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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur 1, Wednesday, Sol 53 (1.1.53)  21:01 PM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Friday, 26 February 2016  2:00 PM PST
  • Distance traveled:  2,021,171 kilometers

It was time for the second big push to Mars. The uninhabited ESS Carl Sagan successfully left Earth orbit at 7:42:58 AM NST and was chasing the QE II for a rendezvous in three days. The Sagan was up to its planned speed at 150,204 km/hr. The QE II had a two-day head start but was poking along at only 41,039 km/hr. Now it was time for the QE II to pick up the pace.

The mishap of two days before was on everyone’s mind. Twelve fuel pellets had been lost when the blast door was failing to close and then recycled the system to fire another pellet with the same outcome. The crew caught the problem within seconds, but it almost ended the mission.

Jeramy Prater, the Munitions Officer and the Engineering team fixed the problem and the gun was given new instructions to not fire a second pellet if the first one failed. Still, he wasn’t taking any chances of losing more fuel. 

Prater stood in his spacesuit looking out the gap that the pellets would flow through in a moment. It was not a recommended place to be during active propulsion, but by being here during the firing, he could stop the process if it misbehaved again. 

He looked up at the gun above him. The racks of fuel pellets and the push mechanism were in position for firing. In front of him were four guide rails for a push plate that kept the pellet from deviating from the path of the ‘barrel’. Two days ago this push plate caught the rack and went out of alignment causing the pellet to hit the blast door as it exited.

Everything looked ready for the ICP to fire its series of pellets. Jeramy checked to be sure he was clear of the pellet barrel. It would be a short day for him if he got in the way of a departing pellet. In his glove he held his safety tether that would keep him attached to the ship.

On the Command deck the pilot, Keira Choi, contacted Jeramy. “You set, Mr. Prater?” He responded, “I’m a go here.” Keira looked at the First Officer and nodded.

Anna looked at the Ken and said, “We’re good to go, Commodore.” Ken responded, “Ms. Flores, take us to 147K.” Anna opened ship wide communications and said, “All stations, all hands, stand by for ICP firing. Ms. Choi, give them a countdown.” Keira said, “Aye, aye.” Anna and Ken looked at each other and she shrugged. This “Aye” response was not what they were accustomed to with their former Pilot.

Keira gave the countdown,

“In 23 seconds,….15 seconds….10,…9,…8,…7,…6,…5,…4,….3,…2,…1,…Fire.”

Suddenly a voice called over the speakers, “MAN OVERBOARD, WE LOST HIM!” Ken yelled, “BELAY THAT ORDER!,” but his words were slower than Keira’s reaction. She had aborted the detonation at the first sound of crisis. She knew that there could be only one crew member at risk of going into space.

Instantly all eyes looked at the aft monitor and where there should have been debris and smoke from an explosion there was a tethered spacesuit thrashing wildly within a few meters of the explosive pellet. In the silence on the Command Deck everyone could hear desperate gasps over the speakers.

Jenna took control. “Prater, are you okay?” The only response sounded like a man drowning. Again, she called, “Jeramy, ANSWER ME!”

Wendy Stevens had been talking to Jenna a few seconds earlier interrupted, “Admiral, I don’t think he can.” Jenna knew what Wendy was implying. She locked eyes at Wendy and said, “Can you bring him down?” Wendy immediately pulled up her pad and hit the COM icon and said, “Mr. Prater, this is Wendy,…..I’m afraid you don’t have permission for a spacewalk.”

Jenna fired an icy look at Wendy and said, “You’re making jokes?” Wendy held up her hand to cut the Admiral off.

At first there was silence. The gasps on the speaker had stopped. Then a short laugh, followed by a longer one, followed by a continuous laugh. At this point everyone looked in disbelief, then smiled, then wild laughter broke out.

Jenna got herself under control and then waved to the crew on deck to be quiet. Jeramy’s laughter subsided and he said through breaths of relief, “Does…this…mean..I’m not going to die?” Wendy said, “Well, I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen once we have you back on board….the Admiral looks pretty pissed.” Wendy and Jenna looked at each other and smiled.

Jeramy said, “Ya, understood. Permission to come back on board.” Jenna nodded to Keira, who said, “Permission granted.” Jeramy quickly remarked, “Keira, you must have fast hands…I should be in little pieces right now.” Keira smiled. Then Jeramy said, “I think I can reach the pellet tether, do you want me to bring it in?”

In unison five voices all responded, “NO!” Ken said, “Prater, I want you to treat that pellet like a Rottweiler with a new bone…just back away from it and don’t make it angry.” “Aye, Commodore.” Prater replied, “I’m on my way.”