nrgburst: (Beck YES)
[personal profile] nrgburst
Title: Coming to Rest
Fandom: The Martian (Andy Weir)
Characters: Chris Beck/Beth Johanssen, Melissa Lewis, Venkat Kapoor, Annie Montrose, Mitch Henderson, Bruce Ng, Alex Vogel, Rick Martinez, Amy Beck, OFCs
Rating/Warnings: T, language
Word Count: 9000 or so
Summary: Because "The Icarus Maneuver" would have been way more accurate. (And the pretending comes to an end.)

This is the final part of Newton's First Law, and it's focused on what happens on the Hermes in the missing 7 months while Watney is making the rover mods. It's not as shippy as the first two chapters, and is easily readable as a standalone one-shot.


A/N: So I’m detail oriented and I like to fill in plot holes, and since Andy Weir one-two-skipped a few over this one, I naturally had to take a closer look. Here is the Rich Purnell maneuver according to Weir’s calculations. If you can spot the ginormous problem, you’ll understand why I’m wondering why the heck he didn’t flesh this out for more nail biting drama? (And why I can’t resist trying to write out the solve myself.) Plus I’m stealing the serial email idea from this amazing fic because signposting the passage of time and multiple POV is for winners. (And Trope Bingo.)

***

“Is this really the Hermes’ flight path? This is the Rich Purnell maneuver?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Oh geez. Wouldn’t the Icarus maneuver have been more apt? I had no idea.”


Mitch looks down grimly and Venkat presses his lips together before he looks steadily back at Bruce on the screen. “Purnell usually does mission design for unmanned spacecraft. I’ve already got all of Goddard, Marshall and Glenn working on it, plus the ESA and JASA have volunteered their assistance. It’s true: the Hermes will be well within NASA’s red zone for manned missions for several months. But that zone was established before we had today’s radiation solutions. We simply need to ensure the ship and crew will be able to survive this. And… that means everything they need also has to be on the Taiyeng Shen.”

 

Bruce blanches. “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’ve got only twenty-four more days to build this one! Even just provisions and maintenance supplies-”

 

“I know, Bruce, but all you need to do is build the probe, pack it, and get the fuel calculations down- ESA has volunteered supplies and staff assistance with probe assembly and JASA is already working on the heat shielding components.”


Bruce rubs at his eyes and relaxes slightly. “That… will actually help immensely. Wow. Do you have any numbers on additional mass?”

 

Venkat takes a deep breath and glances at his tablet. “So far, only about 80kg. The Hermes is built to withstand tremendous amounts of cosmic radiation, and she’ll have plenty of solar power to increase magnetic field output. The real problem is how light converts to heat- she’ll be getting hit with four times as much light as she was designed for. So JASA is casting ceramic shades for the most vulnerable components, and the Hermes can spin so the hull doesn’t heat too much before it can cool on the dark side.”

 

Bruce blinks with surprise. “Ceramics? Will they be able to take the launch?”

 

Venkat nods emphatically. “These are very tough- used on both MESSENGER and the BepiColumbo MPO/MMO Mercury probes. After Annie broke the Taiyeng Shen news to the media, the other space agencies also wanted to show their support, especially the ESA- Vogel’s one of theirs. Really, the whole world wants to bring Watney home. That means keeping the Hermes and her crew safe."



They’re all silent for a moment.



The sun-facing surface of Mercury broils at 700 K despite its negligible atmosphere. Hermes holds a very human crew in a bubble of air, and their trajectory will bring them closer to the Sun than even that scorched planet for months.

 

But their job now is to come up with solutions.

 

“Right. Get me a list of specs and keep me updated. We’ll figure this out.”


 


 

From: Amy Beck at gmail dot com
To: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
Date: August 2, 2036, 2:15 PM
Subject: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!


Took Mom and Dad out for brunch at M&M Bistro today where they repeatedly bemoaned the fact that you will have three birthdays in space, you self-sacrificing idiot/genius. They hardly fought about politics at all what with worrying about you roasting to death; it was great.

So hard to shop for you now that I can’t just buy you some shiny new outdoor gear. Let me know if we can send you anything to make your life up there a little more fun- music, books, whatever. Or if you want me to buy you a campstove or carabiners to set aside for your return, I can do that too! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what we sent up.

Anyway, here’s the chocolate ganache cake we consumed in your honor and it was as sinfully delicious as it looks. Yes, that is Irish coffee with it because it was brunch and we did it right.

LOVE YOU,

Amy

[betterthansexchocolatecake.jpg]

 

---

 

From: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 37
To: Amy Beck at gmail dot com
Date: August 2, 2036, 8:15 PM
Subject: Re: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!


A little sister will be fun, they said. Look at how sweet she is, they said.

I had a meatballs and broccoli pack, re-hydrated mashed potatoes and a shrink-wrapped brownie with Tang tonight. Seriously, sis, low blow.

But hey, Mission Control sang me happy birthday, we're chasing Venus, we’ll be flying by Mercury and I’ve already walked on Mars, so I guess on the cosmic scale of things I’m still winning. :DDDD

My crewmates have been pranking me all day too, so I “won’t forget how old I’ve become.”

Imagine me kinda groggy while working out first thing, only to realize that all the songs on my media stick have been renamed things like 3.7 and 373.7. The Commander scheduled everything to start or finish at :37 today (and I didn’t even notice until halfway through morning briefing because NASA does the by the minute stuff all the time), and Martinez was so proud at his physical because his urine sample had the barcode 0003737. They plastered the number 37 on everything- email headers, meal selections, the toilet lid and even airlock three magically got a number 7 added to it today. I don’t know how they did it all without me noticing- the ship’s not that big!

The real chocolate was awesome too- thanks a million.

Actually, could you send me some catalogs? I forgot to subscribe with this email and I’d love to see what new stuff Patagonia, Arc’teryx and Big Agnes have come up with. I might need a bigger tent and sleeping bag once I’m back.

