The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 236: Sol 449

Previous Chapter Next Chapter


[10:04] WATNEY: We just used the pony ship radio to do a final comms check with Hermes. Fireball is sitting in the trailer waiting for the response. We’re pretty sure we’ll get one, though, since we’ve checked the system five times in the past two weeks.

Almost everything is done. All the medicines, all the tools, all the remaining spare canvas, sealing resin and seal-strips have been loaded. One hundred twenty days of food is crammed into the habitat compartment of the trailer, including over 200 kilograms of pre-baked potatoes. We’ve bathed, cut hair, shaved, filed, done all the hygienic things we can. The last medical information went out over this chat and the pony water-telegraph yesterday. The suits are patched as well as we can manage. All that remains is to load the components for the Sparkle Drive and the seven tons of magic batteries we'll be hauling to Schiaparelli.

We've eaten our last baked potato crisps. We've played our last D&D session on the worktable. We've abused the decon shower and the Hab toilet for the last time. We don't have to worry about alternating between airlocks anymore. And when Fireball snores, we no longer have the luxury of going to his bunk and poking him until he turns over, because the bunks have seen their last night of sleepers.

The time has come to leave. This is the last message I’ll send via Pathfinder. When I shut down the Hab, Pathfinder shuts down too, probably forever. (But we’re taking Sojourner with us, since the rover computers have been modified to control the little rover as if they were Pathfinder. If we can manage it, we’ll use one of the spare radios from the MAV to allow a linkup from the rover to the satellite network around Mars, giving Sojourner and its replacement rechargeable battery an extended mission.)

It’s a little melancholy. I’ve been here for what amounts to fifteen months. For much of that time this place was the only thing between me and horrible death. And, of course, this was where I met the aliens who helped me survive those fifteen months. In this place we’ve eaten, slept, learned each other’s languages (well, mostly). Here we slew rampaging princesses and rescued dragons. Here we wept over the dead body of Albus Dumbledore, and again on the quay of the Grey Havens. And here we made plans, good and bad, to keep each other alive and semi-sane on this godforsaken world.

Maybe years from now archaeologists or historians or something will come back, put a dome over all of the junk we leave behind, and restore the Hab to its original operating condition. After all, this was the site where an Earth man first met intelligent alien life. But it’s a lot more likely that Mars will eventually chew up and swallow the Hab long before humans return. In fact, if we ever terraform Mars, the Hab will end up under over a kilometer of ocean water, which will do a lot more damage than the Mars of today could dream of.

But mostly today I’m thinking about the mission I never got- the mission that got cut short on Sol 6. Trips with Lewis and Vogel to the various geology sites. My botany experiments with Beck. Maintenance chores with Johanssen. And, after collecting half a ton of rocks and gigabytes of photos and movies, the Sol 31 shut down and departure to begin the seven month flight home.

I’m grateful for my new, 67% quadrupedal crew, but I still miss the one I spent years training with. And I hate it that this planet stole the mission we trained for from us.

I’ve already shut down most of the equipment- the heaters, the atmospheric regulator, the water reclaimer, the oxygenator, the air circulation fans, the lab equipment, even the lighting. Only the main computer and the main power system are left. And let me tell you, it’s damn quiet in here. The ponies are in their suits, minus the helmets. Every time they shift their weight, it’s like a thunderclap. With no fans or equipment running, Mars is a fucking silent place.

Sorry. I just turned this chat into a log entry. Hopefully someone will copy it over when they publish the book fifty years from now. In the meantime, let me finish on a more professional note.

Fertility Base mission complete on Sol 449. Final findings: large deposits of water ice confirmed not far below the surface, including methane hydrates and large amounts of perchlorate salts. Rock strata indicate multiple events of sedimentary layering of generally basaltic materials, either by repeat flooding or ocean deposits. Once purged of perchlorate contamination, the Martian soil at this site, high in potassium and phosphorus deposits, makes more than adequate material for cultivation once Earth bacteria and a minimum of proteins are incubated within it. Aside from the methane deposits, no obvious signs of an ongoing or extinct Martian biosphere were discovered. Finally, first contact was established with an alien civilization, studies of same ongoing.

Mark Watney, senior NASA personnel on Mars, signing off from Fertility Base. Sirius 8 is rolling.



The cave airlock opened, releasing a smell none of the six castaways had smelled for longer than they could remember- the smell of pollen.

“Wow,” Mark whispered, as he, the ponies, the changeling and the dragon looked across the array of color flooding the farm.

The flowers had bloomed- not just the cherries, but all the flowers. Tiny pips of dark purple dotted the upper portions of the alfalfa plants. Pale white and lavender flowers towered over the ground-hugging potato plants. The fresh-grown leaves on the cherry trees seemed almost crowded out by the masses of white and slightly pink blossoms that drooped in cascades almost down to the cave floor.

And along the walls of the cave, where they had been cultivated by Starlight Glimmer, patches of the rainbow crystal enchantment shifted colors back and forth, some pumping trickles of water up from the rear of the cave, others giving off tiny pinpricks of light and heat. The as yet uninfected crystals, still (for now) the vast majority, still reflected the sunlight beamed in from the collector crystals, still glittered with reflections of the riot of color, still magnified the beauty of the moment.

“Yeah,” Cherry Berry said. “Wow.”

And although they spent most of the remaining day exploring and recording the event with cameras, it was a long, long time before any of them had a word to say beyond, “Wow.”

Author's Notes:

Not much to say here.

Next Chapter: Sol 450 Estimated time remaining: 6 Hours, 32 Minutes
Return to Story Description


Login with