LOG ENTRY: DAY 236 (FRIDAY, AUGUST 13, 2038)
Anyway. Home sweet Chicago! Beck's complaining about the local hospitals, but he's settling in just fine, and Johanssen's start-up is already starting to take over the world. She has promised that she will be the supervillain to my superhero. It is true love. I may even take her up on that offer. Just need to figure out how I'm going to become a superhero, or why I'd really want to. I already got a nifty uniform, and I've spent enough time in tights and sufficiently-advanced clothing for space purposes that I don't really see why I should do it recreationally. On the other hand, why not do it recreationally? All this practice might as well have been for something. Otherwise, I am squandering my potential. Squandering it!
But as for what I'm up to, other than trying to figure out if I'm going to start cosplay-ing out my real life... the product testing is starting off well. There's a good team here, and we did a great ice breaker by ceremonially fucking up a million-dollar rover prototype. Damn, it feels good to be the king. Because I am. I will always be the undisputed king of destroying the shit out of a million-dollar piece of equipment. I got a little crown and everything, Beck's cousin made it for me out of construction paper and glitter. I look awesome.
I've been settling in well, I think. I've always dealt with crowds by being the jester, and even now that people are looking at me and expecting A Miracle Of Survival, I still got those damn instincts to make 'em laugh. So I've been making 'em laugh. Well, I don't know if they laugh at my jokes because I'm funny or because I'm Mark Motherfucking Watney. Probably that second bit. But the ice is breaking. I think it's going to be good.
But I still go home and stress-bake for a while. I was never much of a cook before I went to Mars, and I'm still not much of a cook (although Vogel has taught me some interesting kitchen chemistry things), but, with Mars as my witness, I am a damn good baker. Always have been, always will be. I have many important and useful and varied skills, and also hidden depths (and heights). And, well, you and your mom and your dog and also the entire goddamn world knows I've just spent a lot of time working my botany and engineering muscles. And now I'm letting the whole Botany Genius thing go (at some point, I will eat another potato, but, goddamn, that is not going to be soon), and I'm getting my engineering highs TESTING 'TIL DESTRUCTION, but then I get home and it's high time to let those muscles get a break and work on something else for a change, so I work my muscles kneading dough instead. It's good exercise, is what I tell people.
This whole venture, I give it two years? Maybe three tops? At some point I'm going to get bored building robots and performing acts of god on them to see how to keep them working even through the worst. But that will give me two years to be able to handle the smell of raw potatoes at the grocery store and to learn to stop hoarding duct tape and plastic baggies, so that's the plan. There's the Ares 3 Fund to help fill in any gaps, but the nice thing about being in a relationship with two people is that there is a lot more social support. I've got two people to be my lifelines if I suddenly break down, and I've got three years of pay accumulated in the bank. I think I'll be okay.
I know it sounds like I'm setting myself up for failure from the start, but, hand on Pathfinder's sandy grave, I am starting this with the best of intentions. I'm just also doing it with eyes wide open: I'm probably more fucked in the head than I want to acknowledge, and I didn't give myself much of a break between the mandatory glad-handing tour and starting this up. Maybe that was a good choice. Maybe I'm going to crash and burn.
But if I crash and burn, at least I have fresh banana bread with me. I survived Mars, where the options were either failure or death. This time, it's failure or banana bread. I'm okay with this.
...And then this morning, I developed x-ray vision.
LOG ENTRY: DAY 237 (SATURDAY, AUGUST 14, 2038)
See, they warned us this might happen. This is why the jokes Johanssen's been making about superhero-ing, yeah, see, they're not really jokes. There'd been two Ares missions before us, so with a sample size of 12 astronauts, they'd had some idea of what we were getting into, but not that much of an idea. Colonel Virtanen, you know, the first human on Mars? She can hover an inch off the ground. It's a pretty closely held secret, but they'd told us before we'd officially signed on for Ares 3. We'd given informed consent. We knew shit could go down.
You know Superman, warmth of the yellow sun, etc etc. Those guys knew what they were talking about: changing your location changes your luck. You hop on a boat to a new place, you drive down a road you haven't ever been before -- things happen. There's some magic in it that people who study literary genres and that kind of shit could probably explain to you, but it's still a true thing. You wander somewhere new; new things can happen.
And Mars is really new. To humans, I mean. It's an ancient planet. In general. It's old, but it's new to us.
Fuck, I might actually still be freaking out. Sorry, sorry. I promise I will be cooler about this in the future.