Gotta go- love you,

Chris

 

---

 

From: Amy Beck at gmail dot com
To: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
Date: August 3, 2036, 12:20 PM
Subject: Re: Re: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!


Not winning if you end up dead, brainiac. I don’t get why you guys are flying by The Actual Sun when Mars is in the opposite direction?

LOL good to know astronauts can be awesome and gross at the same time! OMG do you need some prank ideas for the next birthday? Let me help PLEEEEASE

Also why the hell will you need a bigger tent and sleeping bag? You didn’t look like you’d gained weight? Is it a space bed thing?


[patagoniasummer36.pdf, arcteryxfallwinter2036, marmotfw2036.pdf, bigagnes2036.pdf]

 

---

 

From: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
To: Carina Chau, Flight Surgeon, NASA-JSC
CC: Irene Shields, Flight Psychologist, NASA-JSC
Date: August 8, 2036, 2:17 PM
Subject: Re: EHR analyses


Doctors,

Crewman Johanssen reported no difficulties with depressive and/or obsessive thoughts or behaviors, and reports “typical” stress for “an extended mission with a stranded crewmate, engineering team down by one and extreme hardware challenges.”

Observations from myself and other crewmates are consistent with self-reports, and her behavior has not raised any concerns for her mental or physical health, crewmate interaction or standard of work.

Patient previously declined anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications when informed of hormonal level trends. Recommendations were made for meditation and yoga as an alternative, and recreational time spent focused on recreation rather than work-related projects.


Crewman Beck self-reports no development of depression or obsessive/compulsive thoughts or behaviors over the past weeks, but reported increased worry for Crewman Watney due to loss of communication (as noted in EHR).

Objective reports on behavior and standard of work can be obtained via Commander Lewis, who reports to NASA independently. As no complaints or reprimands have been issued, performance is assumed to have been satisfactory.

Patient declined anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications and has been using meditation, yoga and increased consumption of bizarre German movies and American comedy series during recreation designated times to reduce stress and anxiety.


Please note hormone levels did not correspond with behavioral aberrations or reported distress. These levels have been trending back towards baseline levels for several weeks, suggesting that recommended treatment has been effective, or that underlying cause has abated.


Will re-evaluate hormone levels with afternoon samples to rule out development of Cushing’s syndrome and do an US of GI area with next physicals. No other alarming symptoms to report.

Always appreciate your second opinion.

Dr. Christopher Beck
Flight Surgeon
Ares 3

 

At 10:25 AM, Carina Chau wrote:


Per attached EHRs submitted between July 9, 2036 and Aug 6, 2036 hormone levels in the following crew exhibit trends that merit further investigation:

Beck, Christopher (Serotonin ↓ 82-140 ng/mL, base 199-230 ng/mL, Cortisol ↑ 27-38 mcg/dL, base 12-21 mcg/dL, Testosterone ↑ 709-1022 ng/dL, base 530-670 ng/dL )

Johanssen, Beth (Serotonin ↓ 68-97 ng/mL, base 124-140 ng/mL; Cortisol ↑ 24-32 mcg/dL, base 7-16 mcg/dL Testosterone ↑ 30-53 ng/dL, base 17-18 ng/dL )

 

Possible concerns include:

Obsessive thoughts and behaviors, Depression, Insomnia, Aggressive behaviors, Self-harming behaviors, Undiagnosed GI Infection, Stress-related disorders, Cushing’s Syndrome, Risk-taking behaviors

Can you get back to me about what was going on during these weeks? Your notes were brief, and the data is mildly concerning. If there are additional symptoms of any of the above, please take immediate action.

Thanks,

Dr. Carina Chau
Flight Surgeon
Johnson Medical Clinic

P.S. Happy belated birthday!

 

[johanssenbeth.xml, beckchristopher.xml]


---

 

From: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
To: Carina Chau at gmail dot com
Date: August 8, 2036, 2:28 PM
Subject: Seriously, we’re fine.

 

Hi Carina,

Sorry to worry you. It’s been a few weeks of upheaval from the usual schedule. The possibility of the Taiyeng Shen failing was not an easy one to handle, especially after the news about Pathfinder, and we worked twelve hour days for about two weeks with no days off while we were close to Earth. We’re all feeling better after the re-supply, but Johanssen’s been spending a lot of her Rec time coding apps to monitor solar everything and our fuzzy new crew additions. She’s named them too, despite my advice not to get too attached.

You know I actually kind of miss Houston’s heat and humidity? Things I never thought I’d say, especially as we get closer to the sun, but it’s been a constant 21 C on the Hermes for a year.

Hope you’re doing well. Please say hi to Ben, Aspen and Skye, and the Flight Surgeon team for me.

Chris

P.S. Thanks! Older but maybe not wiser.

 

---

 

From: Carina Chau at gmail dot com
To: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
Date: August 9, 2036, 9:08 AM
Subject: Re: Seriously, we’re fine.


Hi!

Glad to hear you’re getting some R&R- sounds like intern-paced non-stop. I wasn’t terribly worried, since your levels were bouncing back, but you know how we have to double-check everything.

Have you heard about Dr. Krint going private? I don’t know if anyone told you. There are several hundred applications for his position too, which means interviewing is going to be insane. Everybody wants a shot at Watney’s file/data and you’re probably going to get about fifty second opinions an hour once you get him back, just FYI. I’d be jealous of your amazing case but honestly? I don’t know when you’re going to sleep. Think one or two of your crewmates can be trained in sample diagnostics and/or basic nursing so you don’t have to multitask so much? You should really have a team to be the most effective.

Ben and the kids are good, and they say hi back! We’re going to Disneyland for Labor Day weekend. They’ve promised to do chores all summer to earn the trip, so I’m trying to chalk this one up as a Parenting Win.

