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Argo Two
Argo Four: the Final Mission.

The Argo Epic Three

©2020 Levite

The Argo Epic - and the rescue of the Terra Maru

NOTE: All Mission Logs Have Been Translated To English For This Edition.

Joint Mission Statement:
      The Argo Epic continues their historic in depth mission studying Mars, its natural satellites, and other astronomical features of the inner solar system.
      The relief crew has been assembled and the vehicle is currently under live testing with its own crew and has had a very successful run beyond the orbit of the moon, and while there, has proven an effective science platform in its own right conducting several experiments and gathering data. And the crew, while not made of up dedicated scientists, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of performing research as well as operating the transport ship.
      If all goes as planned, the relief ship will be commissioned for its voyage to rendezvous with the Argo Epic and sent on its way shortly.

1. Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      I got the official message while I was on my command shift: Our relief crew has left the space station and is on their way here on the new ship.
      The Terra Maru should arrive in, and the message was this exact: "Two Hundred and Twenty Three Days."
      Which is just over seven months.
      So I acknowledged the message and then sat and thought about how to make the announcement.
      Then I decided to have a bit of fun with it, and sent an individual private message to each person on the crew, and asked them not to tell anybody until it was publicly announced.
      Within five minutes I was getting calls asking if it was real and that "so and so" said they got it too. So much for shipboard security.
      The only one that could apparently keep the secret was the Commander, and he came up to Command to check it out for himself.
      The Terra Maru was essentially an over-sized version of the personnel transport used to move people between the old ISS and the ship assembly station.
      It looked like they'd taken some spare cargo containers, and attached them to a central spine of old rocket parts, and then arranged a large central section just ahead of that for living space. Just from looking at the pictures and video of the thing, I really wasn't sure where the command deck was. Then I decided that if the beast would fly, and it made it out here in one piece, it didn't matter, we'd let its crew take us home.
      For power, it had an odd array of solar panels and what had to be two prototypes of our own reactors on booms sticking out just in front of a seemingly obsolete collection of liquid fueled rocket engines on three pylons around the stern.
      But, they did leave Earth on time, at almost the optimal point for a transit to Mars, and they would be accelerating for the first eight weeks of the trip.
      There was a full crew to run the Terra Maru, and they would stay on that ship and return to Earth with it, completing the "Earth Circle" as the ship was named. Captain Dromgoole made it clear that his intention was to deliver his passengers and cargo and return to Earth, then return to Ireland, and to never leave his family's castle again.
      My comment to the good captain, who was referred to in his briefing information as an Irish Viking, was that was precisely what I wanted to do, but my castle was a Canadian farmhouse on the Masnieres River. He thought that was just as good.
      There was a full crew for the Argo on board.
      They included one American, one Brit (whose bio officially listed him as Welsh), a German, a Chinese from Hong Kong, an Argentine, a Dane, and, well, it was painfully obvious that Mission Control went out of its way once again to make the crew as diverse as possible.
      The group included several scientists to continue the investigation of Mars and the asteroids beyond. There was an engineer who was supposed to do some preliminary work prior to the attempt to put a base on the planet, focusing first on the Tharsis Rise, and then working through several other likely spots for a base, and then eventually a colony. There was also a crew member was was a science teacher, who had been a pilot for the German Air Force, and previously a candidate for an ESA seat on the Argo, his role on the ship would be to carry on what Ken has been doing, increase interest in the mission with school children.
      The others on the long term crew were medics, command crew, and engineers. Eleven regular crewmembers.
      There were supposed to be twelve, but one of them had to be withdrawn not long before launch when a brain scan revealed a previously un-diagnosed arterial problem. So now the new crew will not have an official third engineer. However, they do have two others who, together, have the qualifications to fill the position. And, given our history with our informal 'fourth' engineer, I think they'll be fine.

Ken's story:
      The first rover recovery launch from the surface went perfectly. In fact, we got worried because there hadn't been a glitch with the entire Sojourner rescue operation. The rig to load it on the rocket worked "as advertised", as the Chief Engineer put it. Then we ran through the checklist and scheduled the lift off so it would arrive in orbit just ahead of when we'd be passing over the site.
      Then we waited while the computer took over control of the mission.
      I was up in the Docking Ring to manually operate the grappling assembly that would take the captured container out of the net and transfer it to the airlock where Engineer Stan would bring it in.
      Finally I heard Officer Pelletier announced that we were twenty seconds from launch. Which meant we were about ten minutes from beginning the capture process.
      Pelletier gave us a running play by play as the rocket left the surface and headed almost straight up.
      "I've got it on our radar, we should be able to see it in a minute," she said.
      And then Mister Bianchi said he could see it with his high resolution video camera, "And it looks like it is intact," he added.
      And then I could see it through the nearest portal, and I was glad I had taken to gluing some homemade foil glitter all around it to reflect the sunlight so I knew for sure that it was our container and not some lost bit of a failed probe.
      "Synchronizing rotation and approach," the Commander said.
      In a minute we heard the Chief Engineer say "Thrusters responding."
      "I've got a good eye on it, it should go to net two," Pelletier said and you could hear her smiling, "get ready Ken, we don't want it to bounce out."
      "You catch it, I'll grab it," I answered.
      And that was exactly what happened. Although I didn't actually get a grip on it with the robotic arm the first time I tried to clamp the claw on one of the protrusions on the container, but doing that bumped it just enough that the claw closed firmly around it the second time.
      "Moving it to the airlock. Ready Stan?"
      "Bring it in," he said through the com in his EVA suit.
      There was silence for a couple of minutes while I moved it from the one arm to the one mounted on the central part of the ship. Stan grabbed it with his arm and swung the container around to the old airlock.
      "I've got it inside, shutting the outer door and re-pressurizing."
      Pelletier cheered, "Let's go see it!"
      We did.
      Sojourner had been on Mars since 1997. That was a long time out in the cold and sand storms and all the rest of it.
      And it looked it.
      The tiny rover had operated almost three times longer than it was meant to, but ever since then, it had been sitting half buried in sand, and subjected to everything Mars could throw at it.
      But now, looking at it, I was wondering if we could get it to run again. But I didn't say anything to the others as they took samples of the dust and sand that it was coated with.
      Then later, I took it to the robotics shop and thought about seeing if I could replace its lithium battery with some of the batteries we had for the various robots and other units on the ship.
      Engineer Stan thought it was a great idea, and justified it by saying then we could test the cameras and other on board systems because several decades of sandstorms had torn the solar cells on its roof to shreds.
      So, in between everything else, I worked on the rover.

2. Special Report from Specialist Adebayo
      It would seem that after several generations of living in these artificial conditions, some plants simply fail to thrive.
      We had considered this on Earth. And I have been working to limit inbreeding and self pollinating within species, but there was no way for us to get fresh stock of some of the plants I've been working with. Yes, some seeds were sent on various cargo pods, but even with that, and there was no way to ensure that what was being sent wasn't just more of the same gene group that I'd left with, I was having difficulty keeping some of my plants alive.
      And I don't think it was solely from lack of genetic diversity. I have begun to suspect that the hydroponics and 'fake soil' that we use just cannot sustain some plants indefinitely. Others, however, such as some of the dark leafy greens, not only are doing quite well, they have been expanded to the trays that some of the less hearty varieties no longer need.
      The same can be said for some of the animals we brought with us.
      The ants were doing OK, but that was all. I had thought they would need to be moved into a 'farm' that was now vacant because the beetles that had been in it had all died. And eventually, I did manage to split off some of the colony and start a second one, but it took far longer than various entomologists had said it would. But then after we were on our way to Mars, I noticed that some of the ants were showing signs of deformities that made me think that inbreeding was now a problem with them as well. But I also suspected that perhaps there was something else going on that could be related to everything from sheer monotony to cosmic rays.
      For the white mice we'd had an idea and went with it as a test. We had arranged for unrelated mouse germ cells to be frozen and sent out on a cargo pod. And then we artificially inseminated several of our female mice, and then, just like that, we had a fresh crop of mice with fresh DNA and just like that we had a whole new crop of mice to test.
      Most of the crew were OK with the limited selection of fresh vegetables that the hydroponics lab supplied, but occasionally one of them would ask if it were possible to produce a tomato or maybe a peach. The answer was simply no.
      Peaches, and the majority of other fruits, require trees or, in the case of tomatoes and most berries, vines. Those simply required more room and resources that our botanical lab simply did not have. The planners had experimented with a couple of varieties of small tomatoes and other 'kitchen supplies' like that, but didn't have very good long term success with them. So, instead, we had basil, which we still have and which, when cut, makes the whole lab ring smell good, and cilantro, which despite all predictions, has barely survived and has only occasionally yielded enough to harvest.
      We ran DNA tests on the crew and checked for what changes we could in case it was unexpected damage, but there was nothing definitive in the results.
      And this brings up the testing results done by the physicians. To which I have also submitted, although I always manage to bring a mouse with me to distract them at some point during the testing.
      Our cognitive scores are still within what is considered normal with almost random peaks and valleys of scores.
      Our physical tests have also shown similar results. Although, and I am boasting here, I have Lost Fat, Gained Muscle, and am stronger and faster than I was when I was last fully tested before we left Earth four years ago.
      However, some of the crew have shown some decrease in physical ability, and they have come under special scrutiny by the medical staff and are being actively encouraged to use the exercise equipment and to run extra laps in the ring.
      While I am discussing the physical and mental attributes of the crew, I will mention some of what I do, and what some of the others do, when we're not, shall we say, working.
      I have, as have the majority of the others, taken a day off now and then. And when we do, we cannot, say, go to the beach, or take a long hike in the forest, or for that matter, do as my father would do and, as he would say, "putter around the house and yard". We're still on the ship, and remaining in our bunkrooms for more than a sleeping period, as we did during the solar storm, is maddening. And while the recreation pod on the ring is a respectable diversion, it is also somewhat limited in its offerings.
      So, what did I do on my last day off?
      I went back to engineering and got a large pouch of our Argo Special, I had saved up some snacks, and somebody had found some movies that had been sent out to the original crew that were stowed in a compartment. And so I spent four hours in the equipment pod amidships, drinking lousy liquor, eating junk food, and watching some really bad Japanese TV show that was mostly martial arts fights and car chases. But with the Universe on one side, and Mars on the other, both constantly moving, it wasn't a bad time at all.

      I heard it before I saw it, and then I saw a piece of paper stuck to the top of it.
      Ken had gotten the Sojourner to work, and was operating it remotely over the same system we used to control the outside repair robots.
      His note said: "Activate your UHF receiver" and had a set of frequency numbers.
      It took me a minute, and then I was looking at a color image of the doorway of my lab and the ring passage outside. It was the view from the rear camera on the rover. The second number activated the feed from one of the front cameras.
      Later, we determined that there was a fatal fault with the circuitry and the other front camera was inoperable.
      However, the motors that operated most of the wheels were working, as were two of the cameras, and the various transmitters. Its on board Spectrometer did seem to be functional, however, all information on how it worked was missing from our database. So, while we had rescued a relic of humanity's past efforts to explore space, in the end, it turned out to be more of a, if you will pardon the pun, a curiosity.
      On the other hand, the dust and sand that had arrived on it proved far more interesting. A couple of my colleques will no doubt go into some depth on the subject, but let me say they found everything from rare earth elements to traces of quasi-biotic organic matter in it.
      Most of the rover had survived its time on Mars. Indeed, most of the other two rovers and the probes we recovered from the surface had fared it much the same. Some of the surface had been abraded by the sand, some had succumded to the finer dust working its way into internal parts. And others had suffered from prolonged exposure to the extreme cold of the planet's winter. But, on the whole the man made objects we recovered from Mars were in surprisingly good condition.
      And as with that first recovery, the Martian soil from the other objects, and, in one case, Martian atmosphere that had been trapped in a containment flask on the probe but never completely tested, proved far more interesting than the objects themselves.
      In some ways, the hitchhiking soil and small rocks were more interesting than the material brought back by our sampling probes that landed in pre-approved locations and brought back 'just so much' of the planet for us to test, play with, and abuse. The soil from the 'unexplored' areas was interesting, as far as it went, but the stuff that had found its way into the cracks and crevasses on the probes and rovers had had time to interact and react with Earth made stuff, which was way more interesting, and potentially useful to any future missions.
      It was our unplanned but opportunistic recovery of part of the Soviet probe Mars 2 that proved to be the most problematic for us. By rights, the government that had launched and landed, sort of, the first Earth made object intentionally sent to land on the Red Planet, had ceased to exist long ago. But the current administration of Russia was still claiming the lander that had left a sizable crater in the Noachis region was their property and they wanted it back.
      The fact that we had a spare recovery vehicle and had voted to make an attempt to return at least part of the historic vehicle didn't impress Moscow at all. They thought a fifty year old piece of smashed junk would expose Soviet state secrets or something. So they got all upset and filed an official protest when we sent the images of the the biggest part of the briefcase sized rover that had been on board the Mars 2 Lander when it hit the side of a hill at a speed somewhere over twenty thousand kilometers per hour.
      We had only planned on examining the sides of the crater and the ejected material from it when we noticed the remains of the Prop-M rover which appeared to have become separated during the descent and landed just to one side of the main body of the lander, which was now pulverized. Then we discussed trying to recover it, and then we got Mission Control to approve the effort.
      And now, as I finish this entry, the recovery vehicle is on the surface and the rover is being loaded. So I need to go see to my assignment, which is making sure all the latches show secure on the container before we start the launch sequence.
      If it works, when we're done with it, we'll put the Prop-M on the next cargo shipment back to Earth and the Russians can have it.

Ken's Story:
      For some reason it never really occurred to me that I had been a College Senior and now I was ready to graduate.
      I've been taking college classes on the Argo for several years, and, no, I haven't been running a full schedule load, but it has still been a long time, and I don't seem to get much of a summer break.
      But then I got a request from my academic advisor at Darnestown to decide where I wanted to enroll in graduate school.
      I'd asked that Mister Thompson be my Earth based academic advisor through all of this, and he agreed, and now, here he was, telling me that all sorts of high profile graduate schools were sending him messages, and gifts, to try to convince him to convince me that I should sign up with them. And I just couldn't decide. So he brought in my parents, and I asked the Commander, and Officer Pelletier, and as it worked out, several of the others came in to listen as well. And we fired up the high gain system and aimed it at Darnstown college.
      We had a really long conversation. Even with the delay, it was a good time.
      My parents wanted me to make the choice, but they were both in favor of a school somewhere nearby so they could go to the campus if I had made a video and they showed it to the campus like Darnstown did once in awhile.
      That made the choice a bit easier. But then Mister Thompson said he'd had an idea and had talked to a couple of schools with various specialties. "You'd mentioned that at some point you'd like to get into teaching. And you've also shown a great aptitude for space systems and technology. What if we could do both?"
      Officer Pelletier answered before I could, "That sounds very interesting, is it possible?"
      It took her answer six minutes to get back to Earth, then when Mister Thompson replied it took another six minutes for that to get to us.
      "Yes, it is Officer Pelletier. And I have two very good local universities willing to collaborate with us on it. The University of Maryland at College Park will conduct his space science classes within their physics program, I'm sorry, within their Space Physics program group, and Johns Hopkins will do his teaching classes as a graduate minor."
      After a moment Engineer Stan looked over at me and nodded, "That sounds really good, Ken."
      I looked around the Rec Pod, now, almost everybody on the ship was in there listening. So I had an idea. I went to the control panel that we'd used for the party and activated all the cameras and then went back to my spot at the game table next to Officer Pelletier.
      "Well, it looks like the entire crew of the Argo has joined us," Mister Thompson said after the signal made it to Earth and back, "Welcome, thank you all. It is good to see everybody."
      "Yes it is, thank you for showing such an interest in Ken," my mother said.
      I looked at everybody and even nodded at the Chief Engineer who was standing just inside the main door. "Well, what's your vote?"
      "Maryland has a really good program. You'll do well."
      Doctor Kristoffersen was leaning against the counter next to him sipping a cup of something. "I don't know that much about either school, but it sounds like a very good opportunity."
      Then Doctor Latour weighed in, "I think you will excel."
      "Of course he will, we'll make sure of it," Specialist Svetlana said, "if this is what he wants to do. I'll support him in any way I can."
      "We all will," Doctor Latour added.
      The two medical doctors were next to each other on a bench on the far wall. Doctor Shinno smiled broadly, "I did some work at Hopkins, it is a very good place. The school and the hospital."
      Doctor Aziz spoke next, "You deserve a chance like this, after taking the chance you took to come here."
      The Commander was next in line, "It would appear to be the best for your future, no matter what happens. I'd go for it if they were offering it to me."
      "Thank you, Commander. Mister Bianchi?"
      The Italian appeared to be thinking about it, but then he said, "I would have thought the science would be from Hopkins and the teaching from Maryland, but, it is a good compromise."
      Engineer Stan was standing next to him, "I think it's great."
      Specialist Vinaya was the last one in line around the room, she looked at everybody else, "This is only the third time we've all been together, and look what it is for. This is wonderful, for him and us. Of course I'm in favor of it."
      Finally I looked at Officer Pelletier, "Your turn."
      "We'll need to have a graduation party first."
      Several minutes later the video from Earth showed the people in the conference room at Darnstown applauding and cheering.
      Then after things calmed down my father said they'd have a graduation party there as well while my mother wiped at her eyes and smiled.
      I suspected the video would end up on the news, and it did. Some outlets ran the entire discussion, others only showed the segment with the entire crew together, but still, it gave the people back home a chance to see that we were all still out here.
      But first I had to sit for three final exams, and turn in a formal paper.
      The exams I wasn't worried about, I'd always done good on tests. But I was having problems with the paper. Even with the concession from the professor at Towson that was all about having formal note cards and all that. It took some convincing but he finally understood that the actual library of printed books on the Argo consisted of two shelves in the Rec Pod, and most of those were old cowboy paperbacks and some French romance books. None of which were of much use for the topic of Interpersonal Communication Factors in a Work Environment.
      But, finally, we came to terms, Officer Pelletier and the Commander reviewed my paper, and my video, and noted that some of the sources for protocols and procedures on board the Argo were still classified, and I sent it all to Earth.
      And then I waited for them to answer, and went back to work putting together a lander that was to get a sample of Phobos and bring it back.

3. Personal Log, Commander Nascimento
      We're in regular communication with our relief ship, and they have begun conducting some of the experiments they will continue once they arrive, including firing up something called a temporal disturbance detector that is supposed to detect minute disruptions in the flow of time through space.
      My opposite number is Madelyn Pedersen. She's career military, has been in and out of the ESA for a number of years depending on Denmark's participation in various programs, and had been considered for our mission but she withdrew herself from the pool because she had another commitment and didn't want try to get out of the contract. But when search for the relief crew began, she was first in line, and was chosen as the Commander.
      Her second in command is Aeron O'Driscoll from some town in Wales that didn't even come up on my map. Evidently, his home town, Merthyr Vale, isn't an officially recognized location according to our database. When I went to the computer library that had been built up over the years for Ken's schoolwork, it came up with a section of a borough north of Cardiff that had been closed years ago because it'd been built next to a river that had flooded the place out more times than the encyclopedia could list.
      His involvement in the space program even included a stint in Russia where he learned to speak their language and run their equipment. So when several modules that were to be transferred to the Argo from the relief ship were to be built in Russia, he came as part of the package deal.
      I spent at least an hour on every command shift of mine talking to one or the other of them, and sometimes both, and when I found out that Pelletier had been doing the same thing, we arranged for what amounted to an open channel to the relief ship.
      Once that was done, it seems that almost everybody on the Argo had something they had to discuss with the relief crew.
      Everybody except the two Chief Engineers. They didn't seem interested in communicating with each other than the official State of the Ship report and the maintenance schedule.
      I was also interested in the cargo manifest.
      They were transporting everything from prototype aircraft and high speed rovers to inflatable habitats that would be tried out on the Martian surface.
      There were new seeds and seedling plants for the biology lab, and a new batch of animals for the zoo. Except they had already had had the same luck with some of their test subjects that we had. At least half of their fish had died within days of launch.
      They'd lost one of the monkeys that had made the trip, although its cause of death was much less of a mystery than the fish's death. When it escaped it had fled in a weightless panic and had jumped from one surface to another and then launched itself toward a window. The terrified creature crashed into the portal head first, shattering its skull and several of the bones in its neck.
      They were also carrying a good selection of parts and new equipment for the ship itself.
      When they arrived, all three engineering crews were going to be busy changing out parts of almost every system on the ship, including the Argo's maneuvering and rotation thrusters using both a set of new construction robots and space walks. They'd also be fitting new computers and servers, and new high gain communications antennas, and some new fittings for the air lock that has been out of service since we left.
      There was even a new convection oven for the rec pod. Although just where we were supposed to put it wasn't entirely clear.
      The schedule for their work had everything mapped out almost hour by hour for two rotating shifts or workers, including meal breaks and, on every ninth day, a full shift of "R and R" time in the Argo's rec pod. By that schedule, it would take them twenty one work days to complete the refit of the science ring, nineteen days to replace the thrusters, five days to install the new showers and heads, another seven to rebuild the new airlock, and so on.
      I looked through the outline and wondered if the engineering committee that put it together had ever done anything in the real world where things never went by the plan.
      Commander Pedersen was grateful that we had maintained proper decorum and the three shift rotation. She had made the point that that's how it would be throughout her own crew's training, and she had kept it up on the relief ship.
      The one thing she didn't like with how Captain Dromgoole was running the Terra was that she said that he was treating it like a "Saturday night bilfaerger across the Baelt". I had to ask her what that was. She laughed, "a weekend boat run from one of the islands to a pub in town." But then she added that his operation is quite efficient and the ship was operating well and she was confident in their timetable.
      One of the things we found fascinating was that the third officer of the new crew was in charge of broadcasting a weekly communique that was sent back to Earth with the intent that it would be made public. We had always sent dispatches back to Mission Control with the allowance, or even a special request, that it be made public. But ours was most certainly not weekly, and at times, not even monthly. This one had been going on since just after they'd left Earth orbit and had been faithfully relayed to Earth, and us, once a week.
      The new Argo crew's Communication's Officer Lily Lo Zhao had taken the idea of the weekly update and had refined it to an art form.
      Every week, there was a section on the progress of the journey and the status of the ship, a brief spotlight on one of the experiments they were either already running or one they'd begin when they arrived at Mars, and a biographical piece about or even something written by one of the crew members. She also included a personal section where she reflected, sometimes at length, on something that has caught her eye in the last week. For example, in the last installment, she decided that Mission Control's idea of Chinese Food had more to do with various chain take-away restaurants in the US and Europe than it did anything her own mother or grandmother would recognize as their own lunch.
      The one thing her weekly updates did do, and I am certain that Mission Control had hoped it would do exactly this, was to get some of the rest of us to submit somewhat more regular notes for public release. Even Ken's dispatches through the school had slowed down recently, and some of the others had all but stopped. And that includes me, other than my official command briefing, I hadn't sent anything back to Earth in months.