LOG ENTRY: DAY 258 (SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 04, 2038)
LOG ENTRY: DAY 266 (SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2038)
So, um, uh, the R&D team's doing well. Did I tell you about this yet? I was joking around about product testing future Mars rovers, and then the team working on the potential crewed Ganymede mission (we are 10 years away, we have been 10 years away, we will always be 10 years away) contacted me to say they're working with a team out of Northwestern, was I interested. And, yeah, I was interested. We nerded out for a while about the data the Ganymede rovers have been sending back, and before I knew it, I was totally, completed hooked on the dream. Jessa did a video tour for me of their workshop and talked to me about their processes and their funding and explained what kind of disaster scenarios they were planning for, and then we were talking for about two hours and planning shit out, and I basically agreed to do this before I even completely thought it through. It's a lot of fun. My inner two year old is enjoying the lego building and demolishing aspects of it, and my outer thirty-six year old is enjoying the problem solving. And my therapist fucking loves it because it gives me opportunities to roleplay disaster scenarios without me ever feeling like I'm going to die. (We have grad students for things that might actually cause someone harm. It's okay. They signed waivers.)
It's a shitload of fun sitting with the kids we have modeling Ganymede disasters, and two days ago, we took apart half the rover for parts to repair the hypothetical Ganymede ship, and were still able to keep our imaginary astronaut alive in there. Oh, yeah, go us, we're the best.
And Beck and Johanssen were cool with relocating to Chicago. It's an interesting change of pace. Beck's got some surgical research position he's going to start in the new year once he's done rehabbing his arm (it's a long story, I'll let him tell it -- naw, I'll probably tell it sometime, it's super embarrassing, he's the doctor, he should know better). And Johanssen is back to her computer hacking roots, this time working with some SETI wannabes. They're going to discover intelligent life or break their computers trying.
But none of this is what I have been doing today. I have been pummeling ingredients into delicious bread rolls. It's really great to be able to punch something into shape. Brute force is the secret to good mental health, swear it's true.
So, yeah. That's what I'm doing instead of talking to my partners about my new superpowers.
LOG ENTRY: DAY 301 (SUNDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2038)
So I took a deep breath and said, "I can see right through you," and then she blinked and yelled for Beck. Who then arrived in the room from the attic. Directly.
"Um, I can teleport," he said unnecessarily. "Lewis thinks it's because I did so many EVAs. My body wanted to adapt a way I could just pop up where I needed."
I'd made cookies, because Johanssen loves the peanut butter ones and Beck will eat anything with chocolate in it. So we sat around eating cookies and talking about our feelings, and also about our superpowers. They consoled me over being an x-rated x-ray machine, but then Beck dug out a textbook and lucky me got to stare at my own body until I started becoming desensitized to all of it. Johanssen can move small things, like the keys on her keyboard, and so she kept moving a pen around, pointing at various parts of my leg. My superpower acceptance is a team effort. Go team.
Because, uh, they'd been concerned. See, they'd gotten their powers, but they were cool about them. And they'd only spent six Sols on Mars. I'd spent, well. We all try not to think about how long I spent all by myself on an alien planet that was scientifically proven to induce superpowers in human beings, because the Hermes crew got exposed to more radiation than I did, but I got exposed to much more weird Martian shit than they did. The folks at NASA had been in contact with Beck, which I knew, but, um, well.
They all figured I'd started developing powers nearly as soon as we got back to Earth, but maybe even while still on Mars. Beck and Johanssen had been quietly freaking out that I hadn't mentioned anything to them. But they're good guys, you know? They didn't want to push. Everyone thinks I'm kinda delicate. I have the dough-kneading muscles to prove how fucking delicate Mars made me.
So, did I start developing powers on Mars? I damn well could not see through things on Mars, but I need to be on the lookout for things that changed and I just fucking didn't notice because I was too busy surviving. Fuck, no wonder I developed superpowers; I literally bathed in radiation. While on Mars. Which is known for doing random shit to people. I might as well have opened the Hab airlock and shouted into the distance, "come and get me, weird body changes!"
Was it just embryonic shit that took this long to develop into something noticeable, something real? Or is this just part of a longer chain of events, one I didn't even notice going on? How long have I been different without me noticing?
