The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 244: Sols 475-476

Previous Chapter Next Chapter


Today’s message from Hermes:

“Good morning, Mark. Hope you had a good drive today. It’s not going to be easily apparent from where you are, but you entered the dust storm today. For the next day or two you’ll only see a small reduction in efficiency. We’re hoping it stays that way.

“You’re mostly on the right track. If you see any craters that stretch across the horizon, pass them on the east side. That will keep you out of the worst terrain of Thymiamata.

“Good luck, and stay safe.”

Well, she’s right. Looking outside the day is just as sunny and clear to look at as before. But the wattage coming from the solar cells is down just a hair- about half of one percent down.

We’ve been pushing hard the last couple of sols, trying to squeeze a couple extra kilometers out of each drive. For all we know those couple of kilometers might be the difference between life and death.

Cold food today. The ponies decided to go to an all-alfalfa diet for the time being, since they loathe cold potatoes with a passion surpassed only by my undying hatred for the root vegetable in any form, at any temperature. Sorry, Mom, but I’m going to snub your potato salad next Thanksgiving we have. Besides, your dressing is better anyway.

Compared to the triangle of huge craters at the headwaters of Mawrth Vallis, the cluster of craters in Thymiamata are much smaller. That said, they’re still over ten kilometers wide, a couple as wide as twenty kilometers. With Mars’s too-close horizons, a crater rim wall for any of those really would go from horizon to horizon if we hit dead-on. Fortunately we’re only seeing the rim walls from a long way away… and, yes, we’re passing them all on the east side.

Although the region has a name, none of the local features do. So I’m naming craters as we pass them based on what the crater rims look like from the Whinnybago. So far I’ve got Headstone Crater, Cenotaph Crater, Crypt Crater, Sarcophagus Crater, and Duckie Crater.

Somehow I don’t think the astronomers are going to endorse my suggestions.

Mindy looked up at the sound of stomping feet on the carpeted SatCom floor. Randall Carter was making a beeline for her cubicle. “Are these pictures legit?” he asked, waving a couple of printouts clutched in one hand.

“You’re getting the raw data every time any of the probes cross over Arabia Terra,” Mindy said. “Is there something wrong?”

“Something’s very wrong,” Carter said. “Show me any photos you have from any single satellite observing Arabia Terra, each one day apart. Include today.”

Mindy ran through the mental list she kept of which orbiters had and hadn’t yet crossed Arabia in their orbits during local daytime that sol. “Close up view or wide area?” she asked.

“Not planetwide, but get me all of the storm if you can.”

“Okay.” She knew exactly which orbiter to pick. She called up the image archives, selected each day’s targeted view of Arabia Terra from three days ago until today, and brought them up on her screen. “Here you are.”

“Cycle through them, in chronological order,” Carter said.

“Okay.” Mindy stacked the windows on her screen in the proper order and then clicked through them. First to second; small movement of the storm. Second to third; small movement. Third to fourth…


“Is that supposed to happen?”

“No,” Carter said grimly. “High-level martian dust storms like this one do not suddenly double their land speed and, at the same time, intensify strongly. Did the ponies do another thruster test or something?”

“They’re not scheduled to,” Mindy said. “But they’re not broadcasting right now, and they couldn’t send us uploads of their logs even if they were broadcasting. So I can’t confirm that.”

Carter growled with frustration, tossing away his printouts. “Print out each of those,” he said. “Then come with me. Time to see Dr. Kapoor.”

“This,” Teddy said, his hands clasped on his desk blotter, “is our nightmare scenario made real.”

“Possibly not,” Venkat said. “Yes, the storm is growing thicker and stronger, and above all larger. But it’s still only about a thousand kilometers across. It’s now moving at eight kilometers per hour. If the storm stops growing and keeps moving, it will pass over the Whinnybago in five more sols. No danger.”

“How confident are you that the storm stops growing and keeps moving?”

“Not in the least,” Venkat said. “You said it yourself. Nightmare scenario. Kobayashi Maru.”

“Do you mind not speaking geek when I’m in the room?” Annie snapped. “The fuck is a kobawhatever maru?”

Teddy and Venkat stopped to stare blankly at the director of media operations. On the couch, Mitch Henderson did likewise, as did Randall Carter and Mindy Park, who had been dragged along behind Venkat to this emergency meeting. “You must have watched Star Trek,” Teddy said.

“Watched it, yeah,” Annie said. “Once. I don’t worship it like some people.”

“Kobayashi Maru is a no-win scenario,” Venkat said. “In the story it’s a simulation rigged so that everything you do, everything you can think of to do, is the wrong thing to do. No matter what, you die.”

“The difference is that this is no simulation,” Teddy continued. “Venkat, is there anything we can do to help?”

“We’re feeding updates and guidance through a daily Hermes radio message,” Venkat said. “That’s all we can do. Mark’s only options are to keep trying to get around the worst part of the storm or to hunker down and hope it passes quickly. Right now his options are limited to backtracking north or going south. Going west takes him into the broken terrain of Margaritifer Terra, and going east requires him to negotiate the badlands of Thymiamata. Both would slow him down greatly, and the western route takes him directly away from Schiaparelli.”

“What I want to know is,” Annie said, “if this is a rigged game, who the fuck is doing the rigging?”

“Mars is,” Mitch said from the couch. “The planet’s not even trying to hide it behind coincidence or natural phenomena or human error. It wants them dead and doesn’t care who knows it anymore.”

“That,” Teddy said quickly, “is something NASA cannot even hint at. Annie, shut down any hints or suppositions that Mars is out to get Watney and his friends.”

“Why? Sounds like the plain fucking truth to me, at this point,” Annie said.

“It doesn’t matter how true it is,” Teddy said. “It’s unscientific. There’s no way to disprove it. And whatever else we are, NASA is a scientific institution. If we can’t test it, we don’t discuss it.”

“Even if we believe it?”

“Especially if we believe it,” Venkat said.

Author's Notes:

Unloaded the van in an air-conditioned loading dock, set up most of the booth.

Still feel badly overheated. Brain cooked.

But apparently I still wrote a thing.

This weekend they'll probably get shorter. I hadn't intended to write the Houston bits until they happened, so expect at least one update this week which is just a Mission Log about the length of the one here.

Next Chapter: Sols 477-478 Estimated time remaining: 5 Hours, 40 Minutes
Return to Story Description


Login with