• Published 2nd Jan 2018
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The Maretian - Kris Overstreet



Mark Watney is stranded- the only human on Mars. But he's not alone- five astronauts from a magical kingdom are shipwrecked with him.

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Sol 33

AMICITAS FLIGHT THREE – MISSION DAY 30
ARES III SOL 33

As a Wonderbolt and a trainer of Wonderbolts, Spitfire had had basic field medic training, though admittedly most of it ended with “get a real doctor as soon as you can”. She’d had a compressed three-week course after she’d been picked for ESA Flight 54, which became the third flight of ESA Amicitas. And these days she spent at least two hours every day swotting up on the contents of her medical textbook, which now had over thirty pieces of the alien’s small supply of transparent tape holding together the brittle pages.

But none of that limited training included one word about what to do with a unicorn who had clearly cracked up.

She watched as Starlight Glimmer spent her tenth consecutive minute banging her head into one of Mark’s storage cabinets. She’d already decided to put Starlight to bed and break open the aspirin bottle once the unicorn wore herself out or knocked herself out- and Spitfire would have taken either end of a bet as to which it would be.

On a whiteboard nearby lay the transcription of a message long enough that Mark had been forced to pull one of his ex-crewmates’ space suits off the rack and begin dumping excess water into it. (Needless to say, the Hab’s soil needed no further watering this day.)

REF S DRV SPECS SHOWS DIM LMTR MSSNG FRM S DRV TPT SP ARRAY. REF YR RPT INCDT HYPOS OBJ AVOID PARAM TRIPPED RSLT UNTRCEBLE 5D JUMP & NOVEL PWR SURGE TO FUEL JUMP. SURGE OVRLD BATT, ATT MORE PWR DRAW COMP, NOVEL MG VACUUM RSLT FAIL CASCADE MN PWR. FAILSAFE FAIL DUE TO NOVEL UNANTCP COND. TRACE OF ENV SYS SP INCONCLUSIVE DUE TO LOW SIGNAL, NOVEL VECTOR. PREP 2ND MSG PROCED CYCLE TELP SP. CT WHN RDY.

Starlight Glimmer had gone straight to the ship manuals after hearing the message, tearing two freeze-dried pages in her rush to look up the Sparkle Drive spell array. Once she did, she dropped the book and began her percussive psychological self-analysis, leaving Dragonfly to translate from geek-speak and abbreviation into proper Equestrian.

Apparently the Sparkle Drive had tried to move out of the way of some unseen object in its path. By some oversight the spell hadn’t been limited to travel in three dimensions, so it made a small five-dimensional jump. That jump soaked up far more energy than normal, essentially draining the engine’s array of over a hundred magic batteries. The batteries, suddenly starved for power, tried to compensate by drawing more power from the universal field. But here, in this universe, there was no such field, and the strain of trying to draw energy from a vacuum, added to the Sparkle Drive’s load on the system, had caused at least one battery to shatter.

With one battery down, the load increased on all the others, and like crystal dominoes they disintegrated in a chain reaction. The fail-safes which should have shut everything down in case of a failure cascade hadn’t worked because they, too, relied on a universal magic field for power. Only the two emergency batteries, being disconnected from the main circuit, had survived.

And now Baltimare waited on them to reply so they could send instructions that might- just might- result in re-establishing the telepresence spell and proper, non-soggy communications.

Mark wandered over, looking with concern at Starlight. “Whut sarong whicker?” he said. Of course it would be their self-designated translator who went nuts first, Spitfire thought. But the first word was probably what.

Du bahd,” Dragonfly replied. When Mark made a more-please roll of his hand, the changeling added, “Du Roscoe.”

Dihpstix,” Fireball added.

Mark thought about this a moment, then screwed up his face so his eyes were crossed and the teeth in his upper jaw jutted out. He pointed to his face, then to Starlight. When Dragonfly nodded, Mark sighed, reached over and picked up Starlight and carried her to her bunk, repeating, “Hiss alight, hiss alight…” in a gentle voice.

The others let out their breath. “Well, that’s solved,” Cherry Berry said. “Spitfire, what would you have done?”

Spitfire shrugged. “I’m no shrink. If she were a pegasus, I would have told her to take two laps of the obstacle course and hit the showers.” Actually she would have relieved her of duty and called a psychiatrist in to determine if she should be washed out of the program. In short, she would have hoofed the problem over to somepony else as fast as possible. Which, to be honest, was what she’d just done.

“She’s not crazy,” Dragonfly said. “But she is really ashamed of herself. I think she blames herself for our being here.”

