The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 158: Sol 266

Previous Chapter Next Chapter


The crew stepped into Airlock 3, suits sealed, ready for a trip to the cave followed by a momentous day of work. Over the previous two afternoons they’d carefully gone over the top of the Rover 1 chassis and then the underside of Amicitas, removing all but a handful of the brackets and hardware. They’d then dug a pit deep enough to allow Mark to crawl under Rover 1, so that the fasteners could be reinstalled.

Today the step in between would take place- the placing of Amicitas, or what was left of it, on top of Rover 1, or what was left of it. All it would take was three fresh mana batteries, one skilled unicorn, and a couple of bipeds who could nudge the hull into place while the unicorn took away most of the weight and inertia. Then, with the ship placed, Mark could go to work with the wrench, and by the end of Sol 267 at latest, the final connections would be made, and the Whinnybago trailer would be ready to hitch and connect to the power and life support of Rover 2.

Of course, this was only the beginning. The life support modifications inside Amicitas hadn’t been completed- only the installation of the connection points into the bulkhead of what had been the habitat section. Once the life support was fully installed, most of the Hab’s solar farm would begin migrating from its place north of the Hab to hard mounts on top of Amicitas. And then there would be the rebuilding of the internal power systems, a third round of gutting the interior to eliminate weight, and other issues. And then, once all that was done, they would begin modifying Rover 2.

In short, weeks of work remained in the future… but today marked a change, the day when Amicitas completed its transition from dead ship to live caravan. As such, the crew had a bit of extra energy this day. And as they discussed the death of Thorin and the nature of war, they each thought of their parts in the day’s work ahead.

Cherry Berry, last one out of the Hab, closed the airlock door behind her and keyed in the command to begin depressurizing the airlock. “But why didn’t Thorin just make peace in the first place?” she asked. “If friends are more important than gold when he’s dying, aren’t they more important when he’s alive, too?”

“One of the themes of the book is greed and generosity,” Mark said. “All the bad guys are selfish in one way or another. Thorin got greedy, and he suffered the consequences.”

“That’s kind of simplistic,” Starlight Glimmer said. “Thorin didn’t die because of greed, he died because he plowed into the middle of an army of goblins with only twelve other dwarves.”

“At least they were finally good for something,” Fireball rumbled. “Ten lived. Good fighters against so many.”

“But Beorn,” Spitfire said, not bothering with English. “To the rescue at the last second? Really? Nobody does that in real life but Rainbow-“

The air in the airlock was already pretty thin, as the pumps pushed it back into the Hab, but it could still carry sound. The soft pop caught everyone’s attention, followed by a shrill phweeeeeeeee. Instantly everyone looked down at their suits, checking to see which of them had just failed.

Oh, buck.” Starlight Glimmer’s voice shook as she added in English, “My suit life support just scrammed.”

Mark lunged over the ponies to the inner door controls, slamming the emergency override button, then keying in the repressurization code. “Stay calm,” he said. “Don’t move. Where’s the hole?”

“In the patch,” Starlight said. “Upper arm.” As Mark looked, he saw flecks of hard black gunk, the impromptu patch spat on the suit by Dragonfly almost half a year before, cracking apart and falling to the airlock floor.

“O… kay. Yeah, this is bad,” Mark said. “But it happened here in the airlock before full depress, and not out on the surface. We can work around this.”

In another minute the airlock finished repressurizing, and the crew returned to the Hab interior, shedding space suits as soon as they stepped through the airlock door. Spitfire and Cherry Berry escorted Starlight to a bunk, while Mark examined her suit. The dried changeling goo, which had always been hard and stiff, had become brittle. Each time he touched the patch, more flaked off. Underneath ran the old tear caused by the Hab breach, each of the space suit’s five layers exposed in a ragged rip about five inches long.

“So?” Fireball asked. “Can you fix it?”

“Maybe,” Mark said. He took a moment to examine the layers. There was something like rubber in the middle- more bug-pony gunk, he remembered being told at one time. There was also a thin layer of something metallic looking, a broader wire mesh, and thick canvas inside and out. “I could use some of the pop-tent Hab canvas and some resin, slap a patch on this- inside and out, to protect Starlight and the rip both. But that rip would work its way longer the more she used the suit, until it breached the patch. It’s not something I want to risk.”

“No suit, no EVA,” Fireball rumbled.

“I know,” Mark said. “Weren’t you the EVA expert? What do you know about repairing space suits?”

“That you don’t,” Fireball said flatly. “Suit breach is mission scrubbed. You come back home right now if suit even look like it might breach. Inspect before every EVA.”

Mark blinked. “I haven’t seen you inspecting any suits for…” He couldn’t think of how long it had been since he’d seen anyone besides Dragonfly giving the pony space suits a thorough looking-over.

Fireball shook his head. “All our suits fail inspection,” he said. “All our suits. What we supposed to do about it?”

What indeed? “Well,” Mark said, “this day came sooner than I expected, but I guess it’s time to see how it works.”

“How what works?”

Mark ignored Fireball’s question, leaving Starlight’s suit on a worktable and walking over to the bunk where Starlight sat, human-style, using her forelegs to keep herself sitting up on the edge of the bunk. “Are you up for another EVA?” he asked.

