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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2011, 2014 by Andy Weir All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. www.crownpublishing.com CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC. Originally self-published, in different form, as an ebook in 2011. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available upon request. ISBN 9780804139021 eBook ISBN: 9780804139038 Printed in the United States of America Book design by Elizabeth Rendfleisch Map by Fred Haynes Photograph by Antonio M. Rosario/Stockbyte/Getty Images Jacket design by Eric White Jacket photograph (astronaut): NASA ep_v4.0 For Mom, who calls me “Pickle,” and Dad, who calls me “Dude.” Contents Cover Title Page Copyright Dedication Map Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 CHAPTER 1 LOG ENTRY: SOL 6 I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked. Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now. For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.” And it’ll be right, probably. ’Cause I’ll surely die here. ; Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did. Let’s see…where do I begin? The Ares Program. Mankind reaching out to Mars to send people to another planet for the very first time and expand the horizons of humanity blah, blah, blah. The Ares 1 crew did their thing and came back heroes. They got the parades and fame and love of the world. Ares 2 did the same thing, in a different location on Mars. They got a firm handshake and a hot cup of coffee when they got home. Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Commander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person. What do you know? I’m in command. I wonder if this log will be recovered before the rest of the crew die of old age. I presume they got back to Earth all right. Guys, if you’re reading this: It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do. In your position I would have done the same thing. I don’t blame you, and I’m glad you survived. I guess I should explain how Mars missions work, for any layman who may be reading this. We got to Earth orbit the normal way, through an ordinary ship to Hermes. All the Ares missions use Hermes to get to and from Mars. It’s really big and cost a lot so NASA built only one. Once we got to Hermes, four additional unmanned missions brought us fuel and supplies while we prepared for our trip. Once everything was a go, we set out for Mars. But not very fast. Gone are the days of heavy chemical fuel burns and trans-Mars injection orbits. Hermes is powered by ion engines. They throw argon out the back of the ship really fast to get a tiny amount of acceleration. The thing is, it doesn’t take much reactant mass, so a little argon (and a nuclear reactor to power things) let us accelerate constantly the whole way there. You’d be amazed at how fast you can get going with a tiny acceleration over a long time. I could regale you with tales of how we had great fun on the trip, but I won’t. I don’t feel like reliving it right now. Suffice it to say we got to Mars 124 days later without strangling each other. From there, we took the MDV (Mars descent vehicle) to the surface. The MDV is basically a big can with some light thrusters and parachutes attached. Its sole purpose is to get six humans from Mars orbit to the surface without killing any of them. And now we come to the real trick of Mars exploration: having all of our shit there in advance. A total of fourteen unmanned missions deposited everything we would need for surface operations. They tried their best to land all the supply vessels in the same general area, and did a reasonably good job. Supplies aren’t nearly so fragile as humans and can hit the ground really hard. But they tend to bounce around a lot. Naturally, they didn’t send us to Mars until they’d confirmed that all the supplies had made it to the surface and their containers weren’t breached. Start to finish, including supply missions, a Mars mission takes about three years. In fact, there were Ares 3 supplies en route to Mars while the Ares 2 crew were on their way home. The most important piece of the advance supplies, of course, was the MAV. The Mars ascent vehicle. That was how we would get back to Hermes after surface operations were complete. The MAV was soft-landed (as opposed to the balloon bounce-fest the other supplies had). Of course, it was in constant communication with Houston, and if there had been any problems with it, we would have passed by Mars and gone home without ever landing. The MAV is pretty cool. Turns out, through a neat set of chemical reactions with the Martian atmosphere, for every kilogram of hydrogen you bring to Mars, you can make thirteen kilograms of fuel. It’s a slow process, though. It takes twenty-four months to fill the tank. That’s why they sent it long before we got here. You can imagine how disappointed I was when I discovered the MAV was gone. It was a ridiculous sequence of events that led to me almost dying, and an even more ridiculous sequence that led to me surviving. The mission is designed to handle sandstorm gusts up to 150 kph. So Houston got understandably nervous when we got whacked with 175 kph winds. We all got in our flight space suits and huddled in the middle of the Hab, just in case it lost pressure. But the Hab wasn’t the problem. The MAV is a spaceship. It has a lot of delicate parts. It can put up with storms to a certain extent, but it can’t just get sandblasted forever. After an hour and a half of sustained wind, NASA gave the order to abort. Nobody wanted to stop a monthlong mission after only six days, but if the MAV took any more punishment, we’d all have gotten stranded down there. We had to go out in the storm to get from the Hab to the MAV. That was going to be risky, but what choice did we have? Everyone made it but me. Our main communications dish, which relayed signals from the Hab to Hermes, acted like a parachute, getting torn from its foundation and carried with the torrent. Along the way, it crashed through the reception antenna array. Then one of those long thin antennae slammed into me end-first. It tore through my suit like a bullet through butter, and I felt the worst pain of my life as it ripped open my side. I vaguely remember having the wind knocked out of me (pulled out of me, really) and my ears popping painfully as the pressure of my suit escaped. The last thing I remember was seeing Johanssen hopelessly reaching out toward me. I awoke to the oxygen alarm in my suit. A steady, obnoxious beeping that eventually roused me from a deep and profound desire to just fucking die. The storm had abated; I was facedown, almost totally buried in sand. As I groggily came to, I wondered why I wasn’t more dead. The antenna had enough force to punch through the suit and my side, but it had been stopped by my pelvis. So there was only one hole in the suit (and a hole in me, of course). I had been knocked back quite a ways and rolled down a steep hill. Somehow I landed facedown, which forced the antenna to a strongly oblique angle that put a lot of torque on the hole in the suit. It made a weak seal. Then, the copious blood from my wound trickled down toward the hole. As the blood reached the site of the breach, the water in it quickly evaporated from the airflow and low pressure, leaving a gunky residue behind. More blood came in behind it and was also reduced to gunk. Eventually, it sealed the gaps around the hole and reduced the leak to something the suit could counteract. The suit did its job admirably. Sensing the drop in pressure, it constantly flooded itself with air from my nitrogen tank to equalize. Once the leak became manageable, it only had to trickle new air in slowly to relieve the air lost. After a while, the CO2 (carbon dioxide) absorbers in the suit were expended. That’s really the limiting factor to life support. Not the amount of oxygen you bring with you, but the amount of CO2 you can remove. In the Hab, I have the oxygenator, a large piece of equipment that breaks apart CO2 to give the oxygen back. But the space suits have to be portable, so they use a simple chemical absorption process with expendable filters. I’d been asleep long enough that my filters were useless. The suit saw this problem and moved into an emergency mode the engineers call “bloodletting.” Having no way to separate out the CO2, the suit deliberately vented air to the Martian atmosphere, then backfilled with nitrogen. Between the breach and the bloodletting, it quickly ran out of nitrogen. All it had left was my oxygen tank. So it did the only thing it could to keep me alive. It started backfilling with pure oxygen. I now risked dying from oxygen toxicity, as the excessively high amount of oxygen threatened to burn up my nervous system, lungs, and eyes. An ironic death for someone with a leaky space suit: too much oxygen. Every step of the way would have had beeping alarms, alerts, and warnings. But it was the high-oxygen warning that woke me. The sheer volume of training for a space mission is astounding. I’d spent a week back on Earth practicing emergency space suit drills. I knew what to do. Carefully reaching to the side of my helmet, I got the breach kit. It’s nothing more than a funnel with a valve at the small end and an unbelievably sticky resin on the wide end. The idea is you have the valve open and stick the wide end over a hole. The air can escape through the valve, so it doesn’t interfere with the resin making a good seal. Then you close the valve, and you’ve sealed the breach. The tricky part was getting the antenna out of the way. I pulled it out as fast as I could, wincing as the sudden pressure drop dizzied me and made the wound in my side scream in agony. I got the breach kit over the hole and sealed it. It held. The suit backfilled the missing air with yet more oxygen. Checking my arm readouts, I saw the suit was now at 85 percent oxygen. For reference, Earth’s atmosphere is about 21 percent. I’d be okay, so long as I didn’t spend too much time like that. I stumbled up the hill back toward the Hab. As I crested the rise, I saw something that made me very happy and something that made me very sad: The Hab was intact (yay!) and the MAV was gone (boo!). Right that moment I knew I was screwed. But I didn’t want to just die out on the surface. I limped back to the Hab and fumbled my way into an airlock. As soon as it equalized, I threw off my helmet. Once inside the Hab, I doffed the suit and got my first good look at the injury. It would need stitches. Fortunately, all of us had been trained in basic medical procedures, and the Hab had excellent medical supplies. A quick shot of local anesthetic, irrigate the wound, nine stitches, and I was done. I’d be taking antibiotics for a couple of weeks, but other than that I’d be fine. I knew it was hopeless, but I tried firing up the communications array. No signal, of course. The primary satellite dish had broken off, remember? And it took the reception antennae with it. The Hab had secondary and tertiary communications systems, but they were both just for talking to the MAV, which would use its much more powerful systems to relay to Hermes. Thing is, that only works if the MAV is still around. I had no way to talk to Hermes. In time, I could locate the dish out on the surface, but it would take weeks for me to rig up any repairs, and that would be too late. In an abort, Hermes would leave orbit within twenty-four hours. The orbital dynamics made the trip safer and shorter the earlier you left, so why wait? Checking out my suit, I saw the antenna had plowed through my