The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 279: Sol 548

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“All right, Phoenix, good job,” Martinez’s voice called over the comms. “And congratulations, Dragonfly! That’s your tenth successful sim as pilot.”

“Thanks,” Dragonfly said. “I just hope I don’t have to do it for real. Too much would have had to go wrong by then.” She pulled herself out of the pilot’s flight couch, making room for Cherry Berry. “Thank you for indulging me, Hermes.”

“No problem, Dragonfly. Tell Cherry we have time for one more sim today.”

“Roger.” Dragonfly removed the human radio headset from her head and said, “You get one more go, boss. Then it’s time to disconnect the rover and move it to safe distance.”

“Thanks.” Cherry put the headset back on. “Are you okay to get back to the rover?”

“Sure!” Dragonfly felt a little offended. “I’m weak, but I’m not that weak, not yet.” Of course, she didn’t like that not yet, but she had to include it. There was no telling what would happen to her on the trip to Earth, assuming the queen and Twilight Sparkle didn’t find a way to rescue them.

“Okay, see you later, then.” Cherry settled into the pilot seat and said, “Rick, give us five minutes to reset the controls, and we’ll have one more go. Give us a tough one.”

Dragonfly didn’t wait for the response, not that she could hear it. She put on her suit helmet, crawled down the ladder into the MAV lower deck, and cycled through the airlock. From there it was another long ladder climb down to the ground. Once down she took it slow, walking through the ring of jumbo batteries and stepping over the long strings of cables.

And then there was the teeter-totter, balanced on a bit of framework pulled out of the Phoenix, and just in front of it, Sojourner. Dragonfly reached up and gently brushed a few bits of dust from the little rover’s solar panel. “Hello, little girl,” she said. “I hope you’re doing well.”

The little robot didn’t move; its orders were to remain in standby mode until new orders came. But to Dragonfly’s mind it exuded an aura of eagerness to do, to be doing.

“We’re leaving you a good rechargeable battery,” she continued. “And you’ll have a radio link to Earth. The gunk I put on your treads will probably break down and fall off in another week or two, once it’s done its job. And I polished up your lenses as much as I could. You’ve got a nice new mission ahead of you. I hope you enjoy it.”

Sojourner said and did nothing.

“Well, I probably won’t be by to say it again,” Dragonfly said. “So… goodbye, then. Have a nice life… or whatever robots have.”

Sojourner did not say goodbye back. Aside from the faint sense of being ready for orders, Dragonfly heard and saw nothing.

That over with, the changeling continued the walk over to the Whinnybago. She didn’t pause to say goodbye to Rover 2 or to the remains of Amicitas; she had no great attachment to the former, and she’d said her goodbyes to the latter months before. She just climbed the boarding ladder to the trailer, cycled through the airlock, and stepped onto the bridge- just, apparently, as Mark and Fireball were suiting up to go out.

“Hey, Dragonfly!” Mark said cheerfully, pausing to lean down and give her a hug, suit to suit. “Is Cherry about done with the sims?”

“They’re about to begin the last one,” Dragonfly said.

“Okay. That’s perfect,” Mark said. “Fireball and I are going to stage the Sparkle Drive and its batteries for installation. With Starlight’s help, it should only take an hour to cycle them through the airlock and secure them down on the deck.”

“Sounds good,” Dragonfly said, reaching up to undo her helmet latch. She looked around, noticing a lack of potted plant near the cockpit windows. “Where’s Groot?”

“In here,” Fireball said, pointing to the half-limp form of Mark’s spare suit. “We take Groot over to the ship today too. All personal stuff. You taking anything?”

Dragonfly shook her head. “No, just the medallion. I don’t need anything else to remember all this.” And that was pure truth. She would have liked to take Sojourner home, but back in Horseton the robot would be just a large, kind of ugly paperweight. Here it could still be useful.

Here it would be happier, part of her thought. The insane part.

“Okay, then,” Mark said. “Comm us if something comes up.” He carefully lifted the extra suit, while Fireball locked on his own helmet and picked up one of the batteries.

(There was a thing Dragonfly was looking forward to. Through careful effort Starlight Glimmer had managed to keep eleven of the mana batteries full. Eight would go into the rover, apparently right now. One more would be needed to do final top-offs of the booster system. The other two, Starlight had decreed, would be allowed to discharge their full loads, for thirty-eight minutes of magic field tonight and thirty-eight more tomorrow, and whatever the batteries remaining in the rover regenerated for the night before launch.

(Eight sols before, Starlight had gone for a midnight potty break and found Dragonfly wrapped around one of the mostly-drained batteries, mouth sucking on one of the terminals. She hadn’t gotten angry, to Dragonfly’s continuing surprise. She’d just said, “Does that help any?” When Dragonfly had told her the truth- “not really”- she’d shrugged, gone into the head, and said nothing more about the incident afterwards. Embarrassment didn’t come easily to Dragonfly, but that had done it. Tonight and its thirty-eight minutes of not starving couldn’t come fast enough.)

