It was 14th, June 2013 when Col. James Nichols heard the phone ring in his cabin. Col. Nichols had been on leave for the last few months after the death of his wife. She had died in an accident of the experimental surveillance drone. The drone had been intended to go to mars to help find places of interest. Places for exploration on the upcoming two-year mission. The drone had done well in all its test that it had been put through until then. But yet, those in charge was not satisfied and decided to put it through a high-speed obstacle course. An obstacle course better suited for racing or attacking on earth. Not for surveillance on another planet.
Nancy had just finished her workout routine at the bases workout facility. When she stepped out of the facility on that eventful afternoon to head home. Home to get ready for an anniversary dinner with James. The drone crashed into the front of the building killing Nancy and injuring four others.
The phone started ringing again for the fourth time. Col. Nichols decided he should probably answer it, if for no other reason than to ask them to stop calling. After standing from his perch atop the roof. He knocked over several empty bottles of liquor as he made his way to the open window. Tumbling through it, he somehow managed to land on the table causing it to break. This caused the phone to go sliding across the hardwood floor. Disappearing somewhere under the bed, still ringing loudly.
“This is just Fucking great.” He shouted as he forced himself up off the floor to hunt after the phone that was still ringing.
Laying down next to the bed, he searched under it for the ringing phone. He soon found a book with his wife’s handwriting scrolled across the front. ‘My Secret Life – My Dreams and Ambitions’ he read across the front cover. He laid there on the floor for several minutes just looking at the cover. “My wife wrote this,” he thought, trying to remember if he ever saw her writing in it before. He was about to sit up and open the book when the phone started ringing once more.
Laying the book on the bed he redoubled his search for the phone and soon found it. “HELLO,” he shouted when he answered it.
“James? Col. James Nichols?” The voice on the other end of the phone responded. “I have been trying to reach you for the last few weeks.”
“Who the Fuck is this?” James asked.
“Watch your language Col.” The voice said sounding angry. “This is Major General Lupton and you Col. are on recall starting immediately. You will report to ARC on Monday morning or the MP’s will come and take your ass there. The choice is yours, Col.”
“Yes, Sir. Major General Lupton Sir. I will be there.” James said, holding a hand up to his head in salute.
“Good, there you will find out why you have been recalled and will be briefed on the mission at hand.” MG Lupton said before hanging up the phone.
James sat the phone on the bed before pulling himself up off the floor. He looked back at the window remembering the past. All the times that, Nancy and him, had spent out there just watching the stars. Just then he remembered about the book he found under the bed. Turning his attention to the book that was sitting just inches from his hand. He picked it up and began staring at the cover once more.
He debated for some time if he was going to read the book or not. He wanted to know the types of things Nancy had written down but he felt as though he was violating her privacy. He knew she was dead, but if by some chance that the body they found was not Nancy’s. He wanted to be able to say honestly that he had not read it. James’s mind went through every reason why he could read the book. While his heart gave him every excuse on, about why he should not. This went on for the next few days he got ready to head for ARC.
Finally, Sunday came around and James was ready to say by to the house when someone knocked on the front door. Upon opening the door James saw two MP officers standing there with a piece of paper in one of their hands.
“I am just about ready to leave. Why are you here?” James asked the two MPs.
“Sir, our orders are to escort you to ARC. This is only for your protection.” The guy on the right said holding out his hand to hand James the paper he was holding.
Colonel James Nichols
1412 North River Road
Las Vegas, New Mexico
It has come to our attention that a rogue individual may be in your area and may intend to cause you harm. This individual is considered extremely dangerous. This individual has even taken out whole platoons of troops single handily. In light of this, I have ordered Second Lieut. Brandon and Second Lieut. Marks to escort you to ARC for your safety.
Major General Lupton
James read the letter through several times before he just closed the door. As he turned away the door opened and the two MPs stepped into the house. They followed James has he made his way up the stairs and into a bathroom where he closed the door in their faces. The two MPs stood outside of the door for several minutes waiting for James to come out. Then without warning, they heard the horn of their car blowing telling of some kind of danger. They started slamming themselves into the door repeatedly. After about third slam the door gave way revealing an empty bathroom. The two MPs ran outside to find James standing next to the car waving at them.
