Chapter 17: Putin’s War

  • 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 masseuse 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 masseuse 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 would be assassin 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 saved her!” she thought, and then she began to cry.

  • 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. I now we lost one of our Command sections in our FSB encounter, but we were able to recover both ICP drive sections. We will miss Jeramy, and we still have to work through that loss, but we can stand down. The likelihood of another 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 only take me 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.”

  • 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, whose 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.

  • 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

“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 of their house 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.