“Um, sure,” Starlight said. “I just had a little scare.” She shuddered and added, “Okay, a really big scare. But I guess you’d know, right?” Her eyes rolled a little, not a human eyeroll but the facial tic of an equine dealing with overwhelming fear. “Know how it feels to feel air rushing across your skin to the breach, to feel the suit sagging on your skin, to hear the alarms and know you’re totally bucked.”

“Um… no,” Mark said weakly. “The antenna that punctured my suit also impaled me and knocked me off my feet. Between the impact and sudden loss of pressure, I passed out almost instantly. I don’t really remember it. I just remember waking up when my suit was up over ninety percent oxygen from blood-letting- that is, releasing bad air and pumping in new air when my CO2 filters filled up.”

“Oh.” Starlight shifted on her bunk a little, then added, “Tell me more about that, please.”

“Well,” Mark said, “I woke up to about three different alarms. My nitrogen tank was empty and my oxygen tank was down to critical levels, and my eyes were raw from the high oxygen concentration in the suit. My own blood had re-sealed the suit breach around the antenna stub. I was a bit loopy, but I realized pretty quick that if I didn’t get back to the Hab at once I was dead.

“But our suits come with emergency patches, complete with a sort of valve. I yanked the antenna out- and you better believe it fucking hurt- and then I slapped the emergency patch over the breach. It was a little hole, so it was easy to cover. Then I closed the valve to stop the leak, staggered back to the Hab, got inside, and enjoyed some proper air again.”

Mark had gone into a squat to look Starlight in the eyes as he told his story; now he stood up, pulling his ratty suit underclothes out of the way to reveal a small but ugly scar in the upper part of his left hip. “After that I had to doctor myself,” he said. “We’re all trained in first aid in case something happens to the crew doctor. Disinfectant, four staples- I think those hurt worse than the antenna. At least, I remember them.” He grinned, readjusting his clothes, and said, “After that I was tired and sore, glad to be alive, not expecting to live much longer, and bummed as hell that the MAV was gone without me.” He grinned wider and added, “And that’s when you all met me.”

Starlight looked at her foreleg, the one which had spent weeks in an inflatable cast. “I can’t imagine that,” she said. “To be hurt like that, to almost die, and then to be totally alone like that. It sounds…” She shuddered again at the thought.

“Fortunately I didn’t end up alone,” Mark said. “Now… feeling a bit better?”

“Maybe,” Starlight said. “What are we going to do?”

The contingency plan had always been to use Johanssen’s suit, it being the smallest and the closest to the ponies’ size. But now that the time had come, Starlight couldn’t fit into it; her barrel was substantially larger than Johannsen’s torso.

In the end they used the largest of the abandoned Ares III suits, Vogel’s. The limbs, of course, were far too long, which was just as well because the gross anatomical differences between anthropoid and equinoid limbs meant Starlight couldn’t walk in the suit anyway. Her torso was a little smaller than Vogel’s in diameter, but much shorter- which was another good thing, because without the extra slack the helmet assembly would never have fit over Starlight’s horn.

The suit sealed and pressurized with Starlight Glimmer inside it. On that ground, it was a success.

On that ground, and on no other grounds whatever.

“This is ridiculous,” Starlight grumbled. “You’re going to have to carry me like a sack. I can barely see out. I can’t work outside like this!”

“You won’t need to,” Mark said. “There’s a perfectly good suit at the cave farm that nobody’s using. It’ll be a little baggy on you, but at least it’s made for your shape.”

“Dragonfly’s suit?” Cherry protested. “But what will she use when she gets out?”

“She’ll repair this one,” Mark said, walking over to the damaged suit and its crumbling patch. “And we need her to do it soon. Because you guys,” he said, pointing to the discarded suits near Airlock 3, “are going to need your patches and booties and everything else updated soon. Before they start crumbling like this.” He pinched the broken patch on Starlight’s suit and snapped off a piece with a loud crackle. “I don’t think they’ll be far behind this one.”


(note: the same message was sent with minor changes via water telegraph to ESA Baltimare.)

AMICITAS: Friendship calling Houston. Friendship calling Houston. We are transferring to the cave for the next sol, report to follow. Repeating, Friendship calling Houston. We are transferring to the cave for the next sol, report to follow. Repeating, Friendship calling Houston. We are transferring to the cave for the next sol, report to follow.

Report begins. Starlight Glimmer’s suit breached in the airlock today. Long-term repair not possible without Dragonfly. We are using Vogel’s spare suit to get Starlight to the cave. Starlight will use Dragonfly’s suit after that. Spare suits proved not workable for pony anatomy.

We are staying the night in the cave in an attempt to saturate Dragonfly’s cocoon with magic. We will use all, and I mean all, the existing batteries to power one magic field projector for as long as it will run. We estimate fourteen hours. We hope this will be enough to revive Dragonfly so that work can begin on repairing space suits.

All Sirius work is suspended until Dragonfly is revived.

We will contact by radio or by Pathfinder if data transfer is complete no later than 1400 hours Hab time Sol 267. Repeat, will resume contact 1400 hours Hab time.

Friendship out.

Author's Notes:

Nothing here needs explaining, I think, except that organic polymers tend to not like near-vacuum and sub-arctic cold... even magic organic polymers.

Next Chapter: Sol 267 Estimated time remaining: 13 Hours, 33 Minutes
Return to Story Description


Login with