فصل 24

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فصل 24

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Chapter 24 The department heads stared at the satelite image on the projection screen.

“Jesus,” Mitch said. “What the hel happened?”

“The rover’s on its side,” Mindy said, pointing to the screen. “The trailer’s upside down. Those rectangles scattered around are solar cels.”

Venkat put a hand on his chin. “Do we have any information on the state of the rover pressure vessel?”

“Nothing obvious,” Mindy said.

“Any signs of Watney doing something after the accident? An EVA maybe?”

“No EVA,” Mindy said. “The weather’s clear. If he’d come out there’d be visible footsteps.”

“Is this the entire crash site?” Bruce Ng asked.

“I think so,” Mindy said. “Up toward the top of the photo, which is North, there are ordinary wheel tracks. Right here,” she pointed to a large disturbance in the soil, “is where I think things went wrong. Judging by where that ditch is, I’d say the rover roled and slid from there.

You can see the trench it left behind. The trailer flipped forward on to its roof.”

“I’m not saying everything’s ok,” Bruce said, “but I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks.”

“Go on,” Venkat said.

“The rover’s designed to handle a rol,” Bruce explained. “And if there’d been pressure loss there’d be a starburst pattern in the sand. I don’t see anything like that.”

“Watney may stil be hurt inside,” Mitch said. “He could have banged his head or broken an arm or something.”

“Sure,” Bruce said. “I’m just saying the rover is probably ok.”

“When was this taken?”

Mindy checked her watch. “We got it 17 minutes ago. We’l get another pic in 9 minutes when MGS4’s orbit brings it in view.”

“First thing he’l do is an EVA to assess damage,” Venkat said. “Mindy, keep us posted on any changes.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 498

Hmm.

Yeah.

Things don’t go wel on the descent in to Schiapareli Basin. To give you some indication of how unwel they went, I’m reaching up to

the computer to type this. Because it’s stil mounted near the control panel, and the rover is on its side.

I got bounced around a lot, but I’m a wel-honed machine in times of crisis. As soon as the rover toppled, I curled in to a bal and

cowered. That’s the kind of action hero I am.

It worked, too. Cause I’m not hurt.

The pressure vessel is intact, so that’s a plus. The valves that lead to the trailer hoses are shut. Probably means the hoses disconnected.

And that means the trailer junction snapped. Wonderful.

Looking around the interior here, I don’t think anything is broken. The water tanks stayed sealed. There aren’t any visible leaks in the air tanks. The bedroom came unfolded and it’s al over the place, but it’s just canvas so it can’t have gotten too hurt.

The driving controls are ok, and the Nav Computer is teling me the rover is at an “unacceptably dangerous tilt.” Thanks, Nav!

So I roled. That’s not the end of the world. I’m alive and the rover’s fine. I’m more worried about the solar cels I probably roled over.

Also, since the trailer detached there’s a good chance it’s fu@ked up, too. The baloon roof it has isn’t exactly durable. If it popped, the sh@t inside wil have flung out in al directions and I’l have to go find it. That’s my critical life support.

Speaking of life support, the rover switched over to the local tanks when the valves shut. Good boy, Rover! Here’s a Scooby-Snack.

I’ve got 20L of oxygen (enough to keep me breathing for 40 days) but without the Regulator (which is in the trailer) I’m back to

chemical CO2 absorption. I have 312 hours of filters left. Plus I have another 171 hours of EVA suit CO2 filters as wel. Al told, they’l last 483 hours, which is close to 20 sols. So I have time to get things working again.

I’m realy damn close to the MAV now. About 220km. I’m not going to let something like this stop me from getting there. And I don’t

need everything to work at top form anymore. I just need the rover to work for 220 more kilometers and the life support to work for 51

more sols. That’s it.

Time to suit up and look for the trailer.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 498 (2)

I had an EVA and things aren’t too bad. Mind you, they’re not good.

