Chapter 07: Assimilated

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Saturday, Sol 56 (1.1.56)  19:05 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 29 February 2016  2:00 PM PST
  • Distance traveled:  12,623,747 kilometers   Time Delay:  36 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  379,786,005 kilometers

Noctis on MarsThe aft camera was focused on the ESS Carl Sagan as it approached. At a hundred kilometers away it looked big with the Earth and the Moon behind it. This was the first flight of this design and while both the Sagan and the Queen Elizabeth II consisted of the same elements, the Sagan was longer and had more cargo Quills.

The Sagan was longer than the QE II, but the with the exception of the stowaway, Zeke Jackson, the Sagan had no crew. The QE II was meant to carry all the ‘organics’ including humans.

The QE II had fired its ICP drive and was now travelling 94 kilometers per hour slower than the Sagan. The QE II would now slowly increase its velocity using chemical reaction engines. When the Sagan comes along the QE II will match its speed.

As the First Officer, Anna was in charge of the final maneuvers and in charge of merging the two ships into one. She was also responsible for the new crew member, Zeke, that snuck on the Sagan and faked his death. Anna was not pleased with Zeke; however, he would make her work easier.

Anna called over to Zeke on the Sagan. He responded quickly to her call, “This is Zeke.” Anna asked, “Zeke, I’m showing all hab sections powered up. Did you do a line check on all the fluid lines?” Zeke got to know most of the crew while he was on the construction team, but Anna tended cold and impersonal. He was cautious around her. “Yes, Ma’am. I did a pressure check and visual of all the lines,…twice. I have one line in Quill 1B that I’d like to check again. It was damp and I wasn’t sure if it was condensation or a small leak.”

Anna was doubtful. When she did a line check it took her three hours. He was saying he did it in two hours and did a visual survey twice. She would check the tapes later. She suspected he was trying to ‘Biff‘ her, but for now she would play along.

Anna continued, “You can go ahead and disconnect couplings between Quill 1 and the Core Command section.” Zeke replied, “That’s already done Ma’am, and I’ve sealed the bulkhead hatches and tested them. They are ready for SEP as soon as you are alongside.” Again, Anna was doubtful, but this she could check right now. She pulled up cameras on both sides of the bulkhead hatches and in fact, they were closed and sealed. She checked the status of the seal, and it was a green light to SEP.

Anna was impressed…a little..and she said, “Very well.” Zeke then took a chance, “Ma’am, may I suggest something?” Anna didn’t like pushy people, but she also didn’t have a good reason to refuse him. Anna said, “Go ahead.” Zeke said, “The Sagan is ready for the QE II’s hab section. I know we’re into evening, but it would take less than an hour to integrate your hab section as soon as you are here. That would leave the Command section, the cargo section, and the ICP section to integrate, and I can get do them tomorrow.”

Anna was amused. This guy had no clue of what he was talking about. He was going to do a week’s worth of work in two days. Anna decided to let him down slowly, “Zeke, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but that is pushing our schedule too much. I will run it by the Commodore, but I’m pretty sure will stick to the recommended schedule.” Zeke replied, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.” Anna responded, “No, I guess not. I’ll check in with you when we are alongside.”

Anna ended her conversation, and then called up the video of the Sagan for the last few hours. She was able to condense all the video by sorting for movement and the file now showed every place that Zeke had been. She began skimming and watched him work. He was fast. He decoupled and sealed the bulkheads faster than Anna thought possible. He wasted no motion. His visual check of the lines was brilliant. He had a cloth or paper and a vapor tester. He ran the paper down the hoses and looked for moisture then scanned them with the tester. He was especially thorough around couplings where a leak was more likely. She watched him come back the way he came checking the lines again.

Anna was going to wait to talk to the Commodore about Zeke’s idea, but she decided that maybe they should consider his plan. She climbed down two decks to the Commodore’s station and saw him talking to the Admiral. Jenna saw her and asked, “How’s Zeke doing?” “Very well,” she replied. “He’s amazing fast in his work.”

Jenna said, “I think you’ll like him once you get to know him.” Anna continued, “About Zeke, he suggested, and I discouraged this, but he suggested that we move the hab section over immediately once were alongside, and then he said he could get the other three sections done tomorrow. I know that’s ridiculous, but I wanted you to be aware of his suggestion.

Ken said, “Does he have the Sagan ready for SEP?” Anna said, “Yes, and I verified his work.” Ken looked at Jenna, “Your thoughts?” Jenna said, “As long as we can have everything ready on our end, then it would be great to transfer the flag tonight and be already settled in.” Ken turned back to Anna, “Can we have our section ready?” Anna was a little amazed they were taking this idea seriously…and a little defensive about whether she could have ‘her’ ship ready. Anna stood up straight and said, “Yes, we can be ready by the time we’re alongside.” Ken said, “Excellent, let’s make that our plan unless somebody has an issue with it.”

