Isolation

LOG ENTRY: SOL 115

It would only take 200 milligrams of morphine to end all of this right now.

I’m trying not think about that.

It’s been a couple weeks since I first started working on Pathfinder, and the antenna hasn’t budged. It’s been long enough that the Deep Space Network or SETI would likely have picked something up, so my guess is that Pathfinder is still super dead. I just have no idea what killed it.

On the bright side, if I die here, at least whatever future Mars archaeologists find me will probably have an easier time figuring out what killed me. And anyone who could feel guilt or grief over my death will be long gone.

I have enough food to last until Sol 900, and there’s not really any immediate danger, but I’m starting to wonder what the point of all my survival efforts is. If I can’t connect with NASA somehow, I’ll almost certainly still die before Sol 1412 when Ares 4 arrives.

I could attempt a road trip to the Ares 4 landing site to use the MAV’s comm system, but there would be little that NASA could do to help me once I got there. The more time that passes, the less probable it becomes that they could get any kind of supply or rescue probe to me in time.

If they were going to try to save me, they’d need to start working on it pretty damn soon, which is unlikely considering that they think I’m dead. With no chance of survival, all I could really hope to do is make my former crew feel guilty and everyone at home depressed.

But I have to do something. Other than banging my head against Pathfinder in frustration and subconsciously half wanting to die.

Sometimes I lie awake thinking about the fact that literally no one knows what happened to me. They’re probably trying to forget about what happened, the evacuation, the aftermath. Trying not to think about Mars. They can’t wallow in grief forever.

It’s not exactly the fact that I’m doomed if no one figures out the truth that bothers me, either. It’s more like the complete and total sense of loneliness…the knowledge that there is no one else in the universe who knows what you’re going through. I have around 700 sols left that I could potentially live through, but being alone makes them feel significantly less livable.

Tomorrow I’ll start mods on the rover so that it can make it to Schiaparelli. I’m going to get a message to Earth or die trying.

And if I actually get there and manage to send a message? I’ll be without the Hab and with essentially zero chance of rescue.

I’m bringing the morphine with me.

***

“It just feels like such bad luck,” Venkat said. “Everything on our end was ready to receive Pathfinder’s transmission. We were so close to letting him know that we know he’s alive.”

“Pathfinder failed in 1997. Anything could be wrong with it,” Bruce pointed out. “Obviously, it was something Watney couldn’t figure out how to fix.”

“I guess we had no reason to expect good luck at any point in this disaster,” Venkat mused, sighing. “How is the Iris presupply coming along? What are our chances of getting food and a comm system to the Hab before he starves?”

“Slim, but nonzero,” Bruce replied. “Everyone at JPL is working as hard as they can.”

“Any ideas on how to let Mark know to look for a probe?”

“Yeah, we’ve got a plan for that too. The probe will eject a series of green ribbons in the general vicinity of the Hab, about a thousand meters above the surface. We’ll have ‘MARK, TURN ON YOUR COMM’ on each of them so that he knows to connect either the EVA or rover comm system to the one in the probe.”

“I like it. Watney’s sure to notice a bright green ribbon.”

“Exactly. If the probe lands where we want it to, he should get our message.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 116

I want to get out of here as quickly as possible, so I’m taking as little with me as I can. There’s no getting around the oxygenator and the atmospheric regulator, but the water reclaimer can stay here. I have more than enough water to get me to the MAV, and it’ll save me space, power, and a whole lot of effort.

Still, fitting the oxygenator and the atmospheric regulator into the rover is going to require some major modifications. If I want to breathable air during this trip, I’m going to have to work for it, like everything else on this godforsaken planet.

A few days of extremely tedious drilling at the roof of the rover with a rock sample drill should open up the space needed. Then all I have to do is hook everything up and cover it with Hab canvas, figure out heat, strap on some solar panels…okay, it’s going to be awhile before I can leave.

I tried to forage something from my crewmates’ belongings to bring with me in a desperate attempt to keep myself sane in this void of literal radio silence. But besides making me feel like kind of a creep, most of their personal items were things like notes and gifts from loved ones. It’s depressing, but I couldn’t help but think that Commander Lewis has her husband, Martinez and Vogel have wives…Beck and Johanssen have each other. But even if Earth did know I was alive, there wouldn’t be anyone like that waiting for me.

Since I don’t plan on needing too many more of them, I haven’t been rationing my EVAs quite as strictly. It’s ludicrous, but I felt like going for a walk, so I did. Not that there’s much out there that I haven’t already seen. Certainly not anyone.

Still.

***

“I hate to be the one to say it, but there’s a lot of doubt across all departments as to whether this rescue mission is worth it,” Teddy said. “If we get there just a few weeks too late, all of our efforts will have been for nothing.”

“But we’ve already gone public with our plan to save him,” Annie protested. “There’s no way we can back out now. The entire world is watching us and rooting for Watney to survive.”

           “I’m not saying we shouldn’t try,” Teddy replied. “But this organization is about more than Mark Watney. For one thing, we have five astronauts aboard the Hermes who we need to worry about getting safely home. And then there’s the long term to think about —we can’t keep cannibalizing other projects and dedicating all of our time and resources to this.”