Do I have a green thumb? Can I magically make things grow? The botanists at NASA had been micromanaging the shit out of my potatoes, constantly over my shoulder about all of it. But the potatoes had grown fine. I mean, up until they got up close and personal with Mars and then they died. Could I have brought them back to life? Did I give up too soon on them? But the bacteria had died, but there wasn't--
Fuck, this is why they didn't tell me, they knew I would freak the fuck out and just--
Let's talk about--
I have hobbies, fucking hell, let's--
There's a trick to fudge--
Hobbies. Goddammit, I have-- I can--
Food. Feeding people. It's the universal-- oh fuck, ha, maybe not universal, certainly interplanetary--
Look, shut up, shut up, SHUT UP, I am-- I am demonstrating love, I am feeding-- they are not starving, they are eating for joy, it's not-- we aren't-- I can--
I think I'm ending this here. I'll give you the recipe later. Yeah.
LOG ENTRY: DAY 305 (THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2038)
A lot of people, they get scratched from the program and don't really get told why. It's waved off under "other causes". But it's because of that. It's because NASA studied them and decided, nope, they were perfectly fine astronaut candidates, except they would not be able to accept suddenly being able to walk through wood.
But I passed all of NASA's tests with flying colors. And NASA picked me for Ares 3. And I walked into this knowing I could come back from Mars with something weird having happened to my brain or my body. Not all Ares astronauts get it. Only two did on the first mission, but then it was three on the second. So far it's me, Johanssen, and Beck. They think Martinez might have some kind of lung improvement thing (maybe an attempted adaptation to being able to breathe on Mars? Useful if true), but other than that, Lewis and Vogel have been cleared. They think--
They think I might have been, I don't want to say contagious.
But they think I might have been contagious.
Because during the first few days back on the Hermes, I mostly hung out with Beck, seeing as how he's the doc and he was making sure I was still in one piece. And Johanssen and Beck, they were swapping bodily fluids at this point. I was having some limited contact with the rest of the crew from the start, but I didn't really rejoin the crew until six mission days on our way back to Earth.
And maybe that constant exposure is how Beck can teleport twenty meters, even after spending only six Sols on Mars.
It would explain it, though. How Beck got a dramatic power from exposure to me, and Johanssen got a less dramatic power from exposure to him. Everyone else would be getting it airborne from Beck and Johanssen and then me. Whatever "it" is that causes this kind of stuff. And maybe some people are just more susceptible to it than others. Maybe some people are completely immune. The point is, we've had only three Ares missions so far. We frankly just don't fucking know a whole lot about how this works.
None of this happened to the lunar astronauts, so it's something about Mars, or something about being that far away from Earth, or something about something. Get back to me when we get a human on Ganymede.
But I just keep reminding myself, NASA had faith in me. The Ares 3 crew have faith in me. And when I stop accidentally seeing through people, I'm sure I'll have more faith in me, too.
But let's not leave this on a sad note. The x-ray thing is occasionally helpful. I found where I'd dropped my keys.
LOG ENTRY: DAY 328 (SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2038)
(The shrinks are actually happy, they say I've come far, that it's a good thing I've been logging my bad days. On Mars, I couldn't let myself fall apart. I couldn't let myself record freaking out. I did freak out, of course I freaked out, I freaked out a lot, but if I put it into the permanent record, then it was there, and I could play it back at any point, and I could re-experience the situation, and I couldn't let that happen. I had to let it happen to me once and then let it go and deliberately try not to think about it, because if I started, then I might not stop, and if I went down that road, there was never any coming back from that. Surviving Mars took up absolutely everything. I couldn't fall apart. I couldn't let myself. So I fell apart briefly, I gave myself those times, but I didn't acknowledge them, I didn't-- they happened and then I moved on and I only recorded the things that I wanted to put down on the record. Because my mission logs would be found one day, and I needed to show them-- I needed people to know I had been able to handle it. I needed people to know-- I needed people not to pity me. I needed to see myself as someone who didn't crack under pressure, who always had a joke, who could always find a solution, even if it was very profanely and took a lot of blood and sweat and tears. But I couldn't let myself be someone-- if I took a step back from myself, I had to see myself trying to fix things, not unable to fix myself. I couldn't pity myself, I couldn't feel bad for myself, I couldn't-- the situation was happening to me, and I had to-- this thing--
Fuck, I'm going to delete this later.)
Okay, fuck, fuck, yeah. Yeah. Okay. So I'm back to being Problem Solving Mark now, you may remember me from such great videos as that time I repaired a space suit inside an airlock with nothing more than my wits, and that time I fucking defeated Mars and survived and made it back to Earth, booyah. I'm a genius, I'm a hero, all shall love me and despair.