I trashed 3 solar cels. They’re under the rover and cracked al to hel. They might stil be able to piss out out a few watts, but I’m not

holding out much hope. I did come in to this with one extra solar cel. I needed 28 for my daily operations and I brought 29 (14 on the

rover’s roof, 7on the trailer’s roof, and 8 on the makeshift shelves I instaled on the sides of both vehicles.)

I tried pushing the rover over, but I wasn’t strong enough. I’l need to rig something to get a leverage advantage. Other than being on its side, I don’t see any real problems.

Wel, that’s not true. The tow hook is fu@ked beyond repair. Half of it ripped clean off. Fortunately, the trailer also has a tow hook, so I have a spare.

The trailer’s in a precarious situation. It’s upside-down and sitting on the inflated roof. I’m not sure which god smiled down on me and kept that baloon from popping, but I’m grateful. My first priority wil be righting it. The longer it puts weight on that baloon, the larger the chances it’l pop.

While I was out, I colected the 26 solar cels that aren’t under the rover and set them up to recharge my batteries. May as wel, right?

So right now, I have a few problems to tackle: First, I need to right the trailer. Or at least get the weight off the baloon. Next, I need to right the rover. Finaly, I need to replace the rover’s tow hook with the one on the trailer.

Also, I should spel out a message for NASA. They’re probably worried.

Mindy read the Morse code aloud. “Roled. Fixing now.”

“What? That’s it?” Venkat said over the phone.

“That’s al he said,” she reported, cradling the phone as she typed out an email to the list of interested parties.

“Just three words? Nothing about his physical health? His equipment? His supplies?”

“You got me,” she said. “He left a detailed status report. I just decided to lie for no reason.”

“Funny,” Venkat said. “Be a smart-ass to a guy seven levels above you at your company. See how that works out.”

“Oh no,” Mindy said. “I might lose my job as an interplanetary voyeur? I guess I’d have to use my Master’s degree for something else.”

“I remember when you were shy.”

“I’m space paparazzi now. The attitude comes with the job.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Venkat said. “Just send the email.”

“Already sent.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 499

I had a busy day today and I got a lot done.

I started out pretty sore. I had to sleep on the wal of the rover. The bedroom won’t work when the airlock is facing up. I did get to use the bedroom, somewhat. I folded it up and used it as a bed.

Anyway, suffice to say the wal of the rover wasn’t made for sleeping on. But after a morning potato and Vicodin, I was feeling much

better.

At first I figured my top priority was the trailer. Then I changed my mind. After taking a good look at it, I decided I’d never be able to right it by myself. I’d need the rover.

So today was focused on getting the rover righted.

I brought al my tools along on this trip, figuring I’d need them for the MAV modifications. And along with them I brought cabling. Once

I get set up at the MAV, my solar cels and batteries wil be in a fixed position. I don’t want to move the rover around every time I use a dril on the far side of the MAV. So I brought al the electrical cabling I could fit.

Good thing, too. Because it doubles as rope.

I dug up my longest cable. It’s the same one I used to power the dril that destroyed Pathfinder. I cal it my “Lucky Cable.”

I plugged one end in to the battery and the other in to the infamous sample dril. Then walked off with the dril to find solid ground.

Once I found it, I kept going until I’d gone as far as the electrical line would reach. I drove a 1-meter bit half a meter into a rock, unplugged the power line, and tied it around the base of the bit.

Then I went back to the rover and tied off the cord to the roof-rack bar on the high side. Now I had a long, taut line running

perpendicular to the rover.

I walked to the middle of the cord and puled it lateraly. The leverage advantage on the rover was huge. I only hoped it wouldn’t break

the dril bit before it tipped the rover.

I backed away, puling the line more and more. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be me. I had Archimedes on my side. The

rover finaly tipped.

It fel on to its wheels, kicking up a large cloud of soft dust. It was a silent affair. I was far enough away that the thin atmosphere had no hope of carrying the sound to me.

I untied the power line, liberated the dril bit, and returned to the rover. I gave it a ful system’s check. That’s a boring-as-hel task but I had to do it. Every system and subsystem was working correctly.