bio-monitor computer. When on an EVA, all the crew’s suits are networked so we can see each other’s status. The rest of the crew would have seen the pressure in my suit drop to nearly zero, followed immediately by my bio-signs going flat. Add to that watching me tumble down a hill with a spear through me in the middle of a sandstorm…yeah. They thought I was dead. How could they not? They may have even had a brief discussion about recovering my body, but regulations are clear. In the event a crewman dies on Mars, he stays on Mars. Leaving his body behind reduces weight for the MAV on the trip back. That means more disposable fuel and a larger margin of error for the return thrust. No point in giving that up for sentimentality. So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked. CHAPTER 2 LOG ENTRY: SOL 7 Okay, I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and things don’t seem as hopeless as they did yesterday. Today I took stock of supplies and did a quick EVA to check up on the external equipment. Here’s my situation: The surface mission was supposed to be thirty-one days. For redundancy, the supply probes had enough food to last the whole crew fifty-six days. That way if one or two probes had problems, we’d still have enough food to complete the mission. We were six days in when all hell broke loose, so that leaves enough food to feed six people for fifty days. I’m just one guy, so it’ll last me three hundred days. And that’s if I don’t ration it. So I’ve got a fair bit of time. I’m pretty flush on EVA suits, too. Each crew member had two space suits: a flight spacesuit to wear during descent and ascent, and the much bulkier and more robust EVA suit to wear when doing surface operations. My flight spacesuit has a hole in it, and of course the crew was wearing the other five when they returned to Hermes. But all six EVA suits are still here and in perfect condition. The Hab stood up to the storm without any problems. Outside, things aren’t so rosy. I can’t find the satellite dish. It probably got blown kilometers away. The MAV is gone, of course. My crewmates took it up to Hermes. Though the bottom half (the landing stage) is still here. No reason to take that back up when weight is the enemy. It includes the landing gear, the fuel plant, and anything else NASA figured it wouldn’t need for the trip back up to orbit. The MDV is on its side and there’s a breach in the hull. Looks like the storm ripped the cowling off the reserve chute (which we didn’t have to use on landing). Once the chute was exposed, it dragged the MDV all over the place, smashing it against every rock in the area. Not that the MDV would be much use to me. Its thrusters can’t even lift its own weight. But it might have been valuable for parts. Might still be. Both rovers are half-buried in sand, but they’re in good shape otherwise. Their pressure seals are intact. Makes sense. Operating procedure when a storm hits is to stop motion and wait for the storm to pass. They’re made to stand up to punishment. I’ll be able to dig them out with a day or so of work. I’ve lost communication with the weather stations, placed a kilometer away from the Hab in four directions. They might be in perfect working order for all I know. The Hab’s communications are so weak right now it probably can’t even reach a kilometer. The solar cell array was covered in sand, rendering it useless (hint: solar cells need sunlight to make electricity). But once I swept the cells off, they returned to full efficiency. Whatever I end up doing, I’ll have plenty of power for it. Two hundred square meters of solar cells, with hydrogen fuel cells to store plenty of reserve. All I need to do is sweep them off every few days. Things indoors are great, thanks to the Hab’s sturdy design. I ran a full diagnostic on the oxygenator. Twice. It’s perfect. If anything goes wrong with it, there’s a short-term spare I can use. But it’s solely for emergency use while repairing the main one. The spare doesn’t actually pull CO2 apart and recapture the oxygen. It just absorbs the CO2 the same way the space suits do. It’s intended to last five days before it saturates the filters, which means thirty days for me (just one person breathing, instead of six). So there’s some insurance there. The water reclaimer is working fine, too. The bad news is there’s no backup. If it stops working, I’ll be drinking reserve water while I rig up a primitive distillery to boil piss. Also, I’ll lose half a liter of water per day to breathing until the humidity in the Hab reaches its maximum and water starts condensing on every surface. Then I’ll be licking the walls. Yay. Anyway, for now, no problems with the water reclaimer. So yeah. Food, water, shelter all taken care of. I’m going to start rationing food right now. Meals are pretty minimal already, but I think I can eat a three-fourths portion per meal and still be all right. That should turn my three hundred days of food into four hundred. Foraging around the medical area, I found the main bottle of vitamins. There’s enough multivitamins there to last years. So I won’t have any nutritional problems (though I’ll still starve to death when I’m out of food, no matter how many vitamins I take). The medical area has morphine for emergencies. And there’s enough there for a lethal dose. I’m not going to slowly starve to death, I’ll tell you that. If I get to that point, I’ll take an easier way out. Everyone on the mission had two specialties. I’m a botanist and mechanical engineer; basically, the mission’s fix-it man who played with plants. The mechanical engineering might save my life if something breaks. I’ve been thinking about how to survive this. It’s not completely hopeless. There’ll be humans back on Mars in about four years when Ares 4 arrives (assuming they didn’t cancel the program in the wake of my “death”). Ares 4 will be landing at the Schiaparelli crater, which is about 3200 kilometers away from my location here in Acidalia Planitia. No way for me to get there on my own. But if I could communicate, I might be able to get a rescue. Not sure how they’d manage that with the resources on hand, but NASA has a lot of smart people. So that’s my mission now. Find a way to communicate with Earth. If I can’t manage that, find a way to communicate with Hermes when it returns in four years with the Ares 4 crew. Of course, I don’t have any plan for surviving four years on one year of food. But one thing at a time here. For now, I’m well fed and have a purpose: Fix the damn radio. LOG ENTRY: SOL 10 Well, I’ve done three EVAs and haven’t found any hint of the communications dish. I dug out one of the rovers and had a good drive around, but after days of wandering, I think it’s time to give up. The storm probably blew the dish far away and then erased any drag-marks or scuffs that might have led to a trail. Probably buried it, too. I spent most of today out at what’s left of the communications array. It’s really a sorry sight. I may as well yell toward Earth for all the good that damned thing will do me. I could throw together a rudimentary dish out of metal I find around the base, but this isn’t some walkie-talkie I’m working with here. Communicating from Mars to Earth is a pretty big deal, and requires extremely specialized equipment. I won’t be able to whip something up with tinfoil and gum. I need to ration my EVAs as well as food. The CO2 filters are not cleanable. Once they’re saturated, they’re done. The mission accounted for a four-hour EVA per crew member per day. Fortunately, CO2 filters are light and small, so NASA had the luxury of sending more than we needed. All told, I have about 1500 hours’ worth of CO2 filters. After that, any EVAs I do will have to be managed with bloodletting the air. Fifteen hundred hours may sound like a lot, but I’m faced with spending at least four years here if I’m going to have any hope of rescue, with a minimum of several hours per week dedicated to sweeping off the solar array. Anyway. No needless EVAs. In other news, I’m starting to come up with an idea for food. My botany background may come in useful after all. Why bring a botanist to Mars? After all, it’s famous for not having anything growing there. Well, the idea was to figure out how well things grow in Martian gravity, and see what, if anything, we can do with Martian soil. The short answer is: quite a lot…almost. Martian soil has the basic building blocks needed for plant growth, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in Earth soil that Mars soil doesn’t have, even when it’s placed in an Earth atmosphere and given plenty of water. Bacterial activity, certain nutrients provided by animal life, etc. None of that is happening on Mars. One of my tasks for the mission was to see how plants grow here, in various combinations of Earth and Mars soil and atmosphere. That’s why I have a small amount of Earth soil and a bunch of plant seeds with me. I can’t get too excited, however. It’s about the amount of soil you’d put in a window box, and the only seeds I have are a few species of grass and ferns. They’re the most rugged and easily grown plants on Earth, so NASA picked them as the test subjects. So I have two problems: not enough dirt, and nothing edible to plant in it. But I’m a botanist, damn it. I should be able to find a way to make this happen. If I don’t, I’ll be a really hungry botanist in about a year. LOG ENTRY: SOL 11 I wonder how the Cubs are doing. LOG ENTRY: SOL 14 I got my undergrad degree at the University of Chicago. Half the people who studied botany were hippies who thought they could return to some natural world system. Somehow feeding seven billion people through pure gathering. They spent most of their time working out better ways to grow pot. I didn’t like them. I’ve always been in it for the science, not for any New World Order bullshit. When they made compost heaps and tried to conserve every little ounce of living matter, I laughed at them. “Look at the silly hippies! Look at their pathetic attempts to simulate a complex global ecosystem in their backyard.” Of course, now I’m doing exactly that. I’m saving every scrap of biomatter I can find. Every time I finish a meal, the leftovers go to the compost bucket. As for other biological material… The Hab has sophisticated toilets. Shit is usually vaccum-dried, then accumulated in sealed bags to be discarded on the surface. Not anymore! In fact, I even did an EVA to recover the previous bags of shit from before the crew left. Being completely desiccated, this particular shit didn’t have bacteria in it anymore, but it still had complex proteins and would serve as useful manure. Adding it to water and active bacteria would quickly get it inundated, replacing any population killed by the Toilet of Doom. I found a big container and put a bit of water in it, then added the dried shit. Since then, I’ve added my own shit to it as well. The worse it smells, the better things are going. That’s the bacteria at work! Once I get some Martian soil in here, I can mix in the shit and spread it out. Then I can sprinkle the Earth soil on top. You might not think that would be an important step, but it is. There are dozens of species of bacteria living in Earth soil, and they’re critical to plant growth. They’ll spread out and breed like…well, like a bacterial infection. People have been using human waste as fertilizer for centuries. It’s even got a pleasant name: “night soil.” Normally, it’s not an ideal way to grow crops, because it spreads disease: Human waste has pathogens in it that, you guessed it, infect humans. But it’s not a problem for me. The only pathogens in this waste are the ones I already have. Within a week, the Martian soil will be ready for plants to germinate in. But I won’t plant yet. I’ll bring in more lifeless soil from outside and spread some of the live soil over it. It’ll “infect” the new soil and I’ll have double what I started with. After another week, I’ll double it again. And so on. Of course, all the while, I’ll be adding all new manure to the effort. My asshole is doing as much to keep me alive as my brain. This isn’t a new concept I just came up with. People have speculated on how to make crop soil out of Martian dirt for decades. I’ll just be putting it to the test for the first time. I searched through the food supplies and found all sorts of things that I can plant. Peas, for instance. Plenty of beans, too. I also found several potatoes. If any of them can still germinate after their ordeal, that’ll be great. With a nearly infinite supply of vitamins, all I need are calories of any kind to survive. The total floor space of the Hab is about 92 square meters. I plan to dedicate all of it to this endeavor. I don’t mind walking on dirt. