The Martian

Page 29

“Best guess?”

“Our best guess is he took it in to the Hab. The Lander’s signal wouldn’t be able to reach Sojourner through Hab canvas.” Pointing to another reporter, he said “You, there.”

“Marty West, NBC News,” Marty said. “How will you communicate with Watney once everything’s up and running?”

“That’ll be up to Watney,” said Venkat. “All we have to work with is the camera. He can write notes and hold them up. But how we talk back is trickier.”

“How so?” Marty asked.

“Because all we have is the camera platform. That’s the only moving part. There are plenty of ways to get information across with just the platform’s rotation, but no way to tell Watney about them. He’ll have to come up with something and tell us. We’ll follow his lead.”

Pointing to the next reporter, he said, “Go ahead.”

“Jill Holbrook, BBC. With a 32 minute round trip, and nothing but a single rotating platform to talk with, it’ll be a dreadfully slow conversation, won’t it?”

“Yes it will,” Venkat confirmed. “It’s early morning in Acidalia Planitia right now, and just past 3am here in Pasadena. We’ll be here all night, and that’s just for a start. No more questions for now, the panorama is due back in a few minutes. We’ll keep you posted.”

Quickly leaving the press room, Venkat hurried down the hall to the makeshift Pathfinder control center. He pressed through the throng to the communications console.

“Anything, Tim?”

“Totally,” he replied. “But we’re staring at this black screen because it’s way more interesting than pictures from Mars.”

“You’re a smart-ass, Tim,” Venkat said.


Bruce pushed his way forward. “Still another few seconds on the clock,” he said.

The time passed in silence.

“Getting something,” Tim said. “Yup. It’s the panoramic.”

A general loosening of tension coruscated through the room as the image slowly came through, one vertical stripe at a time.

“Martian surface…” Venkat said as the lines displayed. “More surface…”

“Edge of the Hab!” Bruce said, pointing to the screen.

“Hab,” Venkat smiled. “More Hab now… more Hab… is that a message? That’s a message!”

The vertical stripes revealed a handwritten note, suspended at the camera’s height by a thin metal rod.

“We got a note from Mark!” Venkat announced to the room.

Applause filled the room, then quickly died down. “What’s it say?” someone asked.

Venkat leaned closer to the screen. “It says …‘I’ll write questions here – Are you receiving?’”

“Ok…?” said Bruce.

“That’s what it says,” Venkat shrugged.

“Another note,” said Tim, pointing to the screen as the slow march of data revealed itself.

Venkat leaned in again. “This one says ‘Point here for yes’.”

“All right, I see what he’s going for,” said Bruce.

“There’s the third note,” said Tim.

“‘Point here for no,’” Venkat read. “‘Will check often for answer’”

Venkat folded his arms. “All right. We have communication with Mark. Tim, point the camera at ‘Yes’. Then, start taking pictures at 10 minute intervals until he puts another question up.”


“Yes!” They said “Yes!”

I haven’t been this excited about a “yes” since prom night!

Ok, calm down.

I have limited paper to work with. These cards were intended to label batches of samples. I have about 50 cards. I can use both sides, and if it comes down to it, I can re-use them by scratching out the old question.

The Sharpie I’m using will last much longer than the cards, so ink isn’t a problem. But I have to do all my writing in the Hab. I don’t know what kind of hallucinogenic crap that ink is made of, but I’m pretty sure it would boil off in 1/90th of an atmosphere.

I’m using old parts of the antenna array to hold the cards up. There’s a certain irony in that.

We’ll need to talk faster than yes/no questions every half-hour. The camera can rotate 360 degrees, and I have plenty of antenna parts. Time to make an alphabet. But I can’t just use the letters A through Z. With my Question Card, that would be 27 cards around the lander. Each one would only get 13 degrees of arc. Even if JPL points the camera perfectly, there’s a good chance I won’t know which letter they meant.

So I’ll have to use ASCII. That’s how computers manage characters. Each character has a numerical code between 0 and 255. Values between 0 and 255 can be expressed as 2 hexadecimal digits. By giving me pairs of hex digits, they can send any character they like, including numbers, punctuation, etc.

How do I know which values go with which characters? Because Johanssen’s laptop is a wealth of information. I knew she’d have an ASCII table in there somewhere. All computer geeks do.

So I’ll make cards for 0 through 9, and A through F. That makes 16 cards to place around the camera, plus the Question Card. 17 cards means over 21 degrees each. Much easier to deal with.

Time to get to work!

Spell with ASCII. Numbers 0-F at 21 degree increments. Will watch camera starting 11:00 my time. When message done, return to this position. Wait 20 minutes after completion to take picture (So I can write and post reply). Repeat process at top of every hour.


No physical problems. All Hab components functional. Eating 3/4 rations. Successfully growing crops in Hab with cultivated soil. Note: Situation not Ares 3 crew’s fault. Bad luck.


Impaled by antenna fragment. Knocked out by decompression. Landed face down, blood sealed hole. Woke up after crew left. Bio-monitor computer destroyed by puncture. Crew had reason to think me dead. Not their fault.


Long story. Extreme Botany. Have 126 m2 farmland growing potatoes. Will extend food supply, but not enough to last until Ares 4 landing. Modified rover for long distance travel, plan to drive to Ares 4. 


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