Doctor Ranya Aziz
      Now that we are within sight of the end of our mission, I am forced to do a bit of soul searching.
      Some time ago an old friend of my family wrote to me and said that he was worried that being out here would cause me to, as he put it: "begin to wander the road of apostasy that leads to ruin."
      I can firmly say that I have not done so.
      I still pray multiple times a day, although instead of facing Mecca, or even facing Earth, I pray to Allah where I'm at, with the knowledge and the thanks that Allah is Everywhere.
      Who else has read Surah Fifty-Three while watching the Creator's Stars descend over Mars from my perspective?
      I read it again, and this time, we made a video of it, and sent the recording back to our old friend.
      Several days later, I heard that he had released it to several media outlets, and they played it. But he never replied to my message and I suspected he still believed that I have gone astray. Then I heard from a mutual friend that he was so proud of me that he never stopped talking about the mission.
      It is NOT my religion that has caused my self inspection.
      It is my profession.
      I am here as a medical doctor first. But I have been doing far more scientific research and theoretical work than I have medicine. At first, I accepted that as the nature of the mission.
      For the most part, everybody was healthy when we left. Even Doctor Kristoffersen had passed multiple physicals and various tests before we launched. And then not long after we left the space station, he was deathly ill for no known reason. And to be far, we still do not know what caused his illness. But since then, there hasn't been anything overly serious with him, or anybody else.
      There have been more strains and sprains from crew members exercising than anything else. And our most dramatic injury occurred on the running track when Svetlana lost her footing and tumbled into a door and got several deep cuts and cracked a bone in her wrist.
      Besides that, there have been the occasional bout of space sickness, and sometimes what manifested as a mild case of food poisoning, but the treatment for both is essentially the same, and not all that interesting either medically or scientifically.
      So most of every day is spent checking microbes under the scope looking for changes from exposure to everything from space itself to the cleaning compound we've been using to keep algae from growing on the insides of some of the portals and a few fixtures here and there.
      Then I became curious about where, in this almost totally sterile environment, had the green algae come from.
      I began inspecting other portals and similar pieces of equipment in the ship. I deduced that the algae had only taken root, so to speak, in places where we had worked with the hydroponic plants. Not in the hydroponics bay itself, but in the lab where we processed the plants for testing. And then it showed up to a lesser extent in places where we went during that testing, such as the various workstations and offices.
      So I began searching for which of the materials used in the hydroponics bay had the spores that then came to life in the very thin coating of dust and moisture on some the the equipment and our windows.
      It took some time to track it down, but finally I found it in some of the fertilizer used on various vegetables. It was a variety that didn't like a lot of water, or a lot of light, or overmuch fresh air. So when one of the spores was released when we took the plants out of the liquid and shook the excess moisture off so we got a good sample weight, they could float around in the lab until they found just the right spot in the corner of the lab with enough condensation and all the rest of it. And then it grew into a bit of greenish-yellow stuff where there wasn't supposed to be anything like that at all.
      I'd done the research, and the detective work, and did the DNA test that proved what it was, and equally, what it was not, such as a rumor that it was a form of Legionella, and then, like a good scientist, I wrote a paper about it and sent it off.
      Then I began doing the research for another paper based on the progress of plants in hydroponic fluid that was totally sterile versus those in the liquid that was 'contaminated' by all sorts of organic compounds, including algae spores.
      It occurred to me during the time I was working on the second project that I hadn't done anything medical for the crew other than the routine physicals and testing.
      Which made me wonder if upon our return to Earth if I should go back into medical practice or into research science, or perhaps even into teaching where I could work in both worlds.
      I talked to Doctor Shinno, and she said she had been thinking precisely the same thing, and furthermore, she was worried that her medical intuition may be eroding as she spent more time peering at results from the gas chromatograph of Mars dust or checking the resolution in the electron microscope than she did with patients.
      "My last patient was Ken, when he burned his fingers with hot solder when they were putting a new power supply in an air cleaning drone."
      I understood exactly what she meant.

Engineering log:
      With the assistance of the others on the engineering crew I've been reviewing the information on the Terra ship. Since we would be responsible for any work the ship needed when it got out here, I wanted to be ready for it.
      Most of the components on the Terra were spares that were built for the Argo during the upgrade for our mission, so we were familiar with the life support systems, and, of course, the wastewater recycling system, and even most of the command and control systems. However, there was one primary system that was very different, and it was a difference that I was not happy with at all. When I voiced my concern to the Commander, he told me to put it in a log and make it part of the official record.
      So I am.
      When the Argo was originally designed. The main engines were of a different design than what was later approved and installed. There was a very good reason they changed out the engines and went with a totally new design for the extended mission of the Argo.
      The original engines were essentially an updated version of the classic J-2 rocket engines made famous by the Moon Missions in the sixties and seventies. They had upgraded the mixing and regulation of the fuel and oxidizer, but the overall engine theory would have been recognizable by the engineers working on Apollo.
      While the theory for the engines was sound, and in the original application they worked well. Between the two modern ships the Terra wasn't supposed to be out on a mission as long as the Argo's, but it was still a long mission. The engines on the ship would still be burning for days on end. Even if, as the mission terms stated it, once they were clear of orbit the maximum power they would be at was at about two-thirds of capacity until they reached optimum velocity.
      The 1960's era J-2s maximum burn on the third stage was for less than ten minutes total to push the Apollo out of Earth orbit and get it on course for the moon. That would break down to a couple of minutes during launch, then there would be a shut down and check out, and once they got the green light, the third stage engine was relit for a burn of up to about seven minutes. And that was it.
      One of the reasons I remember them saying as to why the J-2 update was rejected for installation on the Argo Epic was the effects of long term stress and heat exposure on some of the internal components of the engines.
      With the Terra, the engineering notes say they had addressed that issue with some redesign of the components, and the installation of a heat shield between the main chamber and the valves and supply lines. They said they had addressed it.
      Part of our study was watching some of the actual helmet camera video as they installed the various components on the Terra as it was docked with the Space Station.
      I didn't say anything but asked Stan and Ken to look over the specs for the engines and then watch the videos and tell me if they noticed anything odd.
      Both commented that the insulation around the engine didn't look like what had been outlined in the approved upgrades. Then they spent some time enlarging a still image from the work video and proved it.
      Then we went looking into the memos and other communications between the assembly crew and the engineering department on Earth. There was considerable discussion about it, then somebody named Schneider approved the use of modified insulation around the combustion chamber on the two final engines as being adequate and the removal of some of the stabilizing structure inside the nacelle on them as well.
      As it turned out. The modified installations were not adequate.
      The Terra was on day 85 of their mission when we got a message from them that engine assembly two, which was two mounted J-2Lx engines on a double pylon extending at about four o'clock from the engineering section, was having to be powered down due to errors and overheating.
      The errors were from several control units inside the housing for the fuel regulators and meters, and the ignition controllers. Of more concern was that some of the readings didn't normalize when the engine was off.
      They could still run it for short times to keep them on course, and with the other two doubles running, they were still able to maintain speed. But that was all. There was no way to service the unit with the equipment and supplies they had on board while under way, even if they had the right replacement parts.
      We went back through all of the available information we had and determined that the best video we had from the construction was of engine one, the 'top' double engine. But everything we could glean from still images and the somewhat grainy video we had was that all three doubles were more or less the same. However, it was likely that the insulation panels and blankets used on two had shifted or were perhaps damaged during the later installation of other components. And, as Ken pointed out, there may have been a bad seam on the combustion chamber and some exhaust gases escaped and cooked the other parts. Or as Stan commented, "or both".
      The important thing for us was that the Terra was still flying, and while it might be a little late if they had to feather back the other engines to keep from overworking them, it would still make it out here, and then we'd take it home if we had to take turns rowing.

Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      I was on duty when the message came in.
      The Terra Maru was going to be late.
      We knew that engine two had overheated, and now the entire engine one assembly was down and they didn't know why.
      "We're sending an official notice to Mission Control. I'm not declaring an emergency just yet. We're still moving, we're losing speed slowly, but we're still moving. We can burn two for short time, that'll keep up going, but we're going to be late. We're altering course as we go so we won't miss you."
      I asked them to send any data from the engines that they had and I'd have our engineering crew look at it and see if they had any ideas.
      Captain Dromgoole didn't hesitate at all, and even included a real time copy of the telemetry from all three engines.
      Well, telemetry from two of the engines. There was not enough data coming in from engine one to know if it was even getting the ignition signal.
      "It's still there, we can even see it. But there's nothing coming in from it. Nothing, from either engine up there or the thrusters," he said.
      Well, it wasn't 'nothing'. But the data they were getting wasn't much. And it was no help at all with figuring out what had happened.
      Our engineers looked at the data and made some guesses as to what was going on, but they couldn't diagnose the failure based on what we were getting from the Terra.
      Then, four days later, it got worse.

Special Press Release from Joint Mission Control.
      "At approximately sixteen hundred hours Zulu, Captain Dromgoole of the Terra Maru, and Commander Pedersen of the relief crew for the Argo Epic jointly declared a state of emergency."
      "They reported that Engine Two on the Terra Maru suffered a catastrophic failure when ignited for a limited burn."
      "Engine Beta of the double assembly has exploded. Most of the assembly was destroyed. Including the directional thrusters mounted there."
      "Engine Two had been previously reported as overheating, but was still operational, and was being used intermittently to maintain course and speed."
      "Engine One had previously suffered a mechanical or possibly an electronic failure as is not in operation at present."
      "Engine Three is operational, but without being counterbalanced by at least one of the other two, it can only be used at minimal power with the rest of the operational maneuvering thrusters being used more than they were designed to be used to maintain the ship in proper orientation."
      "Both Captain Dromgoole, and Commander Pedersen report that all members of both crews are well and in spite of the current situation, all are still in good spirits and hope to continue the mission."
      "The Terra Maru is currently ninety-three days out from Earth and just over one hundred thirty days from its rendezvous with the Argo Epic in Mars orbit. No rescue ship from Earth is available, although Mission Control is standing by with high speed cargo pods in case any emergency supplies or parts are requested."
      "Commander Nascimento on the Argo Epic has been advised of the status of the Terra Maru."

4. Official Log: Commander Nascimento
      I called everybody up to command and told them there was bad news.
      Once they were all up here, I didn't beat around the bush. I played the announcement from Mission Control twice.
      Then I added: "The Maru isn't going to make it."
      Some of them were still staring at the screen with wide eyes.
      "We've been in contact. They're losing speed, and starting to drift off course. It'll take them a year or more to get here, if they ever make it. And then there's no way that thing will ever make it back home."
      I've reviewed the tape of the briefing several times, and I still don't know who asked the question: "What can we do?"
      But I know exactly who answered. Me. "There's only one rescue ship available."
      Engineer Stanley Smith was the one that said: "Let's do it."
      And everybody else began shouting in agreement.
      "Well. OK. We'll do it." I said. "How soon can we lock this thing down and break orbit and head that way? Engineering first."
      "We'll need about twenty-four hours to get everything tied down and ready."
      Then I looked at Pelletier, "How about the ring and the science section? Is there anything on the planet that we shouldn't leave?"
      She thought about it and looked at a couple of the others, "Not really. We should be ready to go when they are."
      I nodded, "OK, then that's it. We're going. Here's my idea. We'll go save the Maru, fix what we can, and take it back to Earth, and they can bring the Argo back to Mars to complete their mission."
      "Sounds like a plan."
      I don't know who said that either.
      "Ms Vinaya, as you're closest to the com station, would you please open a channel to the Maru?"
      "Yes, sir... Hailing frequencies open, sir."
      Everybody laughed.
      It took a minute, and there was a bit of lag. But then we had the Second Officer from the new Argo crew on our video link. "It's good to see you folks," he looked around, "you've heard what's happened here, right?"
      "Yes, sir. Officer O'Driscoll. And we've got an idea."
      It was a very busy twenty four hours. But then, everybody reported that everything was ready.
      "OK, Officer Pelletier, let's finish this orbit, then, set a course and make it happen."
      "Already got it calculated. There's a cargo pod on its way in, but we should be able to intercept it. In fact, we're going to have to be careful not to run into the thing."
      "Sounds like fun. Let's go."
      "Twenty minute countdown to orbit exit burn... beginning... Now."
      The Maru was losing speed, but it was still coming our way. With the Argo engines running at full power, we were looking at rendezvousing with them in about eighty days.
      According to Mission Control, they were getting a high speed pod ready with every spare part for the engines and the engine control systems they could find, and were sending it out as soon as they could get the booster fueled.
      "We're aiming it at the Argo, you're better equipped to capture them than the Terra Maru."

Ken's Story:
      Everybody has been asking me if I think we can really save the Terra Maru. And I had to tell them that I didn't know, but if we could, we would.
      I really thought that we'd end up leaving the other ship dead in space and taking both other crews back to Earth on the Argo. I was even trying to figure out how I could stay on the Argo once it was back at the Space Station.
      Finally, I quit worrying about it and decided to see if I could figure out what had happened to the Terra Maru.
      I didn't have a model of the ship to work from. But I had all the information, and all sorts of design programs on the computers, and a lot of time. So I went to work building virtual models of the three engines, one set as designed, and the other as built.
      Finally, I called Engineer Stan to see something.
      I told him I thought I knew what was wrong with engine one.
      It was build differently than the other two.
      Where the pylon joined onto the engine housing there was a choke point at the junction. With the other two, the pylon was at an angle where it connected to the engine mounts. I pointed to where everything passed through the smaller opening, fuel, power, monitoring circuits, everything. It was the only place on the entire double engine assembly where everything was even close.
      I told him that it was the only thing that made sense. The fuel and oxidizer ran through steel lines, the power was in fairly stout cables with thick insulation, but the monitoring circuits were in just regular communications cables.
      My guess was that the problem with engine one wasn't too much heat, but it got too cold, and the metal contracted, and cut the cables.
      He said it was possible, but there was no way to go until we got there and were able to send one of our robots over there to crawl inside the pylon and take a look.
      Then he agreed with me that if that was the problem, we might be able to rig a wiring harness to it to bypass the choke point and get engine one running again. "Wouldn't hurt to try." He looked at my 3D model on the screen and rotated it slightly, "There's a service hatch." He nodded then smiled, "Let's go talk to the Commander."

Doctor Kristoffersen
      I have to be honest. I wasn't all that sorry to see my view of Mars shift to the rear of the ship. While we had been in orbit, we, as a team, the entire ship and crew, has been devoted to the most intense study of the planet it had ever been subjected to by humans.
      We have over twenty kilos of dust, soil, some 'damp soil', and rocks of various sizes from Mars via the sample return project. And about three kilos of 'contaminated' Mars samples that were returned with the rover and probe recovery effort. Most of it has been subjected to every test we have on board, and some that were made up as we went. And we are still returning about half of what was brought back to Earth for scientists there to fight over.
      The only thing that didn't work out was the sample return mission from Phobos. The lander bounced off and is now a temporary artificial satellite of Mars. It would seem that the fast moving moon just didn't have the gravity it was supposed to and when our lander came in on its path, it skidded across the surface for a good distance, hit a bump, and kept right on going.
      If we had stayed in orbit, we would have tried again and arranged an anchor for the lander to eject into the surface to stop it. So Mister Ken is building the new lander and working on rigging the anchor for the next crew to try again.
      As for the chemistry of Mars, it was about what we expected, and a little of what we didn't. Which was also what we expected.
      In some of the samples, there were more heavy elements than predicted, and in other samples, far less. And so on.
      But what everybody wants to know is: did we find CONCLUSIVE proof of life? Even primitive, now extinct, life?
      The answer is, maybe, but, probably not.
      We found lots of evidence of chemical processes that COULD mean life. But it could also be simply evidence of chemical processes that have nothing to do with living organisms. We also found some organic material, but that's all it was, organic material in the sense that what we found in some of the subsoil samples was complex carbon chain compounds. They were not, by themselves, alive, nor were they direct evidence of life. To put it bluntly, as one of the others did when we were testing the sample, what we found wasn't 'Martian worm poop', it was simply, organic material.
      In short, none of our samples contained any Native Martians of any sort.
      So, now we are returning to Earth with what we've got. And I am preparing various presentations to deliver to the various groups that have expressed an interest in my work.

5. Second Officer Pelletier
      We are having to adjust course to keep up with the Terra Maru's drifting off course. Just because it is a lot easier for the Argo to change course than it is for them to do anything with their ship.
      They are still losing speed, and, as we have taken to describe it, 'wobbling' in a sort of long corkscrew course, but always off to, from our perspective, the left, counter to the orbit of Mars and Earth. Which means when we reach them, Earth and Mars are going to be a long way from us.
      Right now the Argo is traveling about as fast as it can and still make a somewhat gradual turn to stay with their general position.
      "If I may mention this Officer Pelletier, some of our crew have commented that yours is the slowest pizza delivery service in this star system."
      I had to laugh while I thought of a response. Then I replied with, "Yes, we are slow. And we're expensive. But we do deliver to the middle of nowhere."
      "Good. Because that is exactly our current address."
      The entire exchange happened because somebody on our crew sent them an image of what we called 'pizza' made with what we had available and an improvised crust, and promised them that we'd save them some.
      And when you are on a crippled spaceship that is averaging over a hundred kilometers more off course every day and having to limit use of power because they can't keep their solar panels facing the sun, which also means a limited menu, I guess you look forward to what you can look forward to. And "Improvisational Pizza" is one of those.
      We have already run the numbers on how long it will take to stop the Argo's rotation so we can grab and then dock with the Maru.
      The initial plan was for us to deploy our outside camera robots to inspect every inch of the Maru.
      While the other ship did have its own fleet of automated support units, they didn't have anywhere near the numbers and types we did, and even their newest and best was limited compared to ours. And the reason was simple. This was supposed to be an "out and back" trip, with minimal maintenance needed.
      It would seem the mission brief has changed.
      The next step was for various crew members, including many of our own, to go out in EVA suits and check certain systems. Including the connections to Engine One.
      Again, the Maru has some EVA suits and equipment, but they were for limited use outside, and not really for when the ship was moving. The suits we had on the Argo could be used with the backpacks for up to six hours, and if on a tether for air and power, almost indefinitely.
      We also have a selection of exoskeleton units to assist with moving and securing massive objects.
      If there was any way the Maru's problems could be fixed while we're out here, we'd do it.
      Or at least we'd make a decent try at it.
      And then we got another message from the Maru, and because of the nature of the news I called for the Commander and our engineering crew to come up to command.
      "All right Maru, they're all here. Go ahead with your news."
      There was a significant delay, then, "Yeah. Thank you. We identified part of the problem that's been throwing us off course. Alpha on Engine Two wasn't completely shut down. It was still running, but only just, and it was generating enough thrust to keep pushing us off course. We had to go in and manually disconnect the fuel and oxidizer lines to shut it down cold. None of the controls on it were intact enough to kill it. Ever since then we're keeping on the programmed course. There's not enough drift per day now to talk about. Over."
      "That's wonderful," Commander Nascimento answered.
      "What's that going to do to your speed loss?" Our Chief Engineer asked them.
      Again, there was a wait, but then they answered. "It has increased our slowdown by a fraction, but our navigator says that it'll work out about the same because we're back on a more direct course to meet you. And he thinks with that problem fixed, we might even be able to ease it up a little at a time with the maneuvering thrusters."
      The Commander gestured for me to answer.
      "That is indeed good news Terra Maru. We'll stay in touch and work out the changes to the projected coordinates for the rendezvous."
      With that we reran the numbers and we could be meeting them in about two more months.
      If, that is, if nothing else went wrong with their ship, and nothing happened to ours as well.