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m going to need to cover the entire floor to a depth of 10 centimeters. That means I’ll have to transport 9.2 cubic meters of Martian soil into the Hab. I can get maybe one-tenth of a cubic meter in through the airlock at a time, and it’ll be backbreaking work to collect it. But in the end, if everything goes to plan, I’ll have 92 square meters of crop-able soil. Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers! LOG ENTRY: SOL 15 Ugh! This is backbreaking work! I spent twelve hours today on EVAs to bring dirt into the Hab. I only managed to cover a small corner of the base, maybe five square meters. At this rate it’ll take me weeks to get all the soil in. But hey, time is one thing I’ve got. The first few EVAs were pretty inefficient; me filling small containers and bringing them in through the airlock. Then I got wise and just put one big container in the airlock itself and filled that with small containers till it was full. That sped things up a lot because the airlock takes about ten minutes to get through. I ache all over. And the shovels I have are made for taking samples, not heavy digging. My back is killing me. I foraged in the medical supplies and found some Vicodin. I took it about ten minutes ago. Should be kicking in soon. Anyway, it’s nice to see progress. Time to start getting the bacteria to work on these minerals. After lunch. No three-fourths ration today. I’ve earned a full meal. LOG ENTRY: SOL 16 One complication I hadn’t thought of: water. Turns out being on the surface of Mars for a few million years eliminates all the water in the soil. My master’s degree in botany makes me pretty sure plants need wet dirt to grow in. Not to mention the bacteria that has to live in the dirt first. Fortunately, I have water. But not as much as I want. To be viable, soil needs 40 liters of water per cubic meter. My overall plan calls for 9.2 cubic meters of soil. So I’ll eventually need 368 liters of water to feed it. The Hab has an excellent water reclaimer. Best technology available on Earth. So NASA figured, “Why send a lot of water up there? Just send enough for an emergency.” Humans need three liters of water per day to be comfortable. They gave us 50 liters each, making 300 liters total in the Hab. I’m willing to dedicate all but an emergency 50 liters to the cause. That means I can feed 62.5 square meters at a depth of 10 centimeters. About two-thirds of the Hab’s floor. It’ll have to do. That’s the long-term plan. For today, my goal was five square meters. I wadded up blankets and uniforms from my departed crewmates to serve as one edge of a planter box with the curved walls of the Hab being the rest of the perimeter. It was as close to five square meters as I could manage. I filled it with sand to a depth of 10 centimeters. Then I sacrificed 20 liters of precious water to the dirt gods. Then things got disgusting. I dumped my big container o’ shit onto the soil and nearly puked from the smell. I mixed this soil and shit together with a shovel, and spread it out evenly again. Then I sprinkled the Earth soil on top. Get to work, bacteria. I’m counting on you. That smell’s going to stick around for a while, too. It’s not like I can open a window. Still, you get used to it. In other news, today is Thanksgiving. My family will be gathering in Chicago for the usual feast at my parents’ house. My guess is it won’t be much fun, what with me having died ten days ago. Hell, they probably just got done with my funeral. I wonder if they’ll ever find out what really happened. I’ve been so busy staying alive I never thought of what this must be like for my parents. Right now, they’re suffering the worst pain anyone can endure. I’d give anything just to let them know I’m still alive. I’ll just have to survive to make up for it. LOG ENTRY: SOL 22 Wow. Things really came along. I got all the sand in and ready to go. Two-thirds of the base is now dirt. And today I executed my first dirt-doubling. It’s been a week, and the former Martian soil is rich and lovely. Two more doublings and I’ll have covered the whole field. All that work was great for my morale. It gave me something to do. But after things settled down a bit, and I had dinner while listening to Johanssen’s Beatles music collection, I got depressed again. Doing the math, this won’t keep me from starving. My best bet for making calories is potatoes. They grow prolifically and have a reasonable caloric content (770 calories per kilogram). I’m pretty sure the ones I have will germinate. Problem is I can’t grow enough of them. In 62 square meters, I could grow maybe 150 kilograms of potatoes in 400 days (the time I have before running out of food). That’s a grand total of 115,500 calories, a sustainable average of 288 calories per day. With my height and weight, if I’m willing to starve a little, I need 1500 calories per day. Not even close. So I can’t just live off the land forever. But I can extend my life. The potatoes will last me 76 days. Potatoes grow continually, so in those 76 days, I can grow another 22,000 calories of potatoes, which will tide me over for another 15 days. After that, it’s kind of pointless to continue the trend. All told it buys me about 90 days. So now I’ll start starving to death on Sol 490 instead of Sol 400. It’s progress, but any hope of survival rests on me surviving until Sol 1412, when Ares 4 will land. There’s about a thousand days of food I don’t have. And I don’t have a plan for how to get it. Shit. CHAPTER 3 LOG ENTRY: SOL 25 Remember those old math questions you had in algebra class? Where water is entering a container at a certain rate and leaving at a different rate and you need to figure out when it’ll be empty? Well, that concept is critical to the “Mark Watney doesn’t die” project I’m working on. I need to create calories. And I need enough to last the 1387 sols until Ares 4 arrives. If I don’t get rescued by Ares 4, I’m dead anyway. A sol is 39 minutes longer than a day, so it works out to be 1425 days. That’s my target: 1425 days of food. I have plenty of multivitamins; over double what I need. And there’s five times the minimum protein in each food pack, so careful rationing of portions takes care of my protein needs for at least four years. My general nutrition is taken care of. I just need calories. I need 1500 calories every day. I have 400 days of food to start off with. So how many calories do I need to generate per day along the entire time period to stay alive for around 1425 days? I’ll spare you the math. The answer is about 1100. I need to create 1100 calories per day with my farming efforts to survive until Ares 4 gets here. Actually, a little more than that, because it’s Sol 25 right now and I haven’t actually planted anything yet. With my 62 square meters of farmland, I’ll be able to create about 288 calories per day. So I need almost four times my current plan’s production to survive. That means I need more surface area for farming, and more water to hydrate the soil. So let’s take the problems one at a time. How much farmland can I really make? There are 92 square meters in the Hab. Let’s say I could make use of all of it. Also, there are five unused bunks. Let’s say I put soil in on them, too. They’re 2 square meters each, giving me 10 more square meters. So we’re up to 102. The Hab has three lab tables, each about 2 square meters. I want to keep one for my own use, leaving two for the cause. That’s another 4 square meters, bringing the total to 106. I have two Martian rovers. They have pressure seals, allowing the occupants to drive without space suits during long periods traversing the surface. They’re too cramped to plant crops in, and I want to be able to drive them around anyway. But both rovers have an emergency pop-tent. There are a lot of problems with using pop-tents as farmland, but they have 10 square meters of floor space each. Presuming I can overcome the problems, they net me another 20 square meters, bringing my farmland up to 126. One hundred and twenty-six square meters of farmable land. That’s something to work with. I still don’t have the water to moisten all that soil, but like I said, one thing at a time. The next thing to consider is how efficient I can be in growing potatoes. I based my crop yield estimates on the potato industry back on Earth. But potato farmers aren’t in a desperate race for survival like I am. Can I get a better yield? For starters, I can give attention to each individual plant. I can trim them and keep them healthy and not interfering with each other. Also, as their flowering bodies breach the surface, I can replant them deeper, then plant younger plants above them. For normal potato farmers, it’s not worth doing because they’re working with literally millions of potato plants. Also, this sort of farming annihilates the soil. Any farmer doing it would turn their land into a dust bowl within twelve years. It’s not sustainable. But who cares? I just need to survive for four years. I estimate I can get 50 percent higher yield by using these tactics. And with the 126 square meters of farmland (just over double the 62 square meters I now have) it works out to be over 850 calories per day. That’s real progress. I’d still be in danger of starvation, but it gets me in the range of survival. I might be able to make it by nearly starving but not quite dying. I could reduce my caloric use by minimizing manual labor. I could set the temperature of the Hab higher than normal, meaning my body would expend less energy keeping its temperature. I could cut off an arm and eat it, gaining me valuable calories and reducing my overall caloric need. No, not really. So let’s say I could clear up that much farmland. Seems reasonable. Where do I get the water? To go from 62 to 126 square meters of farmland at 10 centimeters deep, I’ll need 6.4 more cubic meters of soil (more shoveling, whee!) and that’ll need over 250 liters of water. The 50 liters I have is for me to drink if the water reclaimer breaks. So I’m 250 liters short of my 250-liter goal. Bleh. I’m going to bed. LOG ENTRY: SOL 26 It was a backbreaking yet productive day. I was sick of thinking, so instead of trying to figure out where I’ll get 250 liters of water, I did some manual labor. I need to get a whole assload more soil into the Hab, even if it is dry and useless right now. I got a cubic meter in before getting exhausted. Then, a minor dust storm dropped by for an hour and covered the solar collectors with crap. So I had to suit up again and do another EVA. I was in a pissy