Chapter 1- Part 2

The next day the moment I entered the facility, Mr. Malhotra whisked me away to meet the team. The selected members were all seated in a conference room at the Mission Control Center. I enter the room, and all eyes were on me, as though sizing me up.

“Everyone, this is Captain Arjun Menon, and he will be leading the Mars Expedition,” he said introducing me and disappeared.

I felt like a goat set up for slaughter.

I coughed nervously. “Hello everyone,” my mind went blank. “Think, think, we can’t spoil first impressions,” I thought.

“Are you alright?” one of the women on the team asked looking concerned. She was Anastasia Yerkhov, the linguistic expert on the team.

Anastasia looked like a friendly girl, her eyes almond shaped and blue, like turquoise. With neck-length chestnut hair worn in a dignified style, she had a tall and elegant build and her skin looked slightly tanned. Her wardrobe was business-like, sharp and formal.

“Yes, I’m all right,” I replied coming back to my senses. “Can we start the introductions with you please,” I managed to say.

“Ok, my name is Anastasia Yerkhov. I’m from the Russian Space Research Institute in Moscow. My specialty is Linguistics and also have Weapons training.”

Linguistics and Weapons, how did that combination come up I thought. Note to self, don’t get on her bad side.

“Ok, and next” I said.

“Hi I’am Pooja Samuel and I am a Biologist, I specialize in Genomics and Integrative Biology”

Pooja looked unconventional, we being scientists that was customary. With dark brown eyes like two discs of wood. She had straight, luxurious waist length hair. Her skin a medium beige, like mine, and her wardrobe simple and utilitarian.

“I’m Naveen Chandra the Technician and Shuttle pilot.”

Naveen reminded you of a cunning fox. He had dark sooty eyes and his hair worn in an uncomplicated style. With a tall and fragile build, scrawny as we say, and his wardrobe was in league with what the younger generation was wearing. I was neither buff nor skinny and waddled in-between the two states. Our training did keep us quite fit, but my build was nothing to write home about.

“I’m Edgar White, US Special forces, the one to get you to Mars and hopefully keep you guys alive”, he sneered.

Edgar looked like a mistrustful man with deep-set chestnut eyes. Blond hair and he has a mustache. We know how important a place mustache’s hold in Indian culture. With prominent ears and a large mouth, he is tall with an athletic build. His wardrobe kept quite simple.

His answer was so cold that it froze the air around us, maybe he’s trying to nudge into power, seeking to gain dominance as an alpha, no way, I’m the alpha. “Grrr.”

I unconsciously had my teeth bared caught up in my thoughts, and I moved my palm over my mouth covering them.

Anastasia sitting right in front of me smiled and looked away feigning ignorance. No one else seems to have noticed.

“I’m Rohith Sharma, the Field Scientist on this mission and also the senior pilot.”

Rohith had dark black eyes and his hair kempt and uncomplicated. He had a wide-chested build, his skin a deep tan. His wardrobe was no-nonsense, and he looked dignified and elegant.

By this time my nerves had steadied, getting to know the team helped.

“As you all know our launch date for the mission to Mars is scheduled to be in two months, the window for the launch has been calculated to the T as Mars is closest to Earth then, and our trip time would be at a minimum. The trip will take two months of which we will be placed in stasis for 1 and a half months to reduce the strain on our bodies. Our job on Mars is to terraform it to a habitable state for future colonization.

The ship is autonomous and will release us from stasis if we reach our destination or if anything should go wrong. Hope we all get to work together and make this mission a success.”

The same trip using conventional engines would have taken six months. The Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster revolutionized space travel. Designed and perfected by Mr. Malhotra, It’s the highlight from the ISRO stables, clean and efficient thrust without the necessity of carrying any propellant. Its thrust was so powerful that the spacecraft could launch without expensive launch pads and with no fuel required the weight is significantly low. The engine generated power for the spacecraft computers and support systems. Batteries and solar backup were present in the case of any problems.

We all disbanded, this was to get the team used to the facility and some who had traveled overseas to get some rest. I walked back to my lab to get my things in order as we had to move to a separate facility. As I was clearing my table, Pooja appeared at the door.

“Hi,” she exclaimed opening the door.

I notice she had an access card, It startled me for a second as to how she got in, into “My!” lab.

“I am looking for a freezer to place my samples, was directed here. I have a few biosamples that I need to keep frozen. I prepared them for the mission. I need to move these right away, as I don’t want them to get contaminated.”

I directed her to a freezer, which was empty.

She thanked me and ran to place the container she had into the freezer, and set few other boxes on the side.

“What are in those boxes,” I asked.

“These?” she asked “These are Bugs,” she said, quite excited.

“Ugh, what do you need these for?” I asked disgusted knowing the answer to my question, the question being a reflex.

“As you know roaches are very resilient insects, the only ones that can survive a nuclear explosion. I need to test their resilience to the Mars atmosphere. Right now they are placed in one box, on Mars, I will deposit them in separate containers with varying pressure and air compositions to test their reaction. I also have other bug species with me but roaches are my prime interest” She explained

“You being the terraforming expert on our mission, I guess I will be working with you quite a bit, being the only biologist” Pooja added.

“Yes, that would be great” I replied.

“I do fear the tests coming up, especially hate the centrifuge,” she shuddered

“That’s going to be easy. Everything will be A-Okay” I comforted her

“Yes, I agree. Thank you for the freezer and your support. We will meet tomorrow”, said Pooja.

“You’re welcome” I replied.

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