Ken's Story
      I had to really get busy with rebuilding a couple of the outside robots to send over to the Terra Maru.
      We needed one that could remove the inspection hatch, and then another that had the lights and cameras to get inside and work its way up to the junction between the pylon and the engines.
      Getting the hatch off wasn't hard. We had a similar access port on each of the reactors on the Agro. And there was a specially designed magnetic arm to remove it. Except on the Maru, the pylon and hatch were aluminum over a steel frame.
      I worked out where the steel skeleton of the hatch was and exactly where the magnets had to be to hold onto it once the robot's other two arms had removed the bolts that held it fast.
      The problem with that robot was the size of the bolts on the pylon. Apparently, nobody had bothered to confirm what size head was on them. I knew it was in millimeters, but it could have been anything from 12 to 16. The robot had to be able to change out the size of socket on the driver's power head.
      I even sent a request to Mission Control for the sizes of the bolts. All I got back was that in the original construction manifest, it said the hatch was secured with six bolts.
      I tried to figure out what they used by looking at the specs on other parts of the ship, but they used 12 and 14 mil bolts on a lot of it, and 16s on others. There were even some that said they were 13 or 15 mil. And then I found some smaller and a few that were larger. But on the pylons, it seemed the three even number sizes were the most common, and the best images we had of the pylon just weren't a lot of help, a 13 or 15 millimeter bolt head looks an awful lot like a 14. So I put together a kit of what I thought it might be and mounted them on a magnetic strip on the side of the robot where it could get to them. It would have to disconnect the one in place with its claw, then it could lock onto the other sized socket.
      If the ones on the hatch were a different size, or something else entirely, it would have to come back to the airlock for another set of tools.

6. Commander Nascimento
      We were about twenty days from beginning to slow our rotation and decrease speed to meet the Terra Maru when Mister Bianchi made an announcement on the ship wide com. "I have an image you may wish to see on channel three on the monitors."
      It was the Maru.
      He had been tracking it with the various cameras since we left Mars and he could get a good tracking aim on the ship. But it was just a dot on the screen.
      Now, we could see it as a ship not totally unlike the Argo, just without the rings.
      Except now, instead of a dot, we could make out the pylons with the engine assemblies on them, and one of them was missing about half of the housing that contained the various pumps and valves that made up the working parts for the J-2 engines and the maneuvering thrusters mounted on three places on the outer housing.
      "I've got the resolution down to just under half a meter," Mister Bianchi said, "as we get closer, that'll keep coming down."
      Our deceleration program was to run in steps. First we tested the thrusters that, until now, had maintained our rotation and the simulated gravity in the ring, to push against that rotation and drop it down by just a tick. And to do so without tearing the ship apart.
      With Ken stationed in the science ring to directly monitor a couple of the thrusters and Stan in the docking ring to monitor others and the rest of us at our stations to keep an eye on everything else.
      Then, we made an announcement and the Chief Engineer did a countdown and hit the switch for two seconds.
      The initial burst was just to make sure the things worked. After everybody reported that it was all 'go', he did another, longer and more powerful burst, only stopping once we told him that the rotation had slowed by one revolution per hour. Not even noticeable as far as the gravity or the gyroscopic force exerted by the ring on the ship's course, but a good start.
      But now the real work began.
      We had TONS of 'stuff' to secure. Plants and animals that had become accustomed to existing in a significant simulated gravitational field. We knew we'd probably lose some of them, and we were ready for it.
      There were also equipment that was sitting on the floor on the outer ring that could become dangerous to us and the ship itself once it was back in freefall. So it all had to be secured in a cabinet or bay, or tied down in some way.
      We also knew that going without what amounted to about half of Earth's gravity was going to be a gigantic pain in the rear for us. I had gotten used to sitting in the rec pod and drinking coffee out of a cup instead of a bag, which I had to use in my bunk. Even in Command, I could drink my coffee from a cup, as long as it had a lid. Once we'd slowed the ring down by several ticks, that would become difficult, and much below that, impossible.
      However, I was told that we'd still be able to run our laps, and our times might come up slightly because we're be able to 'fly' more between steps.
      Given the choice, I'd rather keep my coffee cup.

Engineering log
      The deceleration of the rotation of the ship was going better than I expected.
      The Argo Epic did begin to wobble slightly as we began the thruster firing sequence, but then we modified the sequence to compensate, and that side effect became negligible.
      What wasn't negligible was the complaining of space sickness by some of our shipmates. However, that was also anticipated and medical had various treatments ready.
      I've also made some inquiries into the whereabouts of one engineering supervisor with the surname of Schneider who had been part of the Terra Maru's construction team. All I've been able to find out is that there were no engineers with that name at either the ESA or NASA, or from what I can gather, anywhere else, and that the approval we have a copy of was a draft document that was part of a study when the Terra was running in a computer simulator.
      They made a mess of it, and now it was up to us to save the day.
      As usual.

Doctor Shinno
      Doctor Aziz and I were the first to notice the decrease in gravity in our work areas. Some things that we had thought were secured were not and they began to move around on their own as the rotation slowed. And then once it stopped, all it took was a breath of air to send some items floating freely.
      One of the items that seemed to be floating freely was my own stomach. But, I knew the treatment, and used it well. And I was not the only one that found the prolonged weightlessness disconcerting.
      The only member of the crew that didn't report even mild nausea was Doctor Kristoffersen. His comment that he had had enough "space sickness" early in the mission to last him the rest of his life. A decidedly un-medical opinion, but it explained it well enough.
      The other items that became suddenly airborne were mostly odds and ends that we had accumulated during the mission. Like all the costume jewelry that ended up in our work areas. Most of it was rather theatrical, but some of it was nice, and I did put a few pieces in with my personal effects and planned on taking them back to Earth with me. However, the sparkly tiaras, bracelets that could double as wind chimes, and one belt buckle that would be more at home at an American Rodeo needed to be collected and stowed in a locking cabinet. The rings that seemed to appear from nowhere and float by on their way to wherever misplaced cocktail rings go on a space ship, we grabbed as they came by and stuck them in, on, and around whatever was handy.

Dr Svetlana Kambov
      The stopping of the rotation of the lab ring was a blessing for one of the most fascinating lines of research I had been working on on the Argo: the properties displayed by fire when consuming various substances in zero and micro-gravity, both in a vacuum and in an oxygen, or other, environment.
      Unless I wanted to have one of my containers sent outside so it would truly be free of measurable gravitational influence I had to put together a temporary rig in the central corridor of the ship, or in command, or even in engineering.
      Now, my lab was free of artificial gravity, so I could replicate some of my previous experiments with all of my monitoring equipment in place and running.
      The results I obtained were exactly the same, but now I had better documentation of those results.
      Without any 'up' or 'down' and no air, a self-oxidizing fuel will turn into a very intense ball of plasma energy that continued to exist for some time after all recognizable evidence of fuel had been consumed.
      If the exact same combustion was performed with a neutral gas in the chamber, the ball of plasma disipated its heat into the gas and vanished moments after the last of the fuel was consumed.
      If you performed it with breathable air, the plasma orb became smaller as the fuel was used and then went out.
      During my research into the history of the science I came across the alchemical term "phlogiston", so I adopted it to describe the remaining energy in the container after the fuel and oxidizer had been combined in the reaction. The glowing ball of plasma was my 'phlogistic orb'.
      The longest I was able to maintain such an orb without adding anything to it was just over an hour. The key was to have the container totally motionless, with as close to an absolute vacuum as I could maintain, and even too much light from one side, such as a spotlight, would push the ball to one side and it would dissipate its heat into the container and die.
      And, of course, every one of my shipmates had their own theories as to what was happening and why, including that I was using some sort of hologram to create a hoax as practical joke.
      The theories that had some basis in reality I tried to prove or disprove based on adjustments to the experiment to control for various variables. If the results were noteworthy, I gave them credit in the footnote on the additional operation. As a result of that, when I sent my final paper, supported by a large video file and copious data on temperature of the reaction and the makeups of both the initial fuel, the source of initial ignition, and the composition of any remaining ash and smoke, there were only a few suggestions for further work on the subject.
      But, after some discussion with the panel at the university, they accepted the work as my first Post Doctoral paper was accepted and sent for peer review and publication.
      Which was reason enough for me to host a party.

Second Officer Pelletier
      "Argo, you are a sight for sore eyes."
      "Thank you, Terra Maru, we'll begin maneuvering for docking, but it's going to be slow. Stand by."
      We streamed the entire event live to Earth from both ships, with assorted crew members giving a play by play commentary.
      The Argo is over three times the size of the other ship, and is a lot older, but, the Argo isn't crippled.
      We had slowed to a crawl and were coming in at the angle that was supposed to end up with the Terra lined up with our docking ring. Where we could grab it with the robotic arms and then ease it into position to lock onto our main docking port.
      It almost took forever.
      Of course, NOTHING is ever stationary in space. You are only 'not moving' in relation to something else. But right now, staring at the Terra Maru from the command deck of the Argo, it seemed like neither was moving. But our closing rate was actually seventy meters per minute, and slowing.
      Then we were close enough that I could clearly see people at various portals waving and flashing lights at us.
      So I flashed the lights in the command area several times and those on the Terra responded.
      "We're ten minutes from capture," I announced on the open com to both ships. "Ten minutes. All working stations confirm ready."
      They did.
      "Five minutes. Final alignment good."
      "We're coming in, one minute to capture."
      I know I held my breath and whispered a prayer. Then I heard a series of clanks and there was one ship-shuddering bang.
      "I've got it," Svetlana said, "both arms."
      In a second Ken confirmed that the mobile arm had grabbed its target.
      "OK, stand by, we'll begin to move the Terra toward the docking port."
      That took another forever.
      But then we heard Stanley saying that he was securing the docking clamps and somebody on the Terra said they had a good seal.
      I confirmed with the Chief Engineer that the two ships were securely mated, as he put it, and then I went down to the airlock to see the first other people we had seen in years.
      They were just opening the two hatches when I got there.
      Then there was a long silence while Engineer Stanley and somebody from the Terra checked the connection.
      I was floating next to the Commander so I asked him what the protocol was for this.
      "The protocol is: We let them take the lead," he answered.
      "Good plan."
      We didn't have long to wait.
      In a moment several people we knew from their images worked their way through the connecting tunnel and approached us. "Commander Nascimento, Second Officer Pelletier, Third Officer Smith," the man said with a crisp salute. "I am Captain Dromgoole of the Terra Maru, this is Commander Pedersen. Our compliments and thanks."
      "And our regards to you and your crews as well," Commander Nasimento replied, "we are at your service."
      We floated there for a second, just relieved that that part was over.
      Finally my mission commander looked from one of us to the other, then he nodded to Engineer Stanley, "Let's let the engineering crews get acquainted. I've managed to accumulate a good deal of strong drink. May I buy you one and we can discuss the rest of the mission?"
      "Just one?" Commander Pedersen replied.
      "To start with," I added.
      "Lead the way," the Captain gestured up the passage to the rest of the Argo.

7. Engineer Stan Smith
      The first thing we did was go over the outside of our own ship with the camera units, checking for damage from the close encounter. Then we began to run them over the outside of the Terra Maru.
      Ken had already deployed what he called his 'platoon' to inspect engine one. He had a whole command center set up in the spare lab pod amidships on the Argo where he thought he might have a pretty good view of the Maru, and it wasn't bad. He had flown the high resolution camera unit around the entire pylon and had confirmed the bolt sizes on the inspection hatch, and had checked the sockets on the worker robot. It was just getting ready to remove the hatch when I contacted him about our inspection of the rest of the ship.
      "That's no problem," he said when I asked if he could send the worker over to pylon two to remove the hatch on it.
      I brought his channel up on a nearby monitor and me and a couple of the engineers from the Maru watched as the robot removed the hatch and then secured it with a magnet. The camera drone moved in and lit the inside of the pylon up as Ken made sure the way was clear for it to move on in.
      "What do you think Stan?" Ken asked me.
      "Go for it."
      In a moment the view of the inside of the pylon got closer and brighter as the unit moved in.
      He pivoted it around slowly and we got a good view of metal struts, cabling and pipes all the way down into the gloom where the strut attached to the ship. Then it turned back around and began negotiating its way toward engine one's mount.
      Then it stopped, "do you see that?" Ken asked us.
      "Yes," one of the Terra Maru engineers said, "that's not good."
      "No sir, I'm looking for the other end."
      The drone had found a cable that had been severed and was drifting in slow spirals around the passage.
      "There, hold it, look," I said.
      "I got it, that's bad," Ken said as we all stared at the screen. It was focused on a cable that had been badly frayed with several internal copper strands exposed. "Ready for it to keep going?"
      "Yes, please."
      He maneuvered the drone on up further where it began to narrow slightly.
      "I saw something moving, on the second channel, hang on," Ken said and the drone began to pivot slowly.
      The image began to move. Then it moved some more.
      "We saw it, go back."
      "Got it."
      The lights had picked up a long piece of steel that was floating in a slow circle having been disturbed by the camera drone's thusters.
      "That's what's done the damage," one of the others said.
      "I wonder where it came from."
      "No idea, but it's not supposed to be there like that."
      "OK, I'm going to head back up, I'll have the worker come back and pull that out of here."
      "I've seen enough," I said, "we know what killed the engines, now we need to see what we can do to fix it. Ken, continue your inspection, I'm going to print a still and see if we can ID those cables."
      "I captured the image of the cable marker, I'll send it to the printer."
      "Ken?" the Maru engineer said, "he's running the probe?"
      I nodded, "Ken's been really good out here, he built the worker that took the hatch off, and came up with the idea for the fix we're going to try."
      The other engineer shrugged, "I've always thought he was a bunch of hype. Something they came up with to promote the space program. Like they did about him being the youngest person to ever leave Earth."
      I had to laugh, "I'd forgotten about all that young astronaut stuff. Some it was hype, but he is good."
      "I see that. Ken, go ahead and take it up as far as you can. While we're here, let's see the junction to the engines."
      "Yes, sir."
      The probe moved on through the loose wire, and then on along the passage.
      "Look at that," I said.
      The camera showed where the loose metal had dented one of the pipes that fed fuel to the engines.
      There was other damage to cables, and a few more scrapes and dents. Then we could see where the pylon joined the engine assembly with a sequence of connector plugs right dead center. The wires coming out of a couple of those showed where they had snapped then the loose beam had yanked on them.
      Just to one side was something else.
      "That's where it came from," several of us said at once.
      There was an obvious break on one of the stabilizing struts that angled out from the main load bearing beam. A section of it was simply missing. It had shattered at some point.
      After a long inspection of the break, the drone moved on.
      "Here's your pinch point," I said to Ken, "and it has shifted, that's what caused the structural failure."
      "But not in the way I expected."
      "No, it's worse."
      "But I think we can fix the brace if you can fix the wiring," the other engineer said. "One of our bots has a welder on it, I'm sure I can get in there and reattach that thing."
      "Sounds good. Ken, work it back out, we'll... well, what? Eat lunch and talk about it?"
      "As long as it isn't emergency rations, you're on, and I want to meet Mister Ken."
      "That can be arranged. Ken, when you get the drones secure, meet us in the rec pod, we're going to order everything in the place."
      "Sure thing."

Chief Engineer's Log
      One of the things the Commander was worried about was having the Argo supply power to the cripple during the time when their engines and other systems had to be shut down for us to evaluate damage and begin repairs. I assured him that the scheme we'd worked out to rotate fuel rods through the reactors from areas of high flux to lower flux and then only pulling the rods when totally spent had put us two full loads of fuel and control rods ahead.
      The scheme belonged to Stanley, with some input from the boy and others. I agreed to let them test it on one of the three reactors and see how it went. It became obvious that the new formula for the fuel rods, which was significantly different than those used on the first mission even though the overall reactor they were used in was the same, the new rods performed well with the rotation and the reactor they implemented the plan on was now operating with higher than spec efficiency and without having to totally change out all of the fuel rods en mass.
      We went with it on all three reactors, but did not modify the schedule of supply of new fuel for the reactors.
      To supply power to the relief ship during repairs we would simply put all new fuel rods in the two reactors that were online and run them as close to maximum as possible, and hold the other in ready reserve. That would give us plenty of power to run both ships. And we would still have an entire shipment of fuel rods in storage.
      The Commander wasn't aware that the fuel strategy that had been discussed during the transit from Venus to Mars was so successful. I am certain I mentioned it in one of my reports.
      Perhaps not.

Specialist Adebayo
      While the engineers made plans and worked, I and several other Argo-naughts met with the new crew and discussed various projects.
      But first, there was a serious discussion about haircuts.
      Hair Cuts.
      It would seem the Terra Maru left Earth orbit with an inadequate supply of barbering tools.
      They had medical scissors, but that was it.
      I was happy to inform them that not only did we have a fairly complete beauty shop installed in one corner of the rec pod during the refit, there was also all of the original hair and beard tools that had been sent up from both America and Germany for the original mission. And it was all still here, and operational. And that during my nursing training, one of the courses I had was as a beautician in a medial setting and had been acting as the barber and stylist for our mission.
      "In that case, would you mind doing me? I can't stand having my hair this long, and nobody on our ship could do more than whack at it with scissors since we left home."
      The difference was that now, with no artificial gravity, somebody had to hold onto the wall next to me with a vacuum hose to capture all the loose hair. Otherwise, it ended up everywhere in the room, and then it would clog the air filters.
      Once word was out that the barbershop was open, I got to meet almost everybody on the other ship. Which was OK, I mean, I did want to meet them, and this way, they came to me.

Doctor Aziz, CMO
      There were three physicians on the Terra Maru. Doctor Popoola was the CMO of the ship, and Doctors Smith and Chow were assigned to the new Argo crew.
      And all three of them insisted on coming up to our medical section with a list of concerns that they had been unable to adequately treat in the small but reasonably complete sickbay on the Terra Maru.
      "Yes, it is very well appointed. But it is small, and limited, and for the last two months, we've been rationing power. So some things just had to be delayed," Doctor Smith explained.
      One of those was the full treatment of an injury to the new Argo crew's third officer who had been injured while outside the ship in an EVA suit trying to diagnose the problems with the number one engine when it first happened.
      All she would say was that she had 'wrenched her back'. The Xrays and ultrasounds they did were inconclusive at best.
      The Argo Epic had an MRI machine.
      It took an order from every medical officer there, and both commanders and the captain of the Terra to get the third officer, still obviously in pain, to come up to our medical for a scan.
      She was a terrible patient. Even though it was obvious that whatever she had done to her back, in the general area of the first lumbar and twelfth thoracic vertebrae was still causing her serious pain, she insisted that she was needed EVERYWHERE but in medical.
      For us, the two physicians from the Argo, it was a relief.
      Besides the scan of Third Officer Bakker's back, there were some other injuries and a bit of a chronic illness to check out.
      We were doing Medical Stuff.
      Yes, we now had an entire staff, but they were in our world, or at least on our ship, and while most of them were familiar with the basic layout of the Argo's medical section from their training, we'd been living it.
      Ms Bakker's back was bad news.
      She had ruptured two discs, and one of them was in need of immediate surgery or she was risking permanent damage to her spinal cord.
      NOW we needed command opinions on a medical matter. From our Commander, and her Commander, and even the captain of the Terra Maru, because, if things went as planned, it would become an ambulance.
      We explained the problem, and Commander Pedersen asked the question we expected her to ask, "Can you do the surgery here? In these conditions?"
      "The basic surgery to relieve the pressure on her spinal cord? Yes. We can do that. We've got plasma in storage, drugs, everything we need."
      Doctor Smith nodded, "we have to do it. If we don't she may well end up crippled for life before she can get back to Earth."
      "How can it be that bad and she was still working?" Commander Nascimento asked us.
      Doctor Chow answered, "she spent a lot of time in traction, and then she would be half drugged out of her mind most of the time. And even then she was still in pain, but there was no other option, and in zero G, she didn't have to use her legs much. But the bulge in the disc is putting pressure on the cord." She pointed to the image on the screen.
      We all stared at the image and considered its meaning for a moment.
      Then Captain asked, "what does she think of this?"
      "Right now? She's sedated, it was the only way to get her to lay still for the scan."
      "You want to do it before she wakes up," he said to us.
      There were five MDs in the room, least three of us answered, "Yes, sir."
      "Back on the ship, she asked me a couple of times if there was anything else I could do for her, but other than the injections and manipulative therapy, and the traction, there wasn't. Now there is."
      Commander Nascimento looked at the other Commander, "She's yours."
      "It's your medical bay."
      "We have to let them do it."
      "We'll prepare the surgical room, you prepare the patient," I said to the others while nodding at Doctor Shinno.
      Doctor Smith nodded sharply, "Yes, ma'am. Which means, you all need to go do something else. It's going to take a couple of hours, we'll call you when we know something."
      Commander Nascimento laughed and looked at the other officers, "We have been dismissed."
      "Yes, indeed," the Captain answered.
      The pod that was designated a surgical bay had been very well designed. While it was made to use in the low gravity of the Argo's ring while it was rotating, somebody, somewhere, long ago, thought that it may have to get used in an emergency situation when the ship was not rotating. So there were everything from toe rails that could be flipped up out of the floor and locked in place to sticky pads that would gently hold astronaut sneakers in place, and even eyes built into the walls so you could bungee cord yourself in place and not risk drifting away from your patient. A patient, I might add, that was held in place by an ingenious system of hook and eye straps when there was no convenient artificial gravity around.
      Now, we went through and got all of those ready, and then began cleaning the room until it was cleaner than it had been when launched from Earth.
      One of the things that hadn't come up until now was the supply of blood plasma. We had been rotating it in and out of storage on schedule, with the crew grudgingly donating more from time to time, but we'd never had to use it.
      Now we had to thaw a couple of liters and have them to use. We also had to confirm her blood type and then round up the donors on the crew that matched and get a couple of donations of whole blood ready as well.
      Where we had had to snarl back at certain ones that had claimed we were vampires before, now we had to tell some of the members of the crew to stop calling and asking if we needed more.
      Doctor Chow came in while we were working and said that Ms Bakker had been conscious when they went back into the lab, they had explained what the test found and what we were planning and that she had agreed to it instantly.
      Doctor Shinno was relieved, she had been worried about not having the patient's full informed consent for surgery.
      The surgical lead would be Doctor Chow. She had the most experience of all of us with both the procedure that was needed and the patient herself. I was the anesthesiologist and Doctor Smith would assist the surgeon as needed, Doctor Shinno was wearing her 'surgical nurse' title with pride. Doctor Popoola would observe and keep the various commanders informed. Our own RN, Mr. Adebayo, and the one from the new crew, Ms Moreno, would be our 'gophers' for anything needed from other parts of medical during the procedure.
      It took two full hours just to get the patient into the room and secured. Then with one last look around, Doctor Chow said it was time to begin.