Hope the Hermes and your crew are treating you well, and safe journey to all of you~

Carina

P.S. TBH, your hormone levels look like something else to me? Is it what you mentioned while you were in training? And do they monitor personal emails the way they do office ones?

 

---

 

From: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
To: Carina Chau at gmail dot com
Date: August 10, 2036, 2:30 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Seriously, we’re fine.

 

Hi,

None of you ever talk about anything but official stuff on official email. I thought Krint was on perma-track. Wow. Does that mean one of you will have to do FC duties part time?

I hadn’t thought of training a med team, but that’s a fantastic idea. I’m going to run it past the Commander- thanks! Feel free to send other ideas my way. I might even give you credit. :D

Did you go to the Yale Med reunion this year? I’m having vivid dreams of snow too.

Thanks for the frank advice. Miss being able to get a casual second opinion.

Take care down there,

Chris

P.S. Yes. I don’t regret it. I hope you understand.

And I don’t know- it’s a gross invasion of privacy, so I would have assumed ‘no’ until the FD told us they’d even censored Watney stuff out of our personal emails for two months.


---

 

From: Carina Chau at gmail dot com
To: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
Date: August 11, 2036, 9:16 AM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Seriously, we’re fine.

 

Just be glad I was the one doing the EMR analyses. I’ve already unflagged it as acceptable variation, but if I end up on FC or HR rounds BB is probably going to notice if anything’s still skewed off baseline, okay?

He says he’s never going to fly again, so why stick around when there’s more money to be made in the private sector? I get it, but it feels like a huge loss for the clinic. I’m also rather curious as to how much was enough to pull him from the prospect of Watney/Ares 3 data.

Har-dee-har-har. We’re still focused on getting you radiation therapy and exposure prevention/intervention around here, but TBH we’ll probably conference about it a bunch before you get him. JSC Med has got your back, okay?

I did! Everybody was very curious about how you were doing- you should really update your facebook more often. I expect next year will be All About Treatment Protocol for NASA’s Most Recognizable Astronaut via our No. 1 Alum! No pressure at all!

Stay safe,

Carina

P.S. Happy for you! Really. Ben too. And yeah, I remember the memo. Yikes.

 


 


It’s more Watney’s style than his, but there’s a point when “safety first” can start reducing positive outcomes.

 

So Chris speaks up when there’s finally a pause in the hypotheticals. “Isn’t it easiest if I just go out and fix the shade? The magnetic field keeps most of the radiation off us anyway, and the EVA suit has its own protections. NASA estimates an exposure of 7 mSv if I’m out there an hour. That’s like getting a chest CT. If the dish breaks down in a week, an EVA is going to involve at least twice as much radiation. Especially since it’s probably going to be a way more complicated fix.”

Lewis glances over. “Johanssen?”

She nods reluctantly. “My calculations show that signal quality is going to continue to degrade unless do something about the heating problem.”

Lewis nods coolly. “So we fix the shade. We can’t stop spinning though, or the hull will heat unevenly. Beck, you’re going to be spinning between blinding light and full darkness. Have you ever done an EVA like this?”

He raises his brows and shakes his head slightly. “No way. Too hazardous, too space sickness inducing. Even with the max dose of Scop-Dex there’s a good probability that I’ll throw up, which is going to be super fun in the suit. But I think we’re out of options, and the closer we get to the Sun the worse conditions are going to get. I’ll move slowly and deliberately along the same path I used last time. I know exactly how to bolt on a new one. The only problem I can foresee is if the strut was also damaged by the micrometeorite. So I can bring a new one, just in case.”

Lewis presses her lips together, considering. “Okay. I’ll be monitoring your tether in Airlock 1 and ready to back you up if something goes wrong. Johanssen will be on comms. I’ll also need Beck’s cam data from that EVA so I can study his route.”

She nods, eyes downcast. “Yes, Commander. I’ll pull it up right after the briefing.”

“Good. Beck, you’ll walk me through your route and then we’ll prep suits and materials. Vogel and Martinez, stick to your regular schedules. Goddard is dying for that data analysis, Vogel. Martinez, any maintenance you won’t be able to handle without Johanssen, you leave until after the EVA.”

They both nod silently, and she looks around at her crew. They’re all grimfaced and worried– who wouldn’t be? Nobody wants Beck to walk out into radiation soup. But this is what they signed up for.

She smiles bracingly. “Okay. Dismissed.”


 




From: Ingrid Bastante, Flight Surgeon, NASA-JSC
To: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
Date: September 4, 2036, 11:43 AM
Subject: Crewmen Johanssen (and yourself?)


Dear Dr. Beck,

Just a follow-up to the EMRs you submitted yesterday- both of you displayed rather high cortisol, testosterone and low serotonin levels but you didn’t put anything in her notes. Was that something to do with your EVA?

Sincerely,

Dr. Ingrid Bastante
Flight Surgeon
Johnson Medical Clinic

 

---

 

From: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
To: Ingrid Bastante, Flight Surgeon, NASA-JSC
Date: September 5, 2036, 3:43 PM
Subject: Re: Crewmen Johanssen (and yourself?)

Dr. Bastante,

Probably- ever since Watney, Johanssen worries more when one of us has to work outside in sub-optimal conditions. (She was right next to him when the dish hit him and carried him off.) I offered her anti-anxiety meds and she declined, saying she expected it to fade on its own. I did an extra check today, and she reported feeling no residual anxiety, but I agree that it bears watching. I’ll update you guys after her physical next week.

As for me, that was probably the most extreme EVA I’ve ever done- I was stressed as hell and planning for it non-stop. Probably what the hormones there are about- sorry, I didn’t think it deviated that much, considering. It was a once in a lifetime experience to stand on the top of the Hermes and see Mercury and Earth shining behind us and then Venus and the Sun just huge whirling in front of us as I came back in, but I have never been so glad to finish an EVA. Total radiation exposure was 8 mSv, which I believe I noted?

