Chapter 08: First Holiday

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 1 (1.2.1)  15:52 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 5 March 2016  2:00 PM PST
  • Distance traveled:  29,740,392 kilometers   Time Delay:  96 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  362,669,360 kilometers

Keira and Zeke had been sent to inspect the four construction pods. Zeke took the opportunity to give Keira a quick orientation on the construction pods and what they could and couldn’t do. She and Zeke had a pilot to pilot understanding and that established a friendship through common interest.

Zeke was telling Keira a story about a pod pilot that failed to close the pod’s interior hatch before undocking when they both were ordered to report to the Auxiliary Command deck.

As they floated down the core they noticed the lights were down near the hab sections. The only thing glowing were the color coded gravity indicator lights running down the Command Quill. They headed down into the Quill to determine the problem, but at the entrance to the third section there were two people in space suits blocking their way. The sun visors were down so they couldn’t tell who was in the suits.

The space suit on their left held out its hand. His voice was coming through the ship’s intercom and he said, “Halt! You are not one with us!” The second space suit pointed at Keira. It was a female voice and they recognized it to be the First Officer, Anna, who said, “What is your name Earthling!” Keira kind of smiled and said, “Keira?” Anna then insisted, “YOUR FULL NAME!” Keira shrugged and said, “Keira Choi.” Anna fired back,”Your REAL Full Name!”

Keira was a little mystified. Her father was Korean and her mother was Japanese, but Keira had lived in the United States since she started school. Her first teacher called her Keira, which she discovered made it easier to fit in with the other kids. She hadn’t used her real first name in two decades. Keira quietly responded, “Mariko Choi.”

Zeke was a little surprised by this revelation that Keira’s name was not Keira, but he didn’t have long to consider it as the male spacesuit pointed at him and demanded, “WHAT IS YOUR FULL NAME?” Zeke looked at him and said, “Ezekiel Apollo Jackson.” The voice continued, “Mariko Choi and Ezekiel Apollo Jackson, you are to go immediately to the Command deck and await your trial!”

The two in spacesuits moved aside and Keira and Zeke continued down the Quill. The sections were still dark until they reached the Command deck in section five, but lights in that section came on as they passed through the threshold. Crew members were standing at the edge of each deck as they moved into the section and came to the Rear Admiral and Commodore’s deck.

There the Director of Science, Lanny Deaton, and the Director of Communications, Naomi Pierce had them move on to the deck where Jenna and Ken were standing. Ken began, “Mariko Choi and Ezekiel Apollo Jackson. You stand accused of failure to be assimilated. How do you plead?”

Zeke timidly said, “Guilty?” At this all the crew began stomping their feet and yelling out “Guilty!”

Ken said, “Mariko Choi and Ezekiel Apollo Jackson you have been found guilty…” At this Keira said, “I didn’t say I was guilty.” At this Ken said, “A Denier! She must be cleansed! Take her to the showers! At this crew members moved in to Keira and started to take her off the deck and she yelled, “WAIT, WAIT…I’m guilty, I’m guilty, just like Zeke.” At this the crew moved away from her and Ken resumed, “As I was saying, you have been found guilty and are to be sentenced immediately! Rear Admiral Wade, the suspects are guilty and await your sentencing.”

Jenna stepped forward, held a cup with a clear liquid in it and said, “Crew of the ESS Carl Sagan. We have two that have been found guilty of failure to be assimilated. As today, the first day of Sur Two, is declared to be Assimilation Day, I, as Rear Admiral of this mission to Mars do assign the sentence for Mariko Choi and Ezekiel Apollo Jackson be made to drink this Potion of Assimilation.”

At that point she gave the cup to Keira who tentatively sipped from the cup to the boos of the crew. Jenna put the cup to Keira’s lips and tipped it up until she had emptied it. A small amount spilled from each corner of her mouth and she shuddered as she swallowed it. Naomi stepped forward and filled the cup halfway. Jenna turned to Zeke who reached for the cup and downed the contents without spilling any, then he held out the cup to Naomi for more. Wild laughter broke out among the crew.

Amid the noise and celebration all monitors in the Command section went black. Everyone stopped and looked at the blank screens. Seconds later all the screens were filled with the following message:


  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 1 (1.2.1)  17:12 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 5 March 2016  2:41 PM PST

The festivities for Assimilation Day came to a sudden end. A ‘Command Alert’ was an alert of the highest level. The Director of ESEP, Nick Castillo, once said, “If I issue a Command Alert during the mission, assume we are being invaded by an alien species and Earth has already been overrun.” It crossed Jenna’s mind that maybe Nick was playing a prank, but she knew Nick well enough that he would never toy with a communication that might potentially be mission ending.