mood the whole time. Sweeping off a huge field of solar cells is boring and physically demanding. But once the job was done, I came back to my Little Hab on the Prairie. It was about time for another dirt-doubling, so I figured I might as well get it over with. It took an hour. One more doubling and the usable soil will all be good to go. Also, I figured it was time to start up a seed crop. I’d doubled the soil enough that I could afford to leave a little corner of it alone. I had twelve potatoes to work with. I am one lucky son of a bitch they aren’t freeze-dried or mulched. Why did NASA send twelve whole potatoes, refrigerated but not frozen? And why send them along with us as in-pressure cargo rather than in a crate with the rest of the Hab supplies? Because Thanksgiving was going to happen while we were doing surface operations, and NASA’s shrinks thought it would be good for us to make a meal together. Not just to eat it, but to actually prepare it. There’s probably some logic to that, but who cares? I cut each potato into four pieces, making sure each piece had at least two eyes. The eyes are where they sprout from. I let them sit for a few hours to harden a bit, then planted them, well spaced apart, in the corner. Godspeed, little taters. My life depends on you. Normally, it takes at least 90 days to yield full-sized potatoes. But I can’t wait that long. I’ll need to cut up all the potatoes from this crop to seed the rest of the field. By setting the Hab temperature to a balmy 25.5°C, I can make the plants grow faster. Also, the internal lights will provide plenty of “sunlight,” and I’ll make sure they get lots of water (once I figure out where to get water). There will be no foul weather, or any parasites to hassle them, or any weeds to compete with for soil or nutrients. With all this going for them, they should yield healthy, sproutable tubers within forty days. I figured that was enough being Farmer Mark for one day. A full meal for dinner. I’d earned it. Plus, I’d burned a ton of calories, and I wanted them back. I rifled through Commander Lewis’s stuff until I found her personal data-stick. Everyone got to bring whatever digital entertainment they wanted, and I was tired of listening to Johanssen’s Beatles albums for now. Time to see what Lewis had. Crappy TV shows. That’s what she had. Countless entire runs of TV shows from forever ago. Well. Beggars can’t be choosers. Three’s Company it is. LOG ENTRY: SOL 29 Over the last few days, I got in all the dirt that I’ll need. I prepped the tables and bunks for holding the weight of soil, and even put the dirt in place. There’s still no water to make it viable, but I have some ideas. Really bad ideas, but they’re ideas. Today’s big accomplishment was setting up the pop-tents. The problem with the rovers’ pop-tents is they weren’t designed for frequent use. The idea was you’d throw out a pop-tent, get in, and wait for rescue. The airlock is nothing more than valves and two doors. Equalize the airlock with your side of it, get in, equalize with the other side, get out. This means you lose a lot of air with each use. And I’ll need to get in there at least once a day. The total volume of each pop-tent is pretty low, so I can’t afford to lose air from it. I spent hours trying to figure out how to attach a pop-tent airlock to a Hab airlock. I have three airlocks in the Hab. I’d be willing to dedicate two to pop-tents. That would have been awesome. The frustrating part is pop-tent airlocks can attach to other airlocks! You might have injured people in there, or not enough space suits. You need to be able to get people out without exposing them to the Martian atmosphere. But the pop-tents were designed for your crewmates to come rescue you in a rover. The airlocks on the Hab are much larger and completely different from the airlocks on the rovers. When you think about it, there’s really no reason to attach a pop-tent to the Hab. Unless you’re stranded on Mars, everyone thinks you’re dead, and you’re in a desperate fight against time and the elements to stay alive. But, you know, other than that edge case, there’s no reason. So I finally decided I’d just take the hit. I’ll be losing some air every time I enter or exit a pop-tent. The good news is each pop-tent has an air feed valve on the outside. Remember, these are emergency shelters. The occupants might need air, and you can provide it from a rover by hooking up an air line. It’s nothing more than a tube that equalizes the rover’s air with the pop-tent’s. The Hab and the rovers use the same valve and tubing standards, so I was able to attach the pop-tents directly to the Hab. That’ll automatically replenish the air I lose with my entries and exits (what we NASA folk call ingress and egress). NASA was not screwing around with these emergency tents. The moment I pushed the panic button in the rover, there was an ear-popping whoosh as the pop-tent fired out, attached to the rover airlock. It took about two seconds. I closed the airlock from the rover side and ended up with a nice, isolated pop-tent. Setting up the equalizer hose was trivial (for once I’m using equipment the way it was designed to be used). Then, after a few trips through the airlock (with the air-loss automatically equalized by the Hab) I got the dirt in. I repeated the process for the other tent. Everything went really easily. Sigh…water. In high school, I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. (You may not have guessed this botanist/mechanical engineer was a bit of a nerd in high school, but indeed I was.) In the game I played a cleric. One of the magic spells I could cast was “Create Water.” I always thought it was a really stupid spell, and I never used it. Boy, what I wouldn’t give to be able to do that in real life right now. Anyway. That’s a problem for tomorrow. For tonight, I have to get back to Three’s Company. I stopped last night in the middle of the episode where Mr. Roper saw something and took it out of context. LOG ENTRY: SOL 30 I have an idiotically dangerous plan for getting the water I need. And boy, do I mean dangerous. But I don’t have much choice. I’m out of ideas and I’m due for another dirt-doubling in a few days. When I do the final doubling, I’ll be doubling on to all that new soil I’ve brought in. If I don’t wet it first, it’ll just die. There isn’t a lot of water here on Mars. There’s ice at the poles, but they’re too far away. If I want water, I’ll have to make it from scratch. Fortunately, I know the recipe: Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn. Let’s take them one at a time. I’ll start with oxygen. I have a fair bit of O2 reserves, but not enough to make 250 liters of water. Two high-pressure tanks at one end of the Hab are my entire supply (plus the air in the Hab of course). They each contain 25 liters of liquid O2. The Hab would use them only in an emergency; it has the oxygenator to balance the atmosphere. The reason the O2 tanks are here is to feed the space suits and rovers. Anyway, the reserve oxygen would only be enough to make 100 liters of water (50 liters of O2 makes 100 liters of molecules that only have one O each). That would mean no EVAs for me, and no emergency reserves. And it would make less than half the water I need. Out of the question. But oxygen’s easier to find on Mars than you might think. The atmosphere is 95 percent CO2. And I happen to have a machine whose sole purpose is liberating oxygen from CO2. Yay, oxygenator! One problem: The atmosphere is very thin—less than 1 percent of the pressure on Earth. So it’s hard to collect. Getting air from outside to inside is nearly impossible. The whole purpose of the Hab is to keep that sort of thing from happening. The tiny amount of Martian atmosphere that enters when I use an airlock is laughable. That’s where the MAV fuel plant comes in. My crewmates took away the MAV weeks ago. But the bottom half of it stayed behind. NASA isn’t in the habit of putting unnecessary mass into orbit. The landing gear, ingress ramp, and fuel plant are still here. Remember how the MAV made its own fuel with help from the Martian atmosphere? Step one of that is to collect CO2 and store it in a high-pressure vessel. Once I get the fuel plant hooked up to the Hab’s power, it’ll give me half a liter of liquid CO2 per hour, indefinitely. After ten sols it’ll have made 125 liters of CO2, which will make 125 liters of O2 after I feed it through the oxygenator. That’s enough to make 250 liters of water. So I have a plan for oxygen. The hydrogen will be a little trickier. I considered raiding the hydrogen fuel cells, but I need those batteries to maintain power at night. If I don’t have that, it’ll get too cold. I could bundle up, but the cold would kill my crops. And each fuel cell has only a small amount of H2 anyway. It’s just not worth sacrificing so much usefulness for so little gain. The one thing I have going for me is that energy is not a problem. I don’t want to give that up. So I’ll have to go a different route. I often talk about the MAV. But now I want to talk about the MDV. During the most terrifying twenty-three minutes of my life, four of my crewmates and I tried not to shit ourselves while Martinez piloted the MDV down to the surface. It was kind of like being in a tumble-dryer. First, we descended from Hermes, and decelerated our orbital velocity so we could start falling properly. Everything was smooth until we hit the atmosphere. If you think turbulence is rough in a jetliner going 720 kph, just imagine what it’s like at 28,000 kph. Several staged sets of chutes deployed automatically to slow our descent, then Martinez manually piloted us to the ground, using the thrusters to slow descent and control our lateral motion. He’d trained for this for years, and he did his job extraordinarily well. He exceeded all plausible expectations of landings, putting us just nine meters from the target. The guy just plain owned that landing. Thanks, Martinez! You may have saved my life! Not because of the perfect landing, but because he left so much fuel behind. Hundreds of liters of unused hydrazine. Each molecule of hydrazine has four hydrogen atoms in it. So each liter of hydrazine has enough hydrogen for two liters of water. I did a little EVA today to check. The MDV has 292 liters of juice left in the tanks. Enough to make almost 600 liters of water! Way more than I need! There’s just one catch: Liberating hydrogen from hydrazine is…well…it’s how rockets work. It’s really, really hot. And dangerous. If I do it in an oxygen atmosphere, the hot and newly liberated hydrogen will explode. There’ll be a lot of H2O at the end, but I’ll be too dead to appreciate it. At its root, hydrazine is pretty simple. The Germans used it as far back as World War II for rocket-assisted fighter fuel (and occasionally blew themselves up with it). All you have to do is run it over a catalyst (which I can extract from the MDV engine) and it will turn into nitrogen and hydrogen. I’ll spare you the chemistry, but the end result is that five molecules of hydrazine becomes five molecules of harmless N2 and ten molecules of lovely H2. During this process, it goes through an intermediate step of being ammonia. Chemistry, being the sloppy bitch it is, ensures there’ll be some ammonia that doesn’t react with the hydrazine, so it’ll just stay ammonia. You like the smell of ammonia? Well, it’ll be prevalent in my increasingly hellish existence. The chemistry is on my side. The question now is how do I actually make this reaction happen slowly, and how do I collect the hydrogen? The answer is: I don’t know. I suppose I’ll think of something. Or die. Anyway, much more