The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 12: Sol 18

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“I can do that,” Dragonfly said, watching over Mark’s shoulder as he dismantled the pre-launch power supply plug next to Amicitas's main airlock.

“Didn’t you say he was happier doing it?” Starlight Glimmer asked from inside the open airlock. For the time being the ship was depressurized, at least until the alien finished patching Amicitas into his base’s electrical system. After examining options and considering safety, the launch plug had been considered the best place to tap in- safer to get to than the exposed stump of the emergency solar array on top of the ship, less trouble to work around than a direct cable into the control cabin.

It was a working day for everyone. It had begun with Starlight using her spell to suggest that Amicitas would provide more growing space for crops. The hole in the engineering deck had grown substantially during the Great Tow, but the other two compartments remained airtight and, at least theoretically, capable of supporting life.

So everyone had gone outside and, after Mark spent a few minutes cleaning off the solar panels, they had pushed and pulled the ship around the solar farm and right up to Airlock Three and its power outlets. After that, while Cherry Berry, Spitfire and Fireball worked on bringing more dirt into Mark’s base, Mark, Dragonfly and Starlight had cracked down on figuring out how to get electricity from the base to the ship.

The solution had been reasonably simple, and it was all Mark’s idea. He pulled a voltometer out of his tools and showed it to Dragonfly, who produced the pony version of the same device. The two then took readings of the rover recharge station, the rover heater, the broken stump of the communications dish, and a base power outlet. The readings weren’t quite identical, but they were close enough and consistent enough that you could convert one to the other by a very simple calculation.

The three of them had gone back into the base for a short period of time so Dragonfly and Starlight could check the brittle freeze-dried ship manuals for precise power requirements for the various devices on board and communicate the numbers to Mark. Then, armed with knowledge and a large box full of electrical parts, the three went back out, and there they had remained.

“Yeah, he’s happier this way,” Dragonfly said, “but I’m not. He won’t even let me touch his tools. All I do is make sure he doesn’t fall off the boarding ladder.”

“Put yourself in his place,” Starlight said reasonably. “Would you let another changeling touch your tools?”

“What? No!” What a silly question! “They’d only break them and you know it!”

“And I’m sure Mark feels the same way.”

“But it’s not the same thing at all!” Dragonfly pointed out. “I’m not just any changeling! I’m a trained engineer and pilot! I’m responsible! I would never break someling else’s tools!”

“You know,” Starlight said, watching nervously as Mark perched on a bit of metal he’d clamped to the top stair of the boarding ladder, “for an empath you’re not very good at understanding what the other person feels.”

“Not true,” Dragonfly said firmly. “I understand what you feel just fine.” Let’s see… as tempting as it was for Dragonfly to lie at this point, the short-term push in the desired direction wasn’t worth the long-term damage to a relationship that circumstances required be maintained. “You’re pleased with yourself because you’ve figured out ways to help us survive, and nopony else has.”

“Yes, I- wait, WHAT?” Starlight lunged out of the airlock, almost shoving Dragonfly off the ladder. “Would you care to repeat that insinuation, please?”

“Well, look at the facts,” Dragonfly said. “Spitfire’s too focused on taking care of you, Fireball doesn’t do anything unless someone asks him, I’m getting nowhere with my efforts to cultivate Mark as a source of information, and Cherry Berry spends so much time keeping everypony on speaking terms she can’t think straight.”

“Those aren’t facts, those are gross exaggerations,” Starlight said without thinking. A moment later she added, in a softer tone, “What was that about Cherry Berry again?”

“Well, you know the arguments you and Spitfire are always having?”

“Yes, because she treats me like I’m her baby chick instead of a grown unicorn!”

“And you know how Fireball is always getting on everyling else’s nerves?”

“He’s a dragon. Spike excepted, that’s what you’d expect from a dragon.”

“Well, Boss Mare’s always the one who settles the arguments, right?”

“Well, sure,” Starlight said. “She’s the leader. Of course she settles the arguments.”

