Chapter 1: Part I
Hiro had been relieved to receive Tadashi’s lab when he first started at SFIT. He knew that it wasn’t the norm for freshman students to receive prime lab space, but the university had recognized that Hiro had a connection to the lab, if not a claim. Hiro was relieved, of course, to be able to use the space that Tadashi had made his own for sentimental reasons, but also because it was just that much easier to start rebuilding Baymax.
They were calling it his freshman year project, building something that already existed, only better. After all, Baymax had been a prototype unit. So Hiro would build him back even better. Hiro envisioned a full suite of micro-robotics, capable of injecting life-saving medications, or able to stitch closed a hemorrhaging artery in seconds. Still a health care companion, but also a field medic. He hoped Tadashi would have approved.
More than anything though, Hiro wanted to get Baymax back. He needed to get Baymax back. He missed his friend, and the only thing that had soothed the guilt he had felt at losing him had been the relief of finding the green chip.
Hiro was busy machining new servos for Baymax’s skeleton (while other parts were printing in the background, while code was compiling on his computer, while a moulding set), when Honey Lemon stuck her head in.
“Oh, Hiro, quick question,” she said.
“Ahh, Honey, I’m kind of busy,” said Hiro.
“I know, that’s why it’s a quick question. I already asked Todd what he used for his rocket boots, but he won’t tell me, and Baymax’s rockets were much better, so I wanted to ask you anyway. So, what was the propellant you used?”
“There wasn’t any,” said Hiro absently, casting a keen eye over his work.
“Sorry?” asked Honey Lemon.
“It’s…you know, direct electric-propulsion,” said Hiro, tweaking at an uneven edge.
“Um, what’s that now?” asked Honey.
“I don’t know what it’s actually called,” said Hiro. “Go ask someone in astrophysics. I kind of reinvented it to prank Tadashi once, so I never actually read anything about it.”
“Oh,” said Honey Lemon, sounding confused. “Alright, I’ll do that.”
Hiro went back to focusing on his work, pulled back out of it suddenly though by a ding from his computer indicating an error in the compiling. Hiro let out a frustrated groan and set to finding the error. He swore, if it was another stupid typo, he was going break into the coffee supplies, no matter what anyone had to say about fourteen year old growing bodies.
“Hiro,” Gogo said abruptly from the doorway of his lab. Hiro was going to lock the door if they weren’t careful.
“Super busy,” said Hiro.
“Your deadline’s seven months away,” said Gogo.
“I’m not waiting seven months,” said Hiro, a touch annoyed.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Gogo. “But what’s this about direct electric-propulsion? There’s no such thing.”
“I already said I don’t know what it’s called exactly,” said Hiro. “That’s why I told Honey Lemon to check with an astrophysics professor.”
“We did,” said Honey Lemon.
Hiro frowned and checked the clock on his computer. Honey hadn’t been gone that long had she? When did it get to be five o’clock? All this time spent, and he hadn’t found the bug.
“Anyway,” said Hiro. “Of course there’s such a thing. I’ve been making them since I was nine. I may be a genius, but I’m not that much of a genius.”
“Professor Lee said she knew that people have theorized reactionless engines, but she still isn’t convinced it’s possible.”
“Yeah,” said Hiro, “okay. Check with Professor Snyder.”
“Hey, what’s this about propellant free propulsion?” asked Wasabi, sticking his head into the lab.
“Not now, Wasabi,” said Hiro. “Looking for a bug, very busy. My friend needs his body back.”
“You need to take a chill pill, little man,” accused Wasabi.
“No, coffee is what I need,” said Hiro.
“That’s kind of the opposite,” said Gogo.
“Look, I know I’m kind of obsessed right now, so can we all agree to just wait to talk about this when I’m working on Baymax’s armor?”
“Sure,” said Gogo, “we’ll just shelve the discussion of your groundbreaking discovery until later. No problem.”
“Thanks, you guys are the greatest,” Hiro called out as his friend’s left his lab.
He hadn’t really full-sale invented electric-propulsion, had he? Whatever, he needed to find this bug so he could get back to the servos. And after that, he still needed to figure out a new power system for Baymax. Well, he wanted to anyway. Supercapacitors had helped a lot over Tadashi’s original lithium-ion, but they had only just barely met Baymax’s needs in combat. But what was better than supercapacitors? Ugh, he’d have to figure something out later.
The servos needed to be perfect. Baymax 1.0 had been too slow, a fault of Tadashi’s, who had never been comfortable with fast precision in robotics. A problem that Hiro, with his bot-fighting career under his belt, had no trouble with. But it did necessitate a lot more careful machining, which took a lot more time. Hiro knew that he had time, but he didn’t feel like he did. Sometimes he felt like if he waited too long, Baymax’s programing would fade from his chip, and he’d lose Baymax all over again.
Maybe it was irrational, but it was a damned good motivator.
“Honey Lemon, Honey Lemon, quick question,” said Hiro.
“Sure,” said Honey Lemon. “Just give me a two sentence explanation of electric-propulsion first.”
Hiro huffed. “A closed asymmetric resonant cavity is flooded with microwave radiation. The differential in the radiation pressure on the interior walls of the closed resonant cavity creates thrust.”
“O…kay,” said Honey Lemon. Hiro supposed the explanation was a bit lost on the chemist. Gogo or Wasabi would have understood better.
“So,” said Hiro, holding up his tablet with a crystalline diagram. “How would you make a quartzite matrix crystallize like this?”
“That is not a quick question,” Honey Lemon complained, though judging by how she was eyeing the pattern, she wasn’t actually complaining. “Let’s go consult Wasabi; if this is possible, it’s going to need laser guided infra-structuring.”
“I don’t know what that means, but it sounds awesome,” said Hiro.
“What’s this for, anyway?” asked Honey Lemon.
“New battery for Baymax,” said Hiro.
“Of course it is,” said Honey Lemon. “Are you getting your homework done at least?”
“‘Course I am,” said Hiro. “I need to keep my lab space, don’t I?”
“Is that the only reason you’re doing your school work?” asked Honey Lemon.
“No,” Hiro muttered unconvincingly. “Besides, Baymax is school work.”
Honey Lemon sighed as she approached Wasabi, standing respectfully behind the yellow caution tape.
“Wasabi,” she said, “do you have a few minutes?”
“Sure,” said Wasabi, "especially if it brought this guy out of his lab."
"I'm not that bad," complained Hiro.
"You're totally that bad," said Wasabi. "Anyway, how can I help?"
"Show him the structure, Hiro," said Honey Lemon. "Could you help us make a quartz crystal like this with laser guided infra-structuring?"
"Sure," said Wasabi, “but could we do norellium instead? A lot of the same properties-”
“And a lot more stable!” Honey Lemon finished for him. "I was thinking the exact same thing!"
"Norellium?" asked Hiro, as he made a few adjustments to his tablet to show the new structure. "Oh, hey, you're right, that's ten times better."
"I've got just the gear you're looking for," said Wasabi, "with a little precision tweaking."
"And I can make the norellite solute," said Honey Lemon, "but we need to figure out the equations first."
"What are we working on, anyway?" asked Wasabi.
"I need it for a new battery for Baymax."
"You are way overachieving, little man," said Wasabi with exasperated fondness.
The three of them set to work ironing out the details. Perhaps an hour later, Gogo zoomed in on her newest version of her junior year project, a frictionless motorcycle. She walked over to examine what they were working on.
“So, you guys tell him about the museum heist?” she asked.
“Museum heist?” asked Hiro.
“Fred has a theory that the San Fransokyo Natural History Museum is going to be next in a string of rare gem robberies,” said Wasabi. “Their exhibit is moving tomorrow, so if there’s going to be a heist, it’s going to be tonight.”
“It’s a big place,” said Gogo, “it would help if we had you running overwatch.”
Hiro supposed that if he had time to make a new power source, he had time to run an op.
“Sure, but you get to make an excuse for my Aunt,” he said. “And can we finish our game plan on this thing before we talk robbery?”
“No problem,” said Honey Lemon. “We have time.”
"Wait," said Gogo after a minute of watching them work. "Are you making a quartzite reactor?"
"It's a battery," said Hiro.
"It reacts," said Gogo, "it's a reactor."
"Let's call it a battery," said Hiro. "Are they on the market? How much do they run for?” It would be a lot faster if he could just buy one, though the school hadn’t given him that big of a stipend for a first year project.
"They're theoretical," said Gogo.
"Wait, we're making a theoretical reactor?" asked Wasabi.
"Battery," said Hiro. "And it's perfectly stable."
"Theoretically," said Gogo.
"Anyway," said Hiro, "since you're here, I wanted to talk to you about a magnetic containment system."
"How is it stable if you need a containment system?" asked Wasabi.
"That's what makes it stable,” said Hiro.
“How safe is this exactly?” asked Honey Lemon.
“When do I ever do anything dangerous?” asked Hiro.
“You ask that like we’ve never met you before,” said Wasabi.
“Dude, ouch. Anyway, when have I ever built something that didn’t work how I wanted it to?”
“That’s fair,” said Gogo.
“So, anyway, you were saying about getting the oscillation just right,” Hiro directed towards Wasabi.
“Ooh! What are we working on?”
“Hello Fred,” said Honey Lemon.
“Hiro’s just making world changing tech again like it’s nothing special,” said Gogo.
“Yes! Tell me more.”
“Massive and long lasting energy source in a small compact unit,” said Hiro.
Fred got right up into Hiro’s personal space then, placing his hands on either side of Hiro’s face as he looked deep into Hiro’s eyes.
“Thank you!” he said with barely contained mirth.
“Thank you for what?” asked Hiro, with his lips squished together.
Fred bounced away from him in excitement. “Space travel, my man! Your fancy rockets plus your fancy Tesseract thingy, means you can travel the solar system easy.”
“That’s…maybe accurate, actually,” said Honey Lemon.
“Yes! I love science,” shouted Fred.
“Dude, I’m just making tech for Baymax,” said Hiro dismissively.
“You are way too single minded,” said Gogo.
“Am I the only person who misses him?” asked Hiro.
“Of course not,” said Wasabi. “But he’s not going anywhere. You’re allowed to take a minute to, say, think about how ridiculous this whole thing is.”
“Nothing’s ridiculous,” said Hiro. “Come on, let’s make a battery.”
