The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 45: Sol 71

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Spitfire spared only a second to watch the dragon, the changeling, and the pony jump from their bunks, abandoning Dukes of Hazzard (and why did they bring in these other cousins, Coy and Vance, who looked almost exactly like Bo and Luke? Made no sense) in a mad scramble for the suit storage locker. Then she was off too, leaping for the locker, opening it, and pulling out her suit and helmet.

No undergarment in an emergency. Suit on. Check seals. Helmet on. Activate life support.

“Suit clear!” Dragonfly.

“Suit clear!” Cherry Berry.

“Suit clear!” Fireball.

“Suit clear!” Herself. She checked the time. One minute eight seconds. Improvement. And the confusion and chaos that had accompanied their earliest suit drills was gone, replaced by quiet efficiency.

Not efficient enough, though. She was certain they could get it in under a minute.

“End drill,” she said. “Good job, everypony.”

“Third time today,” Fireball grumbled, but he left it at that.

“Thank you, Spitfire,” Cherry Berry said, sounding a little winded.

“Need help there, Cherry?” Dragonfly asked.

“I’ll be all right,” Cherry said. “Just having a Ponyville moment.”

Cherry had never explained the phrase, but Dragonfly had figured it out and told Spitfire about it. A “Ponyville moment” in Cherry Berry’s vernacular meant a panic attack that would pass in a few seconds. Ponyville had always had more than its share of minor (and occasionally major) disasters and emergencies, thanks to being on the edge of the Everfree Forest. The citizens’ default procedure in such events was (a) panic, (b) look for somepony else to save them, (c) panic a little more because they were so good at it, (d) start cleaning up the mess because it was already over.

Spitfire wasn’t worried about the commander, though. Cherry Berry had been cool and methodical- and fast- during the drill. The reaction didn’t set in until after, just like after an unusually hairy Wonderbolts flight. And in any case, Dragonfly could handle her.

All in all, Spitfire liked how things had been going. She ran daily (or twice-daily) suit drills, plus evacuation drills to Airlock Three (the closest one to Amicitas) in case of a sudden breach. The plants in the Hab seemed to be prospering, and the alfalfa in the cave was outright thriving. She’d kept Dragonfly under observation, noticing with pleasure that the changeling’s holes were- very slowly- shrinking. Fireball’s flame had come back, though he only used it for very brief bursts. And Cherry Berry…

… well, the commander definitely had a spring in her step after reviewing the options presented by Mark’s few remaining ship parts.

For one thing, four of the six seats in his lander were still intact, after dust and rocks had been cleared out of the breached capsule. They were the wrong shape for ponies, but the shock absorbing systems underneath them could be adapted to repair the flight couches on Amicitas.

For another, although the engine bells on the ground stage of the MAV were considerably smaller than the main engine bells on Amicitas, they were compatible. Dragonfly and Fireball had already removed the lower two Amicitas main engines in their entirety for examination. Full diagnostics would have to wait for Starlight Glimmer’s return, but at a first look it appeared the crash damage had been limited to the bells.

Better yet, the MDV apparently had a bit of fuel remaining- not much, but some. Once Starlight sent messages back reporting the exact nature of the fuel- hydrazine with some sort of metal that allowed it to be used as monopropellant- Dragonfly had been the very first to put the fuel system off limits. Cherry Berry had agreed instantly. Still, any upward thrust potential was welcome.

And finally, removing most of Amicitas’s outer skin had freed up dozens of potential mounting points to connect Mark’s landers to. Hooking the spaceship parts together wouldn’t be completely impossible. Cherry Berry had taken great pleasure from that bit of news.

Spitfire had been sure to keep her grounded, though. The ship’s outer ribs had fractured in two places, along with the pressure vessel of the engineering deck. That would have to be cut away, which also meant losing the entire tail of the ship, including the rear landing gear and the engine housing itself. Starlight hadn’t even begun making replacement magic batteries or a new Sparkle Drive. Neither the Amicitas nor the half-wrecked lander had been designed to control a hodge-podge of unrelated ship bits.

And finally- assuming they somehow got off the surface in whatever they built- once up, the ship could never, ever land again. Without Amicitas’s outer hull, the ship would be less aerodynamic than a brick. It would have little to no resistance to re-entry heat. She’d made it very clear to Cherry that taking off was a one-way affair; if launched, it was success or bust, no turning back.

Cherry Berry had accepted that verdict with perfect equanimity. She knew it was a horrible risk and almost certain to fail, she said, but she wanted the option to be there.

So the days fell into a new routine: mornings spent on EVA, with two ponies at the cave farm every other day. Afternoons were spent either planning possible salvage of this or that bit of spacecraft or else working on the Hab’s farm. Evenings were for English lessons and silly human television. (They were rerunning Partridge Family with Mark gone. They’d tried a couple of the other shows on his computer and learned quickly that their English wasn’t strong enough yet to understand why the invisible people found everything so funny.)

She and Cherry had reduced meals to two-thirds rations in order to stretch out their ship’s supplies a little longer before falling back on Mark's supply. Half a meal for breakfast, a full meal at lunch, and leftovers for supper. Cherry had set back two of her own meal packs for last- her two remaining cherrychanga meals, prepared by Pinkie Pie herself. On one she’d scrawled LAST in English in marker, and on the other MARK THANK YOU FOR THE CLOBBER. (Spitfire was pretty sure the word wasn’t “clobber”, but it wasn’t her place to correct the commander about an unimportant thing.)

Spitfire spent every day busy, as did the others. She had purpose and drive again, as did her commander and crewmates. Yes, everything was going just fine.


… something felt wrong.

She didn’t know exactly what, but for three nights her sleep had been restless. Whenever she worked on the Hab farm she sensed, in a vague and useless way, that something had changed. When she tried to follow up the sense, though, she ended up with nothing except worry.

That worried Spitfire, especially since she’d never been a pony to worry herself out of a good mood before. She’d been the most confident pony on Equus before becoming an astromare.

Whatever. She still felt good. So good, in fact, that she was going to give Dragonfly a bonus late-night snack-hug. After all, the bug had been the one to push the ship work, even if she refused to take credit for the idea.

And who knew? Impossible might not be.

But for now, suit off and back to the television. She had five bits (to be paid upon return home) riding on who wrecked their police cruiser first this episode, Roscoe or Cletus.

Author's Notes:

Buffer is at two, although tomorrow's chapter is very, very, VERY short. Not because I had little time or energy for writing (which is true), but because the theme I decided on for the chapter restrained the length of the work.

Anyway, I think this one explains itself. Cherry and Dragonfly have both worked with hydrazine and are quite happy to leave it in the tank now that they know what's inside those tanks.

Next Chapter: Sol 74 Estimated time remaining: 25 Hours, 37 Minutes
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