Sunday serialisation – Andrea 6.1

Andrea cover300

Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.

Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.

The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.

For the cast of characters at the start of the project, click here

For a brief list of acronyms and initialisms used, click here


Andrea – in search of space. Chapter six, part one.

The test kits arrived over a period of three days; the first few Dr Turner administered to all the medical staff, having said that he wanted to do it personally as a kind of feet-washing exercise. Very few of the members of his department or indeed of the senior staff had any idea what he had meant by that, even after he’d explained the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet before the last supper. Nonetheless, he did it. All the new recruits and five others tested positive. They were given antivirals and sent off to quarantine for two weeks. Of the rest of the crew and families, seventy-eight tested positive, including Andrea, Jason and Dr Turner himself. All were treated the same as the medical staff.

When the results were published, including the names of those of the senior staff, Tarquin hailed Andrea in her quarters. “I suppose,” he said, “that with you and Commodore Strangename being… erm… indisposed, command of CPIL rests with me, as First Officer. Do we need a proper handover?”

“Whatever for?” Andrea asked.

“Well, you’re off sick.”


“And so is Jason.”

“Again, and?”

“And how can either of you run the ship from your sickbeds?”

“Tarquin. You can see me now, can’t you?”


“How do I look to you, Tarquin?”

“Well, er, um… phwoar.” Tarquin flinched. Andrea smiled but let it go.

“And, Tarquin, do I appear to be at death’s door? Bedridden? Unable to carry out any duties?”

“Well, no. But—”

“Let me ask you another question. What duties do Commodore Strangename or myself carry out without using the ship’s computer?”

“Well… none, I suppose. That’s the beauty of this ship. You can do everything from anywhere on board.”

“Exactly. We can do everything from anywhere on board. So, you carry on with your duties, Tarquin, and leave Commodore Strangename and me to carry on with ours. Does that sound fair to you?”

“I suppose so.”

“I suppose so, what?”

“I suppose so, Ma’am.”

“Thank you, Tarquin. Carry on.” She cut the line and hailed Jason. “How are you feeling today, Jason?”

“Not a hundred percent, Andrea, if I’m honest. How about you?”

“I’m fine, thanks. Do you need to offload any of your work?”

“To you?”

“No, silly. To Tarquin.”

“You’re kidding, right? I’ll give Tarquin to do what I believe he’s capable of doing tolerably well – no more.”

“Fair enough. As long as you’re up to doing what you have to.”

“Don’t worry on that score, Andrea. I’ll be fine in a couple of days.”

The following day, Jason was a long way from fine. His medical monitor detected that he was having trouble breathing and his blood oxygen saturation was down to ninety-one percent. He was immediately rushed to the ship’s hospital and given supplemental oxygen. Four hours later he was joined by Dr Turner in the next bed. Life on board carried on as normal; Shinshuu Tanimoto’s team continued with the manufacture of MTS pods, turning out one each month. A total of nine had been built, all but one of which was tested, certified, commissioned and placed into service. The ninth one suffered a component failure during testing and so had to be decommissioned. They were also gearing up to produce the MTS drive for Sir Prijs. Once completed and tested, it could be placed in an area adjacent to the SEP generator, provided it was well shielded.

Days passed, and whilst Dr Turner was making a good recovery, the drugs that were designed for this virus seemed to be having no effect on Jason. After a week in the general ward, the medical staff, in accordance with the doctor’s advice, transferred him to the high-dependency unit where they sedated him and connected him to an artificial ventilator. He being unable to carry out his duties, Andrea had no option but to elevate Tarquin from acting First Officer to acting Captain. In an interesting twist, when Andrea gave the instruction to the ship’s computer, its response was straight out of late 20th century personal computing yet, at the same time, displayed an understanding beyond even that normally expected from an advanced AI – “Are you sure?” The question gave Andrea pause for thought and it was some seconds before she gave an affirmative response.

Tarquin was very soon on the line to Andrea.

“Admiral, Ma’am,” he said.

“What is it, Tarquin?”

“Computer’s just told me I’m acting commander and master with all privileges. What does that mean?”

“It means that you are in charge of the ship whilst Jason is unwell.”

“But I don’t know what to do.”

“You don’t actually have to do anything. Your role is as enabler, a go-between. Just make sure that all the departments are working together well.”

“What if I have to make any decisions?”

“You won’t. Refer them to me.”

“Okay, Ma’am.”