“Ow?” said Hiro, hesitantly.
“I am Baymax, your personal healthcare companion. Hello Hiro.”
“Yes!” cried Hiro, leaping into a hug with Baymax.
“My scan indicates that your neurotransmitter levels are elevated. However you also appear to be: under-nourished.”
Hiro laughed. “Yeah, buddy. I may have skipped a few meals.”
“You are a growing boy, Hiro. Proper nutrition is crucial for proper physical development. Treatment includes: eating meals comprised of-” Baymax’s stomach screen lit up to show the food groups.
“I know, I know,” said Hiro, trying to head Baymax off before a big lecture. “How about you pick me a meal at the commons.”
“I am in agreement with this treatment plan,” said Baymax.
“You know, Baymax, I really missed you,” said Hiro.
“There, there,” said Baymax, scooping Hiro up into another hug. “It will be alright.”
They walked out of the lab together, and everyone was out there waiting.
“Baymax,” cried Honey Lemon. “You work!”
“Yes!” cried Fred. “Alright!”
“Good to see you, marshmallow man,” said Gogo.
“I am a robot,” said Baymax. “Or is this only an: expression?”
“Glad to see you, Baymax,” said Wasabi. “So now can we finally talk about electric-propulsion?”
“There is no time to talk,” said Baymax. “I must escort my patient to the: food court.”
“Oh, Hiro! How many meals have you missed?” asked Honey Lemon.
“I don’t know,” said Hiro with a shrug, as he let Baymax lead him off to the exit. “Come eat whatever meal this is with me. I can talk and eat at the same time. It’s a skill of mine.”
“Yeah,” said Gogo dryly, “we know.”
“You and Fred both,” said Wasabi.
“What can we say?” asked Fred. “It’s a talent.”
“It’s disgusting is what it is,” said Wasabi.
Baymax zigzagged across the school commons, scooping up just the right foods to complete a perfect meal for Hiro with the whole gang in pursuit.
“Alright,” said Gogo once they were sat down, “spill.”
“Did you ask Professor Snyder?” asked Hiro around a mouthful of chicken.
“We didn’t mention that you had already made them,” said Honey Lemon.
This was probably for the best, as they had been featured on Big Hero Red. Hiro was already making a note to pretend to discover them in the future. Honey Lemon went on.
“She said she think’s reactionless engines are possible, but probably at least fifteen years over the horizon.”
“Really?” asked Hiro skeptically. “I made them when I was nine. Rocket boots on Mochi. Classic.”
“And Tadashi never said anything about it?” asked Wasabi.
“Sure,” said Hiro. “He said, ‘Aah! Hiro, you almost set my hair on fire. What were you thinking?’ He wouldn’t listen when I said they wouldn’t have set his hair on fire. Come to think of it, I might not have had a chance to explain them to him, what with him chasing me around the cafe.”
Gogo face palmed. “You’ve been sitting on this tech for five years. You used it for a prank one time, and forgot about it?”
“That’s, yeah, that’s a fair assessment,” said Hiro. “So um, how important is this?”
Wasabi pointed to Fred who exclaimed. “Space travel dude!”
“What he said,” said Wasabi. “Fuel’s expensive and heavy. It’s the biggest limiter we have in space travel. You take it out of the equation, and you open a lot of doors.”
“Sweet!” said Hiro.
“Hiro,” said Honey Lemon, “you should make this your sophomore project, really perfect the tech.”
“Uh, first of all, it’s already perfect. And second, that’s not exactly robotics,” said Hiro. “I’m a robotics major. Well, I could make a robot that flies on them, but that’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?”
“Oh my god, you don’t even care that you’ve revolutionized everything,” said Wasabi.
“Well, I mean, yes, I’m awesome. And space travel is high on my list of awesome things. But I’m not switching majors. I’m taking a physics class next semester. There’s probably going to be a project I could use it for. Easy A!”
“You are literally the worst,” said Gogo.
“Oh,” said Hiro, “and we could all submit the norite battery at the next expo.”
“Reactor,” said Gogo.
“I keep telling you, you can’t call it norite,” said Honey Lemon, “they’ll think it’s the mafic intrusive igneous rock!”
“Just call it a quartzite reactor, that’s what all the literature calls it already.”
“You can’t call it that if it doesn’t have quartz!” complained Wasabi for the hundredth time. “And just so you know, half the people I’ve talked to about it think they’re impossible.”
“Really?” asked Hiro.
“You literally invented cold fusion!” Wasabi whisper-shouted at him.
“Anyway,” said Hiro. “Robotics major,” he said, pointing at himself with both thumbs, “going to keep robot-ing it up.”
“You are literally the worst,” said Gogo.
“That’s what makes me the best,” said Hiro.
“Look who’s home before dark!” cried a near ecstatic Aunt Cass.
“Hey, Aunt Cass,” said Hiro, a touch sheepishly. They had argued a lot recently about Hiro sleeping at the lab, with Aunt Cass finally putting her foot down on the subject. “I finished Baymax today,” he said as he pulled said robot into the cafe.
“Oh, yay!” said Aunt Cass, probably relieved before anything else that Hiro’s single minded obsession was now at an end. “I was about to start dinner, what are you feeling like tonight?”
“Hiro remains undernourished,” Baymax butted in. “Please observe these examples of nutritiously complete meals.” His stomach screen lit up again.
“Baymax!” cried Hiro, dashing his body across Baymax’s screen. He really needed to install some privacy settings on the robot.
“Hiro!” cried Aunt Cass. “How many meals have you been skipping?”
Hiro’s mouth made the vague sounds of the words, “I don’t know.”
“Honestly,” said Aunt Cass, “you would think you could feed yourself by now.”
“That’s what I got Baymax for now,” said Hiro.
“Your wit astounds me, Hiro. Now go clean up before dinner. You’re covered in lab grease. Baymax, maybe you could help me make one of those nutritionally complete meals.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘lab grease’,” Hiro groused over his shoulder as he made his way up the stairs.
He sighed as he got to his bedroom. It was silly, though he’d just been there last night, it kind of felt like ages since, instead.
Hiro ignored the wash room in favor of his computer. He probably had a few hundred emails to sort through. Moments later, he’d started up his browser, which opened to his home page. There was an email summary in one corner he was about to click on when a news headline scrolling on the bottom of the page caught his eye.
Hiro’s breath froze and his heart clenched. “No,” he choked out after a moment.
Hiro’s head darted to the side so he could look at one of the posters on the wall, a group shot of the Ares III crew, their names emblazoned beneath them, which stood next to a group shot of the Ares II crew, underneath a big diagram of the Hermes.
‘It can’t be,’ Hiro thought. The headline had scrolled away, so Hiro typed the words “mark watney dead” into the search bar.
A different headline popped up first, but it said the same thing.
“Astronaut Mark Watney Dead on Mars; Ares III Mission Scrubbed.”
The next headline said much the same thing, and the one after that, and the one after that.
It was some time later that his Aunt Cass found him sobbing in the corner.
“Oh, baby, Hiro, what’s wrong?” she asked, trying to get her arms around him.
“It’s nothing,” said Hiro, trying in vain to stop crying. He scrubbed at his face, but probably only made things worse.
“Of course it’s not nothing,” said Aunt Cass.
“It is,” said Hiro, trying to stand and move away. “Someone died, but I didn’t even know them. I don’t know why I’m crying.”
Aunt Cass finally got her arms around him. “Oh, sweetie, you’re allowed to cry for that. Who was it?”
“The astronaut, Watney,” said Hiro around a large glob of snot that was making its way down his throat.
“Oh no,” said Aunt Cass, who was leading Hiro over to his bed, sitting him down. “You guys were so excited for the launch.”
“That’s why it’s stupid,” said Hiro. “He’s a guy we saw on TV. I didn’t properly cry when Tadashi died, so why should I be crying now? I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He tried to stand up again but Aunt Cass gently held him back and turned his head to face her.
“Hiro Hamada, you listen to me,” she said. “When Tadashi died, it was the worst thing that had ever happened to you, and you didn’t know how to handle it, so you shut down instead. Crying now doesn’t mean you cared more about this astronaut. I’m glad you’re crying, it means your doing a lot better than you were a few months ago.”
Hiro sniffled as he finally leaned into her hug and tried to even out his breathing. “When did you get so smart about this stuff?”
“Well, I read a book or two after Tadashi died,” said Aunt Cass.
“You did?” asked Hiro.
“I was worried about you,” said Aunt Cass. “I didn’t know how to help you.”
“Oh,” said Hiro, hugging his aunt. He sniffed again. “It’s not fair though. They both just wanted to help make a better world.”
“I know,” said Aunt Cass, kissing the top of Hiro’s head. “I know.”
Aunt Cass eventually dragged Hiro down to dinner, and Hiro got another hug from Baymax, and life moved on. Hiro kept taking in the news on what had happened though. Some part of him just wanted to make sense of it all.
The SFIT College of Aerospace and Astrophysics held a nice little memorial on the day of the funeral, and Hiro attended. There were plaques in the ground in front of the building honoring all astronauts, regardless of nationality, who had died on missions, including large ones for the Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, and Soyuz 11 crews. On that day, they added a new one. It felt a little bit like closure, but Hiro still ignored everyone’s advice and downloaded the newly released satellite images that came out a couple days later, showing the Ares 3 site on Mars.
No sign of the body.
Hiro downloaded some imaging software and scrubbed the image to see if it had been digitally removed, but turned up nothing. If anyone had asked him, he wouldn’t have been able to say why he did it, but he reverse engineered the software, and made his own algorithm to search for manipulation. Again, he turned up nothing. All the news articles had said that the body would likely still be visible on Mars.
Hiro huffed. He was going to get to the bottom of this.
Ten Months Later
“Pathfinder?” asked Annie Montrose, NASA’s Head of Media Relations. “You mean that ancient probe? How can we be getting a signal from it?”
“That’s um, that’s kind of the problem,” said Venkat Kapoor, NASA’s Director of Mars Missions. “Bruce?” he prompted the man on the television screen, Bruce Ng, live from JPL in Pasadena, California.
“The signal came in four days ago at about 2:00 AM our time. SETI picked it up, and clued us in. Of course, we weren’t really ready for it. But we’ve just managed to send the triangulation signal back to it. And, well, it’s moved.”
