“There’s no way to be sure,” Irene said. “The biggest threat is giving up hope. If he decides there’s no chance to survive, he’ll stop trying.”
“Then we’re ok for now, right?” Cathy said. “He seems to be working hard. He’s prepping the rover for a long trip and testing it. He plans to be there when Ares 4 lands.”
“That’s one interpretation, yes,” Irene said.
“Is there another?”
Irene carefully formed her answer before speaking. “When facing death, people want to be heard. They don’t want to die alone. He might just want the MAV radio so he can talk to another soul before he dies.
“If he’s lost hope, he won’t care about survival. His only concern will be making it to the radio. After that, he’ll probably take an easier way out than starvation. The medical supplies of an Ares mission have enough morphine to be lethal.”
After several seconds of complete silence in the studio, Cathy turned to the camera. “We’ll be right back.”
“Heya, Venk,” came Bruce’s voice from the speakerphone.
“Bruce, Hi,” said Venkat. “Thanks for clearing up some time. I wanted to talk about the presupply.”
“Sure thing. What’s on your mind?”
“Let’s say we soft-land it perfectly. How will Mark know it happened? And how will he know where to look?”
“We’ve been thinking about that,” said Bruce. “We’ve got some ideas.”
“I’m all ears,” Venkat said.
“We’ll be sending him a comm system anyway, right? We could have it turn on after lading. It’ll broadcast on the rover and EVA suit frequencies. It’ll have to be a strong signal, too.
“The rovers were only designed to communicate with the Hab and each other; the signal origin was presumed to be within 20km. The receivers just aren’t very sensitive. The EVA suits are even worse. But as long as we have a strong signal we should be good.
“Once we land the presupply, we’ll get its exact location from satellites, then broadcast that to Mark so he can go get it.”
“But he’s probably not listening,” said Venkat. “Why would he be?”
“We have a plan for that. We’re going to make a bunch of bright green ribbons. Light enough to flutter around when dropped, even in Mars’s atmosphere. Each ribbon will have ‘MARK: TURN ON YOUR COMM’ printed on it. We’re working on a release mechanism now. During the landing sequence, of course. Ideally, about 1000 meters above the surface.”
“I like it,” Venkat said. “All he needs to do is notice one. And he’s sure to check out a bright green ribbon if he sees one outside.”
“That’s what we’re thinking,” said Bruce.
“All right, good work. Keep me posted,” Venkat said.
“Venk,” said Bruce. “If he takes the ‘Watneymobile’ to Ares 4, this’ll all be for nothing. I mean, we can land it at Ares 4 if that happens, but…”
“But he’ll be without a Hab. Yeah,” Venkat said. “One thing at a time. Let me know when you come up with a release mechanism for those ribbons.”
After terminating the call, he saw an email from Mindy Park arrive. “Watney’s on the move again.”
“Still going in a straight line,” Mindy said, pointing to her monitor.
“I see,” Venkat said. “He’s sure as hell not going to Ares 4. Unless he’s going around some natural obstacle.”
“There’s nothing for him to go around,” Mindy said. “It’s Acidalia Planitia.”
“Are those the solar cells?” Venkat asked, pointing to the screen.
“Yeah,” Mindy said. “He did the usual 2 hour drive, EVA, 2 hour drive. He’s 156km from the Hab now.”
They both peered at the screen.
“Wait…” Venkat said. “Wait, no way…”
“What?” Mindy asked.
Venkat grabbed a pad of Post-Its and a pen. “Give me his location, and the location of the Hab.”
Mindy checked her screen. “He’s currently at… 28.9°N, 29.6°W.” With a few keystrokes, she brought up another file. “The Hab’s at 31.2°N, 28.5°W. What do you see?”
Venkat finished taking down the numbers. “Come with me,” he said, quickly walking out.
“Um,” Mindy stammered, following after. “Where are we going?” She asked when she caught up.
“SatCon break room,” Venkat said. “You guys still have that map of Mars on the wall?”
“Sure,” Mindy said. “But it’s just a poster from the gift shop. I’ve got high quality digital maps on my computer-“
“Nope. I can’t draw on those,” he said. Then, rounding the corner to the break room, he pointed to the Mars map on the wall. “I can draw on that.”
The break room was empty save a computer technician sipping a cup of coffee. The urgency of Venkat and Mindy’s entrance caught his attention.
“Good, it has latitude and longitude lines,” Venkat said. Looking at his Post-It, then sliding his finger along the map, he drew an X. “That’s the Hab,” he said.
“Hey,” the technician said. “Are you drawing on our poster?”
“I’ll buy you a new one,” Venkat said without looking back. Then, he drew another X. “That’s his current location. Get me a ruler.”
Mindy looked left and right. Seeing no ruler, she grabbed the technicians notebook.
“Hey!” The technician protested.
Using the notebook as a straight-edge, Venkat drew a line from the Hab to Mark’s location and beyond. Then took a step back.
“Yup! That’s where he’s going!” Venkat said excitedly.
“Oh!” Mindy said.
The line passed through the exact center of a bright yellow dot printed on the map.
“Pathfinder!” Mindy said. “He’s going to Pathfinder!”
“Yup!” Venkat said. “Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s like 800km from him. He can get there and back with supplies on-hand.”
“And bring Pathfinder and Sojourner Rover back with him,” Mindy added.
Venkat quickly pulled out his cell phone. “We lost contact with it in 1997. If he can get it online again, we can communicate. It might just need the solar cells cleaned. Even if it’s got a bigger problem, he’s an engineer!” Dialing, he added “Fixing shit is his job!”