The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 264: Sol 513

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“Okay, so are we all clear on this?” Mark asked, his hands fumbling around at random as his anxiety sought an outlet. “This isn’t the time to get into arguments. Nice happy smiling family, that’s us. The less trouble we make for NASA with this, the better.”

Fireball held one of the laptops so that its screen faced the others. Its camera was running, showing a frame per second of video on its screen. The others stood or sat around the Friendship bridge, waiting for the public relations moment.

“All we’re doing is showing Earth we’re well, we’re happy, and we’re ready to be rescued,” he continued, going over points for the third time. “We show them the trailer. We show them a bit of magic. We tell them things they've already been told, because a lot of them didn't get it the first dozen times. We don’t argue or bicker. We don’t talk about current health issues. We don't talk at all about sex. We definitely don’t mention the RTG.”

“No talking about Death Box, check,” Dragonfly said dryly.

“Smiley, happy face,” Spitfire added, looking completely non-smiley and unhappy.

“Please, everyone?” Cherry Berry asked. “This is something we can do to help the people rescuing us. We owe it to them.”

“Thanks,” Mark said. “OK, ready? Fireball, start transmission.”

Fireball pushed a button- the wrong button. With the computer turned so the camera and screen faced out, he couldn’t really see the screen himself. Instead of starting the video on its way through the MAV’s comms systems, he shut down the camera.

“Oops.” Mark sighed. “Okay, no big, this is fixable…”


MARK WATNEY: Yeah. There we go! We’re rolling! Hello, Earth! Coming to you very much alive, from the surface of Mars, in glorious Flicker-Vision, it’s the Ares show! … no, dammit, why couldn’t I have thought of something cooler?

FIREBALL: You a geek, Mark. Geeks don’t do cool.

WATNEY: Hey! Geeks are cool! And I’m more than a geek! I’m an astronaut. Astronauts are always cool.

STARLIGHT GLIMMER: Well, sure, if you want to limit your ambitions, Mark. But don’t feel bad. Maybe one day soon you can hope to achieve… unicorn cool.

WATNEY: Um… yeah, we’ll see. Anyway, I’m Mark Watney. I arrived here in early November 2035 as part of the Ares III mission to Acidalia Planitia. On the sixth surface day a dust storm bigger than anything we ever saw before forced us to abort the mission. But I was hit with a piece of debris that knocked me unconscious and smashed my biomonitor. My crew had every reason to think I was dead, and they were in danger of their lives, so they had no choice but to leave me behind. I only lived because of a freak combination of circumstances.

CHERRY BERRY: And I am Cherry Berry. I was pilot and commander of the spaceship (unintelligible), which we’ve been calling Friendship in English because that’s what the name means. We were testing a new magic-powered engine when it malfunctioned and sent us from our universe to yours. We crash-landed about ten kilometers away from the Ares III Hab, and we followed its beacon signal to Mark. And we’ve been together ever since.

WATNEY: Yeah. You may have seen the photos we sent of the Hab, and of the cave that we grew food in to survive. And maybe sometime soon you’ll get to see the video we took there. But right now we’re at the Ares IV planned landing site in Schiaparelli crater, over three thousand kilometers from all of that, and we’re here inside the vehicle that got us here.

CHERRY BERRY: What’s left of it.

WATNEY: Yeah, this isn’t quite what it looked like during the drive. We yanked all the seats a couple days ago so that the ponies will have their own custom flight couches when we launch the MAV on Sol 551. So yeah, this wasn’t nearly this roomy before. Anyway, this was originally the cockpit and bridge of Friendship. For more about that, I’m gonna turn you over to the mission engineer, Dragonfly.

DRAGONFLY: Oh hi! Can you all see me? Is that thing pointed at me? Okay, before I get started, I just want to say I’m sorry I let you all down. I’m very ashamed of myself for draining Mark and bailing on everyone else-

WATNEY: Dragonfly, they got that. The ship, please?

DRAGONFLY: Look, this is important. I really screwed up, and-

WATNEY: You’ll have a chance to cover that when you get your personal interview. Focus on the ship, okay?

DRAGONFLY: All right. Yes, this is Friendship. As you can see by the different tones on the deck and walls, we ripped out a lot of controls and consoles to lighten the load when we converted our ship into a trailer. And, well, you can’t see it now, but the outside of the ship looked a lot different, all pink with hearts and, well, bleah.

