فصل 26

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فصل 26

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Chapter 26

They gathered.

Everywhere on Earth, they gathered.

From Trafalgar Square to Tienanmen Square to Times Square, they watched on giant screens. In offices they huddled around computer

monitors. In bars, they stared silently at the TV in the corner. In homes they sat breathlessly on their couches, their eyes glued to the story playing out.

In Chicago, a couple clutched each other’s hands as they watched. The man held his wife gently as she rocked back and forth out of

sheer terror. The NASA representative knew not to disturb them, but stood ready to answer any questions should they ask.

“Fuel Pressure green,” Johanssen’s voice said from a bilion televisions. “Engine alignment perfect. Communications 5 by 5. We are

ready for preflight checklist, Commander.”

“Copy,” came Lewis’s voice. “CAPCOM”

“Go,” Johanssen responded.

“Guidance.”

“Go,” Johanssen said again.

“Remote Command.”

“Go,” said Martinez.

“Pilot.”

“Go,” said Watney from the MAV.

A mild cheer coruscated through the crowds worldwide.

Mitch sat at his station in mission control. They monitored everything and were ready to help in any way the could. The communication

latency between Hermes and Earth made any such need highly unlikely.

“Telemetry,” Lewis’s voice said over the speakers.

“Go,” Johanssen responded.

“Recovery,” she continued.

“Go,” said Beck from the airlock.

“Secondary Recovery.”

“Go,” said Vogel from beside Beck.

“Mission control, this is Hermes Actual,” Lewis reported. “We are go for launch and wil proceed on schedule. We are T minus four

minutes, 10 seconds to launch… mark.”

“Did you get that, Timekeeper?” Mitch said.

“Affirmative, flight,” came the response. “Our clocks are synched with theirs.”

“Not that we can do anything,” Mitch mumbled, “But at least we’l know what’s supposedly happening.”

“About four minutes, Mark,” Lewis said into her mic. “How you doing down there?”

“Eager to get up there, Commander,” Watney responded.

“We’re going to make that happen,” Lewis said. “Remember, you’l be puling some pretty heavy G’s. It’s ok to pass out. You’re in

Martinez’s hands.”

“Tel that asshole no barrel-rols.”

“Copy that, MAV,” Lewis said.

“Four more minutes,” Martinez said, cracking his knuckles. “You ready for some flying, Beth?”

“Yeah,” Johanssen said. “It’l be strange to sysop a launch and stay in zero-g the whole time.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Martinez said, “but yeah. I’m not going to be squashed against the back my seat. Weird.”

Beck floated in the airlock, tethered to a wal-mounted spool. Vogel stood beside him, his boots clamped to the floor. Both stared

through the open outer door to the red planet below.

“Didn’t think I’d be back here again,” Beck said.

“Yes,” Vogel said. “We are the first.”

“First what?”

“We are the first to visit Mars twice.”

“Oh yeah. Even Watney can’t say that.”

“He cannot.”

They looked at Mars in silence for a while.

“Vogel,” Beck said.

“Ja.”

“If I can’t reach Mark, I want you to release my tether.”

“Doctor Beck,” Vogel said, “The Commander has said no to this.”

“I know what the Commander said, but if I need a few more meters, I want you to cut me loose. I have an MMU, I can get back

without a tether.”

“I wil not do this, Doctor Beck.”

“It’s my own life at risk, and I say it’s ok.”

“You are not the Commander.”

Beck scowled at Vogel, but with their reflective visors down, the effect was lost.

“Fine,” Beck said. “But I bet you’l change your mind if push comes to shove.”

Vogel did not respond.

“T-minus 10,” said Johanssen, “9…8…”

“Main engines start,” said Martinez.

“7…6…5…mooring clamps released…”

“About 5 seconds, Watney,” Lewis said to her headset. “Hang on.”

“See you in a few, Commander,” Watney radioed back.

“4…3…2…”

Watney lay in the acceleration couch as the MAV rumbled in anticipation of liftoff.

“Hmm,” he said to nobody. “I wonder how much longer-”

The MAV launched with incredible force. More than any manned ship had accelerated in the history of space travel. Watney was

shoved in to his couch so hard he couldn’t even grunt.

Having anticipated this, he had placed a folded up shirt behind his head in the helmet. As his head pressed firmly in to the makeshift

cushion, the edges of his vision became blurry. He could neither breathe nor move.

Directly in his field of view, the Hab canvas patch flapped violently as the ship exponentialy gained speed. Concentration became

difficult, but something in the back of his mind told him that was bad.

“Velocity 741 meters per second,” Johanssen quickly caled out. “Altitude 1350 meters.”

“Copy,” Martinez said.

“That’s low,” Lewis said. “Too low.”

