Chapter 02: Admiral’s Mess

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Friday, Sol 34 (1.1.34)  05:21 PM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 6 February 2016  9:30 PM PST

During the construction and configuration of the ships people tended to adapt to the pattern of sleeping and eating that worked best for them and the team they worked on; however, now that the crew were isolated on one ship a pattern of eating and sleeping at coordinated times began to take hold.

It had been six days since commissioning of the ships and crew and Rear Admiral Jenna Wade decided to resurrect a time-tested naval tradition, the Admiral’s Mess. Jenna served ten years in the Royal Navy and though she had been with ESEP for the last six years, she still kept the military culture as her internal guide.

Almost all of the Command team had gathered already and had selected and prepared their supper. This was a process of grabbing the ration container scheduled for the meal, placing in a doorless, microwave-type device and plugging it in to a connector on the wall of the device. The sensor identified the meal, added appropriate amount of water vapor and/or steam to the each section of the container to hydrate and thaw the food. At that point the induction plate under the ration heated each section to its correct temperature.

When the ration was ready the person unplugged the container, removed the top cover, and the food was ready to eat. The ship did have some raw food on board, and the means to prepare it; however, preparing meals was among the lowest priority task on this mission, and with the exception of special occasions, preparing a meal was designed to take the minimal amount of time.

Six of the seven members of the Command team had gathered in the fifth section of the Command Quill. They were already eating their rations and were sitting at a bar-like table that surrounded the central corridor of the Quill. It was an odd place for eating because anyone moving up from Command living quarters in the sixth section or moving down from the Command deck in the fourth section would pass through the center of the bar area.

However, it did provide an eating arrangement where everyone faced each other, which promoted interaction between people. That was considered vital by ESEP as the crew would function better if involved in social activities during the months and years they would be disconnected from civilization.

Already at the bar were Rear Admiral Jenna Wade; Commodore Ken Hart; the Communications Director, Naomi Pierce; Science Director, Lanny Deaton; Engineering Director, Roman Guzman; and Dr. Kayla Summers, the ship’s physician.

Jenna broke in on the casual conversations, “Our Counselor will join us in a minute, but we should probably begin.” Roman jumped in, “Regarding Dr. Stevens, I know our team members have to meet with her after we are underway, but she has already been taking my team away for her sessions. Is there a way you can tell her to back off until after were underway?”

Jenna calmly looked at Roman, and said, “First, no one is ever to call her ‘Dr.’ Stevens. She has doctorate degrees from both Stanford and Harvard, but she and ESEP share the same concern about the perception of the title of Psychologist or Doctor for a Counselor. If you go to someone to get medical help you want to know they are a professional, but if you want to have someone open up about their concerns and fears they need to be perceived as someone they can talk to at their level.” 

The rest of the Command team looked uncomfortable in their chairs. Jenna had yet to respond to Roman’s question, but everyone knew he was about to be slapped down.

Jenna continued, “Each person here has an important function to perform for the success of this mission, but none of us can function without the entire crew working together. In addition, we are about to leave civilization as we know it and experience stress and separation that will test even the most stable person. Wendy’s function is to assess our crew and determine the needs and limitations before we have a crisis.”

Jenna paused and nobody said a word. Then she continued, “Before we leave Earth I want to know if we have anyone who shouldn’t be leaving with us, so in answer to your question, yes, Wendy will be interviewing, and re-interviewing your crew, and unless it is at a critical time in your area, Wendy will have full access to everyone on board at anytime.”

“Sorry I’m late. What did I miss?,” Wendy said as she joined the rest of the Command team at the bar. She was met by silence, then Jenna said, “I was talking about the crew evaluations your conducting. How are they going?”

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Friday, Sol 34 (1.1.34)  7:21 PM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 6 February 2016  11:30 PM PST

The first Admiral’s Mess was now approaching two and a half hours. Rear Admiral Jenna Wade said, “Let’s save something for us to discuss at Mess tomorrow. I’d like Wendy and Dr. Summers join me in my quarters. Roman would you join us also.”