“Yeah, she should,” Fireball growled. When the other three stared at him, he added, “What? It’s true!”

“Not helpful,” Cherry Berry insisted. “Now go get some more of those plastic bins. We’re wasting Twilight Sparkle’s time here.”

Spitfire went to tend to Starlight, who was now babbling something to herself about seeking efficiencies and reduced thaumic churn. She hated being here. She hated being so useless. She hated being so helpless.

Fluttershy should be here, she thought. Fluttershy would have Starlight Glimmer back on her hooves in minutes. Fluttershy would be able to talk to Mark directly. Fluttershy would have the training for her position and the experience to be on an equal level with the others. I’m just a waste of food here.

Then she had a second thought. No, Fluttershy shouldn’t be here. How would she deal with being away from her animals for a month? And how would they cope without her? At least the Wonderbolts are in good hooves back home.

Then a third thought: None of us should be here. Mark ought to be on his way home, and we ought to be getting our third tickertape parade as the heroes who first orbited Bucephalous. And it’s nopony’s fault that we are. This situation is just bucked up, is all.

But I still hate being so helpless.

Maybe, she thought, having Cherry Berry in charge instead of me is a good thing.

TRANSCRIPT – WATER TELEGRAPH EXCHANGE, ESA BALTIMARE and ESA SHIP AMICITAS

(note: all standard telegraphy / Mares Code shortcuts and abbreviations translated)

AMICITAS: Procedures copied for communications experiment Alpha, experiment Beta, experiment Gamma. Alpha not possible at this time due to conservation of battery power for food production procedure estimated four days from now. Over.

ESA: Understood. Prepare for experiments Beta and Gamma in twenty hours time. Over.

AMICITAS: Negative. First available time for tests three days from now due to food production procedures. Over.

ESA: Explain nature of food production procedures. Over.

AMICITAS: You really don’t want to know. Over.

ESA: Fine. Will expect contact sixty hours from now. Over.

AMICITAS: Copy contact sixty hours, out.

Author's Note:

Spitfire wasn't going to be in the story originally. The fifth crew member was Fluttershy, and I think her name might still appear in my notes once or twice. Fluttershy, in addition to being the medic, was going to take the role of chief spokespony that Starlight has ended up with.

But there were problems- Fluttershy's terror of space flight after Rainbow Dash very nearly had a Bad Day in ESA Flight Five, Fluttershy's Element/Castle responsibilites, her animals. I could explain away one, or perhaps two, but three was too much. Fluttershy might make a day trip to the CSP's space station, I don't know why, but never any farther from her non-space commitments.

So in came Rookie Spitfire. who as Wonderbolts commander worked with Twilight Sparkle's program as an astromare reservist and capsule recovery chief, but who never actually went up until now. And although she as a character can't know what I explained above, she does know Fluttershy was potentially the other, more qualified option. She needs something to build her confidence that she's carrying her share of the load, and hopefully I'll come up with it soon.

I read somewhere or other, I forget where, that the military calls their obstacle courses "confidence courses," on the theory that running said courses builds confidence. The doublethink of this concept amuses me, and I used "confidence course" in the first draft, but then edited it out.

My father was a Vietnam vet (USN) who earned a Purple Heart, a minor valor award whose name I forget, and a barely-honorable discharge. Think about that: it was 1970, when the military was seriously bent for manpower and down on morale, and they still gave my dad the Pentagon code for "not suited to military discipline," or in plain English, "incorrigible fuckup but not quite criminally so". A couple months back I found a printed copy of his military record, with a two-page report from some commander or other stating that, although Dad was personally courageous, he routinely questioned orders and essentially tap-danced on the borderline of insubordination. This was written in 1969- see again "manpower shortage and poor morale".

In short, Dad was damn near the platonic example of why a draft during an unpopular war is not often a good idea.

The feelings on the parting of my father and the military were mutual to the effect that I was expressly forbidden from enlisting or even taking up the offers I received in high school from West Point, Annapolis and Colorado Springs. So I never served, and I'm not confident enough about the validity of "confidence course" to use it in the story this time round. I'm sure those of you who did serve will fill in the gap in my knowledge.

After writing one chapter today, did a bit of research. Every once in a while Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the sun, and for about a two-week period communications range from "very ratty" to "LOS." However, this was never mentioned in the book at all, so I wanted to know where that alignment would fall in the story.

Answer? Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the sun on roughly Mission Sol 330.

Oh. Well, that explains why the novel didn't mention it, then.

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