• 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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Sols 59-60

MISSION LOG – SOL 59

Well, tomorrow’s the big day. The harness for Rover One’s battery works well. The fourteen solar panels stack stably enough on top of the rover, although I have to use the ponies’ parachute rope to keep them there. I have three layers of clothes- mine under Martinez’s under Vogel’s- for insulation in case Fireball’s flame isn’t enough to counter Mars’s freezing temperatures. And I’ve loaded the equivalent weight of twenty-five days worth of food and water for two people into the back of the rover. There’s barely space left for me, my passenger, and our port-a-john.

Better yet, in the loading process, I found a whole bunch of spare CO2 filters. Apparently NASA decided to pack the rovers full of emergency reserve filters, because they don’t weigh much and the space in the rover was otherwise empty, so why not? I’ve been worried sick about my EVA time, considering how much suit time I’ve put in these past weeks, but the new supply is more than half the supply I had before. That’s more than 800 hours of EVA, or almost twice as much as I’m going to use on my entire upcoming trip.

Still better- I found Lewis’s personal bag tucked under the driver seat. She’d been scheduled to do a long EVA on Sol 7. She even had a flash drive in the kit- yay, more entertainment! I just hope she has better taste in driving music than in television.

And, best of all, the experiment with turning off the Hab’s oxygenator worked. So long as at least three of the pony suits are operating, there’s enough air exchange to keep the CO2 levels from spiking. What the magic life support doesn’t take care of, the plants seem to catch. So, despite my having stolen more than a third of the Hab’s power generating capacity for the cave and for the rover, our power budget is firmly in the green.

Now, I’m not leaving the hab tomorrow. Fuck, no. I’ve only done a bit of testing between the hab and the cave to make sure nothing falls off. But I am doing the first long-term test to see how far I can get with the two batteries and no heater. In fact, it’s not really a test, unless you count Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo flights as all “tests.”

I know, that’s what they were, but NASA didn’t call them that. NASA called them missions. And since I am the sole representative of NASA on Mars- hell, I AM NASA on Mars- I can call what I’m doing missions, too.

But it’s not a mission without a fancy mythological name. So… since this is about testing our rover modifications, I’m calling tomorrow Sirius 1.

Sirius. Because dogs. Get it? If not, then fuck you.

Now, I need fancy mission goals and protocols, because these are things NASA does.

So:

Sirius 1 Mission Goal: find out how far I can drive, in kilometers, on the charge in the two batteries, without the heater.

Sirius 1 Mission Protocols: (a) Drive as far as I can, in kilometers, using the two batteries. (b) Don’t turn on the heater.

Huh. It sounds better when NASA does it. Maybe there’s a class that teaches them to write in engineer jargon and bureaucrat jargon combined. There probably is- I just skipped it.

Anyway, I’ll stay in sight of the Hab at all times, so Fireball and I can walk home if something really bad happens. I’ll just drive back and forth on a half-kilometer or so stretch of Mars and watch the mileage log on the rover computer. When the battery hits 5% charge, I stop and swap the power cable to the second battery. (There’s a small emergency battery built into the rover that’ll cover life support for the ten minutes or so that’ll take.) When that hits 5%, I stop, set out the solar panels, and see if my math is right.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow. The only thing I dread is waking Fireball up. I want to drive in pre-dawn time as much as possible so I have as much of the Martian winter daylight as possible to recharge. That, unfortunately, requires waking a large reptile up at oh-God-thirty in the morning.

I wonder if Spitfire will lend me a feather.

MISSION LOG – SOL 60

Sirius 1 is complete!

And by complete, I mean “pulled the plug after an hour and a half,” but hey. Even Neil Armstrong aborted a mission once. So I’m calling it a “successful failure,” in that I didn’t achieve the mission goals, but we got back to the Hab safely.

Things started out fine. Fireball didn’t complain about waking up early. We suited up, got into the rover, drove out about a kilometer to the first gully towards the cave, and began driving back and forth along the rim of the gully.

Things began to go sour when I plugged Lewis’s data stick into the rover computer. I should have known better. Lewis has collected what I suspect is every disco song known to mortal man on that one flash drive. At least, I hope it’s every disco song known to man, because I don’t want to live in a world where there’s even one disco song more.

(Come to think of it, so long as I stay on Mars, I’m guaranteed of that. Silver linings and all that.)

