I'm getting really fucking stir-crazy here. The Pathfinder trip is absolutely vital and necessary and all that, but it's been seven Sols and if I don't get some fresh air, I'm going to scream. So I suited up and did an EVA to get some fresh air.
For certain definitions of "fresh air", of course, that involve explicitly not breathing the air.
I took a good look around. "I came to them out of sand and rocks," I mused. "I came to them in log entries at Sol light." I'd never been serious about magic, and you'd have to be more than a dabbler like me to do magic in a place like this. But it was that or start singing to myself, and I had too many disco earworms. I wouldn't inflict that on my worst enemy which, in fact, Mars is.
As I turned, though, I thought I saw the hazy outline of a man sitting down on a far boulder. When I blinked, he had moved. When I blinked again, he had gone. Now, being a proud citizen of the United States of America, where we elect our rulers and proudly have no kings, I absolutely did not recite the words of the Yorkshire Game, absolutely not, that would be absurd of me.
Anyway, regardless of if I had welcomed someone else's king into my heart, I trudged onward.
But I am a scientist and so the urge to see if a phenomenon was repeatable was too much to resist. "The lost botanist shall wear a battered spacesuit. The lost botanist shall be a king on a strange planet."
I looked around carefully. I scanned the horizon. I saw absolutely nothing amiss.
But I thought I heard my shadow laughing, and so I got the hell back to the rover.
I didn't sleep well. I'm not usually like this. I'm a good sleeper, I swear. But last night I was restless with dreams, and plagued with the question: where did we get that dirt from. I brought Earth dirt to Mars. NASA probably sourced it carefully. It had to be specific dirt. They couldn't just dig it up outside. They would have examined the dirt before I left. They picked specific dirt. Where did it come from?
What the hell did I bring with me to Mars?
But it was a mirage yesterday, I tell myself. It was just a mirage. I'm hungry and thirsty and terrified out of my mind and trying not to show it. Putting up a brave front will take a toll on anyone. I didn't see anything, and even if I had, there was no magic.
There will be no sand making a door for me to walk through. There will be no rocks making space ships to take me home. I'm here on Mars, I'm stuck on Mars, and I'm trying to call home, I'm trying to establish a connection with any other human being out there, and I did not see anything yesterday.
But tell that to my lizard brain.
And then I woke up and breathed the air and looked out of the rover windows and saw green grass everywhere.
Mission Date I-Don't-Even-Know
I walked outside. I waved my hands around. I saw people walking. Someone came up to me and said something in an accent I didn't really understand, but she seemed concerned. I refused to take my helmet off. I know I'm hallucinating. I am sure I am hallucinating.
A police car came by and we got in. Someone tried to take my helmet off and I fought them.
Someone gave me a newspaper. I read the headline and saw: Watney Vanishes From Satellite Imagery.
I took off my helmet. I did not die.
I'm counting things in Sols out of sheer stubbornness. I'm in Wales. I don't know why (it's not the dirt, that came from California, NASA says. This is somehow not as reassuring as they meant it to be.). Folks are telling me the king's magic might have missed. It's a bit far of a distance, you know, Mars to Earth. I called on the king's magic to bring me to the king's land. It missed the king's city of Newcastle by 350 miles. That's not that far, right? I haven't done serious magic since sitting the SAT. It's close enough for government work.
But-- this isn't good, this really isn't good. We don't mix magic with space travel. It's too risky. Some serious magicians from the Starecross Institute have come to yell at me. I could have torn a hole in spacetime. I might actually have done. I might actually be in a parallel universe and not be able to tell.
Hell, I could be dead and just not realize yet.
Accidental magic doesn't do this, they informed me sternly, and demanded to know what incantation I used. They were not pleased when I told them it was the prophecy. Did I not realize what kind of kindling I was playing with? Did I not realize what kind of damage I could do with the Raven King's generational spell? Do I lack any sense at all in my brain? Playing with fire isn't a joke, Watney. This could have gone very, very poorly. (I know this, because I have played with actual fire, for science and survival.)
They were unimpressed by my insistence that this had never happened to me before. I've toyed with historical spells a thousand times and never had any results -- at which point they threw up their hands at me and started shouting about the sub-standard magical education in the USA that I thought that words of magic were some kind of poetry to memorize.
"I thought I saw the king!" I eventually gave in and shouted back. Then they got quiet and started muttering to each other, and then I apologized and told them that I knew I'd been hallucinating, that I tested it and tried it again and it didn't work, and then Madam Segundus asked me very quietly if I thought John Uskglass obeyed the scientific method.
There was very clearly a correct answer and an incorrect answer to that. Um. Oops.
I'm in Newcastle, since they decided that was the best place for me. The king isn't in residence; he's far too busy in Faerie this time of year, everyone says. But the city is still packed with magicians, and NASA wants me checked over by England's finest before putting me on an airplane back to the States. They are a little concerned that any airplane with me on it might somehow find itself on Mars.
They take me into a giant Gothic building, and then into a small office where someone who I swear is dead peers at me over her spectacles.
"Lady Catherine," they say, "this is the plant magician we told you about."
"The one who speaks to the soil," says the spirit of Lady Catherine of Winchester.
Wait, are they talking about me? "Um, my lady? Sorry, but I don't do magic."
Lady Catherine looks at me. "Do you not create life out of barren ground?"
Well, yes, but also no, and there's-- "I'm a botanist, ma'am, I studied science, not magic."
"I see no difference," Lady Catherine says, and then she turns back towards my retinue. "He has used John's magic, so he must speak to John. He may stay here and study until John returns."
And, trust me, that was not on my agenda for today, or this month, or this year, but when a dead Aureate magician tells you to do something, well, you do it.
So where were we? Oh, right.
Okay, the biggest issue remains that NASA is incredibly fucking pissed at me. Just, wow, incredibly indescribably angry, and not getting less so. I have basically humiliated them (sorry, didn't mean to) and the continuing situation just keeps grinding in the dirt. They can't even get the rover back because the Welsh magical court has confiscated it, declaring it to be a dangerous magical artifact, and those can't cross national borders, let alone oceans, without a fuckton of paperwork and wards.
The Hermes crew are getting around to being mad at me. For them, my status went straight from "dead" to "surprisingly alive in Swansea", so they spent a while being really fucking glad I was alive. But now they're cycling around to "what the hell, Mark, what did you do?"
Also, Northern England won't let me leave until I apologize to the Raven King.
It's so exciting to be me right now!
Five minutes into my meeting with the king, he snaps his fingers and we are suddenly on a beach. There's sand beneath my feet and the feeling of the ocean all around us. I'm not much of magician, but even I can learn if that's the only way I'm allowed to spend my time. So the ocean is a living thing to me now, the smell and sound of it in perfect harmony with the deep power of the waves.
It's all very deep and magical and still not something I ever wanted to do with my life, but, well, here I am.
"Mark Watney," says the king, "do the magic."
And still I hesitate, worrying that this would suddenly bring the Hermes crashing to Earth, which would be bad. But the king is staring at me, so I clear my throat. "The sand shall make a door for me and I shall pass through it. The stones shall make a ship for me and I shall travel upon it." And I do the magic.
And before me floats a pirate ship out of my wildest dreams. The king looks somewhat startled at the form of my inner self, but he makes no reply. There is merely a chaos of ravens, then silence.
So I do what is left for me to do: I sail home.