“So what do we do?” Mitch asked. “Half-ass the rescue mission? Only give it as much as we feel Mark’s life is worth? How much is that, exactly?”

The room fell silent.

Venkat took a breath, then spoke up. “The other projects can wait. I’m sure the EagleEye team will get over the loss of their booster. But we have only get once chance to save Mark.” He paused. “Besides, there might be more hope than you think. The psych team has pointed out that Watney’s incredibly resourceful and an excellent botanist. It’s possible that he’s found a way to grow something edible, which would give us a little more room for error. And he still does fairly regular EVAs. He doesn’t seem to have given up.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 117

It’s almost time for my second harvest—or at least, it would be if I still gave a shit. What do I gain by surviving until Sol 900? I’ll still die in the end.

On the other hand, it’s nice to have something to do with my hands that won’t explode, electrocute me, or give me radiation poisoning. Maybe I’ll harvest after all.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 118

Began drilling. Ran into an annoying problem where I have to let the drill cool off every few minutes, but removing the cowling helped.

As I’ve been abusing this piece of geological equipment in order to tear a gaping hole in the roof of my vehicle, I couldn’t help but think back to my first few sols here, when Commander Lewis was using this drill for its intended purpose. I was working alongside her, collecting soil samples for my plant growth experiments.

That was back when I wasn’t the only person on Mars. Back when I was wide-eyed with curiosity (see what I did there? Like the Mars rover?) and awed by how far humanity has come. We all were.

I miss those nerds.

Maybe…Maybe if I make it to Schiaparelli and get the MAV’s comm system working, the geniuses at NASA will find a way to hack it so that it can get me to Hermes. There has to be something that can be done. I can’t die here.

But if this is going to be more than a suicide mission, I need to start thinking seriously about how I’m going to survive once I get there until they can come up with a plan to rescue me. I’m going to need the water reclaimer, for one. And I’ll need to bring my potato crop with me…maybe the whole farm, if I can manage it.

Need more time to think. I was going to leave for Schiaparelli as soon as I finished rover mods and a test drive, but I think I’ll stake out the Hab for awhile longer.

***

“This is the flight director. Begin launch status check.”

“Roger that, Houston.”

“Talker?”

“Go.”

“Timer.”

“Go.”

“QAM1.”

“Go.”

 

“…and liftoff of the Iris supply probe.”

“Trim?” Mitch asked.

“Trim’s good,” came the response.

“Safe-abort reached,” someone else called out.

“Slight shimmy, Flight,” said yet another voice.

“Excuse me?” Mitch asked the ascent flight director.

“A little shimmy. But onboard guidance is handling it.”

“Keep me updated,” Mitch said.

***

After the failure to establish communication via Pathfinder, NASA had rated the importance of making contact too high to risk a crash landing of the Iris probe. The comm systems could be damaged; besides, with no way to warn Watney that help was on the way, a crash lander in an unexpected location could go unnoticed. With this in mind, Iris was planned for a controlled, power descent. Iris’ onboard guidance was more sophisticated than any previous unmanned mission.

***

            “Automated course adjustment complete. No sign of damage from shimmy.” Moments later: “Pitch and roll complete. Ready for staging.”

The first stage fell away. A quarter-second later, the second-stage engines ignited. The craft reached orbit and pushed onward.

“Successfully escaped orbit. Iris is on course to reach her destination.”

The control room erupted into applause.

Mitch grinned and turned to Venkat. “We did it!”

“We really did,” Venkat replied, almost unbelieving. “Half the usual time to build a presupply, and we did it!”

In the VIP observation room behind Mission Control, Teddy smiled as he withdrew a blue folder containing a cheerful speech from his briefcase.

***

After months and months of unanticipated stress, sheet AL102 finally gave way, depressurizing Airlock 1 and rocketing Mark fifty meters across the surface of Mars. When he finally regained consciousness, the airlock was damaged and his suit was torn…

AUDIO LOG ENTRY: SOL 133

Fucking hell…what is it with me and getting injured but never dying? The Hab must be trying to kill me. First the antenna through my pelvis and now the airlock decides to hurl me across Mars…Fuck it, this entire planet is trying to kill me. Goddamn…my back hurts like hell…I think I hear a hissing. Air must be escaping from somewhere. It’s only a matter of time before I run out of breathable air. And you know what? I officially don’t give a shit. Everyone thinks I died on Sol 6. Everything I’ve done since then has been a waste of my time. No one knows or cares how many problems I’ve solved or how much I’ve suffered. I may as well let the air leak out and just die. Or…hang on…if I patch my suit and then fill it will pure nitrogen…there. The lungs can’t sense lack of oxygen. They say it’s just like falling aslee—

[[END AUDIO LOG ENTRY]]

Epilogue: Sol 402

Less than 40 kilometers away from the Hab, the landing of the probe has gone perfectly. A cascade of green ribbons flutters down from the sky, finally coming to rest in stark contrast with the red Martian terrain. They would have been impossible to miss.

            Too bad that no one is there to see them.

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