Hope you’re doing well,

Dr. Christopher Beck
Flight Surgeon
Ares 3

 

---

 

From: Beth Johanssen, Flight Engineer, Ares 3
To: George Johanssen at yahoo dot com
Date: September 12, 2036, 2:52 PM
Subject: REMINDER

Hey Dad,

Just giving you the yearly heads-up that your anniversary is coming up! Mom’s been saying the backyard needs something to pretty it up, but she didn’t mention anything specific, sorry.

We’re still doing well. Here’s a selfie with the bright side of Mercury out the Rec room window! It’ll pass us in the next two weeks because it’s moving more than ten times faster than us, so we’ve all been planet gazing while we can. We’ll actually be hitching another gravity assist so that we can avoid the rotation of some sunspots, which might put us to Mars a bit earlier than anticipated but is far preferable to being caught by a solar storm! Plus we might even be home a couple days early!

I know you never imagined I would do something like this, and while saving my crewmate was the main reason I volunteered to extend our mission, you need to understand that being able to travel in space is why I decided to join NASA. Please stop worrying that I’m “wasting [my] good years in a tin can”, okay? (Friendly reminder that I built the software that runs this tin can!) I’m really, really happy. My work is exciting and challenging, and I’m part of an amazing, supportive team. The relationships I have with my crewmates will last a lifetime, plus I think you and me actually communicate better through email than texting, even if it’s got a time delay. Creatively, I’m still coding in my free time, and my fellow programmers send me stuff to keep me up to date on programming trends and developments. I won’t say it isn’t hard, or that I don’t miss things like being able to upgrade hardware; the smell of rain or Mom’s cooking. But I’m so grateful to have the chance to be here too.

Yes, there’s more solar radiation (but actually less cosmic radiation) as we get closer to the Sun, so we’re shunting more power into cooling and magnetic shielding. So it’s perfect that we have solar panels because their power output increases the closer we get to their energy source! The Hermes has several redundant types of radiation shielding, so no, they didn’t send up any lead aprons, although we have film that we put over the Bridge windows so the glare (and heat) isn’t be as bad. (Midnight sun all the time up here.) NASA thought of everything, even worst-case scenarios and back-up plans for them. And we have a very conscientious doctor here keeping an eye on us. Even if we have to wear spacesuits inside during a solar storm, I shouldn’t come home with cancer.

I’m attaching video logs of a couple programs you can save and share- Hermes’ projected trajectory with respect to planetary orbits, and the other one is a visual representation of radiation/magnetic field interaction. I wrote it so we can estimate the effects of solar storms on the modulation of Hermes’ magnetic fields, but I think it’s beautiful too.

Love you and miss you,

Beth

[mercuryandmeMD433.jpg, hermesrichpurnell.mp4, CMEprojections.mp4]


 



 

She can’t put her finger on it at first, but Commander Lewis can tell something is different about the crew dynamic.


At first, she’d attributed the change to getting to talk with their loved ones and all the fresh supplies they’d brought on board. Even basic things like new underwear will boost morale. And cutting through the inner solar system on their way to Watney gives them a whole new set of challenges and rewards. They’re not stiff-upper-lipping it through a tedious journey; they’re striving to overcome problems NASA had never anticipated a human crew would face. It’s inspiring to lead a motivated team, even if the looming threat of a CME blasting them has to linger in the back of their minds the way it does hers.


But it’s not just that. And it’s been bothering her that she can’t tell what’s shifted although she can feel it in her bones.


So she sits back and observes during their usual card game/movie time. Nothing is unusual: they’re seated around the table with drinks, watching Vogel’s choice of movie- some popular German action flick with subtitles. Martinez has kicked back and set his feet on Watney’s usual seat, and Vogel is doing the same with Beck’s while Beck and Johanssen are seated side by side on the couch reading.


Her eyes widen with bemusement when she finally spots the difference.


Beck had always been achingly careful to keep a polite distance between himself and Johanssen, doing his utmost to keep things professional despite his attraction to her. Lewis had always felt a little bad, but blue balls had never killed anyone and it was only supposed to be a thirteen-month mission.

Watching them fall for each other while steadfastly refusing to act on their feelings was romantic, in a Victorian novel kind of way. And it bolstered her respect for them immensely: they obviously valued the mission and their continued friendly rapport more than risking a romance that could sour things for all of them.

She hadn’t missed the way Beck had taken one long, hard look at Johanssen before smiling shakily and agreeing to go for Watney. Beth had held his gaze after, shaking her head haplessly before she’d laughed and agreed.


Watney’s life was more important. They could all continue to press pause on the rest of their lives until they’d given saving him the best shot they could.


 

Or so she’d thought.

 


Now Johanssen’s sitting cross-legged, as usual, and Beck’s next to her frowning at his tablet.

 

What’s odd is that her knee is resting against his thigh and he hasn’t moved away. In fact, he looks totally relaxed instead of hyperaware of her proximity.

 

Which either means they’ve gotten over each other completely-- or they’ve been sleeping together for long enough to be used to casual contact.

Huh.

She mentally reviews their behavior over the last few months, and it’s not hard to figure out what the catalyst must have been. Beth Johanssen had been absolutely devastated by the contingency plan. The betrayal and rebellion in her eyes had been there for only a few moments before she’d swallowed and seemed to accept the decision, but it had probably pushed her past that long self-imposed denial.


Nothing like the threat of losing something forever to spur making a last, desperate grab.


The departure from their usual patterns in the time around the re-supply and gravity assist would also have helped cover the initial honeymoon period, and they’ve been very careful to maintain the appearance of friendly boundaries, down to their usual patterns of relaxing in their free time.

