The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 241: Sol 468

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“Got a minute, Mindy?”

Mindy Park looked up from her SatCom monitor to see Randall Carter, the Mars meteorologist, leaning over her cubicle wall. “Maybe,” she said. “What’s up?”

“Well, first, what are you working on?”

Mindy pointed to her monitor, where dozens of photos of the upper reaches of Mawrth Vallis sat displayed overlapping one another. “Sirius 8 is about to enter a really bad part of Mawrth Vallis,” she said. “I’ve been working out detailed notes for Johanssen to sysop Watney through it all. Of course the conditions on the ground will probably be totally different, but maybe it’ll help some.”

“Have you been monitoring the dust storm?” Randall asked.

“Not really,” Mindy said. “I’ve had the satellites taking detailed photos about one orbit before they pass over Sirius 8. Those photos get forwarded to you automatically. I’ve been too busy with planning Watney’s route to watch the weather.” It didn’t take much brainpower to make the deduction which followed. “It’s got worse, hasn’t it?”

“Yes and no,” Randall said. “The storm’s stopped moving- that is, its center is stationary. But it’s beginning to grow. Not quickly, not like the global storms Mars has sometimes. But a normal Mars storm should either stay more or less the same or blow up into a global event in a matter of days. This storm’s been stable for weeks. So why is it blowing up now?”

Mindy looked at the screen full of satellite photos. “You mean, besides the universe in general and Mars in particular just hating Mark Watney and-or the ponies?”

“That isn’t so funny,” Randall said. “A couple of my coworkers are talking like that lately. And I’m about to go to Dr. Kapoor and give him a report that absolutely can’t have those words in it.”

“I don’t think I was joking.” She looked at the photos again. “Do we tell them to backtrack to the Hab?”

“Not my decision.”

“Your recommendation?”

“At this point, if Dr. Kapoor asks, I’ll say we’re still go,” Randall replied. “The rover’s already far enough from the Hab that the return isn’t guaranteed if the storm does blow up. And turning around now is a scrub for any rescue by Hermes or anything else we can launch for over three years. Right now the edges of the storm are survivable, and we can navigate them around the edges. But I’ll tell you something,” he sighed, “I’d love for them to be turning due south right now.”

“Can’t do it,” Mindy said. “Climbing out of Mawrth is just barely possible for them now- maybe. But the ground west of Trouvalot Crater is full of craters and small valleys- absolutely treacherous. They can’t turn south until they’re east of Trouvalot. The terrain on that side is more forgiving. Will the storm hit them in four sols?”

“No,” Randal admitted. “But at the current rate of growth, it won’t be long after. We need them to turn south as soon as they can do it safely.”

“Right,” Mindy sighed. “Let me finish this, and then I’ll begin work on a route due south from Trouvalot.”

Author's Notes:

This one's short because there's nothing else particularly interesting going on aside from more driving through rocks.

That will change soon.

Next Chapter: Sol 470 Estimated time remaining: 5 Hours, 53 Minutes
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