JPL did a damn good job making these rovers. If I get back to Earth, I’m buying Bruce Ng a beer. Though I guess I should buy al the

JPL guys a beer.

Beers for fu@king everyone if I get back to Earth.

Anyway, with the rover back on its wheels it was time to work on the trailer. Problem is, I’m in a crater.

I had gotten most of the way down the Ramp when I roled the rover. And the Ramp is up against the western edge of the crater. So

the sun sets realy early from my point of view. I’m in the shadow of the western wal. And that royaly sucks.

Mars is not Earth. It doesn’t have a thick atmosphere to bend light and carry particles that reflect light around corners. It’s damn-near a vacuum here. Once the sun isn’t visible, I’m in the dark. Phobos gives me some moonlight, but not enough to work with. Deimos is a little piece of sh@t that’s no good to anyone.

Long story short: I ran out of daylight. I hate to leave the trailer sitting on its baloon for another night, but there’s not much else I can do. I figure it’s survived a whole day like that. It’s probably stable for now.

And hey, with the rover righted, I get to use the bedroom again! It’s the simple things in life that matter.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 500

When I woke up this morning, the trailer hadn’t popped yet. So that was a good start.

The trailer was a bigger chalenge than the rover. I only had to tip the rover. I’d need to completely flip the trailer. That requires lot more force than yesterday’s little leverage trick.

The first step was to drive the rover to near the trailer. Then came the digging.

Oh god the digging.

The trailer was upside down with its nose pointed downhil. I decided the best way to right it was to take advantage of the slope and

rol the trailer over its nose. Basicaly to make it do a somersault to land on its wheels.

I can make this happen by tying off the cable to the rear of the trailer and towing with the rover. But if I tried that without digging a hole first, the trailer would just slide along the ground. I needed it to tip up. I needed a hole for the nose to fal in to.

So I dug a hole. A hole one by three meters, and one meter deep. It took me four miserable hours of hard labor, but I got it done.

I hopped in the rover and drove it downhil, dragging the trailer with me. As I’d hoped, the trailer nosed in to the hole and tipped up.

From there, it fel on to its wheels with a huge plume of dust.

Then I sat for a moment, dumbstruck that my plan actualy worked.

And now I’m out of daylight again. I can’t wait to get out of this fu@king shadow. Al I need is one day of driving toward the MAV and

I’l be away from the wal. But for now, it’s another early night.

I’l spend tonight without the trailer to manage my life support. It may be righted, but I have no idea if the sh@t inside stil works. The rover stil has ample supplies for me.

I’l spend the rest of the evening enjoying a potato. And by “enjoying” I mean “hating so much I want to kil people.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 501

I started the day with some Nothin’ Tea. Nothin’ Tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’. I experimented with

Potato Skin Tea a few weeks ago. The less said about that the better.

I ventured in to the trailer today. Not an easy task. It’s pretty cramped in there; I had to leave my EVA suit in the airlock.

The first thing I noticed was that it was realy hot in there. It took me a few minutes to work out why.

The Atmospheric Regulator was stil in perfect working order, but it had nothing to do. Without being connected to the rover, it no

longer had my CO2 production to deal with. The atmosphere in the trailer was perfect, why change anything?

With no regulation necessary, the air was not being pumped out to the AREC for freeze-separation. And thus it wasn’t coming back in

as a liquid in need of heating.

But remember, the RTG gives off heat al the time. You can’t stop it. So the heat just built up. Eventualy, things reached a balance point where the heat bled through the hul as fast as the RTG could add it. If you’re curious, that balance point was a sweltering 41C.

I did a ful diagnostic on the Regulator and Oxygenator and I’m happy to report both are working perfectly.

The RTG’s water tank was empty, which is no surprise. It was an open top, not intended to be turned upside down. The floor of the

trailer has a lot of puddled water that took me quite a while to sop up with my jumpsuit. I topped the tank off with some more water from a sealed container that I’d stored in the trailer earlier. Remember, I need that water to have something for the returning air to bubble through.