Fireball hates disco even more than I do. After two songs he turned it off. But after fifteen minutes of silence he turned it back on again. After one song he turned it off again. And then he turned it back on, kind of sheepishly, and it stayed on the rest of the trip.

Fireball had damn good reason to be sheepish, too. It turns out he couldn’t sustain a flame for more than a minute or two without triggering some sort of coughing fit. The fit sent clouds of smoke through the rover, which probably saturated the CO2 filters. I don’t know for certain, because the alarm never went off. Fireball had his suit on with the helmet off the whole time, which meant that we got the benefit of air exchange through his life support. It took its own sweet time clearing the smoke away, though.

By the time he turned the music back on for good, he’d given up on trying to relight his flame. It was already pretty chilly in the rover by then. Fireball’s suit air just couldn’t keep up with the rover’s heat loss. The rover’s got the best insulation NASA could devise- the contractors didn’t cheap out on that, at least- but it was competing with a Martian pre-dawn temperature of ninety below outside.

So, from about half an hour into the mission on, we were down to nothing but body heat. And that didn’t last long at all. Three layers of clothes helped, but not much. Half an hour after the music returned, my teeth were chattering and my hands and feet were getting numb. But I soldiered on, trying to push my limits.

Then I looked at Fireball. Remember, he was wearing his spacesuit and getting a constant direct rush of warm air from his homeworld. Despite that, I could see he was suffering pretty badly. At about the ninety-minute mark, he was barely moving at all.

Once, not long after I joined the astronaut corps, I went to speak at a special event in Houston. It was summertime, and the hotel had cranked the AC up to the max, especially in the green room where I waited with a couple of the other guest speakers. And somebody, for whatever reason, had put a stuffed iguana in the middle of the conference table. I got curious, and I was just about to touch it to see what it felt like when its head sloooooooowly moved and one beady eye swiveled almost imperceptibly to watch me. It wasn’t a stuffed iguana at all- it was somebody’s pet, and it was so cold it was on the verge of torpor.

Fireball looked like a white-red-and-gold edition of that iguana.

Jeopardizing my own life is one thing- it’s quite literally what I’m paid to do, even when I’m not stranded on a hostile planet with no hope of rescue. But putting somebody else in jeopardy is just plain wrong. I cranked the heater up to maximum and beat it directly back to the Hab.

Now I’m thinking- well, sulking, really, and I know I’m sulking because Dragonfly just hugged me and told me not to feel so bad. But I’ve got a real problem, and I need to figure out a solution.

Fireball is out as a traveling companion. He never complained once the whole time, unless you count his playing with the radio a complaint. But he appears to be even more vulnerable to cold than I am, and his internal fire just doesn’t work as a heat source. And I can’t drive without a heat source that works a lot better than body heat.

I don’t have to turn the heater on all the way. I could turn it way down. How low can I turn it so that I almost, but not quite, freeze to death?

Blurgh. My head hurts, and in a few hours it’ll be English Time with Professor Watney again. I need some honest relaxation time. I think I’ll crack open another of Johannsen’s Agatha Christie e-books. It’ll be nice to lose myself in the life of someone more intelligent than me for a while.

That’s not saying much. After today, I’m not saying Poirot is smarter than me. I’m saying Hastings is smarter than me. And when you fail to reach the mental benchmark of a World War I infantry captain...

… yeah, today was that kind of day.

It could be worse. I think I’m still outdoing Bertie Wooster.

Author's Note:

I left to go buy my replacement van at 10:15 this morning.

Thanks to unforeseen circumstances, I got home at 7:30.

Whatever I write tonight will be VERY short.

In light of that, I seriously considered making this two chapters, but I wrote them intending to be one, so that's what they'll be.

The replacement van is a 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan. (Couldn't get a replacement Odyssey that met my needs.) It's got a more rugged suspension and about as good a power train, but its cargo capacity is substantially less... and the car lot listed it before they'd actually cleaned out the detritus of the mother-of-two-infants. It was an ungodly mess when I got there, and even now after a vacuuming there are sticky spots and the smell of what my inner nine-year-old won't stop calling "baby rabies." The diaper is strong with this one...

So: plus, pony suits help with rover life support. Minus... dragon riding shotgun turns out to be a bad idea. What next?

The extra CO2 filters pop up because Andy Weir changed the numbers midway through the book, without ever really explaining why. Here's my explanation.

And disco has finally come to Mars.

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