Chapter 13: Night Shift

  • 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 decks 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.

  • 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.