“I know,” Martinez said. “It’s sluggish; fighting me. What the fu@k is going on?”

“Velocity 850, altitude 1843,” Johanssen said.

“I’m not getting the power I need!” Martinez said.

“Engine power at 100%,” Johanssen said.

“I’m teling you it’s sluggish,” Martinez insisted.

“Watney,” Lewis said to her headset. “Watney, do you read? Can you report?”

Watney heard Lewis’s voice in the distance. Like someone talking to him through a long tunnel. He vaguely wondered what she

wanted. His attention was briefly drawn to the fluttering canvas ahead of him. A rip had appeared and was rapidly widening.

But then he was distracted by a bolt in one of the bulkheads. It only had five sides. He wondered why NASA decided that bolt needed

five sides instead of six. It would require a special wrench to tighten or loosen.

The canvas tore even further, the tattered material flapping wildly. Through the opening, Watney saw red sky stretching out infinitely

ahead. “That’s nice,” he thought.

As the MAV flew higher, the atmosphere grew thinner. Soon, the canvas stopped fluttering and simply stretched toward Mark. The

sky shifted from red to black.

“That’s nice, too,” Mark thought.

As consciousness slipped away, he wondered where he could get a cool 5-sided bolt like that.

“I’m getting more response now,” Martinez said.

“Back on track with ful acceleration,” Johanssen said. “Must have been drag. MAV’s out of the atmosphere now.”

“It was like flying a cow,” Martinez grumbled, his hands racing over his controls.

“Can you get him up?” Lewis asked.

“He’l get to orbit,” Johanssen said, “but the intercept course may be compromised.”

“Get him up first,” Lewis said. “Then we’l worry about intercept.”

“Copy. Main engine cut-off in 15 seconds.”

“Much smoother now,” Martinez said. “It’s not fighting me at al anymore.”

“Wel below target altitude,” Johanssen said. “Velocity is good.”

“How far below?” Lewis said.

“Can’t say for sure,” Johanssen said. “Al I have is accelerometer data. We’l need radar pings at intervals to work out his true final

orbit.”

“Back to automatic guidance,” Martinez said.

“Main shutdown in 4,” Johanssen said “3… 2… 1… Shutdown.”

“Confirm shutdown,” Martinez said.

“Watney, you there?” Lewis said. “Watney? Watney, do you read?”

“Probably passed out, Commander,” Beck said over the radio. “He puled 12 G’s on the ascent. Give him a few minutes.”

“Copy,” Lewis said. “Johanssen, got his orbit yet?”

“I have interval pings. Working out our intercept range and velocity…”

Martinez and Lewis stared intensely at Johanssen as she brought up the intercept calculation software. Normaly, orbits would be

worked out by Vogel, but he was otherwise engaged. Johanssen was his backup for orbital dynamics.

“Intercept velocity wil be 11 meters per second…” she began.

“I can make that work,” Beck said over the radio.

“Distance at intercept wil be-” She stopped and choked. Shakily, she continued. “We’l be 68 kilometers apart.” She buried her face in

her hands.

“Did she say 68 kilometers!?” Beck said. “Kilometers!? ”

“God damn it,” Martinez whispered.

“Keep it together,” Lewis said. “Work the problem. Martinez, is there any juice in the MAV?”

“Negative, Commander,” Martinez responded. “They ditched the OMS system to lighten the launch weight.”

“Then we’l have to go to him. Johanssen, time to intercept?”

“39 minutes, 12 seconds,” Johanssen said, trying not to quaver.

“Vogel,” Lewis continued, “how far can we deflect in 39 minutes with the ion engines?”

“Perhaps 5 kilometers,” he radioed.

“Not enough,” Lewis said. “Martinez, what if we point our attitude thrusters al the same direction?”

“Depends on how much fuel we want to save for attitude adjustments on the trip home.”

“How much do you need?”

“I could get by with maybe 20 percent of what’s left.”

“Al right, if you used the other 80 percent-”

“Checking,” Martinez said, running the numbers on his console. “We’d get a delta-v of 31 meters per second.”

“Johanssen,” Lewis said. “Math.”

“In 39 minutes we’d deflect…” Johanssen quickly typed, “72 kilometers!”

“There we go,” Lewis said. “How much fuel-”

“Use 75.5 percent of remaining attitude adjust fuel,” Johanssen said. “That’l bring the intercept range to zero.”

“Do it,” Lewis said.

“Aye, Commander.” Martinez said.

“Hold on,” Johanssen said. “That’l get the intercept range to zero, but the intercept velocity wil be 42 meters per second.”

“Then we have 39 minutes to figure out how to slow down,” Lewis said. “Martinez, burn the jets.”

“Aye.” Martinez said.

