The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 245: Sols 477-478

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Message from Hermes: “The storm’s continuing to expand, and the center’s moving almost directly in your direction. Keep pushing as hard as you can. Starting tomorrow we’d like you to start angling a little east of due south. This is partly because the storm has shifted direction of motion to due westwards, and partly because the ground is smoother in that direction. We’ll keep you posted.”

Wonderful. So the storm’s getting bigger and deeper, and the worst part of it is turning to aim directly at us. That’s the bad news. But the good news is…

… yeah, I got nothin’.

We made 71.1 kilometers according to the rover computer, as opposed to 71.5 yesterday, despite starting the sol with a full battery charge. That’s down to less production from the boosted solar cells on top of the rover, all of which have surprisingly remained intact through all the driving. As of right after I set out the rover’s solar panels for recharging, the panels as a whole were producing 92% of their normal voltage. That’s opposed to 97% yesterday and 99.5% the sol before.

Not much conversation in the Whinnybago today. The storm is casting a shadow over everything- in all senses of the phrase.


Message from Hermes: “The storm is slowing down. Keep moving. All we can do is cross our fingers.”

That’s not a message you ever want to hear from NASA, even indirectly.

When the batteries hit the critical 5% “stop right now or you’ll regret it” level, we’d made 70.3 kilometers. We’re almost out of Thymiamata. Solar cells producing at 83% of normal.

We stopped today not far from a middling-sized crater, about ten kilometers across I think. I walked out to it and up to the rim- about a kilometer each way.

Remember, the normal horizon on Mars on flat ground is just over two kilometers. When you stand on a crater rim, though, it’s like standing on a scenic outlook on Earth; you’re higher than the terrain you’re looking towards, so you can see over the curvature of the planet a bit. I should have been able to see the far rim of a ten kilometer wide crater pretty well, given normal conditions.

I could barely see it at all. It was just a slightly bigger blur in the distance. In fact, the crater seemed to be filled with this haze, which grew thicker as I followed the rim wall around the edges of my vision.

Looking up, the sky looks mostly unchanged. The sun is still bright, though not as bright as on Earth. There are no obvious clouds, no storm front, nothing like the Sol 6 storm or the Electric Storm.

But the storm is there, and it’s getting closer. And the direction we’re going now, if we drive seventy kilometers per sol, only about twenty-two of that counts as getting closer to Schiaparelli.

I’m racking my brains trying to think of something we can do to boost power or driving efficiency or both. Problem is, nothing comes to mind. We tried everything already when we were testing the Whinnybago, not just the six of us here but over fifty engineers back at NASA.

But if we don’t think of something else, this trip could become a lot longer… and hungrier.

Author's Notes:

In the book Mark finds out he's in a dust storm by noting the haze he sees looking across Marth Crater- a pockmark well over fifty kilometers across. And that was when his solar cells were performing at 97%.

Next Chapter: Sol 479 Estimated time remaining: 5 Hours, 37 Minutes
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