فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter 6

Venkat returned to his office, dropped his briefcase on the floor, and colapsed into his leather chair. He took a moment to look out the windows at his scenic view of the Johnson Space Center.

Glancing at his computer screen, he noted 47 unread emails urgently demanding his attention. They could wait. Today had been a sad

day. Today was the memorial service for Mark Watney.

The President had given a speech, praising Watney’s bravery and sacrifice, and the quick actions of Commander Lewis in getting

everyone else to safety. Commander Lewis and the surviving crew, via long range communication from Hermes, gave eulogies to their

departed comrade from deep space. They had another ten months of travel yet to endure.

The Director had given a speech as wel, reminding everyone that space flight is incredibly dangerous, and how we wil not back down

in the face of adversity.

During preparation for the service, they’d asked Venkat if he was wiling to make a speech. He’d declined. What was the point?

Watney was dead. Nice words form the Director of Mars Missions wouldn’t bring him back.

“You ok, Venk?” came a voice from the doorway.

Venkat swiveled around. “Guess so,” he said.

“You could have given a speech.”

“I didn’t want to. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know. I didn’t want to, either. But I’m the director of NASA. It’s kind of expected. You sure you’re ok?”

“Yeah, I’l be fine.”

“Good,” Teddy said, walking in. “Let’s get back to work, then.”

“Sure,” Venkat shrugged. “Let’s start with you authorizing my satelite time.”

Teddy leaned against the wal with a sigh. “This again.”

“Yes,” Venkat said. “This again. What is the problem?”

“Ok, run me through it. What, exactly, are you after?”

Venkat leaned forward. “Ares 3 was a failure, but we can salvage something from it. We’re funded for five Ares missions. I think we

can get Congress to fund a sixth.”

“I don’t know, Venk…”

“It’s simple, Teddy,” Venkat pressed on. “They evac’d after six sols. There’s almost an entire mission worth of supplies up there. It

would only cost a fraction of a normal mission. It normaly takes 14 presupply probes to prep a site. We might be able to send what’s

missing in three. Maybe two.”

“Venk, the site got hit by a 175 km/h sandstorm. It’l be in realy bad shape.”

“That’s why I want imagery,” Venkat explained. “I just need a couple of shots of the site. We could learn a lot.”

“Like what? You think we’d send people to Mars without being sure everything was in perfect working order?”

“Everything doesn’t have to be perfect,” Venkat said quickly. “Whatever’s broken, we’d send replacements for. The only thing that

needs to work is the MAV. And we’d have to send a fresh one anyway.”

“How wil we know from imagery what’s broken?”

“It’s just a first step. They evac’d because the wind was a threat to the MAV, but the Hab can withstand a lot more punishment. It

might stil be in one piece.

“And it’l be realy obvious. If it popped, it’d completely blow out and colapse. If it’s stil standing, then everything inside wil be fine.

And the rovers are solid. They can take any sandstorm Mars has to offer. Just let me take a look, Teddy, that’s al I want.”

Teddy looked down, “You’re not the only guy who wants satelite time, you know. We have Ares 4 supply missions coming up. We

need to concentrate on Schiapareli Crater.”

“I don’t get it, Teddy. What’s the problem here?” Venkat asked. “I’m talking about securing us another mission. We have 12 satelites

in orbit around Mars, I’m sure you can spare one or two for a couple of hours. I can give you the windows for each one when they’l be at the right angle for Ares 3 shots-“

“It’s not about satelite time, Venk,” Teddy interrupted.

Venkat froze. “Then… but… what…”

Teddy looked down. “We’re a public domain organization. There’s no such thing as secret or secure information here.”

“So?”

“Any imagery we take goes directly to the public.”

“Again: so?”

“Mark Watney’s body wil be within a twenty meters of the Hab. Maybe partialy buried in sand, but stil very visible, and with a comm

antenna sticking out of his chest. Any images we take wil show that.”

Venkat stared. Then glared. “This is why you denied my imagery requests for two months?”

“Venk, come on-“

“Realy, Teddy?” he said. “You’re afraid of a PR problem?”