“You mean, the rover’s moved,” said Annie. She looked over to the corner where Mitch Henderson, the Ares III Mission Director, was stewing quietly. She did not want to know why he was there.
“No, the whole probe’s moved,” said Bruce. “It’s in Acidalia Planetia now. It’s not exactly a short trip.”
Annie looked between Bruce and Venkat. “Shut the fuck up.”
“Annie,” said Teddy Sanders, Director of NASA, “this is a serious situation.”
“I know it’s a serious situation, if you’re telling me what I think you’re telling me. Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Show her the satellite imagery,” said Teddy.
Venkat called the image up, cutting Bruce’s screen in half. There was the Ares 3 site. One section near the HAB was circled, and Annie could just make out the vague shape of the Pathfinder probe. But what really caught the eye was the big word spelled out with boulders.
“Are you shitting me?! Is there any way that he’s not going to starve to death?”
“We’re working on that,” said Teddy. “We’ve got people scouring for a rocket we can appropriate, and everyone at JPL who isn’t working on getting in full contact with Pathfinder is working on developing a resupply probe. Everything that we can be doing, we’re doing. And we need you to get ahead of this, so we can start moving the resources we need.”
“This is a shitstorm and a half, you realize that,” said Annie.
“Of course we realize it, that’s why you’re here,” said Teddy.
“I mean, there’s no good way to tell the world, hey, you remember that astronaut who died almost a year ago? Turns out he’s still starving to death on Mars. Because we left him there. And we didn’t figure it out until now.”
“You’re the queen of spin, Annie,” said Teddy. “And if there’s any way for us to pull a rescue out of our asses, then we’re going to need public support, which is why we need you to manage the public.”
“Okay, well, first of all, who knew before we did?”
“Annie, no one knew,” said Venkat.
“Can I get back to work?” asked Bruce.
“Keep in touch,” said Teddy, “if you need something, assume I said yes.” He terminated the connection.
“I’m not saying someone here knew already,” said Annie. “But someone always knows first. Some obsessed nut on the internet probably figured it out ages ago.” She typed furiously into her phone.
“I think we would have heard about it if-.”
“Found it,” said Annie. “watney-survived-sol-6.com, look, they even have their own failed whitehouse.gov petition. 87 signatures asking us to look more closely at the Ares III sight. Let’s look at their reasoning. Okay, no body, the obvious one. The rover was moved. Solar cells cleaned. How did we miss this?”
“We weren’t looking for it,” said Venkat.
“I need to do damage control,” said Annie. She walked over to the conference phone and dialed an extension.
“Selena, drop everything. I need to know if we’ve had any communication in the last year from a Mr…” she checked her phone. “Holy shit, Hiro Hamada. Make that any communication that I wouldn’t already know about. I need it yesterday.” She hung up.
“Not our Hiro Hamada,” said Teddy dubiously.
Annie did some quick searching before saying, “Definitely our Hiro Hamada.”
“Who’s our Hiro Hamada?” asked Venkat.
“The SFIT kid?” Mitch finally spoke up from his corner.
“For the second time today, I do not like where this is going,” said Annie.
“He’s this fourteen year old kid at SFIT we’re helping to build a space ship,” said Teddy. “He won the Oberfeld Grant. How do you not know about this?”
“You know I don’t read the newsletter. And what do you mean, we’re helping him build a spaceship?”
“It’s a concept project. Supposing someone builds a reactionless engine and a quartzite reactor someday, this little ship would be able to fly around the solar system like it was nothing.”
“That technology’s a pipe dream,” said Venkat. “The engine’s been ten years on the horizon for the last three decades. Doubt the reactor’s even possible.”
“Sure,” said Annie, “but it’s been great PR.”
“There’s actually been some speculation that Big Hero Red flies around on reactionless engines,” said Teddy. “Said so to the kid myself when I met him. And the work he’s putting into this is actually making some of our people sit up and take notice.”
“Ugh, now your shitting me again,” said Annie. “So this kid from Big Hero 6’s back yard, who thinks Mark Watney’s still alive came to us and said, hey, help me build a space ship based on technology that may never work, but maybe it already does, and no one noticed?”
Mitch frowned and walked to the conference phone and typed in another extension.
“Hey, Silberman,” he said.
“Mitch, what can I do for you?”
“You remember when we gave the SFIT kid a tour, and you helped him plot out a course for that ship for him. What were the details?”
“Oh yeah, that kid was awesome. He’d done his own calculations before checking them against the supercomputer. They were damned close.”
“What was the course?” asked Mitch.
“From here to a Mars landing, and back,” said Silberman.
Teddy threw his hands silently into the air.
“Okay, Silberman, I’ve got a call waiting, send me the specifics ASAP, would you?”
Mitch switched to the other line. It was Selena.
“Annie, I’ve got that information you wanted…I’m guessing I shouldn’t be talking about this with anyone else, should I.”
“You guessed right, what did you find?” asked Annie.
“Five phone calls, ten emails, and three hand written letters, all basically saying, “wake up, people, Watney’s alive on Mars.”
“That’s par for the fucking course. What were our responses?”
“Various shades of, ‘Thank you for your interest. We have all been saddened by the loss of Astronaut Mark Watney. We know it is difficult in times of mourning yada yada yada.’ You get the picture.”
“I need a list of everyone responsible for those communications,” said Annie.
“Already on it,” said Selena.
“I’m glad I’ve got one competent person under me,” said Annie.
“Annie?” asked Selena. “Is he still…still alive?”
Annie paused. “Get back to me with that list as soon as you can,” she said finally. “And find out who cleared him for the Oberfeld Grant.”
“I mean, it’s not great,” said Venkat once the call ended. “But it’s not like he’s got a functioning space craft, right?”
“No,” said Teddy, “it’s a three year project. He’s been breezing through deadlines like they were nothing but-.”
“Think again,” said Annie.
“What?” asked Teddy.
“Venk isn’t the only one who needs to read the newsletter. Don’t forget, you gave this kid a lot of lee-way with resources. I know, it’s all been great PR. But he’s not been using those resources to ‘breeze right through’ the deadlines, he’s been using them to build a rocket, and shoot to the finish line.”
“How close is he?” asked Teddy.
“He called my office two weeks ago. He expects to have a finished product by the end of the month. He wanted to know if we were still going to send out a couple of engineers to look it over and give it their seal of approval.”
“It’s the 25th,” said Mitch. “Are you telling me he might have it finished already?”
“Just because he’s built something that resembles a space ship doesn’t mean he has the critical components to make it work,” said Venkat.
“I’m starting to think he had them before he even applied,” said Teddy.
“Damn,” said Mitch, looking at his phone.
“What have you got?” asked Teddy.
Mitch held up the brief that Silberman had just sent him. “We’re right in the middle of his ‘hypothetical’ launch window.”
Teddy massaged his temples before calling his secretary.
“Linda, I need to get the Dean of SFIT on the phone right now,” he said.
“Director Sanders, it’s still 5:00 AM in California,” said Linda.
“Right, then get me San Fransokyo PD on the line.”
“Right away,” said Linda.
“This kid is officially grounded,” said Teddy.
Hiro yawned as he he walked to his project site. It was way too early, but he was basically done with the ship, and there were a few things he wanted to tweak before he brought in the NASA engineers. He needed them to give it a green light on the first go around. He was running out of time.
“Hiro,” said Baymax, “you have not had enough rest. I recommend you take a midday nap to better maintain your health and focus.”
“Sure thing, buddy,” said Hiro. “Just let me know when a good time for it is.”
Hiro had actually been following Baymax’s advice pretty regularly. Not because he had suddenly become a health nut, but because he knew that all of the adults involved in his life would be looking for any excuse to put the breaks on his project, and he couldn’t let that happen. So he went to his classes, he did his homework, he ate every meal, and he slept nearly nine hours a day, going so far as to let Baymax manage his circadian rhythm. Sometimes, he even let Baymax talk him into doing something fun. Sometimes he flew with Big Hero 6.
It felt like he was moving painfully slow though, and his best calculations of how long Watney could survive with the food he had suggested he needed to launch sooner, rather than later. But if Aunt Cass, or his advisor had decided that Hiro was doing too much, then they would have put a stop to everything, and Hiro couldn’t allow that.
“What the?” Hiro asked abruptly, as he noticed campus policemen posted at the building entrance.
Hiro decided to just try to walk past them like he was supposed to be there. After all, he was supposed to be there.
“Hold up, kid,” said the policeman on the left.
“What’s up?” asked Hiro, trying to be nonchalant.
“We can’t let anyone in,” he said. “The building’s on lock-down.”
“How come?” asked Hiro.
“Don’t know,” said the policeman. “We have orders not to let anyone have access to the spaceship project inside.”
“But, that’s my project,” said Hiro. “They probably meant everybody except me.”
“Well, they said everybody, so we’re keeping everybody out.”
“Who’s giving these orders?” asked Hiro. “Maybe I can straighten things out with them?”
“Well, it’s the Director of NASA,” said the policeman on the right. “So if you have him on speed dial, be our guest.”
“The Director of NASA?” Hiro said dubiously. “Are you guys sure you’re not being punked?” Internally he was freaking out. What had he done wrong?
“Yes,” said the policeman on the right. “We’re sure. Now beat it, kid.”
Hiro huffed in frustration. This could not be happening.
Who was he kidding, this was what he had been afraid of happening the whole time. His phone started ringing. He winced when he saw who the call was from.
“Director Sanders,” he said with as much good cheer as he could muster. “Hey! What’s got you calling all of a sudden. Is this about having those engineers come to look at my ship.”
“No, I actually wanted to discuss something else with you. Can you talk right now?”
“Um, I don’t think I can, actually,” said Hiro. “I’m helping my aunt in the cafe, and she’s just got a huge order in.”
“Well Hiro, the thing is, I wanted to talk to you about this website of yours.”
Hiro winced, and ground his knuckles into his scalp in frustration. He knew he shouldn’t have put the website back up!
“Oh, that old thing?” asked Hiro. “I should have taken it down ages ago. You know, I was just really upset when everything happened. Had a hard time accepting it.”
“Really?” asked Teddy.
“Yeah,” said Hiro. “Anyway, I’ll pull the website, and we can talk more…later. Got to go, bye.”
