Journey to Ariadne – Part 3: Dilemmas
May 21, 2163
Ariadne Project Mission Control
Hellas City, Hellas Basin, Mars
Paolo read the report for the third time. The news agencies on Earth confirmed it, an attempted coup on the ruling government. However, it had been crushed. People were desperate. I shouldn’t read bad news in the morning, he thought. He turned off the computer screen and saw his reflection. The past two months had been exhilarating, but the dark circles under his eyes reminded him of the stress he was under. He was thinner. He wondered if a person could die of exhaustion. He turned and walked out of the office.
“Breakfast is ready,” said Irina, as he joined her in the dining room. “This should give you the energy you need for today’s meeting.”
Paolo looked at the table and saw the porridge, buttered bread, and fried eggs with a cup of coffee. He smiled at his wife and said, “Thanks. Looks great.”
“Are you meeting Dave today?” she asked, her blue eyes focusing on Paolo’s.
“He’ll be at the meeting today. So will Jan,” he said and took a bite of his bread.
“Are you preparing the ship already?”
“We need Jan to get it ready to launch at any time. Hopefully, Dave will give us some good news. We don’t have nearly enough information as we want about Ariadne.”
Irina nodded. She sipped her coffee and they ate in silence for a few seconds. “What about the second ship?”
Paolo exhaled slowly. “I really don’t know yet. It looks like it’ll still be another six months until it can launch. That’s not enough time. The IEF ship will be here, we’ll be on our way to Ariadne, and then what? What happens to the other colonists? What happens to the other ship?”
“Paolo, I know you’re doing your best. Let’s just get the hell out of here as fast as we can and don’t look back. We have to concentrate on the colony.”
“I know. It’s just that I keep thinking about everyone else. Half of the colonists may not make it there. What do I say to them? We have to make an announcement soon about this.”
“Maybe Dave will have an idea,” said Irina. She unconsciously brushed aside her blonde hair as it fell toward her porridge. Irina, always the optimist, Paolo thought.
“We’ll see. I doubt he’ll have any say in what happens after we’re gone.”
* * *
Silence dominated the Control Centre, which normally buzzed with activity. Paolo saw the expectant faces of his colleagues. It’s time to make the announcement, he thought. The screen behind him displayed a static view of Ariadne. The peaceful image didn’t calm him. He felt every heartbeat in his head, pounding a consistent rhythm. The door opened.
“Dave, Jan, thanks for joining us,” said Paolo. Finally, we can begin. “Everyone, I’m sure most of you know Ambassador David Martin and Jan Goerz. They’ll be joining us for our meeting today.”
David and Jan took the empty seats between Mari Watanabe and William de Boer.
“Jan, what’s your best guess on how long it’ll take you to get the ship ready for departure?”
“It’s completely space-worthy, but as for testing all the systems, getting the cargo on, and having the colonists ready, it could be a month or six weeks,” he said.
“Dave, how long until the IEF get their ship here?”
“According to the latest intelligence, they’ll be ready to launch within a week,” he said. “However, with the current unrest on Earth, preparations may be interrupted. I can’t be certain. If they launch on schedule, they can be here before the colony ship launches.”
“Get the systems tested, Jan. We need to contact all the coordinators to be ready for launch. Send out video messages to inform them all of the news. But we need to stress that everything is normal. No need to have anyone panicking.”
“My wife’s the chief psychologist, so send anyone her way if they’re having trouble with that,” said Jan.
“Right. Thanks,” said Paolo. “What I need now is a presentation for the colonists. They need to know where they’re going.”
“I wish we had more time,” said William. “There are some unknowns that are a bit worrying. I’ve noticed a gas in the atmosphere we’ve never seen before. I don’t know where it comes from.”
“But the life on Ariadne seems unaffected by it, right?” said Paolo.
“Yes, but their biochemistry is a bit different than ours. There’s a chance the plants are inedible for us, though,” said Gary. “Dr. Patricia Knight thinks there shouldn’t be an issue. She’s the best geneticist we have, so I’ll trust her on this.”