“The media’s obsession with Watney’s death is finaly starting to taper off,” Teddy said evenly. “It’s been bad press after bad press for two months. Today’s memorial gives people closure, and the media can move on to some other story. The last thing we want to do is

dredge everything back up.”

“So what do we do, then? He’s not going to decompose. He’l be there forever.”

“Not forever,” Teddy said. “Within a year, he’l be covered in sand from normal weather activity.”

“A year?” Venkat said, rising to his feet. “That’s ludicrous. We can’t wait a year for this.”

“Why not? Ares 5 won’t even launch for another five years. Plenty of time.”

Venkat took a deep breath and thought for a moment.

“Ok, consider this,” he said. “Sympathy for Watney’s family is realy high. Ares 6 could bring the body back. We don’t say that’s the

purpose of the mission, but we make it clear that would be part of it. If we framed it that way, we’d get more support in Congress. But not if we wait a year. In a year, people won’t care any more.”

Teddy rubbed his chin. “Hmm…”

Mindy stared at the ceiling. She had little else to do. The 3am shift was pretty dul. Only a constant stream of coffee kept her awake.

Monitoring the status of satelites around Mars sounded like an exciting proposition when she took the transfer. But the satelites tended to take care of themselves. Her job turned out to be sending emails as imagery became available.

“Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering,” she grumbled to herself. “And I’m working in an al-night photo booth.”

She sipped her coffee.

A flicker on her screen announced another set of images were ready for dispatch. She checked the name on the work order. Venkat

Kapoor.

Posting the data directly to internal servers, she composed an email to Dr. Kapoor. As she entered the latitude and longitude of the

image, she recognized the numbers.

“31.2°N, 28.5°W… Acidalia Planitia… Ares 3?”

Out of curiosity, she brought up the first of the 17 images.

As she suspected, it was the Ares 3 site. She’d heard they were going to image it. Slightly ashamed of herself, she scoured the image

for any sign on Mark Watney’s dead body. After a minute of fruitless searching, she was simultaneously relieved and disappointed.

She moved on to perusing the rest of the image. The Hab was intact; Dr. Kapoor would be happy to see that.

She brought the coffee mug to her lips, then froze.

“Um…” she mumbled to herself. “Uhhh…”

Quickly bringing up the NASA intranet, she navigated through the site to the specifics of the Ares missions. After some quick research,

she picked up her phone.

“Hey, this is Mindy Park at SatCon. I need the mission logs for Ares 3, where can I get ‘em?… Uh huh… uh-huh…. Ok… Thanks.”

After some more time on the intranet, she leaned back in her seat. She no longer needed the coffee to keep awake.

Picking up the phone again, “Helo, Security? This is Mindy Park in SatCon. I need the emergency contact number for Dr. Venkat

Kapoor… Yes, the Director of Mars Missions… Yes it’s and emergency.”

Mindy fidgeted in her seat as Venkat trudged in.

“You Mindy Park?” He asked, looking mildly annoyed.

“Yeah,” she quavered. “Sorry to drag you in.”

“I’m assuming you had a good reason. So?”

“Um,” she said, looking down. “Um, it’s. Wel. The imagery you ordered. Um. Come here and look.”

He puled another chair to her station and seated himself. “Is this about Watney’s body? Is that why you’re shook up?”

“Um, no,” she said. “Um. Wel… uh.” She pointed to the screen.

Venkat inspected the image. “Looks like the Hab’s in one piece. That’s good news. Solar array looks good. The rovers are ok, too.

Main dish isn’t around. No surprise there. What’s the big emergency?”

“Um,” she said, touching her finger to the screen. “That.”

Venkat leaned in and looked closer. Just below the Hab, beside the rovers, two white circles sat in the sand. “Hmm. Looks like Hab

canvas. Maybe the Hab didn’t do wel after al? I guess pieces got torn off and-“

“Um,” she interrupted. “They look like rover pop-tents.”

Venkat looked again. “Hmm. Probably right.”

“How’d they get set up?” Mindy asked.

Venkat shrugged. “Commander Lewis probably ordered them deployed during the evac. Not a bad idea. Have the emergency shelters

ready in case the MAV didn’t work and the Hab breached.”

