فصل 16کتاب: مریخی / فصل 16
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Chapter 16 Martinez: Dr. Shields says I need to write personal messages to each of the crew. She says
it’ll keep me tethered to humanity. I think it’s bullsh@t. But hey, it’s an order.
With you, I can be blunt:
If I die, I need you to check on my parents. They’ll want to hear about our time
on Mars first-hand. I’ll need you to do that.
It won’t be easy talking to a couple about their dead son. It’s a lot to ask;
that’s why I’m asking you. I’d tell you you’re my best friend and stuff, but it
would be gay.
I’m not giving up. Just planning for every outcome. It’s what I do.
Guo Ming, Director of the China National Space Administration, examined the expansive paperwork at his desk. In the old days, when
China wanted to launch a rocket, they just launched it. Now, they were compeled by international agreements to warn other nations first.
It was a requirement, Guo Ming noted to himself, that did not apply to the United States. To be fair, the Americans publicly announced
their launch schedules wel in advance, so it amounted to the same.
He walked a fine line filing out the form: Making the launch date and flight path clear, while doing everything possible to “conceal state secrets.”
He snorted at the last requirement. “Ridiculous,” he mumbled. The Taiyang Shen had no strategic or military value. It was an
unmanned probe that would be in Earth orbit less than two days. After that, it would travel to a solar orbit between Mercury and Venus. It would be China’s first heliology probe to orbit the sun.
Yet, the State Council insisted al launches be shrouded in secrecy. Even launches with nothing to hide. This way, other nations could
not infer from lack of openness which launches contained classified payloads.
A knock at the door interrupted his paperwork.
“Come,” Guo Ming said, happy for the interruption.
“Good evening, Sir,” said Under-Director Zhu Tao.
“Tao, welcome back.”
“Thank you, Sir. It’s good to be back in Beijing.”
“How were things at Jiuquan?” asked Guo Ming. “Not too cold, I hope? I’l never understand why our launch complex is in the middle
of the Gobi Desert.”
“It was cold, yet manageable,” Zhu Tao said.
“And how are launch preparations coming along?”
“I am happy to report they are al on-schedule.”
“Excelent,” Guo Ming smiled.
Zhu Tao sat quietly, staring at his boss.
Guo Ming looked expectantly back at him, but Zhu Tao neither stood to leave nor said anything further.
“Something else, Tao?” Guo Ming asked.
“Mmm,” Zhu Tao said, “Of course, you’ve heard about the Iris probe?”
“Yes, I did,” Guo frowned. “Terrible situation. That poor man’s going to starve.”
“Possibly,” Zhu Tao said. “Possibly not.”
Guo Ming leaned back in his chair. “What are you saying?”
“It’s the Taiyang Shen’s booster, Sir. Our engineers have run the numbers, and it has enough fuel for a Mars injection orbit. It could get there in 419 days.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Have you ever known me to ‘kid,’ Sir?”
Guo Ming stood and pinched his chin. Pacing, he said “We can realy send a probe to Mars?”
“It’s hardly notable, Sir,” Zhu Tao said. “We’ve sent several in the past.”
“Yes, I know, but we could realy send the Taiyang Shen?”
“No, Sir,” said Zhu Tao. “It’s far too heavy. The massive heat shielding makes it the heaviest unmanned probe we’ve ever built. That’s
why the booster had to be so powerful. But a lighter payload could be sent al the way to Mars.”
“How much mass could we send?” Guo Ming asked.
“941 kilograms, Sir.”
“Hmm,” Guo Ming said, “I bet NASA could work with that limitation. Why haven’t they approached us?”
“Because they don’t know.” Zhu Tao said. “Al our booster technology is classified information. The Ministry of State Security even
spreads disinformation about our capabilities. This is for obvious reasons.”
“So they don’t know we can help them,” Guo Ming said, “If we decide not to help, no one wil know we could have.”
“For the sake of argument, let’s say we decided to help. What then?”
“Time would be the enemy, Sir,” Zhu Tao answered. “Based on travel duration and the supplies their astronaut has remaining, any such
probe would have to be launched within a month. Even then he would starve a little.”
“That’s right around when we planned to launch Taiyang Shen.”
“Yes, Sir. But it took them two months to build Iris, and it was so rushed it failed.”