“We better get going. If you plan on making it to the ARC facility by tomorrow.” James said with a smile on his face opening one of the back doors and getting into the car.
The Two MPs looked at each other before walking to the car to leave. James made it to the ARC facility by 08 hundred hours without any issues. Not even a delay at the airport for having a gun in his pack. James was instructed to wait in a large room on the second floor of the main building until they were ready for him.
In this room, James could see several other people around the room. People standing, sitting and even lying throughout the room waiting for their appointments. Except for James and an Army woman, everyone was in casual wear. Most of which James would identify as ‘beach bum wear’. James decided that each of them must be there for some other reason than him. He decided that he did not need to interact with them and found a seat by the window. A window that looked out into the courtyard and the beautiful fountain.
Several more people showed up before the first one was called for their meeting. Around thirteen hundred hours they rolled in a large cart full of food for those waiting in the large room. James and the army woman waited for everyone else to get what they wanted. before they stood to get something for themselves. When they walked up to the table they found that even though ravaged, there was still quite a bit of food left. There were crab legs, sausage, cheese, shrimp, and even crackers and bread. After getting all they wanted James and the woman walked over to a couch where they both sat eating and talking.
“I am Col. James Nichols,” James said introducing himself.
“Hi, my name is Major Rebecca Thomas.” The woman said. “Do you know why we have been ordered here today?”
“No. I have only been ordered to show up.” James said.
The two of them finished eating in silence and did not bother speaking to each other after that. They both sat there in silence only standing from time to time to stretch their legs. Stretching them by walking a few laps around the room and then returning to their seat. Everyone else in the room had gone and no new people arrived after seventeen hundred hours.
Soon after the sun set Rebecca was called for her meeting leaving James alone in the room. Each person until this point had been called for their meeting between forty-five minutes and an hour for the previous person called. At least, by James’s calculation, this was true before they came for the next person. James has starting to feel the pain of his wife again as he waited and hoped that is turn would be soon. As he sat there he started to become drowsy and nodded off to sleep.
“Col. Nichols.” Someone far off said. “Col. Nichols.” The voice said a bit louder. “Col. Nichols, please, they are ready for you.” The voice was now deafening.
“What’s going on?” James asks as he awakens from his slumber.
“Col. Nichols, they are ready for you now.” The guy standing over James said.
“Oh, Okay, I am up. Give me a minute to freshen up please.” James said pulling himself up to head for the bathroom.
“Yes, Sir. I will wait for you here.” The guy said stepping back to allow James to pass.
James took about five minutes to splash his face with water to wake himself up. He then decided that he should relieve himself before he met with whomever, he was going to meet. As he finished in the bathroom he stood in front of the mirror looking at himself but not really seeing himself. He was thinking of Major Thomas, Rebecca. About how she had fantastic green eyes. About her golden brown, shoulder length hair. Hair that was perfectly straight until the last few inches where it curled tightly. And about her ruby red lips. He was just wondering what it would be like to kiss her when someone knocked on the door.
“Sir, are you okay?” The guy from before called out through the door.
James walked to the door and opened it before responding, “it’s about time they were ready for me, let’s go.” He said as he walked passed the guy. As he reached the main door out of the waiting room he turned back. The guy who was still standing at the bathroom door dumbstruck. “Come on, are they not waiting on me?”
“What? Oh. Yes, I’m sorry.” The guy responded before trotting to the door to lead James to his meeting.
The guy led James to another door that led outside into the courtyard and then out to another building. Unlike all the other buildings that were built using brick and painted white. This building was built of steel and painted gray. Making it resemble the backside of a large aircraft hangar. Once inside, James was lead to a large sliding door that opened up to a small room. A room about the size of a large walk-in closet. The guy instructed James to just stand in the middle of the room and wait.