“Whoa,” Annie said to Venkat. “A lot of sh@t just happened realy fast. Explain.”

Venkat strained to hear to speaker over the murmur of the VIPs in the observation booth. Through the glass he saw Mitch throw his

hands up in frustration.

“The launch missed badly,” Venkat said, looking past Mitch to the screens beyond. “The intercept distance was going to be way too

big. So they’re using the attitude adjusters to close the gap.”

“What do attitude adjusters usualy do?”

“They rotate the ship. They’re not made for thrusting it. Hermes doesn’t have quick reaction engines. Just the slow steady ion engines.”

“So… problem solved?” Annie said hopefuly.

“No,” Venkat said. “They’l get to him, but they’l be going 42 meters per second when they get there.”

“How fast is that?” Annie asked.

“About 90 miles per hour,” Venkat said. “There’s no hope of Beck grabbing Watney at that speed.”

“Can they use the attitude adjusters to slow down?”

“They used al the fuel they could to close the gap in time. They don’t have enough to slow down.” Venkat frowned.

“So what can they do?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “And even if I did, I couldn’t tel them in time.”

“Wel fu@k,” Annie said.

“Yeah,” Venkat agreed.

“Watney,” Lewis said “Do you read?”

“Watney?” She repeated.

“Commander,” Beck radioed. “He’s wearing a surface EVA suit, right?”

“Yeah.”

“It should have a bio-monitor,” Beck said. “And it’l be broadcasting. It’s not a strong signal; it’s only designed to go a couple hundred meters to the rover or Hab. But maybe we can pick it up.”

“Johanssen,” Lewis said.

“On it,” Johanssen said. “I have to look up the frequencies in the tech specs. Gimme a second.”

“Martinez,” Lewis continued. “Any idea how to slow down?”

He shook his head. “I got nothin’, Commander. We’re just going too damn fast.”

“Vogel?”

“The ion drive is simply not strong enough,” Vogel replied.

“There’s got to be something,” Lewis said. “Something we can do. Anything.”

“Got his biomonitor data,” Johanssen said. “Pulse 58, blood pressure 98/61.”

“That’s not bad,” Beck said. “Lower than I’d like but he’s been in Mars gravity for 18 months, so it’s expected.”

“Time to intercept?” Lewis asked.

“32 minutes,” Johanssen replied.

Blissful unconsciousness became foggy awareness which transitioned into painful reality. Watney opened his eyes, then winced at the

pain in his chest.

Little remained of the canvas. Tatters floated along the edge of the hole it once covered. This granted Watney an unobstructed view of

Mars from orbit. The great red planet’s horizon stretched out seemingly forever as the wispy atmosphere gave it a fuzzy edge. Only 18

people in history had personaly seen this view.

“fu@k you,” he said to the planet below.

Reaching toward the controls on his arm, he winced. Trying again, more slowly this time, he activated his radio. “MAV to Hermes.”

“Watney!?” Came the reply.

“Affirmative. That you, Commander?” Watney said.

“Affirmative. What’s your status?”

“I’m on a ship with no control panel,” he said. “That’s as much as I can tel you.”

“How do you feel?”

“My chest hurts. I think I broke a rib. How are you?”

“We’re working on getting you,” Lewis said. “There was a complication in the launch.”

“Yeah,” Watney said, looking out the hole in the ship. “The canvas didn’t hold. I think it ripped early in the ascent.”

“That’s consistent with what we saw during the launch.”

“How bad is it, Commander?” He asked.

“We were able to correct the intercept range with Hermes’s attitude thrusters. But there’s a problem with the intercept velocity.”

“How big a problem.”

“42 meters per second.”

“Wel sh@t.”

“Hey, at least he’s ok for the moment,” Martinez said.

“Beck,” Lewis said. “I’m coming around to your way of thinking. How fast can you get going if you’re untethered?”

“Sorry, Commander,” Beck said. “I already ran the numbers. At best I could get 25 meters per second. Even if I could get to 42, I’d

need another 42 to match Hermes when I came back.”

“Copy,” Lewis said.

“Hey,” Watney said over the radio, “I’ve got an idea.”

“Of course you do,” Lewis said. “What do you got?”

“I could find something sharp in here and poke a hole in the glove of my EVA suit. I could use the escaping air as a thruster and fly my way to you. The source of thrust would be on my arm, so I’d be able to direct it pretty easily.”

“How does he come up with this sh@t?” Martinez interjected.

“Hmm,” Lewis said. “Could you get 42 meters per second that way?”

“No idea,” Watney said.

“I can’t see you having any control if you did that,” Lewis said. “You’d be eyebaling the intercept and using a thrust vector you can

barely control.”

“I admit it’s fataly dangerous,” Watney said. “But consider this: I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.”

“We’l keep working on ideas,” Lewis said.

