“You're sure?” Lewis asked. “You can turn it off?”
“Shouldn't be hard,” Johanssen said. “It's an emergency feature, not a security program. It isn't protected against malicious code.”
“Malicious code?” Beck smiled. “So... you'll be a hacker?”
“Yeah,” Johanssen smiled back. “I guess I will.”
“All right,” Lewis said. “Looks like we can do it. But I don't want peer pressure forcing anyone into it. We'll wait for 24 hours. During that time, anyone can change their mind. Just talk to me in private or send me an email. I'll call it off and never tell anyone who it was.”
Lewis stayed behind as the rest filed out. Watching them leave, she saw they were smiling. All four of them. For the first time since leaving Mars, they were back to their old selves. She knew right then no one would change their mind.
They were going back to Mars.
Everyone knew Brendan Hutch would be running missions soon.
He rose through the ranks as fast as one could in the large, inertia-bound organization. Known as a diligent worker, his skill and leadership qualities were plain to all his subordinates.
Brendan was in charge of Mission Control from 1am to 9am every night. Continued excellent performance in this role would certainly net him a promotion. It was already announced he'd be back-up Flight Controller for Ares-4, and he had a good shot at the top job for Ares-5.
“Flight, CAPCOM,” came a voice through his headset.
“Go CAPCOM,” Brendan responded. Though they were in the same room, radio protocol was observed at all times.
“Unscheduled status update from Hermes.”
With Hermes 90 light-seconds away, back-and-forth voice communication was impractical. Other than media relations, Hermes would communicate via text until they were much closer.
“Roger,” Brendan said. “Read it out.”
“I... I don't get it, Flight,” came the confused reply. “No real status, just a single sentence.”
“What's it say?”
“Message reads: 'Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man.'”
“What?” Brendan asked. “Who the hell is Rich Purnell?”
“Flight, Telemetry,” came another voice.
“Go Telemetry,” Brendan said.
“Hermes is off-course.”
“CAPCOM, advise Hermes they're drifting. Telemetry, get a correction vector ready-”
“Negative, Flight,” Telemetry interrupted. “It's not drift. They adjusted course. Instrumentation uplink shows a deliberate 27.812 degree rotation.”
“What the hell?” Brendan stammered. “CAPCOM, ask them what the hell.”
“Roger Flight... message sent. Minimum reply time 3 minutes, 4 seconds.”
“Telemetry, any chance this is instrumentation failure?”
“Negative, Flight. We're tracking them with SatCon. Observed position is consistent with the course change.”
“CAPCOM, Read your logs and see what the previous shift did. See if a massive course change was ordered and somehow nobody told us.”
“Guidance, Flight.” Brendan said.
“Go Flight,” came the reply from the Guidance Controller.
“Work out how long they can stay on this course before it's irreversible. At what point will they no longer be able to intercept Earth?”
“Working on that now, Flight.”
“And somebody find out who the hell Rich Purnell is!”
Mitch sat comfortably in Teddy's office.
“Why'd you do it, Mitch?” Teddy demanded.
“Do what?” Mitch asked.
“You know damn well what I'm talking about.”
“Oh, you mean the Hermes mutiny?” Mitch said innocently. “You know, that'd make a good movie title. 'The Hermes Mutiny.' Got a nice ring to it.”
“We know you did it,” Teddy said sternly. “We don't know how, but we know you sent them the maneuver.”
“I suppose you have proof, then?”
Teddy glared. “No. Not yet, but we're working on it.”
“Really?” Mitch said. “Is that really the best use of our time? I mean, we have a near-Earth resupply to plan, not to mention figuring out how to get Watney to Schiaparelli. We've got a lot on our plates.”
“You're damn right we have a lot on our plates!” Teddy fumed. “After your little stunt, we're committed to this thing.”
“Alleged stunt,” Mitch said. “I suppose Annie will tell the media we decided to try this risky maneuver? And she'll leave out the mutiny part?”
“Of course,” Teddy said. “Otherwise we'd look like idiots.”
“Guess that's me off the hook then!” Mitch smiled. “Can't fire me for enacting NASA policy. Allegedly enacting it, that is. I guess Lewis is off the hook, too. And maybe Watney gets to live. Happy endings all around!”
“You may have killed the whole crew,” Teddy countered. “Ever think of that?”
“Whomever gave them the maneuver,” Mitch said, “only passed along information. Lewis made the decision to act on it. If she let emotion cloud her judgment, she'd be a shitty commander. And she's not a shitty commander.”
“If I can ever prove it was you, I'll find a way to fire you for it.” Teddy warned.
“Sure,” Mitch shrugged. “But if I wasn't willing to take risks to save lives, I'd...” He thought for a moment. “Well, I guess I'd be you.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 192
They're coming back for me!
I don't even know how to react. I'm choked up!
And I've got a shitload of work to do before I catch that bus home.
They can't orbit. If I'm not in space when they pass by, all they can do is wave.
I have to get to Ares-4's MAV. Even NASA accepts that. And when the nannies at NASA recommend a 3200km overland drive, you know you're trouble.
Schiaparelli Crater here I come!
Well... not right away. I still have to do the aforementioned shitload of work.
My trip to Pathfinder was a quick jaunt compared to the epic journey that's coming up. I got away with a lot of shortcuts because I only had to survive 18 sols. This time, things are different.
I averaged 80km/sol on my way to Pathfinder. If I do that well toward Schiaparelli it'll take 40 sols. Call it 50 to be safe.
But there's more to it than just travel. Once I get there, I'll need to set up camp and do a bunch of MAV modifications. NASA estimates they'll take 30 sols, 45 to be safe. Between the trip and the MAV mods, that's 95 sols. Call it 100 because “95” cries out to be approximated.