James walked to the middle of the small room and turned around. As he turned he saw the door close as the room started to descend. The trip only lasted about ten seconds before it ended. The door reopened revealing a new room that looked just like the one above. But, yet instead of the guy who had escorted him to this point, there were three guys waiting for him here. These men escorted James to another that looked much like the situation room. The one found at the pentagon in Washington, DC. But this one had one big difference. This one was well lit with white panels and flashing blue, red, yellow and green lights.
“Col. James Nichols, I am glad to finally meet you.” One of the guys in the room said standing up to get a better look at James. “I am Michael Winterbottom, I’m the one who personally requested you on this team. I am truly sorry about your wife.”
“Is this a pity request for her?” James asked with the resentment evident in his voice.
“Not particularly. The majority of our decisions are based primarily on your record and performance. Your wife had given us your name before she agreed to join the original team.” Michael said trying and failing to hide the anger in his voice.
“Then with all due respect, I think I will decline the offer then. No offense.” James said turning to walk out.
“This is not an offer, it’s an order. An order from the highest of your commanders.” Michael said not bothering to hide his anger. “You are here to stay and you will do as you are ordered.”
“Yes, Sir,” James said with just as much anger as Michael.
“Now that we have that settled, I want you to get to know your crew. After all, you will be spending the next five plus years together.” Michael said with a sarcastic smile in his voice. “But first, I want you to come over here. So I can give you a basic brief of your crew structure, your mission at hand and what to expect while on mars.”
James reluctantly walked to the table in the middle of the room. He saw a cluster of more than two dozen egg-shaped structures. They looked to placed on what looked like a picture of the surface of mars. All in an area that he recognized as the Argyre Planitia near the south pole.
“This is the landing location that we have chosen. Based on the fact that the mountains around the giant crater. These mountains will help protect the colony. Protect them from the massive wind storms that often sweep the planet. Storms that sometimes last for days.” Michael said not bothering to gesture to the map on the table.
“Then this is Argyre Planitia?” James asked.
“You do know mars, yes, this is Argyre Planitia. We figure that the mountain range around the valley. Will prevent the winds from destroying the equipment we send.” Michael explained. “We intend to send about eighteen supply ships full of equipment. Along with twelve services ships that you will need for the construction of the colony. The colony that will be living there in the future.”
“This is still only a two-year mission, though, correct?” James asked confused on, how a small handful of people will build such a city in such a short time. When the main idea was for this team to be comprised of primarily scientists there to study the planet.
“Yes, it is. The primary build team will arrive about nine months after you will. They will have another fifteen people to construct the majority of the facilities. The ones that are too big for your advance team to build.” Michael said with a grin on his face. “Your primary goal after landing will be to unpack modules one, three and fifteen. By using the items to link all the primary capsules to one another. You will create a safe zone for people to get from one module to another.”
“So then, this stage will take about nine months. Then we will start the scientific research for the remaining thirteen months.” James started, trying to understand the timeline intended.
“No, the first stage of the building process should only take about a month. Then the scientist can start their primary jobs.” Michael said. “While most of the people going are only signing on for two years there are those that will be there for far longer. Some are even going to spend the remainder of their lives there.”
Michael finished explaining the primary goals of the mission. The goals of establishing a primary base of operation. Finding water for drinking and growing plants. Growing food and searching for life in any form. Then he moved on to showing James the files, explaining who they are and what they do. These were the people who were chosen on the list of possible participants going to mars with James. Most of them seemed to be primarily civilians with scientific degrees. But there were those who were military scientists.
James quickly thumbed through the stack of files stopping at Major Rebecca Thomas’s. He recognized the name as being the woman he met earlier in the day, or rather now, the day before. He opened the file and started reading it. He saw that Rebecca had graduated college in 2007 with a master’s degree in astrophysics. She was commissioned to a first lieutenant right of the ROTC in 2006. Had been promoted major in 2010 after rescuing the second lieutenant Mark Foster. And had managed to save a convoy from an assault on in Afghanistan.
“Take those files and chose your team. Reduce that pile to just twenty-eight people for this first mission.” Michael told James.