CHERRY: Bleah??

DRAGONFLY: Well, yeah, I mean really, it was like… well, how would you feel about a hay-covered spaceship?

CHERRY: Kind of confused?

DRAGONFLY: Never mind. Anyway. Here’s what’s left of the flight controls. We still needed these to steer the forward landing gear, which became the tail of our rover. Most of this is going to stay here when we leave. We can’t use it on the MAV. The only exception is this little box here. This contains our main communications system, and we might need it if we have to do an EVA after we launch.

Friendship was built to carry up to seven crew for as long as one month in space. That’s why it’s so roomy in here. But if you’ll follow me… Fireball, follow me!

WATNEY: Fireball is holding the computer whose camera we’re using for this. The video cameras we use for documenting things on the surface don’t have the one frame per second setting that the webcam software does.

FIREBALL: You can hold this some, Mark. Your people already know what humans look like. How often they see a dragon?

DRAGONFLY: In a minute, I wanna show them the habitat deck? You see, Friendship originally had three airtight compartments, or decks. The engineering deck was towards the back of the ship. It cracked open during the crash. Big hole. We ended up slicing it off. But, see here? That was the hatch that used to lead to it. And there in front of the hatch is the life support equipment.

This mattress pile is what we sleep on each night. Back at the Hab we used the bunks there. In space we’d sleep on the walls- point it up, Fireball! But Mars gravity is too much for that to be comfortable here. And up at the top you see the docking port hatch for our space station and other ships. There’s no airlock there, so we made real sure that docking port stays closed!

And these are our magic batteries. This one here is one of only two that survived the accident intact. The rest were connected to the Sparkle Drive when it malfunctioned, and it pulled so much power it destroyed them. We used the metal parts left behind to make more batteries. We’ve got twenty-one here, not counting the fifteen big batteries we’ll use to boost the MAV to our rendezvous with Hermes. Out of these, eight will fly with us- seven for the Sparkle Drive, plus one to run the suit comm system or for emergencies.

STARLIGHT: Fireball, give Mark the computer and bring Number 8 to the bridge!

FIREBALL: Fine by me.

DRAGONFLY: Anyway, here’s our food supplies. There was twice as much when we left the cave. When we launch we’ll have enough food on the MAV for seven days at short rations. We’ll have our suit life support for air and water. If all goes well, we won’t need to touch that supply, because Hermes has enough meals for all of us for months waiting on board.

STARLIGHT GLIMMER: While we’re moving back into the bridge, let’s say hello to Spitfire. Spitfire, let’s have a look at your wings.

SPITFIRE: I don’t think so.

WATNEY: Your fans are worried about you! Show ‘em how you’re doing. C’mon.


STARLIGHT: Spitfire lost over half her feathers after the flight that destroyed that dust storm in Arabia Terra. Most of those feathers are about half grown back-

SPITFIRE: They itch. They itch (unintelligible).

STARLIGHT: Spitfire’s wings are a little bigger than average for a pegasus pony. But they’re not really big enough for proper flight. Pegasus magic boosts speed and lift, allowing pegasi to fly, hover, or even tow carts and chariots. And in a minute you’ll get to see them in action.

SPITFIRE: I only say I could fly. I not say I would! No space in bridge! No room!

STARLIGHT: With a couple of aerials, like the two wrenches we’re using on the battery terminals, we can rig the batteries to create a small magic field. In our universe magic is everywhere, but in your world only life creates it. But life on our world depends at least a little on environmental magic. Once we figured that out, we started spending some time each day in a magic field to maintain our health.

The batteries recharged well in our cave farm, but with just the six of us they only charge a little each day. Since the storm- what you call the Black Spot- we normally only do about two minutes a day. But today we’ll stretch it a little longer so we can show you what our magic can do!

Here we go!

DRAGONFLY: Me first!

STARLIGHT: Changelings can change into practically anything. That’s a minotaur… that’s a big rock… that’s Princess, um…

DRAGONFLY (voice altered): Celestia.

STARLIGHT: But that’s not the right translation! – And what are you doing??

DRAGONFLY: Daisy Duke.

