The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 250: Sol 484

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The skies are clear and dark blue, and the north rim of Crommelin is so clear on the horizon it almost looks like we could walk to it in half an hour. We’re no longer trapped under a thick curtain of airborne dirt.

So why, you might ask, are we still sitting here like a bump on a log? Well, I’ll tell you.

First and foremost, after yesterday’s miracle (there’s no other word for it), Spitfire is still in a bad way. We had to cut those wing sleeves off of her, because the uncured changeling gunk had pretty much sealed to her wings. When the sleeves finally came off, they took a lot of pony feathers with them. She woke up during the process, and we had to give her a triple dose of the pony painkillers to get her back to sleep.

Fortunately, the pony medical kit actually has medicine- I suppose “potion” is a better word- to accelerate regrowth of pegasus feathers. It’s just like the medicine Spitfire kept jamming down Starlight’s throat when her right foreleg was broken. It doesn’t work as well as it does back on their homeworld, though, which is why they administer it only when they’re running the magic field… which has been cut down to three minutes a day. More about that in a bit.

But the bigger worry is decompression sickness. When Spitfire wakes up, she complains that her lungs feel like raw meat. Been there, done that. But lung tissue is incredibly resilient. Also, there’s another medicine bottle specifically to treat smoke inhalation, and the ponies on the other end of their water telegraph gave the go-ahead to use that on Spitfire, too. It’ll be a long healing process, but we like her odds there… or would, if it wasn’t for the headaches.

Whenever Spitfire wakes up, she complains of terrible headaches and joint pain. She also sees stars, the way you might if you get hit in the head really hard. I suspect our little hero had a very close brush with the bends. I didn’t get that, because my exposures to low air pressure were brief- first when the antenna impaled me on Sol 6, second when my suit caught fire in the perchlorate bomb on Sol 40.

(God, that was over a year ago. So hard to believe… seems like only yesterday I was driving across Mars in a pain-filled stupor, egged on by a hallucination that turned out not to be a hallucination at all… fuck, I better stop this. I’m getting nostalgic for the times I was almost killed by Mars, and I’m not off this motherfucking planet yet!)

Anyway, the proper treatment for the bends is a hyperbaric chamber with an almost pure oxygen atmosphere. The bends are caused by gaseous nitrogen in the bloodstream. Normally nitrogen, like oxygen, remains dissolved in the blood. But when you undergo a sudden drop in pressure, it can come out of solution, becoming bubbles that operate just as efficiently as blood clots for cutting off circulation. Left untreated, the bends can kill just like a stroke- exactly like a stroke, in fact- or cause permanent injury.

Unfortunately we don’t have a hyperbaric chamber. Once Spitfire told us the symptoms, we stuffed her into Starlight Glimmer’s suit and asked the pony homeworld to overpressurize the suit with as high a concentration of oxygen, and zero nitrogen, as they could manage. We take off her helmet for meals, then stuff a rolled-up shirt into it for a pillow, put it back on, and let her drift off.

Fortunately, Spitfire seems to be escaping the paralysis and nausea that my training taught me come with the bends. (Ares astronauts get training on this because we have to be prepared for triage and recovery in case of a Hab breach.) We’ll have to watch her, but the worst should be over in a week. After that, Spits gets to begin recovery, and we find out what, if anything, she’s lost permanently.

That’s the main reason we haven’t moved an inch- taking care of Spitfire. But there are other reasons.

We didn’t know what damage the storm did to the exterior of the Whinnybago. We did know, however, that when Spitfire killed the storm, all the dust it was carrying fell almost straight down. So this morning Fireball, Starlight Glimmer (borrowing Dragonfly’s spacesuit) and I spent the entire morning cleaning off the rover, dusting off the solar panels, and inspecting everything for signs of damage. We took special care with a bottle of compressed air to clean out all ten rover wheels. The last thing we want is for accumulated grit to lock up a wheel and make us drag it across the Martian plains.

In the process, we found four of the solar panel amplifier sheets had been broken in the storm. That required Starlight to levitate Fireball and myself up to remove the bad sheets, bring down the most intact parts of what was left, and then reverse the process once she’d used more of the spare quartz to fix them. Between that and the boosters and things, we’ve used up over half of that half-ton chunk of crystal we brought from the cave farm.

Meanwhile, Dragonfly spent today undoing the modifications on Spitfire’s suit. That required cutting out the wing sleeves, stitching the flaps back in place, stealing about two square feet of the spare Hab canvas, and a lot more puking up black sticky stuff. She’s lying down next to Spitfire now. When I asked if she was all right, she flipped me the “high hoof” and rolled over. Not a happy camper, is our little love bug.

And finally, reports. Oh, GOD, the reports. The ponies took turns flooding the toilet with water describing the last couple of days. They had it easy. I had to make my report by vox, and NASA kept relaying more questions to Hermes for me to answer. By the time today’s broadcast window finally closed, I was feeling a little… like I’d swallowed broken glass. (See, I can too resist the urge for a cheap joke!)

But one day is all we can spare. Hermes is getting closer. The lightspeed lag is only five minutes now. In sixty-two sols, ready or not, it’s going to fly by. And we’re still over sixteen hundred kilometers from the MAV. We’ve got to get moving.

(Besides, NASA is still shouting at me to send them the video Fireball captured of Spitfire’s flight, and we need the MAV’s radios to do it. So we better do that before the last scientist at JSC has a brain aneurysm and dies.)

The electric batteries are full again. Eleven of our magic batteries are empty, and most of that is power we’re not getting back, but they’ll regenerate a little each day. We’re as ready to roll as we’re going to get.

Tomorrow we turn east… and, in the words of BJ McKay, lay the hammer down.

Author's Notes:

Not a lot of energy today, so this is all I had. Staying up late last night to finish the chapter had its drawbacks.

Next Chapter: Sol 485 Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 51 Minutes
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