"He's alive." Katniss gasped, looking at the newest photoset from Mars. She had double checked, triple checked. Her heart pounded as she picked up the phone. "This is Katniss Everdeen in SatCon, get Haymitch Abernathy...yes, I'm aware of what time it is. It's an emergency...Yes, I'm sure! Good." NASA was about to be in the middle of a PR shitstorm.
Two hours later, Katniss found herself sitting across from a very disheveled, very disgruntled Haymitch Abernathy. Katniss may have preferred to face a firing squad at that moment. "It's the middle of the night and I've got about two hours of sleep. This had better be good, Sweetheart."
She's never been one to break news gently or to have much tact so she just delivered the truth bluntly. Leaning forward, Katniss looked Haymitch in the eye and said, "Peeta Mellark is alive."
Mars: Population 1
Peeta Mellark was roused from a deep and profound desire to just fucking die by the shrill oxygen alarm in his flight suit.
"I'm alive. Holy shit. I'm alive!" Peeta thought to himself, "Why am I not more dead?" His head throbbed. His side hurt like he'd just been skewered by a communications antenna. Okay, that's because actually was skewered by a communications antenna. His congealed blood sealed the hole in his suit, but it was still seeping out air. The alarm going off signaled a fatal amount of oxygen was filling his suit now. That damn alarm wasn't doing anything for his headache. He must've been knocked out for a while. For his suit to be filled with 85% oxygen meant it had already used up all the nitrogen, the CO2 absorbers were full, and the suit was venting CO2 and backfilling with oxygen to keep itself pressurized.
With a groan, he rolled over, brushed off the red Martian sand that had covered him while he was unconscious, then stood unsteadily. He reached for the patch kit stowed on his helmet and in a swift motion ripped the antenna from his flesh and suit, gasping at the searing pain. Trembling, he applied the patching resin. The suit repressurized, still with the oxygen that would kill him if he didn't get back to the Habitat or home away from home soon.
Peeta trudged up the hill, over the sand, toward the white canvas Habitat as quickly as he could, which was not very fast with his injury and in the low gravity of Mars. He was glad that the Hab had survived the dust storm's high winds, but he was dismayed to see the MAV was missing. The crew was gone. He was stuck on Mars and help was 140 million miles away. He didn't fault them. He'd have done the same thing in their position. They saw him hit by the antenna and thrown backward. The pressure in his suit dropped to zero. He looked down. The antenna took out his bio-monitor, making his vital signs look flat-lined. His crewmates would have thought he was dead. And the raging sandstorm made it too dangerous for them to come back for his body. No, they were not to blame, but it was one hell of a situation to be in.
He stumbled through the airlock and stomped into the Habitat. Even in low-gravity he stomped, much to the delight of his crew and his own consternation. Everything he did was loud. This was ironic in the silence of space. They were always teasing him about it. God, what he wouldn't give to have one of them here to tease him about it now.
He leaned forward panting from the pain and effort of his "hasty" return and took off his helmet, his blonde hair sweaty and matted to his head, and shed the trashed flight suit. He went to Rue's med station and with shaking hands got out the elaborate first aid kit. Peeta chuckled to himself, "Dammit Jim, I'm a botanist, not a doctor!" Gritting his teeth, he injected himself with a local anesthetic and cleaned out the deep wound. He sutured his torn flesh back together uttering a string of profanity with each stitch. He was so ready to crash in a bunk and sleep the night away, but first he attempted to fire up the communications array to talk to the MAV or the Hermes. No dice. He knew it was futile, but he couldn't help it. He had to try. He had seen the satellite dish blown away himself and pulled the reception antenna from his own body. There were backup forms of communication, but they were tied to the MAV. The MAV was gone, ergo no backups. The day had been long and stressful, he'd bled a good amount, had been unconscious for hours, and the MAV and crew were gone. He was done, so done with today. Before going to bed, he started a log. Who knew if or when anyone would ever see it or read it, but he started one nonetheless. He wanted there to be a way, someday, for people to know what happened to him. Or it would prove to be one of the most crazy fucked up journals he ever kept, chronicling his adventures as a Martian. When he finished his log entry, he ate one of the meal packets and collapsed on his bunk, exhausted, and went to sleep.
Peeta Mellark was stranded on Mars. He had no way to contact his crew, no way to contact NASA, was in a Hab designed to last 6 people for 31 days. He could run out of food. He could run out of air. He could run out of water. The Hab could breech and he'd just kind of explode. Right now he was thoroughly fucked. But things could be worse. He could be dead.
A Spark of Hope...
Peeta had stayed after school again to work on a senior project and was now putting away art supplies in cabinets and washing the brushes in the sink when his art teacher, Portia approached him. "Have you given any more thought to applying to that art school I told you about?"
Peeta shook his head sadly, "My parents would never even let me apply to an art school, much less go to one."
"You don't know until you try." Portia encouraged him. But Peeta did know. He knew all too well the control his mother had over his life. And how she felt about art. He was lucky to get to take these classes in high school.
Portia continued, "Peeta, you have a unique talent for..." she searched for the words, "seeing beauty where it is unexpected, in things often overlooked by others." She was right. His choice of artistic study did not involve the typical things his fellow classmates used. When they sketched flowers, many students chose lilies, tulips, or roses, but he chose a dandelion. When they painted a landscape, the others chose classically beautiful rolling hills or towering mountains, he chose an overgrown field, filled with wildflowers. It wasn't particularly pretty, but it captured his attention and then everyone else's when he painted it.