But there were small tells: how oddly unnerved he’d been, talking about the crew hormone levels NASA had flagged that week; how he’s been drinking more coffee than usual ever since. He’d glibly blamed “Johanssen’s bad influence” when she’d mentioned it, but now she understands the joke he’d obliquely poked at her there.

Johanssen is a lot harder to read, but there are clues in her behavior too: she’s been doing bedding laundry a lot more often. Which by itself would mean little, but in context, is a definite clue about not only the occurrence of sexual activity, but its exact location.


Makes sense. Beck’s bunk is fastened to the wall he shares with Vogel’s quarters, and that would hardly be the most discreet place to conduct their affair. Johanssen’s is at the end of the hall.


She can’t really blame them. She’s seen enough of the same in her time on submarines and visiting Arctic docks to understand the need for connection in isolation. And another nineteen months is a long time to hold out when the person you’ve desired for months wants you back.


If she’s pinned it right, they had basically finished the original mission before they gave in, and the current mission has been unaffected by the change in their relationship. If anything, it’s probably been helping them cope with the loneliness of the extended time away from home.


Still, she’ll have to keep an eye on it. Their steadily growing attraction hadn’t skewed crew dynamics any more than Watney and Martinez’s bromance did, but a sexual relationship can bias decisions considerably. So far they’ve both remained logical and agreeable in crew meetings, but it’s still a factor to be aware of. Plus it’s officially against NASA regs, although there are no consequences there that they aren’t already expecting after the Rich Purnell maneuver. What worries her is the possibility of what his medical board will do if they’re discovered.

 

Still, she can’t help covering a smile when Beck turns his tablet to Johanssen and shows her something that gets her giggling.


They’re obviously happy in their little bubble and it’s pretty damned cute.


 



From: Mitch Henderson, Flight Control, NASA-JSC
To: Melissa Lewis, Flight Commander, Ares 3
Date: October 16, 2036, 5:45 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Hermes flight trajectory

Hi Lewis,

SOHO-GSC reports that the Hermes should continue maintaining this trajectory and speed. Solar activity isn’t perfectly predictable, but they still estimate there is a 50% chance of a CME that could affect you around MD 485. Yes, that’s as exact as they can get. Good news is: it’ll probably be a smaller one and the Hermes should be out of its direct path. Bad news is: any blow could still be fatal for the crew, although the Hermes itself will probably survive if Johanssen puts it in safe mode. Will keep you updated as a top priority. Dr. Shields will contact you shortly about preparing the crew.

Mitch Henderson
Flight Controller
Johnson Space Center

 





Chris inhales resentfully when the ship alarm blares before his eyes snap open in horrified realization and he shakes Beth.

“Beth! Wake up!”

Lewis’ voice comes over the comms a second later. “Beck, zip next door and haul Johanssen out of bed if you need to! This is not a drill!”


Having already unzipped the sheet, Chris grabs Beth’s headset from its charger to reply. “On it!”


Lewis continues. “Houston, this is Hermes actual. Be advised that we’ve got an S-type CME approaching on a bearing of 190 mark 200. Communications will likely be down shortly due to preceding solar flare. Hope to catch you on the other side of this.”


Heart pounding, Beth grabs the proffered headset and clumsily scrambles out behind him. They slept in their ventilation garments and diapers as a precaution, so all they need to do is head for the Control room, where their EVA suits are waiting.


At least they got a few hours sleep together before possible death.


 




 

Annie’s used to giving terrible news on this podium now. It’s still crap, but she’s got it down pat. Kapoor looks a lot less at ease, but she needs someone who can answer the technical questions from the clamoring hordes and thanks to The Mark Watney Report, everybody is familiar with the way he explains the jargon.

At least this press conference is not about Watney.

“At approximately 3:20AM local time, the Hermes was overtaken by an S-type Coronal Mass Ejection, an explosive release of plasma and electromagnetic radiation from the Sun’s surface. As we are currently in a period of Solar Maximum, the crew has drilled and prepared for this possibility many times. Before communications were interrupted, they informed us that their pilot, Rick Martinez, was burning their altitude adjust engines to gain enough velocity to match its speed and their SysOp Tech, Beth Johanssen, had placed their systems in safe mode to weather out the storm. We are still waiting to hear from them again, but our satellites show that the Hermes is still intact at this time.”

 

There’s a moment of horrified silence before the questions begin:

 

“Was there a possibility of a breach?” “Why didn’t they move out of its path?” “Will this affect Watney’s possible rescue?”

 

Annie gives Venkat a prodding look before he steps up to the podium. “If you can recall, the Hermes actually got a gravity assist from Mercury several weeks ago to help them avoid sunspots, where CMEs usually originate. Typically we would have a great deal more warning that a CME was headed their way, and the crews of all three Ares missions, including the Ares 3, have weathered them without issue before. Dealing with solar weather is simply a part of interplanetary travel. However, the Hermes currently has about a hundred million kilometers less buffer than usual, and at this distance, it’s actually not the increased amount of radiation that concerns us most. The force of a Coronal Mass Ejection usually dissipates into the Solar Wind. Now, the Hermes uses a magnetic field to protect itself from radiation. Imagine two magnets pushing against each other in equilibrium- this is the way the Hermes and Earth, actually, shields itself from the radiation it is constantly bombarded with. But if you suddenly add force to one of those magnets-“

Venkat gestures and there are murmurs of consternation as understanding dawns. “Whether the ship and crew can survive that acceleration is our greatest concern. Still, this was a small CME, and it hit them with a glancing blow. We’re very hopeful.”

 

“According to NASA, an S-type CME usually moves at 400 km/s! How fast is this one? And how fast was the Hermes moving?”

 

Venkat holds up a hand. “Only initially! Transient speed is how we classify CMEs. You have to remember there are still about 72 million kilometers between them and the Sun. I doubt Commander Lewis would have wasted engine fuel unless they believed they could gain enough velocity to survive the difference in acceleration. The Hermes is currently still moving at 4.2 km/s.”