“That’s their problem,” Guo Ming said. “Our end would be providing the booster. We’d launch from Jiuquan; we can’t ship an 800-ton
rocket to Florida.”
“Any agreement would hinge on the Americans reimbursing us for the booster,” Zhu Tao said, “and the State Council would likely want
political favors from the US Government.”
“Reimbursement would be pointless,” Guo Ming said. “This was an expensive project, and the State Council grumbled about it al
along. If they had a bulk payout for it’s value, they’d just keep it. We’d never get to build another one.”
He clasped his hands behind his back. “And the American people may be sentimental, but their government is not. The US State
Department won’t trade anything major for one man’s life.”
“So it’s hopeless?” asked Zhu Tao.
“Not hopeless,” Guo Ming corrected. “Just hard. If this becomes a negotiation by diplomats, it wil never resolve. We need to keep this
among scientists. Space agency to space agency. I’l get a translator and cal NASA’s Director. We’l work out an agreement, then present
it to our governments as a fait accompli.”
“But what can they do for us?” Zhu Tao asked. “We’d be giving up a booster and effectively canceling Taiyang Shen. ”
Guo Ming smiled. “They’l give us something we can’t get without them.”
“And that is?”
“They’l put a Chinese astronaut on Mars.”
Zhu Tao stood. “Of course,” he smiled. “The Ares 5 crew hasn’t even been selected yet. We’l insist on a crewman. One we get to pick
and train. NASA and the US State Department would surely accept that. But wil our State Council?”
Guo Ming smiled wryly. “Publicly rescue the Americans? Put a Chinese astronaut on Mars? Have the world see China as equal to the
US in space? The State Council would sel their own mothers for that.”
Teddy listened to the phone at his ear. The voice on the other end finished what it had to say, then fel silent as it awaited an answer.
He stared at nothing in particular as he processed what he’d just heard.
After a few seconds, he replied “Yes.”
Your poster outsold the rest of ours combined. You’re a hot chick who went to
Mars. You’re on dorm-room walls all over the world.
Looking like that, why are you such a nerd? And you are, you know. A serious
nerd. I had to do some computer sh@t to get Pathfinder talking to the rover and oh
my God. And I had NASA telling me what to do every step of the way.
You should try to be more cool. Wear dark glasses and a leather jacket. Carry a
switchblade. Aspire to a level of coolness known only as… “Botanist Cool.”
Did you know Commander Lewis had a chat with us men? If anyone hit on you, we’d
be off the mission. I guess after a lifetime of commanding sailors she’s got an
unfairly jaded view.
Anyway. Try not to think about all those guys wanking to your poster.
“Ok, here we are again,” said Bruce to the assembled heads of JPL. “You’ve al heard about the Taiyang Shen, so you know our
friends in China have given us one more chance. But this time, it’s going to be harder.
“Taiyang Shen wil be ready to launch in 28 days. If it launches on time, our payload wil get to Mars on Sol 624, six weeks after
Watney’s expected to run out of food. NASA’s already working on ways to stretch his supply.
“We made history when we finished Iris in sixty three days. Now we have to do it in twenty eight. ”
He looked across the table to the incredulous faces.
“Folks,” he said, “This is going to be the most ‘ghetto’ spacecraft ever built. There’s only one way to finish that fast: No landing system.”
“Sorry, what?” Jack Trevor stammered.
Bruce nodded. “You heard me. No landing system. We’l need guidance for in-flight course adjustments. But once it gets to Mars, it’s
going to crash.”
“That’s crazy!” Jack said. “It’l be going an insane velocity when it hits!”
“Yep,” Bruce said. “With ideal atmospheric drag, it’l impact at 300 meters per second.”
“What good wil a pulverized probe do Watney?” Jack asked.
“As long as the food doesn’t burn up on the way in, Watney can eat it.” Bruce commented.
Turning to the whiteboard, he began drawing a basic organizational chart . “I want two teams,” He began.
“Team One wil make the outer shel, guidance system, and thrusters. Al we need is for it to get to Mars. I want the safest possible
system. Aerosol propelant would be best. High-gain radio so we can talk to it, and standard satelite navigational software.
“Team Two wil deal with the payload. They need to find a way to contain the food during impact. If protein bars hit sand at 300m/s,
they’l make protein-scented sand. We need them edible after impact.
