The Martian

Page 51

Having completed his work for the day, he finally had time to read email.

Sorting through the messages NASA deemed worthy to upload, he read the most interesting first and responded when necessary. His responses were cached and would be sent to Earth with Johanssen's next uplink.

A message from his wife caught his attention. Titled Unsere kinder (“our children”), it contained nothing but an image attachment. He raised an eyebrow. Several things stood out at once. Firstly, “kinder” should have been capitalized. Helena, a grammar school teacher in Bremen, was very unlikely to make that mistake. Also, to each other, they affectionately called their kids Die Affen.

Attempting to open the image, his viewer reported the file was unreadable.

He walked down the narrow hallway. The crew quarters stood against the outer hull of the constantly-spinning ship to maximize simulated gravity. Johanssen's door was open, as usual.

“Johanssen. Good evening,” Vogel said. The crew kept the same sleep schedule, and it was nearing bedtime.

“Oh, hello,” Johanssen said, looking up from her computer.

“I have the computer problem,” Vogel explained. “I wonder if you will help.”

“Sure,” she said.

“You are in the personal time,” Vogel said. “Perhaps tomorrow when you are on the duty is better?”

“Now's fine,” she said. “What's wrong?”

“It is a file. It is an image, but my computer can not view.”

“Where's the file?” she asked, typing on her keyboard.

“It is on my shared space. The name is 'kinder.jpg'.”

“Let's take a look,” she said.

Her fingers flew over her keyboard as windows opened and closed on her screen. “Definitely a bad jpg header,” she said. “Probably mangled in the download. Lemme look with a hex editor, see if we got anything at all...”

After a few moments she said. “This isn't a jpg. It's a plain ASCII text file. Looks like... well I don't know what it is. Looks like a bunch of math formulae.” She gestured to the screen. “Does any of this make sense to you?”

Vogel leaned in, looking at the text. “Ja,” he said. “It is a course maneuver for Hermes. It says the name is 'Rich Purnell Maneuver'.”

“What's that?” Johanssen asked.

“I have not heard of this maneuver.” He looked at the tables. “It is complicated... very complicated...”

He froze. “Sol 549!?” he exclaimed. “Mein Gott!”

The Hermes crew enjoyed their scant personal time in an area called “The Rec”. Consisting of a table and barely room to seat six, it ranked low in gravity priority. It's position amidships granted it a mere 0.2g.

Still, it was enough to keep everyone in their seats as they pondered what Vogel told them.

“...and then mission would conclude with Earth intercept 211 days later,” he finished up.

“Thank you, Vogel,” Lewis said. She'd heard the explanation earlier when Vogel came to her, but Johanssen, Martinez, and Beck were hearing it for the first time. She gave them a moment to digest.

“Would this really work?” Martinez asked.

“Ja,” Vogel nodded. “I ran the numbers. They all check out. It is brilliant course. Amazing.”

“How would he get off Mars?” Martinez asked.

Lewis leaned forward. “There was more in the message,” she began. “The maneuver is part of an overall idea NASA had to rescue Watney. We'd have to pick up a supply near Earth, and he'd have to get to Ares-4's MAV.”

“Why all the cloak and dagger?” Beck asked.

“According to the message,” Lewis explained. “NASA rejected the idea. They'd rather take a big risk on Watney than a small risk on all of us. Whoever snuck it in to Vogel's email obviously disagreed.”

“So,” Martinez said, “We're talking about going directly against NASA's decision?”

“Yes,” Lewis confirmed, “That's what we're talking about. If we do the maneuver, they'll have to send the supply ship or we'll die. We have the opportunity to force their hand.”

“Are we going to do it?” Johanssen asked.

They all looked to Lewis.

“I won't lie,” she said. “I'd sure as hell like to. But this isn't a normal decision. This is something NASA expressly rejected. We're talking about mutiny. And that's not a word I throw around lightly.”

She stood and paced slowly around the table. “We'll only do it if we all agree. And before you answer, consider the consequences. If we mess up the supply rendezvous, we die. If we mess up the Earth gravity assist, we die.

“If we do everything perfectly, we add 533 days to our mission. 533 days of unplanned space travel where anything could go wrong. Maintenance will be a hassle. Something might break that we can't fix. If it's life-critical, we die.”

“Sign me up!” Martinez smiled.

“Easy, cowboy,” Lewis said. “You and I are military. There's a good chance we'd be court-martialed when we got home. As for the rest of you, I guarantee they'll never send you up again.”

Martinez leaned against the wall, arms folded with a half grin on his face. The rest silently considered what their commander had said.

“If we do this,” Vogel said. “It would be over 1000 days of space. This is enough space for a life. I do not need to return.”

“Sounds like Vogel's in,” Martinez grinned. “Me, too, obviously.”

“Let's do it,” Beck said.

“If you think it'll work,” Johanssen said to Lewis, “I trust you.”

“Ok,” Lewis said. “If we go for it, what's involved?”

Vogel shrugged. “I plot the course and execute it,” he said. “What else?”

“Remote Override,” Johanssen said. “It's designed to get the ship back if we all die or something. They can take over Hermes from Mission Control.”

“But we're right here,” Lewis said. “We can undo whatever they try, right?”

“Not really,” Johanssen said. “Remote Override takes priority over any on-board controls. Its assumes there's been a disaster and the ship's control panels can't be trusted.”

“Can you disable it?” Lewis asked.

“Hmm...” Johanssen pondered. “Hermes has four redundant flight computers, each connected to three redundant comm systems. If any computer gets signal from any comm system, Mission Control can take over. We can't shut down the comms; we'd lose telemetry and guidance. We can't shut down the computers; we need them to control the ship. I'll have to disable the Remote Override on each system... It's part of the OS, I'll have to jump over the code... yes. I can do it.”

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