“But the Hermes crew could be dead?”



Annie moves her head just a smidgen as a silent cue, but Venkat already knows how to answer that one.



“…We don’t know that at this time.”


 



 

From: Melissa Lewis, Mission Commander, Ares 3
To: Venkat Kapoor, Director of Mars Operations, NASA-JSC
Date: November 5, 2036, 9:46 AM
Subject: Re: Are you receiving?

Glad you saw the solar panels. We figured spreading one would let you know at least one of us had made it- a Watney inspired idea! Plus we needed the power- we’d shunted everything into shielding.

Obviously radiation damage and electrostatic charges fried a lot of our systems anyway. But as you can tell from this email, we are back online!

Johanssen has been a trooper. She worked for fifty-eight hours straight to repair critical systems: replacing chipsets, rewriting endless amounts of code and barely pausing to caffienate. She’s confident that it’s mostly software glitches (“more upsets than latchups”). I’ll have Beck assess her condition and likely put her on light duty after letting her sleep it off, but I doubt she’ll wake for at least the next twelve hours.

Instruments say we were at 8Gs for 21.8 s and then 4Gs for 9.6s, but we’re not suffering from acceleration sickness so much as exhaustion and stress. We’ve been sleeping in shifts and haven’t had any Rec time or gravity since MD 475. Geiger counter on the wall says we were all exposed to about 20mSv of radiation, even in the shielded control room. Not sure how much of that our suits protected us from. Dr. Beck has been pinning us down for physicals one at a time and I’m sure he’ll report to JSC Med once he has all our data.

We’re still hip deep in repairs and maintenance, but I anticipate we’ll be back to full function in a week. Vogel reports that we were knocked off course, with our magnetic field skipping us “like a stone on a terrible wave”, but he’s made the necessary adjustments and we’ll only lose a few hours from our original Mars intercept. He’ll send you the full telemetry once he’s sure his readings are accurate. Johanssen hasn’t parsed all our systems yet because she prioritized life support, reactor systems and communications.

We’ve completed integrity checks on computers, shield generators, the hull, airlocks, reactor, transmitters, adjust engines, solar panels and fuel, water and oxygen tanks. I’ll be helping Martinez assess the centripetal loop motors today. Expect a long list of damaged components soon.

Extra grateful to the god of luck and travelers,

Melissa Lewis
Mission Commander
Ares 3

 

---

 

From: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
To: Amy Beck at gmail dot com
Date: November 29, 2036, 8:22 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Thanksgiving dinner

Amy,

I get it, you were all worried. We’re okay though, and we’re headed away from the Sun now. We don’t like being in NASA’s red zone any better than you do, trust me.

So I was waiting to take this shot for a long time. This is Beth Johanssen, and she’s fixing computer code in the Rec so she can drink coffee at the same time. See that big yellow dot over her shoulder out the window? That’s the bright side of Venus! And you can also probably recognize the pale blue dot on her other side. Pretty cool view out the back window of our ride, huh?

And hey, don’t think you can just drop the conversation about this new dude. I don’t care how you met him- just tell me how you like him.

Love you,

Chris

[Venus.jpg]

 

---

 

From: Amy Beck at gmail dot com
To: Christopher Beck, Flight Surgeon, Ares 3
Date: November 30, 2036, 9:12 AM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Thanksgiving dinner

Uh, sure, it was the view out the back window that you were showing me. That’s why she’s smiling at you like that. Cool story, bro. (I thought that wasn’t allowed? Are the NASA people still reading your emails?)

I like him okay, I guess? I know that is a horribly lukewarm appraisal when the dates have been really fun but it’s like… not a crush-y, giddy feeling when he texts or emails, you know? I’m going to give it one more shot but I’m thinking this is FWB at best. I dunno. (Are you sure it isn’t weird to talk about this kind of stuff with you?)

Anyway, better go. Hoping the crowds have stayed home today and that BARGAINS WILL BE HAD.

Love you,

Amy

 



 

From: Melissa Lewis, Mission Commander, Ares 3
To: Theodore Sanders, Administrator of NASA, NASA Headquarters
CC: Venkat Kapoor, Director of Mars Operations, NASA-JSC; Annie Montrose, Director of Media Relations, NASA-JSC; Bruce Ng, Director of JPL, NASA-JPL;…
Date: December 21, 2036, 9:02 AM
Subject: Christmas Card

 

Merry Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten and Feliz Navidad from the Ares 3 crew!


(Group crew picture around a Christmas tree cut from light blocking window film on the Rec window, decorated with silver garlands and ornaments cut out of ration packages. It’s topped with a pale blue dot in the distance.)

For more on how Ares 3 Astrophysicist Alex Vogel and Flight Engineer Beth Johanssen planned how to time and place this shot visit:

www (dot) nasa (dot) gov (slash) mission_pages (slash) ares_3 (slash) xmas2036 (dot) html

[Ares3Xmas2036.jpg]


 



 

From: Melissa Lewis, Mission Commander, Ares 3
To: Professor Robert Lewis at uh dot edu
Date: January 22, 2037, 8:33 PM
Subject: Oh, yes I did

Hey babe,

So yesterday was pretty epic, and I don’t just mean the pranks. Martinez keeps chuckling randomly and shaking his head.

On that note, the shift in mission priorities is definitely palpable, both here and from NASA in general. We’re definitely out of the “Determined to Survive the Sun” part and onto the “Prepping to get Watney” leg. Johanssen and Martinez have been conferencing with the folks down at JPL and Beck has been studying up on malnutrition and psychotherapy. He’s asked me, Vogel and Martinez to be part of his treatment team so he can focus on treating Mark and conferring with other doctors instead of analyzing tissue samples and blending up food with vitamins and extra protein etc.

