The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 52: Sol 90

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AMICITAS (DF): Amicitas calling Baltimare, use suit CB for responses, over.

ESA: Baltimare calling Amicitas, over.

AMICITAS (DF): Long incident report to follow. Report when ready, over.

ESA: Stand by, over.

AMICITAS (CB): I hereby resieeeeeeee-

ESA: Repeat message, not received, over.

AMICITAS (DF): Disregard previous message. Report when ready for incident report, over.

ESA: It’s the middle of the night here, Amicitas. We’re waking ponies up now. Over.

AMICITAS (DF): Standing by, over.

“Let me go!” Cherry Berry demanded over the background noise of water spattering inside the Hab’s decontamination shower.

Dragonfly looked up from where she stood watching Cherry’s spacesuit, lying limply on the Hab’s dirt floor. “Don’t make me build a cocoon for you, boss,” she said. “It would be a huge waste of food and energy, but I’ll do it if I have to.”

Cherry struggled in the grip of Fireball and Spitfire, who struggled to hold the earth pony still. “I order you to let me go!!”

“If you quit, you can’t give me orders,” Fireball said. “If you want to give me orders, obviously you’re not serious about quitting.” He glanced over and down at the pegasus gripping Cherry from the other side. “Or is this pony logic at work again?”

“No,” Spitfire said, “this is just what happens whenever a flyer has a Bad Day and survives. She’ll get over it. We just have to stop her from bucking her career in the meantime.”

“What career?” Cherry shouted. “I’m a pilot, not a leader! If Faust had meant me to be a leader, I’d have a horn and wings!”

“Sounds good to me,” Spitfire replied. “We’ll take ‘em off of Chrysalis. It’d improve things all around, in my opinion.”

“Excuse me!” Dragonfly protested, but only because she’d be expected to at this point.

“I am not a princess!” Cherry thrashed again, almost throwing Spitfire off her foreleg. “I never wanted to be a princess! I just wanted to fly! You’re the leader, you take the job!”

Spitfire wrapped her forelegs tighter around Cherry Berry’s limb. “Commander,” she said in her most formal officer tones, “as chief medical officer of the Amicitas it is my considered opinion that, although you are mentally fit for duty, your current emotional state disqualifies you from making major personal decisions that you might come to regret. It is therefore my duty to refuse your offer of command and to restrain you from resigning said command.”

“Besides,” Fireball said, “Spitfire’s the space rookie here.”

“She was the one who saved our lives,” Cherry pointed out. “I just endangered them.”

“Not my point,” Fireball said. “This is a joint ESA-CSP mission, remember? Starlight Glimmer is second in command.”

“Which she is not physically able to assume,” Spitfire chipped in. “Won’t be for weeks.”

“And after that command follows seniority of first flight,” Fireball continued. “Which means I’d become the next commander. Nobody wants that, least of all me.”

“But Twilight Sparkle and Chrysalis would insist,” Spitire finished. “Everything about this crew is a political compromise, remember? Our bosses won’t want to relitigate all that at this point.”

“They- aren’t- HERE!” Cherry punctuated each word with a powerful twist of her body. This time she managed to shake Spitfire off completely, but this left her dangling in Fireball’s grip.

“They still-“

“You’re right!” Dragonfly interrupted, thinking fast. The pegasus was going for the legalistic argument. That wouldn’t work. Cherry needed more active support. “They aren’t here! They can’t tell us who should be the leader! So it’s up to us to decide, right?” Pause for about a second and half, to give the listeners the illusion that they can agree or disagree. That’s long enough; onward. “So let’s hear it: who else here wants to be the commander? Raise a hoof.”

Dragonfly could feel the mixed feelings coming off of Spitfire. She wouldn’t mind being the commander, but she knew she wasn't the one all the others trusted to lead, here and now. She left her hooves down, and since none of the others wanted the job, no other limbs were raised, except for the one Fireball held in his grip, dangling the commander off the ground.

“All in favor of retaining Cherry Berry as mission commander?” Dragonfly continued.

“Aye,” Spitfire replied immediately. Good, good, Dragonfly thought. She’s backing me up. That should be enough.

“Aye,” Fireball added.

“Aye,” Starlight Glimmer called out softly from her bunk. She hadn’t had her morning painkillers yet, and she was laying on her chest on the bunk so the broken leg could dangle down and keep itself straight.

“And I make it unanimous,” Dragonfly finished. “Your resignation is rejected by the only people who matter. And we’re not going to let you go over our heads with it. You’re the boss, boss.”

The water ceased. A moment later Mark poked his head out, taking a long look at the tableau of Cherry being restrained by Fireball and Spitfire. “What’s all the noise? Mutiny?” he asked.

“What’s mutiny?” Dragonfly asked back.

“Mutiny… is, um…” The decon shower's air dryer kicked in, which forced him to shout to be heard. “Mutiny is when a crew tells the captain, ‘We won’t do what you say anymore!’”

“Oh,” said Dragonfly.

“No,” said Spitfire.