“We can weigh 941kg. At least 300 of that needs to be food. Get crackin’.”
“Uh, Dr. Kapoor?” Rich said, peeking his head in to Venkat’s office. “Do you have a minute?”
Venkat gestured him in. “You are…?”
“Rich, Rich Purnel,” he said, shuffling in to the office, his arms wrapped around a sheaf disorganized papers. “From astrodynamics.”
“Nice to meet you,” Venkat said. “What can I do for you, Rich?”
“I came up with something a while ago. Spent a lot of time on it.” He dumped the papers on Venkat’s desk. “Lemme find the
Venkat stared forlornly at his once clean desk, now strewn with scores of printouts.
“Here we go!” Rich said triumphantly, grabbing a paper. Then, his expression saddened. “No, this isn’t it.”
“Rich,” Venkat said. “Maybe you should just tel me what this is about?”
Rich looked at the mess of papers and sighed. “But I had such a cool summary…”
“A summary for what?”
“How to save Watney.”
“That’s already in progress,” Venkat said. “It’s a last-ditch effort, but-”
“The Taiyang Shen?” Rich snorted. “That won’t work. You can’t make a Mars probe in a month.”
“We’re sure as hel going to try,” Venkat said, a note of annoyance in his voice.
“Oh sorry, am I being difficult?” Rich asked. “I’m not good with people. Sometimes I’m difficult. I wish people would just tel me.
Anyway, the Taiyang Shen is critical. In fact, my idea won’t work without it. But a Mars probe? Pfft. C’mon.”
“Al right,” Venkat said. “What’s your idea?”
Rich snatched a paper from the desk. “Here it is!” He handed it to Venkat with a child-like smile.
Venkat took the summary and skimmed it. The more he read, the wider his eyes got. “Are you sure about this?”
“Absolutely!” Rich beamed.
“Have you told anyone else?”
“Who would I tel?”
“I don’t know, Venkat said. “Friends?”
“I don’t have any of those.”
“Ok, keep it under your hat.” Venkat said.
“I don’t wear a hat.”
“It’s just an expression.”
“Realy?” Rich said. “It’s a stupid expression.”
“Rich, you’re being difficult.”
Being your backup has backfired.
I guess NASA figured botany and chemistry are similar because they both end in
“Y”. One way or another, I ended up being your back-up chemist.
Remember when they made you spend a day explaining your experiments to me? It was
in the middle of intense mission prep. You may have forgotten.
You started my training by buying me a beer. For breakfast. Germans are awesome.
Anyway, now that I have time to kill, NASA gave me a pile of work. And all your
chemistry crap is on the list. So now I have to do boring-ass experiments with test
tubes and soil and pH levels and Zzzzzzzzzz….
My life is now a desperate struggle for survival… with occasional titration.
Frankly, I suspect you’re a super villain. You’re a chemist, you have a German
accent, you had a base on Mars… what more can there be?
“What the fu@k is ‘Project Elrond’?” Annie asked.
“I had to make something up,” Venkat said.
“So you came up with ‘Elrond’?” Annie pressed.
“Because it’s a secret meeting?” Mitch guessed. “The email said I couldn’t even tel my assistant.”
“I’l explain everything once Teddy arrives.” Venkat said.
“Why does ‘Elrond’ mean ‘secret meeting’?” Annie asked.
“Are we going to make a momentous decision?” Bruge Ng asked.
“Exactly,” Venkat said.
“How did you know that?” Annie asked, getting annoyed.
“Elrond,” Bruce said. “The Council of Elrond. From Lord of the Rings. It’s the meeting where they decide to destroy The One Ring.”
“Jesus,” Annie said. “None of you got laid in high school, did you?”
“Good morning,” Teddy said as he walked in. Seating himself, he rested his hands on the table. “Anyone know what this meeting’s
about?” He asked.
“Wait,” Mitch said, “Teddy doesn’t even know?”
Venkat took a deep breath. “One of our astrodynamicists, Rich Purnel, has found a way to get Hermes back to Mars. The course he
came up with would give Hermes a Mars flyby on Sol 549.”
“You sh@ttin’ us?” Annie demanded.
“Sol 549? How’s that even possible?” Asked Bruce. “Even Iris wouldn’t have landed til Sol 588.”
