The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 143: Sol 241

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Is it too much to ask- is it too much to fucking ask- that this planet quit trying to kill me and my friends? Really?

Apparently there’s this storm, currently on the other side of the planet, but it’s acting like it has my name written on it. And knowing this goddamn planet, it probably does. “To my biggest fan, Mark Watney, Thanks for everything, signed Mars. P. S., fuck you.”

But forecasting Mars weather is a very young and error-prone science. The storm is still at least six days away, and it might turn away. Of course, that’s only if our luck changes. But in the meantime NASA has ordered us to prepare to take shelter in the cave farm. That means moving the remaining food packs plus a short supply of cut hay and potatoes back to the farm, along with all the medical supplies and a few other things.

In addition to that, we need to do a thorough inspection and policing of the area around the Hab, especially the windward (east) side. The pop-tents have to be emptied and deflated. The scrap metal pile needs to be buried to prevent the wind from turning it into shrapnel. We need to inspect and make sure all the solar panels and exterior power cables are secured, since those solar panels could make dandy kites otherwise. (The Sol 6 storm didn’t send them flying partly because the panels get staked into the ground, partly because the angled panels were pointed into the wind, so the storm pushed down on them instead of lifting them up.)

But the biggest chore is Friendship. We have to get all the rocks we can as soon as possible under the ship so that it’s beached when the storm hits. Right now the ship’s sitting way off the ground on its landing gear with nothing holding it down but landing gear and one power cable. There’s a chance the storm would overpower the wheel brakes and push the ship just like it caught the MDV’s unused emergency parachute and beat the shit of out it. If Friendship takes a tumble like the MDV did, we’ll have to buy a bus ticket for Schiaparelli, because we sure as hell won’t be driving on our own.

It’s a lot of work, and it’s going to take days if we keep up our daily couple of hours with Dragonfly in the cave. So it’s a good thing NASA is getting us started early. We began with the inspections, since those are the most important thing. Mostly I spent time staking down all the solar panels I’d stolen from the solar farm for the Pathfinder trip and never put back properly. For day to day use it didn’t matter that much, but with Marsicane Two headed our way, everything needs to be down and tight.

I remember the first time I saw hurricane prep in Houston, during my initial astronaut training. I couldn’t believe how people rushed to the stores for plywood and nails, tape, milk and water, and canned Beanie-Weenies and the like. The first time, when the storm turned north and hit Louisiana with a fizzle, I was amused by all the silliness.

Then came Hurricane Bernie, the next year. Category two. Ninety-five mile per hour winds at the eyewall, which came ashore on the Bolivar Peninsula. The storm fizzled a few hours after it came inland, but it was still enough to bring hurricane force winds to Johnson Space Center and the surrounding area.

NASA evacuated, but some people I knew invited me to a hurricane party well above the expected surge line. Vogel was curious about hurricanes, and I was curious about an alcoholic beverage called a hurricane, so we stayed in Webster while everyone else bailed. It was fun for a while, until the power went out about twenty minutes before landfall, and then all we could hear besides each other was wind.

And God, was there wind. It howled around the house until the whole building shook- even at “only” seventy miles per hour. It sounded like the storm wanted to peel off the crunchy wood wrapping to get at the gooey human center.

Not all the windows were boarded up, and I got to see outside. Shit was blowing everywhere, including tree limbs and sheet metal. But surprisingly, not much rain. My hosts told me that wasn’t unusual. You didn’t get heavy rain until the hurricane slowed down, most of the time. That was why Harvey was so horrible- the storm spun down almost immediately when it hit land and then refused to leave. By comparison, they told me, this storm would leave only about eight to ten inches.

Yeah. “Only” eight to ten inches of rain.

Other guests talked about Hurricane Ike- the storm that inspired the “Ike Dike” which is finally, FINALLY under construction. One or two of the older folks remembered Tropical Storm Allison, which was like a mini-Harvey. And there was one old grandma who talked about Alicia and how all the windows in the skyscrapers of downtown Houston got knocked out by the winds.

These people bought their bottled water and Beanie-Weenies because they’d seen true disaster- and yet they stayed, because so far as they were concerned, Hurricane Bernie was a flyweight, a pissant little blow with ambition beyond its means. They weren’t crazy for being prepared. They knew.

And the party went on, as the wind howled and then eventually died off. The locals took it all in stride. I couldn’t believe it. Neither could Vogel, who said something about all Americans being wehrsinnig or something like that. I don't know how to spell in German.

At one point I pointed out how crazy all of this was, and my hosts pointed out that their home was above the level of the forecast storm surge. You ran from water, they said. For wind you hunker down. There just weren’t enough roads to get everybody out of the wind forecast zone. (And a few people told me horror stories of having run out of gas on Interstate 45 during Hurricane Rita. Two hundred miles of de facto parking lot, as four million people tried to get out of the way of a storm that ended up missing Houston by eighty miles.)

The next day we both volunteered at the Red Cross to help however we could, but there wasn’t much for us to do. Utility trucks from other states ran up and down the streets, fixing power lines. Most of the stores- those that didn’t have roofs peeled off or windows busted- were reopened by the end of the day after the storm. Only three people died- there’s that “only” again. A month later, you couldn’t tell anything had happened, unless you went out onto Bolivar Peninsula to see where everything had been knocked flat yet again.

I didn’t mock Texans for rushing out to buy milk and bread anymore. But I still thought they were crazy.

So, how does this apply to Mars? We can’t run. We don’t know where the storm’s headed, and we can’t get more than seventy kilometers in any one direction anyway. That’s not going to be enough to avoid the storm even if it gave us a written itinerary.

So we’re going to hunker down, and be grateful there isn’t any rain.

By the way, I’d kill for milk, bread, and/or Beanie-Weenies.

Author's Notes:

I grew up in southeast Texas. Hurricanes are a fact of life here. I fled Rita (using back roads to avoid I-45) and rode out Ike and Harvey.

And during Harvey my house only got twenty-seven inches of rain over five days.


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