He tapped his pad to call the Comm Center. Krista Parker was on duty, “Yes, Commodore?” Ken said, “Krista, give me a Code Alert and tie me into the Sagan, and ESEP.” Krista said, “Yes, sir…….All stations, all hands, CODE ALERT from Commodore Hart.” Ken tapped in and said,

“Crew of the QE II and the Sagan. We are considering merging the Hab sections of the QE II with the Sagan and transferring the flag as soon as we are alongside. That would give us about one hour to prepare the QE II. The Sagan is ready to receive us once we are there. The cargo sections, the ICP drive and the Core Command would be integrated tomorrow. In ten minutes the First Officer will call for a go/no go from all the crew. Thank you.”

Jenna looked at her pad and laughed. Nick had sent her a message. It said,

“ESEP engineers are having cardios. Warn me next time you’re going to try to kill my staff. :)”

Ken then tied into Keira and Zeke, “Keira and Zeke, are you good with this?” Keira replied, “Zeke and I have been discussing this. I figured it was a no go, but it is really easy peasy.” Ken continued, “Zeke, are you good to go out in a pod and tug us?” Zeke said, “Pod is ready and I’m good to go.”

Ken then turned back to Anna, “Okay, Anna. Put it into motion. Do the go/no go, but don’t wait until then to start prep.” Anna said, “You realize that if we actually get all this done by tomorrow, we’ll be a week ahead. 

Jenna said, “That’s it!” Ken and Anna looked at her. Jenna continued, “We’ve been trying to figure out what holiday to have for the first day of Sur 2. It is Assimilation Day, and we will have two days to plan it!

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Sunday, Sol 57 (1.1.57)  18:27 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 1 March 2016  2:00 PM PST
  • Distance traveled:  15,320,808 kilometers   Time Delay:  48 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  377,088,944 kilometers

Jenna tapped the blinking icon on her workstation on the Command deck. It was the Comm Center. “Is it the Director?,” Jenna asked. Naomi said, “Yes. The message just came in.” Jenna asked, “Are you ready?” Naomi again said, “Yes.” Jenna looked over at Ken and he nodded to her. Jenna looked back at Naomi’s image on her monitor, “Okay, let’s do this. Run the Director’s first message and then set us up for concurrent transmission.”

The ESS Queen Elizabeth II and the ESS Carl Sagan had rendezvoused last night and the crew had moved the rotating hab sections over from QE II and merged them into the Sagan forward of the its rotating hab section. It had gone smoothly and within an hour the merge was secure. This left the QE II in two sections alongside the Sagan. Her Core Command section was about one hundred meters in front of the cargo and ICP drive sections.

The next step was to merge the rest of the QE II to the Sagan. As of last night the plan was to do it all today, which was considered to be a week’s worth of work. The Ken and Jenna had planned to begin again this morning, but instead the plan was changed. The crew spent the day working out the details of the plan and now they were about to do something that had never been done before…and ESEP had no clue about the change.

The engineers at ESEP were already in opposition to the plan to do the rest of the merger of the ships in one day, but they could only advise, not make demands or restrict the crew or its command. In addition, the two ships had traveled almost 15 million kilometers in less than a week and the time delay in radio signal transmission was 48 seconds one way. The authority of the Admiral and Commodore were absolute by right and by reason.

Jenna could see Naomi tap her console and instantly Nick’s image was up at her secondary monitor. Nick said,

“Good evening, Jenna. I hope you got some rest today. Congratulations again on merging the QE II hab section with the Sagan. Our engineering team down here is reluctantly praising how quickly and smoothly it went. That said, they would like to see a formal plan of the rest of the assimilation, and they would like to advise a less ambitious schedule than trying to finish the job in one day. I’m assuming that you intended to begin tomorrow, but if you need another day of rest, that would be fine with everyone here. They have reminded me that you have three and a half months before you get to Mars. Also, the Counseling team is concerned about any mishap that might occur in a rushed schedule. They feel it might impact crew morale. As for me, do whatever you think is best and I’ll work it out with the people down here. I trust your judgement. It would help me if you send a plan so I can occupy them with something. Thanks!”

Nick’s image was replaced by a “Ready for concurrent transmission – time delay: 48 seconds,” which meant that she had an open channel to ESEP on Earth but the delay would be 48 seconds between her transmission and its arrival to Earth, plus the time it took for them to respond, plus the 50 seconds for their signal to reach her.