Roman was the Director of Engineering so he could see no logical reason he would be invited to join the Admiral and the ship’s Counselor and physician for a meeting. At the beginning of the Admiral’s Mess he had made the mistake of complaining about the Counselor, but the Admiral had already dealt with that in an not-so-subtle manner.

They cleared their food containers and then divided up. Naomi was on duty tonight and headed to the Command deck to check in. Ken went to his quarters below and Lanny headed to his quarters in the Science Quill. The rest of the Command team followed Jenna to her quarters in the same section as Ken.

Command quarters were twice the size of the regular crew quarters and included a bathroom with a shower. Crew quarters were roomier than one might expect on a spaceship, but they were primarily a place to sleep. Command quarters were a place to sleep, work, and meet with small groups.

Jenna opened the door to her quarters and invited them inside. The walls of all crew quarter consisted of high-definition monitors anywhere there weren’t storage lockers or closets. Each crew member chose a wide variety of live or recorded video scenes, or they just have a color displayed.

Jenna’s quarters were functional, and well-kept. One wall showed a live view of the outside of the spaceport Earth Prime with Earth in the background. Both the ESS Sagan and the ship the crew was on, the ESS Queen Elizabeth II were visible. The rotating Quills of each ship could be seen high above the spaceport and Earth was partially obscured by Earth Prime.

Part of another wall was a recording of a tropical scene with a waterfall. To one side of the room was Jenna’s ‘office.’ There the displays were of live interior view of the ship and graphics of ship systems. ESEP encouraged all crew members, especially Command team members to minimize work related images inside their crew quarters. The office area inside Command team quarters was meant to give them access to information they may need in off duty hours. During duty hours all crew members were expected to work in the team area.

Jenna told them to sit in her ‘living room’ area that looked to be able to seat five comfortably. As the three to sat down she gather glasses and a bottle of wine from a locker on the wall. As Jenna started pouring Roman quickly said, “None for me, Admiral.” Jenna replied, “Do you have a drinking problem?,” She knew the answer as she would not have put a recovering alcoholic in charge of Engineering. He said, “No.” Then she followed asked, “Do you drink wine?” Again, she knew the answer when he said, “Yes.” Wade then smiled and said, “Good. Consider this an order: You will drink a glass of wine. That goes for the you two,” Wendy and Kayla looked at each other and said, “Aye, aye, Rear Admiral.”

As Jenna passed out the glasses of wine she said, “Roman, I wanted you to join us so we could talk about the process of ongoing crew assessment. As I said at Mess, we are entering the unknown when it comes to the impact of stress and isolation on our crew. We can’t just fire someone and get a replacement, so we have to assess and respond to issues before they become a crisis. Wendy, would you explain our system.”

Wendy set down her glass and said, “I look at every crew member from three perspectives. I talk to them and try to understand their self perception, I talk to others to determine what they perceive about the crew member, and finally, I develop my own perceptions of the crew member. I then send a video report of my findings to a team of psychological and sociological professionals on Earth. They then develop a plan for me, for the Team Director, and for the Command staff that is designed to meet that crew member’s psychological and emotional needs.”

Roman said, “It sounds like you have us down to a fine art.” Jenna replied, “We don’t, but it’s not like we’re working with a propulsion gun and we know exactly what output each pellet will have. We are working with perceptions and with imperfect humans. We are not trying to manipulate people, just keep a constant awareness of their mental state and, when needed, step in with support.”

Wendy said, “You should also know that our assessment process on this first mission is as much about research as it is counseling. The hope is that by closely monitoring our crew, the ground team will develop better strategies to help crew members on future missions.”

Jenna took back the conversation, “At least three times a week the three of us will meet to discuss crew member assessments. When the plan involves taking action to address the acute needs of a crew member we will likely bring the Director over that crew member into our meeting so that everyone is on the same page. Periodically, we will bring in a Director to review all of their team members. Since you’re here tonight, Wendy, let’s run through the Engineering team.”  

Roman took a big drink of wine.

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Friday, Sol 34 (1.1.34)  9:21 PM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 7 February 2016  1:30 AM PST

Roman had left the Rear Admiral’s quarters 45 minutes ago, and the ship’s physician, Kayla Summers just left. Jenna was now alone with Wendy.