“Iris was a point-thrust craft,” Venkat said. “Hermes has a constant-thrust ion engine. It’s always accelerating. Also, Hermes has a lot of velocity right now. On their current Earth-intercept course, they have to decelerate for the next month just to slow down to Earth’s
Mitch rubbed the back of his head. “Wow… 549. That’s 35 sols before Watney runs out of food. That would solve everything.”
Teddy leaned forward. “Run us through it, Venkat. What would it entail?”
“Wel,” Venkat began, “If they did this ‘Rich Purnel Maneuver,’ they’d start accelerating right away, to preserve their velocity and gain even more. They wouldn’t intercept Earth at al, but would come close enough to use a gravity assist to adjust course. Around that time,
they’d pick up a re-supply probe with provisions for the extended trip.
“After that, they’d be on an accelerating orbit toward Mars, arriving on Sol 549. Like I said, it’s a Mary flyby. This isn’t anything like a normal Ares mission. They’l be going too fast to fal in to orbit. The rest of the maneuver takes them back to Earth. They’d be home 211
days after the flyby.”
“What good is a flyby?” Bruce asked. “They don’t have any way to get Watney off the surface.”
“Yeah…” Venkat said. “Now for the unpleasant part: Watney would have to get to the Ares-4 MAV.”
“Schiapareli Crater!?” Mitch gaped. “That’s 3,200km away!”
“3,235km to be exact,” Venkat said. “It’s not out of the question. He drove to Pathfinder’s landing site and back. That’s over
“That was over flat, desert terrain,” Bruce chimed in. “But the trip to Schiapareli-”
“Suffice it to say,” Venkat interrupted, “It would be very difficult and dangerous. But we have a lot of clever scientists to help him trick out the rover. Also there would be MAV modifications.”
“What’s wrong with the MAV?” Mitch asked.
“It’s designed to get to low Mars orbit,” Venkat explained. “But Hermes would be on a flyby, so the MAV would have to escape Mars
gravity entirely to intercept.”
“How?” Mitch asked.
“It’d have to lose weight… a lot of weight. I can get rooms ful of people working on these problems if we decide to do this.”
“Earlier,” Teddy said, “You mentioned a supply probe for Hermes. We have that capability?”
“Yes, with the Taiyang Shen,” Venkat said. “We’d shoot for a near-Earth rendezvous. It’s a lot easier than getting a probe to Mars, that’s for sure.”
“I see,” Teddy said. “So we have two options on the table: Send Watney enough food to last until Ares 4, or send Hermes back to get
him right now. Both plans require the Taiyang Shen, so we can only do one.”
“Yes,” Venkat said. “We’l have to pick one.”
They al took a moment to consider.
“What about the Hermes crew?” Annie asked, breaking the silence. “Would they have a problem with adding…” She did some quick
math in her head “533 days to their mission?”
“They wouldn’t hesitate,” Mitch said. “Not for a second. That’s why Venkat caled this meeting.” He cast a disapproving glare at
Venkat. “He wants us to decide instead.”
“That’s right,” Venkat said.
“It should be Commander Lewis’ cal,” Mitch said sternly.
“Pointless to even ask her,” Venkat said. “We need to make this decision; it’s a matter of life and death.”
“She’s the Mission Commander,” Mitch said. “Life and death decisions are her damn job.”
“Easy, Mitch,” Teddy said.
“Bulsh@t,” Mitch said. “You guys have done end-runs around the crew every time something goes wrong. You didn’t tel them Watney
was stil alive, now you’re not teling them there’s a rescue option.”
“We already have a rescue option,” Teddy said. “We’re just discussing another one.”
“The crash-lander?” Mitch said. “Does anyone think that’l work? Anyone?”
“Al right, Mitch,” Teddy said. “You’ve expressed your opinion, and we’ve heard it. Let’s move on.” He turned to Venkat. “Can
Hermes function for 533 days beyond the scheduled mission end?”
“It should,” Venkat said. “The crew may have to fix things here and there, but they’re wel trained. Remember, Hermes was made to do
al 5 Ares missions. It’s only halfway through its designed lifespan.”
“It’s the most expensive thing ever built,” Teddy said. “We can’t make another one. If something went wrong, the crew would die, and
the Ares Program with them.”
“Losing the crew would be a disaster,” Venkat said. “But we wouldn’t lose Hermes. We can remotely operate it. So long as the reactor
and ion engines continued to work, we could bring it back.”
