The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 56: Sol 94

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[11:18] JPL: Mark, this is Venkat Kapoor. We’ve been watching you and your alien friends since Sol 8. The whole world’s been rooting for you. Congratulations on reviving Pathfinder and surviving that Hab breach. We’re working on rescue plans now. Hermes will receive a crash refit and mission-specific redesign and launch back out to you in the next Hohmann window with a minimum crew to pick up all six of you using Ares IV’s MAV. We’re working on supply missions to feed you in the meantime.

[11:29] WATNEY: Glad to hear it. Really looking forward to not dying. I want to make it clear that none of this was my crew’s fault. It was a string of freak accidents. What did they say when they found out I was alive? Also, “Hi, Mom!”

[11:41] JPL: We’ll want to know everything about your guests. You’re official first contact with alien life of any kind, you know. But right now we want to get a baseline for survival. Tell us about your crops. We estimated your food packs would sustain you alone until Sol 300 at ¾ ration per meal. Given your activity we don’t recommend you go any lower. We understand you gave your vegetarian meals to your guests. How are your remaining food stocks? How will your crops affect them? As to the crew, they were the ones who spotted you first. We kept them in orbit of Mars for over a week watching you. But when we couldn’t contact you via radio, we had to get them on their way back home. They didn’t want to leave you, but they had to.

[11:54] WATNEY: The aliens come from a sort of parallel Earth, or close enough. Three of them are equines of some kind. They had large stocks of viable alfalfa seed they were eating for breakfast cereal. We’ve converted a cave into an airtight, heated, illuminated greenhouse with 400 sq m of cultivated soil growing alfalfa and 200 sq m set aside for potatoes. First harvest will be around Sol 110, but most of the potatoes will have to be used for re-seeding and to replant the 110 sq m of farm I had in the Hab and pop-tents. The first hay harvest will be more than double what we need to get to the next one, but after the Hab blowout I’m hesitant to make predictions. What the fuck was with that, anyway? BTW, if crops fail, veggie meals for aliens run out on Sol 120. I run out on Sol 308.

[12:08] JPL: We’ll get botanists in to ask detailed questions and double-check your work. With all your lives at stake, we don’t want to take any chances. We understand that you don’t want to make predictions, but we’d like some numbers anyway. Are your guests true obligate herbivores? Also, please watch your language. Everything you type is being broadcast live all over the world.

[12:21] WATNEY: Look! Boobies! (.Y.)

[12:28] HERMES: I see you haven’t changed, Mark. This is Lewis.

[12:35] WATNEY: Hey! It is so good to hear from you! How is everyone?

[12:43] HERMES: We’re all fine. We just wish we could have come back for you. It hurt a lot to be so close and yet unable to do anything.

[12:51] WATNEY: There was nothing you could have done. When my biomonitor went dead, it was your duty to get everyone else off this rock. You did the right thing. Now get your asses home safe and I’ll be happy.

[12:59] HERMES: Mark, this is Chris Beck. How are you holding up?

[13:05] JPL: Please, Mark, the language. Also, Hermes, remember this is not a private line.

[13:08] WATNEY: I’m feeling good, but about ten pounds lighter. I’m taking daily vitamin supplements along with my rations. The redundant supplies NASA sent give me enough for five years by myself. I’ve been thinking about giving some to the aliens, though, especially once they go on an all-alfalfa diet.

[13:16] HERMES: Try to reduce your physical activity a bit. We were accustomed to a 3000-calorie diet and an intense activity schedule that burned all those calories. On rations you’ll risk burning too much of your energy reserves, leaving you vulnerable to injury and illness. Also, I understand one of your friends is injured?

[13:24] WATNEY: Yeah. One of the ponies. Her name is Starlight Something-or-Other; we’ve never got a good translation of her last name. She has a broken right foreleg- what would be the humerus on a human. It’s currently splinted, and she’s on permanent bed rest until Sol 110 at least.

[13:25] JPL: Yes, by the way, Mark, we’ll want details on alien anatomy when you can get them to us.

