“Hey, this is Mindy Park at SatCon. I need the mission logs for Ares 3, where can I get ‘em?... Uh huh… uh-huh…. Ok… Thanks.”
After some more time on the intranet, she leaned back in her seat. She no longer needed the coffee to keep awake.
Picking up the phone again, “Hello, Security? This is Mindy Park in SatCon. I need the emergency contact number for Dr. Venkat Kapoor… Yes, the Director of Mars Missions… Yes it’s and emergency.”
Mindy fidgeted in her seat as Venkat trudged in.
“You Mindy Park?” He asked, looking mildly annoyed.
“Yeah,” she quavered. “Sorry to drag you in.”
“I’m assuming you had a good reason. So?”
“Um,” she said, looking down. “Um, it’s. Well. The imagery you ordered. Um. Come here and look.”
He pulled another chair to her station and seated himself. “Is this about Watney’s body? Is that why you’re shook up?”
“Um, no,” she said. “Um. Well… uh.” She pointed to the screen.
Venkat inspected the image. “Looks like the Hab’s in one piece. That’s good news. Solar array looks good. The rovers are ok, too. Main dish isn’t around. No surprise there. What’s the big emergency?”
“Um,” she said, touching her finger to the screen. “That.”
Venkat leaned in and looked closer. Just below the Hab, beside the rovers, two white circles sat in the sand. “Hmm. Looks like Hab canvas. Maybe the Hab didn’t do well after all? I guess pieces got torn off and-“
“Um,” she interrupted. “They look like rover pop-tents.”
Venkat looked again. “Hmm. Probably right.”
“How’d they get set up?” Mindy asked.
Venkat shrugged. “Commander Lewis probably ordered them deployed during the evac. Not a bad idea. Have the emergency shelters ready in case the MAV didn’t work and the Hab breached.”
“Yeah, um,” Mindy said, opening a document on her computer. “This is the entire mission log for Sols 1 through 6. From MDV touchdown to MAV emergency liftoff.”
“I read through it. Several times. They never threw out the pop tents.” Her voice cracked at the last word.
“Well, uh…” Venkat said, puzzled. “They obviously did, but it didn’t make it in to the log.”
“They activated two emergency pop tents and never told anyone?”
“Hmm. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, no. Maybe the storm messed with the rovers and the tents autodeployed.”
“Um,” Mindy stammered, “So after autodeploying, they detached themselves from the rovers and lined up next to each other 20 meters away?”
Venkat looked back to the image. “Well obviously they activated somehow.”
“Why are the solar cells clean?” Mindy said, tears forming. “There was a huge sandstorm. Why isn’t there sand all over them?”
“A good wind could have done it?” Venkat said, unsure.
“Did I mention I never found Watney’s body?” She said, sniffling.
Venkat’s eyes widened as he stared at the picture. “Oh…” he said quietly. “Oh god…”
Mindy put her hands over her face and sobbed quietly.
“Fuck!” Director of Media Relations Annie Montrose said. “You have got to be fucking kidding me!”
Teddy rubbed his forehead. “How sure are we of this?”
“Nearly 100%,” Venkat said.
“Fuck!” Annie said.
“Not helping, Annie,” Teddy said.
“Do you have any idea the magnitude of shitstorm this is gonna’ be?” She retorted.
“One thing at a time,” Teddy said. “Venk, what makes you sure he’s alive?”
“For starters, no body.” Venkat explained. “Also, the pop-tents are set up. And the solar cells are clean. You can thank Mindy Park in SatCon for noticing all that, by the way.
“But,” Venkat continued, “his body could have been buried in the Sol 6 storm. The pop tents might have autodeployed and wind could have blown them around. A 30km/h windstorm some time later would be strong enough to clean the solar cells but not strong enough to carry sand. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.
“So I spent the last few hours checking everything I could. Commander Lewis had two outings in Rover 2. The second was on Sol 5. According to the logs, after returning, she plugged it in to the Hab for recharging. It wasn’t used again, and 13 hours later they evac’d.”
He slid a picture across the table to Teddy.
“That’s one of the images from last night. As you can see, Rover 2 is facing away from the Hab. The charging port is in the nose, and the cable isn’t long enough to reach.”
Teddy frowned. “She must have parked it facing the Hab or she wouldn’t have been able to plug it in,” he said. “It’s been moved since Sol 5.”
“Yeah,” Venkat said, sliding another picture to Teddy. “But here’s the real evidence. In the lower right of the image you can see the MDV. It’s been taken apart. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have done that without telling us.
“And the clincher is on the right of the image,” Venkat pointed. “The landing struts of the MAV. Looks like the fuel plant has been completely removed, with considerable damage to the struts in the process. There’s just no way that could have happened before liftoff. It would endanger the MAV way too much for Lewis to allow it.”
“Hey,” Annie interrupted. “Why not talk to Lewis? Let’s go to CAPCOM and ask her this shit directly.”
Venkat looked to Teddy knowingly. After a few moments, Teddy sighed.
“Because,” he said. “If Watney really is alive, we don’t want the Ares 3 crew to know.”
“What!?” Annie said. “How can you not tell them?”
“They have another ten months on their trip home,” Teddy explained. “Space travel is dangerous. They need to be alert and undistracted. They’re sad that they lost a crewmate, but they’d be devastated if they found out they’d abandoned him alive.”
Annie looked to Venkat. “You’re on board with this?”
“It’s a no-brainer,” Venkat said. “Let ‘em deal with that emotional trauma when they’re not flying a spaceship around.”