"I have a wrestling scholarship to Texas A&M," Peeta countered, "My parents won't want me to give that up."
"Let me send in your portfolio," Portia insisted, her big brown eyes pleading with Peeta, "I'll talk to my friend Cinna, who is the dean of admissions at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and if you're accepted, which I know you will be, we could help you find scholarships and financing."
"I appreciate all that, Portia, really I do..." Peeta began.
"Maybe if you're already accepted your parents will reconsider," she added hopefully.
Peeta relented. Maybe if he did get in, showed he was worthy, that his art was good enough..."Okay, Portia, let's do it," he agreed with a small smile. Peeta didn't have a lot of hope, but there was a spark and he was willing to give it a shot.
The next day, Peeta woke with a little more hope than he went to bed with. He got up stiffly, still quite sore from yesterday. As he ate his breakfast ration and drank some coffee, he made a mental list of all the things he'd need to do that day, or Sol really, as days on Mars are 40 minutes longer than Earth-days, NASA uses the term "Sol" to distinguish them. He'd check on things inside the Hab first, then don an EVA suit and begin assessing things outside. Inside, he'd run diagnostics on the computers, the oxygenator, the water reclaimer, and the environmental regulator. He'd also inventory his supplies. Outside, he was sure he'd have to clean the solar panels as they were more than likely covered in sand from the windstorm yesterday. He groaned at the thought. He'd check on the rovers. See if he could recover the satellite dish, even though success in that department was slim. He wanted very very badly to be able to communicate. He tossed back the last of his coffee and got to work.
It took some time, but Peeta managed to finish the diagnostics. The good news was that everything was in good working order. There was reserve O2 in case the oxygenator needed repairs and there was reserve water if the water reclaimer had issues. He also noted that the fifty days worth of food for six people meant that he had three hundred days worth of food for just himself and that if he rationed it he could make it last four hundred days. The medical station was well stocked for pretty much any health need that could arise. It did not escape his notice that there was enough morphine to administer a lethal dose. If it came down to a slow death by starvation or a swift painless death, he knew what choice he'd make. He was getting morbid. He shook his head and pushed those dark thoughts aside. He was finally ready to put on the bulky EVA suit and head outside.
Externally, the Hab structure was sound, though its white canvas exterior was a slightly dingy color after the sandblasting it received yesterday. The rovers were undamaged, but needed to be dug out from all the sand that had accumulated on them during the storm. He'd start that tomorrow. A circuit around the site revealed that the satellite dish was probably long gone, but he wouldn't give up on it just yet. Peeta found the MDV pretty banged up, but still probably good for parts if he needed them. The MAV's landing gear and fuel plant were intact as well.
If nothing else, Peeta knew that humans would be back on Mars in four years for Antares 4. Well, that is, unless the program was canceled due to his untimely death, though that was debatable. He just needed to survive that long. And he needed some way to let them know he was alive. This communication barrier seemed insurmountable, but one thing at a time. Right now, he needed to clean the solar cells. Over two-thousand square feet of 'em. Whee.
He ended the day feeling the good sort of tired that comes from a hard day's work. He was satisfied with his progress, had a plan of how he'd spend the next several days. Now, he was ready to get back inside the Hab, eat, and crawl into bed.
He arched his back and looked up. Butterscotch sky, red earth, and slightly bluish sunsets. How desperately he was going to miss the colors of Earth with its greens, and browns, and blues, the riot of color of blooming flowers, and the changing watercolors of sunset. Living on Mars was like living in a monochromatic photograph. The painter in him whimpered at the colorless existence stretching before him.
Over the next several sols, he dug out the rovers, kept the solar cells clean, did some EVAs in a rover to search for the satellite dish, but after rambling around without seeing any indication of its whereabouts he gave up on finding it. This was a blow because without it, there was no way to create a signal strong enough to reach anyone who might be listening. The communications array was a mess. He might as well yell up at the sky for all the good it would do him. He considered trying to make his own crude dish, but it's such a specialized piece of equipment, he couldn't just MacGyver one together with tinfoil and gum. He hung his head, put his hands on his hips, and huffed in frustration. He still had other problems to tackle.
Peeta Mellark needed food, but this was Mars, he can't exactly go foraging. Additionally, with thin atmosphere, no air pressure, and lifeless soil, he wasn't going to be farming on Mars either. Meanwhile, while he had been supplied with Earth soil and a few packets of seeds, they were pretty much worthless to him. The soil might have filled a couple of shoe boxes and the seeds were for grass and ferns. The intention had been to grow hardy plants and record how they handled growing in Martian gravity. The next Antares missions would build on the results of this experiment. Peeta scrapped that and began to work out how to make more soil. And come up with something to plant in it. He had nothing to grow, little soil to grow it in, and little water. But he was a botanist dammit, he should be able to think of something!
He contemplated this while eating a three-fourths portion of dinner one night, reclining, his feet propped up on a work table. Suddenly, his eyebrows shot up. Some of the food packs included peas and beans. They were dried, but not sterile, they could be planted to grow food. He got up and started rummaging through the food supplies and he found something he hadn't thought about since it came up in the supply probe while the Hermes was in Earth orbit. A bag of twelve whole fresh potatoes. Not freeze dried, not mashed or flaked, legitimate real potatoes that could be planted to grow more potatoes. He snickered remembering how he had been helping Marvel unload the probe and stow the supplies. He ran across the potatoes and he shoved two of the individually vacuumed sealed root vegetables down his shirt and turned to Marvel, who laughed hysterically. Then he had his own idea. Commander Odair heard the laughter and noticed the two had gotten off task and came to see what was going on. The sight that met him, Peeta with potato "breasts", and Marvel with a significant "bulge" earned him a, "Dammit Mellark!" He and Marvel fist bumped. Odair ordered, "Get back to work!" barely hiding a smirk. If only Odair knew he lived for that. If only Peeta knew that Odair actually knew that. Mellark's antics, while unprofessional, and sometimes crude, kept the crew in good spirits even through the most stressful situations, so he allowed it. "They're natural!" Peeta had called after Odair's retreating form. Odair shook his head. He couldn't imagine flying without him.