She left Mark and Fireball to their work and walked into the habitat deck. It smelled, of course. Nobody talked about it, but everything about them stank, and nothing stank worse than the beaten-up sleeping rolls and bunk mattresses they’d been sleeping with since leaving the Hab. (Well, except possibly the inside of Mark’s space suit. All the other space suits cycled fresh air in and stinky air out. Mark stewed.)

Dragonfly kind of missed the Hab. She definitely missed the cave farm. But this cramped, smelly space, which was too hot in the daytime and too chilly at night? She couldn’t wait to leave it behind for good. This place was everything bad about surviving on Mars in one little space.

But it was where she could get a nap until lunch or whatever. She flopped down on the mattress pile and shut her eyes, trying to smell the emotions left behind by her crewmates instead of the sweat and other less pleasant body odors.

That was a mistake. Dragonfly hadn’t realized how much emotional leakage had stained the mattresses along with everything else. Feelings surged through her, followed by voices from the past…

“We are NOT having a Bad Day! I am going to land this ship and we are all going to be rescued and everything is going to work out just fine!”

“What is WRONG with you?? Are you TRYING to kill yourself?”

“You! Make these grow! Understand?”

“They HEARD us!!”

“Twenty… eight… FLIGHTS?”

“Cute is a matter of opinion, but crazy is a stone cold fact.”

“Maybe I imagined it. Maybe I’m crazy. Just ask anyone.”

“Yeah. But I’m crazy too. Else I wouldn’t be here with you.”

“Hey, Mark, get your bucking crystal on.” “One bucking minute, Starlight.”

“I trust your instincts a lot more than I trust mine.”

“Is it a mutiny when the crew is forcing the captain to keep giving orders?”

“Crunch, crunch, crunch.”

“Earth is sending a signal. They know Pathfinder’s here. They know I’m alive!!”

“Mars is not a nice planet and we all want OFF.”

“Shoot me like one of your Fancy girls.”

“Once upon a time, in the magical land of the ponies…”

For you I bring… bacon!”

“It’s okay. You’re the strongest unicorn in Equestria. You’re the mightiest wizard on this planet. You got this.”

“You could say ‘got away with it’ was the unofficial motto of my people’s space program.”

“Mare down!”


Hello, alien. What will you do?

“Haven’t you ponies figured it out yet? This is a Free Forever universe.

“But a hero keeps going. A hero survives things that would kill most people. That’s all it takes: don’t die.”

“This is a job for science.” “Yep. Magic science.”

“Have I mentioned lately you’re delicious?”

“I’m so glad I’m dragon. No day job.”

“I don’t really like myself right now.”

“Earth needs more princesses.”

“Wow.” “Yeah, wow.”

“Launch me.”

“What’s a dragon gotta do to nearly die around here?”

“Maybe one day soon you can hope to achieve… unicorn cool.”

“I think you make your own magic. Everything’s a miracle.”

“Dragonfly? You all right?”

Dragonfly woke up. The others all stood over her, looking at her with various levels of concern. “Yeah,” she said, yawning and picking herself up. “What’s up?”

“You slept through us moving the rover,” Mark said. “And through lunch. We were beginning to get worried.”

“Did I sleep through the magic field?”

Mark smiled wryly. “No,” he said. “That’s coming up now. And dinner.”

Dragonfly stood, made a show of being well-rested, and made sure to place herself as close to the magic-projecting battery as she could manage. The mana washing through her body felt wonderful, after so little time with it for so long.

But her mind returned to her dream- the voices, the visions, the sights. The first view of the Hab, the day of the crash, the setting too-small sun sinking behind it as they trotted up. The first time they entered the crystal cave. The beauty spot on the next mountain over, the time they visited that. Dust devils. Sojourner. Starlight saving the cave farm. Spitfire destroying the giant storm. Fireball biting through a quartz crystal. Cherry Berry’s face as she brought them down safe from certain death.

No, she thought, I don’t need things to remember this place. I’ll remember it forever.

Even the parts I don’t want to.

Author's Notes:

It took me twice as long to go through the whole text and pick out quotes as it did to write the rest of the chapter.

This was originally going to be Cherry having her last sim. But I couldn't see anything interesting in that, and anyway it's only been a couple of entries since Cherry got a bit of spotlight. So instead I did Dragonfly, who deserved to say goodbye to Sojourner, even if she doesn't really feel attached to anything else at the Schiaparelli site.

Didn't quite finish Sol 551 today, though I pushed forward a bit. Current word count on that is 5,648 words. It's mostly done- another thousand words, I think, will finish it. That will post on Wednesday.

A week from Wednesday, if I don't skip days, will probably be the end of the story. Maybe sooner, depending.

Next Chapter: Sol 550 Estimated time remaining: 2 Hours, 9 Minutes
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