The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 197: Sol 347

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“I’ve been thinking- and don’t make any stupid jokes about it, okay?”

Dragonfly and Mark had cleared a worktable and sketched designs for Rover Saddlebags Version 2.0 on the surface, having discovered that the dry-erase markers could also be wiped (mostly) clean from the tabletops. (Starlight Glimmer had made it clear that, for the duration, anyone who laid a hoof on either of the actual whiteboards would lose that hoof.) The new saddlebags required careful planning; they would be expected to hold as much as ten times the weight of the saddlebags Mark had used for the drive to Pathfinder, and they would have to do that job without crushing the lightweight rover pressure vessel.

“You’ve been thinking,” Mark repeated. “About this?” He gestured to the sketched, half-erased plans.

“Yeah, but this is something else.” Dragonfly leaned away from the table for emphasis. “Spitfire made a remark yesterday about not planning on writing a book while we’re here on Mars. And I was thinking: why not? Someone ought to write a book about this.”

“Not me,” Mark said firmly. “I’m already doing mission logs when I remember to do it, and when I can think of something to log. And I’ll be writing reports and studies until I die, once we all get home.”

“Huh. Well, maybe I’ll do it myself,” Dragonfly said. “Not the official report, of course. Cherry and Starlight will write that. But maybe a romance novel like my queen likes. A book about how a beautiful young human girl fell in love with the alien she was stranded with.”

“Human girl?” Mark asked. “Not knocking it or anything, but is that your personal preference?”

It took Dragonfly a moment to figure out what preference Mark was talking about. “Oh,” she said. “Um, no. Changeling, remember? Shape-shifter. With us it’s all about what puts love on the plate.”

“Well, yeah, but you told me that the queen isn’t the only one who reproduces.”

“Yes, but most changelings never even think about mating for life or having a grub. And the larvae are raised communally anyway, so it’s not like we have cozy little pony-style families.”

“So…” Dragonfly could sense confusion boiling off of Mark like a stewpot left too close to the fire. “So you’re saying, you don’t really have a preference?”

Dragonfly sighed. “Mark, to be honest I find the idea of having a preference just as weird as you find my not having a preference. It’s just that I think a book with Miss Johanssen on the cover will sell better in Pony-land than a book with you on the cover. Human females are just more visually interesting.”

“Oh really?” Mark asked, raising an eyebrow. “And how do you justify that claim?”

“How often do you see Daisy Duke without half her clothes,” Dragonfly asked, “and how often do you see either Bo or Luke Duke without half their clothes?”

“Errrr… maybe not a good example,” Mark said. “But okay, whatever. I’m sure it’ll be a good book. It’ll rank up there with your story of how Chrissy left Jack and Janet not because her aunt was ill, but because she fell in love with Enos and eloped to Hazzard County.”


Mark shrugged. “Just a joke,” he said. “About all the weird questions you always asked about what if this or that one of Lewis’s TV shows met each other.”

“Oh.” That explained… come to think of it, it explained nothing at all! “Wait, what does that have to do with writing stories?”

“I thought that’s what you were doing all this time- writing bad TV fanfic.”

Dragonfly didn’t bother to hide her blank stare.

“Fanfic. Fan fiction. Writing stories about someone else’s stories.”

“Oooooooh,” Dragonfly said. “Well, it took you long enough to explain…” Connections continued to build in the changeling’s mind around the new concept. “Wait, you mean you can DO that??” she asked.

“Millions of humans do it every day,” Mark said. “The creators, or more likely the companies that pay the bills, they get mad if you make too much money doing it, but a lot of people do it for a hobby. And I hear a few of them have gone on to become creators in their own right.”

“Really?” Dragonfly asked. “Because I know one time my queen tried to float a version of the Hearth’s Warming legend that said there was a changeling there who fought the Go-Windies to a standstill because she wanted all that pony love for herself. And you would not believe just how mad the ponies got about that story! Why, you’d think we’d said the Creator was a changeling!”

“Er… is he?” Mark asked tentatively.

She was an alicorn,” Dragonfly said, correcting Mark. “Just goes to show, nobody’s perfect.” She pushed her stool away from the worktable and hopped down to the dirt-covered Hab floor.

“Wait a minute,” Mark asked, “where are you going?”

“I’m going to get started writing fanfics,” Dragonfly answered. “I have the perfect story, too- about Jesse Duke and Boss Hogg meeting the woman who destroyed their friendship years ago.” Pause, grin grin #17 (Shameless and Triumphant). “Sue Ann Nivens!”

“Sue Ann Nivens? Who the- wait, you mean Mary Tyler Moore’s Sue Ann? But she lives in Minneapolis!”

“People move, don’t they?”

“Well, yeah, but- no, wait, you know what? Never mind. Not my problem,” Mark said. “But can’t it wait until after we work this out?” He tapped the tabletop meaningfully. “After all, you’re the one who’ll have to puke it all out.”

“I only wish I was just spitting it up,” Dragonfly muttered to herself in Equestrian.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch all of that?” Mark asked.

“Nothing.” Dragonfly hopped back up onto the stool. “Let’s go down the list of everything we have to carry in them again…”


We’ve made a breakthrough with the plans for the Rover 2 mods.