NASA had sent the potatoes along because the crew would be spending Thanksgiving on Mars and the NASA shrinks thought it would be a morale booster or bonding experience or some shit to cook a meal for Thanksgiving. "Well thank you NASA, you may have just saved my life," Peeta thought to himself as he packed all the food back in storage.
Screw the beans and peas. Peeta knew these potatoes, while not the most flavorful, or the most enticing fare (how the baker in him sobbed), were assuredly the most calorie dense of all his possibilities. He had plenty of vitamins in the medical supplies and there was five times the normal amount of protein in the food supplies, so he didn't need that either. He just needed calories. If he was going to grow food, this was his best bet. Still, he needed soil to grow them in. And water. But one thing at a time.
Everyone on the mission had two specialties. Peeta Mellark was the lowest man on the totem pole of command, the youngest astronaut on the six man crew, making him effectively the grunt of the mission. He was a botanist and mechanical engineer, so kind of like a fix-it man with a green thumb. It was a lucky skill set to have in his decidedly unlucky position.
Peeta chuckled to himself when he realized something. As the sole member of the crew left on Mars, he was now "Commander Mellark". The Commander went back to his botanical puzzle and his dinner.
Martian soil, while totally lifeless, is not totally useless. It still has minerals that can benefit and support plant life. It's just that Earth soil has got a lot more going on. It has bacterial activity and certain nutrients provided by animal life and the breakdown of biological material. If Peeta wanted to use Martian soil to grow his potatoes, he needed to add biomatter. There were two ways to get it. One was a compost pail that he'd throw food scraps in after his meals. The second way was going to be pretty crappy. Literally.
The Hab had sophisticated toilets that vacuum dried and sealed the crew's crap and then deposited the bags on the surface of Mars. So Peeta, on another EVA, collected the crap, put it in a large bin, added water to rehydrate it and then subsequently added his own "deposits". You can imagine how it smelled. The worse it smelled, the better because it meant things were happening. "My ass is doing as much to keep me alive as my head," Peeta thought.
When he was ready he was going to mix the crap with the Martian soil and the Earth soil. He wouldn't plant in it right away as the beneficial bacteria needed time to spread through the Martian soil. He'd give it a week, then double the Martian soil and let the bacteria spread again. After a couple doublings he'd finally be ready to plant the first potato plants.
He got an early start on digging and bringing Martian soil inside the Hab. It was the only place to grow the potatoes. Peeta was cool with that. He didn't mind walking on dirt. In fact, he planned to use the whole Hab for his "Keep Peeta Mellark Alive" project.
He still needed to get water. He knew recipe, take hydrogen, add oxygen, burn. But how. This was the question that puzzled him as he scooped dirt with a trowel-sized shovel and filled small bins then dumped the small bins into a large bin, while he spread the dirt on the floor of the Hab, and while he ate his three-fourths portion meals. Well that and how the Mockingjays were doing this season.
Getting the sand was backbreaking work and he still had to clean off the solar cells. Peeta was sore and tired at the end of the day. It had been a long and tedious process. Peeta was nothing if not dogged at achieving a goal so he was going to keep at it, determined to get this "farm" up and going ASAP. His life depended on it. It would take time. As it turned out he had nothing but time on his hands. And thankfully, plenty of vicodin in the med supplies.
"Happy Thanksgiving!" Peeta said to himself. It was now Sol 16, 10 Sols since the shit hit the fan and he woke up to a new hellish existence. His missed his crew every day. The sandstorm came up suddenly, and according to procedure they donned their flight suits ready to evacuate whenever the winds threatened the MAV. If it hadn't been for the sandstorm, Thresh would have discovered that his EVA suit had been switched with Rue's. Big man in a tiny suit! What Peeta wouldn't give to hear Finnick yell, "Dammit Mellark!" again. He snickered at that. He loved pranking the crew. While they were up on the Hermes he had called Domino's to order pizza. Delivery in 30 minutes or it's FREE! The call routed through Houston control so it looked like a local number. And there was the head-shaving incident. That earned him a "DAMMIT MELLARK!!!" In. All. Caps. He laughed out loud when he remembered that one.
However, while he missed his crew, he thought more about his family today. It was undoubtedly a pretty sucky Turkey Day for them. What with him dying and all. He really really really wished he could let them know he was okay, today more than ever before. His family didn't need him, but he figured- he hoped- they missed him, but he knew they'd mourn and move on. The family always got together for Thanksgiving. Dad started baking days ahead and still cooked an epic feast on Thanksgiving proper. Rye and Dells would be there with their three kids: Matthew, Sarah, and Emily. Bannock and Kelly had their twins Graham and Poppy. God, he loved those kids. They were the ultimate fan club and they could never get over their Uncle Peeta being an astronaut. He had even gotten them a behind-the-scenes tour at Johnson Space Center. He was their hero. Unbidden, the thought of having his own kids someday popped in his head, his own little ones to join the fray with their cousins and wreak havoc on holidays and birthdays. He shook his head to clear it. This wasn't the time for such thoughts. There was far too much to do and far too long before such dreams could even remotely become a reality. As of right now, he was much more likely to become a permanent fixture on Mars than anything else.
