The Nexus Odyssey, p.2Hylton Smith
Noachian – prior to 3.5 billion years ago
Hesperian – 3.5 to 2.5/2.0 billion years ago
Amazonian – 2.5/2.0 to present.
In the later two periods there is some consensus on the existence of water flows and warmer periods. The reasoning was based on massive impacts terminating at the end of the Noachian period, and the subsequent prognoses of Carbon Dioxide and water vapour greenhouse effects, which gradually diminish and cease. Smaller impacts at that time would have caused flash heating for thousands of years. Volcanic activity at a much heavier intensity than Earth would have caused a Sulphur Dioxide greenhouse. Overlap of these conditions could have produced another greenhouse of Methane. Although there has been detection of methane in the current era this is not fully explained by the preceding chronological assumptions.
The loss of atmosphere and resultant radiation levels, coupled with the lack of ability to recycle carbonate rocks (as occurs on Earth), depicts a massive disadvantage in the chance of life as we know it developing and surviving on the surface of Mars. What there is left of the atmosphere is over 95% Carbon Dioxide, the remainder is Nitrogen and Oxygen in the ratio of about 15:1. The distillate of all this conjecture is that any sources of water or life potential are most likely to be found under the surface. However, the harsh surface conditions may throw up elements or compounds not naturally occurring on Earth.
This scenario meant that many ‘boxes’ had to be validated or unchecked early in the landing phase to allow Beijing to compute and modify further searches. This again demonstrated how critical the two month period between Copernicus touchdown and Darwin departure really was.
More altered biometric data had been discovered and Natalia requested that Commander Magnusson agree further investigation into identifying the culprit. Magnusson concurred and unconsciously shifted the starting point. “Why are you uploading the data when it comes from Dupree’s database?”
She was silent for long enough for Magnuson to think she had not heard the question. Eventually she replied. “Well, it was part of the final division of tasks that Dupree suggested. As he’s the chief medical presence, I support him on dietary regimes. He said it would make sense for me to have sight of the bio data by uploading it, and any recommendations which might occur to me on supplemental advice would be welcomed. He said he would be checking the database regularly anyway, and this way we would both be fully apprised of any abnormalities. It made a lot of sense. It was also approved by Beijing.”
“That may be,” said Magnusson, “but why hasn’t he reported these discrepancies and why didn’t you mention them to him before coming to me?”
Natalia was not too happy with such innuendo but knew it was a valid question. “The aberrations are minor and buried in a mass of figures. I didn’t confront Dr. Dupree immediately because his own data had been altered and I couldn’t be completely sure he hadn’t mistakenly misread some columns or indeed altered them himself. It had slipped my mind that he’d suggested my involvement in the first place, now that seems much more significant.” Magnusson nodded and asked her to request Dupree to join them.
“Commander, what can I do for you? Things seem to be going so smoothly I almost feel a bit redundant. You aren’t feeling unwell I hope?”
As the Commander’s careful revelation progressed, Dupree’s expression changed from furtive to tearful. In the run up to the launch some of his routine one-on-ones with the crew had been interesting, in that excitement and trepidation co-existed throughout the crew. This was perfectly understandable, but in one case, namely Banjani, it was complicated by the breakup of her relationship as a direct result of the mission. “Her blood pressure was escalating steadily and I advised her to reconsider her involvement. She couldn’t do that so close to departure with the attendant effect on morale, and the adverse publicity this would bring to her family. I told her I could not administer control medication as it would trigger her enforced withdrawal. Alternatively once the mission was in process, any medication of that type would be prohibited, as it has no published history in space flight, let alone a year on Mars. She accepted this and convinced me that it was helpful that I now knew about her dilemma; she felt it was obvious that determination to annex the mental conflict would stabilise the bothersome trend. She achieved this and I suspected nothing until we left orbit, when she confessed that she had managed to obtain BP reducers through her own channels. The trend was reversed slightly and her upbeat character was back. I picked up a small deterioration immediately, as she had stopped the pills before launch and she couldn’t risk smuggling them aboard. Faced with the alternatives I perhaps naively believed that she could get on top of this, now that the practical dilemma has gone – as we are on our way. I didn’t want anyone else to be dragged into this so I asked Natalia to simply upload the data I had certified. I don’t know what else to say Commander.”
“Why did you alter your own readings?”
“Merely to convince the backup team in Beijing that there was no cause for concern.”
“And Veltrano’s readings?”
“Same thing. Readings showing a slight negative trend, and then reversal with two or three people makes the situation more credible. I was intending to correct Veltrano’s and my own as soon as Banjani stabilised, which I still believe will happen.”
Magnusson stared in to Dupree’s eyes and told him to leave until he had considered what to do. He also told both the doctor and Natalia not to mention this to the crew, including Banjani.
