized how significant the changes could be, and how suddenly it could happen.

Dane was lucky in some aspects. His family tragedy occurred while the ship was still in orbit, and still attached to Earth Prime, the orbiting spaceport. In ten days there was no turning back. Whatever happened on Earth would be literally be on a different world.

Two weeks ago, ESEP worldwide and orbital operations switched over to the time zone of the landing site on Mars. That meant adapting the Mars clock and calendar. The Mars calendar didn’t have Valentine’s Day on it. It didn’t have any holidays, but that didn’t mean the crew wouldn’t be thinking of family and friends during Earth holidays.

Jenna was sipping her tea in her quarters and thinking that the timing of this couldn’t be worse. Currently the Mars night, their night, was Valentine’s Day for much of the western world. During the crew’s morning tasks they would likely be reminded of the people they would be missing during the next two years. Jenna had considered a light duty day for today, but with the start of the countdown, this morning would require everyone at their stations. The afternoon would be anticlimactic as the first few days of the countdown were designed with long, open time periods to allow any issues to be resolved without holding up the count. 

Jenna checked in with the Comm Center for any pending messages before she dressed for the day. She touched the Comm icon on her pad and the voice said, “Good Morning, Rear Admiral. You’re up early.” The voice was Paige Flores who was covering the night shift. Paige had developed a close friendship with Dane Paris, and her mood this morning seemed out of line for her emotional state the last time they talked.

“Good morning, how was last night?” Jenna asked. Paige replied, “It was good. I talked to Dane last night.” Jenna was glad to hear they had a chance to reconnect, “How’s he doing?” Paige mood seemed to become more serious, “He’s still trying to deal with everything, but he’s focusing on helping his daughter deal with the loss of her Mom and grandparents. That seems to be helping him.”

Jenna had suspected taking over the role of nurturer for his daughter, Abby, would help him out of the emotional hole he could be sucked into. Jenna said, “That’s good. Dane’s a great father.”

Paige agreed and then moved the conversation on, “Admiral, the Director would like you to contact him as soon as possible, and you have some other messages, but would it be okay if I came to talk to you after you call the Director?” Jenna was curious why, but decided not to ask now. She hoped that Paige wouldn’t be requesting to leave the ship. “Of course,” Jenna replied, “Monitor my call and come down when I’m done.”

Jenna put her concerns about Paige to the side and focused on her call to the Director. She would have been woken if there was an emergency, but lately the Director hadn’t been the source of good news. About ten seconds after she finished her conversation with Paige a flashing icon appeared at her workstation. Paige had set up the video call.

The image of Megan, Nick Castillo’s assistant, was on the monitor. She said, “Rear Admiral Wade, good morning. The Director is on his way.” Jenna smiled and said, “Megan, thank you for all your help in these past few days. If I could requisition you for our mission, I would.” Megan smiled and said, “Thank you, Rear Admiral. It is a pleasure to help out in any way I can. The Director is here.”

Jenna could see the doorway to Nick’s office suite across from the camera and within seconds of Megan saying he was ‘here,’ he stepped into the room. Megan had an uncanny sense of her boss and Jenna wondered if she was really human.

Nick looked up at the video monitor and said, “Good morning, Jenna. I didn’t mean to have you woken.” Jenna replied, “I was awake and checked in. They didn’t wake me.” Nick said, “Can’t sleep?” Jenna shook her head and said, “Not last night. If things go well this morning I might order a nap for the crew.” Nick smiled and said, “If you do that, I’ll do the same here. I know your crew was hit the hardest by the tragedy, but I didn’t realize how much everyone down here would be affected.” Jenna said, “I’m halfway serious about the nap.” Nick replied, “I’m completely serious. If all goes well this morning we’ll both stand down our people until 10:00 AM tomorrow. Claude’s team has been asking to help out. I’m sure he can find people to cover shifts for you.”

Jenna then said, “Wait, we have the countdown starting. Are we going to put that on hold?” Nick shook his head, “No. We’ll start the countdown and do the immediate tasks related to initiating it, but…,” at this point Nick turned to his assistant, “Megan, how many tasks would we delay if we stand the crew down from noon today until ten AM tomorrow?”