He hung up the phone.
“Are you okay, Hiro? You appear to be in: distress.”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” said Hiro after a minute. “Hey, I need you to call up the rest of the team.”
“I knew it! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!”
“Okay, Gogo, we all agree that you knew it. And I mean, for the record, can we all agree that none of us really believed that I was actually planning to key NASA in to everything in the first place?”
“Yeah, sure,” said Wasabi. “We were hoping you would come to your senses.”
“Look, it’s not that I don’t know it’s crazy, it’s just, I think he’s alive. And if he’s alive, then he’s starving to death.”
“Okay, fine,” said Gogo, “but the jig is up. They’ve got your ship on lock-down.”
“They think they do,” said Hiro, “but Baymax scanned the building. All the police are on the outside. No one has eyes on my ship. No one’s guarding the roof. I only need three hours to prep for launch.”
“Is this a joke?” asked Gogo. “Don’t tell me your plan wasn’t to wait for the NASA egg heads to give it a twice over.”
“Plans change. I think we can agree, that’s never going to happen now.”
Honey Lemon got a notification on her phone.
“Even if he was still alive then,” said Wasabi, “how do we know he’s still alive now?”
“I’m not ready to give up on him,” said Hiro.
“Um, guys,” said Honey Lemon. “He’s alive.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Gogo.
“At least,” said Honey Lemon, turning her phone towards them, “he was alive three days ago when he sent a signal from the Pathfinder probe.” And there on her phone screen was a picture of the Ares III site, the word ALIVE in place of prominence.
“No way!” said Fred. “He did not recover an ancient Martian probe to reestablish contact. That is sick!”
“Guys,” said Hiro, “I’m doing this. I need to get in there and finish everything. And if I’m going to get everything done before they get someone competent to lock it down, then I need your help.”
“I’m in,” said Fred, “let’s go to Mars!”
“Would you keep it down?” asked Hiro. “There’s no us in Mars. It’s Baymax and me. Getting me off the planet, that’s a covert Big Hero 6 mission. I don’t want the team getting any flack from this. I’m going to Mars as Hiro Hamada, not Big Hero Purple. There’s no real way around that. And it’s all kind of illegal. I’m a juvenile, I’ll get a slap on the wrist. I can’t say the same about you guys.”
“You don’t need to do this,” said Gogo.
“Someone needs to help,” said Hiro. “And I’m the only one who can.”
“But NASA knows he’s alive now,” said Honey Lemon. “They could run a rescue mission with an actual astronaut.”
“The only thing that can get to Mars in time is my ship,” said Hiro. “And NASA is never going to send astronauts in untested technology built by a college kid.”
“They could remote control it, couldn’t they? Send it to Mars on it’s own, and have it pick Watney up?” asked Wasabi.
“Yeah, and if they rushed it, maybe they could finish modifications in two or three weeks. By my calculations, he’s starving now. It has to be me. It has to be now.”
“I don’t know how he could get to the Pathfinder probe, bring it back, and set it up, if he’s already starving,” said Honey Lemon. “He might actually have the time. And if we wait, then NASA can get in contact with him properly, and find out what his exact situation is.”
“If I was him,” said Gogo, “and I was all alone, and starving to death. I think I’d muster the strength to get the probe. I’d want the world to know I was there. I’d want to get the chance to say goodbye. If we wait, Hiro loses his chance to mount a rescue. He’s right about everything. It’s now or never. Someone has to help.”
If they had a motto, then that was it.
“Alright,” said Hiro. “Gogo, I’m going to need some help from you to infiltrate. Wasabi, Honey Lemon, here’s the provisions I still need. I need them prepped with the rest and ready to go on the roof of the robotics lab. Whatever you guys do, don’t get caught, okay.”
“What do you need from me?” asked Fred.
Hiro grinned. “I’ve got a special order in place. I need it packed with dry ice in this container.”
“You can count on me,” said Fred, giving a salute.
“Let’s do this,” said Hiro.
Baymax flew Gogo and Hiro over to the roof of the special-projects hall. By this point, Hiro had claimed most of the floor space. There was a retractable roof, for taking large projects out by crane, but they weren’t ready to use it just yet. Gogo helped him through the rooftop security and in through a large sky light. Hiro set up quickly, and with help from Gogo, he set about putting in the finishing touches. He had Gogo install the engines, while he installed the Quartzite Battery, and gave everything a twice over. He hoped that it boded well that he couldn’t find anything to tweak or change that he hadn’t already planned on. Everything was running perfectly.
Baymax flew Gogo back, while Hiro started going through pre-flight checks. Soon, Baymax would be returning with the provisions that Hiro had set the rest of the team on. Mostly food. Hiro was just glad that he had already filled the water tanks. One less thing to worry about.
Eventually, just Baymax returned with his large load of provisions. Together, they set about storing everything in place.
“Alright, Baymax,” said Hiro. “One last thing. Come here.”
Baymax, dressed up in his armor, walked up to Hiro, who stood on tip-toes to tap on the access port.
“Time for an upgrade, buddy,” said Hiro, removing the green healthcare chip and the quartzite battery. In the chip's place, he put another. It was a simple program, which would send Baymax back to his old charging station. Once his friends got his armor off of him, he would deflate and go into storage. Meanwhile, the actual Baymax would be with Hiro, in a new body.
Hiro placed the chip and battery to one side while he changed into his flight suit. He had resisted the urge to give it and his EVA suit black and purple accents. The point was to not conflate himself with Big Hero 6 by doing this. Once he was in, Hiro picked up Baymax’s chip and battery and loaded them into the new body, which had it’s own berth station in the ship.
Gone was the inflatable body, though Hiro had tried to keep the huggable aesthetics. Still, Hiro didn’t want Baymax to pop in the event of sudden decompression. This version was specifically designed to work in space or on Mars.
“Hey guys,” said Hiro into his radio, “I’m ready to go.”
“You know,” said Wasabi, “you can back out if you want to.”
“I know,” said Hiro. “But at the same time, I can’t, you know?”
“We know, Hiro,” said Gogo. “You wouldn’t be you if you did.”
“So um, I’ve got the patent applications all ready in my top drawer. Could one of you guys file those for us.”
“Sure thing,” said Honey Lemon.
“And um,” said Hiro. “And if I don’t come back, I’ve got back-ups of Baymax’s base programming. Everything’s basically ready for development. Fred. I know you try to act like you haven’t been raised to run your father’s businesses, but we all know you have. I want you to do right by Baymax.”
“Will do, buddy,” said Fred.
“Wasabi, please forward all schematics to NASA ground control,” said Hiro. Ironic, that NASA had been so hard to contact when Hiro was trying to tell them Mark was alive, and now so easy after Hiro had been given such access.
“Oh thank god,” said Wasabi. “I was afraid you were going to go it alone.”
“I’m crazy, not stupid,” said Hiro. “And um, keep Aunt Cass company, you know, while I’m gone.”
“Will do,” said Gogo. “Just make sure you come back. You know I don’t do sentiment.”
“I know,” said Hiro. He took a deep breath. “I’m opening the roof now,” he said walking over to the wall unit that controlled the roof. There was basically no security other than a key lock to keep it from being used. Hiro had already bypassed the lock. All it took was the pull of a lever, and the roof began to open.
There was a padlock waiting underneath the unit, and Hiro locked it in place to keep the lever from being moved out of position. With that done, Hiro ran to the ship. Surely, the police wouldn’t just stay outside while the roof was opening, so Hiro needed to be inside now.
“All systems are green,” said Hiro, buckling himself into place. His heart was pounding, his breathing hard.
“You all set there buddy?” asked Hiro.
“I am still processing this new body,” said Baymax.
“Well,” said Hiro, “you’re going to need to process on the ride up, because we’re leaving. Your scanner still showing no structural instability?”
“All aspects of the ship are within your parameters,” said Baymax.
“Great,” said Hiro.
The roof suddenly stopped retracting, and the building lights went out. Someone had been smart enough to cut the power. But it didn’t matter, the roof was open wide enough already.
“If anyone’s out there,” Hiro called out into the ship’s external speaker, “stand back. This ship is launching in 3…2…1…LAUNCH!”
Hiro pressed the button that he had for some reason labeled ‘ignition.’ There was no ignition though, just the sudden presence of thrust.
Astronauts tended to launch into space with about 3 g’s of acceleration. But they were in a hurry because they needed to reach escape velocity with their limited amount of fuel. Hiro had no such restriction, so he had settled on a more bearable 2 g’s to get into space. Rapid acceleration wasn’t needed when you had near limitless thrust, and it wasn’t like Hiro had an astronaut’s body. He was still scrawny at fifteen.
Two g’s still took some getting used to, though he had pulled about the same in the vomit comet a few months ago and on Baymax besides.
Hiro didn’t realize he was whooping with joy until he had screamed himself hoarse.
“Are you okay?” asked someone, Hiro thought it was Wasabi.
“I’m great!” Hiro cried. “Ten out of ten. Would recommend.”
“How’s everything holding up?” asked Honey Lemon.
“Like a peach,” said Hiro. “Whatever that means.”
Hiro was launching in a westerly trajectory, keeping the majority of the launch over the Pacific ocean. Most launches were made on the East Coast, both so that they could gain a speed boost from the Earth’s rotation, and to stay over the Atlantic to avoid the potential for debris to fall onto population areas. Hiro didn’t have the option of launching from the East Coast, and he didn’t need the speed boost, so he flew west for safety’s sake.
Seven minutes into the launch, NASA finally got into contact with him.
“This is ground control to the prototype ship. You are advised to cease this launch, and land along the following flight plan.”
“Hiro Hamada in the prototype ship to ground control, be advised that I am not going to do that, though I do appreciate having you to hover over my shoulder.”
“Ground control to Hiro Hamada, we are not in the slightest bit prepared for this flight.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I know that I didn’t give you any warning,” said Hiro. “I’m patching you into my systems feed now.”
“We are being advised by legal that you are in violation of federal and international aviation code, and that your ship is owned in part by the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. You need to follow our flight plan, and land your craft promptly.”
“I’m hearing you, ground control,” said Hiro, “but I’m advising you that I’m not coming back without Mark Watney.” SFIT typically had only minimal intellectual rights to technology developed on the campus, but given the scale of their investment in Hiro’s ship, there was a much more conservative contract between them.