That’s my heating system.

But al things considered, it was good news. The critical components are working fine, and both vehicles are back on their tires.

The hoses that connected the rover and trailer were designed wel, and released without breaking. I simply snapped them back in to

place and the vehicles were sharing life support again.

The one remaining thing to fix was the tow hook. It was absolutely ruined. It took the ful force of the crash. As I suspected, the trailer’s tow hook was unscathed. So I transferred it to the rover and reconnected the two vehicles for travel.

Al told, that little fender-bender cost me 4 sols. But now I’m back in action!

Sort of.

What if I run in to another powder pit? I got lucky this time. Next time I might not get off so easy. I think this was sort of a freak

accident. The problem was that one wheel was on solid ground while the other was on soft powder.

I need a way to know if the ground in front of me is safe. At least for the duration of my time on The Ramp. Once I’m in the Schiapareli Basin proper, I can count on the normal sandy terrain I’m used to.

If I could have anything, it would be a radio to ask NASA the safe path down the Ramp. Wel, if I could have anything, it would be for the green-skinned yet beautiful Queen of Mars to rescue me so she can learn more about this Earth thing caled “lovemaking”.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a woman. Just sayin’.

Anyway, to ensure I don’t crash again, I’l– Seriously… no women in like, years. I don’t ask for much. And believe me, a Botanist /

Mechanical Engineer doesn’t exactly have ladies lined up at the door. But stil, c’mon.

Anyway. I’l drive slower. Like… a crawl. That should give me enough time to react if one wheel starts to sink. Also, the lower speed

wil give me more torque, making it less likely I lose traction.

Up til now I’ve been driving 25kph, so I’m going to cut that to 5kph. I’m stil toward the top of the Ramp, but the whole thing is only

40km. I can take my time and get safely to the bottom. It should take about 8 hours.

I’l do it tomorrow. I’m already out of daylight again today. That’s another bonus: Once I clear the ramp, I can start bee-lining toward

the MAV, which wil take me away from the crater wal. I’l be back to enjoying the entire day’s sunlight instead of just half of it.

If I get back to Earth, I’l be famous, right? A fearless astronaut who beat al the odds, right? I bet women like that.

More motivation to stay alive.

“So it looks like he’s fixed everything,” Mindy explained. “And his message today was ‘ALL BETTER NOW’ so I guess he’s got

everything working.”

She surveyed the smiling faces of the meeting room.

“Awesome.” Mitch said.

“Great news,” Bruce’s voice came in through the speakerphone.

Venkat leaned forward to the speakerphone “How are the MAV modification plans coming, Bruce? Is JPL going to have that

procedure soon?”

“We’re working around the clock on it,” Bruce said. “We’re past most of the big hurdles. Working out the details now.”

“Good, good,” Venkat said. “Any surprises I should know about?”

“Um…” Bruce said. “Yeah, a few. This might not be the best venue for it. I’l be back in Houston with the procedure in a day or two.

We can go through it then.”

“Ominous,” Venkat said. “But ok. We’l pick it up later.”

“Can I spread the word?” Annie asked. “It’d be nice to see something other than the rover crash site on the news tonight.”

“Definitely,” Venkat said. “It’l be nice to have some good news for a change. Mindy, how long until he gets to the MAV?”

“At his usual rate of 90km per sol,” Mindy said, “he should get there on Sol 504. Sol 505 if he takes his time. He always drives in the

early morning, finishing around noon.” She checked an application on her laptop. “Noon on Sol 504 wil be 11:41am this Wednesday here

in Houston. Noon on Sol 505 wil be 12:21pm on Thursday.”

“Mitch, who’s handling Ares 4 MAV communication?”

“The Ares 3 mission control team,” Mitch replied. “It’l be in control room 2”.

“I assume you’l be there?”

“Bet your ass I’l be there.”