I bet you noticed what he did there too. ;) They’ve been very careful but I outed them at afternoon brief yesterday since we’re having a bit of a maintenance problem and really, almost everybody had figured it out anyway. I think it was stressing them more to keep up the ruse (and the rest of us to try to pretend we were none the wiser).

11 months left!

xxoo

Melissa


 



 

From: Venkat Kapoor, Director of Mars Operations, NASA-JSC
To: Melissa Lewis, Mission Commander, Ares 3
Date: February 9, 2037, 2:11 PM
Subject: He’s on the way!

Commander,

Just wanted to let you know that Watney is officially traveling to Schiaparelli! Here are a couple pictures from SatCon. Hope they help with morale. We’re all very excited here.

Praying for safe travels for all parts of the Ares 3 crew,

Venkat Kapoor
Director of Mars Operations

[modifiedroverwithtrailer.jpg, watneycamp1.jpg]


 



 

“Rick,” Lewis says warningly, raising an eyebrow.

“Aw, come on!” he protests. “It’s Valentine’s Day! We even got chocolate hearts and red and pink jellybeans from NASA! But nada from our actual lovebirds?”

Johanssen doesn’t look up from her laptop, but she shakes her head and grins. “Don’t want to make you jealous, is all.”


“I’m not jealous, I’m nosy.”


Beck snorts. “Yeah, we got that.”


Martinez grins at him and waits expectantly, but all Beck does is duck his head and try to focus on his tablet, although his cheeks hold a distinct flush.

“Aw, come on! Showing affection boosts cooperation or something- even my three year old handed out Valentines at daycare.”

 

Vogel grins. “Germans celebrate Valentine’s Day as well. According to my wife, my Eliza had big plans for today.”

 

That gets Beth’s attention. “Awww! Did she get her cute boy something?”


He nods, smiling. “She made him a ginger flavored cookie with icing words on top: Magst du mich? In English, ‘Do you like me?’”


Martinez doesn’t miss a beat. “Seriously Beck, that means Vogel’s kid has more game than you.”

 

Chris raises his brows and nods seriously, pulling up the manual pen program on his tablet. They all watch while he obviously draws a heart and writes for a few seconds before he stands up and strides across the room to deliver the tablet to Beth.

 

She tilts her head and smiles questioningly as he approaches. He’s obviously doing this mostly to humor Martinez, but there’s a teasing gleam in his eyes.

 

She covers her face and laughs when she reads the message, written within a red heart.

 

“Oh my god! You are such a dork.

 

She turns it around so the rest of them can see:

 

Beth,

My feelings for you are out of this world.

Love,

Chris



They endure the hoots of laughter and whoops with blushes and embarrassed smiles before Beth rolls her eyes and stows both her laptop and his tablet.


“Aw, come on! We’re just teasing. We’ll stop,” Martinez promises, smirking.


Beth scrunches up her nose.


“But now I have to give him his present. Night, guys,” she says sweetly, and she practically skips to the ladder.


Chris smiles in obvious baffled delight and gives Martinez a grateful look and shoulder slap before he hurries to follow her. Vogel starts laughing quietly, shaking in his chair.


Rick rocks back in his chair. “Okay, now I’m jealous,” he declares.


Vogel laughs even harder and mutters something in German before he wipes at his eyes.


“It’s Valentine’s Day. Go write to your wife,” Lewis chortles, shoving his shoulder.

 

 



 

From: Venkat Kapoor, Director of Mars Operations, NASA-JSC
To: Melissa Lewis, Mission Commander, Ares 3
Date: February 28, 2037, 1:38 PM
Subject: Crewmen Beck and Johanssen


Commander,

I’m sorry I even have to write this, especially in consideration of the dust storm that must be troubling you all. Please understand that this is not a reflection of the performance of you or your crew in any shape or form. As always, you have all done an exemplary job in some truly dire circumstances. We could not be prouder of the remarkable achievements of the Ares 3 crew.


However, the audio logs of the Hermes are public record, and there has been a great deal of analysis of the logs during the time period involving the CME since their recent release.


Unfortunately, two things have ignited rampant speculation:


  1. Beck used Johanssen’s headset at 2:18 AM to reply that he would wake her. (“On it!”) It is clearly his voice, despite the computer reporting that it is her headset.


  1. Just after you ask the crew to “Brace for impact” at 3:20AM, Johanssen says (rather tearfully), “Chris,” and he replies (also emotionally), “I know.”


Which leads me to the question: are they involved in a romantic relationship?

Feel free to deny everything. Plenty of possible computer problems to explain the first, and we all know the crew are very close. But Annie has been hounding me about something called “shippers” who are now dominating Ares/NASA hashtags on social media.

 

Please know that Beck and Johanssen have our full support in the wake of any announcement.

 

Sincerely,


Venkat Kapoor
Director of Mars Operations


 




 

“I’ll get right to the point. NASA wants to know whether you two are in a relationship. JSC Med notified me about some… discrepancies in the medical records a few months back, and I refused to either confirm or deny their suspicions, but the Director of Mars Operations asked me point blank today. I need to answer. And the whole crew has to be on the same page when that answer is given.”

 

Chris and Beth look down and nod seriously.

 

Lewis continues. “Now, for the record, you two have given me no cause to bring this up. You’ve been discreet and respectful, and your work has not been impacted in the slightest. What I suspect is that NASA wants to capitalize on the opportunity. The Director has offered NASA’s full support, whatever you decide to state. But what worries me are the possible consequences if you come clean. Especially for you, Beck. More PR for Ares 3 isn’t worth losing your medical license over.”

 

Beth looks up in horror. “Is that a possibility?”

 

“You’re technically his patient. Beck, your opinion?”