“Space travel is dangerous,” Mitch said. “We can’t make this a discussion about what’s safest.”
“I disagree,” Teddy said. “This is absolutely a discussion about what’s safest. And about how many lives are at stake. Both plans are risky, but resupplying Watney only risks one life while the Rich Purnel Maneuver risks six.”
“Consider degree of risk, Teddy,” Venkat said. “Mitch is right. The crash-lander is high-risk. It could miss Mars, it could re-enter wrong and burn up, it could crash too hard and destroy the food… we estimate 30% chance of success.”
“A near-Earth rendezvous with Hermes is more doable?” Teddy asked.
“Much more doable,” Venkat confirmed. “With sub-second transmission delays, we can control the probe directly from Earth rather
than rely on automated systems. When the time comes to dock, Major Martinez can pilot it remotely from Hermes with no transmission
delay at al. And Hermes has a human crew, able to overcome any hiccups that may happen. And we don’t have to do a reentry; the
supplies don’t have to survive a 300m/s impact.”
“So,” Bruce offered, “We can have a high chance of kiling one person, or a low chance of kiling 6 people. Jeez. How do we even
make this decision?”
“We talk about it, then Teddy makes the decision,” Venkat said. “Not sure what else we can do.”
“We could let Lewis-” Mitch began.
“Yeah, other than that,” Venkat interrupted.
“Question,” Annie said. “What am I even here for? This seems like something for you nerds to discuss.”
“You need to be in the loop,” Venkat said. “We’re not deciding right now. We’l need to quietly research the details internaly.
Something might leak, and you need to be ready to dance around questions.”
“How long have we got to make a decision?” Teddy asked.
“The window for starting the maneuver ends in 39 hours.”
“Al right,” Teddy said. “Everyone, we discuss this only in person or on the phone; never email. And don’t talk to anyone about this, other than the people here. The last thing we need is public opinion pressing for a risky cowboy rescue that may be impossible.”
Hey, man. How ya been?
Now that I’m in a “dire situation,” I don’t have to follow social rules anymore.
I can be honest with everyone.
Bearing that in mind, I have to say… dude… you need to tell Johanssen how you
feel. If you don’t, you’ll regret it forever.
I won’t lie: It could end badly. I have no idea what she thinks of you. Or of
anything. She’s weird.
But wait till the mission’s over. You’re on a ship with her for another two
months. Also, if you guys got up to anything while the mission was in progress,
Lewis would kill you.
Venkat, Mitch, Annie, Bruce, and Teddy met secretly for the second time in as many days. “Project Elrond” had taken on a dark
connotation, veiled in secrecy. Many people knew the name, none knew its purpose.
Speculation ran rampant. Some thought it was a completely new program in the works. Others worried it might be a move to cancel
Ares 4 and 5. Most thought it was Ares 6 in the works.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Teddy said to the assembled elite. “But I’ve decided to go with Iris 2. No Rich Purnel Maneuver.”
Mitch slammed his fist on the table.
“We’l do al we can to make it work,” Bruce said.
“If it’s not too much to ask,” Venkat began. “What made up your mind?”
Teddy sighed. “It’s a matter of risk,” he said. “Iris 2 only risks one life. Rich Purnel risks al six of them. I know Rich Purnel is more likely to work, but I don’t think it’s six times more likely.”
“You fu@king coward,” Mitch said.
“Mitch…” Venkat said.
“You god damned fu@king coward,” Mitch continued, ignoring Venkat. “You just want to cut your losses. You’re on damage control.
You don’t give a sh@t about Watney’s life.”
“Of course I do,” Teddy replied. “And I’m sick of your infantile attitude. You can throw al the tantrums you want, but the rest of us
have to be adults. This isn’t a TV show; the riskier solution isn’t always the best.”
“Space is dangerous,” Mitch snapped. “It’s what we do here. If you want to play it safe al the time, go join an insurance company. And
by the way, it’s not even your life you’re risking. The crew can make up their own minds about it.”
“No they can’t,” Teddy fired back. “They’re too emotionaly involved. Clearly, so are you. I’m not gambling five lives to save one.
Especialy when we might save him without risking them at al.”