9. Commander Nascimento
      Instead of us hanging around and waiting for news from the surgery, I offered to take the officers from the new crew and the Terra Maru on a full tour of the Argo.
      Everybody knew it was a distraction, their chief engineer even commented on it several times, but in the end, they all went with me up to the Command Deck where myself and Officer Pelletier went over everything. And we spent a great deal of time explaining some of the changes that had been made since we had come on board.
      I know I checked the camera mounted in the ring outside medical every time I saw any movement. It was just Addy or one of the others coming or going for something. Doctor Popoola had said he'd page us when there was news.
      As we looked out the main windows, we could see Mars in the distance, so they asked us what was left at Mars to do before the crew lander was sent out next year.
      "Crew Lander?"
      They looked at each other, "Yeah, didn't they tell you? It's being prepped now. It'll be sent out and we'll use it to survey Mars. Right now, there's four landing sites we'll go to in turn. Then if it works out well, we'll do some others."
      We were all shaking our heads, "Nobody has said a word about that. The last I heard, it was still in the design stage."
      "They partnered with several private firms and got it moving."
      "Makes sense."
      "A robotic lander will go down first with supplies and even a rover for us to drive, then we'll go down in a module that is just a fancy taxi. The lander is even equipped with a small living space and work area."
      "Sounds nice, until something goes wrong."
      "They're sending three of the taxis, we'll keep one in warm reserve to come get us if needed."
      We all ended up looking out at the Terra Maru. There was a swarm of robots working on the pylon for Engine 1.
      In a few moments I said we should get moving and go see if that operation was making any progress.
      On the way back we gave them a brief tour of the bunks the Terra's Second Officer asked us how much time we really spent in our bunks.
      To which the current Argo crew laughed out loud.
      Finally, I it explained to Mr. Lamm, "During the solar storm when we were at Venus, some of our crew never left their bunk for four whole days. After that, some of them didn't want to spend any time at all in them for a long time. They even found someplace else to sleep. Since then, most of us will use the compartments to sleep. Other than that, not much."
      Pelletier agreed, "Some of the rooms on the Ring don't see a lot of activity, and they can be quite, and you can lay on the floor and feel the pad under you like in a real bed at home, and that's nice, but sometimes it's nice to be in your own room too."
      "I like the way you said 'when we were at Venus' like some people would say 'when we were at the grocery store'," Second Officer Lamm said with a smile.
      In one of the labs amidships we found: Three people in a pod designed to be used by one while working, they were in a command center and technology fair that had to have been designed by a madman in a hurry, there were multiple active viewscreens and open audio channels to other places on the Argo and on the Terra Maru, including incoming beeps and signals from the various robots outside all generating what could only be called a cacophony of purposeful and possibly meaningful sights and sounds, and on top of all of that, two of the three in the workspace were still eating lunch.
      "We had an idea and didn't want to wait until later to try it," an engineer from the new Argo crew said around a bite of a sandwich.
      "Yes, sir, Commander, we might be able to fix engine one today or tomorrow. Somebody may have to do a spacewalk to connect the other end, but we're rigging the new power and control cables right now," Ken explained. "We found the feed through from the ship into the pylon, we just unplugged the bad cables and brought them back in and spliced in the new. We rigged an extension, and here we go."
      "You did all that in a couple of hours?"
      "Yeah, the quick connects still worked, just click and click and that's it."
      The new engineer nodded, the other one was driving a robot reeling out cables while Ken ran the one securing it to the inside of the pylon with adhesive clips.
      "Where's Stan?" I asked them.
      "On the Terra, getting ready for the spacewalk."
      Captain Dromgoole didn't seem to be amused, "Commander, by your leave, I'd like to go see what is happening on my ship."
      "I think we'll come with you," I shook my head at Ken, "we need to have that talk about the chain of command again."
      "Yessir, but, with what was going on with Officer Bakker, we didn't want to bother everybody."
      "Commendable, but still."
      After being on the Argo Epic, the first thing that struck me was how small and close everything on the Terra Maru was. I had known the other ship was a lot smaller than the Argo, that, overall, it was about a third the size of my ship. But now, being on it, and knowing that we would soon be on it for the journey back to Earth, it was almost claustrophobic.
      Without exaggerating, we could see from the engineering section at the rear of the ship to the command section without effort. The modules along each side of the passage were the various labs and work areas, further forward were the sleeping compartments that two or three crew members each shared.
      "As you can see, Commander, it's not the Argo, but it is an efficient and very functional ship."
      "I think those are exactly the words I'd use."
      We heard some commotion back in the engineering section so the Captain led us back there.
      "Oh, Captain, we were just finishing up the connections for the next extension, it's ready to go to the airlock."
      "I'll take it," I said to the engineer and turned to the Captain, "Can you show me where the airlock is?"
      "My pleasure."
      The routine was that they'd place the cables in the service airlock, then close the inside door and depressurize it. Then open the outer door and call Ken's command center to send one of the robots to pick it up.
      I opened the channel and heard the confusion of noise and voices. In a moment I shrugged and announced that the next section of cable was ready to go.
      Somebody said they'd pick it up in a minute, so we waited until one of the adapted camera drones maneuvered in using its thrusters and grabbed the loosely coiled wires with a claw. Then it backed out and vanished.
      "Well, package delivered. Captain Dromgoole, it's your ship, where to now?"
      "Command, let's check on the status of everything up there."

Ken's Story
      We were all up in the rec pod when they helped Officer Bakker up the connector and over to medical.
      "She's really in bad shape with her back," Engineer Sewell said, and when I looked at him I noticed something about his uniform.
      "Which country are you from?" I asked as I counted five small flags on his patch.
      "We moved around a lot when I was a kid. So when I went to college, I just kept moving. There should be six flags, but Switzerland didn't want to claim me."
      Then we talked about the problem with engine one, and I mentioned I had seen the connector with the camera drone as I looped it around inside the base of the pylon on its way back out.
      "If we can see it, we might be able to unplug it," Engineer Sewell said, "then we might be able to plug in a new one."
      "Let's go try," Stan from our ship said, and we packed up our food and went to try.
      Once I had the end of the datalink cable loose, the rest with the power and control circuits was easy. The harder part was feeding the new cables through to the bulkhead connectors on either end without any loops or tangles. We were going to test the engine with the new cables in place and see if it worked.
      We had discussed whether or not the connections inside the coupling from the pylon through to the engine nacelle may have been damaged when the beam broke the cables, but there was no way to tell, there was no access inside the nacelle to inspect the wiring on the other side. We'd find out with the test. If it didn't work, or threw up a bunch of errors, we'd run the cable around outside and plug it in to the ground test panel just inside the ventral access hatch.
      Plugging the multi-pin data connector in was very delicate work. I managed the one to the ship on the fourth try, and I challenged myself to get the one to the engines sooner than that. And then, after a continuity test on the new circuit, we could test the engine's response to it.
      But that was interrupted.

Specialist Adebayo
      I had the most pleasant duty I have had on the ship.
      First I relayed the news to the both Commanders, then I got on the shipwide PA system and announced that the surgery on Officer Bakker had been a complete success and the pressure on her spinal had been relieved. That they had closed the incision and begun to revive her and that as soon as she started to wake up she confirmed that she had full sensation and movement on command in all her extremities.
      No sooner did I stop speaking into the com than I could hear cheering from all quarters of the ship.
      Then I returned to the surgical bay to assist with the cleanup.

10. Vinaya
      I was in command monitoring the open channels to and from Earth when Addy made his announcement.
      I had been sitting on a bit of news for the last two hours waiting on the surgery to be complete. I felt that the news would not only wait, but that to tell the doctors during the procedure may distract them or cause them to hurry, and to tell the commanders would just add another worry to their plates that they didn't need as well. A couple of hours would not make any difference at all.
      So I sat in command and waited.
      Now, about an hour after Addy's news, I called for both Commanders and the Captain of the Terra Maru to come to the Argo command deck as soon as possible, and that it was important.
      They responded as requested. I waited and keyed up both the official report from Mission Control and the video from one of the solar observatories. It showed three of them leaving the Sun in quick succession from a cluster of sunspots. The one that we were concerned with was the last of the three.
      The Coronal Mass Ejection was dissipating as it traveled, but it would still 'raise heck' with us as Mission Control put it.
      "It's about three days out. Traveling about thirteen hundred kilometers per hour. It MIGHT miss us."
      "And it might not," Charlotte whispered.
      Commander Pedersen was shaking her head, "We can't take the chance that it Might miss us."
      "Agreed," Commander Nascimento said, "we've got two full days to get ready. Let's batten down the hatches and get ready."
      "I don't know, so I'm asking. Would there be any advantage to undocking the ships?" Captain Dromgoole asked.
      "I don't know, let's ask the engineers."
      The three chief engineers talked about it for a few minutes, then came to the conclusion that it might make a little difference, but it'd be more trouble, and raise more problems than it might solve. Especially since the Terra Maru was still crippled.
      We all looked to the Commanders for the final word.
      "You've been through one, you're in charge," Commander Pedersen said which was immediately seconded by Captain Dromgoole and applauded by Charlotte.
      "Thanks a lot," Commander Nascimento, he looked back at me, "Is there any reading on the radiation levels with this one?"
      "According to the report, it won't be as bad as it was at Venus, but we should still get everybody into the core of the ship. Out in the Ring, it might reach harmful levels. This one will probably have about the same level of electrical disturbances as we saw there."
      He turned to Commander Pedersen, "you can oversee their moving Bakker down. I'll deal with the rest of the Argo, Captain, the Terra is yours. All the construction robots need to get into something shielded or they'll get their brains scrambled."
      "I remember what you went through at Venus. I'll have them ready."

Optical Specialist Carmelo Bianchi
      As soon as they announced it was coming our way I turned my attention toward the Sun and had multiple images of the approaching storm on screen in minutes.
      It was a dense field of plasma energy that was visible in multiple spectra, but it wasn't artistically beautiful in any way other than simply as a force of nature. There were few colors in it in visible light, no real patterns to the forces within it. And only around the edges of the densest part of the mass where it interacted with the solar wind was even interesting.
      I took multiple high definition images of it anyway, and sent them to Earth, and told my art print publisher to see if anybody would be interested. They had done wonders with some of my other images, they might be able to work with this as well.
      Some have objected to my profiting personally from my time out here. But those same people who object to my work have no problem with the others garnering scientific accolades from their time on the ship. When I return to Earth I am going right back to civilian life, why shouldn't I have a nest egg of work to show for my time on the mission?
      The commander asked for a live stream of the image with whatever telemetry I could get from it, including its speed and time to impact, and I did as I was asked.
      The early reports suggested that it might miss us. Not so with my tracking, and then later, as it came into range of the ship's systems it was confirmed. The main body of what had been the CME would pass just off to one side, but we'd catch plenty of the rest of it, and it would take almost a full day for it to pass.
      I began working closely with several of the scientists from both Argo crews to predict and perhaps help mitigate the effects of the storm on the ships and the people. And I was happy to do so.

Ken's story:
      To me, we had another day to work, and maybe get a test of the engines on the Terra. Then we'd start bringing everything in and making sure the drones and autonomous units were shielded better than they were for the first storm.
      I also wanted to check the damage to engine two of the Terra to see if that open wound on the ship might be trouble during the storm.
      And it was. There were a lot of bits of jagged metal sticking out that would attract static discharges from the storm.
      But other than unplugging the cables inside the pylon like we did on Engine One, there wasn't a lot else we could do. Then Engineer Stan had the idea of wrapping the entire nacelle in metallic sheathing.
      "It won't stop all of it, but it might take some of the sting out of it," he said. And we all agreed that it was better to try something than to do nothing and just hope for the best.
      We pulled the insulating cover off two of the cargo pods that were on the docking ring and bound it around the damaged engine as tightly as we could.
      Then we set to work reeling in the solar arrays and everything else that was in danger from either temperature fluctuations or electrical discharge or even random impacts with denser particles that were part of the storm.
      We were really busy for about forty eight hours.
      Then we pulled in all but two of the drones and robots, and had four hours to spare.
      "Well, that gives us a chance to get ourselves ready," Stan said.
      "I am ready," I answered him.
      We had to share quarters, and the central passage, with most of the new Argo crew and some of the crew from the Terra.
      But that way we all got to know each other better.
      And it was only for just over one day.
      It became absolutely nerve wracking when all of the lights and everything else went out, almost all at once, as the storm began tripping circuit breakers.
      There was static jumping from us to the ship and back. And everybody talked about the tingling they had all over their skin.
      After the fan motors and the rest of the shipboard equipment went quiet could hear the storm as it interacted with the ship. Which meant we could also hear as it started to let up.
      So we could cheer and applaud for it.

11. Stan
      It had done it at Venus, but we didn't think it would do it now. This storm wasn't supposed to be as bad as that one. Even with it being a good-sized coronal mass ejection, we were twice as far from the source as before.
      Except nobody had told the storm.
      The damage wasn't as severe because it didn't have the heat or radiation the first had in it, but it was even more widespread from the electrical aspect of the storm.
      It tripped almost every electric power breaker and surge protector on both ships. We had fuses blown in equipment that we didn't know had a fuse in it to blow.
      While there was no major heat or radiation damage to anything, there was odd bits of it here and there. Some of it was even funny, later. One of those was a circuit board inside a console that had overheated when the fan inside the unit lost power while the unit was still on and had turned into something of a balloon with the two outer layers of the board bulging away from the middle one. I'd never seen that happen before.
      The theory we worked up was that with the Terra docked sideways across the length of the Argo it made us a bigger and better target for every stray electron in the storm. And they took advantage of it.
      We prioritized our work, and got busy.
      First we restored life support on both ships, then we worked on everything else.
      It was almost a week after the storm before we could go around and ask if there was anything else that needed fixed and everybody came up empty.
      As for the running lights on the outside of the Argo and the Terra, that took longer, but as they weren't really a critical system, nobody got all upset when we took our time fixing them. Even Captain Dromgoole said he didn't care if they never got fixed, as long as he could breathe and the engines worked, he'd be happy.

Doctor Aziz
      Officer Bakker could not stand being in traction during the storm, but she also understood that her spine was being held together with good wishes and first aid tape, and for the next few days, in spite of whatever the Sun threw at us, she had to stay put.
      It was a communal effort to move her from the medial suite down to a bunk that the engineers had rigged a good solid traction frame in. This was also when we were all grateful that there was no gravity, and all we had to do was secure her to a backboard and then let her gently float through the ship without any sudden movements or jarring. And they were all so careful with her that while she was slowly floating down the connector off the ring, she said she had a nice nap.
      However, she did insist on participating in some way, and the best way we could come up with that would satisfy her was to connect a pad to command and let her monitor the ship's systems and the storm from where she was installed in Officer Pelletier's bunk with her traction frame lashed to the walls of the compartment.
      She kept track of which systems went dark, and by the end of it, her battery powered unit was one of the few screens still working.
      The radiation levels on the ship were only a fraction of what they had been during the storm at Venus. Which was fortunate all things considered.
      The only injuries were a few bumps and bruises from the close quarters, and some hurt feelings, and a handful of minor shocks and burns to the various engineers who just had to go see what happened when there was a static discharge somewhere on the ship and they found out the hard way that it wasn't over with.
      Other than that, the crew fared rather well, even if some of us had frizzy hair for a few days.

The Transition.
Commander Filipe Nascimento
      It was never directly stated by any of us, but it began right after the all clear was given even before all the lights were back on.
      We began to transition the Argo to the new crew.
      There was no official timetable like there had been when the Terra Maru was going to make the full round trip from Earth to Mars and then back again. But now, with it just over halfway and missing an engine, things were different.
      For one, and to put it bluntly, we had time to kill.
      More than that, we were months ahead of schedule, millions of kilometers out of position, and nowhere near where we were supposed to be to intercept two incoming cargo pods.
      Fortunately Mission Control was able to redirect both of them, but whether or not the course corrections were enough to reroute the pods remained to be seen.
      The first one had made a hard right turn and was supposed to be coming our way for the last few weeks. And if it really was, it should show up on our long range radar and we'd begin receiving telemetry from it in the next few days.
      The other one is about a month behind that one, so it had to make a less dramatic course correction and everybody is pretty confident it will make it.
      But of course, there was still repairs to be made to the Terra Maru. And, believe it or not, while we were all crammed together in the center of the Argo, the various engineers had been dreaming up a way to build an engine to replace the destroyed one on pylon two, and how to move various thrusters out there from elsewhere on the Terra and even a couple of the ones on the Argo as well.
      The way the new Chief Engineer, a "Capitan" from the Spanish Air Force who went by his surname, Gomez, put it was that their replacement would have enough thrust to minimize the push off course when the other two engines were running at less than fifty percent power. It meant that the trip back to Earth would take longer, but we wouldn't miss the planet.
      Which, when we discussed it, was a good enough reason to let them try.
      So now there were to major engineering projects going on. The first was what had originally been planned, the upgrade and refit of various systems on the Argo itself. The second was the construction of a liquid fueled rocket engine out of spare parts and things they could make in the various labs and the improvised machine shop on the Argo.
      The systems upgrade to the Argo went smoothly albeit more slowly than the outlined script. However, the building of the engine didn't. The primary problem was that there weren't a lot of components available that could withstand the temperature and pressure extremes, even when it was being designed to supplement the primary engines as something of an over-sized and over-powered maneuvering thruster and not a main propulsion unit itself.
      They scavenged things from the destroyed engines, and even removed some parts from the good engines, and thought about it, and then revised their plans, and, eventually, had something that didn't melt during a prolonged test, and, equally importantly, shut down on command to sit in the cold of space for several hours, and then restart.
      But now they had to figure out a way to mount their improvisation on the existing engine mounts on the pylon.
      That was the side of the problem that Ken had been thinking about and working toward.
      He had had his construction robots remove what they could of the damaged engines and thrusters while they were scavenging the parts and fixtures that might be useful for the replacement. Then he began working with the engineers from the Terra to devise mounts that could support whatever the others came up with.

12. Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      There was only one room on either ship big enough to have the party I had been planning for three months, the command deck on the Argo.
      I was assisted by Officer Bakker, who was grateful for something meaningful to do that kept her away from the medical staff and their endless reminders not to bend a certain way or to try to move anything with more than a kilo of mass.
      At first I thought maybe we were planning a going away party for the two ships, but then, as things went, it became obvious that while the date of separation was on the horizon, it wasn't that close yet.
      The occasion was that it was now one year from the date when Officer Bakker sent the message to me that they were going to be late.
      We had a special meal, videos from Earth including a special musical presentation made by a group from Houston that fancied themselves jazz musicians in addition to working in Mission Control there, and so on.
      Finally, on the date, we went around and told everybody on both ships that they had to stop whatever they were doing, and some were engaged in everything from active research tracking a small comet with an erratic orbit all the way down to testing engine mounts or sleeping, and come to command.
      There were several that really weren't aware that we had been planning the get together and when they floated into the heavily decorated command deck with three large screens projecting images from various places on Earth and a spread of food that really was impressive, they were stunned.
      We had allotted between four to six hours for the party, complete with the meal and the music, speeches by several Earth VIPs, an announcement of a promotion for one of the members of the crew of the Terra Maru in their service, and whatever else was to happen.
      Twelve hours later there were still people in command eating, chatting with each other and Earth, and playing music.
      I went to the bunk I was now sharing with Bakker, took a nap for several hours, and came back, expecting to help clean up, and simply joined in with the continuing festivities.
      Command didn't get back to usual for almost two full days when we transferred the live feed to the rec pod.
      Then we got to take down the bunting from the misdirected cargo.
      And after the party, my work station in command became her work station in command, and Officer O'Driscoll worked from a spare workstation that had a large display that he said he liked better than three small ones.
      But it didn't take long before it became obvious that Bakker was still having back problems.
      We talked about it and agreed to work together and see if she could get back to full duty as the Third Officer of the Argo, including overseeing a command shift.
      And that party gave rise to a long term experiment that involved both crews, and Earth, and was something we were proud of even though it was rather embarrassing.
      The sanitation systems on the Argo was well capable of supporting its normal crew. Supporting both crews meant that it was operating at almost full capacity, but it was still able to handle it. Adding on the more than occasional use by the crew of the Terra meant that it was running hard, but the engineers were still confident that the system was up to it.
      Adding what amounted to a two day festival to its normal use overtaxed all three systems.
      There was extra garbage, extra human waste, and extra 'stuff' of all descriptions that we had to do something with.
      The suggestion came up during the party while we were playing basketball with a wad of plastic wrap that had been around a selection of Japanese junk foods.
      But then, faced with the reality of the problem, it wasn't such a bad idea anyway. And then a couple of the scientists said it was a good opportunity to do a study of time distortion and other things related to the idea.
      We filled one of the cargo pods we had stripped of its shielding with 'refuse', sealed it up, and launched it at full speed toward the sun.
      The science side of it was a group of transponders that repeated sequences of numbers at a known rate that could picked up by anybody with a receiver tuned to its frequency so we could all compare notes.
      We set its course so that it would miss everything between here and the sun, and it should accelerate all the way into the star, or until it began to come apart, whichever. First under the gradual thrust of its engines, then the burn of a couple of spare solid rocket motors that hadn't been used at Mars, and finally, the Sun's gravity.
      So we turned a pod full of unprocessed poo and garbage into an experiment on time distortion during acceleration into a gravity well.
      Which is a good thing, right?

