The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 49: Sol 86

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A light flickered on the rover’s dashboard, then shone steady for about a second, flickered again, shone, and winked out.

“What was that?” Starlight Glimmer asked.

“Hab beacon,” Mark answered, not taking his eyes off the mostly flat terrain in front of them. There were still rocks here and there, not to mention the annoying gullies and the very occasional crater rim or hill. The rover had returned to Acidalia Planitia, leaving behind the more visually interesting floodplain of Ares Valles. “We shouldn’t be picking it up yet. Must be some freak Mars weather.”

“Um?” Starlight wanted to look up the word beacon in Mark’s computer dictionary, but the computer was an integral part of the rover’s control system. Yes, there was a steering yoke and a throttle control and brakes, just like a parade autocart back home, but there was so much else that had to be controlled. Mark kept one hand near the keyboard at all times while he was driving. “What’s a beacon?”

“The Hab has two radios,” Mark said. “One was for talking to Earth. The antennas for that were smashed in the storm.” He took his hands off wheel and keyboard just long enough to slam fist into hand, demonstrating the word smash. Grabbing the wheel again, he continued, “The other sends one signal on one frequency only. Remember frequency?”

“Yes,” Starlight nodded. She’d practiced that one a lot. It would come in very handy when the time came to communicate with humans on Earth.

“Can’t change the signal, can’t change the frequency, so can’t use it to talk,” Mark said. “The rovers use it so we always know which direction the Hab is.”

“Oh. So… like a… um…” She didn’t have the word, but the Equestrian word was a compound of two others, and considering how similar in structure their languages were… “Like a light house?” she asked.

Now Mark did take his eyes off the nonexistent road for a second, looking at Starlight with surprise. “Lighthouse? Yes, like that,” he said. “But lighthouses tell ships, danger. A beacon says, come here.”

Oh, a beacon! Now Starlight knew what Mark meant- like the lights used to help guide airships into port after dark, or the ancient mountain bonfires the earth ponies had used to warn their tribes of pegasus or unicorn attacks back in the days before unification.

But how would you do that by radio? There were affinity spells that could guide a pony to a place easily- there were affinity spells strong enough to drag a pony there by sheer force, in fact. But radio didn’t drag. Radio was just lazy light.

Aha! Light! If you were following a light beacon, you’d head towards the origin of the light! If you were on the right track, the light would get brighter! So if you had a directional antenna, like a parabolic dish, then the signal would be received most strongly when the dish pointed right at it!

What a simple, brilliant invention! She couldn’t wait to describe it to Twilight Sparkle over the water-telegraph. It would work like a magic beacon for anypony, not just unicorns or those with a magically enchanted receiver. “Good-good idea!” she said.

Mark shook his head, as he did so often when she praised something he took for granted. “Very good idea?” he suggested. “Maybe great idea?”

“What is great?”

“Great means both ‘very big’ and ‘very good.’” Mark glanced down at his dashboard. “Time to stop for today.” He looked around, decided he liked the ground where he was, and eased the rover to a stop.

Starlight could hardly believe she was looking forward to putting her spacesuit on. The suit was cumbersome, stiff, noisy, and generally annoying. Sometimes the helmet would knock into her horn, which was always painful. But the air inside the suit didn’t stink like the inside of a Manehattan sewer. Once outside the airlock, the suit let her enjoy a whole planet’s worth of open space. And, for an hour or two, she could put distance between herself and her traveling companion.

To be blunt, Mark stank. Starlight had met many, many ponies in her life, including not a few homeless wanderers seeking who knew what, and the most stinky, unwashed, hygiene-exempt pony she’d ever met in her life could have served as a large air freshener if you hung him around Mark’s neck. Beyond the poop smell and the pee smell of the rover, there was the sweaty musk of, not to be unkind, one hundred and seventy pounds of monkey fresh from the tree.

I don’t remember Sunset Shimmer smelling like this, she thought. Or any of her friends. Or even that film freak, whats-her-name. He looks kind of like a human, and the word human is apparently the same in both languages, but… argh!

I can’t even talk about it to anypony else, because the mirror is supposed to be a secret!

“How much farther?” Starlight asked.

Mark made a tipping-back-and-forth motion with his hand. “Hundred kilometers, maybe less,” he said. “Two sols to go.”

Starlight frowned. Without a spacesuit, a pony could cover a hundred kilometers in a day without getting very tired. She was tempted to just go galloping over the sand and rock and dust until she got back to the Hab, where the atmospheric regulator filtered out the worst of the poo-stink and where she had her own bunk and, praise Celestia, there was a shower.