“And then later she comes to you and talks to you, right? Says something about cheering up or relaxing or something and some bug-barf about understanding how the other pony feels.”

“It’s not bug-barf!” Starlight insisted.

“Yeah, well, she does that with everyone. In fact, that’s all she does!” Dragonfly insisted. “At least when she’s not playing in this monkey’s mucked-up sand. By the way, let me tell you that even by changeling standards-“

“I am not having a conversation about the smell in the base,” Starlight insisted. “We can’t do anything about that. Get back to Cherry Berry.”

“All right,” Dragonfly said agreeably. “What I’m saying is, she wastes so much time trying to get the rest of us to play nice that she isn’t coming up with any ideas herself. You know that. You’re the only one besides Mark coming up with ideas to save us all.”

“Look, that just isn’t true,” Starlight insisted.




“ARGH! Stop it!” Starlight snapped.

“It’s a good thing our suits are on the private channel,” Dragonfly said. “Otherwise Cherry would be on her way over here to break us up.”

Starlight stifled some particularly irate horse noises with difficulty, took a deep breath, and said, “I am pleased with myself, yes. I’m also worried because we aren’t even close to safe yet. And I am most definitely not pleased at being the only smart pony in this crew, because I’m not! Dumb ponies don’t fly rockets!” She glared right into Dragonfly’s unblinking eyes. “Not even you, as much as you act stupid to get on everypony’s good side.”

“Is it working?” Dragonfly asked, grinning her toothiest changeling grin.

“Oh, I give up.” Shaking her head, Starlight looked at Mark. “Is he done yet?”

Dragonfly looked back at Mark. “Looks like he’s got the voltage regulator hooked up to our power feed… ah, and he’s splicing a spare power plug on a line so he doesn’t have to hard-wire the ship in to his power. Good idea! Yeah, he should be done any minute.”

“Good,” Starlight said. “I’m going to check the switches in the cabin and make sure everything’s disabled. Don’t let him plug that in until I’m finished.”

Dragonfly had done that earlier during their first EVA, and had done it before that during the tow, but she didn’t mention that. “OK, will do.”

Starlight glared at the changeling. “You better not forget,” she warned.

“Didn’t you just say there weren’t any stupid ponies or changelings on this ship?” Dragonfly asked.

“Whatever.” Starlight turned and marched back through the open airlock into the ship.

There we go, Dragonfly thought. Seed planted. It’ll cost me a bit of love in the short term until Starlight gets over her annoyance. I’ll have to make it up from the alien. Meantime I better let Starlight take the lead on showing the alien how the ship works. I’ve pushed her as hard as I dare for now.

I just hope this gets her to be more aware of the others, and especially to lighten up on Spitfire and Fireball. All this butting heads is making me sick, and Cherry’s worry tastes almost as bad as what she spends an hour every day wading in.

Mark stopped working, turning on hands and knees and motioning Dragonfly to make room for him to get off the improvised scaffold.

Dragonfly, drawing herself up into the absolute picture of eagerness-to-please, stretched a hoof out to take the toolbox from Mark's hand. Mark drew the toolbox back towards himself and gestured, a bit more firmly, for Dragonfly to please move over.

Darn. I never get to do anything fun around here.

Author's Notes:

A bit of filler today, although what was originally two-thirds of this chapter has been pulled aside for possible future use.

Changelings gotta ling, is all I'm saying for today's note.

(Oh- and the chapter that should go up on Saturday is now drafted, and it represents the single biggest stretch I'm going to make on the science side of this story. I'm not proud of it, but given the limitations I set for myself plus the limitations Mark Watney faced in his source material, it was absolutely necessary to prevent this story from being a lot shorter than I expect it to be- and, to be honest, to prevent the "Tragedy" tag from appearing on the story listing. But prepare yourselves, because in a couple of days I expect to hear a lot of variations on, "What? Bullshit.")

Next Chapter: Sol 19 Estimated time remaining: 29 Hours, 39 Minutes
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