“Yeah, um,” Mindy said, opening a document on her computer. “This is the entire mission log for Sols 1 through 6. From MDV

touchdown to MAV emergency liftoff.”

“Ok, and?”

“I read through it. Several times. They never threw out the pop tents.” Her voice cracked at the last word.

“Wel, uh…” Venkat said, puzzled. “They obviously did, but it didn’t make it in to the log.”

“They activated two emergency pop tents and never told anyone?”

“Hmm. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, no. Maybe the storm messed with the rovers and the tents autodeployed.”

“Um,” Mindy stammered, “So after autodeploying, they detached themselves from the rovers and lined up next to each other 20 meters

away?”

Venkat looked back to the image. “Wel obviously they activated somehow.”

“Why are the solar cels clean?” Mindy said, tears forming. “There was a huge sandstorm. Why isn’t there sand al over them?”

“A good wind could have done it?” Venkat said, unsure.

“Did I mention I never found Watney’s body?” She said, sniffling.

Venkat’s eyes widened as he stared at the picture. “Oh…” he said quietly. “Oh god…”

Mindy put her hands over her face and sobbed quietly.

“fu@k!” Director of Media Relations Annie Montrose said. “You have got to be fu@king kidding me!”

Teddy rubbed his forehead. “How sure are we of this?”

“Nearly 100%,” Venkat said.

“fu@k!” Annie said.

“Not helping, Annie,” Teddy said.

“Do you have any idea the magnitude of sh@tstorm this is gonna’ be?” She retorted.

“One thing at a time,” Teddy said. “Venk, what makes you sure he’s alive?”

“For starters, no body.” Venkat explained. “Also, the pop-tents are set up. And the solar cels are clean. You can thank Mindy Park in

SatCon for noticing al that, by the way.

“But,” Venkat continued, “his body could have been buried in the Sol 6 storm. The pop tents might have autodeployed and wind could

have blown them around. A 30km/h windstorm some time later would be strong enough to clean the solar cels but not strong enough to

carry sand. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.

“So I spent the last few hours checking everything I could. Commander Lewis had two outings in Rover 2. The second was on Sol 5.

According to the logs, after returning, she plugged it in to the Hab for recharging. It wasn’t used again, and 13 hours later they evac’d.”

He slid a picture across the table to Teddy.

“That’s one of the images from last night. As you can see, Rover 2 is facing away from the Hab. The charging port is in the nose, and the cable isn’t long enough to reach.”

Teddy frowned. “She must have parked it facing the Hab or she wouldn’t have been able to plug it in,” he said. “It’s been moved since

Sol 5.”

“Yeah,” Venkat said, sliding another picture to Teddy. “But here’s the real evidence. In the lower right of the image you can see the

MDV. It’s been taken apart. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have done that without teling us.

“And the clincher is on the right of the image,” Venkat pointed. “The landing struts of the MAV. Looks like the fuel plant has been

completely removed, with considerable damage to the struts in the process. There’s just no way that could have happened before liftoff. It would endanger the MAV way too much for Lewis to alow it.”

“Hey,” Annie interrupted. “Why not talk to Lewis? Let’s go to CAPCOM and ask her this sh@t directly.”

Venkat looked to Teddy knowingly. After a few moments, Teddy sighed.

“Because,” he said. “If Watney realy is alive, we don’t want the Ares 3 crew to know.”

“What!?” Annie said. “How can you not tel them?”

“They have another ten months on their trip home,” Teddy explained. “Space travel is dangerous. They need to be alert and

undistracted. They’re sad that they lost a crewmate, but they’d be devastated if they found out they’d abandoned him alive.”

Annie looked to Venkat. “You’re on board with this?”

“It’s a no-brainer,” Venkat said. “Let ‘em deal with that emotional trauma when they’re not flying a spaceship around.”

“This’l be the most talked-about event since Apolo 11,” Annie said. “How wil you keep it from them?”

Teddy shrugged. “Easy. We control al communication with them.”

“fu@k,” Annie said, opening her laptop. “When do you want to go public?”

“What’s your take,” he asked.

“Mmm,” Annie said, “We can hold the pics for 24 hours before we’re required to make them public. We’l need to release a statement

along with them. We don’t want people working it out on their own. We’d look like assholes.”