“Okay, anything else?”
“Yes, but it may be nothing,” said Ben.
“Anything could be important,” said Paolo. “Go on.”
“Okay. I noticed some anomalies in the transmissions. It seems that the surface probes are losing power very briefly every few days or so. I thought it was just a result of being in space for so long and coming out of hibernation, but it’s happening to all three probes. There’s no pattern I could see. Just a power drop for half a second, then back to normal.”
“Why didn’t you come to me about this earlier?”
“I thought it was insignificant or noise in the telemetry data. It didn’t bother me until I noticed it kept happening. I did an analysis of the data only a couple days ago, and wanted to write up my report for you about this.”
“All right. Thanks for letting us know. We’ll check into it in the coming weeks.” Paolo smiled.
Ben nodded and cast his eyes down to his screen.
“I think the last thing we need to talk about is the landing site. Any suggestions?”
“I believe we’ve come up with the two best sites,” said Mari. “The primary site is near a river delta in the southern subtropical coastal plains of the main continent. It looks great for water, land, and it’s geologically stable. The secondary site is in the tropical rainforest on the coast of the large inland sea of the main continent. The site could be near the large river that connects the sea to the ocean.”
“The second site’s an unusual choice. Why there?” asked Paolo.
“The growing season is all year, it’s fertile, it’s central, and has great access to surrounding areas. It sounded good logistically.”
“Okay. Thanks. So, that’s it for this briefing. Let’s get to work on the information for the colonists and contact the coordinators.”
“I’d like to add one thing,” said David. “Don’t expect this to go smoothly. The Earth government wants this stopped, or at least delayed until their ship gets here. I don’t know how strict your security checks are, but I’d be on the lookout for anything suspicious. I know there are operatives on Mars, but I don’t know who.”
“We’ll check into all procedures. Jan, can you make sure that your people go over every millimeter of the ship? Report anything suspicious. That goes for all of you, make sure you report anything unusual, no matter how small it may be. I think we should start increasing the security, especially with the launch approaching. Let’s get back to work.”
David approached Paolo and said, “Can I have a moment alone with you and Jan?”
“Of course.” Jan nodded.
* * *
“I didn’t want to discuss this in front of the team. They have a lot of things to worry about for the time being,” said Paolo. He sat at his desk, while David and Jan were across from him.
“They’ll have to know soon, though,” said David.
Jan looked at David, his face showing an unasked question.
“Jan, as the Captain of the ship, you need to know how serious our security situation is. This isn’t going to be easy.”
“I understand,” said Jan. “What’s going on?”
Paolo nodded at David. “Go ahead.”
“As I said, the IEF ship is supposed to be launching in a week. What I didn’t say is that their target is the propulsion system in the ship. They want it badly. The situation on Earth is not going well for them. They’re thinking of escaping and taking over the Ariadne Project.”
“But,” said Jan, “that means—“
“That means,” Paolo said, “they want to replace all of us on the ship and get the hell out of the solar system. They want to start things over on their own terms on Ariadne.”
“It’s not that simple, though,” said David. “They have people on Mars who are trying to get into the project. They may already have done that. This is a dangerous situation, and you need to know that someone working on the ship may be a spy.” He looked at Paolo. “Any of your science team or any colonist could be a spy.”
“I can personally vouch for the senior scientists who were at the meeting,” he said.
“Of course. I wouldn’t have spoken before them if I didn’t know that already. I need to keep a low profile. The IEF cannot know what I’m doing here.”
“What kind of things are these spies capable of?” asked Jan.
“Almost anything. Sabotage, assassination, bombing. They’re unlikely to try to damage the ship, since that’s what they want. But keep your eye out anyway. Check life support systems, food supply, water supply, computer systems. Be thorough. The government is resorting to terrorism. They don’t care about the people, only their own goals.”
“We’ll be on it immediately. Thanks, Dave.” Paolo shook his hand firmly. “I’m glad you’re with us.”