“That’s…admirable,” said Ground Control. “Our instructions remain as stated.”
“I’ll take them under advisement,” said Hiro. “In the meantime, how’s my launch looking from down there?”
“Again, we weren’t exactly ready for your flight, so we don’t have eyes on you. Radar shows you are rising steadily with stable acceleration in an appropriate flight path for space launch to Mars.”
“Great,” said Hiro, “that’s what my readouts are showing me too.”
A minute went by without any contact. Hiro figured they were trying to think of a way to talk him down that didn’t just involve wagging a finger at him.
“Ground control to Hiro Hamada, please be advised that North Korea is launching anti-aircraft missiles at you as you are approaching their airspace. We are forwarding you a new flight plan to land at these coordinates to help avoid these missiles.”
“What?!” screamed Hiro, seeing the incoming missiles on his scanner.
“This is why we file international launch plans well in advance of any launch,” said ground control. "Change course immediately.”
“Wait,” said Hiro.
“Missiles do not wait, change course immediately.”
“I’ve got this,” said Hiro.
“No you don’t.”
“Yes I do! Changing position. Firing meteorite deterrent in 3…2…1…NOW!”
The two missiles were really bearing down on him, but they had to be close for this to work. From the side of the ship, Hiro launched a rocket-powered high strength net, which caught the closest missile, and then slammed it into the second.
When asked later, Hiro would admit that he had neglected to realize that this would detonate both missiles in close proximity to his ship.
“Crap!” shouted Hiro as the explosion rocked his ship, and alarms started blaring.
“Ground control to Hiro Hamada, what is your status?”
“They knocked out three of my engines!” Hiro cried. The ship had zigged for a moment as the other three had adjusted for the loss. “Still accelerating at 1.5 g’s. I’m about to leave the atmosphere. I am approaching escape velocity.”
“What about the rest of the ship?” asked ground control.
“All systems remain green,” said Hiro. “No structural instability found.”
“We read the same,” said ground control. “Please hold for advice.”
“Hiro,” said Baymax, “please take deep breaths, you are starting to hyperventilate.”
“Right,” said Hiro. “Deep breaths.” He struggled to follow the advice. “That was sick, wasn’t it?”
“That is not the word that I would use to describe the situation,” said Baymax.
“Ground control to Hiro Hamada. Our assessment of the provided schematics indicate that you cannot land with only three engines. Are you in agreement with this assessment?”
“Yeah, I figured as much myself. I’ll admit, I planned for a lot, but I never planned for North Korea. This thing can’t land on Earth with half its engines out.”
“I am being advised to direct you to the International Space Station. Your VAL appears to meet their docking specifications.”
“Hey,” said Hiro, “I said that I can’t land on Earth. I can absolutely land on Mars with three engines.”
“Your ship has just taken damage. A landing on Mars is not advisable at this time.”
“I know,” said Hiro. “That’s why I’m going to go on a space walk before I make any decisions. I am cutting thrust now.”
The thing was, without constant thrust underneath him, Hiro was now weightless. He had been planning to make the trip with constant thrust, first towards Mars to accelerate, and then away from it to decelerate. It would be it’s own form of artificial gravity. Hiro just hoped he didn’t vomit onto his flight suit without it.
“Please be advised that you are not an astronaut, and you should remain inside of your vehicle.”
“You want me to dock with the ISS without knowing if there’s any hidden damage that could wreck the station on a failed docking?”
“Please hold for advice,” said ground control.
“Alright,” said Hiro. “But I’m getting ready for a space walk while you guys talk it out. By the way, what’s your name down there.”
“My name’s Hugh,” said ground control.
“Nice to meet you Hugh,” said Hiro. “You really saved my butt back there.”
“You have followed literally none of my directions.”
“Holding for advice,” said Hiro.
Hiro changed into his EVA suit and spent some time running diagnostics of his suit and the airlock. He clipped himself into the fifty foot tether.
“Hiro Hamada to ground control, I am ready for EVA.”
“Ground control to Hiro Hamada, be advised that ISS astronauts are fully capable of doing an EVA to assess airlock integrity.”
“I know,” said Hiro. “But I’m not ready to give up. Giving up means Mark Watney dies.”
“NASA’s every resource, that isn’t going to you right now, is going to bringing Mark Watney home.”
“Look, I know you guys have done the math already,” said Hiro. “There’s no way for you to get a resupply probe to him in time. I’m entering the airlock now.”
“We are reading your vitals and suit feed clearly. We have also achieved visual on your location.”
“Cycling,” said Hiro. “And make sure you get some cool pictures.” It took a full minute for the air to be pulled out of the somewhat cramped air lock. If Hiro ever made another space ship, he was making a bigger air lock with faster pumps. He would also include extra engines, because this was just ridiculous.
“Alright,” said Hiro. “Opening the exterior door now.”
“Be careful,” said Hugh.
“Always,” Hiro bluffed. “Oh. My. God!”
“What is it? Status report.”
“It’s…It’s the Earth. None of the picture’s I’ve seen…it’s incredible.”
Hiro could actually hear some chuckles from ground control. “Yeah, maybe take a minute,” said Hugh.
Hiro took a couple of minutes before reporting he was ready to go. He gave the gentlest of nudges, and flew out of the airlock, only just hanging on with his hand. “Woah. The vomit comet does not prepare you for that.”
“What is your status?”
“I’m alright,” said Hiro, “I just need to adjust how much force I use. I remain holding on to the ship, and I remain tethered to the ship. My suit is holding, my visor is clear, I have good mobility. I’m ready to move to the engines.”
“Nice and easy,” said Hugh. “Just the smallest of movements. Like you have all the time in the world.”
“Copy that,” said Hiro.
Just like he had said, Hiro moved from hand hold to hand hold, down and around to the bottom of the ship, before moving around from engine to engine.
“It looks like I lost engine four completely,” said Hiro. The wreckage of it was probably sinking somewhere in the Sea of Japan. “Engine three is just barely hanging on, and it looks pretty trashed. Engine five is clearly broken. I don’t know, I might be able to fix it later. I’m thinking, if I move engine one to where engine four was, it should even the load, and I’ll be able to fly straight without putting undo strain on the brackets.”
“Is the mounting and power supply at engine four intact enough to mount an engine there?” asked Hugh.
“The mounting, no. Power supply, yes. But I can pull the mounting to engine one and reposition it no problem. I have all the tools I need.”
“Have you observed any further damage?” asked Hugh.
“Negative,” said Hiro. “There’s some scuff marks, and a nasty looking scratch down the side, but I’m not seeing any damage done. I built her tough. I’ve got hyper spectral imaging though, so I’ll run detailed scans before I go back in.”
“How are you going to process hyper spectral scans in a timely manner?” asked Hugh.
“That’s what I have Baymax for. He computes in quantum.”
“Seriously?” asked Hugh.
“Seriously,” said Hiro, “Baymax is totally sick.”
Baymax finally butted in. “That is just an expression. I am a robot, and robots cannot actually get sick.”
“You got that right, buddy,” said Hiro. “Alright, I’m starting on removing the engine four mounting.”
“Be mindful of keeping track of all pieces,” said Hugh.
“Copy that,” said Hiro. He made sure to secure all of the screws into a pocket on his space suit. When the ruined mounting was free, Hiro clipped it onto his belt before moving over to engine one. Without the damage, this one was easier to remove. Hiro was really starting to get the hang of this whole weightlessness thing. He hadn’t even had to use the small thrusters on his suit yet.
“Both mountings are removed,” said Hiro. “Installing engine one in the engine four spot now.”
“Remember,” said Hugh, “slow and steady. Be mindful of the order of assembly. Check and double check your work at every step.”
“Copy that,” said Hiro. Fortunately, it was not a complex installation.
“Hiro Hamada to ground control,” said Hiro eventually. It had been about an hour since he had first stepped out into space. “Engine one is fully installed in engine four’s place. Engine two and engine six remain in place. I’m going to remove engine three for safe keeping, and engine five for possible repair.” It wouldn’t do for engine three to break off during landing and crash into something.
“Ground control to Hiro Hamada, we are in agreement with this course of action.”
It took another quarter of an hour to pull the other two engines. Hiro was a little surprised to find himself getting exhausted from the exertion. Space suits were not easy to move around in. He had only gotten an hour in the water tanks when he had toured NASA, and it had been poor preparation for this EVA.
“Hiro Hamada to ground control, I have completed all repairs and modifications. I am ready to assess for all structural damage. I remain on tether, and am prepared to release myself from the structure to get a good scan.”
“Ground control to Hiro Hamada. Again, we advise you to move with extreme caution. You do not need to move away from the structure at anything but a snail's pace.”
“Copy that,” said Hiro. “Pushing off now.”
Even with the tether, it was terrifying. It was very easy to imagine the tether snapping, and sending Hiro careening into the empty black of space. Even with his micro-thrusters, traditional gas powered ones, Hiro couldn’t shake the image from his head. But as he drifted out to the tether’s fullest extension, Hiro pulled the scanner from it’s mounting on his right arm and held it out to scan the ship.
“You getting this, Baymax?”
“I am receiving the information. I read no structural or systemic instability. Nor do I read any such instability from within here. I recommend though that you move to the opposite side of the ship to run another scan.” Due to all of the shielding, The scanner couldn't penetrate all the way through the hull of the ship, so it needed to be scanned inside and out.
“Alright, sounds terrifying, but I think I can do that.”
“Are you okay up there?” asked Hugh.
“Yeah,” said Hiro. “I’m ready to engage in-suit propulsion to move to the other side of the ship.”
“We advise against that,” said Hugh. “Please save those for emergencies and use manual maneuvering.”
“Er, copy that,” said Hiro. With smart flight functions in the suit, he thought it would actually be a lot easier than doing things manually, but he supposed he should actually listen to ground control a few times. With a subtle pull on his tether, Hiro glided back to the ship. Without too much trouble, he snagged a handhold and started making his way to the top of the ship, where he repeated the process. Eventually, he was ready to return to the ship.
“So as best as I can tell,” said Hiro, as he drifted out of the airlock and back into the ship. “I am well within all parameters for my mission to Mars.”
“Right,” said Hugh. “We still have to recommend diverting to ISS.”