“Yes,” said Fireball.

“Maybe?” Dragonfly asked.

Mark sighed and pulled his head back behind the shower curtain to finish drying and dressing.

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

“Yes!!” Cherry Berry snapped.

“Look, commander,” Fireball said, “you bucked up. We get that. And I bucked up before you. And Starlight bucked up before that- because I asked her to. But bucking up once doesn’t make you a buck-up.”

Cherry Berry looked up at Fireball, saying nothing.

“Mistakes happen,” Fireball continued. “And this time you weren't the only one to buck up. I didn't warn Starlight and Mark either. Neither did Dragonfly. Neither did Spitfire, and she knew more about the danger than any of us. Do you think we don't feel bad about that? We bucked up exactly as much as you," the dragon said with granite firmness, "so are we all supposed to resign too? ”


“No? Good," Fireball said, overriding her. "So the question is, are you a buck-up? No, you’re not. We had that out yesterday with Mark. You had us kicking jack and taking names in seconds after the blowout. You kept us on task during the rescue. And you did what you could to help Mark and me fix the Hab. And you held yourself together until we were all safe and the Hab was fixed.” The dragon stared directly into Cherry’s eyes as he finished, “I couldn’t have done that. So don’t try to stick me with the job the next time it happens. Pull yourself together and get back to work.”

Cherry turned her eyes away.

“Let her go,” Dragonfly said. “She’s not going to try to resign again.”

Fireball nodded, carefully lowering Cherry until her hooves reached the floor again. He straightened up and gave a pony-style guard salute. “Your orders, commander?”

Cherry Berry took a deep breath, wiped her face with one fetlock, and glared up at him. “Report to the medic for your injuries,” she said in a calm, stern voice nothing like her angry shrieks of before.

“What injuries?” Fireball asked.

Dragonfly closed her eyes and closed her ear-fins, but the loud crack of Cherry’s rear hooves delivering a mighty uppercut to Fireball’s snout couldn’t be shut out.

“Consider that summary judgment for dangling one’s commanding officer by the hoof for several minutes,” Cherry said. “Spitfire can fill in the blanks to make it nice and military.” She looked at the pegasus next to her and said, “After you check him out and give Starlight her pain pills, suit up. You’re coming with me to the cave.”

“You broke my tooth!” Fireball wailed, sprawled on his back on the dirt floor.

“I have a pill for that,” Spitfire replied cheerfully. "You'll get over it."

“A pony broke my tooth,” Fireball moaned. “When we get back I’ll never hear the end of this…”

The group broke up. After a couple minutes of no one shouting at one another, Mark shut off the air dryer and emerged from the shower, dressed in the still-stinky cutoff clothes he’d had under his suit when the Hab blew out. “All over?” he asked Dragonfly.

“All okay,” Dragonfly said. “Cherry is still the boss. She tried to quit. We stopped her.”

“Aaaaah,” Mark nodded, finally understanding. “Good. Want to help me fix a robot?”

Dragonfly’s earfins perked up. “Steve Austin?” she asked. “A man barely, barely alive?”

“Er… not exactly,” Mark admitted.

Just then Cherry Berry’s spacesuit began spraying water. “Excuse me,” Dragonfly said. “Talking to home now. Follow you later.”

“No hurry.”

Dragonfly tapped out the code for repeat-signal on her own spacesuit. The morning emergency was over, and the bad emotions had been swamped by a wave of mostly-pure loyalty. And spending a day with Mark would provide more love to wash away the last remaining poisonous guilt.

Maybe the corner really had been turned, at last.

Author's Notes:

Two things to always remember.

First, Cherry Berry isn't just the pony picked to command Amicitas Flight Three. She is Gagarin, Shepard, Glenn, Armstrong, and Tereshkova all wrapped into one, from the pony point of view. She has more space firsts- first rocket launch, first orbit, and others- than any two other Equus astronauts put together. The others have a deep respect for her which isn't going away by one oversight.

Second, she is an otherwise absolutely ordinary Ponyville pony. And one inquest isn't enough to stop her feeling guilty. One dragon holding her by one arm for several minutes, on the other hand, is quite enough to override guilt with rage, which is why a normally timid pony just busted a half-grown dragon right in the chops.

(Side note: Cherry Berry stars in the new hit from Japony, One Punch Mare! Or not, considering several others have done that with other characters...)

All of that said, I hadn't planned on going here. This was just the first angle that wrote itself. Everything else was either "nope, this goes nowhere" or "nope, this is a direct and boring rehash of the book". So, in order to keep up the schedule and maintain a buffer, this is what you get. If this were for book publication, this is another chapter that would almost certainly get the ax.

In other news, Mark fixed the water reclaimer before working on Pathfinder. (And there was much rejoicing.)

Anyway, take it for granted at this point that Equestria now knows about the Hab breach, and Cherry Berry has been dissuaded from resigning her command for now.

Next Chapter: Sol 91 Estimated time remaining: 24 Hours, 40 Minutes
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