important: I simply can’t abide the replacement of Chrissy with Cindy. Three’s Company may never be the same after this fiasco. Time will tell. CHAPTER 4 LOG ENTRY: SOL 32 So I ran into a bunch of problems with my water plan. My idea is to make 600 liters of water (limited by the hydrogen I can get from the hydrazine). That means I’ll need 300 liters of liquid O2. I can create the O2 easily enough. It takes twenty hours for the MAV fuel plant to fill its 10-liter tank with CO2. The oxygenator can turn it into O2, then the atmospheric regulator will see the O2 content in the Hab is high, and pull it out of the air, storing it in the main O2 tanks. They’ll fill up, so I’ll have to transfer O2 over to the rovers’ tanks and even the space suit tanks as necessary. But I can’t create it very quickly. At half a liter of CO2 per hour, it will take twenty-five days to make the oxygen I need. That’s longer than I’d like. Also, there’s the problem of storing the hydrogen. The air tanks of the Hab, the rovers, and all the space suits add up to exactly 374 liters of storage. To hold all the materials for water, I would need a whopping 900 liters of storage. I considered using one of the rovers as a “tank.” It would certainly be big enough, but it just isn’t designed to hold in that much pressure. It’s made to hold (you guessed it) one atmosphere. I need vessels that can hold fifty times that much. I’m sure a rover would burst. The best way to store the ingredients of water is to make them be water. So what’s what I’ll have to do. The concept is simple, but the execution will be incredibly dangerous. Every twenty hours, I’ll have 10 liters of CO2 thanks to the MAV fuel plant. I’ll vent it into the Hab via the highly scientific method of detaching the tank from the MAV landing struts, bringing it into the Hab, then opening the valve until it’s empty. The oxygenator will turn it into oxygen in its own time. Then, I’ll release hydrazine, very slowly, over the iridium catalyst, to turn it into N2 and H2. I’ll direct the hydrogen to a small area and burn it. As you can see, this plan provides many opportunities for me to die in a fiery explosion. Firstly, hydrazine is some serious death. If I make any mistakes, there’ll be nothing left but the “Mark Watney Memorial Crater” where the Hab once stood. Presuming I don’t fuck up with the hydrazine, there’s still the matter of burning hydrogen. I’m going to be setting a fire. In the Hab. On purpose. If you asked every engineer at NASA what the worst scenario for the Hab was, they’d all answer “fire.” If you asked them what the result would be, they’d answer “death by fire.” But if I can pull it off, I’ll be making water continuously, with no need to store hydrogen or oxygen. It’ll be mixed into the atmosphere as humidity, but the water reclaimer will pull it out. I don’t even have to perfectly match the hydrazine end of it with the fuel plant CO2 part. There’s plenty of oxygen in the Hab, and plenty more in reserve. I just need to make sure not to make so much water I run myself out of O2. I hooked up the MAV fuel plant to the Hab’s power supply. Fortunately they both use the same voltage. It’s chugging away, collecting CO2 for me. Half-ration for dinner. All I accomplished today was thinking up a plan that’ll kill me, and that doesn’t take much energy. I’m going to finish off the last of Three’s Company tonight. Frankly, I like Mr. Furley more than the Ropers. LOG ENTRY: SOL 33 This may be my last entry. I’ve known since Sol 6 there was a good chance I’d die here. But I figured it would be when I ran out of food. I didn’t think it would be this early. I’m about to fire up the hydrazine. Our mission was designed knowing that anything might need maintenance, so I have plenty of tools. Even in a space suit, I was able to pry the access panels off the MDV and get at the six hydrazine tanks. I set them in the shadow of a rover to keep them from heating up too much. There’s more shade and a cooler temperature near the Hab, but fuck that. If they’re going to blow up, they can blow up a rover, not my house. Then I pried out the reaction chamber. It took some work and I cracked the damn thing in half, but I got it out. Lucky for me I don’t need a proper fuel reaction. In fact, I really, super-duper don’t want a proper fuel reaction. I brought the reaction chamber in. I briefly considered only bringing one tank of hydrazine in at a time to reduce risk. But some back-of-the-napkin math told me even one tank was enough to blow the whole Hab up. So I brought them all in. Why not? The tanks have manual vent valves. I’m not 100 percent sure what they’re for. Certainly we were never expected to use them. I think they’re there to release pressure during the many quality checks done during construction and before fueling. Whatever the reason, I have valves to work with. All it takes is a wrench. I liberated a spare water hose from the water reclaimer. With some thread torn out of a uniform (sorry, Johanssen), I attached it to the valve output. Hydrazine is a liquid, so all I have to do is lead it to the reaction chamber (more of a “reaction bowl” now). Meanwhile, the MAV fuel plant is still working. I’ve already brought in one tank of CO2, vented it, and returned it for refilling. So there are no more excuses. It’s time to start making water. If you find the charred remains of the Hab, it means I did something wrong. I’m copying this log over to both rovers, so it’s more likely it’ll survive. Here goes nothin’. LOG ENTRY: SOL 33 (2) Well, I didn’t die. First thing I did was put on the inner lining of my EVA suit. Not the bulky suit itself, just the inner clothing I wear under it, including the gloves and booties. Then I got an oxygen mask from the medical supplies and some lab goggles from Vogel’s chem kit. Almost all of my body was protected and I was breathing canned air. Why? Because hydrazine is very toxic. If I breathe too much of it, I’ll get major lung problems. If I get it on my skin, I’ll have chemical burns for the rest of my life. I wasn’t taking any chances. I turned the valve until a trickle of hydrazine came out. I let one drop fall into the iridium bowl. It undramatically sizzled and disappeared. But hey, that’s what I wanted. I just freed up hydrogen and nitrogen. Yay! One thing I have in abundance here are bags. They’re not much different from kitchen trash bags, though I’m sure they cost $50,000 because of NASA. In addition to being our commander, Lewis was also the geologist. She was going to collect rock and soil samples from all over the operational area (10-kilometer radius). Weight limits restricted how much she could actually bring back to Earth, so she was going to collect first, then sort out the most interesting 50 kilograms to take home. The bags were to store and tag the samples. Some are smaller than a Ziploc, while others are as big as a Hefty lawn and leaf bag. Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape. I cut up a few Hefty-sized bags and taped them together to make a sort of tent. Really it was more of a supersized bag. I was able to cover the whole table where my hydrazine mad scientist setup was. I put a few knickknacks on the table to keep the plastic out of the iridium bowl. Thankfully, the bags are clear, so I can still see what’s going on. Next, I sacrificed a space suit to the cause. I needed an air hose. I have a surplus of space suits, after all. A total of six; one for each crew member. So I don’t mind murdering one of them. I cut a hole in the top of the plastic and duct-taped the hose in place. Nice seal, I think. With some more string from Johannsen’s clothing, I hung the other end of the hose from the top of the Hab’s dome by two angled threads (to keep them well clear of the hose opening). Now I had a little chimney. The hose was about one centimeter wide. Hopefully a good aperture. The hydrogen will be hot after the reaction, and it’ll want to go up. So I’ll let it go up the chimney, then burn it as it comes out. Then I had to invent fire. NASA put a lot of effort into making sure nothing here can burn. Everything is made of metal or flame-retardant plastic and the uniforms are synthetic. I needed something that could hold a flame, some kind of pilot light. I don’t have the skills to keep enough H2 flowing to feed a flame without killing myself. Too narrow a margin there. After a search of everyone’s personal items (hey, if they wanted privacy, they shouldn’t have abandoned me on Mars with their stuff) I found my answer. Martinez is a devout Catholic. I knew that. What I didn’t know was he brought along a small wooden cross. I’m sure NASA gave him shit about it, but I also know Martinez is one stubborn son of a bitch. I chipped his sacred religious item into long splinters using a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. I figure if there’s a God, He won’t mind, considering the situation I’m in. If ruining the only religious icon I have leaves me vulnerable to Martian vampires, I’ll have to risk it. There were plenty of wires and batteries around to make a spark. But you can’t just ignite wood with a small electric spark. So I collected ribbons of bark from local palm trees, then got a couple of sticks and rubbed them together to create enough friction to… No not really. I vented pure oxygen at the stick and gave it a spark. It lit up like a match. With my mini-torch in hand, I started a slow hydrazine flow. It sizzled on the iridium and disappeared. Soon I had short bursts of flame sputtering from the chimney. The main thing I had to watch was the temperature. Hydrazine breaking down is extremely exothermic. So I did it a bit at a time, constantly watching the readout of a thermocouple I’d attached to the iridium chamber. Point is, the process worked! Each hydrazine tank holds a little over 50 liters, which would be enough to make 100 liters of water. I’m limited by my oxygen production, but I’m all excited now, so I’m willing to use half my reserves. Long story short, I’ll stop when the tank is half-empty, and I’ll have 50 liters of water at the end! LOG ENTRY: SOL 34 Well, that took a really long time. I’ve been at it all night with the hydrazine. But I got the job done. I could have finished faster, but I figured caution’s best when setting fire to rocket fuel in an enclosed space. Boy is this place a tropical jungle now, I’ll tell ya. It’s almost 30°C in here, and humid as all hell. I just dumped a ton of heat and 50 liters of water into the air. During this process, the poor Hab had to be the mother of a messy toddler. It’s been replacing the oxygen I’ve used, and the water reclaimer is trying to get the humidity down to sane levels. Nothing to be done about the heat. There’s actually no air-conditioning in the Hab. Mars is cold. Getting rid of excess heat isn’t something we expected to deal with. I’ve now grown accustomed to hearing the alarms blare at all times. The fire alarm has finally stopped, now that there’s no more fire. The low oxygen alarm should stop soon. The high humidity alarm will take a little longer. The water reclaimer has its work cut out for it today. For a moment, there was yet another alarm. The water reclaimer’s main tank was full. Booyah! That’s the kind of problem I want to have! Remember the space suit I vandalized yesterday? I hung it on its rack and carried buckets of water to it from the reclaimer. It can hold an atmosphere of air in. It should be able to handle a few buckets of water. Man I’m tired. Been up all night, and it’s time to sleep. But I’ll drift off to dreamland in the best mood I’ve been in since Sol 6. Things are finally going my way. In fact, they’re going great! I have a