Jenna was surrounded as she approached her monitor over her workstation. She touched the red flashing icon and the screen pulled up a video image of the Director’s work suite in San Jose, California, but no one was in camera range. After a moment, Mr. Duncan stepped into view. He began,

“Rear Admiral Jenna Wade, I must inform you that one of the three planes carrying the Director and the Executive team has been lost in route from Spain to California. We have been waiting for more information, but here is what we know currently. The first two planes took off from the Barcelona airport yesterday between 20:18 and 20:27 Noctis Standard Time. The third plane had a mechanical issue that was resolved and it left at 21:41 Noctis Standard Time. The first two planes arrived in San Jose at 07:38 and 07:52 Noctis Standard Time.

We last had contact with the third plane at 03:23 Noctis Standard Time and it was located south of Greenland. The plane should have checked in with Nav Canada at approximately 04:11, but did not. I should have landed shortly after 09:00 but it did not. We will send you more information as soon as is appropriate.”

And the screen went blank. “What the HELL!,” yelled Jenna, “We will send you more information as soon as appropriate??? Who was on that plane? Why did it take them over twelve hours after it went missing for them to contact me? Who is in charge down there?”

Jenna paused for a moment and Reserve crew members Ian Banks and Peyton Rhodes came to the deck. Peyton said, “Admiral, we’ve received orders from ESEP to arrest you and put you in the brig. What the hell is going on?” Then Jeramy Prater came down and said, “Admiral, I just got orders to secure my area and then assist in a ship leadership change. Is this a holiday joke?”

Jenna looked at Ken and said, “It looks like they are staging a coup and you’re to be in command.” Anna said, “Nope, they apparently don’t like Ken either. My message says I am to oversee the arrest of the Admiral and be prepared to arrest the Commodore, then assume command and standby for new orders. Can I tell them where they can stick it?”

Jenna thought for a moment, and then said, “No. I want you to do your job. It’s the best way for us to find out what is going on.”

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 1 (1.2.1)  16:58 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 5 March 2016  3:06 PM PST

Jenna began climbing the Quill, followed by Ken, Ian, and Peyton. She was stopped when Naomi said, “Admiral, I’m showing that ESEP is trying to link to our systems. Do you want me to lock them out?” Jenna immediately called Jeramy, “Jeramy, have you secured the munitions?” Jeramy responded, “No.” “Do so, now, before you meet up with us,” Jenna replied, “and make sure that the IPC drive has a hard disconnect from the computer. I don’t want ESEP to be able to fire our engines.” Jeramy said, “Aye, aye.”

Jenna looked at Naomi and said, “Naomi, can you set ESEP up so they can access systems, but we can cut them off at anytime and undo anything they do….and make it look like we tried to stop them, but lost?” “Yes,” Naomi replied and then she turned to Paige, “Paige, block the ESEP signal, then take a system snapshot, then increase the encryption to 256, build a dummy pathway at 128, and an isolated block for ESEP commands that we can shut down and erase.” Paige nodded and got to work.

Jenna then said, “Alright everyone, remember, make it real. Don’t refuse ESEP orders, but don’t blindly follow them either. Naomi, cameras back up and recording when Jeramy meets up with us at the core.” At that Jenna and the other three began the long climb to the center of the ship.

The brig was located in the seventh section of Sagan’s hab Quill. It was meant to be as far away from any command areas and in the heaviest gravity environment on the ship. It also had the heaviest shielding on the ship as the end of each Quill received more exposure to cosmic rays than the core section.

Once there she and Ken were unceremoniously pushed in and the door was locked. Ian stood guard while Jeramy and Peyton moved back to the their workstations. As Peyton returned to the Command deck, Paige nodded to Anna that she had finished her work. Anna called Jeramy and confirmed he had secured his area.

Now it was time for Act I. “Anna said, Naomi, connect me to ESEP Actual.” In a second a screen came up that said, “Transmitting to ESEP Actual – 97 sec. delay.” Anna began,

“ESEP Actual, per orders from Mr. Duncan we have taken Rear Admiral Wade and Commodore Hart under custody, and I have temporarily assumed command of the ship and the mission. I would like to know under what authority I was directed to take this action and what they are charged with, as my actions could be construed as mutiny, and I have a crew that can correctly question my actions. I also need further guidance as to what my next action is to be. I await your response.”

