The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 253: Sol 492

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Cherry Berry took the sample box full of water and began washing off her space suit, beginning by splashing her forehooves in the plastic bin.

The Hab had had an advanced air filtration system that scrubbed dust particles out of the air and a full decontamination shower. Amicitas had had neither, and there wasn’t space or weight allowance for them in the Whinnybago. After a couple sols of driving, Mark had noticed the buildup of dust in the trailer and had insisted, using graphic and detailed accounts of the potential inhalation hazards of perchlorates and regolith, on efforts to get the dust out of the trailer again.

The solution relied heavily on one of the few resources the ship had an endless supply of: cold water. Suits would get as much of their surface as possible washed off, leaving aside only those spots which might be hurt by getting wet. This would be done in the airlock, so that when the last suit was cleaned, someone with a dry suit could suit up, open the outer airlock doors, and quickly sluice out the airlock floor before the water froze or evaporated.

It was Cherry’s turn to do it this sol, and she was already worn out. The Martian sky had already returned to its normal pink tones, and there had been a large, rocky ridge to overcome. (Mark said it was an ancient riverbed, which seemed crazy to Cherry; since when did riverbeds bulge up from the surface? Mark had said something about concretion, but Cherry wasn’t interested unless the concrete was a royal highway leading straight to the MAV.) Cherry wanted lunch, followed by several hours of immobility.

So when she saw, through the open inner airlock doors, Spitfire suited up in her own spacesuit and doing stretching exercises, Cherry Berry’s nerves grew just a little bit more frayed. “Spitfire,” she said quietly, “what are you doing?”

“I’m going out for a trot as soon as you’re done,” Spitfire said. “Don’t worry, I’ll wash out the airlock when I get back.”

“The heck you are,” Cherry Berry said.

“Cherry? Spitfire?” Mark, his freshly heated food pack in his hands, leaned over the second row of flight couches. “Something wrong?”

“We’re fine, Mark,” Cherry said in English, forcing a smile.

“Yes. Fine. All good,” Spitfire added.

Mark didn’t look like he believed it, but he shrugged and sat down in one of the seats to eat his meal.

Cherry ground her teeth. She’d have to keep her voice soft and sweet, considering how much Equestrian Mark understood. “Spitfire, go put that suit away and eat your lunch,” she murmured.

“What’s the problem?” Spitfire asked. “I completed the week of rest. My head only hurts a little, and my joints don’t hurt at all anymore. I’m better. And I need to get some exercise so I can build my strength back up.” She tossed her head, adding, “And don’t talk to me about relapses. I’m the mission medic. And so long as I don’t go flying or rip my suit, I’m safe to begin moderate exercise.”

Cherry’s teeth grit a little harder. “I’m not worried about you having a relapse,” she lied. “But your suit is compromised all to Tartarus. Dragonfly fixed it up so you’ll have it for brief EVAs, but the more you take it outside, the weaker the patches will get.”

“It’ll hold up for half an hour of trotting!” Spitfire insisted, not bothering to keep her voice low. “If it won’t, then Dragonfly needs to do the job over!”

“Is somebody calling my name?” The changeling herself strolled out of the habitat deck, trotting up to where Mark sat eating his lunch. “What’s all the noise?” she asked him in English.

“Well,” Mark said, “Spitfire wants to go outside for a run. Cherry Berry doesn’t want her to because she’s afraid Spitfire’s suit might blow out at the patches. And neither of them wants to make a scene about it in front of me. At least not Cherry.”

Cherry Berry blushed. So much for keeping voices low. And apparently Mark understood even more Equestrian than she’d thought.

“Come on, commander,” Spitfire moaned. “I’ve been stuck in here for over a week. I need to get out of here for a little while or else I’m gonna buck some heads.”

“You can put up with it a while longer,” Cherry said. “Look at Dragonfly. She’s been in here just as long as you have. And she’s holding up just fine.”

“Are you kidding?” Spitfire asked. “Dragonfly spent two months in a cocoon. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t get claustrophobia.”

“Excuse me,” Dragonfly said, a little miffed. “I was asleep for those two months, thank you. I get cabin fever about as much as the next bug.”

“Anyway, it’s just half an hour.”

“Sure it is,” Cherry said. “And what happens if the patches fail when you’re out there? You could asphyxiate in seconds if it’s a bad leak.”

“So don’t let her go out alone,” Dragonfly suggested. “Send someone with her carrying one of Mark’s emergency patch kits. They’ll work just as well on our suits as on his.”

“See?” Spitfire said, grinning. “No excuse left! C’mon, bug, let’s go for a run!”

“Yeah, no,” Dragonfly said. “You’ve heard of the law of conservation of energy? Well, I’m conserving mine, and that’s the law.”

Cherry Berry cleared her throat. “Fireball?” She called out. “Could you come here a moment?”

“Huh?” Spitfire’s face scrunched up inside her helmet. “What do you want Fireball for?”

Fireball walked onto the bridge still crunching on a sliver of quartz. “Yeah?” he asked.

“Please suit up,” Cherry said. “Spitfire needs a backup for her EVA. She wants to get out of the ship for a while.”

“Don’t we all,” Fireball muttered.

“No, not really,” Dragonfly corrected, radiating innocence.

Spitfire looked at Fireball, then at Cherry, pleading in her eyes. “Commander, please, not Fireball,” she begged. “He’s even slower than Mark is. If I have to stay close to him, I won’t even get beyond a walk! Can’t you send somepony else?”

“His suit is intact- well, more than anyone else’s- and more to the point, it’s dry,” Cherry pointed out. “The only other dry suit right now is Starlight Glimmer’s, because she’s been using Dragonfly’s for scouting duty.”

“But Cherry…” The former Wonderbolts commander, for all her experience and maturity, had trouble keeping the whine out of her voice.

“Have a nice bit of exercise,” Cherry said, using a bit of Ares III discarded clothing to wipe down her hooves. “And don’t forget to wash out the airlock once you’re done.”

Author's Notes:

I have a headache, and my right arm (which has had rotator cuff and tendonitis issues since February) is more sore than usual today. So this is all I could come up with.

Incidentally, ridges made of ancient dried river beds are very much a real thing on Mars. Arabia Terra is full of them. They're formed because sediment from the ancient river beds, being mostly grains of basaltic material, made an excellent cement to hold together larger bits of other rocks, forming a kind of concrete. Over billions of years, this natural concrete eroded more slowly than the surrounding material, so what had once been the lowest point in the local terrain eventually became the highest point.

And incidentally, they've had to shut down the life support multiple times to stick a tool down the air lines and wipe dust and other crud off the crystal that didn't get transported along with the air.

Next Chapter: Sol 494 Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 33 Minutes
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