The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 77: Sol 119

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Yeah. Last night was a bad one. We had our first dust storm since the Hab blew out.

In my head I know that the Hab repairs are sound. The atmospheric regulator checks the air pressure in the hab as constant. Spitfire hasn’t twitched an ear. And I know from training and engineering study that the Hab canvas and resin are just as strong at the repair point, if not stronger, than any other part of the hab.

But every little hiss and rattle of dust hitting the Hab made me twitch in horror. Was that the seal failing again? Was that? Is another tear starting? How would I know? If the Hab breached while I was asleep, would I wake up just long enough to know I was suffocating? Or would I just drift off, never waking up?

So yeah, fun night of not-sleep I had.

Dragonfly woke up and let me hug her for a while. Her chitin is surprisingly pliable. I eventually got back to sleep once the storm blew out, but by then it wasn’t long until dawn anyway.

To make things even better, when I woke up, NASA decided to finally smack my knuckles for the photographic rebellion a couple days ago. I was tired, shaken up, and pissed off, so I just told NASA they could talk to the ponies about it instead, because I hadn’t been able to sleep due to the dust storm. I handed the computer to Spitfire and Starlight and went back to sleep, or pretended to, at least. I kept my eyes shut until NASA and the ponies worked out a compromise statement that, incidentally, let me off the hook.

Of course I traded off one bit of NASA meddling for another. When I woke up there was an email from Dr. Shields asking me to talk about last night. I thought about it while I was cleaning off the solar panels (because dust storm), and eventually I decided to share with her to see if there was anything she could do about it.

The answer? Meditation. It’s not surprising that I’m a prime candidate for PTSD. Yet another thing I have to thank this lovely, welcoming planet for. But the most effective therapies for PTSD can’t really be done long-distance. But Shields provided some mental exercises that might help disconnect the triggers for my anxiety attacks like I had last night. So the next time I have night terrors, I just contemplate my navel until they go away.

She also pointed out that my fears are far from irrational. Goddamn right they’re not irrational. I am, not to belabor the point, on a hostile planet totally unsuitable for life above, if we’re very generous, the bacterial level. It’s freezing cold, there’s almost no air, the soil is toxic, and if I were able to survive all of that, I’d still die of lethal levels of sunburn from UV radiation.

The problem is, my very rational and sensible terror of the conditions I’m living with on a daily basis threatens to paralyze me, and I can’t afford that. But it’s nice to have a psychologist say that I’m not crazy for thinking this planet wants to KILL me.

That’s not paranoia. It’s a perfectly reasonable and justified conclusion based on empirical data.

Anyway, Dr. Shields suggested I would also feel better for writing out all my feelings in this log. She has a point. Even granted I’m going to catch shit from NASA and all you Earthlings who hang on my every word whenever NASA deigns to release my log excerpts (I’m looking at you, Mr. Downey, and I bet you’re regretting that email now), it feels good to share with somebody.

Dragonfly just asked if she didn’t count as somebody, and I had to spend several minutes explaining everything to her. It put her in a thoughtful frame of mind, so that’s something good, at least.

Anyway, all of that is to explain why I’m writing a log about this when normally I wouldn’t bore you with my mental crap. Instead I’d bore you with how I spent my afternoon arguing with NASA about whether or not I should be allowed to open up the water reclaimer and clean the clogs out of the plumbing. All the other diagnostics check out, so it’s clearly a clog from sediment and other crud in the water from the Hab farm. But NASA is afraid I’ll break something unless they give me detailed step-by-step instructions, which will take days.

Long story short, I’ve got a screwdriver in my hand and the wrenches next to the reclaimer, and I’m ready to perform surgery. Next time NASA decides to bitch at me about a breach of protocol, I’ll actually have done something to deserve it.

Still won’t feel guilty, though.


Department of Media Relations
Annie Montrose, director


NASA regards the recent comedy work by the person calling themselves “Filthy Fred” as in poor taste, considering that the persons involved remain in a situation of potentially deadly peril. Mocking people engaged in a daily struggle for survival and rescue on a hostile planet reflects poorly on humanity in general.

Aside from these points, NASA has no direct comment on the so-called “interview”. The aliens currently sharing the Ares III Hab with astronaut Mark Watney, on the other hand, are not NASA personnel. Two of them, Starlight Glimmer and Spitfire, have issued their own statement, along with the series of photos taken by Mark Watney being released along with this statement. (The photos were withheld beyond their usual time due to the need to ensure the translation of the alien message was accurate.) NASA honors their right to express their own views, but wishes it made clear that their views are not those of NASA.

Quoting Starlight and Spitfire:

Our personal lives are really none of your business. But if Filthy Fred is so interested, Spitfire sees no reason not to show him what he’ll never, never have. Hopefully it will cheer his lonely, lonely life to see it, even if he will never know what it feels like.

For the rest of you humans who weren’t raised in a barn, we have a special message. We are adults and professionals. We are not children to be coddled or mocked. We deserve the same respect you would give Mark Watney or your other astronauts. We have people like Filthy Fred in our world and know how to deal with them. When you try to protect us, you insult us by trying to make us children, and you give Filthy Fred and his friends power they have not earned or deserved.

With this in mind, we refuse to answer any questions of any kind from anybody about any relations between any of us in the Hab. Mind your own business, and try to be less pathetic than Filthy Fred.


Author's Notes:

I was going to go one, maybe two more chapters of character filler before getting down to focus on Sleipnir. But this one is growing. And I've also remembered that I need to address Starlight's return to active duty and various survival issues I'm developing. I shovel harder, but the dirt pile in front of me is growing instead of shrinking.

Since I reported "buffer zero" last night, I've written almost 4,000 words- almost all fluff, but it buys me some time. This is important because I've just found out that the odds are very good that I will be on the road for a very prolonged time in the near future, with very little writing time... which means I need to use my time next week for working on as much of my taxes as possible, among other things.

So, this is the first of four filler chapters focusing on communications with Dr. Shields, a character who appears on-screen in precisely one scene in the original book. The original book was much more about problem-solving than people. This story is as much, if not more, a first-contact story than a strict problem-solving exercise. That said, if I had more energy and time I probably wouldn't have bothered with this tangent.

Sol 119 was the day the airlock blew out in the original book. And yes, there was a dust storm the night before. And yes, a few days before Mark had a radio tiff with NASA over the water reclaimer.

-30- is old typographer's code for "this is where the article ends." I don't know if NASA uses it now, never mind twenty years from now, but I like it so I'm using it here.

Next Chapter: Sol 120 Estimated time remaining: 21 Hours, 48 Minutes
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