“Bulsh@t!” Mitch shot back as he stood from his chair. “You’re just convincing yourself the crash-lander wil work so you don’t have to take a risk. You’re hanging him out to dry, you chicken-sh@t son of a bit@h!”
He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
After a few seconds, Venkat folowed behind, saying “I’l make sure he cools off.”
Bruce slumped in his chair. “Sheesh,” he said, nervously. “We’re scientists, for Christ’s sake. What the hel!?”
Annie quietly gathered her things and placed them in her briefcase.
Teddy looked to her. “Sorry about that, Annie,” he said. “What can I say? Sometimes men let testosterone take over-”
“I was hoping he’d kick your ass,” she interrupted.
“I know you care about the astronauts, but he’s right. You are a fu@king coward. If you had bals we might be able to save Watney.”
Between training and our trip to Mars, I spent 2 years working with you. I think
I know you pretty well. So I’m guessing you blame yourself for my situation.
You were faced with an impossible scenario and made a tough decision. That’s what
Commanders do. And your decision was right. If you’d waited any longer, the MAV
would have tipped.
I’m sure you’ve run through all the possible outcomes in your head, so you know
there’s nothing you could have done differently (other than “be psychic”).
You probably think losing a crewman is the worst thing that can happen. Not
true. Losing the whole crew is worse. You kept that from happening.
But there’s something more important we need to discuss: What is it with you and
Disco? I can understand the ‘70’s TV because everyone loves hairy people with huge
collars. But Disco?
Vogel checked the position and orientation of Hermes against the projected path. It matched, as usual. In addition to being the
mission’s chemist, he was also an accomplished astrophysicist. Though his duties as navigator were laughably easy.
The computer knew the course. It knew when to angle the ship so the ion engines would be aimed correctly. And it knew the location
of the ship at al times (easily calculated from the position of the sun and Earth, and knowing the exact time from an on-board atomic
Barring a complete computer failure or other critical event, Vogel’s vast knowledge of astrodynamics would never come in to play.
Completing the check, he ran a diagnostic on the engines. They were functioning at peak. He did al this from his quarters. Al on-board
computers could control al ship’s functions. Gone were the days of physicaly visiting the engines to check up on them.
Having completed his work for the day, he finaly had time to read email.
Sorting through the messages NASA deemed worthy to upload, he read the most interesting first and responded when necessary. His
responses were cached and would be sent to Earth with Johanssen’s next uplink.
A message from his wife caught his attention. Titled Unsere kinder (“our children”), it contained nothing but an image attachment. He raised an eyebrow. Several things stood out at once. Firstly, “kinder” should have been capitalized. Helena, a grammar school teacher in Bremen, was very unlikely to make that mistake. Also, to each other, they affectionately caled their kids Die Affen.
Attempting to open the image, his viewer reported the file was unreadable.
He walked down the narrow halway. The crew quarters stood against the outer hul of the constantly-spinning ship to maximize
simulated gravity. Johanssen’s door was open, as usual.
“Johanssen. Good evening,” Vogel said. The crew kept the same sleep schedule, and it was nearing bedtime.
“Oh, helo,” Johanssen said, looking up from her computer.
“I have the computer problem,” Vogel explained. “I wonder if you wil help.”
“Sure,” she said.
“You are in the personal time,” Vogel said. “Perhaps tomorrow when you are on the duty is better?”
“Now’s fine,” she said. “What’s wrong?”
“It is a file. It is an image, but my computer can not view.”
“Where’s the file?” she asked, typing on her keyboard.
“It is on my shared space. The name is ‘kinder.jpg’.”
“Let’s take a look,” she said.
Her fingers flew over her keyboard as windows opened and closed on her screen. “Definitely a bad jpg header,” she said. “Probably
mangled in the download. Lemme look with a hex editor, see if we got anything at al…”
After a few moments she said. “This isn’t a jpg. It’s a plain ASCII text file. Looks like… wel I don’t know what it is. Looks like a bunch of math formulae.” She gestured to the screen. “Does any of this make sense to you?”
Vogel leaned in, looking at the text. “Ja,” he said. “It is a course maneuver for Hermes. It says the name is ‘Rich Purnel Maneuver’.”
“What’s that?” Johanssen asked.
“I have not heard of this maneuver.” He looked at the tables. “It is complicated… very complicated…”
He froze. “Sol 549!?” he exclaimed. “Mein Gott!”