“Ok,” Teddy agreed, “put together a statement.”

“This is so fu@ked up,” she said.

“Where do we go from here?” Teddy asked Venkat.

“Step one is communication,” Venkat said. “From the pics, it’s clear the comm array is ruined. We need another way to talk. Once we

can talk, we can assess and make plans.”

“Al right,” Teddy said. “Get on it. Take anyone you want for any department. Use as much overtime as you want. Find a way to talk

to him. That’s your only job right now.”

“Got it.”

“Annie, make sure nobody gets wind of this til we announce.”

“Right,” Annie said. “Who else knows?”

“Just the three of us and Mindy Park in SatCon,” Venkat said.

“I’l have a word with her,” Annie said.

Teddy stood and opened his cel phone. “I’m going to Chicago. I’l be back later today.”

“Why?” Annie asked.

“That’s where Watney’s parents live,” Teddy said. “I owe them a personal explanation before it breaks on the news.”

“They’l be happy to hear their son’s alive,” Annie said.

“Yeah, he’s alive,” Teddy said. “But if my math is right, he’s doomed to starve to death before we can possibly help him. I’m not

looking forward to the conversation.”

“fu@k,” Annie said, thoughtfuly.

“Nothing? Nothing at al?” Venkat groaned. “Are you kidding me? You had 20 experts working for 12 hours on this. We have a multi-

bilion dolar communication network. You can’t figure out any way to talk to him?”

The two men in Venkat’s office fidgeted in their chairs.

“He’s got no radio,” said Chuck.

“Actualy,” said Morris, “He’s got a radio, but he doesn’t have a dish.”

“Thing is,” Chuck continued, “without the dish, a signal would have to be realy strong-“

“Like, melting-the-pigeons strong-“ Morris supplied.

“-for him to get it.” Chuck finished.

“We considered Martian satelites,” Morris said. “They’re way closer. But the math doesn’t work out. Even SuperSurveyor 3, which

has the strongest transmitter, would need to be 14 times more powerful-“

“17 times,” Chuck said.

“14 times,” Morris asserted.

“No it’s 17. You forgot the amperage minimum for the heaters to keep the-“

“Guys,” Venkat interrupted. “I get the idea.”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry if I’m grumpy,” Venkat said. “I got like 2 hours sleep last night.”

“No problem,” Morris said.

“Totaly understandable,” Chuck said.

“Ok,” Venkat said. “Explain to me how a single windstorm removed our ability to talk to Ares 3.”

“Failure of imagination,” Chuck said.

“Totaly didn’t see it coming,” Morris agreed.

“How many back-up communication systems does an Ares mission have?” Venkat asked.

“Four,” Chuck said.

“Three,” Morris said.

“No, it’s four,” Chuck corrected.

“He said back-up systems,” Morris insisted. “That means not including the primary system.”

“Oh right. Three.”

“So four systems total, then,” Venkat said. “Explain how we lost al four.”

“Wel,” Chuck said, “The primary ran through the big satelite dish. It blew away in the storm. The rest of the backups were the MAV.”

“Yup,” Morris agreed. “The MAV is, like, a communicating machine. It can talk to Earth, Hermes, even satelites around Mars if it has to. And it has three independent systems to make sure nothing short of a meteor strike can stop communication.”

“Problem is,” Chuck said. “Commander Lewis and the rest of them took the MAV when they left.”

“So four independent communication systems became one. And that one broke,” Morris finished.

Venkat pinched the bridge of his nose. “How could we overlook this?”

Chuck shrugged. “Never occurred to us. We never thought someone would be on Mars without an MAV.”

“I mean, come on!” Morris said. “What are the odds?”

Chuck turned to him. “One in three, based on empirical data. That’s pretty bad if you think about it.”

“Thank you al for coming on such short notice,” Annie said. “We have an important announcement to make. If you could al take your

seats,”

“What this about, Annie?” A reporter asked. “Something happen with Hermes?”

“Please take your seats,” Annie repeated.

The reporters mingled a bit, argued over seats for a short time, then finaly settled down.

