MISSION DATE 715
Okay, I broke down and asked Beck. Turns out Johanssen and Lewis both had IUD’s installed that are good for at least five years, a couple of months before launch. So neither of them need to worry about getting pregnant or having periods until we get back. Unless we get sucked into a wormhole and visit the Planet of the Apes, the Series for at least three seasons.
They had some seriously fucking weird shows in the 70’s. I mean, a bunch of guys in rubber ape masks instead of CGI? Sheesh. On the plus side, I now know why my parents thought Professor Bobo on MST3K was so hilarious.
On a more serious subject, I have been reminded by the mission psychology team that I have been dancing around talking about something. Mostly because I didn’t feel like talking about it at all. The question being: “Did I have suicidal thoughts at any point during my period on Mars?”
Gee, ya think?
Look, re-reading my log entries from my time on Mars, you might get the impression that I’m a bit of a Pollyanna. I was writing down my thoughts more or less stream of consciousness, but I’ll admit to doing some editing in my brain before typing it all in. Yeah, I thought about it. That first evening when I started taking inventory of everything I’d have to do to stay alive, my side aching from the self-surgery was one low point. The worst though was right after losing the potato farm. I had worked so damned hard on that thing, and I knew then that any attempt by NASA to build a resupply probe would now be a desperate rush job, and might not make it. Honestly, when Venkat broke down and told me the probe had a launch failure, that was just the icing on the cake. By that point I wasn’t so much suicidal as numb.
But that was it really. Part of it is that I’m an engineer. I fix problems. So long as I had something occupy my brain, and I always had something, even if it was just routine Hab maintenance, I could keep going, one problem at a time. Hell, even killing myself was an engineering problem, but one I was more than willing to put off until I faced some other problem I just couldn’t fix.
So long as I had some hope, be it meeting the Ares 4 crew at Schiaparelli, getting a resupply probe to my location, or even that loony launch in the remains of the Ares 4 MAV, I could keep going. If the MAV’s engines had failed to ignite, or the Hermes missed the rendezvous for some reason, yeah, then I would have done something really permanent to myself. But until then I was determined to keep going, if for no other reason than I really didn’t want to put my parents through the same pain that they’d experienced once already.
Enough about that. I lived through it, and I’m sure as fuck never going to go back to Mars to experience it again. I intend to live to a ripe old age so I can bitch to my descendants how easy they’ve got it compared to the old days.
MISSION DAY 725
I am so fucking furious right now I’m having a hard time typing it all in. I wanna punch my fist into a wall, but I know if I did that I’d just make more work for Beck, I gotta get all of this on the page though, so I can look at it, in case I forget to be mad for some reason.
Okay, the day actually started out great. After yet another exam, Dr. Bossy Beck finally gave me permission to me move around the rest of Hermes. As soon as he gave me the word, I climbed up the ladder and did a happy little dance in the zero-g section of the hub. Then immediately regretted it as my inner ear started bouncing like a fucking pinball. Once I was sure my lunch was going to stay put I went over to the control room just because I could.
Commander Lewis was there, typing up the daily mission status report, correlating items concerning the ship’s health that NASA couldn’t monitor directly, and also attaching all the results from the science experiments that the crew had run the day before. Once it was all together she’d send it in the daily data dump over to Mission Control, same as they’d send us our marching orders for the next day around the same time. I hung around near the hatch until she saved the file, and she waved me over.
“How are you feeling, Watney?” she asked.
“Beck is letting me move around and use the ladders,” I replied. “I’m glad. I was starting to go stir crazy in my room. Did you know Martinez farts in his sleep? I think he was saving up beans in his colon before we left Earth, just in case he needed to really gross us out.”
“I’ll make a note of it,” Lewis said, chuckling a little. Despite the weird obsession with 70’s sitcoms, Lewis is probably the most low-key member of our team, and a hard one to make laugh. She’s always taken her responsibilities as mission commander incredibly seriously, and does her best to treat everyone with an even hand. Even her resident class clown, me. I guess I’m the Horshack to her Mr. Kotter or something.
Oh, God I’ve got to watch more 21st century videos.
Anyway, I went on, “Any word on when I’ll be put back to work with ship’s maintenance and my science schedule? I don’t want Beck screwing around any more with my poor plants.”
“If you can move around now to the science labs, I don’t see any reason why you can’t take up your experiment schedule again,” Lewis said. “As for maintenance, I want your ribs fully healed up before you start work on that. Interior duties only. Beck and Vogel can handle any required EVA’s. NASA and I both want you to avoid any unnecessary risks during the trip back to Earth.”
“Fine by me,” I said. “I’ll be happy to stay inside, just so long as we get back home in one piece. I don’t want to ever wear a spacesuit again in my life if I can help it. I did enough EVA’s on Mars that I’m probably going to hold the Guinness World Record until the Sun burns out.”
That got another chuckle out of her. “What do you think you’ll do when you get back?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Eat food that isn’t potatoes or protein bars. Maybe get a job as a teacher. Mom and Dad were contacted by the University of Chicago. They said I can name whatever professorship I want, and I can have it.”
“So you’re done with NASA?” Lewis asked.
“I’m done with space period,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that NASA worked so hard to rescue me, but my ass is going to stay on a nice, safe planet with normal gravity, food I can eat, and air that won’t kill me if I walk outside.”
“Maybe you can write a book,” she suggested. “I was reading your logs. You actually went into a lot of detail about your efforts to survive. People would be interested in reading about that.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said, thinking about how many fucks I’d written down in those logs. “I’d have to do a lot of editing before I’d send it to a publisher though.”