Because there can only be one moper in this household at one time, and right now that's Beck. He's complaining about the weather and his arm acting up, but, hey, Beck, none of us told you to fuck up your arm five days before the press tour ended. You knew about bone issues as much as anyone, and you still chose to injure yourself badly. That's on you, sucker.
Beck's teleported himself to the couch and is mostly refusing to leave. He's got a blanket on, he's munching popcorn, and he's watching whatever the hell is on television (right now, an infomercial). Johanssen is stealing bits of popcorn from the other side of the room and seeing if she can land them in her mouth. My job is to keep making the popcorn and attempt to shove some vitamins down Beck's throat.
"Hey, Watney, can you see any swelling?" he yells.
I flip him off. "Sorry, I must have missed getting that MD from Bullshit University." But, yeah, sure, I can now squint and see things selectively, when I actually want to see them, instead of it randomly turning on whenever it feels like it -- and let me tell you, not being able to see someone in front of you because you're seeing through them is just peachy -- but anyway, I can see things, but that doesn't mean I know what the hell they are. So fuck off, Beck.
"No, come on, draw me a picture or something. Whittle it out of a turnip. Show me what you see, Marky Mark."
So I roll my eyes and look at his arm and think just fuck off, Beck and he says, "hey, rude." And then he says, "huh, no swelling -- wait, MARK."
And that's how we found out I can push things at people.
My life is such a wreck. But at least my comic book origin story is epic.
LOG ENTRY: DAY 329 (SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2038)
Because, oh yeah, now that it's developed, it's developed all the fucking way, and I haven't figured out how to turn it off. Minor problems, right? Sure.
We do a group call with the other half of Ares 3 so we can all collectively nerd out over telepathy and also see if I can push things at people I can see, but aren't physically present. (Answer: no. Or, well, the test we performed came back negative. Future developments may revise this conclusion).
I learned enough German to please the Ares 3 selection board but that, frankly, wasn't very much. But Johanssen is fluent, so she and Vogel take advantage of this by testing my ability to understand a language I don't know because I can mindread off of one of the participants. But the English translation is so loud in Johanssen's head that we can't really figure out if it's working (because I can understand it) or if it's not (because... I can understand it). We'll have it to try it with someone who doesn't share a language with me, if we can find one to read in to the whole Martian superpowers conspiracy.
Vogel looks properly disappointed that his experiment did not work. If it had been him who had been stuck there, you can bet that he would have come home, raring to go with all the experimentation to understand this unique medical phenomenon.
Oh, man, imagine if Vogel had been stranded with me. He could have figured out how to make potato vodka. We could have had alcohol. Oh man. That would have been awesome. And terrible, because of rations. And more terrible, because I barely had enough food for one person, let alone two. But we could have gotten drunk! Vogel, I appreciate you so much. You could have made alcohol, and now that we're home, you're playing games with my superpowers. I love team building.
Through all of this, Martinez is grumping because my powers are easily test-able, but his potential superpower means that folks at NASA are trying to figure out if there's a way to see if he can breathe underwater, without having him actually try to breathe underwater. So his potential superpower remains merely potential for now.
And Lewis, she's being great about all this. She's still the Commander and will always be, but she's more settled in than she was the last time I saw her. I hope she and her husband are enjoying that Best Of The 80s mix tape I sent them. She's needling Martinez and laughing at Johanssen, and so even though we end the call without any real answers, it was still-- it was still really good that we did that. I'm really glad we talked. And the crew is left with a couple superpowers mysteries and several hypotheses to test, so they're just a group of happy scientists right now. It's really great.
"Dude, you're basically Superman," Beck tells me as we set the table for dinner. We're actually eating at the table tonight, all decked out in a nice tablecloth and the place settings my parents forced on us when we moved here. We are celebrating the new holiday of Mark Is No Longer A Grump And Worrying Us, which Johanssen has declared today to be forevermore. Henceforce, whereto, et cetera et cetera. It's celebration time.
"Superman can fly," I tell him, and then Beck's face does interesting things. It's kinda funny. See, he really wants to see me try, but he also wants to ban me from ever trying, and then he's wondering where he could find a harness for fake flying that would catch me if I fell, and anyway, he really wants to see if I can fly. Beck's awesome. I never knew he was this much of an enabler. He wants to take me apart and poke me with sticks. It's awesome.