STARLIGHT: I can see it's Daisy Duke! I can see way too much of Daisy Duke! Stop that! There might be children watching this! Okay, that’s changelings done. Changelings can also lift things and fire bolts with their magic, but most of them can’t do more complex spells. Cherry, bring Groot here, please?

CHERRY BERRY: This is a sapling from one of the cherry trees we grew in the cave. Mark calls him Groot for some reason. If all goes well, he’ll come with us to Hermes and then either to Earth or back home with us.

STARLIGHT: Earth ponies have a magical affinity with rocks and soil. They’re the best at growing things. Also, Cherry is the strongest of us-

FIREBALL: Except for me!

STARLIGHT: - except for Fireball. OK, show us some fire. We know you’re dying to.

WATNEY: Not the face! Not the face!

FIREBALL: I wasn’t anywhere close to you, Mark.

WATNEY: It was a joke.

FIREBALL: Anyway. Dragons breathe fire. We also fly. We’re the strong-OW!

SPITFIRE: I said not enough space to fly.

STARLIGHT: You okay, Fireball?

FIREBALL: I’ll be fine. We dragons can eat regular food, but we need some gems to be healthy. We also like gold. Mark tells me gems and gold are rare on your world, but they’re cheap at home. The cave was lucky for me- I might not have made it without it. But I am really sick of quartz!

STARLIGHT: That’s a piece of citrine he’s eating, by the way. Can you show us a bit? There. See the layers where he bit through? And no, his teeth aren’t made of diamond. They’re just magically hard.

Now for me. I’m a unicorn. All unicorns can lift things using magic. I can lift this spoon even without the magic field. But with the field I can lift the battery! The battery is mostly made of quartz. It weighs sixty kilograms-

WATNEY: About one hundred thirty pounds, or a little less.

STARLIGHT: - but with magic I can lift it with ease! I can even lift myself, which is something most unicorns can’t even dream of- OWW!

FIREBALL: Ha ha! Serves you right.

STARLIGHT: Did I mention our horns are really sensitive, especially when casting? Anyway, with enough magic power we can cast other spells- like this one!

WATNEY: I don’t think a porn-star mustache suits Dragonfly, Starlight. Maybe a handlebar instead?

DRAGONFLY: I like a pencil-thin mustache. The Boston Blackie kind.

WATNEY: And thanks so much to whoever at NASA slipped some Jimmy Buffett in with all the space songs you sent us. By mutual agreement “Cheeseburger in Paradise” has been placed on the blacklist.

STARLIGHT: Anyway, that just leaves Spitfire. Can you do a hover?

SPITFIRE: Without hitting my head on the ceiling? Sure.

STARLIGHT: Note the slow, steady flaps of the wings. Well, not as slow as normal- her feathers are only half-grown. But without magic she couldn’t fly at all, and hovering like that would be impossible no matter how big her wings are.

SPITFIRE: Should see my flight shows. My team and me, we show you flying.

STARLIGHT: Anyway, that’s enough for a demo. Time to shut off the power.

WATNEY: Before we shut down this transmission, let me carry the computer over to a window… there. That’s what it looks like outside. That’s Mars. We’ve driven over a lot of different parts of it, but it’s all cold, it’s all just short of airless, and it’s all that dim. It’s just past noon outside, and it looks more like late afternoon with a heavy overcast. This is as bright as it ever gets on Mars, folks.

My friends here came on accident. But a lot of you probably wonder why I came here on purpose. Well, I’ll tell you. For all its danger, Mars is the next most habitable planet in the solar system after Earth. If we ever colonize another world in this solar system, it’ll be Mars. It will take a lot of work, and a lot of danger. But we can do it. Hell, my friends and I have been doing it for a year and a half.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Over the next few days each of us will answer questions sent to us from the press, with Beth Johanssen conducting the interview from Hermes. It’s three minutes each way, so by the time you see that video, it may be trimmed down a bit. Six minutes of a person staring into a camera isn’t much fun.

But we wanted you to see our faces and voices, and to get a glimpse of how special it’s been, these last seventeen months. It’s been a real privilege to meet my new friends… and I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re ready for it to be over so we can go home.

To all the people of Earth, thanks for all you’ve done to help us. Hope to see you real soon. Bye for now.

Author's Notes:

TIRED, and coming down sick.

I get to use the face masks tomorrow while running my booth. What fun.

Next Chapter: Sol 514 Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours, 33 Minutes
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