“Iron Man, Commander. Iron Man. ”

“Standby,” Lewis said.

She furrowed her brow. “Hmm… Maybe it’s not such a bad idea…”

“You kidding, Commander?” Martinez said. “It’s a terrible idea. He’d shoot off in to space-”

“Not the whole idea, but part of it,” she said. “Using atmosphere as thrust. Martinez, get Vogel’s station up and running.”

“Ok,” Martinez said, typing at his keyboard. The screen changed to Vogel’s workstation. He quickly changed the language from

German to English. “It’s up. What do you need?”

“Vogel’s got software for calculating course offsets caused by hul breaches, right?”

“Yeah,” Martinez said. “It estimates course corrections needed in the event of-”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lewis said. “Fire it up. I want to know what happens if we blow the VAL.”

Johanssen and Martinez looked at each other.

“Um. Yes, Commander,” Martinez said.

“The Vehicular Airlock?” Johanssen said. “You want to… open it?”

“Plenty of air in the ship,” Lewis said. “It’d give us a good kick.”

“Ye-es…” Martinez said as he brought up the software. “And it might blow the nose of the ship off in the process.”

“Also, al the air would leave,” Johanssen felt compeled to add.

“We’l seal the bridge and reactor room. We can let everywhere else go vacuo, but we don’t want explosive decompression in here or

near the reactor.”

Martinez entered the scenario in to the software. “I think we’l just have the same problem as Watney, but on a larger scale. We can’t

direct that thrust.”

“We don’t have to,” Lewis said. “The VAL is in the nose. Escaping air would make a thrust vector through our center of mass. We just

need to point the ship directly away from where we want to go.”

“Ok I have the numbers,” Martinez said. “A breach at the VAL, with the bridge and reactor room sealed off, would accelerate us 29

meters per second.”

“We’d have a relative velocity of 13 meters per second afterward,” Johanssen supplied.

“Beck,” Lewis radioed, “Have you been hearing al this?”

“Affirmative, Commander,” Beck said. “

“Can you do 13 meters per second?”

“It’l be risky,” Beck replied, “13 to match the MAV then another 13 to match Hermes. But it’s a hel of a lot better than 42.”

“Johanssen,” Lewis said. “time to intercept?”

“18 minutes, Commander.”

“What kind of jolt wil we feel with that breach?” Lewis asked to Martinez.

“The air wil take 4 seconds to evacuate,” he said. “We’l feel a little less than one g.”

“Watney,” she said to her headset, “We have a plan.”

“Yay! A plan!” Watney replied.

“Houston,” Lewis’s voice rang through Mission Control, “be advised we are going to deliberately breach the VAL to produce thrust.”

“What?” Mitch said. “What!?” He yeled.

“Oh… my god,” Venkat said in the observation room.

“fu@k me raw,” Annie said, getting up. “I better get to the press room. Any parting knowledge before I go?”

“They’re going to breach the ship,” Venkat said, stil dumbfounded. “They’re going to deliberately breach the ship. Oh my god…”

“Got it,” Annie said, jogging to the door.

“How wil we open the airlock doors?” Martinez asked. “There’s no way to open them remotely, and if anyone’s nearby when it

blows-”

“Right,” Lewis said. “We can open one door with the other shut, but how do we open the other?”

She thought for a moment. “Vogel,” she radioed. “I need you to come back in and make a bomb.”

“Um. Again, please, Commander?” Vogel replied.

“A bomb,” Lewis confirmed. “You’re a chemist. Can you make a bomb out of stuff on board?”

“Ja,” Vogel said. “We have flammables and pure oxygen.”

“Sounds good.” Lewis said.

“It is of course dangerous to set off an explosive device on a spacecraft,” Vogel said pragmaticaly.

“So make it smal,” Lewis said. “It just needs to poke a hole in the inner airlock door. Any hole wil do. If it blows the door off that’s fine. If it doesn’t, the air wil get out slower, but for longer. The momentum change is the same and we’l get the acceleration we need.”

“Pressurizing Airlock-2,” Vogel reported. “How wil we activate this bomb?”

“Johanssen?” Lewis said.

“Uh…” Johanssen said. She picked up her headset and quickly put it on. “Vogel, can you run wires in to it?”

“Ja,” Vogel said. “I wil use threaded stopper with a smal hole for the wires. It wil have little effect on the seal.”

“We could run the wire to lighting panel 41,” Johanssen said. “It’s next to the airlock, and I can turn it on and off from here.”

“There’s our remote trigger,” Lewis said. “Johanssen go set up the lighting panel. Vogel, get in here and make the bomb. Martinez, go

close and seal the doors to the reactor room.”

“Yes Commander,” Johanssen said, kicking off her seat toward the halway.