Thinking of the shower, she was tempted to rip a piece of the rover saddlebag arrangement off, turn it into a saddle, and carry Mark, suit and all, along with her, if it meant getting the stink washed off of him sooner.

But no. They were a crew. They were a team. They were friends. And friends don’t abandon one another.

Mark finished locking down the seals of his own spacesuit and looked at Starlight. “Going to collect more rocks,” he said. “I’ll be done in two hours.”

Starlight snorted. Suddenly it became much more tempting to abandon Mark and his bucking rocks. She’d hoped that, as one horrid bean-based meal after another got converted into roadapples, and as the pile of food packs shrank to nothing, the rover might have a little more room in it. No such luck. Mark had come over all moon-landing, wanting to take samples for science. As if the rocks were ever going back to Earth! When rescue came, there wouldn’t be room for anything more than the six of them. Even Starlight knew that!

Calm down, she told herself. He’s trying to keep busy and stay sane, just like you are. And it’s only two more days.

“Okay,” she made herself say, wishing she had enough magic to spare for the Bottle-Up spell. Just take all the rage at spending almost all day in a rolling can with a stinky monkey who told incomprehensible jokes in a language she was just starting to understand and who didn’t know excellent breaking-edge music when he heard it…

… put it in a bottle and leave it on Mars, where nopony would ever find it again.

Of course, in addition to magic power, she’d also need a suitable bottle. The closest thing they had was the containers they were using as bathrooms, both of which were almost full at this point. Starlight did not want to think about what emotionally charged magic might do to such… ingredients.

“Okay,” she said again. “I will just… go… over there.” Way over there. About a country mile or two. “Do you have your crystal?”

Mark patted the front of his spacesuit. “Battery and crystal right here.”

Starlight used her magic to put her helmet on, having already skinnied into her suit. “I’m ready, then.”

Together the two squeezed into the airlock. It was cramped, but little more so than the rest of the horrible smelly rover.

“Starlight Glimmer, this is Amicitas, come in.”

Amicitas, this is Starlight. We’re about a hundred kilometers south of the Hab. We should return in two days.”

“That’s great! Everything’s okay here… except… there was something I was supposed to tell Mark, but now I’ve forgotten.”

“If you forgot, it can’t be important.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it is. Um… did I tell you we removed four of the seats from Mark’s lander to install in Amicitas?”

“Yes, you did. Mark said okay, but save the old seats. The metal might be useful.”

“We did. And… well, I can’t think of anything else.”

“How’s the mana battery?”

“Thirty percent charge. We only take it to the ship for these sessions. We’ve kept some charge on it.”

“Okay. Save power. Don’t call tomorrow. We should be within trotting distance of the Hab after the next drive.”

“Roger. I’ll think about it. Have your suit ready tomorrow night just in case I call anyway, though.”

“Understood, Cherry. Starlight Glimmer out.”

Author's Notes:

Last night after I said I hadn't time or energy to write, I managed eight hundred words.

I did another twenty-eight hundred words today between customers at the con, despite the distracting and annoying background noise and the occasional non-buying customer who wanted to tell me about the superiority of shonen anime (fight of the week) over harem comedies.

And once I post this, I will continue to write.

As you see, I decided that a certain Equestria Girls short did indeed happen in this world. As a general rule, all animation is canon to CSP/Maretian unless it directly conflicts with material written prior to the release of the animation. (That is, everything is in except the Series 6 finale and subsequent changeling appearances, including I suspect the Series 8 opener.)

I made a minor edit at one point to one chapter early on, but I haven't seen any need to do otherwise yet. One of the consequences of rotating the viewpoint of the Amicitas crew is that none of the ponies gets a lot of viewpoint time. And since there are many logical reasons for the mirror to be kept secret, or at least unadvertised, it makes sense that Starlight is the only member of the crew who's seen humans before...

... and Mark is different enough from the mirror-world humans that she is right to doubt that they're the same species.

I read once that the odor left behind by barefoot human tracks is one of the most persistent and unpleasant smells among all placental mammals. That may or may not be true, but the possibility that one of the reasons we humans survived long enough to develop civilization is simply that we tasted so bad that only really, really hungry predators would bother us... well, the notion really amuses me.

One of the names of the legendary bigfoot/yeti/sasquatch is "stink ape." Well, I have news; the real stink ape is us.

Next Chapter: Sol 88 Estimated time remaining: 25 Hours, 18 Minutes
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