The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 256: Sol 500

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Ever since the Black Spot, as we’ve been tooling along uneventfully across Mars, I’ve been regretting that I can’t pick up rock samples to bring home with us.

Think about it. The clays of Mawrth Vallis. The shock glass scattered around Crommelin. The sediments of the dry lakes of Thymiamata. The sands of the great lines of dunes (which we didn’t drive over so much as plow straight through) of Meridiani Planitia. And now, the broken rocks from the mesas and arroyos of the transition zone between Arabia Terra and Terra Sabaea. (Schiaparelli kind of straddles the line between the two.) There are a million geologists back home who would gladly die here if they could ship their body weight in Mars rocks back to Earth for study.

Me, I’m going the fuck home, but I still feel guilty. I’m passing up all sorts of scientific discoveries- possibly the first discovery of Martian fossils, or a rock with words carved on it: FOR A GOOD TIME CALL XENU 555-XXXX. NASA spent literal tons of money to send me here, and they’re spending extra tons of money to get me and my five magical friends back again. The least I could do is bring a few souvenirs of my prolonged involuntary vacation.

But it just isn’t feasible. Weight is everything right now. We’re up to seventy-four kilometers per day because we’ve lost weight. And our safety margin on Sol 551 relies entirely on making the MAV lighter. So no rock samples for me, as much as I’d love to.

But I have been taking photos at every stop. The cameras automatically time-stamp the digital files, so NASA will be able to place every photo with every stop. I spend about half an hour outside laying out solar panels and taking photos of anything that looks vaguely interesting. And digital files cost nothing to send back to Earth except electricity.

Today I took several photos of the view ahead. The horizon is bumpy again- really bumpy. Normally we can’t see farther than two and a half kilometers unless we’re on top of a mountain or crater ridge or something, but I think we’re seeing a lot farther than that as we look east.

In the next two and a half sols we’re going to climb about a kilometer in elevation. To give you some idea of what that means, it took us eight sols to climb the same amount of elevation coming up Mawrth Vallis. It took us even longer to climb only five hundred meters crossing Meridiani Planitia. Not that I expect the Whinnybago to have any problem, provided we stay away from really sharp grades or cliffs. My point is, the geography ahead is getting a bit on the spectacular side.

For the last sol we’ve been seeing more mesas and rock outcrops, and we’re leaving the sand dunes behind. I keep expecting to see a coyote running past the Whinnybago in hot pursuit of a road runner.

It’ll get even more impressive when we get to Schiaparelli. Most craters are pretty impressive, but Schiaparelli more so than most. The crater was a lake for uncounted millennia, and the bottom filled up with sediment… and even so, the rim in places is close to two kilometers higher than the bottom.

We’re lucky that parts of the rim are eroded, and luckier that Entrance Ramp exists. If the MAV were in Crommelin, or even in Trouvelot, we might never be able to get to it. The sheer drop into the crater would wreck the rover. And I don’t even want to think of trying to drive into Hellas Basin. Leaving aside that it’s on the opposite side of the planet from the Hab, Hellas is over seven kilometers deep, with steep dropoffs almost all the way around.

Anyway, I’m going to be taking a lot of pictures when we stop. But I don’t expect to have any spare time to do it while driving. From here on I’ll have to be even more careful than I’ve been. We’re entering the most dangerous part of the drive, and that’s counting the recent dust storm of slow suffocating death.

Anyway, Cherry and Starlight are putting in some serious work now, picking out the path forward. We’re trying to just drift a little south of true east, but not too far. There’s some more of those dry riverbed ridges ahead and, believe it or not, a couple of glaciers.

Let me repeat that: Mars has glaciers on its equator. If all the past log entries have somehow failed to convey what kind of frozen hell I’ve been stranded on all this time, that one fact ought to give you a clue.

Gotta go. Cherry and Spitfire are having another fight. Spitfire finally figured out she could borrow a good suit, and Cherry is damn well determined not to let her. Dragonfly and I take turns breaking it up. Later.

Author's Notes:

No, still nothing much going on as the rover rolls on.

My computer's fixed, but I won't be able to pick it up until Monday. I roll out for Abilene and Anime Sekai tomorrow morning.

Next Chapter: Sol 503 Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 18 Minutes
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