chance to live after all! LOG ENTRY: SOL 37 I am fucked, and I’m gonna die! Okay, calm down. I’m sure I can get around this. I’m writing this log to you, dear future Mars archaeologist, from Rover 2. You may wonder why I’m not in the Hab right now. Because I fled in terror, that’s why! And I’m not sure what the hell to do next. I guess I should explain what happened. If this is my last entry, you’ll at least know why. Over the past few days, I’ve been happily making water. It’s been going swimmingly. (See what I did there? “Swimmingly”?) I even beefed up the MAV fuel plant compressor. It was very technical (I increased the voltage to the pump). So I’m making water even faster now. After my initial burst of 50 liters, I decided to settle down and just make it at the rate I get O2. I’m not willing to go below a 25-liter reserve. So when I dip too low, I stop dicking with hydrazine until I get the O2 back up to well above 25 liters. Important note: When I say I made 50 liters of water, that’s an assumption. I didn’t reclaim 50 liters of water. The additional soil I’d filled the Hab with was extremely dry and greedily sucked up a lot of the humidity. That’s where I want the water to go anyway, so I’m not worried, and I wasn’t surprised when the reclaimer didn’t get anywhere near 50 liters. I get 10 liters of CO2 every fifteen hours now that I souped up the pump. I’ve done this process four times. My math tells me that, including my initial 50-liter burst, I should have added 130 liters of water to the system. Well my math was a damn liar! I’d gained 70 liters in the water reclaimer and the space-suit-turned-water-tank. There’s plenty of condensation on the walls and domed roof, and the soil is certainly absorbing its fair share. But that doesn’t account for 60 liters of missing water. Something was wrong. That’s when I noticed the other O2 tank. The Hab has two reserve O2 tanks. One on each side of the structure, for safety reasons. The Hab can decide which one to use whenever it wants. Turns out it’s been topping off the atmosphere from Tank 1. But when I add O2 to the system (via the oxygenator), the Hab evenly distributes the gain between the two tanks. Tank 2 has been slowly gaining oxygen. That’s not a problem. The Hab is just doing its job. But it does mean I’ve been gaining O2 over time. Which means I’m not consuming it as fast as I thought. At first, I thought “Yay! More oxygen! Now I can make water faster!” But then a more disturbing thought occurred to me. Follow my logic: I’m gaining O2. But the amount I’m bringing in from outside is constant. So the only way to “gain” it is to be using less than I thought. But I’ve been doing the hydrazine reaction with the assumption that I was using all of it. The only possible explanation is that I haven’t been burning all the released hydrogen. It’s obvious now, in retrospect. But it never occurred to me that some of the hydrogen just wouldn’t burn. It got past the flame, and went on its merry way. Damn it, Jim, I’m a botanist, not a chemist! Chemistry is messy, so there’s unburned hydrogen in the air. All around me. Mixed in with the oxygen. Just…hanging out. Waiting for a spark so it can blow the Hab up! Once I figured this out and composed myself, I got a Ziploc-sized sample bag and waved it around a bit, then sealed it. Then, a quick EVA to a rover, where we keep the atmospheric analyzers. Nitrogen: 22 percent. Oxygen: 9 percent. Hydrogen: 64 percent. I’ve been hiding here in the rover ever since. It’s Hydrogenville in the Hab. I’m very lucky it hasn’t blown. Even a small static discharge would have led to my own private Hindenburg. So, I’m here in Rover 2. I can stay for a day or two, tops, before the CO2 filters from the rover and my space suit fill up. I have that long to figure out how to deal with this. The Hab is now a bomb. CHAPTER 5 LOG ENTRY: SOL 38 I’m still cowering in the rover, but I’ve had time to think. And I know how to deal with the hydrogen. I thought about the atmospheric regulator. It pays attention to what’s in the air and balances it. That’s how the excess O2 I’ve been importing ends up in the tanks. Problem is, it’s just not built to pull hydrogen out of the air. The regulator uses freeze-separation to sort out the gasses. When it decides there’s too much oxygen, it starts collecting air in a tank and cooling it to 90 kelvin. That makes the oxygen turn to liquid, but leaves the nitrogen (condensation point: 77K) still gaseous. Then it stores the O2. But I can’t get it to do that for hydrogen, because hydrogen needs to be below 21K to turn liquid. And the regulator just can’t get temperatures that low. Dead end. Here’s the solution: Hydrogen is dangerous because it can blow up. But it can only blow up if there’s oxygen around. Hydrogen without oxygen is harmless. And the regulator is all about pulling oxygen out of the air. There are four different safety interlocks that prevent the regulator from letting the Hab’s oxygen content get too low. But they’re designed to work against technical faults, not deliberate sabotage (bwa ha ha!). Long story short, I can trick the regulator into pulling all the oxygen out of the Hab. Then I can wear a space suit (so I can breathe) and do whatever I want without fear of blowing up. I’ll use an O2 tank to spray short bursts of oxygen at the hydrogen, and make a spark with a couple of wires and a battery. It’ll set the hydrogen on fire, but only until the small bit of oxygen is used up. I’ll just do that over and over, in controlled bursts, until I’ve burned off all the hydrogen. One tiny flaw with that plan: It’ll kill my dirt. The dirt is only viable soil because of the bacteria growing in it. If I get rid of all the oxygen, the bacteria will die. I don’t have 100 billion little space suits handy. It’s half a solution anyway. Time to take a break from thinking. Commander Lewis was the last one to use this rover. She was scheduled to use it again on Sol 7, but she went home instead. Her personal travel kit’s still in the back. Rifling through it, I found a protein bar and a personal USB, probably full of music to listen to on the drive. Time to chow down and see what the good commander brought along for music. LOG ENTRY SOL 38 (2) Disco. God damn it, Lewis. LOG ENTRY: SOL 39 I think I’ve got it. Soil bacteria are used to winters. They get less active, and require less oxygen to survive. I can lower the Hab temperature to 1°C, and they’ll nearly hibernate. This sort of thing happens on Earth all the time. They can survive a couple of days this way. If you’re wondering how bacteria on Earth survive longer periods of cold, the answer is they don’t. Bacteria from further underground where it is warmer breed upward to replace the dead ones. They’ll still need some oxygen, but not much. I think a 1 percent content will do the trick. That leaves a little in the air for the bacteria to breathe, but not enough to maintain a fire. So the hydrogen won’t blow up. But that leads to yet another problem. The potato plants won’t like the plan. They don’t mind the lack of oxygen, but the cold will kill them. So I’ll have to pot them (bag them, actually) and move them to a rover. They haven’t even sprouted yet, so it’s not like they need light. It was surprisingly annoying to find a way to make the heat stay on when the rover’s unoccupied. But I figured it out. After all, I’ve got nothing but time in here. So that’s the plan. First, bag the potato plants and bring them to the rover (make sure it keeps the damn heater on). Then drop the Hab temperature to 1°C. Then reduce the O2 content to 1 percent. Then burn off the hydrogen with a battery, some wires, and a tank of O2. Yeah. This all sounds like a great idea with no chance of catastrophic failure. That was sarcasm, by the way. Well, off I go. LOG ENTRY: SOL 40 Things weren’t 100 percent successful. They say no plan survives first contact with implementation. I’d have to agree. Here’s what happened: I summoned up the courage to return to the Hab. Once I got there, I felt a little more confident. Everything was how I’d left it. (What did I expect? Martians looting my stuff?) It would take a while to let the Hab cool, so I started that right away by turning the temperature down to 1°C. I bagged the potato plants, and got a chance to check up on them while I was at it. They’re rooting nicely and about to sprout. One thing I hadn’t accounted for was how to bring them from the Hab to the rovers. The answer was pretty easy. I put all of them in Martinez’s space suit. Then I dragged it out with me to the rover I’d set up as a temporary nursery. Making sure to jimmy the heater to stay on, I headed back to the Hab. By the time I got back, it was already chilly. Down to 5°C already. Shivering and watching my breath condense in front of me, I threw on extra layers of clothes. Fortunately I’m not a very big man. Martinez’s clothes fit over mine, and Vogel’s fit over Martinez’s. These shitty clothes were designed to be worn in a temperature-controlled environment. Even with three layers, I was still cold. I climbed into my bunk and under the covers for more warmth. Once the temperature got to 1°C, I waited another hour, just to make sure the bacteria in the dirt got the memo that it was time to take it slow. The next problem I ran into was the regulator. Despite my swaggering confidence, I wasn’t able to outwit it. It really does not want to pull too much O2 out of the air. The lowest I could get it to was 15 percent. After that, it flatly refused to go lower, and nothing I did mattered. I had all these plans about getting in and reprogramming it. But the safety protocols turned out to be in ROMs. I can’t blame it. Its whole purpose is to prevent the atmosphere from becoming lethal. Nobody at NASA thought, “Hey, let’s allow a fatal lack of oxygen that will make everyone drop dead!” So I had to use a more primitive plan. The regulator uses a different set of vents for air sampling than it does for main air separation. The air that gets freeze-separated comes in through a single large vent on the main unit. But it samples the air from nine small vents that pipe back to the main unit. That way it gets a good average of the Hab, and one localized imbalance won’t throw it off. I taped up eight of the intakes, leaving only one of them active. Then I taped the mouth of a Hefty-sized bag over the neck-hole of a spacesuit (Johanssen’s this time). In the back of the bag, I poked a small hole and taped it over the remaining intake. Then I inflated the bag with pure O2 from the suit’s tanks. “Holy shit!” the regulator thought, “I better pull O2 out right away!” Worked great! I decided not to wear a space suit after all. The atmospheric pressure was going to be fine. All I needed was oxygen. So I grabbed an O2 canister and breather mask from the medical bay. That way, I had a hell of a lot more freedom of motion. It even had a rubber band to keep it on my face! Though I did need a space suit to monitor the actual Hab oxygen level, now that the Hab’s main computer was convinced it was 100 percent O2. Let’s see…Martinez’s space suit was in the rover. Johanssen’s was outwitting the regulator. Lewis’s was serving as a water tank. I didn’t want to mess with mine (hey, it’s custom-fitted!). That left me two space suits to work with. I grabbed Vogel’s suit and activated the internal air sensors while leaving the helmet off. Once the oxygen dropped to 12 percent, I put the breather mask on. I watched it fall further and further. When it reached 1 percent, I cut power to the regulator. I may not be able to reprogram the regulator, but I can turn the bastard off completely. The Hab has emergency flashlights