While he hadn't been able to figure out how to make more water, Peeta had 300 liters of reserve water. If he sacrificed 250 liters of it to the dirt gods, he'd only be able to "farm" two-thirds of the Hab. It was less than he wanted, but it was a start. He was a baker though, and used to making things from scratch and improvising. He could do this.
Today's big project was mixing the soil he already brought in with the "fertilizer" he'd collected and some of the water and sprinkling it with the Earth soil. The smell was awful. Peeta gagged and had to walk to the other side of the Hab several times, but he couldn't really escape the smell. And it wasn't like he could open a window. It was really hard to eat dinner. Still after a while he got used to it.
The methodical, repetitive process of digging in the Martian sand reminded Peeta of kneading bread in his family's bakery. He got in a zone where his mind was focused and purposeful. The scoop-dump, scoop- dump of the sand replaced the familiar knead-turn, knead-turn of the dough. It was a relief from the plaguing questions that always found him in quiet moments. Scraping away at the Martian earth was a respite. While it was physically taxing, he found he enjoyed it. He also enjoyed the exhaustion that allowed him to fall quickly into a deep sleep at night. It still surprised him, though, how quickly he was filling the Hab.
"Mom! Dad!" Peeta called as he tore through the house. "I got in!" he exclaimed when he found his parents in the kitchen cooking dinner. His mom was at the stove and his dad was making rolls at the kitchen island. "I got in!" He said again, grinning wide, his face jubilant, his body humming with his excitement. This was one of the proudest moments of his life. SAIC was a tough school to get into.
"Got in?" His mother answered coolly.
"The art school! In Chicago!" Peeta's mind was all exclamation points right now. "Portia sent my portfolio and a recommendation along with my application and I got in! I can't believe it!"
"That's great son!" His father smiled at him from across the island.
"You are not going to art school," His mother answered definitively from the stove, her back still to him.
"What?" Peeta's mouth gaped in shock at his mother's statement.
"You are not going to some pansy art school. You'll go to a real college and get a real degree. Ever heard the term "starving artist"? No one will want your art, Peeta. It's fine hanging up around home or at the bakery, but you'll be jobless and penniless if you pursue art."
Peeta shook his head in disbelief. He couldn't believe this was happening. "But..." Peeta began. He looked to his dad for an ally, but his dad was very absorbed in making the rolls. "Dad," Peeta called with a tremulous voice, longing for his dad to look up at him and put his mother in her place for once, for once. Just this once.
"You got the past eighteen years of my life," Peeta began, directing his comment at his mother, "but this is my future!" Anger was rising in him now. "You don't get to decide my life!"
"I do when I pay the bills and give you a roof over your head," His mother volleyed condescendingly. It was just so damn easy for her to dismiss his dreams and trample all over them.
Peeta fisted the acceptance letter that had filled him with such exuberance moments before, hot tears filling his eyes, and he turned and ran out of the kitchen and then up the stairs to his room and slammed the door. The tears flowed freely as his body was wracked with sobs. He did not come down to dinner. Eventually he was spent and began to doze. When he woke up, the sun had set and it was dark out, the moon low on the horizon and stars twinkling in the sky. He rolled out of bed and walked over to the telescope that set in front of his bedroom window, a gift from his paternal grandparents when he was twelve. "During the day, it looks like the sky's the limit, but at night you can see so much further," his Danish grandfather said wistfully, "Don't ever settle for reaching for the sky, reach for the stars boy!" he encouraged young Peeta. Peeta's hand glided on the smooth barrel of the telescope, the cool metal soothing to his hot skin and similarly his hot anger at his parents. He took one last look at the acceptance letter from the art school then balled it up and threw it in the trash. He knew he was worthy of it, but he couldn't run away or make it on his own right now. He was still stuck with his parents, but he could still aim for the stars. He'd go to school and get as far away from here as he possibly could.
I did it! I did it! I did it! Peeta did a happy dance. In a week's time Peeta had managed to fill two-thirds of the Hab with Martian soil. He was elated to have this leg of his project done. He also mixed the soil mixture from Thanksgiving, which had become rich and lovely, with more of the new soil, enacting his first "dirt-doubling". He was feeling really good about it all when he sat down to a well-deserved dinner.
Then, listening to Rue's indie folk music he started to do the math calculating crop yields. And his spirits fell with a crash.
Peeta sat dejected, his blond hair rumpled from running his hands through it, and dropped his head on the worktable. Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! The numbers never lie. With two-thirds of the Hab used for farming, he'd only be able to extend his four hundred day food supply by an extra ninety days leaving him far far short of the necessary four years worth of food to make it to Antares 4. While he was busy digging and brining in soil he had felt so positive, he was actively working, he had a plan, he was going to make this work. But the math, the numbers, he couldn't escape the reality that all of it wasn't enough. And now he was depressed. He got up from the table, curled up on his bunk and closed his eyes and for the first time allowed the tears to flow. He fell asleep exhausted and drained, absently stroking the nylon band of his watch.
Peeta was never one to stay down in the dumps for long. The part of him that charmed teachers into being lenient on his grades, or even forgoing that end of the year English essay, or charmed his friends into going along with his crazy escapades was going to charm the hell out of this impossible math quandary. The numbers don't lie, so he was going to have to change them. With a new morning he gave more thought to his crop yield equations.