“Commander,” Martinez said, pausing at the exit, “You want me to bring back some space suits?”

“No point,” Lewis said. “If the seal on the bridge doesn’t hold we’l get sucked out at close to the speed of sound. We’l be jely with or without suits on.”

“Roger, Commander.”

“Are you back in yet, Vogel?” Lewis asked.

“I am just re-entering now, Commander.”

“Beck,” Lewis said to her headset. “I’l need you back in, too. But don’t take your suit off.”

“Ok,” Beck said. “Why?”

“We’re going to have to literaly blow up one of the doors,” Lewis explained. “I’d rather we kil the inner one. I want the outer door

unharmed so we keep our smooth aerobraking shape.”

“Makes sense.” Beck responded as he floated back in to the ship.

“One problem,” Lewis said. “I want the outer door locked in the fuly open position with the mechanical stopper in place to keep it

from being trashed by the decompress.”

“You have to have someone in the airlock to do that,” Beck said. “And you can’t open the inner door if the outer door is locked open.”

“Right,” Lewis said. “I need you to go to the VAL, depressurize, and lock the outer door open. Then you’l need to crawl along the hul

to get back to Airlock 2.”

“Copy, Commander,” Beck said. “There are latch points al over the hul. I’l move my tether along, mountain climber style.”

“Get to it,” Lewis said. “And Vogel, you’re in a hurry. You have to make the bomb, set it up, get back to Airlock 2, suit up,

depressurize it, and open the outer door so Beck can get in.”

“He’s taking his suit off right now and can’t reply,” Beck reported, “but he heard the order.”

“Watney, how you doing?” Lewis’s voice said in his ear.

“Fine so far, Commander,” Watney replied. “You mentioned a plan?”

“Affirmative,” she said. “We’re going to vent atmosphere to get thrust.”

“How?”

“We’re going to blow a hole in the VAL.”

“What!?” Watney said. “How!?”

“Vogel’s making a bomb.”

“I knew that guy was a mad scientist!” Watney said. “I think we should just go with my Iron Man idea.”

“That’s too risky and you know it,” she replied.

“Thing is,” Watney said, “I’m selfish. I want the memorials back home to be just for me. I don’t want the rest of you losers in them. I

can’t let you guys blow the VAL.”

“Oh,” Lewis said. “Wel if you won’t let us then- wait… wait a minute… I’m looking at my shoulder patch and it turns out I’m the Commander. Sit tight. We’re coming to get you.”

“Smart-ass.”

Being a chemist, Vogel knew how to make a bomb. In fact, much of his training was to avoid making them by mistake.

The ship had few flammables aboard, due to the fatal danger of fire. But food, by its very nature, contained flammable hydrocarbons.

Lacking time to sit down and do the math, he estimated.

Sugar has 4000 food-calories per kilogram. One food-calorie is 4184 Joules. Sugar in zero-g wil float and the grains wil separate,

maximizing surface area. In a pure oxygen environment, 16.7 milion Joules wil be released for every kilogram of sugar used, releasing the explosive force of 8 sticks of dynamite. Such is the nature of combustion in pure oxygen.

Vogel measured the sugar carefuly. He poured it into the strongest container he could find, a thick glass beaker. The strength of the

container was as important as the explosive. A weak container would simply cause a firebal without much concussive force. A strong

container, however, would contain the pressure until it reached trus destructive potential.

He quickly driled a hole in the stopper, then stripped a section of wire. He ran the wire through the hole.

“Sehr gefährlich,” he mumbled as he poured liquid oxygen from the ship’s supply in to the container, then quickly screwed the stopper

on. In just a few minutes, he had made a rudimentary pipe bomb.

“Sehr, sehr, gefährlich,”

He floated out of the lab and made his way toward the nose of the ship.

Johanssen worked on the lighting panel as Beck floated toward the airlock.

She grabbed his arm. “Be careful crawling along the hul.”

He turned to face her. “Be careful setting up the bomb.”

She kissed his faceplate then looked away, embarrassed. “That was stupid. Don’t tel anyone I did that.”

“Don’t tel anyone I liked it,” Beck smiled.

He entered the airlock and sealed the inner door. After depressurizing, he opened the outer door and locked it in place. Grabbing a

handrail on the hul, he puled himself out.

Johanssen watched until he was no longer in view, then returned to the lighting panel. She had deactivated it earlier from her

workstation. Puling a length of the cable out and stripping the ends, she fiddled with a rol of electrical tape until Vogel arrived.

He showed up just a minute later, carefuly floating down the hal with the bomb held in both hands.

“I have used a single wire for igniting,” he explained. “I did not want to risk two wires for a spark. It would be dangerous to us if we had static while setting up.”

“How do we set it off?” Johanssen said.