The Hermes crew enjoyed their scant personal time in an area caled “The Rec”. Consisting of a table and barely room to seat six, it
ranked low in gravity priority. It’s position amidships granted it a mere 0.2g.
Stil, it was enough to keep everyone in their seats as they pondered what Vogel told them.
“…and then mission would conclude with Earth intercept 211 days later,” he finished up.
“Thank you, Vogel,” Lewis said. She’d heard the explanation earlier when Vogel came to her, but Johanssen, Martinez, and Beck were
hearing it for the first time. She gave them a moment to digest.
“Would this realy work?” Martinez asked.
“Ja,” Vogel nodded. “I ran the numbers. They al check out. It is briliant course. Amazing.”
“How would he get off Mars?” Martinez asked.
Lewis leaned forward. “There was more in the message,” she began. “The maneuver is part of an overal idea NASA had to rescue
Watney. We’d have to pick up a supply near Earth, and he’d have to get to Ares-4’s MAV.”
“Why al the cloak and dagger?” Beck asked.
“According to the message,” Lewis explained. “NASA rejected the idea. They’d rather take a big risk on Watney than a smal risk on
al of us. Whoever snuck it in to Vogel’s email obviously disagreed.”
“So,” Martinez said, “We’re talking about going directly against NASA’s decision?”
“Yes,” Lewis confirmed, “That’s what we’re talking about. If we do the maneuver, they’l have to send the supply ship or we’l die. We
have the opportunity to force their hand.”
“Are we going to do it?” Johanssen asked.
They al looked to Lewis.
“I won’t lie,” she said. “I’d sure as hel like to. But this isn’t a normal decision. This is something NASA expressly rejected. We’re
talking about mutiny. And that’s not a word I throw around lightly.”
She stood and paced slowly around the table. “We’l only do it if we al agree. And before you answer, consider the consequences. If
we mess up the supply rendezvous, we die. If we mess up the Earth gravity assist, we die.
“If we do everything perfectly, we add 533 days to our mission. 533 days of unplanned space travel where anything could go wrong.
Maintenance wil be a hassle. Something might break that we can’t fix. If it’s life-critical, we die.”
“Sign me up!” Martinez smiled.
“Easy, cowboy,” Lewis said. “You and I are military. There’s a good chance we’d be court-martialed when we got home. As for the
rest of you, I guarantee they’l never send you up again.”
Martinez leaned against the wal, arms folded with a half grin on his face. The rest silently considered what their commander had said.
“If we do this,” Vogel said. “It would be over 1000 days of space. This is enough space for a life. I do not need to return.”
“Sounds like Vogel’s in,” Martinez grinned. “Me, too, obviously.”
“Let’s do it,” Beck said.
“If you think it’l work,” Johanssen said to Lewis, “I trust you.”
“Ok,” Lewis said. “If we go for it, what’s involved?”
Vogel shrugged. “I plot the course and execute it,” he said. “What else?”
“Remote Override,” Johanssen said. “It’s designed to get the ship back if we al die or something. They can take over Hermes from
“But we’re right here,” Lewis said. “We can undo whatever they try, right?”
“Not realy,” Johanssen said. “Remote Override takes priority over any on-board controls. Its assumes there’s been a disaster and the
ship’s control panels can’t be trusted.”
“Can you disable it?” Lewis asked.
“Hmm…” Johanssen pondered. “Hermes has four redundant flight computers, each connected to three redundant comm systems. If any
computer gets signal from any comm system, Mission Control can take over. We can’t shut down the comms; we’d lose telemetry and
guidance. We can’t shut down the computers; we need them to control the ship. I’l have to disable the Remote Override on each system…
It’s part of the OS, I’l have to jump over the code… yes. I can do it.”
“You’re sure?” Lewis asked. “You can turn it off?”
“Shouldn’t be hard,” Johanssen said. “It’s an emergency feature, not a security program. It isn’t protected against malicious code.”
“Malicious code?” Beck smiled. “So… you’l be a hacker?”
“Yeah,” Johanssen smiled back. “I guess I wil.”
“Al right,” Lewis said. “Looks like we can do it. But I don’t want peer pressure forcing anyone into it. We’l wait for 24 hours. During
that time, anyone can change their mind. Just talk to me in private or send me an email. I’l cal it off and never tel anyone who it was.”