His circumstances were vastly different than that of the common farmer. A notable difference was that his "farm" was environmentally controlled. There would be no storms, no frosts, no drought (if he could somehow conjure water- still working on that). Moreover, there were no pests, no blight, and no competition from weeds or other plants. This meant that straight up he should get a better yield than he initially imagined.
He figured he could farm more intensively than a typical farmer because he didn't need to worry about depleting the soil. He wasn't exactly planning to farm on Mars for the next 20 years, so he could plant more plants, closer together, and when the potato plants matured, he could put more soil on top of them so they could continue growing.
He also needed to dedicate every possible inch of space to the "Keep Peeta Mellark Alive" project. Looking at the Hab with new eyes he realized he could sacrifice the crew's bunks and two of the three worktables. His mind flashed on the rovers and scrapped that, but the emergency poptents would work. This would double his growing space. That plus the better yield he already expected improved his odds greatly. He wasn't going to get all the calories he wanted, he'd still be in danger of starvation, but he was a lot closer to a four year food-supply than he was before.
That meant a helluva lot of digging again, but it would be worth it. Plus, while tiring, he actually didn't mind the digging so much. He'd continue digging and bringing in more dirt while keeping up with the dirt doubling he'd been doing to innoculate the soil with beneficial bacteria and biomatter.
He was going to need a lot more water to make this work. But as always, one thing at a time. He'd worked out adjusted yields and figured out how to increase available growing space and that was enough for now.
Satisfied with his work for the day, Peeta ate his dinner ration while listening to Rue's folk music again.
Despite the hopeful conclusion the day before, Peeta woke up in a pissy mood. He kinda just wanted to kick and slam everything. He even chewed his food like he was trying to kill it again. Rather than continue working on how to make water from nothing, he decided the best thing to do was keep his hands busy so he went out to dig. After getting a couple of loads in, he was exhausted. A dust storm blew in and lasted two hours and when it dissipated, Peeta stomped over and got the EVA suit back on, stomped into the air lock, went back outside and cleaned off the solar cells and stomped back to the Hab. He was the very image of his once chubby little five year old self having a pouty day.
It was a good day to start the first seed crop of potatoes. While he was stuck inside during the dust storm, he cut each of the twelve potatoes into large chunks that had two eyes each for sprouting. He left them on the bench for a few hours to dry up a bit before planting them in the original corner where he had brought in the first loads of soil.
Peeta needed a distraction. Rue's folk music just wasn't going to cut it today. He foraged through Thresh's things and found his thumb drive. He loaded it up. What do you know? 1950's B sci-fi movies. Well, let's get started. Peeta fell asleep watching the Japanese one about the giant prehistoric turtle from hell. Okay, it was technically from the arctic.
It had been nearly a month of Sols and Peeta had found a working rhythm and routine. He woke up to the brightening florescent lights each morning. He washed his face and shaved. Even on short supplies, this simple act made him feel more human. He'd have his breakfast ration and coffee and tick off a mental to-do list then get started on the day's tasks. There was always some routine maintenance or cleaning or whatever to do in addition to his projects.
Peeta's "farm" had grown nicely. He had managed to move all the soil he needed into the Hab, including covering the worktables and bunks. He still didn't have the water he needed, but he had some ideas. Some really bad ideas.
Peeta's big project today was setting up the poptents. He had known for several days that he wanted to attach them to the Hab, but after hours of trying to figure out how to get the poptents' airlocks and the Hab's airlocks to play nice, he gave up and decided to keep them separate, citing irreconcilable differences. They were entirely incompatible. However, with the standard valves and tubing, he could attach the poptents to the Hab's air supply. He'd have to do an EVA to work in the poptents each day and he'd lose a bit of air every time, but the Hab would make up for it. It wasn't ideal, but it would work, and the extra growing space was worth it.
Peeta deployed the first tent, disconnected it from the rover, and moved it closer to the Hab. After hooking it into the Hab's air supply, he repeated the process with the second poptent. Once they were set up, Peeta added sand to them as well. They were ready to go.
With art school off the table, Peeta enrolled in Texas A&M where he had a full-ride wrestling scholarship, double-majoring in botany and mechanical engineering. He knew there was a new NASA program that would be sending astronauts to Mars, and every astronaut had two specialties so the crew could do as much work as possible with as few people as possible. He excelled in his studies, but continued to pursue art in his free time. The first two summers he took summer classes and worked at the bakery, but the last two he had internships with labs.
He got into the Master's program with ease and in two years graduated top of his class with honors. His professors and mentors Dr. Fabian Gloss and Dr. Howard Blight recommended him highly to their old chum Haymitch Abernathy, Director of Mars Missions, and Peeta became the youngest astronaut to train for a Mars mission. He was slated for Antares 3 with Commander Finnick Odair, Thresh Somers, Marvel Reardon, Dr. Rue Atwood, and Clove De La Rosa. In two years they'd be on a spaceship headed for Mars.
Turns out the determination, focus, and creativity that made him such a good artist made him a brilliant problem solver. If the crew had issues with such a young grunt being added to their mission, they soon got over it. He was a valuable asset and they were lucky and glad to have him. He had an easy-going disposition that allowed him to get along with pretty much anyone. Despite having a charming and open personality and being clearly sensitive and compassionate, he seemingly was impervious to harsh criticism and comments from others. No one could faze him. How had such a sweet, good guy, gotten so tough?