When everyone had the messaging roster it was rather predictable that some were unhappy. Carvalho really wanted to let his mother know how it felt to be achieving his father’s dream and he was last on the list. The spreading of sessions meant he had to wait another two days. Natalia was to wait one more day and she had an acute desire to speak to her grandparents now, as she had nobody else. She would not have need to speak to them frequently after this contact, so she asked Veltrano to move her up the list, informing him that both Banjani and Redgrave were happy to swap slots with her.
To her astonishment Veltrano simply ignored the request. When Carvalho heard this, he accused the Comm. Officer of being childish and burdened him with his own desire to switch with Redgrave. Veltrano merely stated that this was not up for discussion. If he really wanted to make an issue of this he should speak to the Commander.
“Who the hell do you think you are? You have no seniority here, and the fact that two of our colleagues are flexible, is helpful to our situation as well as being good for crew morale.” Veltrano stared at him expressionlessly and shook his head. “Ok, if that is the best you can do I will see Magnusson; have a nice day yourself.”
Carvalho told Natalia that he would speak with the Commander on her behalf as well. This was appreciated in view of the bio data episode. Veltrano had not handled this well, but his training extended to security in addition to communications. His remit was heavily defined by Beijing and Magnusson knew of this irregularity (but not the detail). Mission Control had insisted there was not to be haphazard misuse of this facility. They needed to know in advance who was to be in touch with whom, at what time, and for how long. This was bound to seem like overkill at best, and mistrust if it came out in the wrong way. Javier Veltrano had not consulted the crew prior to his production of the ‘tablet of stone’, simply because he did not foresee such an emotional response. “Jesus,” he pleaded to Magnusson, “they are going to be away for the best part of 3 years; what difference does a few hours make?”
The Commander agreed but reminded Veltrano he had himself suggested flexibility with the first roster. “What does occur to me is that some do not really seem to want much communication time at all. This will only complicate matters if we have to follow orders to maintain an unaltered schedule. If we’re to achieve this I think it would be best to help them derive the initial one to their own satisfaction with the caveat that it then remains unaltered.”
Veltrano accepted the ‘request’ but was not happy. Unknown to the crew, including Magnusson, he had undergone high level scrutiny and training at a Beijing adjunct of Mission Control, which was staffed by Intelligence agents of the major players in the Confederation of Nations. Magnusson’s ‘request’ could have implications for the rest of his remit. He duly handled the task of modifying the roster and was thanked by the crew, with the exception of Carvalho, who offered no response.
Natalia had spent a lot of her free time looking into Banjani’s historical medical stats to see if there was any clue to her subtle rise in blood pressure in recent months. It seemed to be a fruitless search, but she kept at it mainly because of her memory of her own marriage break-up and the appreciation of how difficult that must be, under the spotlight of the Mission ‘microscope’. Suddenly, certain values stood out to her trained eye and she felt she may be on to something. Banjani’s data indicated a slight but sudden decline in potassium level. Significant falls are a serious problem and levels such as hers would be just about enough to cause mild Hypokalaemia. Common symptoms which can be frequently experienced with this condition are - dry skin, blisters, confusion, anxiety, and hypertension with sleep deprivation. Having spoken with Banjani she learned that her skin was demanding more moisturising cream than normal, she had no blistering or confusion, but had all the other symptoms, particularly sleep deprivation.
Natalia met with Dupree and suggested that they informed Commander Magnusson of the possibility of a simple supplement restoring Banjani’s medical stats to normal. Pascal Dupree was relieved that this may indeed be the underlying cause of the adverse trend and hoped it might mitigate some of the loss of confidence that Magnusson must have in his judgement. When they did meet, Natalia was quite forceful in her assertion that this could have been picked up by Beijing, so by extension of that logic it was not unreasonable that Dupree and herself had also missed the possible connection. Magnusson accepted this point and conceded to delay any disciplinary review until Banjani’s potassium levels were normalised and the resulting BP trend had been studied.
Dupree thanked Natalia once they were alone and was quite emotional when he hugged her. “I’m merely doing my job Pascal - please don’t get too hopeful yet. We have proved nothing.”
“Yes, forgive me. This is a little premature, but I would be very happy for Banjani if you were right. I am partly responsible for the crew’s health and morale, endorphins and all. Even if it turns out that this is not the cause, your diligence is a great source of encouragement to me that we will identify the trigger for her BP trend. I was looking at the macro interconnections to the detriment of detail effects. I would like to invite you to make any suggestions for overhaul of Beijing dictates we may have over the rest of the trip. Provided the Commander doesn’t restrict my original remit you can be sure that ‘I’m listening’.”
Veltrano had agreed to the consensus roster and because Natalia had been so busy, Carvalho had first slot. Veltrano had copied Beijing into the order and time schedule. Only Xiang at Mission Control had security clearance for this and he passed it on to Mission Intelligence then erased his copy. The MI boys had a sophisticated diversion transmission chip installed at the residences of all of the crew’s nominated contacts. As far as the families were concerned the main Beijing technical people had simply installed the basic hardware on which they could speak to their loved ones in privacy. This was ‘precautionary’ because of what was at stake and would give MI any hint of emotional variance in the crew when compared to their routine formal reporting. Why would there be any variance? ‘Who knows?’ was the answer.