“Keep it as it is,” Lewis said. “It’s very you, Mark.”
“What, a foul mouthed asshole?”
“An honest asshole,” she said. “Yes, you’ve got a dirty mouth, Mark. Sometimes it’s made me uncomfortable, but I always knew you were completely upfront with me about anything we discussed.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled. Talk about a backhanded compliment! To change the subject, I asked, “So what are you going to do? I mean after you’ve had some downtime. Kinda hard to top any kind of mission after this one.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “I’m like you. I’m done with space, and the military. I’ll probably get a job as a consultant, or maybe a teacher like you’re considering.”
“Wait, what?” I asked. “You’re going to resign your commission?” I felt my stomach knot up. Lewis loved being an astronaut, but she was even prouder of being a Navy commander. For her to resign just because of one lousy accident was just fucking wrong. “You can’t do that,” I exclaimed. “Jesus Christ, what happened to me on Mars was an accident. You weren’t responsible for it, I told you that already!”
“I’m not resigning because of that, Mark,” she replied. “I’ve got other reasons.”
“What other reasons?” I demanded. “Christ, you’re a hero. You pulled off the greatest rescue mission in NASA history. Once Teddy Saunders retires you could be made head of the agency!”
“NASA isn’t going to make me the head of anything,” Lewis said. She rubbed her forehead briefly, as if she was in pain. “I was going to drop this on you after we got back to Earth and you had some time to recuperate, but I guess I should tell you now.”
“Tell me what?” I said.
“Mark, the original mission for Hermes was to just come home, while JPL built a second supply mission for you, to be sent on the Taiyang Shen booster. It would have been a last-ditch effort. The Iris 2 wouldn’t even have had a landing system. They were hoping enough supplies would survive a crash landing that you could make it until the Ares 4 crew arrived,” she explained to me. “NASA decided it was better to for one astronaut to be placed at high risk, rather than place all of us at a lower risk with the extended mission to swing back towards Mars to pick you up.”
“I guess that makes sense,” I said. “What changed their minds?”
“They didn’t. We forced their hand. Someone managed to slip Rich Purnell’s course into an email sent to Vogel, with all the details of the maneuver and also the reasons why NASA decided against it. This person thought we should have the right to decide whether to place our own lives at risk, in order to give you a better chance to survive.”
Right then Lewis looked grimmer than I’d ever seen her. “Vogel brought it to my attention. I knew it had a much better chance at rescuing you successfully than depending on the Iris 2 reaching you. So I discussed it with the rest of the crew, and we made the decision together that we would execute the Rich Purnell maneuver. That forced NASA to change the Iris 2 mission to be a resupply probe for Hermes. Publically they claimed the decision was from NASA’s leadership. In truth we committed mutiny. However we’re praised when we get back, no one on this crew is going into space ever again.” She smiled sadly. “The best I can hope for is some desk job with an impressive title and no responsibilities. Given my actions, I also wouldn’t be comfortable in a Navy command. I think the private sector is the best place for me.”
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” I said slowly. “You, and everyone on this crew, willingly trashed their futures with NASA for the sake of my sorry ass? Goddamnit Lewis, I know how much your Navy career meant to you. You just threw it all away on some half-baked hope that you’d be able to pick me up?”
“Not half-baked,” she replied, frowning. “If I’d thought the maneuver wouldn’t work, or that the second probe had a better chance to reach you, I would have never brought it to the others’ attention. As it was, I thought it had much higher chance of success than crash landing Iris into Mars.”
“What the hell would you have done if Iris had missed the Hermes?” I demanded. “What the fuck would have happened if you lost life support, or the reactor, or the water reclaimer while you were on your way to pick me up?”
“We would have died,” Lewis said flatly. “And we would have died knowing that we did everything we could to save you, rather than just come home with our tails between our legs, hoping that Ares 4 would reach you in time.”
I was so angry I pushed myself back and forth across the tiny control room as I talked, literally bouncing off the walls. “You guys are heroes. You should be looking forward to fucking parades. Instead Director Saunders is going slam the door in your faces even while he’s telling the world what a great job you did, the prick.”
“You’re right,” Lewis said, her tone growing hard. “But we all made this decision with our eyes wide open, Watney. Respect that.”
Those last words stopped me short. Respect is a really important word for Commander Lewis. She gave it to us, working with a bunch of quirky PhD’s wearing astronaut uniforms, that didn’t always follow the military protocol she was used to. In turn we gave it to her, trusting that when she made a decision that affected the whole crew, it would be the right one. It was at the core of what made her Commander Lewis, USN and not just Melissa Lewis, NASA Astronaut.
“All right,” I said, trying to calm down. “You, all of you, made this decision to rescue me. I’ll respect that. But I’m sure as fuck not going to respect NASA if they sink your careers. And I’m going to tell Teddy Saunders what an asshole he is to his face, even if I have to do it behind a closed door.”
“Fair enough,” Lewis replied, her tone returning to normal. “Thank you, Mark.”
I knew a dismissal when I heard it, so I kinda ducked my head and headed back down to my bunkroom. I’ve been in here ever since, stewing.
Okay, fine. If the crew wanted to toss their careers at NASA into the airlock for the sake of one nerdy botanist, that’s okay. But goddamn it burns me. Look, it’s not like I’d rather be dead, but I’m going to have to go on with the rest of my life knowing what they did for me, and knowing there’s nothing in whole entire fucking world I could possibly do to pay them back.
Fuck. I gotta think about this.