“This is a short, but very important announcement,” Annie said. “I won’t be taking any questions at this time, but we wil have a ful

press conference with Q&A in about an hour. We have recently reviewed satelite imagery from Mars, and have confirmed that astronaut

Mark Watney is, currently, stil alive.”

After one ful second of utter silence, the room exploded with noise.

“I’m getting sick of daily press conferences,” Venkat said.

“I’m getting sick of hourly press conferences,” Annie countered.

“Sorry I’m late,” Teddy said, entering the crowded press room. Managers from every department stood shoulder to shoulder in the

back, while reporters crammed the pit.

Teddy puled some flash cards from his pocket, then cleared his throat.

“In the nine days since announcing Mark Watney’s survival, we’re received a massive show of support from al sectors. We’re using

this shamelessly every way we can.”

A smal chuckle cascaded through the room.

“Yesterday, at our request, the entire SETI network focused on Mars. Just in case Watney was sending a weak radio signal. Turns out

he wasn’t, but it shows the level of commitment everyone has toward helping us.

“The public is engaged, and we wil do our best to keep everyone informed. I’ve recently learned CNN wil be dedicating a half-hour

segment every weekday to reporting on just this issue. We wil assign several members of our Media Relations team to that program, so the public can get the latest information as fast as possible.

“We have adjusted the orbits of three satelites to get more view time on the Ares 3 site, and hope to catch an image of him outside

soon. If we can see him outside, we wil be able to draw conclusions on his physical health based on stance and activities.

“The questions are many: How long can he last? How much food does he have? Can Ares 4 rescue him? How wil we talk to him? The

answers to these questions are not what we want to hear.

“I can’t promise we’l succeed in rescuing him, but I can promise this: The entire focus of NASA wil be to bring Mark Watney home.

This wil be our overriding and singular obsession until he is either back on Earth, or confirmed dead on Mars.”

“Nice speech,” Venkat said as he entered Teddy’s office.

“Meant every word of it,” Teddy said.

“Oh, I know.”

“What can I do for you, Venk?”

“I’ve got an idea. Wel, JPL has an idea. I’m the messenger.”

“I like ideas,” Teddy said, gesturing to a seat.

Venkat sat down.

“We can rescue him with Ares 4. It’s very risky. We ran the idea by the Ares 4 crew. Not only are they wiling to do it, but now

they’re realy pushing hard for it.”

“Naturaly,” Teddy said. “Astronauts are inherently insane. And realy noble. What’s the idea?”

“Wel,” Venkat began, “It’s in the rough stages, but JPL thinks the MDV can be misused to save him.”

“Ares 4 hasn’t even launched yet. Why misuse an MDV. Why not make something better?”

“We don’t have time to make a custom craft. Actualy, he can’t even survive til Ares 4 gets there, but that’s a different problem.”

“So tel me about the MDV.”

“JPL strips it down, loses some weight, and adds some fuel tanks. Ares 4’s crew lands at the Ares 3 site, very efficiently. Then, with a ful burn, and I mean a full burn, they can lift off again. It can’t get back to orbit, but it can go to the Ares 4 site on a lateral trajectory that’s, wel, realy scary. Then they have an MAV. This would require a massive design and construction effort, but JPL says they can

make it happen.”

“How are they losing weight?” Teddy asked. “Don’t they already have it as light as it can be?”

“By removing safety and emergency equipment.”

“Wonderful,” Teddy said, “So we’d be risking the lives of six more people in a very dangerous landing, re-liftoff, re-landing process.”

“Yup,” Venkat said. “It would be safer to leave the Ares 4 crew in Hermes, and only send the pilot down with the MDV. But that

would mean giving up the mission and they’d rather risk death.”

“They’re astronauts,” Teddy said.

“They’re astronauts,” Venkat confirmed.

“Wel. That’s a ludicrous idea and I’l never ok it.”

“We’l work on it some more,” Venkat said. “Try to make it safer.”

“Do that. Any idea how to keep him alive for four years?”

“Nope.”

“Work on that, too.”

“Wil do,” Venkat said.

Teddy swiveled his chair and looked out the window to the sky beyond. Night was edging in. “What must it be like?” He pondered.

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totaly alone and that we al gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s

psychology?”

He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.

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