“And, Tarquin?”

“Don’t screw up?”

“That… and don’t try showing off like you did on the moon.”

“I don’t think I’ll do that again. That was a bad screw-up.”

“Just be sure you don’t. Carry on.”

For five weeks, Jason was kept in the high-dependency unit in an induced coma being artificially ventilated. During that time, the number of infections on board rose steadily until almost fifty percent of the ship’s complement had tested positive. The majority of those affected never experienced any symptoms and of those who did, most were mild or relatively mild and cleared up within a few days. Only three remained hospitalised and, sadly, one had died – Warrant Officer Duncan de Sauderley. Following a full post-mortem, carried out remotely using robotic techniques, his body was frozen and placed into storage. As his immediate superior, it would normally have been down to head of security Shannon Crawford to notify his next-of-kin but Andrea insisted that as it was she who recruited him it should be her job to pass on the news.

She had Packway send an official letter under her signature to his younger sister Ivy, his only known relative, notifying her that her brother had succumbed to the virus and offering to bring his body down personally, once the ship was released from quarantine, if that were Ivy’s wish. Ivy eventually responded to the email address Andrea had given her in the letter. She said that she had always believed Duncan would most probably have wanted to be buried at sea but that the most recent email he’d sent to her, the previous Christmas, had led her to believe that he would prefer a space burial. Andrea told her that once the ship was declared virus-free, Duncan would, indeed, receive a space burial with full military honours which she would be welcome to attend. Andrea closed by advising Ivy that she didn’t need to tell her whether she wanted to attend until she had the exact date of the funeral.

Some days later, Jason’s body decided it had taken all it could, and it gradually shut down. Except for essential services, the whole ship went into full lock-down for seven days – not as an infection control measure this time, but as a mark of respect and an expression of the deep grief and sense of loss felt by the entire crew.

Sunday serialisation – Andrea 5.3

Andrea cover300

Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.

Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.

The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.

For the cast of characters at the start of the project, click here

For a brief list of acronyms and initialisms used, click here


Andrea – in search of space. Chapter five, part three.

Days before the first of these visits, when Meredith was planning to bring Joan with her for what she called familiarisation – although what she was going to make Joan familiar with was open to conjecture and was probably only tangentially linked with Deep Space operations – she emailed to Andrea a message from her medical chief explaining that one of the candidates that had been returned to Packway by MTS pads had developed symptoms of infection and had tested positive for a respiratory virus that had recently appeared in the young man’s home state and was spreading rapidly and with deadly consequences. As he had been on board the Colin Pillinger, with its closed environment, the whole ship should consider itself in quarantine for four weeks. There followed a great deal of detail that would fascinate the pants off a particularly nerdy medical professional, but which Andrea had neither the time, the knowledge, nor the patience to subject herself to. What she did was to put out a call to Dr Turner, requesting that he present himself in her office in less time than it would take him to say, “Aye, Ma’am.”

When he arrived, Andrea handed the doctor a tablet with the full text of the Regimental MO’s message, with an instruction that he park himself in the corner, read the text and present her with a plan of action.

An hour later, Dr Jack Turner coughed into his hand.

“You alright, Doctor?” Andrea asked, her face lined with concern.

“Just attracting your attention, Ma’am, to let you know I’ve finished reading the message and I have a recommendation.”

“Spit it out man, what is it, this recommendation of yours?”

“Calm down, Admiral; panicking won’t help.”

“I’m not bloody panicking, Doctor. I just want answers. And I want them now.”

“Let’s keep cool heads then. As your physician, I’m advising you to relax a little and just breathe. Now. How long will it take to convene a meeting of Department Heads?”

Andrea pressed the intercom key on her terminal and selected a closed channel to Commodore Strangename. “Jason, HODs in my meeting room, ten minutes. Okay?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes,” she said to the doctor. He smiled.

Ten minutes later, sat around the Admiral’s conference table were Jason Strangename, Dr Jack Turner, Tarquin Stuart-Lane, Ishmael Al-Kawazi, J’Lana Lustra, Paige Boyle and Algernon Pippington. All eyes were on Andrea.

“Thank you all for coming so quickly,” she said, “Now, Jack: the floor is yours.” The green light on her microphone dimmed and the tokotoko disappeared from her monitor and appeared on the doctor’s. A green LED glowed on his microphone.

