Here we are at the beginning of Part 1, aptly and mysteriously called "His Maculate Origin." The opening words? "Once upon a time." Wait, are we reading a fairy tale or a sci-fi novel?
Earth prepares its first human expedition to Mars. Hmm, wonder if this will be a sci-fi book.
The powers decide that the best option is to send four married couples—assuming they have the chops for such a mission, obviously. They believe this grouping will be the healthiest and most stable for the tight quarters and three-year round trip. We'll see about that.
Only three couples can be found. That is, until Captain Michael Brant decides to have a shotgun wedding and marry Doctor Winifred Coburn, whom he's never met before.
The crew of the Envoy consists of Captain Brant, Dr. Coburn, Mr. Francis X, Dr. Olga Kovalic Seeney, Dr. Ward Smith, Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith, Mr. Sergei Rimsky, and Mrs. Eleanora Alvarez Rimsky.
If that seems like a lot of characters to keep track of this early in the story, don't worry. They die. Now.
That's right—initial reports suggest everything is going swimmingly up to the day before the Envoy reaches Mars. But then no further messages are sent to Earth.