The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 255: Sol 496

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HERMES (Martinez): Hey, Mark! This is Martinez! Man, you’re really hustling across Mars these past few days! A guy might almost think you were in a hurry to get off the planet!

NASA wants me to tell you to keep heading straight east for the next two days. Most of that is gonna be flat and level ground except for some sand dunes… but at the end of it you’ll be out of Meridiani Planum. From there the ground will get rugged again, and the closer you get to Edom Crater and what you call the Entrance Ramp, the quicker the terrain rises.

Right now you’re about eleven hundred meters below zero level, where you’ve more or less been for the past week. The crest of Entrance Ramp is two hundred meters above zero, and you’ll gain half of that in the last two sols. And be careful once you start down, because in less than forty kilometers you drop almost five hundred meters elevation. That’s about a 1.5 degree grade if it were level, but you and I both know it won’t be.

So there you are, Mark- don’t say we didn’t warn ya.

Okay, enough with that- it’s time to get down to business. Could you put Commander Berry on? I’ll stand by until I hear her voice. Over.

AMICITAS (Watney): Thanks for the heads up. On the one hand, Meridiani is spoiling us. On the other, the mostly flat land is getting a bit hypnotic. Last night I dreamed that there was no Earth, no pony world, no outer space, just an infinite plane of Mars, and I was cursed to wander it like a Mad Max knockoff.

I tell you, man, I am definitely in a hurry to get off this planet. So far as I’m concerned you guys can show up here the sol after we make it to the MAV. I don’t care if the mods aren’t done. I will learn to fly and fucking well PULL the thing into space if I have to. I am prepared to walk all the way back to Earth if somebody shows me the road.

Anyway, it’s good to hear your voice. Chris? Vogel? You guys can feel free to talk any time. I’m getting a little tired of hearing just Johanssen and Lewis every day.

Anyway, here comes Cherry.

AMICITAS (Cherry Berry): Hi, Major Martinez! It’s good to hear your voice! What can I do for you? Over.

HERMES (Martinez): Morning, Commander Berry! NASA just sent us the updates to the MAV launch software, including the flight simulator. They’ve also sent it to the MAV. When Mark activates the MAV, it’ll automatically update. NASA wants you working on that simulator every sol you’re there, and they want me to help walk you through it. They want to be sure you’re fit to fly in case the automatic launch sequence fails and I can’t override from Hermes, or if you have to fly direct to Earth on that warp drive of yours.

NASA said I had to make it real clear; they haven’t decided who will actually fly the launch, you or me. They’re not saying you will; they’re not saying you won’t. They’re just not saying, comprende? But I’ll do everything I can to make sure you’re fit to fly, because I know if we switched places I wouldn’t want my life in anyone’s hands other than my own. We’re gonna be a team, for this, you get me? Over.

AMICITAS (Cherry Berry): Thanks, Major! I worked hard to learn your systems in the MDV simulator. And you’re right. I want to fly again a lot. Really, a lot. I learned good English just so I could be the one to fly the MAV. I’ll make you proud! Over.

HERMES (Martinez): Okay, that’s the spirit! Now listen: the system we use requires two people. The pilot watches what the launch program is doing and engages manual override if the program can’t cope. Then we have the system operations crew member, or sysop for short. They monitor the systems and tell the pilot how they’re doing. Sometimes they tweak things to improve chances for a successful launch. Up here that’s Johanssen’s job. We’ll both be watching you all the way through launch, but you need a sysop on your end to be in the comm loop and give you instant updates.

You’ll also need a third crew member to run your Sparkle Drive. NASA decided not to give the launch program authority to turn the drive on. Instead they made some control software which will, um… something about pulse frequencies. It’s got a slider bar, is all I know. Your drive will still connect to a computer, but not the main MAV computer, and you’ll have to decide if it’s safe to use.

Okay? You’re gonna have to pick these people out for me, Commander Berry. I can’t do it for you. Over.

AMICITAS (Cherry Berry): Huh. I’m gonna have to think about that, Major. I’d like Mark to be sysop. He trained on this system for years with you. But he’s going to be too busy with the MAV mods. So I think it’ll be Dragonfly, if she’s fit. She was our ship engineer, and she’s an experienced pilot and capcom too. Spitfire will be her backup- she ran the MDV sims back at the Hab.

And of course Starlight Glimmer will run the Sparkle Drive! She made it! The only reason we don’t call it the Starlight Drive is because she asked we not name it for her!

AMICITAS (Starlight Glimmer) (shouted off-mike, very faint): Not true! Twilight Sparkle did most of the work! I only made the final arrays!

AMICITAS (Cherry Berry): And who made the actual drives? All of them? Personally?

AMICITAS (Starlight Glimmer): (inaudible)

AMICITAS (Cherry Berry): Right. Sorry about that, Major. We’ll let you speak now. Over.

HERMES (Martinez): Sounds good to me, Commander Berry! It’s your decision, and you know your crew. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get in some sim time myself. I can’t train you if I don’t try it out first! Tell Major Spitfire I hope she’s getting better! Out!

AMICITAS (Spitfire): Thanks, Major. I will fly again. You watch me. Out.

Author's Notes:

Another way-marker on the long drive to Schiaparelli.

If you're curious, as of the end of driving this chapter the Whinnybago is at roughly 1 degree N, 5 degrees E on the standard Martian map.

For those curious about my health, check today's blog post, and add "tendonitis flareup in right arm continuing".

Next Chapter: Sol 500 Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 22 Minutes
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