The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 71: Sol 109

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Well, that was a lot of work!

There were about a hundred square meters of potatoes- about three hundred and sixty potato plants- planted in the cave farm. Today we dug them all up- and I mean all of them. Three hundred sixty plants, each with either three or four small tubers, for a total in the ballpark of fifteen hundred potatoes. That is a lot of spuds.

I had to supervise this- hell, I did most of it myself. We want to keep as many potato plants alive as possible, so that the next crop will grow faster and larger than these little hand-held calorie packs we got today. The ponies aren’t good at gentle because of their hooves and teeth, and Fireball isn’t good at gentle, period. But between me, the dragon, and the pony with a sling on her spacesuit hopping around the cave, we got the job done and didn’t rip off too many leaves or roots.

Fifteen hundred potatoes, each with between six and ten eyes, is a lot more than enough to seed the Hab and the remaining hundred square meters we had reserved for them in the cave. But since potatoes have a shallower root system, I decided to plant the potatoes on either side of the water runoff sluice, which has already eroded a good trench into the cave soil. The space where they were going to go will get some of our remaining alfalfa seed. Based on this harvest, we’ll be in potato surplus long before hay surplus, so giving the good spot to the alfalfa seed only makes sense.

In all honesty, I’m not counting on the new cave potatoes for much. We didn’t cultivate the soil downstream using our improvised manure. It’s got some bacteria and water leeching from the main farm, but it’s going to lack a lot of nutrients and amino acids. So the best we can do is bring the shit box tomorrow, spread the contents on top of the two patches of newly planted potatoes and hope for the best.

The Hab is a different story. We’re leaving the new seed crop of spuds to dry a little, because we’re going to plant them after we harvest the hay over the next couple of days. Most of the time spent is going to consist of ferrying loads of hay about twenty kilos at a time from the cave to the Hab. (Twenty kilos is about all our largest available airtight containers can carry. After the ponies’ experience with the small harvest after the Hab blew out, we’re being careful to minimize any possible exposure to Mars conditions. Normally dried hay is one thing, but freeze-dried, dessicated hay is another. Or it might be that the hay grown in the Hab tasted bad because the plants were stressed, but we’re taking no chances.)

When I get back to Earth I’m going to propose a design for NASA’s first ever interplanetary combine harvester. Or, at the least, a rover with a pickup bed.

Anyway, once all the replanting was done, we still had- I counted them- one thousand, three hundred, and fourteen little spuds. Each one is only about a hundred calories, if that. I’d need twenty of them for a daily minimum recommended calorie count. But 1314 potatoes divided by twenty equals just under sixty-six days of food for one midly-active person.

This is our first successful harvest on Mars, the product of the Hab post-breach notwithstanding. So we celebrated with a little tater feast.

We stuck the unused taters in Airlock 1; they’ll freeze-dry there, but freezing doesn’t hurt potato flavor nearly as much (apparently) as alfalfa. But we brought two hundred spuds into the Hab, washed ‘em, and began cooking ‘em in the microwave, five at a time. (Five is all the Hab microwave can hold, and if these were average sized potatoes it’d be more like three or four.)

Normally you don’t feed potatoes to horses. Part of this is that horses are particularly sensitive to the toxic amino acids in green potatoes, but microwaving breaks those down for the most part. But the main problem is that horses are stupid and will try to swallow potatoes without chewing, so they either choke and die or get colic from poor digestion and die. My guests, not having been raised in a barn (see what I did there?), don’t have those problems, so potatoes are just fine for them.

So… yeah, they were potatoes. Plain, microwave-baked potatoes. Very, very plain, starchy, skin-and-all, microwave-baked potatoes.

We didn’t come close to eating all two hundred. Or even one hundred. Right now my stomach is churning at the idea that I’ll have to eat thirteen to fifteen properly sized spuds PER DAY before too long.

I’ve been rationing the ketchup as if they were Captain Queeg’s strawberries, but today... not so much. In fact, not at all.

After the fourth potato around, I got onto Pathfinder while the transmission window was still open and sent a message:

[18:14] WATNEY: Memo to Bruce Ng at JPL: send ketchup. Send LOTS of ketchup. Also butter, chives, sour cream. Not to eat; by the time they get here I probably won’t want to see another potato so long as I live. But after five hundred sols of spuds, when the ketchup and butter and other stuff gets here, I am going to BATHE in them, because at that point I will have TURNED into a potato.

[18:21] HERMES: And this would change your stunning personality… how, again?

[18:29] JPL: We’ll begin testing to see if we can make a couch out of ketchup packets, just for you, Mark.

Yep, that’s NASA. Can’t ever let a guy have the last word.

ESA: To Fireball. Message begins. Quote. By power of the Bloodstone Scepter you are ordered to not die, nor allow anyone with you to die, until we come to rescue you. You will demonstrate superior dragon strength, courage and wisdom by protecting your crewmates and keeping them safe from harm. This is a command from your lawful Dragonlord, and you shall obey! Got it? End quote. Over.

AMICITAS: Message received, over.

ESA: Sorry, that was more blunt than we’d expected. Over.

AMICITAS – FB- that’s about as pony-mushy as we get, actually. Over.


What is your name? Dragonfly!

What did you do on your ship? I was the ship’s engineer. If anything broke besides the Sparkle Drive, it was my job to fix it. Also, I’m helping with the other crew members’ English.

How did you get into space flight? My queen said we were going to space, so I volunteered immediately! I’m the fastest bug-pony flier in the group!

Who do you have waiting for you back home? My queen and the rest of the bug-ponies, of course!

What are your impressions of humans? Well, if you don’t count television, I’ve only met the one, but he’s pretty nourishing.

Do you look forward to visiting Earth after your rescue? Of course! I want to meet Venkat and Irene and Mark’s crew and everybody else who made this neat base!

What will you do when you finally go home? Whatever my queen tells me to, of course!

What is your favorite disco song? “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love.”

If there were one little thing (not a ship) you could have from home, what would it be? A button that I could push to call a ship. Mars is not a nice planet and we all want OFF.

What message do you have for the people of Earth? Flying in space is fun! But not being stranded on Mars. That part sucks. (Is that how you use that word, Mark?)

Author's Notes:

Buffer remains at 2.

Next Chapter: Sol 110 Estimated time remaining: 22 Hours, 26 Minutes
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