“The wire must reach a high temperature. If you short power through it, that wil be sufficient.”

“I’l have to pin the breaker,” Johanssen said, “but it’l work.”

She twisted the lighting wires to the bomb’s and taped them off.

“Excuse me,” Vogel said. “I have to return to Airlock 2 to let Dr. Beck back in.”

“Mm,” Johanssen said.

Martinez floated back in to the bridge. “I had a few minutes, so I ran through the aerobrake lockdown checklist for the reactor room.

Everything’s ready for acceleration and the compartment’s sealed off.”

“Good thinking,” Lewis said. “Prep the attitude correction.”

“Roger, Commander.” Martinez said, drifting to his station. “It’l take me a sec… I need to do everything backward. The VAL’s in

front, so the source of thrust wil be exactly opposite to our engines. Our software wasn’t expecting us to have an engine there. I just need to tel it we plan to thrust toward Mark.”

“Take your time and get it right,” Lewis said. “And don’t execute til I give you the word. We’re not spinning the ship around while

Beck’s out on the hul.”

“Roger.” He said. After a moment, he added “Ok, the adjustment’s ready to execute.”

“Standby.” Lewis said.

Vogel, back in his suit, depressurized Airlock 2 and opened the outer door.

“Bout time,” Beck said, climbing in.

“Sorry for the delay,” Vogel said. “I was required to make a bomb.”

“This has been kind of a weird day,” Beck said. “Commander, Vogel and I are in position.”

“Copy,” came Lewis’s response. “Get up against the fore wal of the airlock. It’s going to be about one g for four seconds. Make sure

you’re both tethered in.”

“Copy,” Beck said as he attached his tether. The two men pressed themselves against the wal.

“Ok, Martinez,” Lewis said, “Point us the right direction.”

“Copy,” said Martinez, executing the attitude adjustment.

Johanssen floated in to the bridge as the adjustment was performed. The room rotated around her as she reached for a handhold. “The

bomb’s ready, and the breaker’s jammed closed,” she said. “I can set it off by remotely turning on Lighting Panel 41.”

“Seal the bridge and get to your station,” Lewis said.

“Copy,” Johanssen said. Unstowing the emergency seal, she plugged the entrance to the bridge. With a few turns of the crank, the job

was done. She returned to her station and ran a quick test. “Increasing Bridge pressure to 1.03 atmospheres… pressure is steady we have a good seal.”

“Copy,” Lewis said. “Time to intercept?”

“28 seconds,” Johanssen said.

“Wow,” Martinez said. “We cut that pretty close.”

“You ready, Johanssen?” Lewis asked.

“Yes,” Johanssen said. “Al I have to do is hit enter.”

“Martinez, how’s our angle?”

“Dead-on, Commander,” Martinez reported.

“Strap in,” Lewis said.

The three of them tightened the restraints of their chairs.

“20 seconds,” Johanssen said.

Teddy took his seat in the VIP room. “What’s the status?” He asked.

“15 seconds til they blow the VAL,” Venkat said. “Where have you been?”

“On the phone with the President,” Teddy said. “Do you think this wil work?”

“I have no idea,” Venkat said. “I’ve never felt this helpless in my life.”

“If it’s any consolation,” Teddy said, “Pretty much everyone in the world feels the same way.”

On the other side of the glass, Mitch paced to and fro.

“5… 4… 3…” Johanssen said.

“Brace for acceleration,” Lewis said.

“2… 1…” Johanssen continued. “Activating Panel 41.”

She pressed enter.

Inside Vogel’s bomb, the ful current of the ship’s internal lighting system flowed through a thin, exposed wire. It quickly reached the

ignition temperature of the sugar. What would have been a minor fizzle in Earth’s atmosphere became an uncontroled conflagration in the

container’s pure oxygen environment. In under 100 miliseconds, the massive combustion pressure burst the container and the resulting

explosion ripped the airlock door to shreds.

The internal air of Hermes rushed through the open VAL, blasting Hermes in the other direction.

Vogel and Beck were pressed against the wal of Airlock 2. Lewis, Martinez, and Johanssen endured the acceleration in their seats. It

was not a dangerous amount of force, in fact it was less than the force of Earth’s surface gravity. But it was inconsistent and jerky.

After four seconds, the shaking died down and the ship returned to weightlessness.

“Reactor room stil pressurized,” Martinez reported.

“Bridge seal holding,” Johanssen said. “Obviously.”

“Damage?” Martinez said.

“Not sure yet,” Johanssen said. “I have External Camera four pointed along the nose. I don’t see any problems with the hul near the

VAL.”

“Worry about that later,” Lewis said. “What’s our relative velocity and distance to MAV?”

