The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 75: Sol 114

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Starlight Glimmer looked up from her work on the whiteboard to see Mark take out a fresh food pack from his supply. “Mark, may I ask something?” she asked. “You haven’t eaten a potato in two days. Why not?”

Mark’s expression told her why not, but Starlight didn’t feel particularly sympathetic. She, Spitfire and Cherry Berry were stuck with alfalfa-and-the-occasional-potato meals three times a day for the duration. Mark still had some variety in his diet.

“Because I need to keep protein in my diet,” Mark said. “Potatoes have some proteins in the skin, but not all and not enough. So I’m saving the potatoes for last.”

Starlight didn’t bother to keep the pull-the-fourth-one-it-has-bells-on look off her face. “Really,” she said.

“Really,” Mark repeated. “The fact that I already dread the day the ketchup runs out has nothing to do with it.”

“If you don’t eat any potatoes until you have to,” Starlight said, “when do your meals run out?”

Mark didn’t even pause for thought. “Sol 302,” he said.

“So what happens,” Starlight said carefully, “if you eat one meal pack a sol and eat the rest in potatoes?”

Mark didn’t answer. He just made the face again, then shrugged and put the unopened meal pack back in its cabinet. Then, thinking again, he opened the cabinet wide and began pulling out trays of meal packs, one after another.

Starlight shrugged and turned her attention back to the equations from Earth. She didn’t know what possible use this could be. Mark’s people wanted performance data for the Sparkle Drive, but apparently not for the remnants of Amicitas. None of the seven different masses matched up with Amicitas, either new or stripped as it was.

They didn’t have another ship to put the Drive in, and without magic you couldn’t build one on Earth, so why did they want the information?

She shrugged to herself and double-checked an annoying bit of long division.


I just finished re-counting the food packs that I’m not reserving for the ponies. It’s a good thing I did, too, because between the first several days on full rations, occasional non-ration days, and other cheating here and there, I’m not quite as flush as I thought I was.

I currently have 394 food packs remaining. I thought I had enough to get me to Sol 302 without eating another potato, but at three-quarter rations it’s more like Sol 289. On the one hand, it’s embarrassing that poor management on my part has cost me thirteen days of food. On the other hand, it’s good I caught this now so I can plan around it.

Why did I do this today? Because Starlight gave me a guilt trip. Here I am with hundreds of meals, over sixty different flavors of meal still in inventory. Fireball has one flavor of meal. The ponies have two. But here I am, sticking to the meal packs even though we have close to enough potatoes for me to eat them exclusively until the next harvest, because I don’t feel like eating between fifteen and twenty potatoes a day until I have to.

Yeah, I can be a real chickenshit sometimes. Starlight didn’t call me out on it in words, but she made her point anyway. And she’s right.

But she made a suggestion that I like: if I eat one food pack per day, I still get that pack’s protein (plus the not-a-potato flavor). And if I eat the skins, I get a bit of protein from the potatoes, too. It’s maybe not as good as the meal packs, but it’s better than straight potatoes, and it slows down protein loss… and keeps me from wanting to commit murder over the last ketchup packet, when that day comes.

Three hundred and ninety-four food packs, at one per day, would mean that my last Earth-cooked meal will come up on Sol 508. I’d still have to go about three months on potatoes alone (with a few alfalfa leaves tossed in, maybe), but that’s better than going three hundred sols on potatoes alone. Of course I’m not going to go all the way down to Sol 508; I’ll keep a small reserve of packs, just as I did for the ponies, in case something unforeseen happens. And then, once the resupply lands, I can eat them and forget about the whole thing.

But for now I’m eating my late lunch… of potatoes. And only potatoes. Without even salt. Because guilt. Also to get one sol of that three to four month all-tater diet out of the way now.

And after this delightful repast I get to do the interview thing on the pony radio. NASA says it looks funny that the only one who hasn’t done it is the one native English speaker. So I’ll answer the same questions, and then I’ll hope Hermes’s reception drops below voice before the follow-ups.


What is your name? Mark Watney.

What did you do on your ship? I was the mission botanist and ship’s engineer for the Ares III Mars mission.

How did you get into space flight? I was finishing up my master’s work in botany when NASA and SpaceX announced the joint Ares program. I figured any decent Mars mission would want a botanist, and I was young and healthy enough to be a good candidate. So instead of getting my doctorate like I’d planned, I got a second master’s in mechanical engineering, because I figured NASA would want someone who could do more than one thing. Turns out I was right.

But when I graduated they’d closed applications for Ares I. So I did field work developing land reclamation systems for high-altitude deserts for a couple of years. I knew there wouldn’t be much botany science on the first two missions, so I didn’t mind sitting on my application. But when they called for more applicants, I put it in.