Combined Chief Engineer's Log
      We were able to push the sanitary system at full capacity for some time and get the water content in the organic waste that we were going to jettison in the pod down to under thirty percent. It wasn't as low as it could be, or even that it should be, but, for now. It would do.
      When run at normal capacity, the resulting effluent would be in the single digits of moisture content. For right now, that simply was impossible. The Argo Epic's storage tanks were full and we had people bagging solid waste of all descriptions and stashing it in unacceptable places.
      Once the content of the final tank had had most of its original water removed, we emptied it into a reinforced cargo bags and then moved it up to the pod and strap it in. We did that several times and even though the partially desiccated waste was much smaller and had much less mass than the original material, it was still a significant load of material, and quite a few more liters of otherwise reclaimable water, but, given the circumstance, it was a loss of that resource that was probably better for the ship overall than trying to recover it.
      There was also the inorganic bulk waste that was as compressed as we could make it. Such as empty containers and wraps from the party, and even three of the empty drink bags that had been full of the Engineering Department's greatest contribution to the party, Chief Engineer Baxter's 'space gin', that had been damaged after being inflated and used as beach balls, and were now 'trash'.
      It had been the most popular item on the menu. It was served straight out of the big bags, in smaller bags as punch, and even in small droplets floating around in the air when one of the bags sprung a leak.
      Terra Maru's Captain Dromgoole and the new Second Officer of the Argo, O'Driscoll, floated together off to one side and evaluated the elixir in terms of what they had heard about it from the original mission and the rumors that abounded about it on the current one.
      Together they very nearly emptied one two and a half liter bag before they came to the conclusion that given where we were and what else was available, that it would do nicely. It was fortunate that they were in free fall and didn't have to walk a straight line with heel to toe because, at that point, we doubt if either could.
      The live video link to Earth had been running constantly for over thirty hours when it was finally shut down, we were all quite proud that it had maintained the connection, an acceptable rate of transfer, and suitable quality of the transmissions for the duration. Of course, it helped that we were essentially stationary in space, and that the Argo was not rotating. But even then, given the considerable distance between us and Earth, and that this had been the longest live broadcast from a spacecraft to Earth ever, it all made the video link notable in and of itself.
      Of course, there was also the fact that all three crews were engaged in some unbounded silliness, with some wearing what passed for fancy dress, or in a couple of cases, much less, and so on, made it even more notable.
      And then there was the gifts.
      We had known there had been personal packages on the last cargo pod to come in before the party. However, Officer Pelletier and Officer Bakker had confiscated them and hid them in the old commissary room in the ring, and then locked it.
      Then, during the party, they brought everything to a standstill and got together and had a couple of the drones deliver the packages so the recipient was on camera when they got their gift.
      Everybody got two packages. One was from the Mission Team on Earth and was reasonably serious. The other was from their family or friends and was either sentimental or funny, or, in a few cases, both.
      As it involved everybody from both Argo crews and the Terra Maru, it took some time. But there was good music, and booze, and an endless array of food, so it went well. And everybody on Earth got to see each and every one of us open their packages.
      But even with the aftermath of the party, we still had serious work to do.
      First was the live test of the restored connection to the Engine One Nacelle. It was painstaking work to verify that not only was everything connected correctly to the engineering stations on the Terra Maru, that the engine that had been cold soaking for so long would refire when it was told to, and not explode as Engine Two had.
      It would either work, or we'd start over.

Ken's story:
      It had been a great party. And I stayed for the whole thing in spite of wanting to keep working on the Terra's new engine and maneuvering thrusters. But I had both commanders, both chief engineers and Stan tell me to go. And the Captain of the Terra told me not to touch his ship while he was at the party, and he was going to the party. So I had to go to the party.
      And I'm glad I did.
      The karaoke was fun, and some of them can really sing. And even I can dance when there is no gravity, or dance floor, and most of the song is spent trying not to crash into the main windows or each other.
      My gift from Houston was a new tool kit with testers and things like that all inscribed with my name and the logo of the Argo Epic. I thanked them and said that I'd try it all out as soon as the party was over and we got back to work on the Terra. I had two gifts besides that, one was from the publisher of my Pocket reference book who had appreciated my mentioning that it had really been a help on board the Argo, they had sent me a special edition of their book with a new chapter dedicated to space travel and the forces at work on the ship. The other was from my parents, they sent me a scrapbook of all sorts of pictures of the family, and even some stills from my time on the Argo, and a Darnestown letterman's jacket with my name and a letter on it and a cross country pin for my running around the ring. There was even a couple of pictures of my roommate and some other people like that. It was nice to get it.
      But then after we all got a good night's sleep, we got back to work.
      We had made a lot of progress on getting the Terra Maru back in shape to make the return trip to Earth, but it still wasn't ready, and the Captain didn't want to leave until he was sure that they wouldn't end up sending another distress call halfway to their destination again. Which meant the Argo had to stay here as well. There simply wasn't any other option for Millions of Miles in any direction.
      The continuity testing went on forever. And there were a few minor rewirings we had to do inside the ship to account for a couple of crossed circuits somewhere in the cables. But we did it.
      And then we had to begin the procedure to test the engines in the nacelle. Which took forever again.
      But we made progress.
      It also left me facing the choice that I'd been facing since it was announced that the relief ship was on its way.
      When the Terra left: Was I going to go home on it?
      I know my parents had sent me the scrapbook to make me homesick. And it did do a little of that. But it also reminded me that back home I would still be just another guy. Here, I was an assistant engineer. I was helping do hard science, and working with more colleges and high schools than I can count to get more kids in dozens of countries interested in science and all that.
      Mister Thompson had said that if I did come home that he would line up appearances and speaking engagements whenever and wherever I wanted to do them, as long as I told the kids that there were better ways to get on a spaceship than what I had used. But I don't know if I wanted to do that.
      I couldn't move back into the apartment if I'd wanted to. Everybody there was long gone, and the building had been sold and was now a condo. I knew my parents would let me come back home, but I couldn't do that to them either.
      The more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to stay on the Argo if Commander Pedersen would let me.
      And there was the other problem, I don't know if she would let me, and I hadn't worked up the courage to ask her.
      Not yet.
      But I knew that before too long the Terra would be ready for a test run and I'd have to decide one way or the other, which meant I'd have to ask the new commander if I can stay, or ask the Captain if I could have a ride back to Earth.
      And I still don't know what I'm going to do.

13. Doctor Ranya Aziz, CMO
      I know I made 'the speech' to every member of my crew and most of the members of the new crew, and the majority of those on the Terra Maru.
      And I know for a fact, and have evidence to support it that only a handful of them have acted on the information.
      The subject of my lecture was: They have to work extra hard now to avoid loss of bone and muscle due to the total lack of induced gravity on the Argo.
      I know I have been taking extra time on the resistance exercise equipment and running extra laps in the ring. I know Doctor Shinno and the others on the combined medical staff have been as well. But even young Mister Ken has said that he is working extra hours on getting the other ship back in working order and doesn't have time or energy to put in on exercise.
      And the other engineers and scientists have all claimed the same sort of excuse.
      I have even beseeched the commanders to give our recommendation the weight of being an order, but both of them declined, instead, they announced that it was 'a good idea'. And when we suggested that they lead by example, they did comply, for exactly two days, but then they both claimed they were needed to oversee the testing of the new engine on the Terra Maru.
      Against my better judgment, we even promoted a charity event with matching funds from all sorts of sponsors and similar participation at indoor tracks in places like Finland and California with a "24 hour Nude Relay".
      We got enough interest to cover about a third of the scheduled running shifts, and No, I did not run laps in the ring, but I did do a shift in my underwear on one of the treadmills. I used the excuse of having to wear a harness to stay on the machine and it irritated my skin as to why I was not in my 'birthday suit' during my stint.
      I was shocked, however, when Dr. Shinno's medical school in Japan agreed to participate, if she did. What was more surprising than her agreeing to run two shifts during the event was that at the end of the day her school had logged more kilometers covered and raised the most money for their charity than any of the other host locations.
      Out of a total combined crew of thirty or so who could do it besides the two of us, we had nine others run a portion of the relay. A very disappointing figure to be sure.
      But there is a bright side to it as well.
      With their lack of participation, as well as the engineering staff now working in a high stress environment, we have been able to document the changes to their minds and bodies as we go.
      When we stopped rotating to produce our gravity there had been a run of 'space sickness' with our crew of the Argo, especially in those who spent most of their time in the ring. One of those was my own which lasted for about three days. As it turns out, that meant that I fell right in the middle of the range for the average duration of the condition.
      Since we have docked with the Terra and all three crews have been working 'overtime' to get the damaged ship back under way we have been tracking both reported illnesses and injuries and 'unreported' ones that we later get word of. And all of those categories have been increasing.
      There have been several minor cuts, the most serious of which involved several stitches, and more than a few sprains and strains. As well as several crew members reporting things like repetitive use soreness in wrists and elbows.
      There has also been a rash of headaches, and one low blood pressure incident. All attributed to overwork, not enough rest, and not eating or drinking what they needed.
      Then the injuries took a step. We had a crewman from the Terra dislocate a shoulder with the added attraction of a strain to several ligaments and a badly mashed hand. He had tried to move a piece of equipment and forgot that "weightless" does not mean "MASS less" and while he got the machine to move, he couldn't stop it once it did.
      Finally, a full ninety days after the big party, the senior medical staff had to approach the commanders and the captain of the Terra Maru as a combined medical staff and demand that they order all three crews to stand down for at least twenty four hours. And that for everybody to swear to observe the "5, 2, 1 rule". That is, that everybody get at least five hours of sleep, two meals, and one shower, in that twenty four hour period. And "Everybody" included commanders, captains, and chief engineers.
      They agreed.
      The order went into effect at Zero Hour on the next day, giving everybody several hours of notice to wrap up whatever they were working on and get to a stopping place.
      For the first time since the party the entire ship, both ships, got quiet. There was no robots on the outside pounding on anything, no grinding or welding. Instead of that noise, there was conversations over meals, some music could be heard here and there. There was even laughter as several of them attempted to play poker in the rec pod.
      It was eerie. And pleasant.
      The communications links with Earth were very popular, as was both bathing cubicles on the Argo, and the uniform washing stations. And judging by the number of containers of food brought out of storage and hauled out to the ring, the majority of all three crews got more than Two meals on their day off.
      And then, by actual recorded date and time, at 0009 hours the next day, Mister Gomez activated three construction robots, now with fully charged power units, to begin work on the number two pylon's new engine once again.
      Break was over.

Doctor Kristoffersen
      We have been assisted by Mister Bianchi and various others as we have investigated what appears to be a member of the class of objects that is of limited and poorly understood membership.
      It is neither an asteroid nor a comet. But it exhibits properties of both, with a lot of its composition being metallic rock while its surface appears to be almost entirely covered with ices. And then we have its orbit which is plotted to be entirely within the orbit of Saturn, and, if our reckoning is correct, it never ventures inside the orbit of Earth, and while that orbit is eccentric, it is still mostly within the plain of the overall solar system.
      Once we had begun to track the object, it somehow had the Latin word prodigialis attached to it. And so it was unofficially named at least for now.
      The theorists began to debate whether it started out life as an asteroid that was later knocked out of orbit to begin accumulating its load of ice. Or had it been a comet that was somehow interrupted in its flight and then to assume its current orbit to be later discovered by us? Or, was it, like Chiron and Echeclus, one of those things that exist to confound academic astronomers who like things all neat and orderly.
      I put forth the idea that it was its own creation and had been as it was now since the very early days of the Solar System and there may well be more of its kin out here. And so I had Mister Bianchi begin a survey along Prodigialis's orbit to see if there were more like it more or less following a similar path around the Sun.
      He has returned some interesting preliminary contacts, and we are working on those results.

Doctor Lorraine Latour
      Our high speed pod with the advanced telemetry units on board is now the fastest man-made object to ever fly Toward The Sun.
      And as such, we are receiving some interesting data from it on both counts.
      We have already detected some time differentiation in the signals, and the temporal disturbance detector has registered a latent standing wave that appears to be coming from the pod, as well as the pod itself having measured some variables in the Solar Wind as it reached its turning point to begin its approach to the Sun and its own maximum velocity.
      As such, I am fully aware that my time on the Argo Epic is drawing to a close. And, unlike some of the others, I am OK with that. I have completed my primary research goals and delivered my results and papers to Earth, and was now conducting opportunistic research such as with the cargo pod that was flying toward its own doom.
      There have been several on Earth, and perhaps a couple on the Argo Epic itself, who have wondered why I pushed so hard to be a member of this crew. To them I have given explanations that the entire body of research that I purposed needed me to oversee it on the ship, or that there were variables that would have to be adjusted for or have various instruments re-calibrated to account for.
      One of my colleagues put forth another reason for me to be on the Argo: I would be 'out of town' for an extended period of time and she would have our shared office to herself.
      But it has worked out well. I have sent the majority of my work here to a graduate assistant who has taken over my side of that office part of the time. Together they have published the articles and overseen the distribution of other data as needed. And now, that the end of the mission is in sight, they have begun to make arrangements for me to have some time off and then sometime in an upcoming semester to step back into the classroom.
      And I know several of my colleagues on the Argo Epic are making similar plans.

14. Chief Engineer's log
      With the successful low power test of the new engine on the Terra Maru we are making arrangements to undock the ship and test all three engines.
      It will be a similar flight readiness test as was done with the ship prior to its official commissioning. With one big exception. We know what was wrong with it, and why it should have never been approved for operation.
      We have sent evidence of shoddy construction and defective parts back to Mission Control, and various governments and space authorities have brought charges against suppliers and contractors, and even against some of their own bureaucrats who approved different aspects of the ship's engines that have since failed.
      We've also inspected engine three, and its pylon, and cables, and everything else we can find to inspect on it.
      It is the only engine that has operated since launch with no substantial problems. There was no evidence of overheating, and the only problem we could find was some evidence of heat damage around the fringes of the thrust chambers. But that was not only expected, it was a useful sign that the engines had been burning normally and without obstructions in the fuel injectors or the combustion chamber itself.
      The engines on Pylon Three were fine. And, as it turned out from the information sent back to us from Mission Control, that was the first engine assembly and pylon built and installed. Engine Assembly One was next, and was the one that had shifted and broken its support, which cut the data cable and caused the failure. Then Engine Two was installed, which had exploded.
      Our replacement engine would have, at best, a third of the thrust of the others. But, with careful use, it should serve its primary purpose of keeping the ship on course.
      We had flatly cannibalized a lot of the two engines in the damaged nacelle. Some of the parts we had to combine or repurpose. Others we could use as they were. The explosion of the beta engine had damaged its mate, but it hadn't totally destroyed it. Something which we were grateful for.
      The result of several months of work was a crude and flatly ugly contraption. It did not superheat the incoming fuel, it did not operate with the its primary pump running at 27,000 rpm, or having its hydrogen at over 80 mbars. Its power was regulated by controlling the flow of fuel and oxidizer with the valves and pumps. With ignition being instigated with what amounted to a set of, believe it or not, 'sparkplugs'. And the thrust chamber from the destroyed alpha engine being reinstalled on it.
      It was the simplest liquid fueled rocket engine that size that I'd ever seen actually work. And it worked.
      During what amounted to the extended bench test, the new engine fired, was run at a fraction of its power for long enough to get everything hot. Then we shut it down, and let it set for awhile, then we fired it up again.
      It didn't explode!
      Now all that was left was a thrust test with the Terra Maru undocked from the Argo.
      And thus ensued the most serious debate I've ever been part of.
      Captain Dromgoole wanted to take his ship out on a shake down cruise with minimal crew. He wanted to run the engines at best power for several days, then turn around and test its maneuverability on the way back. Then, if everything worked, and the Terra Maru made it back in one piece, we'd begin to get it ready and manned for the trip back to Earth.
      However there was a vocal minority that said that no matter what, the Terra Maru should undock from the Argo, and set its course for Earth, and go that way once and for all. That taking the ship out on a test run just added another chance for something to go wrong with everything from the docking couplings to unnecessary fuel usage.
      In the end, both Argo commanders and Mission Control deferred to the Captain and first officer of the Terra Maru and the shake down cruise was scheduled for Tuesday.
      That gave the engineering crews a chance to make final adjustments and do one more bench test before the ship was sent out on its own.

Ken's Story:
      I volunteered myself and a full set of construction and maintenance robots to go along on the test flight. Captain Dromgoole thought about it, and approved it.
      We did the work needed, and another test, and then, the day before the flight I transferred an operational center for the outside robots I was taking to the Terra.
      We closed the airlock, and checked everything out. Then the Terra was released and pushed away from the Argo by the big robotic arm. The Captain used the maneuvering thrusters to move us away from the big ship as I watched the gauges on the new engine on Pylon 2 as we brought the fuel pumps to pressure.
      So far, so good.
      It was a nervous couple of minutes while we brought the engines up and then lit them.
      All three came to life and the Terra began to move away from the Argo at speed.
      It was the first time I'd ever seen the entire Argo Epic from outside.
      All I could say was "wow".
      But I was there to monitor the various improvised systems while the regular engineering crew of the Terra did what they had to do.
      We ran the new engine as close to full power as we could, which was at something on the order of thirty thousand kilos of force. Less than half of what each individual engine in the other assemblies could push.
      But Captain Dromgoole knew his ship, he also developed a technique for pulsing the regular engines with the new engine burning constantly to accelerate the ship at a reasonable rate while maintaining our correct heading.
      We were a day out from the Argo when he slowed the ship and began our turn to take us back when he called an assembly of everybody on board on the command deck of the Terra.
      "All right," he said, "We're as far out as we're gonna get. I want a report from all stations. Status, problems, observations. All of it. Let's hear it now so when we get back to the Argo we can take care of it."
      There were a few minor issues, including trying to keep the fuel flow to the new engine at a constant rate, but I offered a solution to that by suggesting we put an inline pump on the main line to make up for the lack of a distribution pump and valve assembly that had been destroyed in the explosion.
      All in all, it was a good test.
      And to me, it proved to me that I belonged on the Argo. I liked my trip on the Terra Maru, but it wasn't the Argo.
      We docked, and I arranged to leave a couple of the more versatile robots and their control units on the Terra, then we worked on installing the new continuous flow pumps on the main fuel lines for engine two.
      Then I had to go talk to Commander Pedersen.

Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      I was in Command with acting Second Officer O'Driscoll when Ken came up looking for Commander Pedersen.
      I knew what he wanted just by the look on his face.
      "You want to stay here when we go back to Earth."
      "Yes, ma'am," he answered without hesitation.
      "Then there is something you need to know," Officer O'Driscoll said.
      "Sir? Ma'am?"
      "Yes. And you might as well tell him now," I answered.
      Officer O'Driscoll nodded slowly before he spoke. "Third Officer Bakker is going back to Earth. They're afraid if she stays out here her back is going to get worse again. And she agrees with them."
      "I'm sorry, that had to be a really tough thing for her to decide to do."
      "It was," Commander Pedersen said from the access, with Commander Nascimento right behind her.
      "Commander, I was..."
      "I heard. And since you are going to stay, there's something we want to ask you."

15. Commander Nascimento
      It took us awhile to find out who broke the news on Earth.
      The message certainly did not come of somebody on the Argo or the Maru.
      It was leaked, almost simultaneously, from both Mission Controls, and was all over the media before Mission Control in Houston sent a message asking if Commander Pedersen was out of her mind.
      We had known that "Earth" monitors the cameras and microphones in Command almost constantly since we left Earth. They have also been known to eavesdrop in the rec pod and a couple of other places on the ship from time to time.
      But until this incident, they'd never overtly reacted to anything said or done on board
      But then, as we discussed how to tell others, that first message from NASA came in, then it was immediately followed up by other messages, including a glowing affirmation from Princess Ingrid of Denmark who had been a very vocal supporter of Ken's continuing education and duties on the ship.
      Both Mission Controls were also suddenly overrun with requests for full biographies of the new crew. Something every media outlet on their list had already been sent. And requests for the specs of the Terra Maru, which they also had. And even information about the surgery done on Officer Bakker, which they had had since it was performed.
      Commander Pedersen laughed when she read the message from the Princess. It had a dateline from the Faroe Islands, where the Commander had family still living. The princess was on a tour in support of her education agenda. Which explains her interest in our guest crewman.
      Officer O'Driscoll chuckled and said that we could tell NASA that his appointment to the spot had a royal mandate.
      I agreed that that might deflect some of their objections.
      There were several conditions we put in place before we made the offer to Ken. Those included that he had to continue his education as that was good for the overall mission and had convinced students all over the world to go into fields related to the space program.
      Ken agreed to that one, and added that it had been fun most of the time.
      Another condition was that he observe the chain of command and work under chief engineer Gomez when he was not on duty, just as Engineer Stanley had been doing.
      He agreed to that one as well.
      The last condition was that Ken not make any substantial changes to the Argo without consulting the Commander.
      He hesitated, but agreed.