“Hi Mama, it’s Daniel. Sorry I haven’t had a chance to say hello before now. Everything is going well and as the Earth is shrinking behind us I can see why Papa wanted to do this so badly. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever known, and I’m somehow less and less worried about the potential dangers out there. Anyway, the propulsion systems are behaving themselves but the big test will come when we get close to Mars orbit.” He was extremely conscious of his mother’s natural anxiety, having lost her husband on a completely routine flight. Just as well she was nowhere near capable of understanding the degree of theoretical design which the mission depended upon.
“You make us all proud here Dani; you seem to be on the news every hour. I hope you stay fit and healthy with all that experimental food. Your face looks thinner.” He convinced her that it was picture distortion and reminded her that as the mission progressed they would not be able to have real time conversations because of the delay in the signal reaching Earth. They would have to send pre-recorded messages. She couldn’t grasp this too easily and said she didn’t have that problem with his sister in Australia and that was a long way away. He smiled and they talked about his nephew and two nieces before saying goodbye. He felt really relaxed now that he had made this first contact ‘on behalf’ of his father and still could not comprehend how Veltrano could have been so insensitive knowing his history. He was still smarting from his altercation with the Mexican.
Natalia was next to play E.T. and call home. Her grandparents were extremely relieved to hear from her. Having already lost one of their children it would have been exceptionally distressing for that horror to be followed by such fate for a grandchild. “I’m settling into my work now that we’ve left Earth and the rest of the crew is similarly engaged, so the time passes quickly. Everything has gone like clockwork since launch. The synthetic food isn’t going to be welcomed, but the short time we were on it back on Terra will mean we know what to expect.” They both laughed at this and she was reassured that they seemed so relaxed. Although they had been aware of Nikolai’s prostate problems for some four months, they had kept it from her as they knew such knowledge would have resulted in her pulling out of the mission. They both raised a healthy measure of Vodka to her, but sipped it slowly and resisted the temptation to throw the glasses at the fireplace. Olga put that down to her husband needing some new laser eye treatment, and her estimation that he would have probably hit the cat, which was the same colour as the fireplace. Natalia was so happy that they were in such good spirits and slept much better than she had expected.
The velocity following the burn had gradually increased to circa 80,000 kph and was expected to peak at just under 120,000 kph after 2 months, then gradually it would be reduced to 75,000 kph just prior to Mars Orbit Insertion in 10 months.
Natalia acquainted Banjani with her prognosis that she was a little low in potassium and prescribed the requisite supplemental dosage. Banjani was quick to enquire if she had run this by Dupree and very happy to try it out when the answer was in the affirmative. There was no need for any hint to Banjani that anyone other than Dupree knew of her predicament at this juncture.
Copernicus was almost at the halfway point and the crew felt the mission had been routine. The exceptions were – breakdown frequency of the sanitary systems, a micro board failure in life support regulation, and the strained interpersonal relationships. The first two were annoying but were easily fixed. The difficulties in crew morale were becoming a cause for concern, not least of all to Magnusson. The positives were there too; Banjani’s blood pressure had normalised. Natalia’s supplement prescription had corrected the worrying
Carvalho and Redgrave had managed to strike up a rapport around sport, number theory and the projected advance of artificial intelligence. The first two were shared interest, the latter a complete disagreement but total respect for the other’s argument. The bad news was more complicated and under the surface, yet still observable as a strain. Veltrano was a loner, and despite the enormous amount of effort by the Commander to involve him in group activity during leisure time, he remained aloof and distrusted by everyone except Redgrave. The others perceived him as an outsider, an inspector, an auditor - but falling short of being a spy. Strangely, this matched his view of his own purpose on the mission. To him, Communications Officer meant to Mission Control.
Magnusson kept asking himself why this lone furrow tendency had not been picked up during training, and he then entertained the notion that it may have been planned. He periodically asked Dupree about Veltrano’s med stats and always received the same assurance of ‘fine’.
Availing of psychology experience in the field he decided to ease off a little and concentrate on the others. Carvalho had been so dedicated to getting to this point in his life that he had not had a relationship with a female other than casual speed dating contacts. He had repeatedly tried to correct this on Copernicus by flirting openly with Natalia. When he was rebuffed in the presence of others he displayed juvenile traits of sarcastic defensive rudeness, forgetting that he chose the public forum. This was an escalating problem in a closed environment. He really believed that ‘no’ meant ‘yes’. Natalia had not had a successful relationship since her short marriage despite trying with several physically and culturally attractive men. Upon reluctantly resorting to a therapist, she recoiled at the suggestion she may always be comparing her suitors to her father, and finding that they came up short. Over time she began to accept this may have some validity when allied to her main upbringing being influenced by her grandparents, and its continual reference to her missing father, then her dead father who may have committed suicide.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes