The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 61: Sol 99

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AMICITAS (DF): Amicitas calling Baltimare, please reply by main ship life support, over.

BALTIMARE: Baltimare reads you, Amicitas. Why the main water? Are you in the cave? Over.

AMICITAS: Affirmative. Needed someplace where a lot of water wouldn’t hurt. Mark’s people have asked to talk to you live about three and a half hours from now. Over.

BALTIMARE: Understood. That will be mid-morning here. We’ll be ready. Over.

AMICITAS: This is important. We will have to translate for both sides. It takes light just under eleven minutes to get from us to their homeworld and vice-versa. And it takes a long time to decode Mares code. And we will only have about four hours before we lose contact with their world for the day. We won’t get more than maybe eight signal exchanges, so it’s really important that you keep it short. Also we are still learning their language. Please keep it short and simple. Do you read, over?

BALTIMARE: Roger, Amicitas. Short and simple. Twilight says it’s important they understand how magic works so they can help rescue you. Also need a history of our space program, over.

AMICITAS: We’re telling them that stuff already. Don’t waste time on anything we can tell them. If they ask, we’ll handle the question here. Over.

BALTIMARE: Roger. I’ll tell Twilight and Chrysalis, over.

AMICITAS: Who is this? Over.

BALTIMARE: Spike. I just got up to get Twilight breakfast and saw the lights flashing in here. She’s not up yet, over.

AMICITAS: Okay. How’s Thorax? Over.

BALTIMARE: Still doing well in the Crystal Empire. He and Chrysalis met at a summit last month. No casualties, over.

AMICITAS: Thanks. Tell Twilight and the queen that they have one hour to tell us anything long they think we need to know in advance. After that I have to trot back to the Hab. Over.

BALTIMARE: I told her. She says Starlight knows most of it. We’ll be ready. Out.

[14:20] WATNEY: Before we begin, I want to report a bit of good news: the Hab antenna kludge just picked up about ten minutes of signal from the northern weather station. So we know its range is at least a kilometer, and we know that one weather station is at least partially functional. When I get a chance I’ll take the rover on a circuit, inspect the weather stations, clean off their solar panels, and see how many I can restore to operating condition. Just thought you’d like to know you’re in danger of actually getting some, y’know, actual science out of us at some point.

Okay, here’s how the system will work. The chat window is on the Hab projector so we can all see it. I’ll type whatever Starlight Glimmer tells me to type. Any questions she can handle herself, she will. Anything else, she’ll sort of Morse Code on her spacesuit water system, and they will respond using another suit nobody’s wearing at the moment.

To be clear, any questions about their homeworld up to the day they left- history, geography, etc.- should be held for another time. My guests can answer them just as well as a princess, and they won’t have to wait for a turnaround on dot-dot-dot splash-splash-splash translation. Also remember Starlight’s English is still half dependent on the thesaurus function of our computers, and she won’t have one for this chat. And her bosses don’t know any English at all. When in doubt, I’ll be filling in the gaps myself, and I may guess wrong. So please, keep it simple and short so we can get the most in before the window closes.

Once you check in, Starlight will contact them and make sure they’re on. Say the word.

[14:36] JPL: Venkat here. Teddy is running late again. Go ahead and get the chat going. Mars rotation isn’t going to wait on us. Also be aware that this chat is being released to the press live. We’re really serious about it this time, Mark: watch the language.

[14:48] WATNEY: Roger. I’ll keep it PG today. We’re connecting the ponies now: stand by.

[14:55] WATNEY: “Hello from (no translation)! Twilight Sparkle and Queen Chrysalis are here. Good morning, NASA Administrator!”

[15:08] JPL: Hello. This is Theodore Sanders, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On behalf of the government of the United States of America, I want to say your people are very welcome here. There are a lot of our people rooting for them.

[15:26] WATNEY: “Thank you! We are told the name of your world is Earth, like soil or dirt. What is the United States of America? Does your world have more than one nation?”

[15:38] JPL: Yes, our world is Earth. What is your world’s name? We can’t translate it. There are about 200 nations on our world; the USA is one of the largest. How many nations are on your world?

[16:02] WATNEY: “The word for our world is an ancient name for horses. Our nation is named ‘land of horses’ in the same old language. There are many speaking people and several horse or pony countries, but ours is the largest. How many speaking people do you have?” (Note: by ‘speaking people’ I think they mean ‘intelligent species.’ Remember each of my guests is a different race or species from any of the others. – Watney)

[16:13] JPL: So far as we know we have only one intelligent species, though a few others come close. There are eight billion of us. Who rules your country? Chrysalis?

[16:27] WATNEY: (Oops. Sensitive topic. Dragonfly and Starlight just had a few sharp words in pony talk. Starlight’s going to answer this one herself. – Watney) “We are not as many people as you, of any kind. Land-of-horses is ruled by Princess Heavens (not the right word) and her sister Princess Luna (the right word). Princess Twilight Sparkle was Princess Heavens’ student before she became a princess. Queen Chrysalis is queen only of the bug-ponies. She has tried to conquer us before, but we are currently at peace.” – Starlight

[16:35] WATNEY: “We’re still working out how to live together. How did you get to space without any magic?”

[16:39] JPL: What can we do that might make it easier for you to rescue your crew and Mark?

[16:47] JPL: Re: last question, Mark can answer better than I. It wasn’t easy. Some people died trying. We don’t want Mark to be another one of those. Can you help?

[16:59] WATNEY: “We don’t know yet. Problems we have: finding your exact universe, landing on planet, picking up crew, leaving planet, getting back home. We don’t think you can help with the first or last ones. Any suggestions?” (Note: my guests’s English is almost good enough for a detailed history of Earth space flight. Starlight’s written up a brief history of her world’s space race, waiting on upload time on Pathfinder. – Watney)

[17:05] WATNEY: “We’re trying to help, but it’s not easy. We’re testing changes to our life support systems that would let us send food, magic power, etc. to the crew, but it’s a problem we’ve worked on for years with little progress.”

[17:11] JPL: We’re working on ways to get them off the planet, at least. We have a ship that could possibly get them into orbit in about a year, but someone has to be waiting in orbit to pick them up. Can you be there?

[17:17] JPL: We’re curious about your experimental FTL drive. Mark tells us you think your crew can build a new one. How does it work? How do you adjust it to compensate for burned fuel, dropped stages, etc.? Our scientists have some clever ideas if we can get one of those working…

[17:30] WATNEY: “If we can find your world, we can be there within a day. But we don’t know how to find your world yet.” (Also, had to explain FTL to the ponies. They say it didn’t actually go faster than light yet- would need more energy than their ship had. – Watney)

[17:40] WATNEY: “The egghead just ran for the doors. I think you just gave her an idea. She invented the drive. She’s changed it about a hundred times since the accident. So far as I know it never adjusted for anything- one setting only. – Chrysalis” (Note: Today we learned ponies and humans both have the term “egghead”. In pony language it really is the pony word for egg and the pony word for head put together. – Watney)

[17:42] JPL: Can you tell us how to make our world more visible to you?

[17:52] JPL: Please tell the princess thank you from us. Do you have any questions for us before we end?

[17:58] WATNEY: “I don’t know. – Chrysalis” (Note: I’m willing to bet what she actually said was, “Bleep if I know,” based on how Starlight hesitated before telling me what to type. And based on her face now, I’d call that confirmed. – Watney)

[18:17] WATNEY: “What are the rules for land claims in your universe? I want my subject and my employees to have someplace safe if you kick them out. – Chrysalis”

[18:30] WATNEY: The Earth transmission window is about to close. Time to say good night, all.

[18:31] JPL: International treaty forbids land claims outside of Earth. Treaties also require all people to come to the aid of stranded astronauts. Your people will not be kicked out under any circumstances.

[18:43] JPL: Thank you for your time, Queen Chrysalis. We’ll do everything we can for your people.

[18:50] WATNEY: “They better not be kicked out. One way or another, we are coming for them. Good night. – Chrysalis” (And that’s all, folks… - Watney)

Author's Notes:

If this seems something of a washout, it is. The fact of the matter is that the highest-ups on both ends of this conversation can't contribute all that much to one another's efforts. What little they can give, the people on Mars can give without intervention from above. And without direct interaction and travel to and from each other's realms, there's not that much room for diplomacy.

So, for the most part, they spend time thrashing around looking for things to ask... and, in the meantime, covering a lot of ground already covered in the story so far.

Why such a short window? Because at this point Hab time is several hours ahead of Houston time by the sun. Right now Venkat, Bruce Ng, or whoever else is on the Earth end of the Pathfinder chat at 0800 hours Hab time is doing so in the by-god-I-ought-to-be-in-bed:30 time of morning. Chief administrators don't keep those hours.

And if it wasn't apparent, Twilight had control of the signal from Equestria until she went running for the nearest quill and parchment. After that it was the Queen Chrysalis Show, at least for the little time remaining.

Wrote not quite 3700 words today, so the buffer's back up to 2. I might burn one of those tomorrow; deadline is Saturday for Everfree Scribblefest, and I've not even begun on my entry.

Next Chapter: Sol 100 Estimated time remaining: 23 Hours, 38 Minutes
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