Lewis stayed behind as the rest filed out. Watching them leave, she saw they were smiling. Al four of them. For the first time since
leaving Mars, they were back to their old selves. She knew right then no one would change their mind.
They were going back to Mars.
Everyone knew Brendan Hutch would be running missions soon.
He rose through the ranks as fast as one could in the large, inertia-bound organization. Known as a diligent worker, his skil and
leadership qualities were plain to al his subordinates.
Brendan was in charge of Mission Control from 1am to 9am every night. Continued excelent performance in this role would certainly
net him a promotion. It was already announced he’d be back-up Flight Controler for Ares-4, and he had a good shot at the top job for
“Flight, CAPCOM,” came a voice through his headset.
“Go CAPCOM,” Brendan responded. Though they were in the same room, radio protocol was observed at al times.
“Unscheduled status update from Hermes.”
With Hermes 90 light-seconds away, back-and-forth voice communication was impractical. Other than media relations, Hermes would
communicate via text until they were much closer.
“Roger,” Brendan said. “Read it out.”
“I… I don’t get it, Flight,” came the confused reply. “No real status, just a single sentence.”
“What’s it say?”
“Message reads: ‘Houston, be advised: Rich Purnel is a steely-eyed missile man.’”
“What?” Brendan asked. “Who the hel is Rich Purnel?”
“Flight, Telemetry,” came another voice.
“Go Telemetry,” Brendan said.
“Hermes is off-course.”
“CAPCOM, advise Hermes they’re drifting. Telemetry, get a correction vector ready-”
“Negative, Flight,” Telemetry interrupted. “It’s not drift. They adjusted course. Instrumentation uplink shows a deliberate 27.812
“What the hel?” Brendan stammered. “CAPCOM, ask them what the hel.”
“Roger Flight… message sent. Minimum reply time 3 minutes, 4 seconds.”
“Telemetry, any chance this is instrumentation failure?”
“Negative, Flight. We’re tracking them with SatCon. Observed position is consistent with the course change.”
“CAPCOM, Read your logs and see what the previous shift did. See if a massive course change was ordered and somehow nobody
“Guidance, Flight.” Brendan said.
“Go Flight,” came the reply from the Guidance Controler.
“Work out how long they can stay on this course before it’s irreversible. At what point wil they no longer be able to intercept Earth?”
“Working on that now, Flight.”
“And somebody find out who the hel Rich Purnel is!”
Mitch sat comfortably in Teddy’s office.
“Why’d you do it, Mitch?” Teddy demanded.
“Do what?” Mitch asked.
“You know damn wel what I’m talking about.”
“Oh, you mean the Hermes mutiny?” Mitch said innocently. “You know, that’d make a good movie title. ‘The Hermes Mutiny.’ Got a
nice ring to it.”
“We know you did it,” Teddy said sternly. “We don’t know how, but we know you sent them the maneuver.”
“I suppose you have proof, then?”
Teddy glared. “No. Not yet, but we’re working on it.”
“Realy?” Mitch said. “Is that really the best use of our time? I mean, we have a near-Earth resupply to plan, not to mention figuring out how to get Watney to Schiapareli. We’ve got a lot on our plates.”
“You’re damn right we have a lot on our plates!” Teddy fumed. “After your little stunt, we’re committed to this thing.”
“Alleged stunt,” Mitch said. “I suppose Annie wil tel the media we decided to try this risky maneuver? And she’l leave out the mutiny part?”
“Of course,” Teddy said. “Otherwise we’d look like idiots.”
“Guess that’s me off the hook then!” Mitch smiled. “Can’t fire me for enacting NASA policy. Allegedly enacting it, that is. I guess Lewis is off the hook, too. And maybe Watney gets to live. Happy endings al around!”
“You may have kiled the whole crew,” Teddy countered. “Ever think of that?”
“Whomever gave them the maneuver,” Mitch said, “only passed along information. Lewis made the decision to act on it. If she let
emotion cloud her judgment, she’d be a sh@tty commander. And she’s not a sh@tty commander.”
“If I can ever prove it was you, I’l find a way to fire you for it.” Teddy warned.
“Sure,” Mitch shrugged. “But if I wasn’t wiling to take risks to save lives, I’d…” He thought for a moment. “Wel, I guess I’d be you.”
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