in many locations in case of critical power failure. I tore the LED bulbs out of one and left the two frayed power wires very close together. Now, when I turned it on, I got a small spark. Taking a canister of O2 from Vogel’s suit, I attached a strap to both ends and slung it over my shoulder. Then I attached an air line to the tank and crimped it with my thumb. I turned on a very slow trickle of O2; small enough that it couldn’t overpower the crimp. Standing on the table with a sparker in one hand and my oxygen line in the other, I reached up and gave it a try. And holy hell, it worked! Blowing the O2 over the sparker, I flicked the switch on the flashlight and a wonderful jet of flame fired out of the tube. The fire alarm went off, of course. But I’d heard it so much lately, I barely noticed it anymore. Then I did it again. And again. Short bursts. Nothing flashy. I was happy to take my time. I was elated! This was the best plan ever! Not only was I clearing out the hydrogen, I was making more water! Everything went great right up to the explosion. One minute I was happily burning hydrogen; the next I was on the other side of the Hab, and a lot of stuff was knocked over. I stumbled to my feet and saw the Hab in disarray. My first thought was: “My ears hurt like hell!” Then I thought, “I’m dizzy,” and fell to my knees. Then I fell prone. I was that dizzy. I groped my head with both hands, looking for a head wound I desperately hoped would not be there. Nothing seemed to be amiss. But feeling all over my head and face revealed the true problem. My oxygen mask had been ripped off in the blast. I was breathing nearly pure nitrogen. The floor was covered in junk from all over the Hab. No hope of finding the medical O2 tank. No hope of finding anything in this mess before I passed out. Then I saw Lewis’s suit hanging right where it belonged. It hadn’t moved in the blast. It was heavy to start with and had 70 liters of water in it. I rushed over, quickly cranked on the O2, and stuck my head into the neck hole (I’d removed the helmet long ago, for easy access to the water). I breathed a bit until the dizziness faded, then took a deep breath and held it. Still holding my breath, I glanced over to the space suit and Hefty bag I’d used to outsmart the regulator. The bad news is I’d never removed them. The good news is the explosion removed them. Eight of the nine intakes for the regulator were still bagged, but this one would at least tell the truth. Stumbling over to the regulator, I turned it back on. After a two-second boot process (it was made to start up fast for obvious reasons), it immediately identified the problem. The shrill low-oxygen alarm blared throughout the Hab as the regulator dumped pure oxygen into the atmosphere as fast as it safely could. Separating oxygen from the atmosphere is difficult and time-consuming, but adding it is as simple as opening a valve. I clambered over debris back to Lewis’s space suit and put my head back in for more good air. Within three minutes, the regulator had brought the Hab oxygen back up to par. I noticed for the first time how burned my clothing was. It was a good time to be wearing three layers of clothes. Mostly the damage was on my sleeves. The outer layer was gone. The middle layer was singed and burned clean through in places. The inner layer, my own uniform, was in reasonably good shape. Looks like I lucked out again. Also, glancing at the Hab’s main computer, I saw the temperature had gone up to 15°C. Something very hot and very explodey had happened, and I wasn’t sure what. Or how. And that’s where I am now. Wondering what the hell happened. After all that work and getting blown up, I’m exhausted. Tomorrow I’ll have to do a million equipment checks and try to figure out what exploded, but for now I just want to sleep. I’m in the rover again tonight. Even with the hydrogen gone, I’m reluctant to hang out in a Hab that has a history of exploding for no reason. Plus, I can’t be sure there isn’t a leak. This time, I brought a proper meal, and something to listen to that isn’t disco. LOG ENTRY: SOL 41 I spent the day running full diagnostics on every system in the Hab. It was incredibly boring, but my survival depends on these machines, so it had to be done. I can’t just assume an explosion did no long-term damage. I did the most critical tests first. Number one was the integrity of the Hab canvas. I felt pretty confident it was in good shape, because I’d spent a few hours asleep in the rover before returning to the Hab, and the pressure was still good. The computer reported no change in pressure over that time, other than a minor fluctuation based on temperature. Then I checked the oxygenator. If that stops working and I can’t fix it, I’m a dead man. No problems. Then the atmospheric regulator. Again, no problem. Heating unit, primary battery array, O2 and N2 storage tanks, water reclaimer, all three airlocks, lighting systems, main computer…on and on I went, feeling better and better as each system proved to be in perfect working order. Got to hand it to NASA. They don’t screw around when making this stuff. Then came the critical part…checking the dirt. I took a few samples from all over the Hab (remember, it’s all dirt flooring now) and made slides. With shaking hands, I put a slide into the microscope and brought the image up on-screen. There they were! Healthy, active bacteria doing their thing! Looks like I won’t be starving to death on Sol 400 after all. I plopped down in a chair and let my breathing return to normal. Then I set about cleaning up the mess. And I had a lot of time to think about what had happened. So what happened? Well, I have a theory. According to the main computer, during the blast, the internal pressure spiked to 1.4 atmospheres, and the temperature rose to 15°C in under a second. But the pressure quickly subsided back to 1 atm. This would make sense if the atmospheric regulator were on, but I’d cut power to it. The temperature remained at 15°C for some time afterward, so any heat expansion should still have been present. But the pressure dropped down again, so where did that extra pressure go? Raising the temperature and keeping the same number of atoms inside should permanently raise the pressure. But it didn’t. I quickly realized the answer. The hydrogen (the only available thing to burn) combined with oxygen (hence combustion) and became water. Water is a thousand times as dense as a gas. So the heat added to the pressure, and the transformation of hydrogen and oxygen into water brought it back down again. The million dollar question is, where the hell did the oxygen come from? The whole plan was to limit oxygen and keep an explosion from happening. And it was working for quite a while before blowing up. I think I have my answer. And it comes down to me brain-farting. Remember when I decided not to wear a space suit? That decision almost killed me. The medical O2 tank mixes pure oxygen with surrounding air, then feeds it to you through a mask. The mask stays on your face with a little rubber band that goes around the back of your neck. Not an airtight seal. I know what you’re thinking. The mask leaked oxygen. But no. I was breathing the oxygen. When I was inhaling, I made a nearly airtight seal with the mask by sucking it to my face. The problem was exhaling. Do you know how much oxygen you absorb out of the air when you take a normal breath? I don’t know either, but it’s not 100 percent. Every time I exhaled, I added more oxygen to the system. It just didn’t occur to me. But it should have. If your lungs grabbed up all the oxygen, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wouldn’t work. I’m such a dumb-ass for not thinking of it! And my dumb-assery almost got me killed! I’m really going to have to be more careful. It’s a good thing I burned off most of the hydrogen before the explosion. Otherwise that would have been the end. As it is, the explosion wasn’t strong enough to pop the Hab. Though it was strong enough to almost blast my eardrums in. This all started with me noticing a 60-liter shortfall in water production. Between deliberate burn-off and a bit of unexpected explosion, I’m back on track. The water reclaimer did its job last night and pulled 50 liters of the newly created water out of the air. It’s storing it in Lewis’s spacesuit, which I’ll call “The Cistern” from now on, because it sounds cooler. The other 10 liters of water was directly absorbed by the dry soil. Lots of physical labor today. I’ve earned a full meal. And to celebrate my first night back in the Hab, I’ll kick back and watch some shitty twentieth-century TV courtesy of Commander Lewis. The Dukes of Hazzard, eh? Let’s give it a whirl. LOG ENTRY: SOL 42 I slept in late today. I deserved it. After four nights of awful sleep in the rover, my bunk felt like the softest, most profoundly beautiful feather bed ever made. Eventually, I dragged my ass out of bed and finished some post-explosion cleanup. I moved the potato plants back in today. And just in time, too. They’re sprouting. They look healthy and happy. This isn’t chemistry, medicine, bacteriology, nutrition analysis, explosion dynamics, or any other shit I’ve been doing lately. This is botany. I’m sure I can at least grow some plants without screwing up. Right? You know what really sucks? I’ve only made 130 liters of water. I have another 470 liters to go. You’d think after almost killing myself twice, I’d be able to stop screwing around with hydrazine. But nope. I’ll be reducing hydrazine and burning hydrogen in the Hab, every ten hours, for another ten days. I’ll do a better job of it from now on. Instead of counting on a clean reaction, I’ll do frequent “hydrogen cleanings” with a small flame. It’ll burn off gradually instead of building up to kill-Mark levels. I’ll have a lot of dead time. Ten hours for each tank of CO2 to finish filling. It only takes twenty minutes to reduce the hydrazine and burn the hydrogen. I’ll spend the rest of the time watching TV. And seriously…It’s clear that General Lee can outrun a police cruiser. Why doesn’t Rosco just go to the Duke farm and arrest them when they’re not in the car? CHAPTER 6 VENKAT KAPOOR returned to his office, dropped his briefcase on the floor, and collapsed into his leather chair. He took a moment to look out the windows. His office in Building 1 afforded him a commanding view of the large park in the center of the Johnson Space Center complex. Beyond that, dozens of scattered buildings dominated the view all the way to Mud Lake in the distance. Glancing at his computer screen, he noted forty-seven unread e-mails 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 for their departed comrade from deep space. They had another ten months of travel yet to endure. The administrator had given a speech as well, reminding everyone that space flight is incredibly dangerous, and that we will not back down in the face of adversity. They’d asked Venkat if he was willing to make a speech. He’d declined. What was the point? Watney was dead. Nice words from the director of Mars operations wouldn’t bring him back. “You okay, Venk?” came a familiar voice from the doorway. Venkat swiveled around. “Guess so,” he said. Teddy Sanders swept a rogue thread off his otherwise immaculate blazer. “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 administrator of NASA. It’s kind of expected. You sure you’re okay?” “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” “Good,” Teddy said, adjusting his cuff links. “Let’s get back to work, then.” “Sure.” Venkat shrugged. “Let’s start with you authorizing my satellite time.” Teddy leaned against the wall with