One of the problems we’ve had is that we’re trying to keep the extra weight in the trailer as low as possible. Even empty it masses about fifteen tons, on a chassis which was rated for an emergency load of ten tons. We can’t make it any lighter without giving up solar panels or living space, and the whole point of the trailer is to provide a living space large enough for all six of us. But we don’t want one ounce more than necessary back there.

Unfortunately, it turns out we have to put rather a lot back there. Once we leave the cave farm behind, the only recharge we get for the magic batteries is from our own life force, apparently- and that gets blocked by Hab canvas or anything with sufficient radiation hardening. So, at the very least, we have to carry inside the trailer, along with us, the seven batteries the Sparkle Drive needs plus a few extras for work and other purposes. If we take all nineteen of the regular batteries we currently have, that’s a bit more than a ton- and also close to two-thirds of a cubic meter of interior space, which is almost as precious as load.

And then there’s food. Cherry Berry, Spitfire and Dragonfly will be scouting ahead of the rover as we move to help clear the path and warn us of unseen obstacles, so they’ll need a lot more than the kilo or so of hay and potatoes they’re eating each day. One and a half kilos is our goal right now- closer to the calorie and nutrient load of a full astronaut ration. But that’s one and a half kilos for four people for a hundred sols- six hunded kilos total. The potatoes can travel outside the rover in the saddlebags, but the alfalfa can’t. As we’ve discovered, freeze-dried alfalfa tastes too foul to stomach.

So that’s close to two tons, minimum, that have to ride in the trailer- along, of course, with us when we’re stopped. The six of us together, with space suits, add about another half-ton or more. And we need to carry extra food for Dragonfly in case the space suits or something else needs to be repaired by careful application of bug barf. That’s more weight. And, doubtless, we’ll keep finding more things that absolutely have to travel inside, possibly including more batteries… unless we find someplace else to carry them first.

“But Mark,” you say, “what about the interior of Rover 2?” And I say: it’s already taken. My tools will ride in the interior cargo compartment. The passenger bench has been removed so we could install two of the Hab’s hydrogen fuel cells for extra battery power. The RTG will ride along to keep the rover warm (the trailer will rely on air from the life support box). What little space remains inside the pressure vessel is probably going to go to the medical supplies and other useful things from the Hab that can’t stand either vacuum or getting scattered randomly across the Martian landscape…

… plus, of course, the Sparkle Drive crystal, which isn’t all that large, but is absolutely irreplaceable once we hit the road. We can’t count on finding a second crystal cave.

So, what’s riding in the saddlebags? Whatever potatoes we take along, of course. We can pre-bake some for the trip, and once we arrive at Schiaparelli we’ll have plenty of electricity for the microwave. (Another fifteen kilos… sigh.) Extra hardware and scrap metal salvaged from the alien ship, in case we need it for modifying the MAV. We probably won’t need it, with the new launch plan, but better to have it than not. The remaining food packs, including the seven packs per person I’m reserving for the MAV flight in case we need to make a run for Earth directly. Fourteen solar panels, to be set out after each drive and gathered up at the start of the next sol.

And, most of all, the fifteen jumbo batteries and the three target crystals for their repulsor enchantments. Each jumbo battery weighs two hundred and eighty kilos, and the three target crystals weigh forty-five kilos total, for a grand total mass of quartz of about four point three metric tons. To put it in perspective, everything else combined is less than one ton.

So- over five tons of cargo. And the cargo rack and bag on the rover roof was engineered for a maximum load of half a ton.

But the good news is, we don’t have to have the roof bear the full weight of the saddlebags. Our original plan was to build carrier racks for the three pony ship engines (4.5 tons total mass) extending from the chassis under the rover’s pressure vessel. Well, we no longer need to haul that particular 4.5 tons anyplace, but we can still build the racks. We can tie the saddlebags into the racks so that they take the bulk of the load. We’ll still have straps across the roof for extra load-bearing and balance, or if something breaks, as it probably will.

We’ve got a good design for the load-reduction racks, and we’re pretty sure there’s enough scrap metal from the alien ship to make them happen. They’ll add about two hundred kilos to Rover 2’s total weight, but that’s a small price to pay for not having the pressure vessel fail while I’m in my shirtsleeves trying to navigate Mars’s first semi truck across some of the most treacherous terrain imaginable.

I just mentioned this to Dragonfly, and she just said, “Whatever you say, Bear.” Which just shows my place in the pecking order. It’s a shame none of the crew were into Clint Eastwood movies. At least then I could hope to earn my way up to Clyde.

Author's Notes:

Was originally going to have this be Starlight's report on pony education, but I decided such a report would have absolutely nothing to do with the story, not even as filler. It'd be plain empty speculation on the canon-MLP world.

So I went here instead- with the first half of this, in much shorter form, being how I'd intended to end yesterday's chapter, if I hadn't had a conversation going on around me that made it impossible to continue writing.

Delta H Con is being extremely good to me this year, so I'm about to drive home for more stuff and to sleep in my own bed.

EDIT: Typing this bit from the front seat of my van, where I am waiting for a tow truck. Thank you SO much. wild hog that jumped out of the unmowed grass around the highway and did unknown but serious damage which means I have to borrow a van to get my stuff home tomorrow and then have the local dealership come get the damn thing Monday so it might be fixed in time for Mechacon at the end of the month...

... goodbye $500 deductible...

Next Chapter: Sol 349 Estimated time remaining: 9 Hours, 40 Minutes
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