In the last two hours they had discussed the mental and emotional health of the entire crew, with the exception of the four people who were in the meeting. Jenna knew what came next.

Wendy began, “Why did you select Roman?” Jenna responded, “You mean to bring into this meeting?” Wendy shook her head and said, “No, I know why you did that. He needs to see the bigger picture and you included him so he would understand the human aspect of this mission…but why did you select him for the crew, and as the Director?”

Jenna had been asked to be the Director of the first Mars mission almost three years ago and the given the Commander position in late 2014. She didn’t immediately pick her crew, but rather choose people to work in various functions on the project and evaluated them as potential crew members. Roman was the exception. She recruited Roman to ESEP soon after she was made Director of the Mission. Up to now no one had ever asked why.

Jenna said, “You know I brought him into ESEP.” Stevens said, “Yes, and I know he came out of the Royal Navy like you did, but I couldn’t see anywhere that you served together.” Jenna smiled and said, “I was a Commander on the HMS Illustrious until 2009 and then left the Royal Navy for ESEP in 2010.” Jenna interrupted, “You were a shining star on the Illustrious and the Royal Navy probably wanted you for the HMS Queen Elizabeth II.”

Jenna laughed and said, “I was good at handling events and planning and we had become the Royal Navy’s parade ship for diplomatic events and other PR missions. As for the Queen, I would have liked to serve on her, but she in a constant state of bureaucratic delay. I’m not convinced she’ll ever come out of dry dock. I left the Illustrious when it was put into a refit and then I left the Royal Navy. As it was it was coming out of the refit they were having multiple systems problems. In early 2011, I was asked to take a short leave from ESEP to return to the Illustrious to get it back on schedule.”

Wendy interrupted again, “And that’s when you met Roman Guzman.” “Not exactly,” Jenna replied, then continued, “There was a Chief Engineer on the Illustrious that was a blowhard. I kept after him for answers to a fuel flow problem we were having and he kept giving me excuses. Then one day the problem is solved and the Chief Engineer claimed the solution came to him in a dream. I didn’t buy it. I returned to ESEP and six months later I learned that it was Roman who figured out the problem and fixed it. I started looking into his record and realized he either was consistently lucky, or very talented in solving difficult engineering problems.”

Wendy said, “He tends to have a myopic view.” Jenna replied, “Show me an engineer who doesn’t. He’s loyal to the cause as long as he knows he’s part of it. Are you concerned?” Wendy thought for a moment then said, “Knowing his history helps. It sounds like he is very protective, but that’s okay providing he doesn’t mark out his territory and go to war with you.” “Not a concern.” Jenna said, “If he jams in his heels it’s for good reason, otherwise, he’s a team player.”

Jenna moved on, “Dr. Summers?” Wendy took a drink of wine and said, “I can’t tell much about her that you don’t know. Unfortunately, it will be a crisis situation where I’ll have the best opportunity to assess her, but that probably won’t happen until we’re in route to Mars.” Jenna tried to reassure her, “Kayla has a lot of ER experience. I think she will be fine.”

Jenna knew they had come down to the final crew assessment and said, “And what about me?”

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Friday, Sol 34 (1.1.34)  9:51 PM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 7 February 2016  2:00 AM PST

The wine and the late hour was starting to wear on both Jenna and Wendy. They had gathered at 5:00 PM for the Admiral’s Mess with the rest of the Command team. It was now five hours and later and they were still dealing with ship business.

It was Wendy’s job to constantly assess the crew and tonight was her first chance to speak privately to Jenna since she came on the ship. Jenna shifted in her chair and leaned forward to pick up the wine bottle and pour more wine in Wendy’s glass, then she finished off the rest of in her glass. Jenna said, “You’ve read my file, you’ve been on board for a week, what’s your opinion?”

Wendy was being backed into a corner, but she expected nothing less from Jenna. Normally she would turn this around and tell the crew member that she needed to ask the questions, but Jenna was not a normal crew member…or normal human.

Wendy began, “You are one of the most interesting persons I’ve ever encountered. Your father was an engineer and your mother was a psychologist. Both had advanced degrees and you were a late, only child. You honored both your father and your mother by double majoring in engineering and psychology and you did it in five years. You then got your masters degree in social psychology with a thesis that involved the social dynamics of sailors on a Royal Navy ship.”

Wendy stood up, took a sip of wine, stretched, and then continued, “And then things become interesting. Whether it was because of your thesis or because your grandfather was an officer in the Royal Navy, you joined and attended officer training at Dartmouth. Upon completion you served ten years in the Royal Navy, the last five on the HMS Illustrious. As I said before, you were probably in line for a prestigious post on the newest British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth II, but you left the Royal Navy in 2010 to join the ESEP.” Wendy paused again and sat down.

Jenna sat in silence. She knew Wendy would have looked at her record, but she was surprised at the detail that she could recall. Wendy either had an amazing memory or she was very intrigued by her history.

Wendy resumed, “I couldn’t find an unenthusiastic review of your work in your file. Everywhere you’ve been your superiors gush over your skills of managing people, logistics, and just getting things done. It seems like the harder the task, the more you dive in and find the answers.”

Jenna said, “You certainly know my history. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone my grandfather was an officer in the Royal Navy.”

Wendy replied, “It’s my job to find out more than what’s in the file; however, I’m missing part of the picture.” Jenna knew what Wendy was probably talking about, but decided to play dumb. She inquired, “What part?”

When you were vetted they only found one significant relationship and that was for only two years. You ended the relationship with her shortly before you joined ESEP. My experience has been that work is often a substitute for harder things like relationships and that usually is a personality time bomb. Care to fill me in?”

Jenna knew that any good psychologist would see the obvious lack of a personal life and be concerned. She had self-assessed her lack of relationships and it was the part of her life that she found uncomfortable.

Still, she confronted challenges and she knew it would be better to be open with the Counselor than to let her guess. Jenna looked down at her glass and then looked back at Wendy and began,

When I was in Secondary school I fell in love with a young man who I believed was my perfect match. We were together for over a year and I was sure we would get married after graduation. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the same plan and we broke up. My mother helped me work through the loss, but it changed our relationship. From then on she questioned me incessantly about any potential relationship and it became easier to simply avoid them. College gave me a chance to focus on my education and career goals and I didn’t have time to become romantically involved.” Jenna took her last sip of wine.

After a moment Jenna began again, “The Royal Navy was virtually the same as school. No time to become romantically involved and there were the of issues with rank and sex. I did have one night stands, but never with a sailor or officer. I also discovered that I enjoyed being with a woman as much as a man. I met someone in Portsmouth and we kept in touch. At some point we started becoming serious and we moved in together. It was fine as long as I had time away, but it became tedious the more time I spent at home. I eventually decided to make some changes in my life and leaving her and the Royal Navy were those changes.”

Wendy sat in silence for a moment then suddenly said, “OK,” and stood up. She continued, “Another psychologist would have a field day with this, but I just want you to be aware that we should talk about any romantic feelings you develop on this mission for a crew member. You know from your naval experience the complications of romantic relationships; however, ESEP’s position is that crew romances are okay as long as they are consensual, open, and don’t distract from the duties and mission.”

Wendy started again, “My concern is that if and when you begin having romantic feelings that you might need help on how you construct a new personal life within the confines of this monster of a task you have taken on. You are an extraordinary person who has done extraordinary things and will continue to do so. If your personal life develops and you feel you are moving out of your comfort zone, let me know. I don’t expect you’re going to give me much work unless you catch a love bug. Fair enough?”

Jenna smiled and stood up. “Fair enough.” Wendy then said, “Get some sleep, tomorrow is another long Mars day.” With that she turned and walked toward the door. Jenna followed her, told her thanks and good night and closed the door.

Wade was impressed. She had not expected Stevens to validate her life path and put her lack of relationships as a cautionary concern, rather than a psychological red flag. She began to realize why Nick Castillo, the ESEP Director, recommended her as ship’s Counselor. She collected the wine glasses and the empty bottle then stopped.

“Damn, she’s good,” Wade quietly said to herself.