“I figured you’d say that,” said Hiro. “I’m still going.”
“We figured you’d say that,” said Hugh, “so we brought in a ringer.”
“You what?” asked Hiro.
“Hiro Hamada! You march your butt back home right this instant!”
“Is this a prank?” asked Annie.
“You know this isn’t a prank,” said Teddy. “Please be serious.”
“What the actual fuck? How hard is it to keep a fifteen year old boy from launching a goddamn space ship?”
“Harder than the SFPD anticipated apparently,” said Teddy. It was just the two of them in the office. Venkat and Mitch were both off putting out fires. “No one actually put eyes on the ship itself.”
“So instead of preventing him from launching, we prompted him to launch rushed and early. Great. Why didn’t you just have them arrest him.”
“You know better than I what those headlines would have looked like,” said Teddy.
“Better than what we’re going to have now. This is insane.”
“Yes, well, hindsight being 20-20,” said Teddy. “Tell me how he got cleared for the Oberfeld grant without raising any red flags.”
“He took the site down before he applied,” said Annie. “The whitehouse.gov petition listed the website as the petition author, so it wasn’t directly tied to him. Hiro was probably feeling bold after he won the grant, and put it back up.
“Great,” said Teddy. “You know, say what you want, but he did try to get us to take care of the problem first. Though I’d like to think I would have actually listened at the meet and greet if he’d tried to tell me his wild theory about Watney.”
“Sure, whatever. Anyway, what people are going to want to know is, can this kid pull this off,” said Annie.
“Apparently, he’s actually got a shot,” said Teddy. “His ship is holding strong. The engine’s work. The power source works. Assuming nothing catastrophically fails, he’s got a space worthy vessel. Whether or not it can affect a Martian landing and launch again remains to be seen, but hypothetically, there’s no reason it couldn’t.”
“Huh,” said Annie. “Well, I need to go talk to the press. If they go for blood, make sure someone comes in to rescue me.”
“Don’t you ‘hey Aunt Cass’ me,” said Aunt Cass, sounding unusually severe. “What on Earth were you thinking?”
“I love you Aunt Cass,” said Hiro.
“That is not an answer!”
“I know,” said Hiro, his hand moving to run his fingers through his hair, before colliding with the helmet he was still wearing. He took it off. He had not been expecting them to patch his aunt through. At least not so soon. “Hey, um, they’re probably about to tell you that I’ve started accelerating again. Towards Mars. And it’s just because, well, I figure it’ll be easier to keep going if I’m already on my way.”
“Why are you doing this?” demanded his Aunt.
“Same reason Tadashi built Baymax,” said Hiro. “He wanted to help people.”
“No,” said Aunt Cass, “you mean the same reason Tadashi ran into a BURNING BUILDING.”
Hiro’s breath caught at that, and it took him a moment to reply. “Yeah,” he admitted. “You know what he said to me, he said, ‘Someone has to help.’ And um, I’ve kind of been trying to live by that, you know? And besides, when Tadashi, when he did what he did, he wasn’t prepared. He didn’t have protective gear, or a plan. I’ve spent every moment for the last year planning this. I’m sorry, Aunt Cass, but I’m doing this.”
“Dammit, Hiro, we’re the only family we have left!”
“I know,” said Hiro. “That’s why I’m going to do everything I can to come back to you.”
“Everything means coming back now, Hiro.”
“Yeah, you got me there. Alright, I’m going to do everything to come home, and make my best efforts to bring Watney home too. I just, I’m not going to compromise on that.”
“Why? Why couldn’t you have just kept bot-fighting?” asked Aunt Cass.
“I…yeah,” said Hiro. “Tadashi would be graduating this year if I had kept bot-fighting.
“…That’s not what I meant,” said Aunt Cass.
“I know,” said Hiro. “Look, everything that’s happened this last year and a half, it’s because Tadashi inspired me to do more. And he’d be alive right now if he hadn’t. There’s times I think about that, and I want to throw it all away. But doing that, it wouldn't bring him back. I'd just be throwing away my greatest connection to who he was, and who I want to be. So I can't. I'm sorry, I know that this is the hardest on you. And I love you so so much. But I'm doing this."
"Just come home," said Aunt Cass, she sounded like she was crying.
"I will," said Hiro. "And I'm not going to be stupid about this. If I need to abort, I'll abort. But I'm going to give this my best effort."
"You always do," said Aunt Cass.
"And um, check in with my friends, would you? They're probably freaking out too, now.”
A/N: So this idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d thought at first that maybe someone would have already written it, but I couldn’t find any other Martian/BH6 x-overs at the time. Sorry HW fans, but I’m getting right back to it.
You should know that I’ve played around with the timeline of the Martian to suit my needs. For instance, in the novel, they take pictures of Acidalia Planetia after more time had passed, and there was a lot more to indicate that things had changed and Mark was alive. Also, I’ve shrunk the amount of time Mark would have been able to survive on just the rations he was sent with to ten months.
Hiro’s explanation of reactionless engines was pulled directly from Wikipedia. There’s people who think they’ve invented actual reactionless engines, but I don’t think anything’s actually been fully confirmed.
There’s no such thing as a quartzite reactor. Norellium is a fictional mineral (I originally called it nitrium, but my beta pointed out it’s an old school name for sodium, and made up the replacement). I made up laser guided infra-structuring.
Chapter 2: Part II
Mark is still not sure he hasn't lost his mind.
"OH YEAH!" Mark crowed as he punched his arms in the air as best he could in the confines of his space suit.
Pathfinder had finally, after four days of waiting, oriented itself to Earth. And then there had been nothing for four more days. Mark had known exactly what that had meant right away. They had been able to send a triangulation signal, but nothing else. It meant they hadn't been ready to communicate with him, because they hadn't been watching him, because they had no idea he was alive. That meant there was no rescue mission in the works, no resupply on its way. NASA had only just started working on the problem that was Mark Watney, and they probably figured he was weeks, if not days from starvation, because they had no idea he had been using his mad botany powers to grow potatoes on Mars.
But now, NASA had their ducks in a row, and were properly communicating with Pathfinder. Mark was ready for them. The first thing they would see, in about twelve minutes, was his first message home in nearly a year, other than his giant rock message.
Growing potatoes, not starving. Spell with ASCII. 0–F at 21-degree increments. When message done, return to this position. Wait 20 minutes after completion to take picture (so I can write and post reply). Repeat process at top of every hour.
Below that, he had a crude diagram of the set-up he'd created for communication.
Of course, NASA didn't have to wait to receive the first image to start getting more, and the camera started panning around to take in its surroundings. About five minutes later, the camera came to rest on Mark's reply post, where he had a new message waiting.
Will need resupply by Sol 900.
With that, he waited, hoping that the camera was actually working, because otherwise he was screwed. Twenty-four minutes went by. Pathfinder panned a little to the left, a little to the right. It did that a few times before coming back to neutral. Mark took that to mean 'stand by'. Unless it meant, 'we're not reading you'... They were probably working out the details of his hexadecimal system though. Mark took it as permission to post his third prepared sign.
Crew had reason to think me dead. Not their fault.
Twenty-four minutes later, the camera wagged back and forth again. Mark put up his next sign.
I am in reasonably good condition. HAB is in good condition. I am planning possible journey to Area IV site.
Twenty-two minutes later, the camera did not wag, it started pointing to numbers around the circle.
Mark didn't have anything that would write in the near vacuum of Mars, so he drew the digit pairs into the dirt until the camera moved back to the neutral position. Mark took a picture of his scribbles and headed back into the HAB.
In spite of being ready for this, Mark didn't know the hexadecimal alphabet by heart, so it took him a few minutes to translate.
Mark pulled out a new piece of paper and wrote, 'Expect company?!?!'
He was pulling on his helmet to go back outside with his message, when he heard it, a voice.
"Hello, is anyone there? I've got a pizza delivery for: I.C. Weiner.” He felt a chill go down his spine.
"I know, it's a terrible joke," said the youthful voice. “But I mean, it’s really cold down there.” Terrible or not, the boy was laughing uproariously.
"What the actual fuck?" asked Mark. Was this it? Had he finally gone mad?
"I know, I just blew your mind, huh?"
"Is this...is this a prank?"
"No, this is actually a pizza delivery. And haven't you noticed by now that we're speaking in real time?"
"Holy shit. We're speaking in real time. How in the hell? Wait, say 5, 4... 9, 6, 8... banana."
"5, 4, 9, 6, 8, banana. Real time!"
"You're the company I'm supposed to be expecting?"
"What?! They told you? Oh man, I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Well color me fucking surprised, I have no idea what's going on."
"Rescue mission, dude. And a pizza delivery. Anyway, I need to sign off, I'm about to make my final approach. But, dude!”
“What?” asked Mark.
“You’re flipping alive!”
"Seriously, what the hell is going on?"
Mark went outside and posted a new message.
What the hell is going on?!?!?!?!
Thirty-four minutes of nothing later, twenty-two minutes after the top of the hour, the camera started moving again. Mark dutifully took down the message, and went inside to translate it.
It took him a moment to parse out: Rescue mission. Mark needed to turn on the HAB’s locator transponder. Hiro has a message from Venkat Kapoor. Hiro, presumably being the ten year old boy who had been on the radio. He didn’t need to do anything about the transponder, which was kept on for his rover expeditions.
Mark keyed up his voice log, because he needed to talk to someone, and the rest of the universe had apparently turned upside down since he had been left on Mars.
"Okay, so as far as I see it, there are three possibilities: First, that I was wrong, and NASA has had a rescue mission in the works since day one, somehow, and the astronaut only just sounds young as hell, and is twice as juvenile as Martinez, who was previously the most juvenile astronaut I’ve ever met. Second, I've gone completely mad, and have been hallucinating this entire thing. Third, some punk kid on Earth intercepted the Pathfinder signal, and decided to invent FTL communications just to mess with me. Oh, or fourth, aliens.
"So, one and three should be impossible. NASA doesn't have anything that could have reached me already, and I'm still reasonably sure they didn't know I was alive until I turned on Pathfinder.