Multiple Crewmembers signed the following response to an editorial on the web based forum "Science Provocateur". the Argo's response was written by Doctor Sventlana Kambov
      The gist of the unsigned editorial was that the crew of the Argo Epic has spent the last four years engaged in, as the writer of the editorial put it, "Sloppy Science", across all disciplines. To support their conclusion they cite a few incidents, which, while humorous, were scarcely the norm, and, in reality, can and have happened in the most rigorously controlled laboratories in both the academic and commercial world.
      Yes. It is a well documented fact that a few of our lab animals have escaped, and some have died. Yes, several of our botanical subjects have exhibited unexpected properties. And, yes, some of our investigative apparatus in various labs has been adapted from non-scientific devices. And Yes, much assistance on all fronts, including the work done on Venus, Mars, and other bodies in the Solar System has been from those who are not credentialed and dedicated scientists at all but are instead, career military officers. Yes, all that, and more, is true.
      However, none of that has any bearing on the results of the research done on the ship.
      The science done on the Argo Epic, whether involving the tracking of drain flies in a weightless environment or the measurements of a rogue asteroid using a TV camera and an improvised laser range finder mounted on a docking arm, has been sound, IF unorthodox on occasion. And for that matter, the majority of the work done on the ship, has been very orthodox and we have carefully followed all the relevant scientific protocol for our various fields as far as is possible given our circumstances.
      To put it simply:
      Their charge is baseless, offensive, and made solely to drawn attention to themselves.
      If the editorial writer has concrete evidence to support their charge, so be it, we request that said evidence be made public to be evaluated and ruled on by qualified and neutral authorities.
      If not:
      The crew of the Argo Epic, and their support staffs on Planet Earth, hereby demand that the editorial be withdrawn and a public apology issued.

Statement from Joint Mission Command, ESA, ISRO, JAXA, NASA
      We, the ground teams and support staff for the crews of the Argo Epic, stand behind their demand.

Special Statement from the owner and publisher of the "Science Provocateur" web forum.
      The editorial writer who questioned the work of the crew of the Argo Epic in such an unprofessional and flatly sensationalist basis, without suitable grounds to do so, is no longer affiliated with this forum. All of their submissions in our archive are now being independently reviewed and vetted as to whether they will be retained in our library. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this most unfortunate incident.
      As a group, we the admins and staff of the forum support and salute the gallant crews, past, present, and future, of the grand spacecraft: The Argo Epic.

Special From the International News Network,'morning live' program.
      "Good morning. Some time ago we sent a message out to the crew of the Argo Epic that had launched from Earth to travel to Venus, and then out to Mars, on an extended planetary science mission. The occasion was that their mission was coming to an end and soon they would be on their way back to this planet, and home. There was an unexpected delay and change of plans for the rendezvous, but as it was recently announced that their departure for home is now on the schedule we are going to air the special as developed now....."
      "... we asked them all two questions, and then asked if there was any other message they'd like to relay to anybody here, and then had them video their answers and send them to us. Only one member of the crew dismissed the entire concept as silly and refused to submit an answer to most of it."
      "Today, in this special, we bring you their answers to our first question. Enjoy."

"What do you want to do when you get home?"

      Italian Optics Specialist, Carmelo Bianchi, ESA
      "My first answer may be somewhat unusual, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I heard the question, so I will tell you. And it is nothing against anybody that's up here now. No, it is just me.
      "I want to work with somebody else, somebody new, I mean, somebody new that isn't a cosmonaut or something.
      "Let me tell you this story, before all this started I had a summer intern who came to me from a university in Rome. It would be fair to say that she was fully aware that she had little future as a photographer, or even an on site assistant, but she did have a good future as a model, and a good sense of style and design. However, she had managed to get a scholarship in the photographic arts as a technician, and so she was here as part of her curriculum. I would never in a lifetime have picked her to work with me doing my commercial assignments, and, at times, she caused, issues, on set, like for a session for a sportscar marketing group. But it was fun getting to know her, and trying to teach her some of the behind the camera work, and now, she is an artistic designer for an advertising firm.
      "I would like to work with somebody like that again. In fact, anybody. And to take photos of mundane objects like cars and displays of fruit or furniture again. I never thought I say this either, but I miss doing that.
      "Fortunately, there is a substantial market for the images I have taken on the ship. So I won't have to work as hard to make ends meet as I did before. But I am not going to retire to become an artistic recluse. I tried that once, it wasn't as much fun as it sounds, and I got rather lonely, and hungry. No, I'll open an office and do what I do, perhaps in Napoli, maybe Firenze. But probably not in the capital."

      Assistant Engineer, Vinaya, ISRO
      "I miss crowds of people. Some like to be alone, or in small groups, I have always enjoyed going to festival or a football match and being part of the crowd.
      "When my family had a gathering, I would be right in the middle of it so that no matter which way I looked I would see people.
      "Even at school, my brother would always sit at the edge of the room for lunch or at assembly, I'd be in the middle.
      "On the Argo, I know I am not alone, but the biggest group we can have is less people than were in most of my classes. So, when I get back home, expect to see me wherever there is a lot of people."

      Ken, the unofficial member of the crew from the USA
      "They say I'm not in trouble any more, so, I don't have to worry about that. So I'd do, the normal stuff, probably what everybody else is saying they're going to do. Go see my parents and grandparents, and friends, and all that. Then I suppose I'll go finish grad school at one of the universities I've been working with. And then, I guess I'll see if I can get a job on the support crew of the Argo. With everything going on with the recovery missions from Mars, I really haven't had time to think about it a lot."

      Third Officer, engineer, Stanley Smith, NASA
      "I don't know. I really don't. I've been doing Argo mission stuff for, what, somebody check for me before you air this, when did I begin training for the mission? (editor: he began full time training for the Argo mission two years before launch.) I might stay with NASA, I mean, really, they have to keep me in some sort of capacity. Or I might see if one of the contractors have an opening for an engineering consultant. Some of us have talked about buying a fishing cabin or something, and that might be good for awhile, but I actually like to work, so I'll put it like this: I'm going to take a vacation, then go to back to work."

      CMO, Doctor Ranya Aziz - Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
      "JAXA Medical Division, Mission Medical Specialist, Doctor Shinno Akari, Itami, Japan
      "We've talked about it a lot. And we've both said that we want to stay in medicine, and perhaps even get into teaching in a medical school. Once that became known on Earth, we both received very attractive offers from several different universities and teaching hospitals.
      "Our plans for right now is to travel and see friends and family, and then we are going to form a partnership promoting women in the sciences, focusing on medical careers in places where it is still unusual for girls to do more than become nurses. Our two nations cannot be more different, except, they are also very similar in their traditional roles for girls and women in the larger society. We have both overcome that bias, and have done so in the most spectacular way, and in a way that cannot be ignored, even by the most stalwart traditionalists in our respective homelands.
      "One of our other goals is to promote cross cultural exchanges and friendships. Of which the best example we can cite is our own friendship and professional relationship."

      Dr. Svetlana Kambov
      "I had seriously considered staying on the Argo in some capacity after the new crew arrives. However, not long ago I received a message from a group I had been collaborating with on several projects on board. They had an idea and an offer from one of the partners that I asked to learn more about, and they complied.
      "I've now accepted a position at Advanced Aerospace Systems. I really can't say any more. They said I can take some time off, then they'll fly me to their headquarters. They said I can work in Korea if I want to, I don't know where I'd rather be based, except I don't want to work in Europe if I can help it."

      Doctor Lorraine Latour, CNES / ESA
      "Go for a walk, you know, like in a big park or somewhere where I can just walk for kilometers, maybe around the Lake again, or a forest. I really miss seeing trees.
      "And long romantic dinners, with fresh flowers on the table, and live music, you know, some guy playing a real piano. And to be able to go on a date without every voyeur on the planet watching through some camera someplace."
      "And, being able to Not Do Something if I don't want to. We've all taken days off now and then, but even then, we're still here. And there's no place else to go. So, even when you take the day off, you still end up in your lab because you get tired of laying in your bunk or sitting in the rec pod or hanging out in command or engineering. And if you're just sitting around, one of the doctors will come by and ask you to volunteer for some testing or something.
      "And I want to travel. When I was at university I'd take an off day and just get on the train and go someplace. I had a rail pass that my grandfather had got for me by calling in a favor from somebody somewhere, and I used it. It didn't matter where the train was going, I'd just get on and go. And spend a day or sometimes two or three staying at a hostel, and then catch the train back. It was so refreshing, and educational. And you say, 'you've been to Venus and Mars where else would you want to go?' and I will answer, Spain, the trains I could get on never went to Spain!"
      "I even miss getting mail. You know, real mail, a parcel or envelope. Yes, we get packages on almost every cargo ship, but it's not the same. Like going out to check my mailbox and finding a catalog or a store flier, or even something from the gasworks about a change in their terms of service. That was the last piece of mail I got at my apartment, I brought it with me, I was going to send them an answer, but then, we left, and I'm here, and my apartment isn't mine any more.
      "That's another thing, I don't have a 'home' to go to. My compartment was used by the Stellar Scientist on the first mission, Dr. Narda Elipoulos. She had put up a few images of the Sun and made some other decorative changes to the bunk, and I left most of them, and added my own touches. But it still is not mine. Not like my apartment had been, even though I had a lease, I could do whatever I wanted to do, within reason, to change or redecorate the rooms. One of the changes I had made was to replace the plain interior doors with something with some features. And I refinished the fireplace mantle to look like wood instead of multiple layers of old paint, then I replaced the ugly wall sconces with a pair that had some style to them. I miss those sconces."
      "I am going to go back to the University, but I think I want a different office. One with a view. I know it cannot rival what I can see from here in my lab. Right now, just there, I can see Saturn and her rings, and several of her moons. When I started this, I could see Earth and Jupiter. And over, or under, us all the time is Mars and its endless parade of mountains and craters. That is a view I know I will miss. But there was an office in my building that looked out at the student park, what some called the square or 'quad', it had benches and trees and some statues and was a very nice place. I would like to be able to look up while I'm working and see something like that."
      "And I want to be able to dress and be pretty. And wear clothes that flatter me. These uniforms were designed to make everybody look the same, and to look bad at that. I've used my sewing kit to work on every piece I've got, and I think they fit better now. But I want to dress up and be pretty and not worry about my skirt or the lace of my sleeve being caught on a control panel."
      "I think that's it."
      "I just realized how long that went. I'll send it all and let you pick and choose what to use."
      (.... as you saw, we used it all.)

      Specialist Adebayo
      "I am going to help transition several African Universities into leaders in the applied sciences. We already have good programs in agriculture, I came from one of them. But we are lacking in some other advanced areas, and there is a market on the continent, and elsewhere in the world, for agricultural robotics and other systems like that. I think I will enjoy working to develop high level programs along those lines. I have communicated with several Africa based businesses and other International Units and they are willing to help fund programs in these areas, and then to hire our graduates to keep them in Africa instead of having our best students go to Europe or America.
      "That's what I'm going to do."

      Doctor Kristoffersen, ESA
      "I believe I will stay on with the ESA. I have several close friends in the agency, and I've been working with them from here on developments for future missions. Manned and unmanned. In fact, a couple of our projects are on the relief ship that is on its way. It'll be interesting to see the final products of our work and help get them ready for their mission down to Mars.
      "And I've got all of the data and images we have accumulated on the mission to review. That in itself will take years. Just the analysis of Knobby will take ages. And just today I had more information come back from the lander on Deimos, it has detected what may have been a series of micro-meteors striking the moon. That sort of discovery is enough for one career, and I have that and more to work on. I just hope I have the time left to do it."

      Mission Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier, Canada
      "I've been offered a position with the CSA. Since then there's been some scuttlebutt that they'll make me the ESA liaison officer after I've shaken all the right hands and given a speech to parliament. But the more I think about it, the more I'm not sure that's what I want to do. I know I will probably never get to come into space again, or I may get a short tour on the new space station or something, but not any extended mission like this. And, that's all right, I've had my turn, give somebody else a chance now. But I do want to be involved more directly with the space program than shuffling paper in some office somewhere, or chatting up some politicians so they won't cut the budget to pay for their own moose hunt safari.
      "I feel that my experience is worth something substantial to the program, and I do not want to be a symbol or a figurehead. And I'm not going to let them turn me into one.
      "But. For the time being, I'm going to Ottawa and see exactly what they have planned. Then we'll go from there."

      Commander Filipe Nascimento Brazilian Air Force
      "There has been talk of a continental space effort such as the ESA in South America.
      "I have been approached to be part of that consortium.
      "I am considering it."
      "But to be honest, no position on Earth can compare to this. Any of this."

16. Commander Nascimento, Mission Retrospective
      We've scheduled the official transfer of command for early next week.
      Some of 'my crew' have already moved out of their bunks and labs and storage areas, and everybody is amazed at how much junk we have all accumulated over the Years that we've been on the Argo, myself included.
      A lot of what has been sent, will stay here. Some of it we'll use on the Terra Maru on the way home. And some of it needs to be jettisoned with the next trash pod. I'm not sure which category the majority of my own 'stuff' would fit in.
      And another thought just occurred to me. It has been years. I know for a fact that it has been well over three years that we've been on the ship, but I'm not certain of exactly how long it has been.
      I know I had a life before I came on board, or even before I began training for the mission. But it seems so distant and remote, just as Earth Itself seems distant and remote.
      I just looked out the command deck window and it took me a minute to find that small bright blue dot out there amongst the stars. I can usually find it, sometimes, like just now, it takes me a minute, but I can usually find it. But that dot is home. And I do remember being there.
      I remember a night when I was a boy at a camp in the Espinhaco Mountains on a night trek with several others and we stopped on a ridge and just looked at the stars. There was no other light anywhere around, and the moon was just a sliver on the horizon.
      I felt like I could reach out and grab a star.
      Our leader was identifying the constellations like the Southern Cross and the major stars and all that, I don't even remember his name, I was just awestruck looking at the stars.
      And now, I feel the same. And there's the Southern Cross, Right There. And over there, The Dippers and the North Star. I can see all of them without moving.
      But it seems like on the mission the times I haven't had as much time to just look at the stars as I did that night on the hike. And it only seems like we just left Earth. In fact, I know better, but really, it feels like Dr. Kris just got out of medical and I am still trying to find out how Ken got here. And it's been three years. More. It'll be almost five when we get back to Earth.
      I don't want to surrender command, but then again, I do. I've done it. I've seen it through. There's been good things, and bad. And there's been times I wish I didn't have to make a decision. And then other times when all I could do was laugh and tell the others to go ahead and do whatever they thought needed to be done.
      One of those was with the drain flies, which are Still on the ship, and now, from what I've heard, they've been seen on the Terra Maru. Captain Dromgoole was not amused by the news, but he said it was about par for the course.
      Another incident was the feud between the Chief Engineer and a couple of the scientists who thought he'd increased the gravity in the ring, which caused them all sorts of problems. We checked, and double checked, the rotation rate of the ship was within a few revolutions per hour of where it had always been. Well within the margin of error, and the apparent gravity around the inside rim of the ring was pretty much right where it was supposed to be. But Carmelo and Lorraine and a couple of others wouldn't believe it. Even Dr. Aziz, who tried to stay out of it said it felt a little different to her.
      Finally I raised my hand and said I'd have Stan and Ken check and see if something had changed, and if it had, to see if they could adjust it.
      It was Stanley's idea to send a couple of the repair robots to go out and 'stomp around' outside the Ring and make a bunch of noise. Ken outfitted one of them with the most complex, and useless, array of tools you've ever seen, and they put on a show for the scientists in the Ring.
      It worked, the next day Lorraine said that was more like it. Carmelo thought it was still off a little, but he could live with it.
      For the record, the engineering crew didn't actually do any more than test the rotational thrusters and pronounce them in working order. That, and they took a different gravimeter around the Ring when the others were off duty and checked that as well, just in case the monitors out there weren't working. They were. It was all fine.
      And then there is the offbeat stuff that I have to do because I'm the Mission Commander.
      I've sent personal birthday greetings to the pope, and to more kings and queens, an Emir, and more other dignitaries and celebrities than I can count. What other officer in the Brazilian Air Force can say that?
      There's a funny story that goes with that. I was asked to record a message in Portuguese with several others of the crew around me to salute the wedding of a Prince of the house of Braganza to a minor princess from Scandinavia. I'd never met either of them, and had to practice pronouncing his full name and title, and simply called her 'Her Highness' to avoid that at Doctor Kristoffersen's suggestion as he had met this particular princess, and her mother.
      I went through the whole speech several times. Vinaya finally said I did OK and we gathered everybody that could keep a straight face in the observation room with the flag of Portugal behind us and the royal crest of the household on the screens to either side. And I did it. Then I did it again. After the third time through Vinaya said she'd dub my best practice speech over the least awkward of the video recordings, and we'd send that.
      I mean really, I have no opinion either way on the status of the royal family of either country, or the former royals in Brazil for that matter, and really don't care who the prince married other than I thought the princess was exceptionally pretty, even for a royal household. But, giving formal speeches is not my strong suit.
      A week or so later we got back a very nice video of the happy couple thanking us for our good words and wishing us "Godspeed" on our mission.
      But there was a serious crisis that reminded me of just our precarious our position out here is.
      One of our incoming supply pods had been damaged by a collision with something somewhere between Earth and Mars. Its docking latch was damaged so it would not seal to the ship, and its hatch was jammed, and would not open. It wasn't a serious problem except for what the pod contained. It was full of Oxygen for one thing. Which we do need replenished even with our scrubbers and CO2 crackers and all the rest of it.
      We spent several days trying different things to get the thing open without damaging, or losing the contents into space if it suddenly popped open and the contents hadn't been properly secured or knocked loose by the impact.
      The Chief Engineer told me that, worse case, such as the pod went spinning off into space and ended up smacking into Mars or one of its moons, we'd have to limit activity, and perhaps get into the emergency supply of O2 until another pod could make it out here, which would be about six more months.
      I asked him what would happen if that one didn't make it or was delayed.
      He looked at me and simply said, "how long can you hold your breath?"
      Fortunately, they managed to get it open after a couple of space walks and the using a couple of repair robots in ways and for operations for which they were not designed, but it worked. Then they shuffled everything over to the airlock, and later, we tossed the damaged pod toward the Asteroid Field full of poo and other waste.
      We never could figure out what had hit the thing that hard without destroying it or knocking it way off course. Some thought it may have been damaged on the ground. I didn't think that any of the facilities would have knowingly launched a damaged pod, to which one of them replied: "Have you met the ground crews?" with a long look at Ken.
      I shook my head and went back to command.

Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      As far as we're concerned, the working Second Officer of the Argo Epic has been Aeron O'Driscoll since we declared the solar storm over. I'd even moved my personal 'stuff' over to the Terra and took over an empty bunk there.
      And that gave me a shock.
      Compared to the shared bunks on the Terra, our rooms on the Argo were spacious, and even better: Private. Nobody on the Argo had been in my sleeping compartment unless I wanted them to be there. On the Terra, if there was an open bunk and you needed to get to sleep, you took it. All my 'personal effects' were in bags in a big plastic locker bin in a storage room two compartments back.
      But, it was going to be my home for however long it took to get back to Earth, and how long that was depends on who was telling which version of it at the time. But in any case there was one thing very clear about it. We were going to miss the Argo.
      And then I ate my first meal on the Terra.
      We were REALLY going to miss the Argo.
      O'Driscoll was good. He asked me why I did certain tests on the systems at certain points on my shift, and then listened as I explained everything from server demand to power usage, then he would agree, or ask about another time or procedure and so on. Overall, he thought that once things were back to usual and the ship was back on its mission that he'd keep right on doing the duty the way I had been doing it.
      Then we had to begin training Ken to be the Third Officer.
      Or rather, we had to begin to retrain Ken to stop doing everything else and be the Third Officer first.
      He did let slip that he had been 'helping' Stanley cover his command shift a lot more often than either had been letting on. So he was well versed, and perhaps a bit more conscientious about the particulars of the assignment than Engineer Smith ever was.
      And then, as we went through various procedures, Ken would explain how what we did on this mission was different than what they did on the first mission, and why.
      Which, I guess, was good as far as it went.
      There were still some on Earth that were against his being given the job. Some of them saw it as rewarding him for having stowed away on the mission in the first place. They seem to have forgotten that since then he has demonstrated a skill and knowledge in ship operations and procedures that are at least equal to the majority of the other crew-members, and he's now had over three years of training as an engineer's mate.
      In the end, those dissenting voices were overruled by the combined voices of the various command officers who happened to be on the ship and had seen him in action.
      When one of the national space ministers began to get vocal about it, Commander Nascimento told them to catch the next transport out here and override the decision in person. The minister sputtered and fumed, and then promised a hearing once the Commander was back on Earth. To which one of us replied that by then the Argo would be back in orbit around Mars, with Ken on board as Third Officer.
      The minister glared at the camera for the entire rest of the change of command briefing, but she didn't say another word.
      Which was fine with us.
      And now, the official commander of the Argo Epic was Commander Pedersen, and Commander Nasciemento moved into a bunk on the Terra.

      I asked him when we were both on the other ship with, officially, nothing to do, how it felt to be a passenger now.
      "It's going to take some getting used to, but I think I can do it."