Johanssen typed quickly. “We’l get within 22 meters and we’re at 12 meters per second. We actualy got better than expected thrust.”

“Watney,” Lewis said. “It worked. Beck’s on his way.”

“Score!” Watney responded.

“Beck,” Lewis said. “You’re up. 12 meters per second.”

“Close enough!” Beck replied.

“I’m going to jump out,” Beck said. “Should get me another two or three meters per second.”

“Understood,” Vogel said, loosely gripping Beck’s tether. “Good luck, Dr. Beck.”

Placing his feet on the back wal, Beck coiled and leaped out of the airlock.

Once free, he got his bearings. A quick look to his right showed him what he could not see from inside the airlock.

“I have visual!” he said. “I can see MAV! Jesus, Mark, what did you do to that thing?”

“You should see what I did to the rover,” Watney radioed back.

Beck thrusted on an intercept course. He had practiced this many times. The presumption in those practice sessions was that he’d be

rescuing a crewmate whose tether had broken, but the principle was the same.

“Johanssen,” he said, “You got me on radar?”

“Affirmative,” she replied.

“Cal out my relative velocity to Mark every 2 seconds or so.”

“Copy. 5.2 meters per second.”

“Hey Beck,” Watney said. “The front’s wide open. I’l get up there and be ready to grab at you.”

“Negative,” interrupted Lewis. “No untethered movement. Stay strapped to your chair until you’re latched to Beck.”

“Copy,” Watney said.

“3.1 meters per second,” Johanssen reported.

“Going to coast for a bit,” Beck said. “Gotta catch up before I slow it down.” He rotated himself in preparation for the next burn.

“11 meters to target,” Johanssen said.

“Copy.”

“6 meters,” Johanssen said.

“Aaaaand, counter-thrusting.” Beck said, firing the MMU thrusters again. The MAV loomed before him. “Velocity?” He asked.

“1.1 meters per second,” Johanssen said.

“Good enough,” he said, reaching for the ship. “I’m drifting toward it. I think I can get my hand on some of the torn canvas…”

The tattered canvas beckoned as the only handhold on the otherwise smooth ship. Beck reached, extending as best he could, and

managed to grab hold.

“Contact,” Beck said. Firming his grip, he puled his body forward and lashed out with his other hand to grab more canvas. “Firm

contact!”

“Dr. Beck,” Vogel said. “We have past closest approach point and you are now getting further away. You have 169 meters of tether

left. Enough for 14 seconds.”

“Copy,” Beck said.

Puling his head to the opening, he looked inside the compartment to see Watney strapped to his chair.

“Visual on Watney!” He reported.

“Visual on Beck!” Watney reported.

“How ya doin’, man?” Beck said, puling himself in to the ship.

“I… I just…” Watney said. “Give me a minute. You’re the first person I’ve seen in 18 months.”

“We don’t have a minute,” Beck said, kicking off the wal. “We’ve got 11 seconds before we run out of tether.”

Beck’s course took him to the chair where he clumsily colided with Watney. The two gripped each others’ arms to keep Beck from

bouncing away. “Contact with Watney!” Beck said.

“8 seconds, Dr. Beck,” Vogel radioed.

“Copy,” Beck said as he hastily latched the front of his suit to the front of Watney’s with tether clips. “Connected,” he said.

Watney released the straps on his chair. “Restraints off.”

“We’re outa’ here,” Beck said, kicking off the chair toward the opening.

The two men floated across the MAV cabin to the opening. Beck reached out his arm and pushed off the edge as they passed through.

“We’re out,” Beck reported.

“5 seconds,” Vogel said.

“Relative velocity to Hermes: 12 meters per second,” Johanssen said.

“Thrusting,” Beck said, activating his MMU.

The two accelerated toward Hermes for a few seconds. Then the MMU controls on Beck’s heads-up display turned red.

“That’s it for the fuel,” Beck said. “Velocity?”

“5 meters per second,” Johanssen replied.

“Standby,” Vogel said. Throughout the process, he had been feeding tether out of the airlock. Now he gripped the ever-shrinking

remainder of the rope with both hands. He didn’t clamp down on it; that would pul him out of the airlock. He simply closed his hands over the tether to create friction.

Hermes puled Beck and Watney along, with Vogel’s use of the tether acting as a shock absorber. If Vogel used too much force the

shock of it would pul the tether free from Beck’s suit clips. If he used too little the tether would run out before they matched speeds, then it would have a hard stop at the end, which would also rip it out of Beck’s suit clips.

Vogel managed to find the balance. After a few seconds of tense, gut-feel physics, Vogel felt the force on the tether abate.

“Velocity 0!” Johanssen reported excitedly.

“Reel ‘em in, Vogel,” Lewis said.