"Now don't get me wrong, I fully believe that a ten year old could and would punk me by intercepting the Pathfinder signal. But FTL communication makes some bullshit paradox, or so I’ve been told, so it’s probably impossible. Madness and aliens are both possible. But I don't know, I don't think aliens would come all this way to punk me. So, it's looking a little bleak for my sanity.” He sighed. “Maybe I just wanted a conversation too much.”
He sighed. He needed a response for pathfinder.
How is any of this possible?
He put his helmet back on and went outside to post it. Alright, so JPL didn't need to wait through the lag time, and could constantly take pictures, and he assumed they were, but the digital camera didn’t exactly come equipped with a shutter sound so he wouldn't know how often they actually were taking pictures, or when they would actually receive his most recent message. Either way, he had at least nineteen minutes to wait before they would expect him to be ready for a message from JPL. He went back into the HAB so he could massage his temples. That seemed to be a thing to do when one was doubting his sanity. He paced about in the farm-dirt while he was at it.
There was still a part of him trying to wrap his mind around the idea of rescue, but it still seemed entirely impossible. Rescue, if it came, was well over three years from now, not today. Maybe he could expect a resupply probe soon, if NASA had been aware of the problem from the beginning, but not rescue.
That was when something big and round pressed into the side of the HAB canvas. Mark would deny later that he had screamed like a little girl.
“Hey Mr. Watney, I’ve got that pizza you ordered,” said the voice.
“I did not order a pizza!”
Aliens. It was aliens.
“Well, you got me there. Can I come in anyway? I’m going over to the airlock.”
Mark decided now would be a good time to put on his his helmet. Who knew what would be trying to come in.
“Why do you want to come in?” asked Mark.
“Because…um, well I actually do have a pizza, and we can’t exactly eat it out here.”
“Huh,” said Mark. There wasn’t anything he could do to keep the kid(alien?) out, other than by opening all three interior doors before the kid could get into one of them. Only one door could be open at a time, but otherwise the airlocks didn’t lock, and could be accessed from either side with impunity.
“Cool,” said the kid. Alien. Thing.
“Hold up,” said Mark when he saw from across the room that the outer door of airlock two had opened.
“What is it?” asked the kid.
“What’s your name?”
“Oh, right, forgot my manners. I’m Hiro Hamada. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Watney.”
“Likewise,” said Mark as, well, he couldn’t see anyone in the airlock from where he was (he wasn’t really a ten year old, was he?), but he could see the exterior door close, and heard it start cycling in air. Ten seconds later, it was done.
“I’m so embarrassed,” said the short kid as he walked in. “My airlock’s so much slower. Hey,” he said, holding out his hand in greeting. In his other hand, he held a flat square box. “Bet you thought I was lying about the pizza.”
Mark shook his hand in a daze.
“Well, I was actually lying. This is a flat bread, my aunt’s famous for it. Some sort of fancy cheese, and fancy ham, and caramelized onions. It’s frozen of course, but you’ve got a microwave, and I’ve got one of those Digiorno microwave crisper things, so we should be good…Oh hey, what are you growing?”
“Potatoes,” Mark found himself saying.
“Dude sweet,” said Hiro the total hallucination.
“How old- What the fuck is that?!”
“Woah, chill, it’s Baymax.”
Baymax had just entered the airlock, and it was more than tall enough to be seen through the small high window on the airlock door. It was holding a big box.
“I am Baymax,” said a gentle voice in Mark’s radio. “Your personal healthcare companion.”
“He’s a teddybear,” said Hiro. “Hey, it’s safe to take our helmets off, right? Why are we wearing helmets?”
“Uh, yeah, you can take your helmet off,” said Mark.
The kid frowned at him, as though expecting some sort of trap. He checked a readout on his arm. It seemed to check out, because he undid the latches on his helmet as the airlock door opened to let in the Baymax.
“You can put that down on the table there, Baymax,” said the kid, giving his helmet a twist. “Mind the plants.”
Mark could see the instant the smell hit the kid, as he gagged, and his eyes bulged. He rammed his helmet back on.
“What the hell?” he demanded. “Oh, god, it’s in the suit! It’s in the suit!”
“That’s the fertilizer,” said Mark. “You get used to it.”
“There is no getting used to that,” said Hiro, who started hacking, as though something had flown into the back of his throat.
“You appear to be in distress,” said Baymax.
“Yeah, I’m in distress, it smells like a sewer in here. We are not staying. Come on, I’ve got a microwave on the ship.”
“We cannot leave yet, Hiro,” said Baymax. “Hugh told us to remain in the HAB for two weeks before returning to the ship, in order to-”
“Hugh can go suck on a lemon,” said Hiro, hugging the flatbread close to his body as though someone might take it from him and open it in the foul HAB air. “Alright, alright. How long do you think I can go without taking off my helmet?”
“I do not detect any harmful toxins or pathogens in the air,” said Baymax.
“Hey, you have a message for me, right?” asked Mark.
“Oh yeah,” said Hiro. “Baymax, play the message.”
The robot’s white plastic chest lit up with a video, and the familiar face of Venkat Kapoor appeared.
“Mark, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you how amazed we all are back here on Earth. We don’t know how you’ve managed to retrieve and activate the Pathfinder probe, but know that we were all very surprised to receive a phantom signal from what we thought to be a lifeless planet. Know that we have worked tirelessly to find ways to help you since we learned of your survival. Fortunately for you, Hiro here beat us to the punch by about ten months. Believing you to be alive, he tricked us into helping him build a concept ship for SFIT, failing to mention that he had already invented the engines and power source that would make it work. He launched without any authorization, and has refused to come home without you. And while we are loathe to pin a rescue mission on the shoulders of a fifteen year old amateur astronaut, well, he’s likely your only hope of survival.
“Now, you may well be chomping at the bit to get yourself off of the planet, but do remember, Hiro has flown to you in an untested student-built ship, which is run by an experimental power source, and propelled by an experimental engine. We do not know what effects any of this may have had on his body, and so we would like you to wait for two weeks of assessment before approaching the vehicle for preflight checks and eventual launch.
“Hiro has a program that’s going to update the HAB software so that you can communicate with his ship, and through it to Earth. If all goes well, then I will expect to hear from you promptly.”
Mark finally took off his helmet. He caught the faint odor of the soil, but it was nothing to cry about. Of course, he’d had ample time to get used to it. He went and got a new pair of ear plugs.
“Stick ‘em in your nose,” he told the kid, holding them out.
“Eh,” said Hiro, “I guess.” He took in a deep gulping breath and pulled off his helmet again, sticking it under one arm, before ramming the ear plugs into his nostrils.
“That’s only a little better,” he said nasally.
“You get used to it,” said Mark. He poked the kid in the shoulder.
“I’m real,” said Hiro.
“You may poke me as well if you wish to ascertain my existence,” said Baymax.
“Er, I think I’ll pass,” said Mark.
“We’re really here,” said Hiro, “and we’re really here to take you home.”
“Okay,” said Mark finally. He grabbed the kid into a hug.
“Woah, alright,” said Hiro. “Nice to meet you too.”
Mark stepped back from the uncomfortable kid. “You are literally the first person I’ve talked to other than myself for the last ten months,” he said. “I…I wasn’t really ready…are you sure this is real?”
The robot suddenly hugged him from behind. “There, there,” he said. “It will be all right.”
“Robots hug now?” asked Mark.
“Baymax does,” said Hiro. “Baymax, meet your new patient.”
The robot took a step back, and Mark took a moment to take in the friendly looking robot.
“I will scan you now. Scan complete.”
“You appear to be: malnourished. I will help you in preparing healthful meals to meet your nutrition needs. Hiro, perhaps now would be a good time to start preparing the flatbread.”
“Fine,” the kid muttered, “we’ll eat this deliciousness in the fart-house.”
“I have also detected that you sustained a puncture wound to your abdomen, but this appears to have healed well, with no need for further intervention. I also detect high levels of adrenaline and cortisol, indicating that you are experiencing: stress. Treatments include: removing stressors from your life, hugs, long baths, and other relaxing activities. Would you like to learn how to meditate?”
“Um, no, I’m…I’m good.”
Mark decided it was time to get out of his suit. If they were going to communicate through the HAB equipment, then there was no need for him to keep it on. The kid watched the flatbread while Mark disassembled his suit.
“So…you’re fifteen,” said Mark.
“Yep,” said the kid. “Got into SFIT when I was fourteen. And then you died in the middle of my freshman year. But you weren’t dead, only no one else believed me when I told them. NASA kept sending me fill-in-the-blank letters when I tried to reach them.”
“So you built a space ship…”
“Yep,” said the kid. He grinned. “It’s really a crazy story.”
Two weeks after Mark Watney’s memorial service, Hiro went to his advisor’s office with a proposal.
“Do you have time, Professor Wilder?” asked Hiro.
“Sure thing,” said the Professor. “Have a seat. How are you doing? How’re classes?”
“Classes are going great,” said Hiro. “And I’m doing okay. I wanted to talk to you about my next project.”
“Hiro, you just finished your freshman year project four months early. Don’t you think you’re jumping the gun a little?”
“Well, I think it’s going to take more than one school year, so I want to start as soon as I can.”
Hiro took out his document tube and drew from it the blue-prints he had been working on. He laid them out flat on the desk, and he and the professor laid down various paperweights to keep them from rolling up again. Professor Wilder studied them.
“These look incredible,” he said.
“Thank you,” said Hiro.
“It’s a space ship though,” said Professor Wilder.
“Yeah,” said Hiro.
“We’re a robotics program,” said Professor Wilder.
“Yeah,” said Hiro.
“Hiro, is this you breaking up with me?”
“Yeah,” said Hiro.
“For the record, young man, this is not how you break up with someone.”
“Sorry,” said Hiro awkwardly.
Professor Wilder waved away his apology. “You’re fourteen years old in your freshman year of college. I’ve had thirty year old’s come in and change majors in the middle of their junior. Better now than later. Plus, I’m thinking you’ll come back once you get aerospace out of your system.”
“Er,” said Hiro.
“So tell me about it,” said Professor Wilder.
“Well,” said Hiro. “I got to thinking, after everything that happened. You know. I mean, I know it wouldn’t have done any good in this case. But imagine something goes wrong on Mars, and they need a rescue. But rescue’s years away. Because space travel is slow and expensive. But what if it wasn’t?”
Professor Wilder chuckled. “I suppose you’ve got the answer.”