Ken's story:
      I still don't believe it.
      Commander Pedersen shook my hand and welcomed me to her crew, and said she looked forward to hearing my side of the story as to how I came to be where I was. I thanked her and told her that I'd be happy to tell it sometime.
      But now I really had to tell my parents that I wasn't coming home.
      As it turned out, they'd already heard, and understood, and my mother told me that as long as I was happy and as safe as I could be, she was happy for me.
      My father asked me if I'd come home when this crew returned to Earth. I looked at them in the video, and finally nodded. I knew that would be two or three years from now, but my doing that seemed like I agreed to leave for home tomorrow.

The reports of a death of a crew member of the Terra Maru has been confirmed.

Crewman First Class, Navigational Specialist Jannon Stoticzynski, a Lieutenant in the Polish Air Force, has died on the mission. The circumstances of his death are still under investigation.
The Terra Maru is still docked with the Argo Epic, and both crews are stunned and saddened by the loss of this valuable member of the crew, as is all associated with the mission on Earth.
A state of National Mourning has been declared in the Republic of Poland, and especially in his hometown of Koszalin.
More information will be forthcoming as available.

17. Commander Filipe Nascimento
      I spoke for my crew at the memorial service. There wasn't much to say, there wasn't much I could say. I'd seen him from time to time on the Terra and the Argo. He always seemed to be a good officer and from what the others told me, he worked hard on the repair of the Terra and the refitting and upgrades on the Argo. According to the engineers, he was looking forward to going back into the Polish military as a command officer when we got home, and was talking about bucking for a position in Pyry with NATO, or maybe even in Germany.
      At the big party he had stolen the show by reciting several passages in a couple of different languages from some movies and stage plays.
      And that was all any of us really knew about him.
      I can still hear the announcement of an emergency at the port cargo airlock on the Terra Maru. We all rushed over there, getting jammed in connector in the process. But it was too late. He was outside and drifting away, and there was no way to reach him. The blast of air from the compartment had pushed him out of range of the robotic arms in moments.
      And then we all got an even worse shock.
      It wasn't an accident. It was a suicide.
      He had recorded a long message, and even left a note taped to the wall inside the airlock. Then he had programmed a test sequence that would open the outer door with the compartment pressurized. It was done to test the inner seals. But it wasn't supposed to work with anybody in the airlock. He had overridden the safety sensor with a piece of duct tape. The one with his note. The test commenced, and he was dead. Just like that.
      I agreed to be part of the review for Captain Dromgoole. We got access to his personal files and communications. And then we got a shock.
      He had been planning this since he had been assigned to the mission.
      And now was about the last chance he'd have to do it the way he mentioned in his written diary that was what he thought would be the least painful, and, as he put it, "most interesting" way to do it. After the ships separated for the Terra's trip home, the airlock would go back to needing a command code to open. A protocol that was supposed to prevent accidents, or even the intentional use of the exterior access, like Stoticzynski had done.
      As part of the review I sat with two of the medical staff and watched the available exterior video of the event. The goal was to determine how long he had lived outside the ship clothed in no more than a duty uniform.
      The footage we had was very upsetting, and we had to take several breaks while one of the doctors recomposed themselves. But in the end, we estimated that he lost consciousness from a combination of hypoxia and ebullism within twenty to thirty seconds after the outer door opened, and he was probably beyond recovery even if anybody had been able to get him back inside within a minute to ninety seconds. He was most certainly dead in less than two minutes from direct exposure to space and all that entails. The heat signature that registered on the external cameras ceased to register about an hour later.
      And so read the official death report.
      The only motivation that we could find was that he saw no life for himself on Earth. He had no close family, few friends, and fewer prospects. Or at least so he thought.
      What I didn't understand was how he had passed the psychological screenings for the mission if he had that thought anywhere in his mind? The answer was in his school records. At both his high school in Jednosci and at the University, he had been one of the best student actors they had. We even had a video of him performing King Lear's "reason not the need" speech, in English, and he was absolutely convincing. The note on the file from the theater group's faculty advisor was that he had memorized all his parts in one weekend and began coaching the others the following week.
      His final, and best, acting role was to get the berth on the Terra.
      When I gave the final report to the Captain, and then to Mission Control, I simply stated that his taking of his own life had been well considered and the explanation in his note and the video recording was genuine. And that, all things considered, there was nothing any of us could have done to have prevented it.
      We gathered up what personal effects he had, and then tried to find somebody on Earth that might want them once we got back. There were a few distant relatives listed, but his 'in case of-' contact was another Podporucznik, their Lieutenant rank, that he had known since training with the Air Force.
      After that, I went back to engineering and spent a long time with several of the crew and we did some serious damage to one of those big bags of the Engineer's booze.

Doctor Ranya Aziz
      Death is part of being a physician. It is the reason I went into medicine, I wanted to stave off the inevitable off as long as possible. To have somebody here decide to end their own life is still something I cannot fathom.
      I volunteered to be on the review board with the Commander. As the medical representative I had to go through his file, and talk to those on the Terra and on Earth who had examined him. There were no medical or psychological issues with him. In fact, that were were no psychological issues at all, in any of his evaluations or interviews was unusual. The Polish Air Force sent the records they had of him. Then I had to ask Doctor Latour read them for me because they had translated his records into French before they sent them. And, again, they were almost completely lacking of anything that would raise any concerns of his mental condition.
      The Commander had said that Jannon had been acting ever since he had joined the Air Force, and that he had simply grown tired of the role. It was a most unprofessional and simplified assessment of the young man's life, and death. But, even at that, I have to concur. He had held the actor's mask in front of his own face for the last ten years, and only at the very end did he take it down.

Ken's Story
      They woke me up with the news about what happened to Jann. I couldn't believe it.
      Everybody asked me how he had been when we worked on the modifications to the navigator's station on the Terra so he could get good readings from the thrusters. And I told them that he'd seemed fine, and he even made suggestions about adjustments to the indicators that measured the combined thrust of the units.
      There wasn't anything unusual.
      I talked to Stan and he said the same thing. Jann had helped him with some of the rewiring during the work and had been helpful and even told them jokes with a Russian accent because the panel they were working on had been made there.
      He'd been fine. A good guy to work with.
      And now he was dead.
      Stan told the Captain that he'd work Jann's duty if he needed somebody on the way back to Earth, and he said that he'd let him know.
      I spent the night in Command, I didn't want to go back to my room and have to be alone and think about it.

Special From the International News Network,'morning live' program.
      "Good morning. We all know that the recent events on the Terra Maru and the Argo Epic have left the entire world in shock. But, life here, and the mission there, goes on."
      "We had sent the questions, and received the answers, before the emergency with the engines on the Terra Maru, and we had already run the first of the three segments before the recent tragedy on board the relief ship. We thought about holding off on running it, but we will go forward as scheduled, and look at the crew of the Terra Maru in another segment later."
      "Today, we bring you their answers to our second question. Enjoy."

"What do you think you'll miss about being on the ship?"

      Italian Optics Specialist, Carmelo Bianchi, ESA
      "Of course, doing work nobody else has ever done. I have camera equipment that was invented For Me To Use On THIS Mission. There simply wasn't telescopic video equipment like I have here on the first mission. I've been able to record the interaction between the solar wind and other bodies in the solar system in the total range of frequencies, something unheard of before, all in real time, and in high definition. Not to mention the high resolution images I've taken of things no other human had ever seen. How can I top that on Earth? Have some supermodel sit on a hypercar with a cigar and a smile? No."

      Assistant Engineer, Vinaya, ISRO
      "The intimacy we have here. And I don't mean that in the way you think I mean that. We have all gotten very close on a personal level. I can tell by the way somebody comes up the connector what sort of day they are having. I've had some of the most remarkable conversations with some of them of my life, and the whole time, we barely spoke. It is more than just working together in an extraordinary place, and more than a sense of family or community. We're, I don't know how else to say it, but we have become 'comrades' in the best sense of the word."

      Ken, the unofficial member of the crew from the USA
      "Everything. The Argo is the best place ever. This is the best crew ever. And I'm not just saying it. We do things for each other before you even know you wanted it done. Even when some of them are in a bad mood, they're still the best people to work with there has ever been."
      "I know I'm supposed to say something like watching the outside robots shake the mast on the solar panel or watching a sanitary waste canister erupt as soon as we jettison it, but no, I'm going to miss the people I'm with. They're great. I know the crew was picked to be the best of the best, but they really are, and I'm the luckiest guy ever to get to be out here, on the Argo, with them."

      Third Officer, assistant engineer, Stanley Smith, NASA
      "Dropping something and have it go up. You can't do that on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter, not even on the Space Station. There's a sweet spot in the central passage of the Argo, right at the dead center axis of rotation where you're stationary, and your feet are turning one way and your head is going the other way, but you can't tell because the entire ship is rotating, but you can feel it. And if you're holding something up about here (he gestures to just about his chin level) and let it go, it will begin to drift Up! And if you're in the central passage by the access connectors to the Lab Ring or the Docking Ring, it will eventually begin to pick up speed and fall Up to the Ring. It's really cool to see."

      CMO, Doctor Ranya Aziz - Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
      "The Argo Epic Mission has given me the opportunity to become my own woman, my own doctor. Here, I am taken as what I am, not because of the dictates of my family, or my religion or country, or anything else. I am seen and accepted as the Chief Medical Officer of the ship. I will miss that."

      JAXA Medical Division, Mission Medical Specialist, Doctor Shinno Akari, Itami, Japan
      "I will miss all the different types of people here. This is the most varied group of people I've ever been around. We have Christians and Muslims, and a Hindu, and several that claim they have no religion at all. From all the different countries, and all the different professions and interests. And different personal habits. And diets, I thought I would be the only one on board that didn't eat red meat, only to find that there are times when I have to sneak into the galley and snitch away a fish dinner before anybody else knows its there if I want meat protein that day.
      "And everybody has a different taste in music and other entertainment, and I love seeing and hearing it all, even if I don't like it. It is a new experience for me, and I enjoy new experiences. Even now, after all this time on board, somebody will come up with something I've never seen or heard before and will share it with the rest of us.
      "If I go back to Japan, I will miss most of that. My home area is very Japanese, and everything that has been brought in from America or Vietnam or wherever, has been changed, even just little, to make it more suitable for us. So to get something like a video or food that is really from elsewhere, you have to work at it. And sometimes even then you find out that it has been through the Japanese filter."

      Dr. Svetlana Kambov
      "What will I miss about being on the Argo?"
      "The one thing I won't miss is how political everything in Europe is. There are no politics here, not really. And nobody hits you over the head with their ideas about a trade union or wanting to boycott something. The only foreign territory on the ship is Engineering, and even he's not all that bad once you go back and float there for a minute until he decides to talk to you.
      "Most of the work here is done in English or French, which isn't bad, and if you want the Commander's attention you shout a couple of nasty words in Portuguese and he knows you're serious.
      "So, what will I miss?
      "I will miss being on the Argo."

      Doctor Lorraine Latour, CNES / ESA
      "I imagine everybody else is going to say they're going to miss this group of people, and I will as well. I will miss them, I know we've all said we'll stay in touch, and some of us will work on projects with each other once all this is over, but it won't be the same."
      "One thing I will really miss is being able to pursue one item of research by itself for as long as I want to, or need to, without somebody saying that I have to go to a reception for the new ambassador, or the provost's retirement, or whatever.
      "Yes, those sorts of functions are important, and I usually enjoy getting all dressed up and being fabulously glamorous and all that, and wearing some amazing shoes as well, but it takes me from my work, and sometimes the occasion isn't as important as everybody made it out to be and it was just a good time out, when I really could have put those hours to better use in the lab.
      "One other thing I will miss is the sense of total solitude. I mean I have spent some time in my lab here with the door closed and the lights off, just looking out at the stars and planets. With the comm off and all the equipment that can be turned off quiet, it is amazingly quiet. No, the ship is never totally silent, but it is far quieter here than it is on campus or anywhere else but far out in the countryside."
      "Something else I will miss is NOT having a telephone with me all the time, or even a purse. I left my handbag in my locker at Kourou and it is probably still there. I brought all new cosmetics with me, and they have sent some with the various cargo pods, although some of what they sent isn't my color or brand, but the other ladies here appreciate it as well.
      "And yes, I still do my hair and a touch of makeup whenever there is a function on board or I am making a video to send back to Earth.
      "I will not miss trimming my own hair and always having to do all that myself because although Addy is a dear and tries, he just hasn't been able to get the trim right yet. And I will enjoy having a choice of clothing to wear. Here, I have exactly nine different outfits besides my uniforms, and a few other separates to add some variety, but I've known nuns with more choices in their closet than I have.
      "We're going to do our preliminary report on Mars in a day or so, and I am not going to sit in the observation pod with the others in uniform and my hair in a bun, no, I am going to look like myself, and that means dressing. And yes, I have three pairs of heels with me, they are totally useless on board, but I wear them for things like that because I like the way they make me look.
      "And know there are those that will say that I will miss being the prettiest, or best dressed, woman in the room, but that isn't totally true. I know I have a streak of vanity in me, what French woman my age doesn't? But I also try to be realistic about some things, and there will come a time when I have to accept that my academic and scientific credentials will now have to carry the weight instead of my legs and my decolletage."
      "I think I went a bit long on that one as well. Sorry."

      Specialist Adebayo
      "I don't know. Right now I miss any variety in the research. Being able to go out to a field or a test plot and work in new dirt or see a type of weed that wasn't there last week.
      "Not long before we left for final training, I went out with a colleague and his students to a research cabin in that large swamp not far from Huntstown in America. (He meant Huntsville, Alabama, and he is referring to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and Florida in the US.) They were taking bottom samples to test for various anaerobic bacteria and other microbes feeding on the biomatter there and check for pollutants in the substrate. And my associate asked if I would like to go and do something different before the mission.
      "It was a mess. Muddy, damp, the cabin was full of mosquitoes, and there were always snakes around the outdoor worktable. All of our equipment got wet, and one of the undergrads almost drowned when the boat he was in hit a submerged log and capsized. It was three days of heat and humidity and bugs and mud. And snakes and small alligators who were not afraid of us at all.
      "After being here for three years, I'd go back there with them in a heartbeat."
      "Yes, I have enjoyed being on the Argo Epic. But there are times I wish we had been relieved as planned after our work at Venus was completed."

      Doctor Kristoffersen, ESA
      "There are things I will miss about being on the ship. Such as being the master of my own equipment and research. Being able to choose my own targets for the planetary studies. Yes, at Venus, and now here at Mars, there were some obvious targets that probes had to be sent to. But then later, I was able to pick targets of opportunity and chance and nobody more than asked if I was sure about it before we deployed the equipment. I didn't have to put it before a committee and have somebody with no idea what I was doing dispute every aspect of it.
      "And when we were encountering the asteroid we named Knobby, I asked some of the others to use whatever sensors they had available on it, and they were all most gracious with their assistance. Not a single one of them whined that doing so would ruin a major project or cause some student to lose their scholarship.
      "That environment and the sense that we really are all in this as one for good or bad is what I will miss.
      "This really is the most extraordinary chance anybody ever has had in their life. And I am grateful for it."

      Mission Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier, Canada
      "I'll miss almost everything. I'm the second officer, I've got materials and compounds research going on. I've been running a project of my own tracking things to and from the Argo to see how different conditions and trajectories impact their travel time and speed.
      "The Commander and I, and to some extent the Chief Engineer and Stan, are a team, especially me and the Commander. And while we have gotten very close, we have maintained a level of professionalism that most people on Earth will not believe possible. But it is true.
      "I don't think anybody has questioned anything I have asked for because I am a woman. There have been times when the Chief Engineer had a technical objection, or one of the scientists has said that something I wanted to do wasn't a good idea, but they had a factual basis for it, or maybe a professional objection, it wasn't because of my sex.
      "I know that will come up when I join the CSA. Maybe they won't say it to my face, but I will see it in their faces, and there will probably be a few smirks and eyerolls aimed my way. But I now have this to back myself up with, I spent Years as The Second In Command on the Argo, and they didn't."

      Commander Filipe Nascimento Brazilian Air Force
      "I will miss the ship itself. And the people on it. And the sense that we are doing something nobody else has done. Yes, we are the second mission of the Argo, but we have done things on it that the first crew did not do. We got closer to two different planets, Venus and now Mars. We weathered a solar storm that was simply not a factor to the first mission.
      "We have done more and different science than they did. And it has been an adventure in its own right. And when the relief crew gets here, the final installment of our mission, taking all we have done and the samples we recovered back to Earth, begins. Even when we are on the relief ship, we will still be in space for at least another eight or nine months. It's not like the end of a vacation to the mountains when you get on a jet airplane to fly back to Sao Paulo and nine hours later Ayacucho is a memory and you are going back to work.
      "The Argo is a special ship, and this is a special crew, and I have tried to be the best Commander of both that I could be. And I hope and pray that I have achieved that goal."

      Morning Live, the International News Network
      "We asked the crew of the Argo Epic one other question, next week, we'll bring you their answers as the Terra Maru brings them home after their landmark mission."

18. Personal log from Commander Nascimento
      Commander Pedersen had asked to see me in one of the labs in the ring. She picked the lab where she was going to be running her own experiments because she said it was the one place on the ship that, so far, everybody had left her alone.

      When I got to the lab she invited me in and asked me to close the door behind her. Then she muted the comm unit on the wall.
      "I wanted to ask you about the stuff they didn't tell me in the command classes," she said.
      I nodded and said something like they probably didn't tell me either.
      "I know that as commander, the ultimate responsibility of whatever happens with the crew or ship is mine."
      I nodded, "yes, it is."
      "But how do you balance that with a crew like this? How much did you, how should I put it? Interfere? in the lives of the crew?"
      "My answer is simple, and probably not very helpful.... no more than I had to."
      I remembered a log entry I made back when we had the stink about people stinking because they were working so much they forgot to take a shower and change their uniform once in awhile. I had said something like 'the daily minutia of the lives of the crew, including their off duty and social interactions, isn't any of my business until it becomes my business, and I try to avoid that at all costs,' in the log. So told her the story then repeated that line to her.
      She thought about it, "I like that, I'm going to keep it." She reached over and actually wrote it on a small pad of paper and then stuck the note to the wall next to the comm. "So how do you know when shipboard gossip and innuendo is something that you need to pay attention to?"
      I thought about it, "I didn't pay anything any attention, unless somebody was planning on setting fire to a big wad of stuff in the middle of the command deck...."
      She laughed, "Doctor Svetlana Kambov," she pronounced each word separately.
      "Yes. Then I paid close attention. Other than that, if I only heard something once, or even thought I saw something once, I let it go. Sometimes the strongest statement to those involved was no statement at all. But if it came to me a couple of times, and from different sources, then I'd go see what was going on and if I HAD TO, get involved in some way."
      "Like when you told a couple of them to take it easy with the romantic stuff in public."
      "Not so much in public, but where there are live camera feeds to Earth."
      We chuckled together at the infamous incident.
      "Did you have anybody get too drunk or high on board?"
      "Not really. I think everybody on my crew knew their limits, or found out what they were, and kept it down to a minimum. You know, there were times when I thought the Chief Engineer or Carmelo had pounded a bit too much, but even then, once they're in their bunk or whatever, there's not a lot for them to do, and if they make a mess, they have to clean it up later."
      "Have you had any incidents that didn't get reported to Earth? I mean, just so I've got a model of how to handle stuff?"
      I thought about it, then I told her about spats between the various personalities, some of the practical jokes that got out of hand, and the rumor control process that we instituted to keep the the ship on the same page no matter what anybody on Earth said about us. "All told, they got pretty good about working things out between themselves before me or Charlotte had to get involved."
      "Good, I want us to get that way too," she paused, "there were some disagreements on board the Terra on the way out here that they immediately brought to me."
      "The Terra's pretty close quarters, and they didn't have anything else to do."
      "True. But now you're going to be on that side of things."
      I remember nodding and saying I'd thought about that, but we would have one difference, we were at the end of our mission and on the way home.
      "And we're just starting ours," she looked out the window, "and Stoticzynski's dead."
      "yeah" was all I could whisper.
      After a time we talked about when we would separate the ships and how long it would take to get the Argo spinning again.
      "Dromgoole said he wants to keep the Terra in close to the Argo until it is rotating again, just in case they need his help."
      She smiled, "In case the Argo needs the Terra," then she laughed, "That's funny."
      We went to the rec pod for a meal and to look at the final manifest for everything that was supposed to be moved from one ship to the other, what still needed to be accounted for, and what material, supplies, and just plain junk had been left out on the Argo that needed to be put up, or at least tied down before the ship began to rotate again.
      The good news was that almost everything that had been sent for their mission had already been moved to storage on the Argo, and most of what was on its way back to Earth had already been sent on a cargo pod or stowed on the Terra, including the majority of the personal effects of the crews.
      As for the stuff just floating around, there wasn't nearly as much now as there had been not all that long ago.
      Everything left that needed to be on the other ship, whichever way it was going, was scheduled to be moved within the next few hours, then the Terra would begin its final systems test for the return trip, and the Argo would prepare for its own mission. After both ships reported ready, they would separate and, after a suitable time doing final checks and inspections, go their separate ways.
      There was no way around it, in just a few days, me and my crew would be on our way back to Earth.
      "How about a final joint dinner party?" I asked.
      "They're already planning it, but it was supposed to be a secret."
      "I heard about it, and didn't say anything, and just let them plan, and dig through the supplies looking for the stuff to make shrimp cocktails."
      She nodded, "I see, so the Commander doesn't need to be involved until the Commander needs to be involved."
      "Exactly, Commander."
      "Thank you for the advice, Commander."

