“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 24 hours before we’re required to make them public. We’ll need to release a statement along with them. We don’t want people working it out on their own. We’d look like assholes.”
“Ok,” Teddy agreed, “put together a statement.”
“This is so fucked up,” she said.
“Where do we go from here?” Teddy asked Venkat.
“Step one is communication,” Venkat said. “From the pics, it’s clear the comm array is ruined. We need another way to talk. Once we can talk, we can assess and make plans.”
“All right,” Teddy said. “Get on it. Take anyone you want for any department. Use as much overtime as you want. Find a way to talk to him. That’s your only job right now.”
“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 later today.”
“Why?” Annie asked.
“That’s where Watney’s parents live,” Teddy said. “I owe them a personal explanation before it breaks on the news.”
“They’ll be happy to hear their son’s alive,” Annie said.
“Yeah, he’s alive,” Teddy said. “But if my math is right, he’s doomed to starve to death before we can possibly help him. I’m not looking forward to the conversation.”
“Fuck,” Annie said, thoughtfully.
“Nothing? Nothing at all?” Venkat groaned. “Are you kidding me? You had 20 experts working for 12 hours on this. We have a multi-billion dollar communication network. You can’t figure out any way to talk to him?”
The two men in Venkat’s office fidgeted in their chairs.
“He’s got no radio,” said Chuck.
“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 14 times more powerful-“
“17 times,” Chuck said.
“14 times,” Morris asserted.
“No it’s 17. You forgot the amperage minimum for the heaters to keep the-“
“Guys,” Venkat interrupted. “I get the idea.”
“Sorry if I’m grumpy,” Venkat said. “I got like 2 hours sleep last night.”
“No problem,” Morris said.
“Totally understandable,” Chuck said.
“Ok,” Venkat said. “Explain to me how a single windstorm removed our ability to talk to Ares 3.”
“Failure of imagination,” Chuck said.
“Totally didn’t see it coming,” Morris agreed.
“How many back-up communication systems does an Ares mission have?” Venkat asked.
“Four,” Chuck said.
“Three,” Morris said.
“No, it’s four,” Chuck corrected.
“He said back-up systems,” Morris insisted. “That means not including the primary system.”
“Oh right. Three.”
“So four systems total, then,” Venkat said. “Explain how we lost 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 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 communication systems became one. And that one broke,” Morris finished.
Venkat pinched the bridge of his nose. “How could we overlook this?”
Chuck shrugged. “Never occurred to us. We never thought someone would be on Mars without an MAV.”
“I mean, come on!” Morris said. “What are the odds?”
Chuck turned to him. “One in three, based on empirical data. That’s pretty bad if you think about it.”
“Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” Annie said. “We have an important announcement to make. If you could all take your seats,”
“What this about, Annie?” A reporter asked. “Something happen with Hermes?”
“Please take your seats,” Annie repeated.
The reporters mingled a bit, argued over seats for a short time, then 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.
“I’m getting sick of daily press conferences,” Venkat said.
“I’m getting sick of hourly press conferences,” Annie countered.
“Sorry I’m late,” Teddy said, entering the crowded press room. Managers from every department stood shoulder to shoulder in the back, while reporters crammed the pit.
Teddy pulled some flash cards from his pocket, then cleared his throat.
“In the nine days since announcing Mark Watney’s survival, we’re received a massive show of support from all sectors. We’re using this shamelessly every way we can.”