“I could get by with maybe 20 percent of what's left.”
“All right, if you used the other 80 percent-”
“Checking,” Martinez said, running the numbers on his console. “We'd get a delta-v of 31 meters per second.”
“Johanssen,” Lewis said. “Math.”
“In 39 minutes we'd deflect...” Johanssen quickly typed, “72 kilometers!”
“There we go,” Lewis said. “How much fuel-”
“Use 75.5 percent of remaining attitude adjust fuel,” Johanssen said. “That'll bring the intercept range to zero.”
“Do it,” Lewis said.
“Aye, Commander.” Martinez said.
“Hold on,” Johanssen said. “That'll get the intercept range to zero, but the intercept velocity will be 42 meters per second.”
“Then we have 39 minutes to figure out how to slow down,” Lewis said. “Martinez, burn the jets.”
“Aye.” Martinez said.
“Whoa,” Annie said to Venkat. “A lot of shit just happened really fast. Explain.”
Venkat strained to hear to speaker over the murmur of the VIPs in the observation booth. Through the glass he saw Mitch throw his hands up in frustration.
“The launch missed badly,” Venkat said, looking past Mitch to the screens beyond. “The intercept distance was going to be way too big. So they're using the attitude adjusters to close the gap.”
“What do attitude adjusters usually do?”
“They rotate the ship. They're not made for thrusting it. Hermes doesn't have quick reaction engines. Just the slow steady ion engines.”
“So... problem solved?” Annie said hopefully.
“No,” Venkat said. “They'll get to him, but they'll be going 42 meters per second when they get there.”
“How fast is that?” Annie asked.
“About 90 miles per hour,” Venkat said. “There's no hope of Beck grabbing Watney at that speed.”
“Can they use the attitude adjusters to slow down?”
“They used all the fuel they could to close the gap in time. They don't have enough to slow down.” Venkat frowned.
“So what can they do?”
“I don't know,” he said. “And even if I did, I couldn't tell them in time.”
“Well fuck,” Annie said.
“Yeah,” Venkat agreed.
“Watney,” Lewis said “Do you read?”
“Watney?” She repeated.
“Commander,” Beck radioed. “He's wearing a surface EVA suit, right?”
“It should have a bio-monitor,” Beck said. “And it'll be broadcasting. It's not a strong signal; it's only designed to go a couple hundred meters to the rover or Hab. But maybe we can pick it up.”
“Johanssen,” Lewis said.
“On it,” Johanssen said. “I have to look up the frequencies in the tech specs. Gimme a second.”
“Martinez,” Lewis continued. “Any idea how to slow down?”
He shook his head. “I got nothin', Commander. We're just going too damn fast.”
“The ion drive is simply not strong enough,” Vogel replied.
“There's got to be something,” Lewis said. “Something we can do. Anything.”
“Got his biomonitor data,” Johanssen said. “Pulse 58, blood pressure 98/61.”
“That's not bad,” Beck said. “Lower than I'd like but he's been in Mars gravity for 18 months, so it's expected.”
“Time to intercept?” Lewis asked.
“32 minutes,” Johanssen replied.
Blissful unconsciousness became foggy awareness which transitioned into painful reality. Watney opened his eyes, then winced at the pain in his chest.
Little remained of the canvas. Tatters floated along the edge of the hole it once covered. This granted Watney an unobstructed view of Mars from orbit. The great red planet's horizon stretched out seemingly forever as the wispy atmosphere gave it a fuzzy edge. Only 18 people in history had personally seen this view.
“Fuck you,” he said to the planet below.
Reaching toward the controls on his arm, he winced. Trying again, more slowly this time, he activated his radio. “MAV to Hermes.”
“Watney!?” Came the reply.
“Affirmative. That you, Commander?” Watney said.
“Affirmative. What's your status?”
“I'm on a ship with no control panel,” he said. “That's as much as I can tell you.”
“How do you feel?”
“My chest hurts. I think I broke a rib. How are you?”
“We're working on getting you,” Lewis said. “There was a complication in the launch.”
“Yeah,” Watney said, looking out the hole in the ship. “The canvas didn't hold. I think it ripped early in the ascent.”
“That's consistent with what we saw during the launch.”
“How bad is it, Commander?” He asked.
“We were able to correct the intercept range with Hermes's attitude thrusters. But there's a problem with the intercept velocity.”
“How big a problem.”
“42 meters per second.”
“Hey, at least he's ok for the moment,” Martinez said.
“Beck,” Lewis said. “I'm coming around to your way of thinking. How fast can you get going if you're untethered?”
“Sorry, Commander,” Beck said. “I already ran the numbers. At best I could get 25 meters per second. Even if I could get to 42, I'd need another 42 to match Hermes when I came back.”
“Copy,” Lewis said.
“Hey,” Watney said over the radio, “I've got an idea.”
“Of course you do,” Lewis said. “What do you got?”
“I could find something sharp in here and poke a hole in the glove of my EVA suit. I could use the escaping air as a thruster and fly my way to you. The source of thrust would be on my arm, so I'd be able to direct it pretty easily.”
“How does he come up with this shit?” Martinez interjected.
“Hmm,” Lewis said. “Could you get 42 meters per second that way?”
“No idea,” Watney said.
“I can't see you having any control if you did that,” Lewis said. “You'd be eyeballing the intercept and using a thrust vector you can barely control.”
“I admit it's fatally dangerous,” Watney said. “But consider this: I'd get to fly around like Iron Man.”