The Martian

Page 31

Venkat sighed. “I’ll try to get it tomorrow.”

“Great!” She said. “Looking forward to it.”


I have to be watching the camera when it spells shit out. It’s half a byte at a time. So I watch a pair of numbers, then look them up on an ASCII cheat-sheet I made. That’s one letter.

I don’t want to forget any letters, so I scrape them in to the dirt with a rod. The process of looking up a letter and scraping it in the dirt takes a couple of seconds. Sometimes when I look back at the camera, I’ve missed a number. I can usually guess it from context, but other times I just miss out.

Today I got up hours earlier than I needed to. It was like Christmas morning! I could hardly wait for 08:00 to roll around. I had breakfast, did some unnecessary checks on Hab equipment, and read some Poirot. Finally the time came!


Yeah. Took me a minute. “Can hack rover to talk to Pathfinder. Prepare for long message.”

That took some mental gymnastics to work out. But it was great news! If we could get that set up, we’d only be limited by transmission time! I set up a note that said “Roger.”

Not sure what they meant by “long message” but I figured I better be ready. I went out 15 minutes before the top of the hour and smoothed out a big area of dirt. I found the longest antenna rod I had, so I could reach in to the smooth area without having to step on it.

Then I stood by. Waiting.

At exactly the top of the hour, the message came.


Jesus. Ok…

They want me to launch ‘hexedit’ on the rover’s computer, then open the file /usr/lib/, scroll until the index reading on the left of the screen is 2AAE5, then replace the bytes there with a 141 byte sequence NASA will send in the next message. Fair enough.

Also, for some reason, they want me to hang around for the next pic. Not sure why. You can’t see any part of me when I’m in the suit. Even the faceplate would reflect too much light. Still, it’s what they want.

I went back in and copied down the message for future reference. Then I wrote a short note and came back out. Usually I’d pin up the note and go back in. But this time I had to hang around for a photo op.

I gave the camera a thumb’s-up to go along with my note, which said “Ayyyyyy!”

Blame the ‘70’s TV.

“I ask for a picture and I get The Fonz?” Annie admonished.

“You got your picture, quit bitching,” Venkat said, cradling the phone on his shoulder. He paid more attention to the schematics in front of him than the conversation.

“Ayyyyyy!” Annie mocked. “Why would he do that?”

“Have you met Mark Watney?”

“Fine, fine,” Annie said. “But I want a pic of his face ASAP.”

“Can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because if he takes off his helmet, he’ll die. Annie, I have to go, one of the JPL programmers is here and it’s urgent. Bye!”

“But-“ Annie said as he hung up.

Jack, in the doorway, said “It’s not urgent.”

“Yeah, I know,” Venkat said. “What can I do for you?”

“We were thinking,” Jack began, “This rover hack might get kind of detailed. We may have to do a bunch of back-and-forth communication with Watney.”

“That’s fine,” Venkat said. “Take your time, do it right.”

“We could get things done faster with a shorter transmission time,” Jack said.

Venkat gave him a puzzled look. “Do you have a plan for moving Earth and Mars closer together?”

“Earth doesn’t have to be involved,” Jack said. “Hermes is 73 million km from Mars right now. Only 4 light-minutes away. Beth Johanssen is a great programmer. She could talk Mark through it.”

“Out of the question,” Venkat said.

“She’s the mission Sysop,” Jack pressed on, “This is her exact area of expertise.”

“Can’t do it, Jack. The crew still doesn’t know.”

“What is with you? Why won’t you just tell them?”

“Watney’s not my only responsibility,” Venkat said. “I’ve got five other astronauts in deep space, who have to concentrate on their return trip. Nobody thinks about it, but statistically they’re in more danger than Watney right now. He’s on a planet. They’re in space.”

Jack raised his arms. “Fine, we’ll do it the slow way.”


Ever transcribed 141 random bytes, one half of a byte at a time?

It’s boring. And it’s tricky when you don’t have a pen.

Earlier, I had just written letters in the sand. But this time, I needed a way to get the numbers on to something portable. My first plan was: Use a laptop!

Each crewman had their own laptop. So I have six at my disposal. Rather, I “had” six. I now have five. I thought a laptop would be fine outside. It’s just electronics, right? It’ll keep warm enough to operate in the short term, and it doesn’t need air for anything.

It died instantly. The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.” I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

So I used a camera. I’ve got lots of them, specially made for working on Mars. I wrote the bytes in the sand as they came in, took a picture, then transcribed them in the Hab.

It’s night now, so no more messages. Tomorrow, I’ll enter this in to the rover and the geeks at JPL can take it from there.

“Come on up here, Jack,” said Venkat. “You get to be the most Timward today.”

“Thanks,” said Jack, taking Venkat’s place next to Tim. “Heya, Tim!”

“Jack,” said Tim.

“How long will the patch take?” Venkat asked.

“Should be pretty much instant,” Jack answered. “Watney entered the hack earlier today, and we confirmed it worked. We updated Pathfinder’s OS without any problems. We sent the rover patch, which Pathfinder rebroadcast. Once Watney executes the patch and reboots the rover, we should get a connection.”

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