a sigh. “This again.” “Yes,” Venkat said. “This again. What is the problem?” “Okay, 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’s worth of supplies up there. It would only cost a fraction of a normal mission. It normally takes fourteen 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 kph sandstorm. It’ll be in really bad shape.” “That’s why I want imagery,” Venkat said. “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.” “How will 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 still be in one piece. “And it’ll be really obvious. If it popped, it’d completely blow out and collapse. If it’s still standing, then everything inside will 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 all I want.” Teddy paced to the windows and stared out at the vast expanse of buildings. “You’re not the only guy who wants satellite time, you know. We have Ares 4 supply missions coming up. We need to concentrate on Schiaparelli crater.” “I don’t get it, Teddy. What’s the problem here?” Venkat asked. “I’m talking about securing us another mission. We have twelve satellites 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’ll be at the right angle for Ares 3 shots—” “It’s not about satellite time, Venk,” Teddy interrupted. Venkat froze. “Then…but…what…” Teddy turned to face him. “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 will be within twenty meters of the Hab. Maybe partially buried in sand, but still very visible, and with a comm antenna sticking out of his chest. Any images we take will show that.” Venkat stared. Then glared. “This is why you denied my imagery requests for two months?” “Venk, come on—” “Really, Teddy?” he said. “You’re afraid of a PR problem?” “The media’s obsession with Watney’s death is finally 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 is to dredge everything back up.” “So what do we do, then? He’s not going to decompose. He’ll be there forever.” “Not forever,” Teddy said. “Within a year, he’ll 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 4 won’t even launch for another five years. Plenty of time.” Venkat took a deep breath and thought for a moment. “Okay, consider this: Sympathy for Watney’s family is really 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 anymore.” Teddy rubbed his chin. “Hmm…” ••• MINDY PARK stared at the ceiling. She had little else to do. The three a.m. shift was pretty dull. Only a constant stream of coffee kept her awake. Monitoring the status of satellites around Mars had sounded like an exciting proposition when she took the transfer. But the satellites tended to take care of themselves. Her job turned out to be sending e-mails as imagery became available. “Master’s degree in mechanical engineering,” she muttered. “And I’m working in an all-night photo booth.” She sipped her coffee. A flicker on her screen announced that another set of images was ready for dispatch. She checked the name on the work order. Venkat Kapoor. She posted the data directly to internal servers and composed an e-mail 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 seventeen images. As she’d 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 of 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…” She brought up the NASA intranet and 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…Okay…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, she said, “Hello, Security? This is Mindy Park in SatCon. I need the emergency contact number for Dr. Venkat Kapoor.… Yes it’s an emergency.” ••• MINDY FIDGETED in her seat as Venkat trudged in. To have the director of Mars operations visiting SatCon was unusual. Seeing him in jeans and a T-shirt was even more unusual. “You Mindy Park?” he asked with the scowl of a man operating on two hours of sleep. “Yes,” she quavered. “Sorry to drag you in.” “I’m assuming you had a good reason. So?” “Um,” she said, looking down. “Um, it’s. Well. The imagery you ordered. Um. Come here and look.” He pulled 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. Well…uh.” She winced at her own awkwardness and 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 okay, 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 well after all? 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.” “Okay, and?” “I read through it. Several times. They never threw out the pop-tents.” Her voice cracked at the last word. “Well, uh…,” Venkat said, furrowing his brow. “They obviously did, but it didn’t make it into 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.” “So after autodeploying, they detached themselves from the rovers and lined up next to each other twenty meters away?” Venkat looked back to the image. “Well obviously they activated somehow.” “Why are the solar cells clean?” Mindy said, fighting back tears. “There was a huge sandstorm. Why isn’t there sand all 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. ••• “FUCK!” Annie Montrose said. “You have got to be fucking kidding me!” Teddy glared across his immaculate mahogany desk at his director of media relations. “Not helping, Annie.” He turned to his director of Mars operations. “How sure are we of this?” “Nearly a hundred percent,” Venkat said. “Fuck!” Annie said. Teddy moved a folder on his desk slightly to the right so it would line up with his mouse pad. “It is what it is. We have to deal with it.” “Do you have any idea the magnitude of shit storm this is gonna be?” she retorted. “You don’t have to face those damn reporters every day. I do!” “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 cells are clean. You can thank Mindy Park in SatCon for noticing all 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 30 kph windstorm some time later would have been strong enough to clean the solar cells 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 into the Hab for recharging. It wasn’t used again, and thirteen hours later they evac’d.” He slid a picture across the desk 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 absently rotated the picture to be parallel with the edges of his desk. “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 telling 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 have endangered the MAV way too much for Lewis to allow it.” “Hey,” Annie said. “Why not talk to Lewis? Let’s go to CAPCOM and ask her directly.” Rather than answer, Venkat looked to Teddy knowingly. “Because,” Teddy said, “if Watney really is alive, we don’t want the Ares 3 crew to know.” “What!?” Annie said. “How can you not tell 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’ll be the most talked-about event since Apollo 11,” Annie said. “How will you keep it from them?” Teddy shrugged. “Easy. We control all communication with them.” “Fuck,” 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 twenty-four hours before we’re required to release them. We’ll need to send out a statement along with them. We don’t want people working it out on their own. We’d look like assholes.” “Okay,” Teddy agreed, “put together a statement.” “That’ll be fun,” she grumbled. “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.” “All right,” Teddy said. “Get on it. Take anyone you want from 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 till we announce.” “Right,” Annie said. “Who else knows?” “Just the three of us and Mindy Park in SatCon,” Venkat said. “I’ll have a word with her,” Annie said. Teddy stood and opened his cell phone. “I’m going to Chicago. I’ll be back tomorrow.” “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’ll be happy to hear their son’s alive,” Annie said. “Yes, 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.” “Fuck,” Annie said, thoughtfully. ••• “NOTHING? Nothing at all?” Venkat groaned. “Are you kidding me? You had twenty experts working for twelve hours on this. We have a multibillion-dollar communications 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. “Actually,” 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 really strong—” “Like, melting-the-pigeons strong,” Morris supplied. “—for him to get it,” Chuck finished. “We considered Martian satellites,” 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 fourteen times more powerful—” “Seventeen times,” Chuck said. “Fourteen times,” Morris asserted. “No, it’s seventeen. 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 two hours sleep last night.” “No problem,” Morris said. “Totally understandable,” Chuck said. “Okay,” Venkat said. “Explain to me how a single windstorm removed our ability to talk to Ares 3.” “Failure of imagination,” Chuck said. “Totally didn’t see it coming,” Morris agreed. “How many backup communications systems does an Ares mission have?” Venkat asked. “Four,” Chuck said. “Three,” Morris said. “No, it’s four,” Chuck corrected. “He said backup systems,” Morris insisted. “That means not including the primary system.” “Oh right. Three.” “So four systems total, then,” Venkat said. “Explain how we lost all four.” “Well,” Chuck said, “The primary ran through the big satellite dish. It blew away in the storm. The rest of the backups were in the MAV.” “Yup,” Morris agreed. “The MAV is, like, a communicating machine. It can talk to Earth, Hermes, even satellites 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 communications 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.” ••• THIS WAS going to be rough and Annie knew it. Not only did she have to deliver the biggest mea culpa in NASA’s history, every second of it would be remembered forever. Every movement of her arms, intonation of her voice, and expression on her face would be seen by millions of people over and over again. Not just in the immediate press cycle, but for decades to come. Every documentary made about Watney’s situation would have this clip. She was confident that none of that concern showed on her face as she took to the podium. “Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” she said to the assembled reporters. “We have an important announcement to make. If you could all take your seats.” “What this about, Annie?” Bryan Hess from NBC asked. “Something happen with Hermes?” “Please take your seats,” Annie repeated. The reporters milled about and argued over seats for a brief time, then finally settled down. “This is a short but very important announcement,” Annie said. “I won’t be taking any questions at this time, but we will have a full press conference with Q&A in about an hour. We have recently reviewed satellite imagery from Mars and have confirmed that astronaut Mark Watney is, currently, still alive.” After one full second of utter silence, the room exploded with noise. ••• A WEEK after the stunning announcement, it was still the top story on every news network in the world. “I’m getting sick of daily press conferences,” Venkat whispered to Annie. “I’m getting sick of hourly press conferences,” Annie whispered back. The two stood with countless other NASA managers and executives bunched up on the small stage in the press room. They faced a pit of hungry reporters, all desperate for any scrap of new information. “Sorry I’m late,” Teddy said, entering from the side door. He pulled some flash cards from his pocket, squared them in his hands, then cleared his throat. “In the nine days since announcing Mark Watney’s survival, we’ve received a massive show of support from all sectors. We’re using this shamelessly every way we can.” A small 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 will do our best to keep everyone informed. I’ve recently learned CNN will be dedicating a half-hour segment every weekday to reporting on just this issue. We will 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 satellites to get