Anna stood by waiting for their answer. While she did, Paige noticed that someone was trying to access the ship command software from ESEP. She watched them struggle with the encryption and estimated it would take them another five minutes to gain control of the ship. ESEP probably would have rather just taken over the ship, but they needed to buy five minutes, so it wasn’t a surprise when Mr. Duncan appeared on the ship’s monitors. Mr. Duncan said,

“Well done, First Officer Anna. We will determine your new rank and promotion later. I understand you concern about the actions you have been forced to take; however, please know that you have been entirely justified in taking command of the ship. We realized a few day’s ago that there was a significant leadership problem on the ship; however, we were made powerless to address the problem. With the tragic loss of many of the ESEP Executives last night we have recommitted to restoring the Mars Mission to normal protocols. When the ESS Queen Elizabeth II had a misfire of a dozen fuel pellets, we had recommended it return to Earth. Had that been done, we would not be where we are now. The new leadership of ESEP has determined that the Mars Mission is not viable and must return to Earth for a refit and crew replacement. Some of your crew may be eligible to leave on the next mission; however, past and current adherence to ESEP orders will be a significant determination for eligibility. Your orders are to arrest Zeke Jackson and put him in the brig with Wade and Hart. Anyone else who refuses to follow your directions should join them. At this time you should stand down operations and prepare for a direct return firing. We have decided to bring back the mission as quickly as possible. More information to follow.”

At this point all the ships systems blinked off and the ship went mostly dark except for emergency lighting. When the system came back up the workstations were all showing one message….

Now under ESEP control
Welcome back to Earth.

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 1 (1.2.1)  17:39 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 5 March 2016  3:47 PM PST

Jenna took a sip of tea and said, “We need to find out what is going on back on Earth.” The seven members of the Sagan Command team had gathered in her quarters to assess the situation at ESEP. ESEP had taken over control over the Sagan’s systems, but Paige had made sure they could only make temporary changes. ESEP could access ship cameras; however, Paige had improved upon’s Zeke’s usage of recording video and when ESEP pulled up any camera, they only saw what Paige wanted them to see. Currently, ESEP’s view of the brig showed Zeke, the Admiral and the Commodore pacing, sitting, and talking.

Wendy said, “I could try to contact some people on the ground team, but I don’t know who might be complicit with Mr. Duncan.” Naomi said, “Any call from anyone on the ship is going to be routed through ESEP and they will monitor those communications.”

Jenna’s door chimed. She found Paige waiting outside. Jenna brought her in and said, “What’s up, Paige?” Paige had a funny expression and said, “We got an audio message from Earth, but it wasn’t through ESEP. It came from the European Space Agency. ESEP deleted it almost immediately, but they don’t realize that they only are operating in a dummy block of software, so we still have the message in our system.” The door chimed again. Wendy crossed back to the door while Jenna said, “Paige, pull up the message.”

Jeramy was at the door. Jenna waved him in. He realized that he was interrupting something and waited. Paige played the message and Jenna recognized the voice immediately. It was Megan, Nick’s assistant,

“Admiral or Commodore, I don’t know if you will get this message, but I had to try to contact you. As you are probably aware, the Director and seven other top ESEP administrators were killed when their plane crashed somewhere in the North Atlantic. I was on one of the two planes that made it and I was aware the plane was missing before we landed in San Jose. On landing, we were held for debriefing; however, in hindsight, we were essentially kidnapped. I was told that since Nick was no longer the Director that I was relieved of duty and put on leave until such time that my position with ESEP could be determined. I don’t know that the crash was an intentional act, or just an opportunity for certain people to take advantage of; however, a few key people are using the crisis to seize control of ESEP. At this point, the people who supported Nick and his administration are locked out of ESEP. I don’t know what is happening with your mission, but I do know that many of the people involved have been very unhappy about our decisions in the past few weeks and would rather see the mission return to Earth. Good luck. I will contact you with more information when I have it. Good luck.”

Ken said, “Can we contact her through the Europeans?” Naomi and Paige, both shook their heads and Naomi said, “If we do, ESEP will also get the message and they will know the game were playing.” Jenna said, “I wish we could take over ESEP computers like they think they’ve taken over ours.” Paige said, “We can…well, I need a way to access their system, so they don’t realize it.” Jenna said, “What do you mean?” Paige replied, “I need to send them a normal file with code attached that will unlock their system and mask my manipulation…oh, and I need a transmission to piggyback on while I’m rewriting their code.”