[13:32] HERMES: Oh, that’s not good, Mark. There are tons of complications with a fracture of the humerus. Also, she needs to move and get exercise or else she’s at risk for bed sores, assuming she’s anything close to human. Do you know if it’s a simple or compound fracture? Did the bone break the skin? Have you applied the inflatable cast in the medical kit? It would immobilize it much better than a splint.

[13:38] WATNEY: I have tons of photos, plus my logs. (Warning: I have a potty mouth. Also I got a bit silly sometimes.) You’ll have to figure out a way for me to transmit them, though.

[13:40] WATNEY: Damn. I completely forgot we had that cast. I’ll talk with Spitfire- she’s their medic- and see if it’ll work. The fracture seems to be simple but very painful. She can’t use that limb at all, but she has feeling all the way down, so we’re hoping no nerve damage.

[13:42] WATNEY: Okay, guys, I’m almost two hours past lunchtime, and I’ve been in this rover all day. I’m so glad to be able to talk to you, but I have to call it here. Try to figure out some way for me to slap together a new antenna for the Hab so the Rover can relay this chat to the indoor comps. Also figure out how I can send you attachments (photos, video, etc.).

[13:50] HERMES: This is Lewis again. Stay safe. I’ll buy you a beer when we’re all back on Earth. Hermes out.

[13:51] JPL: I’m putting our best programmers on that right now. I warn you that our bandwidth is very bad and will get worse as Hermes gets closer to Earth. Video is out, and you’ll probably have to resize your image files to under 500K each. Correction- under 200K each. Smaller if possible.

[13:54] JPL: Oops. Understood, Mark. Go eat something. Tomorrow we’ll ask what you have left of the Hab’s comms system so we can work out a procedure for a relay antenna. Also, we have questions about the alien ship’s communications systems. Please be ready for that tomorrow. Kapoor out.

[14:07] WATNEY: Your order for din-dins received and acknowledged with pleasure. Watney out.

Author's Notes:

One of the things that bothered me a lot about the book: early on we're told that the dish and the antenna farm were lost on Sol 6, but for the first few days Mark assumes that he can fix the radio if he finds the dish again. That means the apparatus inside the Hab, including the transmitter, is still in operational order. So it should be possible to rig something, ANYTHING, that can get the short distance from Pathfinder or the rover to the Hab interior. But Mark says they can't do it, and never explains why.

So I'm treating it as, they weren't motivated to do it, because Pathfinder worked. But now, with aliens involved, there is motivation. And it's going to happen.

One of the commenters to the previous chapter said that, although Pathfinder could transmit at a peak of 11 kilobits per second, it could only receive at 500 bits per second. I'm choosing to ignore that. First, I'm thinking that some Clever Dan at JPL might figure a software patch to accelerate Pathfinder's receipt of data; second, Pathfinder should be able to relay to the rover at speed if its internal memory is more or less bypassed. And in any case, a twenty-plus megabyte software patch at 500 bits per second would take more than the 12.3 hours Mars would be facing Earth. It would probably take a couple of WEEKS. Yet in the book the patch is begun and ended in one morning with time for elevenses.

So I'm willing to be a bit more realistic than the book when opportunity presents, but not THAT willing. Pathfinder's pipe will be narrow, but it won't be sclerotic.

In the book the lightspeed lag from Mars to Earth is eleven minutes. The worst it ever gets, IIRC, is 28 minutes, during the Mars-Sun conjunction (Mars and Earth on opposite sides of the Sun). The time-stamps are to keep track of how much time is in the day, with a fudge factor for Hermes being kind-of in between the two planets. Of course Mark is annoyed at being stuck in the rover all day for the software patch and the conversation. In the book he was going in and out of the Hab for every exchange, which contributed to the Hab breach.

(Come to think of it, the Hab breach is another motivation for getting a short-range antenna on the Hab comms system. EVAs need to be minimized to preserve the remaining two airlocks and Hab canvas. Mark has very little spare canvas left.)

Next Chapter: Sol 95 Estimated time remaining: 24 Hours, 17 Minutes
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