Megan scrolled through her tablet for a few seconds and said, “32 non-countdown tasks are scheduled and 15 meetings. The total allocated time to recover from a delay is 28 hours and seven minutes.” Nick turned to Jenna and said, “Maybe it’s not..” But Megan interrupted, “Of course, if those the tasks are rescheduled to be done concurrently it will take one hour and 43 minutes.”

Nick smiled again, then frowned, “What about the meetings?” Megan replied, “Most of the meetings can be eliminated and combined with the end of day meetings.” Nick had a thought and then touched an icon on his tablet. A now familiar voice said, “Security Actual. What can I do for you Director.” Jenna noticed that Megan began quickly typing out a message on her pad. Nick seemed unaware of her activity and continued, “Mr. Duncan, I think we should follow your recommendation and stand down operations for the security sweep you suggested.” Mr. Duncan was clearly confused, “Security sweep?….I’m not…..” Mr. Duncan paused. It became apparent to Jenna that Megan had sent some type of message to Mr. Duncan and he resumed his response with enthusiasm, “YES. The security sweep from noon today until ten AM tomorrow…do we…do I need more time to do this sweep? Nick was clearly enjoying this and replied, “Now, Mr. Duncan, we can’t hold up the program too long…noon today until ten AM is all we can afford I’m afraid.”

Megan had continued typing while they talked. Mr. Duncan then added, “Very well, I’ll send out….” At that moment a message marked urgent popped up on everyone’s tablet. The conversation stopped as everyone read it. It said,


CODE ALERT – PART ONE:  All non-critical operations will stand down after countdown initiation. Today at noon, all non=critical mission operations will stand down until 10 AM tomorrow. All non-critical task and all meetings are to be rescheduled. The Office of the ESEP’s Director will issue a new schedule later today. All questions and concerns should be forwarded to that office.

CODE ALERT – PART TWO:  Security will be performing a routine security operation from noon today until 10 AM tomorrow. This was planned but unannounced for security reasons. This is not in response to any known issue or concern, but a test of pre-departure security. Thank you for your cooperation.

Mr. Duncan then resumed, “Correction, I’ve sent out a message to all…I think it’s all…operations….Actually, Director, I would like to do a security sweep of both ships and Earth Prime.”  Nick looked at Jenna on his monitor and she nodded. Nick said, “You have the Rear Admiral’s approval and…” Nick looked back at Megan who was once again typing, then he continued, “I’m sure Claude will be contacting you shortly with his approval.” Mr. Duncan said, “Excellent, thank you.”

Nick continued, “How’s the new pilot doing?” “She’s a little rattled right now,” Jenna replied. Jenna had a pilot in mind to replace Dane, but it turned out the pilot was in training to advance to Captain and would have had to give that up to go on the mission. Jenna and Ken bypassed the top two candidates suggested by the Director and offered the position to the third person on the list.

Nick decided to ask, “Why did you select Keira over the others?” Jenna smiled, “We liked her.” Nick was not going to accept a non-answer, he said, “She was kicked off one ship for insubordination and she was the pilot on the shuttle crash eleven months ago.” Jenna replied, “It was because of those events that we selected her. The ship she was kicked off of was captained by Williams, who you fired this week, and on the shuttle crash, everyone walked away, which, under the circumstances is a miracle. She’s been tested and proved herself.”

Nick smiled and said, “I’ve learned to trust your judgement. In fact, Megan gave me the list with Keira’s name at the top, and I moved her to the third option.” Jenna said, “You need to stop doing that. Megan’s way smarter than all of us.”

Nick smiled and glanced over his shoulder at Megan at her station. She was involved in a video call with three other people. Nick quietly said, “I found her in a bottle walking on a beach” Megan looked over her shoulder at Nick and said, “I heard that….Master,” and then resumed her video call.

Nick and Jenna both laughed. After a moment Nick became serious and said, “There is some cargo coming up to you that we need to talk about.”

Jenna’s smile disappeared.