“Thank you, Admiral. I have just received from the Regimental Medical Officer, information about a new virus that is doing the rounds on Earth. Nasty little blighter. Causes respiratory distress at first but can develop to do all sorts of damage. Potentially fatal in anyone with compromised immunity and especially in the elderly. Of those who don’t succumb to it, there is a one-in-ten chance that medical intervention including, in the most extreme cases, high-dependency care, will be needed. The incubation period of this virus is about seven days during which time there are no symptoms but it is highly communicable. Yes, Captain Stuart-Lane.”

Tarquin had raised a hand, and the good doctor released the tokotoko to him. “All very interesting and all very sad for the people on Earth, but how does that affect us, millions of kilometres away in space?”

Jack Turner retrieved the tokotoko. “A valid question, Tarquin. Let me say firstly that, in some parts of the planet, the virus is showing a reproductive rate or R in excess of three, and I don’t need to explain what that means.” A look around the table convinced him that he did. “Okay, perhaps I do. With an R of three and an incubation period of seven days, that means every infected person will pass it on to an average of three others within seven days. So the infection rate will triple every week. C-pill currently has 507 people on board. Tripling every seven days implies that within a little over a month, every man, woman and child would be infected. Including, I needn’t add, the medical staff. Oh yes, and we don’t have unlimited critical care facilities. So we need to prevent the virus from reaching us. The way to do that is to close off all entry and exit points. That means no-one boards the ship and no-one leaves until we know for sure that no-one on board is carrying the virus. Packway will be sending us a supply of testing kits over the next few days, and protective suits and face coverings will need to be warn in all public or shared areas. That and regular hand hygiene are absolutely necessary. Commander Pippington?”

“How will this affect Sir Prijs?”

“Thank you, Algernon. As for Sir Prijs, she is part of C-pill. You will not be permitted to undock whilst the ship is under quarantine, but you will need to disinfect your craft thoroughly – and I mean thoroughly; inside and out.” He looked to Andrea for confirmation. Her nod was enough. “There’s one thing I haven’t told you yet – I was just getting to it – which will answer Captain Stuart-Lane’s question. Bianca Moreno, one of the candidate nurses who returned to Earth last week, has since tested positive for the virus. It is possible that she had been infected before coming here and was communicative during her stay on board. Whilst here, Miss Moreno was subjected to medical examinations including lung-capacity tests in my area, as well as having face-to-face interviews with at least three senior staff and spending time in close contact with the other applicants. Those people, as well as all the medical staff, will be the first to be tested when the kits arrive. I expect the first batch, together with certified analysis equipment for our lab to arrive within a couple of hours. Anybody else? No? Okay, back to you, Admiral.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Speaking to the room, she said, “I know I can rely on you all to disseminate this information around your departments without causing any more alarm than is absolutely necessary. I shall ask the doctor to compile a prioritised list for testing and to get copies out to you as soon as possible. Be advised that those who have had close contact with the new mental health nurses will be high on the list as they will have been at the greatest risk. With vigilance and care, we can beat this. Thank you all. Commodore Strangename and Doctor Turner, can you remain please? Otherwise, dismissed.”

The room emptied, leaving just Andrea, Jason and the doctor. Andrea addressed them both.

“Given what we know from Earth, can you put together a reasonable worst-case scenario for me, please? I think we need to look at fatalities, IC bed occupancy and days lost.”

“Can that wait until after the first round of testing, Admiral, so we know roughly what we’re dealing with? After all, unlikely as it is, we may be in the clear.”

“Of course, Doctor. Jason: assuming the worst, can you put together proposals for minimum running? Even if we don’t lose anyone, we may need to lock everyone down leaving only skeleton crews active. And, of course, cleaning and disinfecting rosters will need to be increased. Doctor: let me have your thoughts about the children. As far as I can see, the available options are: close the classrooms and have all children study in their family quarters, keep the classes open and accommodate the children with their teachers away from their parents or keep classes open and carry on as normal. For myself, I think separating the children from their parents would be the least attractive way to go but don’t let my emotional response affect your judgement. Okay?”

“Understood, Admiral,” the doctor said. Jason nodded.

“Great. Same time tomorrow?” The two men rose, saluted and left. Andrea remained seated, dropped her head into her hands and breathed slowly and deeply. Jason saw her as the door was closing so pushed it back open and went to his commander and his friend.

“By heck, you were good,” he said.

