The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 235: Sol 443

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Dragonfly took a closer look at one arm of Fireball’s space suit. “Right elbow,” she said. “Outer layer fraying. Pass me the scope.”

The scope was a bit of improvisation using one of the arm-mounted cameras from a spare Ares suit and a small flashlight from Dragonfly’s toolbox. It worked much better than just holding an open space suit to the light or, worse, turning it inside out (a task which ranged from difficult to impossible depending on the part). A quick look at the Hab’s main projector screen, which had been set to show the scope’s video output, confirmed Dragonfly’s fears. “Worse on the inside,” she said. “The middle layers are probably damaged, too. I’ll have to patch that one inside and out.”

Starlight Glimmer had made her edict stick, all but eliminating the use of magic from the crew. This chore, however, was a vital exception; this was, in essence, the last chance Dragonfly had to patch and maintain the worn-out, scuffed-up pony space suits. That task required both surplus food and enough magic to replace what the changeling used up producing the quick-setting rubbery substance that acted as patches for the suits.

But in order to conserve the magic batteries, this time Dragonfly was going through all the suits and making a list of all the necessary repairs (aside from the obligatory re-soling of the suit hooves, which all of them needed). Only with a firm plan in mind would she go forward with the repairs, using as little time as possible while two magic batteries provided power for the operation. (To further save time and energy, Starlight would smooth scuffs and scratches on the helmets and visors at the same time.)

“I’ve been thinking,” Starlight said. “About how difficult would it be to install the radio from one of Mark’s spacesuits into one of ours?”

Dragonfly paused in her inspection to consider this. “Pretty tough,” she said. “We’d have to wear the batteries inside our suits, with the radios constantly on. The last thing we want to do is punch holes in our suits for control interfaces, so we couldn’t turn the radios on or off or switch channels on the fly. Why?”

“Well, Cherry Berry will need one for the launch,” Starlight said. “That is, if she gets the okay to fly the ship. Using Mark’s radios means we don’t have to activate the telepresence spell and burn mana. And I was thinking it’d be good for you to have a comm system that your body wasn’t actively sucking the power out of.”

“Look, last I counted, Mark had five space suits functional,” Dragonfly said. “He can’t wear two, but they’re still good for parts. He’s taking two functional suits with him on the trip. That leaves only three spare radios. There’s five of us.”

“Spitfire’s still struggling with English,” Starlight said. “And I won’t be scouting the trail with you because of this big suit patch.” She tapped her own suit, which lay on the table under the one Dragonfly had been inspecting. “And neither of us will have any significant role during the launch unless things go really badly. That leaves you, Fireball and Cherry, all of whom have important jobs either during the trip or the flight.”

Dragonfly still looked doubtfully at Starlight. “We’ll have to test the range,” she said. “The aerial would have to be somewhere inside the suit, too. Not in the helmet, either- too crowded. And I don’t know where we’d mount the microphone. And that all assumes the radios can be removed from those suits. What I saw looked really complicated, with that whole helmet and backpack assembly thing and-“

A small black rectangle clattered onto the worktable. A moment later, a cable flopped on top of it, followed by the clatter of a small radio aerial.

“Three minutes per suit,” Mark said. “They have their own built-in batteries good for four hours in case main suit power runs out. Need to scrounge some connectors to link the aerial and antenna cable. Microphone will have to be tied to the body- it threads through the helmet normally. No big problem.”

Starlight and Dragonfly watched as Mark walked over to the Hab’s spacesuit rack to pop another radio out of the unused suit harnesses.

“Is it me,” Starlight said, “or has he been getting more smug the closer we get to departure day?”

“It’s not just you,” Dragonfly said.


The ponies spent today on suit maintenance. We took advantage of the suit down time to pop three surplus suit radios out of the suits we’re going to leave behind (Johanssen’s, Lewis’s, Vogel’s) and put together a harness so that the ponies can wear them under their own suits. It was Starlight’s idea, and it’s not a bad one. The suit radios use very little juice and have four-hour emergency batteries built in, so recharging them from the Whinnybago system amounts almost to a rounding error in the energy budget.

But the work on suits got me thinking about my own suit, and one problem I probably should have given more thought to- specifically, air.

The rover will get all its air from the trailer. The trailer hitch includes electrical and air linkages that allow one rover to keep the other running in case of emergency. In this case we’re using it to let the magic pony life support provide air, leaving the original Rover 2 life support for emergency backup. But there’s a major problem with this- namely that this system doesn’t provide compressed pure O2 and N2 for my suit to recharge its internal tanks from.

My original plan was to just bring along tanks from the Hab. Twenty-five liters of compressed O2 and ten liters of compressed N2 would be more than enough for my suit, with plenty to spare for charging up the MAV’s life support tanks. But compressed air tanks aren’t all that lightweight. I’d much prefer to use much smaller tanks if possible. And I think I’ve figured out how.

I may have mentioned that the pony ship airlocks dispose of air by gradually venting it into space. Not so either the Hab airlocks or the rover airlocks. Our airlocks have high-power compressors that put the air into small holding tanks. Those tanks can then be uncoupled, swapped around, whatever. The practical upshot of this is that I can stash air from the pony life support link and use that to refill my suit tanks.

Of course, it’s not perfect. My suit is designed to hold one liter of oxygen and two liters of nitrogen. The rover compressor can’t separate the two- that’s what the atmospheric regulator does in the Hab. So the suit will have to cope with an atmospheric mix instead of pure gases in each tank. I have no idea what kind of glitches that will cause.

But it saves a bit of weight- and, much more important, a ton of space in the rover. So that’s the plan I’m going with. I’ve passed on the idea to NASA, and they’ve given tentative approval, though they’re going to rush a ton of tests through to make sure it works before we leave here.

The ponies are rolling their eyes at me, but I don’t care all that much. I’m solving problems using good old human know-how and good old human-built equipment! Hell, if I only had a few more parts, I could probably convert the whole cave into a giant spaceship, which we would then use to escape Mars (after the inevitable first-person-shooter adventure in which we defend it from vaguely insectoid aliens and an insane AI).

Seriously, ever since we began work on the Whinnybago I’ve felt like a window pops up over my head to say ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! every time I fix something or solve a problem. It’s a damn good feeling. It makes me feel like I’m in control of my own destiny for a change.

Yes, I know Mars will find some way to leave me helpless and at the mercy of my currently annoyed pony roommates. But I’m a space pirate. I live in the moment.


Author's Notes:

About to play some anime music stuff (as in, right after I post this- 9 PM Central 8-21-18) at http://listen.dementiaradio.org/ . Tomorrow night's regularly scheduled show is the Music Lessons playlist.

Mark, better ease off the ego trip. Yes, you can fix things. No need to brag.

Next Chapter: Sol 449 Estimated time remaining: 6 Hours, 37 Minutes
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