James agreed and asked where he will be staying. He was told there was a hotel like a place on the base and that he would be taken thereafter returning topside. James was escorted to his hotel with the stack of files. Once in his room, he decided to get some sleep before going through the files. This was because it was now nearly o-three hundred hours.
After he had gotten some sleep he started going through the files of prospects. He eliminated those that would not be good for the mission for one reason or another. By the time he was finished weeding out those he knew would not work on this mission. He went back to the stack of good candidates to see how many he had left. He discovered that there were now not enough people with only twenty-seven. He realized that he had actually weeded out too many people.
“Hi, Mr. Winterbottom?” James asked calling Michaels office.
“Yes, what can I do for you Col. Nichols?” Michael replied.
“Do you have any other possible candidates? Going through the ones you provided me with I have scratched more than you had anticipated.” James said.
“If you Scratched to many people from the list. Then you better un-scratch some to meet the required number of members for the mission at hand.” Michael said, with anger in his voice.
“The ones that I have scratched are not mentally or physically fit for this mission,” James said trying to explain his position.
“The people we have chosen will be fine, now pick your crew,” Michael said slamming the phone down.
James hung up the phone upset. He had spent years picking and choosing people for different types of missions. He had become adept at knowing who would be able to handle the stress and who would not. He knew that he would have to watch whoever he picked closely to make sure they would be fine.
After spending several hours going through the files in the scratch pile. James started to feel exhausted and decided he needed a drink. He called down to the desk to see where he could go to get one. He was told he could go to the commons which was actually straight across the park outside of the hotel. He walked out and started across the park, about half way across James looked up and saw the stars in the night sky. He saw mars in its bright red glory hanging just below the moon as a small object flew space between the moon and mars. He knew that the object was the international space station flying overhead. Once the space station had passed out of sight he decided to resume his progress to the commons.
James walked into the commons and saw Rebecca sitting at a table with five other people. They were all laughing and having a good time together. Of the three people he could see clearly, he only recognized two of them from the files. The first guy Mark Foster, was the guy Rebecca had rescued in 2009. Mark happened to be in the pile of file folders that James had passed. The second guy was a guy from the scratch pile, his name was Doctor Frank Barnes. Dr. Barnes had gone through several mental evaluations and had passed all but one. The one he had failed had a note of possible mental illness where he suffered from a god complex. The Doctor expressed concern that when given any kind of significant power the complex would express itself. James had figured that this was the only examination to uncover this. Simply because it was the only one that was more than just a five hundred question review.
James walked up to the counter and ordered a whiskey sour easy on the rocks. He waited as the guy behind the counter made the drink before turning to look out across the room. When he did he found Rebecca standing there.
“So.” She started with a smile on her face. “You made it past the latest rounds of interviews.”
James thought carefully choosing his words and answering with a, “yes… yes, I did.”
Rebecca must have noticed the hesitation because her smile faltered. After a few seconds, she asked him to join her and her friends at their table. James agreed to join them as a way to get to know Frank better. After Rebecca placed her order and the drinks were made, he helped her carry them back to the table.
Rebecca introduced James to each of the people at the table. The first person she pointed out was Frank, a mousy blond hair man with brown eyes that almost looked red. The next guy she pointed out was Mark, he was a tall muscle built man with black hair and eyes. Next in line was Melissa Watson whose hair was cut so short James had first thought she was a guy. This woman had brown hair and hazel colored eyes. From where she was sitting right next to Mark, she looked to be as tall as he is. Next was Howard Murphy who was a short African American man. When he stood up he could not be much taller than five foot two inches. The last person who he was introduced to was another woman by the name of Susan Haul. She had golden blond hair with brilliant blue eyes and a figure that most women would die for.
James spent the majority of the night talking with the group getting to know each of them. He learned about their pasts, who their families are and why each of them was possibly selected. He wanted to know why even why each of them was chosen for this mission to mars. He tried to divide his attentions between them all, but he was truly most interested in Frank. Due to the fact he was in the list of people James had scratched from the possible candidates.