Jenna began to send her response to Nick,

“Good morning, Nick. We did sleep, but we’ve had a very busy day. As far as our formal plan of assimilation, Naomi is sending that to you now. It is a complete step-by-step process and has been reviewed and approved by the Command team. As for the ground Counseling team’s concern of our crew’s emotional state I asked Wendy and Dr. Summers to perform a crew readiness evaluation today and their reports are also being transmitted as I speak. You asked me to forewarn you when we might endanger the health of your engineering team, so please consider this your warning. In the report you have received you will learn that today the crew banded together to put into motion a different plan for the ship merger. As soon as I’m finished here we will announce a Code Alert for our ships and ESEP divisions concerned with the ship operations. We will then begin a continuous feed until the assimilation is complete. Our entire crew will be dedicated to this effort, so we have assigned Ms. Pierce as ESEP liaison. She will monitor and control all communications with ESEP. We are now on Priority Comm protocols. With that, Naomi, a Code Alert please.”

Naomi announced, “All stations, all hands, CODE ALERT from Rear Admiral Wade.”

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Sunday, Sol 57 (1.1.57)  18:49 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 1 March 2016  2:22 PM PST


Jenna began, “All stations, all hands we are initiating Assimilation Plan Delta. We are now on Priority Comm protocols. Communication only between linked subgroups, unless it is an emergency. Let’s look smart out there. Ms. Paige Flores, initiate go/no go.”

Priority Comm protocols meant that only the parties actively involved in a process or procedure were allowed to communicate with each other unless there was an emergency that someone outside the subgroup was aware of that needed to be communicated. This effectively told everyone at ESEP, “Just watch and don’t bug us.” ESEP could contact Naomi, but she would be the judge of what information to pass on to the crew and what to hold for later.

From her workstation Paige called out, “Assimilation Plan Delta subgroup, stand by” Paige then began calling through the list:

“Sagan Prime?” Anna responded, “Go.”

“QE Prime?” Keira responded, “Go”

Paige continued the list which involved almost all the crew, including the crew in construction pods. She finally wrapped up the list:

“Assimilation Crew Chief?” Zeke responded, “Go.”

“Operation Observer?”  Jeramy responded, “Go.”

Paige said, “Commodore Hart, all stations ready.”

Ken joined the group, “Jeramy show us what you have.”

Fifty seconds later Nick and the rest of the ground team on Earth saw the view from Jeramy’s construction pod. He was stationed about a kilometer above and looking down on the Sagan. Also in the view were the two sections of the QE II to its starboard side. His function was to keep an eye on the bigger picture while providing visual information for everyone involved.

Ken continued, “QE II Prime, begin Cargo section SEP.” Within seconds the image showed the cargo and ICP drive sections separate from each other. The QE II was now in three sections. Ken waited until the sections were only meters apart and then said, “QE II Prime, begin 180 Yaw on ICP and Command sections.” Slowly both the Command and ICP sections began rotating clockwise. This maneuver was necessary because both would be attached to the Sagan facing the opposite direction; however, ESEP procedures demanded that all ship construction and deconstruction work be done one step at a time. What the Mars Mission crew was doing was beautiful space ballet, but it was not protocol.

While the two QE II sections were rotating the Commodore continued, “Sagan Prime, begin SEP procedure.” The Sagan began to separate between the aft-most rotating Quill hab section, and the forward most Quill cargo section. As the two sections were moving farther apart Ken said, “”QE II Prime, move and merge cargo sections to the Sagan.” It was about this time that the Command and ICP sections of the QE II had completed a 180 degree spin and they stopped. Keira announced, “180 yaw maneuver complete.” Ken responded, “Good, QE II Prime, move those sections into place and merge them.”

Nick’s office was starting to have a flow of engineers walking in muttering and saying things, “What the hell?”, “What are they doing?”, and “Who do they think they are?” Nick knew he was going to have to calm them all down, but now he was mesmerized by the perfect dance of massive ships on his monitor.

In 38 minutes it was all done. The ESS Queen Elizabeth II was no longer an independent ship and it was now part of the ESS Carl Sagan. The engineers back on Earth were mostly angry; however, a few rebel engineers were pleased that someone took on the current protocols that were burdened with single step maneuvers, and failed to utilize the current technologies.

All this was possible because the computer was actually maneuvering the sections and the humans were the inspectors making sure everything was going as planned. Theoretically, everything could be done at the same moment because the computer was aware of where every section was in space and what direction it was moving.

Part of the anger of the engineers was due to the exposure of their over-cautious approach to ship construction. The crew of the new flagship Sagan proved the capabilities of the computer guidance and management software, and spaceship construction was about to become a lot faster than thought possible.

As for the 29 crew members of the Sagan, they could now look forward to several days of relaxation….except for the Admiral and Commodore, they would have hours of video meetings added so that ESEP divisions could tell them where they almost went wrong.

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Tuesday, Sol 59 (1.1.59)  17:10 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Thursday, 3 March 2016  2:00 PM PST
  • Distance traveled:  22,530,600 kilometers   Time Delay:  72 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  369,879,152 kilometers

Nick was glad that Jenna was over 22 million kilometers away from the people around him. He didn’t think she was a violent person, but she would have cause to injure the Director of ESEP Engineering, Paul-Henri Giroux. He and several top engineers who had demanded this meeting to ‘get the Admiral set straight.’

In an unusual move, the engineers had found an ally in the ESEP Counseling team. Their concerns about crew morale seemed to be strengthened by the radical merger of the two ships in less than forty minutes. It demonstrated that the leadership of the Mars mission was asserting their independence from ESEP and that, from an organizational standpoint, was a possible symptom of instability of leadership.

Paul-Henri had his engineers go through a long list of procedures that had been violated or performed out of sequence in the deconstruction of the Queen Elizabeth II, and the merger with the Carl Sagan. His twenty-minute presentation of engineering sins was meant to emphasize the concerns of the ESEP Counseling team.

Jenna patiently waited until Paul-Henri was through. There was now a one minute and ten second delay in her receiving the video. About two and a half minutes later Nick and the ground teams received Jenna’s response,

“I believe you’re correct. Our crew violated all of those procedures. What you fail to understand is that those procedures were for ship deconstruction and construction under your strict clinical limitations. Limitations that are outdated and overly cautious. We’re past clinical ship construction and now we are doing it. We rewrote the procedures and sent them to you. We weren’t asking for your approval because it would be a waste of everyone’s time. As for our mental state and motivations, we have learned something in the short time we’ve been a crew. We’ve learned that Mars doesn’t favor the cautious or the timid. It would be easy to let every problem or issue chop away at us and reduce our confidence. What you are a witness to is our response to the challenge that is before us. We are going to Mars, not to Disney World. We have to step up our game, and we are. I would suggest you do the same.”

The silence was deafening. Jenna did not step on anyone’s toes, rather, she took a hammer and crushed them.

Paul-Henri broke the silence and he knew his words wouldn’t reach the Rear Admiral until after he finished, “Nick, I’m sure the problem is obvious. I know this makes it difficult for you, but it is apparent that the Rear Admiral must be relieved of command.”

Nick looked down, and then looked at Jenna on the main monitor. Finally, he spoke,

“Jenna, I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go………… do whatever you need to get done. My apologies for putting you through this, but I had to find out if they could handle the transition. Paul-Henri, thank you for your service to ESEP. You’ll find Mr. Duncan has some people waiting outside the room to help you transition out of ESEP. People, there will be other changes and some of you are going to be leaving ESEP tomorrow. You’re role was important to get us where we are; however, that role is complete. We now have an operational space program and our new role is one of consultant and advisor, not overlord and master. We don’t make the decisions, the crews do. NASA got bogged down with people who never left the ground, trying to tell the people in space how to do their job. That isn’t going to happen here. Counseling team, I think it’s great that Wendy is willing to work with you. If she ever decides that you are not a valuable resource for her, you’re gone. She, and every other Counselor on a mission will be your superior. I don’t have time for your second guessing and contrary analysis. You’re not there, so don’t pretend you know more than Wendy or the Command team of the ship. You either make the transition to your new role or you walk. “

Nick ended abruptly. He then turned and looked at the monitor. “Jenna, again, my apologies. I think we now have an understanding among the ESEP team. I got your notes on the holiday. Assimilation Day. I like it. I would like to share a drink with your crew tomorrow around five in the afternoon if they’re up for it. Maybe we can get ESEP to the point of assimilating with your team by Thursday….but it may take us a little longer. Sleep well tonight, you deserve it!”

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Wednesday, Sol 60 (1.1.60)  16:31 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Friday, 4 March 2016  2:00 PM PST
  • Distance traveled:  26,135,496 kilometers   Time Delay:  84 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  366,274,256 kilometers

Zeke sat facing Jenna’s workstation in her quarters. On the monitors were Commodore Dubois and Director Castillo. In front of him were four other people. Rear Admiral Wade, Commodore Hart, First Officer Flores, and Wendy Stevens were all focused on him. For Zeke, it was Judgement Day.

Jenna started by saying, “Zeke, I think I know how you did it, but would you explain how you got from the brig on Earth Prime to the Sagan?

Zeke replied,

“Yes, Ma’am. I was able to get out of the brig by detaching the storage locker in the room from the wall. The locker was locked, but if you lift it from one of the front corners and pull out at the same time, It will usually pop out. They don’t have a wall cover behind the storage locker so I was able to get into the wall. Once in the wall I could get almost anywhere on that deck.”

Jenna interjected, “Why did you come out where Security could see you?” Zeke replied,

“I didn’t come out where they could see me. I had to go to the pods first and program the one pod and prep both of them. After that I went back to get their attention. I needed them to know I had escaped. I then worked my way back….”

Claude’s delayed question interrupted him, “How did you call Earth Prime from the pod that burned up?” Zeke replied, “I called you from the pod I was hiding on, but I routed the transmission through the other pod, sir.”

Jenna asked, “How did you get to the Sagan?” “I undocked at the same time Davis undocked,” Zeke replied, “I assumed that if anyone noticed they would think the two pods were leaving to chase the other pod. I held my position for a few minutes and then drifted along the structure and up the Sagan. I was docked, unloaded all my equipment, and settled in by the time the other pod burned up.”

Wendy spoke up, “What happened during acceleration? You were hit with more G’s than the human body was designed for.”

Zeke smiled, “I pulled some of the hab insulation out of storage and created a compression bed. It took a little time to rig it up, but I had the time. It was tough, but …”

Again, Zeke was interrupted by the delayed question, this one from the Director, “What was your plan if Jenna hadn’t figured out that you were already on the ship?” Zeke responded, “I wasn’t going to surprise them. I planned on calling them once the Sagan caught up to them.”

Jenna leaned forward, “Zeke, you understand that no one is condoning what you did.” Zeke answered, “Oh no, Ma’am. I expect to be punished.”

Jenna said, “Zeke, would you tell us about your role in the merger of the two ships.” Zeke looked confused and said,

“Uhm, after we merged the hab sections I met up with the crew and I started talking to Keira…uhm, the pilot. I told her that at Earth Prime the engineer’s procedures were based on human docking practices and didn’t account for the computer’s capability of multitasking. The First Officer joined the discussion and pretty soon we were creating procedures on how to speed up…expedite the assimilation process. Anna, uhm..the First Officer showed our plan to Commodore Hart, who showed it to you.”

Anna interrupted, “Actually, Zeke says it was our plan, but it was Zeke’s knowledge of ship construction that helped lay out the new procedures. He had every procedure in his head and we wrote it down. In the end, he had not missed a step that needed to be done.”

Zeke looked a little embarrassed, and then said, “May I say something?” Jenna said, “Yes.” Zeke looked at Claude and said,

“Commodore Dubois, I enjoyed working under your command, and I hope you do not think that I wanted to trick or deceive you. I’m sorry that I put everyone in a bad position, but I really hope that you don’t think I was ungrateful for the opportunities you gave me on Earth Prime.”

Jenna said, “Zeke, we have made it official that you are on our crew and under our command. Do you understand that you are obligated to follow our orders and abide by our rules?” Zeke nodded his head and said, “Yes, Ma’am. If I didn’t I might jeopardize everyone’s life.”

Jenna then added, “We appreciate your work you have done since you’ve been on our crew. You will have a work detail and expected to perform to the highest standards.”

Zeke said, “Yes, Ma’am” Jenna then said, “Zeke, thank you. You’re dismissed.” Zeke said, “Thank you, Ma’am.” and stood up and walked out of Jenna’s quarters.

Jenna turned toward Wendy and said, “Your assessment.” Wendy said, “Based on his history and his interactions with the crew, he genuinely wants to be a part of our team. I think his rebellion was not a rebellion, but a reach for a dream.”

Anna jumped in and said, “I was very skeptical about him, but his work and his understanding of our ships gives us an advantage on this mission I never knew was missing. He is a resource…” She was interrupted by Commodore Dubois, “Zeke was the….I’m sorry…I’ll go ahead and continue since I’ve already interrupted, I was going to say, Zeke was our best crew member in thinking outside the box. He could take the most difficult problem and come up with a brilliant solution. I will miss him; however, I suspect we will benefit from his work on your crew….again, sorry for interrupting you Anna.”

Anna looked at Claude on the monitor and said, “No problem, I really said I’ll I had to say.”

Jenna said, “Nick, unless you have a problem with it, I think we burn his past. If he was a normal person I’d put him in a pod and say good luck, but I agree with Anna, he’s too valuable of an asset to waste time and worry about punishment.” Everyone in the room nodded, and then looked at Nick’s monitor for his response. A little over three minutes later Nick smiled and responded.

“Why are we still talking about this?”