The more they got to know him the more they loved him. He was funny and kept them laughing. He was such a smooth talker. He could convince anyone of anything. His prank calls were the stuff of legend. He had some sort of sixth sense of when the others were about to explode and he could diffuse the situation deftly. Whether it was his genuine care, his jokes, his pranks, or his sunny demeanor, he was always ready to brighten people's day. His inherent steadiness brought calm wherever he went. And there was the baking. Anytime the stress ran high, he showed up with a marvelous assortment of baked goods that helped everyone to calm down and keep going without breaking down. He was good and they loved him for it.
Peeta Mellark had a bad idea. In fact, it was a really dangerous idea that provided multiple opportunities to turn Antares 3 into the Peeta Mellark Memorial Crater. But if the really bad, really dangerous idea worked, he'd be a genius, making water from scratch.
Peeta knew that basic recipe for water-it had been banging around his head for weeks-take hydrogen, add oxygen, burn. What he didn't know what how to do it. Getting the oxygen was easy enough. The MAV's fuel plant was designed to pull CO2 from the thin Martin atmosphere and what do you know? The Hab had a machine specifically made to separate O2 from CO2. He'd bring the CO2 filled tank into the Hab, open the valve, and release the CO2 into the Hab. The oxygenator would pull the excess CO2 out of the air and separate the O2 from the CO2. All he needed was to hook the MAV into the Hab's power supply.
No, the real problem was how to get hydrogen.
He had hydrogen.
But getting it would most likely kill him.
There were two sources of Hydrogen available to Peeta Mellark. One was the battery cells of the Hab, but if he destroyed those to get at the hydrogen, it would put the Hab at risk. The Hab ran off battery power at night and he'd lose that buffer if for some reason the solar cells were covered and he couldn't clear them or they malfunctioned or something. Additionally, there wasn't enough hydrogen in the batteries to make all the water he needed anyway. But he knew where there was. His mind turned to the MDV. The MDV had been lying on its side ever since the epic sandstorm of doom that left Peeta stranded on Mars. Now, it would become a key to his survival. The MDV had hydrogen. Lots of it. But it was in the form of hydrazine a.k.a. rocket fuel. Hydrazine was a combination of nitrogen and hydrogen.
Liberating hydrogen from the hydrazine would give Peeta the other half of the ingredients he need to make water.
It was also incredibly dangerous.
Peeta figured if he ran the hydrazine over an iridium catalyst it would separate the nitrogen and hydrogen that made up the hydrazine. Then by funneling the now superheated hydrogen up through a chimney, he could burn it on the other side. The burn would cause the hydrogen to combine with free oxygen in the air of the Hab and make, you guessed it, water! The excess water would be pulled out of the air by the water reclaimer. Chemistry, being the sloppy bitch it is, ensures some nitrogen and hydrogen won't react, adding the lovely smell of ammonia to Peeta's increasingly hellish existence.
Peeta wondered if he'd lost his sanity, but he was out of time and out of ideas. He needed water and lighting rocket fuel in the Hab was the only way to get it. Well, here goes nothing.
Peeta had a half ration for dinner. All he managed to do was think up a plan that would most likely kill him. Showing at Thresh's Cinemas tonight was the one with the giant eye surrounded by a cloud that decapitated people in the Swiss Alps. Heartwarming stuff.
Peeta Mellark could die today.
He was done with thinking and ready to put his plan into action. After the customary breakfast ration and coffee and thinking through the day's plans, he put on his EVA suit.
He'd hooked the MAV's fuel plant into the Hab's power already and it had been pulling CO2 from the atmosphere since yesterday.
Outside, under the tiny sun, Peeta went to the MDV and pried off its access panels to get at the hydrazine tanks. He was going to set them in the shade of the Hab, but thought better of it and put them in the shade of one of the rovers. If they did explode while he was outside, he'd rather blow up a rover than his house.
Then he dug the reaction chamber out of the MDV. It was tricky but he managed to get at the catalyst he'd need to separate the hydrogen and nitrogen.
He vented the CO2 tank from the MAV into the Hab and started it on refilling, then back to work with the MDV.
He brought the reaction chamber in along with all six of the hydrazine tanks. If one blew, they all might as well blow, there was no tangible difference. He was ready to start making water.
He copied the log he'd kept faithfully since Sol 6 over to both rovers, just in case.
Peeta was ready for the grand experiment. He wore the lining of his EVA suit, including the gloves and booties for protection. He breathed oxygen from a tank on his back. The hydrazine was toxic and he DID NOT want to breathe those fumes.
His "mad scientist" set up was arranged on the remaining work table. There was a sort of reaction bowl where the iridium catalyst resided. The table was surrounded by a "tent" made out of large plastic bags that Peeta had cut along the seams and taped back together. From the top of the tent emerged a small tube scavenged from Rue's EVA suit. The goal was to pass a very slow flow of hydrazine over the catalyst which would separate it into hydrogen and nitrogen. The superheated hydrogen would go up, through the tiny tube chimney, and Peeta would be waiting with some fire at the end of the tube to burn the hydrogen which would make it react with the oxygen in the air creating water. The water vapor in the air would get captured by the water reclaimer. At the end, Peeta would have water, or be a crater.
Sol 33 (2)
"I-have made-water!" Peeta grunted like a tribal native as he did an awkward primal dance around the Hab. "I," he thumped his chest, "have made" he gestured to his mad-scientist set up, "water!” he swept his arms encompassing the whole Hab. "Ihavemadewater. Ihavemadewater. Ihavemadewater!!!!" He was fist-pumping and jumping up and down. He was truly jubilant. His whole life depended on this insane idea working and it DID!