I was one of two dozen botanists invited for physicals and preliminary training, and I was one of three selected out of the group. And let me tell you, it wasn’t luck. It’s long, hard work becoming an astronaut. You have to have your head in the right place.

Who do you have waiting for you back home? My mom and dad. They really want me to come home safe.

What are your impressions of the aliens? Well, you’ve seen the photos. I wake up every morning and see those innocent, cute little faces. And Fireball’s, but even he’s hard to take seriously. I mean, that big adorable schnozz? C’mon, you can’t help but love him!

But seriously, they’re the strangest mix of grit and goofiness. Some days it’s like I’m the babysitter and they all want me to explain things to them. Other days it’s like being part of a crew, as if the ponies are Ares III that might have been. Part of that is that they come from this magical world where everything’s easier.

Do you look forward to visiting the pony world after your rescue? This may sound chicken to you, but once I have Earth’s atmosphere wrapped around me I don’t plan on ever leaving again. Don’t get me wrong- I’m grateful to NASA for picking me for Ares, and I’ll never forget this experience. But being stranded here for a hundred days has really made it clear just how hostile this place is. Ares was meant to lay the foundation for a future permanent settlement, but as much as we’ve accomplished, we’ve got a long way to go.

Now, if the pony rescue mission gets here first, I’ll gladly go with them to their home. And yeah, I’m curious about their homeworld. But I want to go home one hell of a lot more. And the ponies, well, I’m sure they all want it too.

What will you do when you finally go home? I’m going to eat a pizza. A real, honest-to-God Chicago deep dish pizza. Have you ever had one, a real one I mean? It’s so hot and gooey when it first comes out of the oven. You take one look and you know it’s going to taste SO good. A good Chicago pizza, man, it keeps you warm on a winter night, you know what I mean? And then the next day I pull a leftover slice from the fridge, I stick it in the oven, and it’s just as good as fresh. God, how I want pizza right now.

What is your favorite disco song? “Celebration.” No, seriously, I didn’t know it was disco until I found it in Lewis’s music collection. That song was everywhere when I was a kid. And the ponies all like it, too. I wish you could see Spitfire shaking her butt to the music.

If there were one little thing (not a ship) you could have from home, what would it be? A book called 1001 Recipes When Your Only Ingredient is Potatoes? No, wait, seriously. You know what I really want? I want my bag of D&D dice from home. I haven’t played since college, but the more I’m around unicorns and pegasi and dragons the more I want to play again. I want my dice. I want to feel them in my hands. I’d love to introduce my guests here to that form of human entertainment. Pen, paper, Dew, nachos, and my best friend’s basement- that’s how you make a fun evening.

What message do you have for the people of Earth? I’d like to say this. NASA won’t like me saying this, because we don’t like to remind people that astronauts risk their lives just being up here. But the fact is, I could die up here. We all could. Mars is a dangerous place. But it’s worth it. Space is worth the price.

What I’m doing here, now, is making a path for more people to follow later. My grandchildren will live to see ships flying back and forth from Mars colonies, and I’m a part of that. So if something happens to me, don’t let that stop you. Don’t even let it slow you down.

As crazy as the ponies are sometimes, they understand. They’re not wasting time with their space program. One day they just decided, “Let’s go to space!” And from that day they threw everything they had at it- magic, science, courage, and political will. For most of my lifetime we had the science and the courage, but not the will. Now we’ve got it back. Don’t give it up again.

Author's Notes:

Today is Allergy Day. I can barely see straight, my sinuses hurt that much.

Wrote almost 2000 words anyway so I'd have tomorrow's entry ready.

Another thing that bugged the hell out of me in the original book: there's no good strategic reason for Mark to not eat potatoes immediately. Yet he saves his spuds until he's almost out of meal packs- despite the fact that the meal packs travel a hell of a lot better than loose, freeze-dried, pre-cooked potatoes, and despite the fact that in the book, when he learns Hermes is returning, he's still got about half his food packs left.

"But protein!" Yeah, but protein. The thing that was brought up in the first couple chapters and then barely mentioned ever again.

Commenters have pointed out that whole potatoes have enough protein to live off of, at least short-term. I'm not sure I buy that, but I buy it a lot more than the idea of Mark going totally protein-less, except for five loose meal packs, for over 140 sols, and still (as of about 15 sols prior to launch day) being able to lift a 400 kilogram hull panel off a tall, skinny rocket ship and toss it far enough over the side that it doesn't wreck anything on the way down.

So, this chapter. Which is a little unfortunate, since Mark didn't take time to pre-write his interview answers, so he just kind of rambled.


Next Chapter: Sol 116 Estimated time remaining: 21 Hours, 60 Minutes
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