 

He sighs and shrugs restlessly. “I mean, it’s technically possible. But the Board will be aware of the extenuating circumstances. We’ve spent almost two years on a tiny ship together. Doctors are human too and we’re consenting adults in a healthy relationship. It’s not like I assaulted her on the exam table or she’s exchanging sexual favors for scrips. I don’t know anybody who’s actually faced a malpractice or ethics hearing though. I’d have to look it up.”

 

Beth pales and Lewis nods briskly. “Well, I’d like to get some idea of what kind of precedents there are before we decide what goes on record. We’ve already got Rich Purnell consequences to face. If we need to deny this until we’re blue in the face, we need to be ready to.”

 

“I understand. And I’ll get you answers on that as soon as I can. But honestly, Commander? I’m tired of hiding. I want to tell my family and friends about Beth and not have to worry that NASA’s reading my emails. I don’t want to evade my colleagues over why I’m not prescribing myself or Johanssen anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds despite reductions in serotonin and elevated cortisol. We all know why the two of us have whacked hormonal levels, and it’s not because we’re sick.”

 

Beth gives Lewis an earnest look, eyes pleading. “It wasn’t him that started it either- it was me. If anyone deserves-”

 

Lewis holds up a hand. “Nobody is looking to assign blame, I promise. I just want to make sure we do our utmost to reduce the odds of negative consequences.”

 

They both nod, rather subdued.

 

“Get back to me with your decision when you can,” she says gently.


 




 

From: Beth Johanssen, Flight Engineer, Ares 3
To: George Johanssen at yahoo dot com
CC: Marie Johanssen at yahoo dot com
Date: March 2, 2037, 9:15 AM
Subject: Christopher Beck

Mom, Dad,

I know you’ve suspected for a while that something has been going on between us, but I couldn’t tell you while we were trying to keep it secret from NASA. It turns out they figured it out anyway, so here goes:

As you know, Chris and I became very good friends in the first year of our mission. We were waiting until we got back to Earth before we did anything about our attraction to each other, but remember that plan I told you about, Dad? I didn’t want him to die before he knew how I really felt. And we’ve been together ever since- we’re still very much in love, and we’ve actually been sharing my quarters since the end of January because some of the other quarters had heating problems.

I’m sorry that I had to keep such a big part of my life from you, but we tried to keep it secret from everyone, even the crew, because it violates NASA’s official regulations. Just know that it’s given me a lot of comfort to have someone here I can be completely open with. Commander Lewis has no problems with our relationship, given the extreme circumstances and how it hasn’t negatively affected our work performance, and it seems her superiors agree.

You’ll probably be seeing something in the media fairly soon about us. Feel free to ask me anything you want before that happens. I didn’t want it to take you by surprise, and it’s such a relief to finally share this.

I can’t wait for you to meet him. Just a few more months!

Lots of love,

Beth

 




 

Annie Montrose is having a good day.



Mark Watney managed to outsmart a gigantic invisible dust storm yesterday and now this announcement will finally put an end to some truly endless “No Comment”-ing.



So Annie smiles as she takes the podium.



“As some of you Facebook feed watchers are doubtless aware, Ares 3 astronauts Christopher Beck and Beth Johanssen have acknowledged that they are currently in a romantic relationship. Despite NASA’s official policy on astronaut fraternization, we have taken into account the extenuating circumstances of the prolonged mission, their exemplary professional performance and careful use of discretion on a very small ship. After conferring via radio with the relevant parties on the Hermes, the Aerospace Medicine Board has also agreed that any ethical and professional dilemmas have been adequately addressed in the eight months they have been together. Pending future developments in the remaining months of the Ares 3 mission, we would like to conclude with the assessment of Commander Lewis: that their relationship has always been a source of strength in their mission, and that what they do in their private time is really not anybody's business. However, to appease the curious, they’ve released a picture.”

 

She clicks the remote and looks up, pleased.


It’s a casual shot of the two of them sitting on the Rec sofa in their usual way: she’s cross-legged and he’s not, and the ‘15’ tattoo on her left shoulder is next to the ‘14’ on his right bicep. They’re holding hands and smiling.


She couldn’t have asked for a better shot. Not too sappy or sexy. Their expressions are the perfect mix of happy, shy and proud. Just two good-looking astronauts in love.


Someone shouts that question anyway and she sighs. Fucking human nature.


“Can you believe they volunteered this information right off the bat? No, they haven’t had intercourse in zero gravity. In the interest of discretion, they’ve kept their private life in their personal quarters. There are cameras in all zero-g parts of the Hermes. And due to the detrimental effects of microgravity on astronaut health, they rarely turn off the centripetal gravity loop.”


She smiles brightly.


“Now. If we’re done prying into the private lives of two brave, smart, thoroughly decent people, can we move on to the professional strides the Hermes crew has made towards saving Mark Watney?”


 

She doesn't actually care. Let them speculate all they want.


 

Today all is still right in the entire solar system.

 

 


A/N: Bet you didn’t think this could get any nerdier than the last chap, huh? XDD
So I tried to do what Weir did, and research things that could possibly go wrong, but for the Hermes instead of Mark in the missing months between chapters 19 and 20. In the book, it sounds like Venkat and Teddy are being unreasonable by not even asking the crew to consider the Rich Purnell (and that Mark is somehow home-free once he gets onboard the ship), but if you look at the actual flight path, it’s not actually a low chance of killing 6 people when 2036 is smack dab in the middle of a solar maximum (albeit predicted to be a low intensity one) and the flight path cuts well within Mercury's orbit. But hey, this is exactly what fanfic is for, right? :DDD
I plotted out the orbits for Mercury and Venus in 2036 vs. the timeline (Yes, I did math. Look at the Sacrifices I make For Art.) and I think the angles are correct for the crew observation/pictures, since they only have windows facing the front and back of the ship. I was sad that they didn’t get to flyby Venus too, but I think settling for pics of her bright side would be pretty good!
Comments are very much appreciated, especially if you think I got the science wrong. Always happy to edit!

 

 

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