“So wil I.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 502

Every Thanksgiving, my family used to drive from Chicago to Sandusky, an 8-hour drive. It’s where Mom’s sister lived. Dad would

always drive, and he was the slowest, most cautious driver who ever took the wheel.

Seriously. He drove like he was taking a driver’s test. Never exceeded the speed limit, always had his hands at 10 and 2, adjusted

mirrors before each outing, you name it.

It was infuriating. We’d be on the freeway, cars blowing by left and right. Some of them would blare their horns because, honestly,

driving the speed limit makes you a road hazard. I wanted to get out and push.

I felt that way al damn day today. 5km/h is literaly a walking pace. And I drove that speed for eight hours.

But the slow speed ensured that I wouldn’t fal in to anymore powder pits along the way. And of course I didn’t encounter any. I could

have driven ful speed and had no problems. But better safe than sorry.

The good news is I’m off the Ramp. I camped out as soon as the terrain flattened out. I’ve already overdone my driving time for the

day. I could go further, I stil have 15% battery power or so, but I want to get as much daylight on my solar cels as I can.

I’m in the Schiapareli Basin at last! Far from the crater wal, too. I get a ful day of sunlight every day from now on.

I decided it was time for a very special occasion. I ate the meal pack labeled “Survived Something That Should Have Kiled Me.” Oh

my god, I forgot how good real food tastes.

With luck, I’l get to eat “Arrival” in a few sols.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 503

I didn’t get as much recharge I usualy would yesterday. Because of my extended driving time, I only recharged to 70% before night

fel. So today’s driving was abbreviated.

I got 63km before I had to camp out again. But I don’t even mind. Because I’m only 148km from the MAV. That means I’l get there

the sol after tomorrow.

Holy hel, I’m realy going to make it!

LOG ENTRY: SOL 504

Holy sh@t this is awesome! Holy sh@t! Holy sh@t!

Ok calm. Calm.

I made 90km today. By my estimate, I’m 50km from the MAV. I should get there some time tomorrow. I’m excited about that, but

here’s what I’m realy stoked about: I caught a blip from the MAV!

NASA has the MAV broadcasting the Ares 3 Hab homing signal. Why wouldn’t they? It makes perfect sense. Unlike my worn out

sh@t, the MAV is a sleek, perfectly functional machine, ready to do what it’s told. And they have it pretending to be the Ares 3 Hab so my rover wil see the signal and tel me where it is.

That is an exceptionally good idea! I won’t have to wander around looking for the thing. I’m going straight to it.

I only caught a blip. I’l get more as I get closer. It has three redundant methods of communicating with Earth, but they’re extremely

directed and are designed for line-of-sight communication. It’s strange to think that a sand dune wil stop me from hearing what the MAV

has to say, but it can talk to Earth no problem. Wel, there aren’t any sand dunes between it and Earth when they talk.

Somehow they messed with things to make a radial signal, however weak it may be. And I heard it!

My message for the day was “GOT BEACON SIGNAL.” If I’d had enough rocks, I would have added “AWESOME fu@kING

IDEA!!!” But it’s a realy sandy area.

The MAV waited in southwestern Schiapareli. It stood an impressive 27 meters tal, its conical body gleaming in the midday sun.

The rover crested a nearby dune with the trailer in tow. It slowed for a few moments, then continued toward the ship at top speed. It

came to a stop 20 meters away.

There it remained for ten minutes while the astronaut inside suited up.

He stumbled excitedly out of the airlock, faling to the ground then scrambling to his feet. Beholding the MAV, he gestured to it with

both arms, as if in disbelief.

He leaped in to the air several times, arms held high with fists clenched. Then he knelt on one knee and fist-pumped repeatedly.

Running to the spacecraft, he hugged Landing Strut B. After a few moments, he broke off the embrace to perform another round of

leaping celebrations.

Now fatigued, the astronaut stood with arms akimbo, looking up at the sleek lines of the engineering marvel before him.

Climbing the ladder on the landing stage, he reached the ascent stage and entered the airlock. He sealed the door behind him.

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