Second Officer Pelletier
      With the death of Stoticzynski still fresh in our minds, and the knowledge that in less than fifty hours the ships will separate, the dinner was far more solemn than any other event I'd been to on the ship. Even the background music seemed sad and sometimes a little out of place.
      There was some chatting, and a speech from Mission Control, and a few gifts were exchanged, but mainly, we were just all together.
      Our crew were all telling the new crew 'Ken stories', and he was returning the favor by telling stories about us.
      I heard some laughing about the mice, and the cloud of powder that had drifted through the ship and can still be seen having collected in odd corners and crevices. Then somebody mentioned his habit of leaving socks in the passage outside the shower, and, of course, he mentioned how they had created a hair clog that almost took the sanitary system out of service, Twice.
      It lightened the mood enough that I went ahead and played the video from the morning show about what we'd miss about the Argo, and somebody asked the Chief Engineer what he was going to miss the most.
      He floated there for a minute and thought about it, "You mean besides free booze?" He gestured with a small drink bag full of something with an odd green tint to it.
      We all said "yes".
      So he floated there for a minute still thinking about it, "OK, I got one...." he looked around, "I'm going to miss being invited to dinner parties where I know that I'm going to know everybody there."
      The mood lightened a little more when a good old sing-along type song came on and several of the crew began singing with it. That opened up a discussion about using the screen and equipment in the rec pod for karaoke, and several of us mentioned doing it while riding the bike or running on the treadmill. Which led to a couple of halfway decent performances in front of the main monitor.
      An hour or so later the comm beeped dramatically. Ken was the closest to the panel and checked the message.
      "Fuel transfer is complete. The Terra is ready to go."
      Captain Dromgoole nodded briskly, "Then we're on the clock. With your permission Commander, Commander, I would like to begin preflight in, say, twenty four hours, and then we'll schedule separation and departure."
      Both Commanders agreed, and Commander Nascimento proposed a final toast, "To the Argo Epic, and the Terra Maru, and all who serve on them. Salute."
      An hour later, you wouldn't know the party had happened. Command was cleaned out and back to usual, and I was carrying the last of the trash out to the docking ring and stowing it in a cargo pod.
      Then I floated there in the docking ring and looked around, it was the last time I'd see it. I didn't cry about it, but it did make me sad. Then I went to check a couple of other spots on the ship that I had used where I might have left something.
      Two hours later I bid the Argo goodbye and floated through the airlock to the Terra.
      Once again I was struck by the difference. The Argo had become home, but I don't think I would ever feel like that on the Terra. But then again, the Terra Maru was supposed to be the most elaborate taxi ever built, not 'home'.
      And now, while the engineers on both sides make sure the docking hatches are secure, whatever the Terra is, it is ours for the next two hundred and thirty days.

Ken's Story:
      I just checked with Stan, that entire crew is in a meeting on the Terra. I'm the only one from the old crew still on the Argo. Everybody else here was on Earth last year. But this is where I want to be.
      I thought about it a long time last night.
      The next day they closed the door and the Terra was released.
      And I was alone, but I wasn't alone. If you know what I mean.
      Commander Pedersen asked me if I wanted to move into a vacant bunk, but I declined, then I told her about how on the first mission they'd used a spare bunk and storage locker as an unofficial commissary. She had heard that story and thought it was a good idea to improve morale. Then she put me in charge of it, and gave me a couple of ideas of stuff to put in it from the 'other supplies' that had been sent in the cargo on the Terra in large plastic tubs.
      And then I ran into the first mystery with the new crew.
      I took the paper that proclaimed itself a 'certified bill of lading' off the first tub and went to find the Commander Pedersen.
      I explained to her that not only did the first big plastic footlocker had all of this stuff in it, which included everything from a box of a dozen one pound summer sausages to advanced level model kits, so did the second one, and the third one. The only difference was that in the second tub the models were race cars, with functional steering, instead of an airplane with movable flaps, two of which claimed they would actually fly!
      "You're kidding," she said, and so we went to look.
      I wasn't kidding. We had thirty six summer sausages, six model aircraft and three model cars, enough bags of assorted bite size candies to give an entire dental school nightmares, and three "72 in 1 family table game selections" with rules and hints.
      "Let me call, somebody. Where were they shipped from?"
      "OK, it's all here, you can put it up, I'll find out how this happened and what didn't make the trip that was supposed to be here instead of a replica of a Lotus F1 car."
      "But the engine cowling comes off to reveal the amazing detail of the power plant," I read off the box.
      "You can put it together," she said, but she took a summer sausage with her.
      I sorted everything, and put what would fit in the new commissary, and what wouldn't fit in the old, official commissary that still had some protein and granola bars in it from the original mission. We'd even found out that the hungriest of the lab animals would sit and look at them, and us, for a very long time before they even started nibbling on them. And then it would take them days to eat even a small section.
      I confirmed that the snack bars were from the first mission, and that they still had three years left on their 'best by' date when I found them before we got to Venus. When we were at Mars, they expired, and were in one of the cargo pods of trash that we launched into the asteroid belt. I put a note on one of the unopened boxes to warn any aliens that stumbled across them in the future not to bother eating them because while they were very healthy, the box they were in tasted better.
      I inventoried everything, and found a few additional items that were not on the packing lists that ended up in the totes anyway. Some of those were intended as packing, such as several newspapers and magazines jammed between more fragile items, and others were obviously intended as a joke, like a prepaid card for international long distance calling.
      There were some flatly personal type items that I wasn't sure what to do with, but I decided that I would bury them in the back corner of the storage compartment and just wait until the time seemed right to pull them out for the people whose names were on them.
      Later, back up in command, I ate a couple of slices of summer sausage and reported the final arrangement to the Commander.
      Then I sat at the Third Officer's workstation, and looked at the notes that Stan had made and left stuck to various panels and indicators. A couple of them I had even added to. And now, it was my work station.
      Somebody had even printed out a name plaque and put it over the station. They even spelled my name right.
      That was something the manager at the store couldn't do when they made my name tag.
      I was on the Argo, not at the store, and I didn't have to worry about somebody calling me Kevin or something.

Special From the International News Network,'morning live' program.
      "And this week we have our final question with the former crew of the Argo Epic. And for this one, They ALL answered, even the Chief Engineer who declined to participate with the other two questions. We begin with his answer to the question...."

"Is there anything you want to say to anybody back here?"

      Chief Engineer of the Argo Epic:
      "Yeah, this one I'll do. I want to ask my brother if there's any openings at the railroad. I think I want to work on stuff like that. If I can keep this thing running, I'm pretty sure I can handle a locomotive."

      Italian Optics Specialist, Carmelo Bianchi, ESA
      "Just that space is beautiful. You can see the stars and planets from Earth. But not like this. We've seen space dust and gas glow during the solar storm. I wish the photos and video of it came out better, but it was so subtle that even on the best camera it just didn't... the images don't do it justice. That wisp of light, almost a specter or fleeting pulse of illumination that never appeared again right where it had been. Instead of a shipload of scientists and specialists, they need to send artists and poets to see things like that."
      "Let me add to that. Space is beautiful, but it is also Awesome. Breathtakingly magnificent. I keep thinking about the details on Phobos and Deimos. We all thought they were just little chunks of rock with a crater or two and some lines here and there. No, they're intricate, fascinating bodies in their own right. Just as interesting as the planet itself. And when I set the cameras to look out of our own system and out at the galaxy itself, and further, I keep winding more to wonder at. It's marvelous out here. Truly so."

      Assistant Engineer, Vinaya, ISRO
      "I just want to say that I am not the same person that left home for the Institute. I've grown as a person, and an engineer and scientist, and as a woman. But I am also a lot smaller than I used to be. ... ... at the Institute, I thought I could do anything. That I could be self sufficient and accomplish every goal and dream I had ever had either all by myself or with just a little help from a couple of people. Now I know that's false. Yes, I can do a lot, one person can do a lot, but you need others, even the people you don't see or will never speak to, you need them. You build on what somebody else has started, and then others will carry it on from there. But, like I said, I've grown, and I think my role in the larger scene has grown as well. And I think that's what my grandfather meant when he said that my caste was not my destiny.
      "And I want to thank him for that."

      Ken, the unofficial member of the crew from the USA
      "I want everybody that I've worked with in my college classes, and even the kids that send questions every year to know that they can do this. Not the way I did it, they should go through the regular process, but they can do this. They might end up in Mission Control, or at one of the ground stations or something, but they can be part of a mission like this."

      Third Officer, engineer, Stanley Smith, NASA
      "Just, ahhh, 'thanks for your support'. We couldn't have done this without everybody in all the countries that support the mission. I guess that's it. I might think of something else."
      "I'll add this. Our mission was just the second step. We proved the Argo can do a lot more than it was supposed to do. And go further, and still be kicking it. There needs to be another ship like this. Take what we've learned, make the improvements to whatever needs improved, and send another ship out further. For longer. Then we'll learn more and eventually we'll be able to move out into the stars."

      CMO, Doctor Ranya Aziz - Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
      "What I need to say isn't going to be popular in my country, or in any country like it. People need to be able to extend themselves. Men and Women. From all faiths and peoples. There is no other way to say it, oppression by those with closed minds and narrow vision needs to stop."

      JAXA Medical Division, Mission Medical Specialist, Doctor Shinno Akari, Itami, Japan
      "I've heard some of the other answers so I've had time to think about it. And while I agree with what Ranya and Carmello said, I want to focus on my profession. We are all people. But we are all different people. It is the same here as it is on Earth. On the ship, some of us are fine with whatever the meal of the day is, others can't, or shouldn't eat it. Some haven't had a moment of illness since they came on board, others have to work to stay healthy in this environment. It is the same on Earth, we are all people, but we are different people, and while one or another idea may be good in general, there will always be exceptions and special cases. That doesn't mean they are wrong, or less a good citizen or something, they are just different.
      "I have an example. Many years ago in several different countries, when young children were first learning to write a few of them would pick up the pencil with their left hand, and the teacher would scold them and force them to make their letters with their right hand. Being left handed was seen as wrong. It caused all manner of problems for the children. It took a long time before some realized that being left handed was normal and natural for them. It is the same with diet and exercise and everything else. What works for one may not work as well, or at all, for another, or even for the one all of the time. That is just they way it is."

      Dr. Svetlana Kambov
      "I've heard it reported on a couple of channels that I hate Europe. I don't hate Europe. I still consider it home. I just don't want to live in parts of it or deal with the politics of it any more."
      (Vinaya can be heard asking: "is that all you want to say?")
      "Yes. I think so. I've got a message or two to send, but I'll send them myself."

      Doctor Lorraine Latour, CNES / ESA (speaking French)
      (English Subtitles) I want to speak to France. The French people. I know I was living and working in Switzerland, but I am still French. I always have been. I will always be. French.
      We are a great people, from a great country. We should not take a back seat to any other nation. France has a great and proud tradition, not just in culture, but in the sciences and exploration as well. We as a people need to regain our pride and our resolve. And our language.
      I wear the French flag on my uniform, by choice. It is not the EU flag, or the Swiss, it is the Tricolour. When I sign my reports I send them to Toulouse and Paris as well as the other centers, and I try to make sure our agency is listed first. I am French, a French-woman, and then I am European.
      Vive la France ... Vive la liberte.

      Specialist Adebayo
      (he sat quietly in front of the camera for some time, thinking)
      "I'm sorry, I had an idea of what I was going to say, but then I realized that whatever I say will be played all over Earth. It will be translated into languages that I have never heard spoken, and played in cities I've never heard of. Think about that, because we are on the Argo, and we are orbiting Mars, and have been to Venus, everything we say is of interest to the rest of humanity. And yet, if I had stayed home, nobody would listen to a word I said.
      "I'm sure somebody here will mention that when we can see Earth it is a small blue dot and we can't even see the continents any more, let alone tell where the national boundaries of the countries are. But that isn't as striking as the idea that because we've done this that somehow now we are more astute or what we say is more profound than what anybody else has to say."
      (he frowns and then sits quietly for another minute or so)
      "In some ways the mission has changed us. But we are, at heart, still the people that we were before we signed up for the program. And I don't know if that is good or bad. It's just the way it is. Turn it off, I'm done."

      Doctor Kristoffersen, ESA
      "This is an easy one. Science is the future. Not only for children, but adults. Read the science and technology section of your paper, take a science magazine. Go to the technology fairs and see what is coming. You may have an idea that could improve something, or for another use of something that is already out, and that is progress. That is how the Argo was built, that is why we are out here. If mankind had been comfortable with the way things were, we would never have built a sailing ship or a steam engine. This ship and its mission is just the next kilometer on that road. We have taken this step, but you or your children may take the next one."

      Mission Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier, Canada
      "I just want to say that while the Mission Committee went out of its way to make sure this crew was as diverse as it could possibly be, that it has worked. Or maybe that it hasn't worked out exactly as some had intended it. We did gel as a group, and become a very efficient team, we haven't become as seamlessly international or maybe as homogenized as some on the committee had intended. It has proven that we can work together for a common goal and for the benefit of everybody here and on the planet, but we still retain our identities. And just the other day I heard an somewhat spirited argument between three of the crew each claiming that their own space agency was the most dysfunctional group of bureaucrats to ever walk the planet.
      "So, yes, being a diverse crew has been good, and it has promoted international cooperation, as least as far as the mission is concerned. But it also seems like it was a really complicated solution to a problem that some of us aren't sure was even a problem to begin with. At this level, we all know that when you leave Earth you leave the majority of Earth's problems and prejudices behind."

      Commander Filipe Nascimento Brazilian Air Force
      "I guess since you're play my statement last that I should try to say something memorable. And since nobody has told me what they said, or even what they didn't say, that's a challenge. I guess I could have Vinaya replay them, but, I won't."
      "I will say this."
      "The mission the Argo has been on has been extraordinary. I know there was and is some dispute about whether or not it was worth the effort and expense. But that isn't the point. We have had perfectly good stoves and refrigerators in most Western homes since the nineteen thirties, why did they need to be improved on? Why was the refrigerator in my quarters at the base able to send a message to the commissary to tell them that I was out of eggs and coffee creamer? I was able to change the temperature in one drawer to chill beer until it almost froze, and the other to keep wine just on the cool side.
      "It is the same thing with the Argo. We did it because we can, we are out here doing things that nobody else has ever done because we can. The next crew will do other things that we couldn't do, but they will do them because we came out here, and learned, and tried different things, and then learned from that.
      "I know it is a cliche, but it's the truth. We'll continue to go where nobody has gone before.
      "OK, I know, I'm not a philosopher or a poet, I'm an old air force base rat, but you wanted to hear whatever I wanted to tell the people back home, and, for now, that's it."

      Morning Live, the International News Network
      "And that was the last of the three questions.
      "Now, after a turn of events that nobody could anticipate, the crew of the Argo Epic is on their way home on the Terra Maru. We'll continue to follow the mission until they are all safely home again. Next week, we'll review all of the crew that left Earth on the Terra Marru."
      "And now, we'll continue with a sports update..."

19. Commander Filipe Nascimento, Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier, Third Officer, Stanley Smith, on board the Terra Maru.
      We are no longer the command crew of the Argo.
      The three of us are all in command watching and listening as what used to be our ship goes through its pre-rotational checklist.
      "It's a good ship," one of us said and the others agreed.
      On the Terra, the Captain and crew were doing their own pre-flight and getting ready for what promises to be anything but an ordinary and routine return trip.
      Later we watched the Argo fire its rotational thrusters. It seemed like it took a lot longer for it to get going from here than it did when were the ones on board making it happen.
      Finally, both ships were ready to go. The Terra powered up, and we watched the Argo slowly recede into the distance heading back toward Mars.
      "Ready to earn your keep?" Captain Dromgoole asked us.
      "Of course, sir."
      "We need a full inspection and inventory of everything your crew brought on board, which compartment it's in, what sort of container it's in, what it is, and where it's supposed to go once we're docked at the space station. I know, everything was supposed to be logged when it was transferred, but we both know that things happen, and stuff gets moved, and all that. So, it all needs checked. And then you guys are all scheduled for debriefing interviews with Mission Control and a bunch of others."
      "Yes, sir."
      There was nothing else to say.

Ken's Story
      One of the things I needed to do was to do a test on the seals on the Argo's docking ports and airlocks before we started rotation. I made the announcement and made sure all the hatches were closed, then I pressurized the airlocks to about ten percent more than their normal operating pressure. The test was simple, if the pressure dropped during the test period, then there was a leak, and we had to go through the process of tracking it down and fixing it. The test on the docking ports for the cargo pods took longer and required two inspection robots to check. One inside the docking ring, and one outside in an empty pod that I moved around with the robotic arms to dock at every unused port and the robots would check for escaping air. If the outside one detected air with the hatch closed the inside robot would document the area of the seal and that's where we'd begin work
      I sat and watched the Terra Maru begin to move away using its thrusters and listened to the com chatter between the Captain and his crew. The same chatter was happening on the Argo, but I didn't need my headphones to hear most of it.
      An hour later the Commander asked me if my airlock and docking port tests were complete. I said "almost ma'am, three more ports on the ring to go, all three airlocks are still holding pressure." She told me to keep it up and let her know what the final results were.
      I was waiting for the robot in the cargo pod to run its sniffer around the seal of the last open docking port when the chatter on the Argo began to indicate that most of the crew believed that they had stowed most of the loose items in the ring and elsewhere and Chief Engineer Gomez was talking about the pressure in the rotational thruster system.
      I told Commander Pedersen that the docking ring had passed its test and that the main airlocks were all still secure.
      Then I heard the other department heads and Second Officer O'Driscoll added their reports.
      Finally when it was quiet the Commander asked that if anybody had any objection to the Argo Epic beginning its rotational sequence to speak up immediately.
      The only objection was somebody on the comm wondering where the space sickness bags were.
      "Engineer Gomez, please fire the thrusters, get us spinning."

      I heard the ship audibly moan as the thrusters fired. And it seemed like nothing was happening. So I changed one of my monitors to an engineering subscreen and watched as the indicators for the rotational thrusters all lit up.
      "All thrusters responding as per spec," I said to nobody in particular.
      "Thank you third officer, keep an eye on them."
      "Aye, aye, ma'am."
      It took awhile, but eventually I could feel that familiar sensation that was enough like gravity that we called it weight.
      "One third G in the Ring," O'Driscoll reported from the monitoring station in the lab ring.
      "This is the Terra Maru, your rotation looks good."
      "Thank you, Terra," the Commander replied immediately.
      "Cutting thrusters back by twenty percent," Engineer Gomez reported.
      "All thrusters responding, powering down as indicated," I added as the indicators changed one by one. "Thruster seven is slow to respond, but it is dropping." Then in a minute I added, "Thruster seven is sitting at seventy eight percent. All the others are about the same and holding."
      And then a few minutes later, "One half G."
      "Thrusters going to fifty percent."
      "OK guys, take it real easy now, we'll get it close to point six and let it coast."
      Again, it took a few minutes for the next step.
      "Argo, your rotation is right on target, no observed wobble," I recognized the voice of Commander Nascimento.
      "Thank you, Terra, that's good to know."
      "Point five seven."
      "Thrusters to maintenance level, ten percent. Going to auto."
      "Responding. Even seven is coming down as directed. Automatic system is on, confirmed."
      "Thanks Ken, good to have you on top of it like that."
      "Point Six two. We're good out here."
      "All hands, all stations, report any issues, other than the need for an airsick bag."

      The only reports were of stuff that had somehow gotten out and let them know that even artificial gravity can cause things to make interesting noises when it gets loose.

      But now that I wasn't busy I could look out at the Terra as it went by every minute or so as the Argo rotated in relation to where the other ship sat motionless.
      "And with that, Terra Maru, we are ready to take this bus back to Mars. Captain Dromgoole, and crew, we thank you for your assistance. Please advise when you are ready to get underway and we will do the same."
      "It was our pleasure, Commander Pedersen. And for all of us on the Terra Maru, we wish you Godspeed, and I see no reason why we should delay our departure any longer."
      I stayed in command and felt my eyes fill with tears as I watched the Terra get smaller. But I was proud of the glow I could see around two of the engines. Pylon One was working as designed and the engine we'd built was functioning as well as it could. The ship was moving under its own power and before long it would be aimed at Earth and, one way or another, it would get there. I turned and looked at where the Argo was going, way off in the distance I could see a red dot, Mars.
      Later, the Commander called us all together and asked our opinion on an optional mission that had been proposed.
      "It's based on the work you guys did with Knobby and the dead Venus orbiters," she said, "the Science Directorate thinks we could capture a small asteroid or two for study." She looked around at us, "We take the Argo out to the edge of the inner Asteroid Belt and scan for a couple of small, and hopefully slow moving suspects, and then match their course and speed and grab them. What do you think?"
      "I think this mission is going to be just as much fun as the last one," I answered.

Joint Mission Statement

      We are pleased to announce that the Terra Maru has docked at the Space Station, and that the first transfer of the members of the Argo Epic crew back to Earth has taken place.
      Commander Nascimento has asked for patience from everybody as his crew re-aclimates to Earth and goes through their post-mission program, but then he assures us that the various members of the crew will be available for appearances and interviews.
      Thank you.

End Argo 3
The Final Mission is Argo Four: the Final Mission.

The Desk Fiction Collection

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