Jeramy said, “Could it be a file of firing data?” Paige said, “Yes.” Jeramy smiled, “Mr. Duncan has sent me a message to reconnect the ICP drive to the computer. I was going to delay him by asking the Engineering to check my firing data to confirm the rack configuration. I could also send a transmission asking them several questions about the return and fuel required for the firings. I could talk for at least ten minutes.” Jenna looked at Paige, “Will that work?”

Paige said, “Easy peasy.” 

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur Two, Thursday, Sol 1 (1.2.1)  23:17 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Saturday, 5 March 2016  8:25 PM PST

The last few hours had been busy for the crew of the Sagan. Jeramy had been able to buy time with the ground Engineering team with questions and concerns. The over-cautious ESEP Engineering administrator, Paul-Henri Giroux, had been reinstated by ESEP along with several fired engineers who sought to have Rear Admiral Wade relieved of command. Jeramy was able to induce delays by raising safety issues related to a direct return firing. At one point he almost had the administrator considering four-month return that involved minimal fuel.

While Jeramy conducted multiple transmissions of questions, issues, and concerns, Paige hacked into the ESEP system. She was able to create a copy of their data and build a dummy ESEP data base that she could shut down at anytime. Paige also secured the real ESEP database from access and built three different ways to access it outside of the ESEP communication system.

In addition, Paige and the Comm team, supplied emails, and video and audio conversations to Jenna and her Command team. Within three hours they had determined who was involved in the coup and who was locked out from ESEP. Jenna was also able to send messages to Megan and explain what had happened. She also had Megan prepare a takeover team for all the ESEP facilities to move in on a moment’s notice. Once Jenna gave the word, specific people throughout the world and in orbit would discover they were locked out of the system and no longer an employee of ESEP.

ESEP had decided that they would begin the first firing for a direct return at 12:01 AM NST. Other than the Engineering team discussions, there had been very little communication from Mr. Duncan. It was clear he abhorred the crew and saw no reason to explain or discuss the situation with them. He desperately wanted to get them back and end the mission as quickly as possible.

However, since ESEP would be controlling the ship, they would have to warn the crew prior to the firings. This made a convenient deadline for the Sagan crew to end the charade and take action. Jenna waited for Mr. Duncan’s transmission, but at 11:45 PM NST Jenna looked at Anna and said, “Let’s pull the rug. Call Mr. Duncan and tell him we have a problem. Paige, stand ready.”

Anna smiled and said, “Paige, connect me to ESEP Actual.” A screen came up that said, “Transmission to ESEP Actual – 97 second delay.” Anna looked at her camera and said, “Mars Actual, we have a problem. We may need to delay the firing. Please respond.”

Jenna sent a message to pull the temporary computer connection he had established with the IPC drive. This effectively ended any firing and would send a signal to ESEP.

Paige announced, Message should be received in 75 seconds.” Paige did a countdown, then she allowed twenty seconds for them to establish a response, and then after another 33 seconds she signalled the Admiral. Jenna said, “Paige, enable program Castillo.” Paige touched and icon and multiple new screens came up on the Command deck.

Jenna and Ken stepped up next to Anna and looked at the camera. Jenna said, “Mr. Duncan, I hope I haven’t caught you in mid-sentence, but you may realize you are no longer in charge….Naomi.”

Naomi said, “COMMAND ALERT! All ESEP hands, all stations, standby for a message from Rear Admiral Wade.”

Jenna stepped forward and said,

“All ESEP employees. Today, we have had to deal with the tragic loss of some of our best leaders and we will miss them dearly. Unfortunately, Mr. Duncan, his security team, and several former employees took this opportunity to insert themselves as the decision-making authority for ESEP, and attempted to takeover all ESEP operations. That has ended as of this moment. We have established who was part of this effort and their access to all ESEP systems has been terminated. In most cases they will find themselves locked in their work areas. They are to be arrested by the local national authority and held for piracy, fraud, and kidnapping. I, am acting as temporary ESEP Director until we can reestablish an Earth-based leadership team. All ESEP systems are now under the control of the crew of the ESS Sagan and will remain that way until our leadership is restored. Megan De Luca, the Director’s Assistant will be the point of contact for ESEP. I am asking all departments and divisions to assess their current situation and issues that need resolution in the next twenty-four hours, next two days, next four days, next week, next two weeks, next month, and next two months. Our goal will be to be back under normal operations within two month. Sunday, Sur Two, Sol 4 will be a day of grieving for the friends we lost today. Thank you for your patience and time.”

Mr. Duncan stood bewildered, locked in the Director’s office in San Jose. All the computer screens around him had the same message,

Now Under Control of the ESS Sagan
Mars Can Be A Bitch