“Copy,” Vogel said. Hand over hand, he slowly puled his crewmates toward the airlock. After a few seconds, he stopped actively

puling and simply took in the line as they coasted toward him.

They floated in to the airlock, and Vogel grabbed them. Beck and Watney both reached for handholds on the wal as Vogel worked his

way around them and closed the outer door.

“Aboard!” Beck said.

“Airlock 2 outer door closed,” Vogel said.

“Yes!” Martinez yeled.

“Copy,” Lewis said.

Lewis’s voice echoed across the world: “Houston, this is Hermes Actual. Six crew safely aboard.”

The control room exploded with applause. Leaping from their seats, they cheered, hugged, and cried. The same scene played out al

over the world in parks, bars, civic centers, living rooms, classrooms, and offices.

Mitch haggardly puled off his headset and turned to face the VIP room. Through the glass, he saw various wel-suited men and women

cheering wildly. He looked at Venkat and let out a heavy sigh of relief.

Venkat put his head in his hands and whispered “Thank the gods.”

Teddy puled a blue folder from his briefcase and stood. “Annie wil be wanting me in the press room.”

“Guess you don’t need the red folder today,” Venkat said.

“Honestly, I didn’t make one.” As he walked out he added “Good work, Venk. Now get them home.”

LOG ENTRY: MISSION DAY 687

That “687” caught me off guard for a minute. On Hermes, we track time by mission days. It may be Sol 549 down on Mars, but it’s

Mission Day 687 up here. And you know what? It doesn’t matter what time it is on Mars cause I’M NOT fu@kING THERE!

Oh my god. I’m realy not on Mars anymore. I can tel because there’s no gravity and there are other humans around. I’m stil adjusting.

If this were a movie, everyone would have been in the airlock and there would have been high-fives al around. But it didn’t pan out that way.

I broke two ribs during the MAV ascent. They were sore the whole time, but they realy started screaming when Vogel puled us in to

the airlock by the tether. I didn’t want to distract the people who were saving my life so I muted off my mic and screamed like a little girl.

It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.

Once they got me in to Airlock 2, they opened the inner door and I was finaly aboard again. Hermes was stil in vacuo, so we didn’t

have to cycle the airlock.

Beck told me to go limp and pushed me down the corridor toward his quarters (which serve as the ship’s “sick bay” when needed).

Vogel went the other direction and closed the outer VAL door.

Once Beck and I got to his quarters, we waited for the ship to repressurize. Hermes had enough spare air to refil the ship two more

times if needed. It’d be a pretty sh@tty long-range ship if it couldn’t recover from a decompression.

Once Johanssen gave us the al clear, Dr. Bossy-Beck made me wait while he first took off his suit, then took off mine. After he puled

my helmet off, he looked shocked. I thought maybe I had a major head-wound or something, but it turns out it was the smel.

It’s been a while since I washed… anything.

After that, it was x-rays and chest bandages while the rest of the crew waited outside.

Then came the (painful) high-fives, folowed by people staying as far away from my stench as possible. We had a few minutes of

reunion before Beck shuttled everyone out. He gave me painkilers and told me to shower as soon as I could freely move my arms.

So now I’m waiting for the drugs to kick in. My ribs hurt like hel, my vision is stil blurry from acceleration sickness, I’m realy hungry, it’l be another 211 days before I’m back on Earth, and apparently I smel like a skunk took a sh@t on some sweat socks.

This is the happiest day of my life.

Watney finished his two slices of pizza and a coke. He had another half-hour to kil before going back to Johnson Space Center.

Leaving the pizzeria, he sat on a public bench just outside.

Next week would be busy. He would be meeting the Ares-6 Engineer. He had read her file, but had never met her in person. He

wouldn’t get much time to relax after that. The folowing six weeks would be filed with constant training as he tried to impart as much

knowledge as he could.

But that was something to worry about later. Right now, he took a deep breath of the fresh air and watched the people go by.

“Hey, I know you!” Came a voice from behind.

A young boy had strayed from his mother. “You’re Mark Watney!”

“Sweetie,” the boy’s mom said, embarrassed. “Don’t bother people like that.”

“It’s ok,” Watney shrugged.

“You went to Mars!” The boy said, his eyes wide with awe.

“Sure did,” Watney said. “Almost didn’t make it back.”

“I know!” Said the boy. “That was awesome!”

“Sweetie!” The mom scolded. “That’s rude.”

“So Mr. Watney,” the boy said, “If you could go to Mars again, like, if there was another mission and they wanted you to go, would

you go?”

Watney scowled at him. “You out of your fu@king mind?”

“Ok time to go,” the mom said, quickly herding the boy away. They receded in to the crowded sidewalk.

Watney snorted in their direction. Then he closed his eyes and felt the sun on his face. It was a nice, boring afternoon.

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