The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 91: Sol 162

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Half a ton of hay. Or, at least, close enough.

The new planting of alfalfa seed hadn’t prospered quite as well as its older brothers- not surprising, since alfalfa plants generate a chemical that inhibits seed propagation right next to them. But it did well enough to contribute to the overall total. Alfalfa salads for all, even me, tonight! (But this time I’m leaving the stalks out. Leaves only, in a beaker.)

And believe me, we’ve earned the fresh meal tonight, after the work we did today. Shifting half a ton of hay by hand through two airlocks is long, hard, back-breaking, time-consuming work. And tomorrow we shift it through two more. And after a day or two to rest, we go back and harvest the potatoes. More fun.

We’ve been crossing over here and there with the food supplies, so my estimates for food duration aren’t exact. The ponies have been eating mostly alfalfa with a bit of potato and the (very) occasional tidbit from my meal packs. I’ve been eating (mostly) one meal pack per day plus two meals of potatoes with all I can stomach (not much) of dried alfalfa leaves.

I dread the day the food packs run out. Microwaved baked potatoes, even encrusted with salt, are sickening day in and day out. I would happily go back to 19th Century Ireland and trade all my spuds and possibly Fireball too in exchange for one packet of cabbage seeds. Broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, Brussels sprouts all would be nice, but I’d settle for cabbage. Because it’s NOT POTATOES.

Of course, I’d die if I did that, because cabbage has a lot fewer calories per pound than potatoes. All I’m saying is, I am getting really, really sick of potatoes.

But getting back to where I was going before my mental airplane got redirected from O’Hare to Milwaukee. Roughly speaking, if the ponies ate alfalfa and only alfalfa, they would now run out of food on… drum roll please?

…. Sol 360! Not bad when, sixty sols ago, they were down to fifty veggie food packs from starvation!

We can’t quit, though. Assuming Sleipnir 1 launches on time, it’ll arrive here on or about Sol 583. We need at least two more hay harvests, plus at least one really good tater harvest, to get that far. And all sorts of things can go wrong. The list of lost Mars probes is a long one. Granted that none of them have been Ares presupply probes (yet), there’s a first time for everything.

And, of course, the growing things are a major morale booster. Cherry Berry and Dragonfly alternate daily trips to the cave. I go once a week, and even months after we began it takes my breath away. And you should see Spitfire smile when she flies, even if she has to beat her wings like hell to stay up.

In other news, Cherry Berry is beating the MDV flight sims into submission. Her English has improved by leaps and bounds, at least when it comes to pronouncing the words on the preflight checklist. She’s consistently getting the simulated MAV to orbit on manual control from start to finish. It’s about time to start giving her in-flight emergencies, which I’ll coach the others on soon. Spitfire and Fireball have taken their turns as well, but they jump out of the hot seat any time Cherry expresses an interest.

The last couple of days I’ve been using Sojourner to teach Dragonfly how to use my electrical tools. Most of them are familiar to her in a slightly different shape. The main difference is that their computer electronics are way behind ours- at least fifteen years behind what was packed inside Sojourner, at least. But she wants to bring the probe back to life. We’ve cannibalized a battery from one of the weather stations which fits a little loosely inside Sojourner but provides enough power- in theory- to let the little rover run. If it’s fixable, Dragonfly will find it.

Finally, a sad note: the last cleaning wipe was recycled today. We ran out of hand soap a week ago. The only cleaning agents we have from here on are water and friction. I’m exploring other options, but the best ones require fatty acids we don’t have to spare.

In related news, I now know that the longest-running series of horror novels and films on the pony homeworld, going back some two hundred years according to Starlight Glimmer, takes place inside a glue factory.

Yes, a glue factory.

I haven’t decided yet whether to stop making that joke… or to start thinking of novel and unconventional applications.

I still owe Spitfire for “crunch crunch crunch.”

Author's Notes:

If you're at SakuraCon this weekend and looking for me, I'm working the Pegasus Publishing booth. It's in the far back left-hand corner, across the aisle from the mens' restrooms.

Next Chapter: Sols 167-168 Estimated time remaining: 20 Hours, 42 Minutes
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