He lit rocket fuel. In the Hab. On purpose. And right now, his plan was working! He was more than happy, he was way fucking over the moon.
Now he just had to keep at it till he had used up all the available oxygen. That was going to take a while.
The next day he was exhausted. He had been up all night with the hydrazine contraption and had made water continuously. He had gotten used to the alarms. There was the fire alarm, of course, then the low oxygen alarm as he used it up, then there was the high humidity alarm, and finally a new one, the water reclaimer was full. That's the kind of problem he wanted to have. Then he had to figure out where to put the extra water and finally decided to use Clove's EVA suit. She didn't need it anymore and it was too small for him. If it could hold an atmosphere of air pressure, surely it could hold some water. He emptied the water into the suit and continued his water-making.
"God it's hot." Peeta panted. It was hot. So hot. And humid to boot. It was like a tropical jungle in the Hab now, between the heat of the reaction and the water he'd put into the air, it was really uncomfortable, but he couldn't be unhappy. Not one bit. He relaxed and let the Hab clean up his mess. The water reclaimer chugging away to pull the water out of the air, the environmental regulator was replacing the oxygen he had used, though nothing could take the temperature down. Mars is fucking cold, so they didn't see the need to include an air conditioner for the Hab. Eventually the heat would dissipate, but it would take longer.
Peeta recorded his success in his log then ate his breakfast ration and fell into a deep and well deserved sleep.
The Hab. Was a bomb.
All it would take was an errant spark and Peeta would have his own Martian Hindenburg.
Peeta was hunkered down in Rover 2 with nothing but a protein bar and Finnick's boy band music. Godammit Finnick!
He had spent two days trying to figure out how to diffuse the bomb without killing himself, his potatoes, or the billions of tiny microbes in his lush and lovely soil.
It had all started two days ago. He had been steadily making water for some time, but his crazy set-up wasn't producing as much water as it should be. By his calculations, he should have made 130 L water, BUT he had only made 70 L. That's not just a little bit off, it was WAY off. So, where was all the water? Sure the dry soil would soak some up, but where was the rest?
The second tip-off that things weren't going right was the oxygen level in the O2 tanks. It was steadily gaining, which meant he wasn't burning off as much as he thought. If the oxygen wasn't burning off it wasn't combining with the hydrogen to make water. The gain in the O2 tanks meant that the Hab was steadily filling with hydrogen which meant that...the Hab was a BOMB!
He got in his EVA suit, took a quick air sample, and skedaddled (ran for his life) to Rover 2. The analysis finished in moments and sure enough: Nitrogen was 22%, Oxygen was 9%, and Hydrogen was a whopping 64%! "Dammit Jim I'm a botanist, not a chemist!” Peeta grumbled to himself as he ran his hands through his hair trying to come up with a plan to deal with this.
Peeta's first solution was to drop the oxygen level to 0% and burn the hydrogen in bursts using a flame and an O2 tank. But there was a major problem with that idea: no oxygen in the Hab would kill the soil microbes. Though the potato plants wouldn't give a fuck how much oxygen there was.
So, his second solution was to induce a "winter" by lowering the temp in the Hab. Lower the temp, then the bacteria would hibernate while he burned off the damned hydrogen. And he could leave the oxygen level at 1% and still be safe. But the cold would kill the potato plants. Back to the drawing board.
Okay, third solution: he figured he could pot- or in this case "bag"- the potato plants and put them up in a rover while he dealt with the Hab. Only then he had to figure out how to get the rover to keep the heat on while unoccupied. It took the better part of a day to figure that one out, but there wasn't much else to do when you're living in a rover.
So, he had a plan, bag the potatoes, drop the temp in the Hab, trick the regulator to pulling all the O2 out of the Hab's atmosphere, leaving 1% O2 for the bacteria. Once the bacteria get the memo that it's time to hibernate, he'd start burning off the hydrogen. Sounds like a winner.
If the water-making set up was dangerous, this was suicide.
He'd put this easy peasy lemon squeezy plan into action tomorrow.
It was all going great...until the explosion.
One minute, Peeta was standing on the worktable, happily burning away the hydrogen with his oxygen torch, making more water by the way and the next minute, he was thrown across the room, the Hab was in disarray, his ears HURT and he was too dizzy to stand up. What the HELL just happened? He felt around his head and didn't find any injury, but he was missing his breathing mask. He needed to find a way to breathe. The Hab had no O2, he'd seen to that by "tricking" the environmental regulator into thinking the Hab was 100% oxygen so that it pulled O2 from the air like a champ. He couldn't find the O2 tank he'd been using in the mess, so staggered over to Clove's suit, which he had dubbed the "Cistern", cranked on her O2 and took several deep gulps of air. He looked around the room and could not immediately figure out what had caused the explosion. With another big gulp of air, he held his breath and stumbled over to the regulator, the bag he'd used to "trick" it was blown off in the explosion. He had to reconnect power to it, but that was it. It sensed the low oxygen and went right to work bringing the oxygen back up to normal levels. All the while blaring the low-O2 alarm. The alarms were getting so common now that Peeta barely paid them any heed. He hustled back to Clove's suit to gulp more air, still reeling. What the hell happened?
In a few minutes the regulator had the Hab back up to normal O2 levels so he could relax and move more freely. He checked himself over. Oh, shit! The outermost layer of clothing was burnt off completely, the second layer was thoroughly singed and burnt through in places, but the layer closest to his skin was still fine.
Peeta checked the main computer to help him figure out what happened. The temperature had surged to 15 degrees C. Something very hot and very explodey happened.