“No. I am so far out of my depth, Jason. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Who does? I’m prepared to wager that presidents and prime ministers around the planet are feeling the same as you are right now. No-one has any experience dealing with this thing. If you want my opinion, I think you were brilliant – I would say masterful if it didn’t sound sexist. I am in awe of your ability to rise to situations like this, Andrea. I really am.”

What reaction Jason expected to this may never be known. The reaction he got was simple. Andrea broke down in tears.

But he knew how to comfort her.

Sunday serialisation – Andrea 5.2

Andrea cover300

Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.

Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.

The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.

For the cast of characters at the start of the project, click here

For a brief list of acronyms and initialisms used, click here


Andrea – in search of space. Chapter five, part two.

The doctor took a comparatively slow, eight-hour trip to Earth on the Sir Prijs, with Joan and Patsy for company. Whilst on-planet, he accepted applications from more than forty mental health professionals. The applicants were put through a raft of medical and psychological examinations and fitness tests, which eliminated half of them. He then interviewed twenty for the five positions he had available. He shortlisted to ten and, after having extracted air-tight non-disclosure agreements from them, invited them to travel to the ship for final interviews and selection, as well as to acquaint them with the environment in which the successful applicants would work. The ten were all highly qualified and Jack believed each of them could make a valuable contribution to his team. Between them, they represented five continents and three major religions

Returning on the Sir Prijs under MTS, Jack Turner offered all the applicants – four men, five women and one who identified as fluid – an anti-emetic pill, having explained to them the effects of space-sickness and particularly that induced by MTS travel. Two of the four men and one of the women chose not to, claiming they’d prefer to know what they were dealing with. One of the men insisted that only the weak need the support of travel-sickness pills.

On arrival on the Colin Pillinger, only two people were physically unwell – one of the men managed to hold himself together but, by his own admission, only just. After four days during which they had further, more intensive physical and psychological examinations as well as interviews with the Admiral and the heads of personnel and security departments, the ten were eventually whittled down to seven, five of whom received firm offers. The other two were put on standby. The three that had not been selected opted to return to Earth by MTS pad ‘for the experience’. What they expected to experience remains a mystery. What they did experience was a brief churning in the stomach. The transit bay in Packway was deliberately identical in every visible respect to that on board C-pill; the intention being to minimise the shock on arrival. Whichever way one travels, one is only aware that things are different after leaving the pad area.

Once the five had accepted the job offers, the two remaining were offered general nursing roles. Although these were at a lower grade and hence a lower rate of pay, so keen were they to get on the ladder of a career in the Deep Space operation that they gladly accepted. Jason challenged the doctor as to why he had recruited more than had been authorised. He explained that although it hadn’t been his intention, having on his staff two spare nurses qualified in mental health may not be such a bad thing, especially as the crew and eventually passenger numbers were bound to increase substantially over time.

Andrea soon realised that one of the issues with being as far out as they were, was that it was no longer feasible for her to have live video conversations with Meredith. Oh, it was possible, and in an emergency, it would have to do, but whatever Andrea said took upwards of fourteen minutes to reach Earth and Meredith’s response, when it came, took as long to get back. There was a way, by piggybacking on MTS signals, that it could be made quicker. The general-purpose MTS console can select any point in space and eavesdrop into it. That’s how the target selection and the undo mechanism work. However, that’s a one-way communication. Command staff on board the ship can see and hear what is happening in a chosen place but anyone in the target doesn’t know it. Similarly, Packway has a suite of MTS pods and a console they can use to see and hear what’s going on in specific areas on board C-pill. If the two ends do it in unison, something approaching two-way communication can be achieved, albeit in a somewhat clunky fashion. I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering how, if they can do that, they can’t use normal communication. The reason lies in the technology. Normal comms are point-to-point at light-speed. That’s fourteen minutes from ship to shore, as it were. MTS signals travel at light-speed from the ship to its nearest stable Lagrangian point – which the system calculates as needed and varies according to the ever-changing relationships between the ship, the planets, and their major moons – then instantaneously from there to the cislunar Lagrangian point from where it travels to Earth at light-speed. The whole journey from ship to Earth takes anything from less than one to more than five seconds. The downside of this was the complexity of setting it up each time. The moon is constantly moving in relation to the Earth and the spatial relationship between the ship and any pair of planets is even more fluid.

All of which explains why Meredith chose to travel to Colin Pillinger for monthly meetings in odd-numbered months and required Andrea and Jason to travel to Earth in even-numbered months.