"If you're going to do telepathy, please share with the rest of the class," Beck says primly, and I blush just a tad.
"Sorry, man," I say. "I'll try to do better."
LOG ENTRY: DAY 338 (TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2038)
And, yeah, sure, there was a lot of lying in my bunk, doing other stuff, but not as much as you'd think. I just didn't want to jerk off that much up there, that's all. I told myself that it was about conserving fluid or whatever, since I was okay with reclaiming urine, but I did not want to start down the horrible path of trying to figure out about reclaiming semen. I suspect this makes no biological sense. Again, I am not the person here with actual legitimate medical training. (I could run this by Beck, but I think he'd focus more on the "not really feeling up to jerking off for months at a time" aspect when he's aware of what my sex drive has been like lately. Not helpful, Beck.)
Anyway, my point was -- my point was, I did a lot of deep thinking on Mars, none of which I wanted recorded, so I didn't record it. I projected the image to myself of Mark Watney: totally capable of surviving Mars. I prepared for the worst and expected the best, to the absolute best that I could, but I was cut off from all contact with anyone else, after having had it dangled in front of me like a goddamn carrot (and no carrots on Mars, just fucking potatoes).
So maybe that's the telepathy. Because it's because I had it -- communication -- and then I lost it. My brain was screaming at the loss of contact and tried to reach out across the goddamn wasteland and vacuum of space to find and connect with another human being.
Or maybe it's something else. Maybe it's because I was so tired of being stuck in my own head that I'd rather be stuck in someone else's instead. Anything's an improvement over being stuck with just yourself for company for eighteen months.
My therapist told me to try some breathing exercises to help with the telepathy. Control and calm are good for me. So I'm trying that and mostly failing, but, hey, it's not like there's a do-or-die timeframe on this. Well, there sort of is. I've called off sick to work until this is under control, because Beck and Johanssen are cool with this, but no one at work is allowed to know about it, so I can't ask them if they're cool with it. And they understand that "sick because of residual Mars bullshit" is just part and parcel of having me on their team. They're willing to put up with that for the prestige of having me around. Hey, we all make trade offs.
So I've made pretzels. They're actually not that hard to make, once you commit to doing it. And I've got 99 problems, but commitment ain't one.
LOG ENTRY: DAY 340 (THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2038)
Beck's being an annoying shit, too, mentally repeating every sentence I say after I say it, and interspersing that with some really blatant pornographic threesome porn. I think he and Johanssen are texting behind my back, because then somehow from a floor above us, Johanssen will pick up the thread, and that's just not fair.
How am I supposed to get a grip on telepathy when I'm too busy getting a grip on something else instead?
LOG ENTRY: DAY 366 (TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2038)
I've managed to pull the telepathy back a bit. It helps, actually, to be around people I don't know at all. Without that connection already there, there's basically nothing there. With Beck and Johanssen, well, Beck was at the grocery store last week and I poked him in the head to add some stuff to the shopping list. We're finding a normal here, is I guess what I'm saying.
Did some NASA stuff yesterday, only overheard one person, and didn't push anything at anyone. Well, the organizer claimed she knew what I was thinking, but I think that was just from my facial expressions, not by me losing control of the freaky mind things.
And I don't know. It's been a year since we got back to Earth. Things have settled down. I can go outside without news vans hanging out down the corner. My body's probably done pulling this kind of shit on me.
I haven't yet been on Earth for longer than I was on Mars, but, you know, if you add in the time we spent coming home from Mars... I think it's been long enough. I think it's time to stop flinching like this is a dream, that it will all be taken away from me if I close my eyes. I think it's time to stop counting the days.
It's time to stop living like on Mars, like every day is a disaster waiting to happen, like the planet is about to kill me if I sneeze wrong. I'm on Earth now, where I get to learn how to live with x-ray vision and weird-ass telepathy. And I've spent this year doing that. This year-- this was the year I got superpowers and also learned how to be in a functional adult relationship with two astronauts, which as anyone who has dated an astronaut could tell you, is hard. They love space more than they love you. Hey, it happens.
Although that might just be the three of us.
None of us are ever getting back into space ever again, but like twelve heads of various space agencies have offered to dump my ashes in random places in the solar system, or include them on probes out into the great unknown. So part of me might end up out there sometime, roaming through space, exploring new horizons. I think that would be nice. It would be nice to see what's out there, to keep on exploring even after I'm gone.
To steal a phrase, and I think I've earned this: to boldly go where no astronaut has gone before.