Peeta grabbed a proper meal, Rue's thumb drive (he was not listening to Finnick's boy bands tonight), and headed for Rover 2 again. There was no way he was sleeping in a Hab that had a history of exploding. After all that work and getting blown up, Peeta was exhausted. He'd have to do a million equipment checks and diagnostics tomorrow and figure out what the hell happened.
Running diagnostics all day was boring as all hell, but Peeta's life depended on those machines so it had to be done. He couldn't just assume that the explosion did no long-term damage. As each system checked out, Peeta breathed a little easier. The Hab was holding pressure meaning no leaks, all major and minor systems were functioning normally. Even the microbes in the soil were okay. The only thing besides the temp jump the day before was a brief split-second jump in pressure.
While he cleaned up the mess from the blast, he began to piece together what had happened. He was dumb and his dumbassery almost got him killed. Not the sandstorm, not the antenna, not lighting rocket fuel in the Hab, just one simple colossally dumb mistake.
This is what happened:
Once he had sufficiently psyched himself up, Peeta returned to the Hab. He set the temperature to 1-degree Celsius so the Hab would get nice and cold and the bacteria would think it was winter and hopefully hibernate. Then he spent a bit trying to figure out how to charm the environmental regulator, but it was impervious to his charm, so he had to use brute force. Taking a bag and filling it with 100% O2, he taped it to the main intake vent and a sampling vent. He taped over the top of all of the other sensors. The regulator thought, "Oh shit, O2 is 100%, I need to pull O2 out right away!" It worked great!
While the temperature dropped and the oxygen was being pulled out of the air, Peeta bagged up the potatoes and then tried to figure out how to get them to the rover-turned-nursery. He grabbed Marvel's EVA suit, put his potatoes in, and hauled it to the rover. He jimmied the heater to stay on while he was gone. Then he returned.
The Hab was getting cold. He shed his EVA suit, and donned Marvel's and then Finnick's uniforms over his own. The three layers didn't entirely keep the chill out, but it helped. He bundled up on a bunk, waiting, waiting, waiting. At last, the temperature had been 1-degree C for an hour, long enough to get the bacteria to get the idea that it was time to chill out. Once oxygen in the Hab dropped to 12% he strapped on an O2 tank and started breathing the canned air. Once it was 1% he cut the power to the regulator. Now, he was ready. He got a second O2 tank and slung it over a shoulder, and using a small air hose from Rue's EVA suit and exposing the wires from an LED flashlight so that they sparked, he was able to make an oxygen torch. The hose gave him control of the oxygen flow while he burned off the hydrogen. Standing on top of the work table, he reached up and lit the torch. Sure enough he had a nice jet of flame. It was working! He was clearing out the hydrogen while incidentally making more water.
But, Peeta realized, he hadn't considered the canned air. He forgot something really important. The O2 tank mixes room air with the O2 which you breathe in and then exhale. When you breathe air, you don't use up all the oxygen, and so the air you breathe out contains some percentage of oxygen. With every breath, he was adding more and more oxygen to the system, until BOOM! The oxygen he had been exhaling ignited causing an explosion.
The simple decision to NOT wear an EVA suit almost got him killed. He was really going to have to be more careful.
It was a good thing he had burned off most of the hydrogen before the explosion because otherwise, he'd be dead right now.
Peeta cued up a new movie courtesy of Thresh's thumb drive, kicked up his feet, and sat back to enjoy a full ration for dinner. Tonight's movie was one where this team of scientists goes to an exotic island to retrieve a rocket, but they leave the hot locals behind and climb this mountain for goddamn ever and at the top there's this jungle with dinosaurs. It makes no sense. How the hell is there a jungle at the top of an alpine mountain? He can't remember if they get the rocket or not. He fell asleep before the end.
Back on Track
Peeta ignored the brightening florescent lights, indicating it was time to wake up, and curled deeper into his bunk, stubbornly keeping his eyes shut. He was sleeping in today. After several nights of cramped sleeping in the rover, the bunk felt fucking luxurious.
When he was finally ready to get up, he swung his legs over the edge of the bunk, arched his back, lengthened his limbs in a long stretch and let out a low long moan. Then he attended to his usual morning needs, shaved, got dressed in his mercifully unburnt uniform, and sat down to breakfast.
He donned his spacesuit and went out to retrieve the potatoes. They were still happy and healthy. He couldn't help the burn in the back of his eyes when he saw the little sprouts forming. Back in the Hab, he planted the potatoes again in that original corner of soil. He gently, almost reverently, covered them in the lovely red-brown Martian soil and sat back on his haunches kneeling in the dirt, and smiled. This wasn't chemistry, medicine, bacteriology, nutrition analysis, explosion dynamics, or any of the other shit he'd been doing lately. This was botany. He was sure he could grow some plants without screwing up. His chest constricted as he looked at the little sprouts, his life depended on them. Godspeed little taters. I'm depending on you.
After nearly killing himself twice you'd think he would quit dicking around with the hydrazine, but he had only made a fraction of the water he needed. He still had 470L to go. This time though, he wouldn't count on a clean reaction and would pause the water-making to do a "hydrogen cleaning" so the hydrogen wouldn't build up to kill-Peeta levels again.
He'd have a ton of down time each time he waited for the CO2 tank to fill up, so he'd be watching a lot of Thresh's movies. How he longed for his sketchbook, but there was no way for him to be allowed to bring it. There'd be a lot of things he's miss terribly before this was all over. He rubbed his nylon watchband and thought of home.