“Reactionless engines remove fuel from the equation. Quartzite reactors provide a compact and robust power source. Together, they mean you could travel through the solar system and beyond with constant thrust. And I’m not talking little baby ion engine thrust here, I’m talking a cruising acceleration of 1.2 g’s. You could get to Mars in a few days.”
“And you’re proposing to make a ship with these technologies,” said Professor Wilder.
“Well, no,” lied Hiro. “They’re still hypothetical tech. But only a handful of people are working on them. I want to make the ship of tomorrow that’s going to use the tech, so people have something to look at, you know? The ship we’ll zoom around the solar system in, if they just figure out reactionless engines and quartzite reactors.”
“That’s a nice pitch,” said Professor Wilder. “Sounds way too expensive and overly technical, even if you’re planning to stretch this out through your senior year. But let’s go talk to Professor Webber.”
Professor Webber was the director of the SFIT College of Aerospace and Astrophysics. She was the one who had held the memorial for Mark Watney.
"Miles," she greeted Professor Wilder. "What brings you to my side of the campus?"
"I've got a student who's interested in your program. He's got a project he'd like to pitch. This is Hiro Hamada."
"Yes, we've met," said Professor Webber. "I didn't think I'd be tearing you away from the robotics program though."
"Well I still love robotics," said Hiro. "And maybe I could still minor in it. But I've been thinking a lot about the space program lately, and I'd really like to contribute my part to it, you know."
Hiro went through his spiel again, and Professor Webber smiled and nodded along.
"Tell me about these designs," she finally said when he was done.
"It's designed for short missions," said Hiro, "so it's got a compact build. Not a lot of room to move around in. It seats eight, but it's designed to be run by a crew of two."
"So it can be used as a rescue craft," supplied Professor Webber.
"Right," said Hiro. "Now, it's designed for constant acceleration, so I've designed it with the expectation of artificial gravity in mind, with allowances for zero g at need."
"And what do you have here?"
"That's a berth for a medical bot," said Hiro, pulling out the separate design. "It's based on my brother's Baymax unit, but revamped for the realities of space travel. It would be capable of constantly monitoring the health of all crew, and addressing any concerns. I'm also envisioning using his hyperspectral camera to aid in ship diagnostics."
"I'm doubling up with a standard magnetic field generator," he pulled out the appropriate schematic, "and an interior layer of the same material the Ares HAB is made from."
"The generator's pretty small for the job it needs to do," commented Professor Webber.
"I can make it work, and I need the space."
The questions went on for a couple hours, with Professor Wilder excusing himself to return to his office hours. The best part of it was, Hiro had answers to every question. But eventually, the Q&A was over.
"Alright, well, with a good bit of polish and detail, these schematics would be a project in and of themselves. From a lesser student, I might even accept them as a senior year project, though clearly not from you. I'd accept them as a sophomore year project from you, with a lot more work. But you want to actually build this thing. The university has a lot of cash on hand for big projects like this, but not nearly enough. Not without denying every other student their stipends. The only way I could approve a project like this would be if you get a huge grant. And since you're going to need assistance from NASA anyway, that means you need an Oberfeld Grant. And, maybe Boeing or Krey Tech grants to cover all the little expenses not covered by the school or the Oberfeld.
"Basically, I'll accept you into my program either way; I'd love to have you. You'd probably have Professor Snyder as an advisor, and she could move you forward on your program. But if you want approval to build this Goliath of a project, then you need the money first. You're going to need letters of recommendation. I can write all about how excited I am about your work, but I can't comment on whether or not you would be dedicated to a project like this long term. Ask Professor Wilder to write you one. Are you on good terms with Professor Hernandez?"
"I think," said Hiro.
"Then ask her too. Get to work on your CV, if you haven't already. Include your work on the micro-bots and your rebuild of Baymax. And flesh out these schematics while you're at it. If you do all that, then you might just have a shot at the Oberfeld."
"And check the deadline for the Oberfeld," said Professor Webber, "I think it's coming up soon."
"Will do," said Hiro, nearly jumping for joy.
"And Hiro. You're getting me excited for this project of yours. Don't let me down."
"I won't," said Hiro. "I promise, one way or another, I'm going to see this through."
"So, basically," said Mark, around the most delicious thing he had ever tasted, "you hustled SFIT and NASA at the same time."
"What can I say?" asked Hiro, pretending to buff his nails agains the flight shirt he'd worn under his suit. "Ex-bot fighter here, best hustler in town.” Hiro wasn’t eating anything. He had lost his appetite.
"How exactly did you get them to let you have an Oberfeld?" asked Mark.
"Well I got detained by the police once for betting on one of my fights, but they never charged me," said Hiro.
"Wow," said Mark. "So how long did it take you to pull two experimental technologies out of your butt?"
"Oh, I'd already invented them," said Hiro. "Just never told anyone."
"You just decided to sit on the biggest technological advances of the twenty-first century because..."
"Well, I invented my electric-propulsion engines years ago without realizing that they were the fabled reactionless engines that scientists and engineers were scratching their heads over. When my friends whacked me over the head with it, I decided to wait to use them in a school project. And when we developed the Quartzite battery for Baymax here, we agreed to wait to present it at the next SFIT expo."
"This guy runs on a quartzite battery?" asked Mark, nearly spraying Hiro with flatbread. "Isn't that overkill?"
"Eh, nothing's too good for Baymax," said Hiro. “He’s not running on it now. NASA made me switch out for the superconductors that I’d originally built for him.” It almost made him regret having forwarded all of his schematics to them.
“And…tell me again how long it took you to get here?”
“Three days,” said Hiro.
“Three days,” deadpanned Mark.
“One and a half days of constant 1.2 g’s of acceleration, one and a half days of constant 1.2 g’s of deceleration.”
Mark felt like his brain was broken. ”So um, not that I'm not grateful," he said eventually, shoving the last bit of flatbread into his mouth, "but why exactly did you do all this?"
"Because no one else would," said Hiro with a shrug. "No one else could. I mean, if NASA had gotten its head out of its ass sooner, I would have leveled with them, tried to work with them to at least send you a resupply. But they didn't. I mean, I know this is mad. I know there's a good chance I'll be in a lot of trouble when I get back. Just, someone had to help. And it had to be me. I didn’t know you had time.”
"I mean, you didn't have to do anything," said Mark.
"It felt like I did," said Hiro.
"Well, so, anyway, what's in the box?" asked Mark.
"Oh, we've got a month's worth of freeze dried food for two, year's worth of food tablets, some tools and spare parts, changes of clothes."
"Food tablets?" asked Mark.
"It's the most compact form of nutrition I could find. Not exactly filling, I know, but it'll keep a guy alive. I figured if there was a critical failure in my ship during landing, or if you decided not to accompany me home in my homemade space ship, it would tide you over until NASA could send another resupply or rescue."
"Good thought," said Mark. "But assuming there's nothing wrong with this ship of yours, I'm all for plotting a direct course home."
"Oh...that...well, the thing is, we can't," said Hiro.
"...What?" asked Mark.
"Yeah, well, North Korea tried to knock me out of the sky on takeoff. They didn't succeed, obviously, but they did knock out three of my engines. Wasn't hard landing here, and it won't be too much strain taking off, but I do not have the thrust needed to make a safe landing on Earth."
"Your spaceship doesn't have a back-up chute?"
"No it does not," said Hiro.
"So what's the plan?" asked Mark.
"I was thinking we could dock with the ISS, but no one wants my ship to try it's first docking so close to Earth's gravity well. So NASA's directed us to dock with the Hermes. It's still a ways from Earth, but hey, I've always wanted a tour."
"Well, a week ago, it was the most technologically impressive thing ever built."
"Sure, sure," said Hiro. "Of course, this is all assuming that I don't keel over from space death from my homemade spaceship."
"Assuming," agreed Mark.
"So," said Hiro. "You ready to get real communication back with Earth?"
"Kid, I nearly broke my back bringing Pathfinding here trying to get in touch with Earth," said Mark.
"I'll take that as a yes," said Hiro. He pulled a data stick from his pocket and tossed it to Mark. "It's plug and play. Plus there's a bunch of files they already sent me. They're password protected, so I'm assuming you know how to open them."
"Should be," said Mark. He walked across the HAB to the main computer, and plugged the data stick into it. The file loaded automatically and went to work reconfiguring the system to talk to Hiro's ship. It finished in about half a minute.
"Let's see," said Mark, having opened a chat box with Mission Control.
[11:18] WATNEY: This is Mark Watney. Calling home.
"That's it?" asked Hiro.
"Inspiration escapes me," said Mark.
"Here, let me."
[11:18] WATNEY: This is Hiro Hamada. Safe and sound in the HAB. Love you Aunt Cass.
No matter the tech, Earth was still eleven light-minutes away. It was going to take at least eleven minutes to send their messages, and another eleven for the reply.
“So,” said Mark, “I suppose you built Baymax here, too.”
“I built this current body, optimized for space travel, and packing some serious upgrades. But no, Baymax was my brother’s creation.”
“Oh yeah? Well you should send him a message too. Let him know how his robot’s still looking after you.”
“Oh, no. I um, I don’t really believe in… prayer.”
“Oh,” said Mark. “Oh, kid, I’m sorry.”
“You know, it is what it is,” said Hiro. “I’m just trying to honor him, you know? He always wanted to help people with his life.”
“Well, you’re kind of taking that to something of an extreme,” said Mark.
“Well, it hasn’t killed me yet,” said Hiro.
“He ran into a burning building to save someone who didn’t need saving,” said Hiro.
“You’re still angry with him?”
“No,” said Hiro quickly. “Well, yeah, sometimes. It was only fair, I guess. Our parents left him to practically raise me with our Aunt Cass. Now he’s left me to try and carry on his legacy.”
“Anyone ever tell you you’re an overachiever,” asked Mark.
“Well constantly for the last year and a half. First I had to rebuild Baymax, then I had to come and get you. I’ve been working my ass off. Oh! And these…you know, people who don’t know me properly, they’re all like, oh, he was a slacker until his brother died. They all think they’re psychoanalyzing me. Like, they missed the part where I worked night and day to get into SFIT before all that. Or the part where my brother, you know, inspired me, before he died by like, working hard and doing incredible things.”
“Sounds like it really bugs you,” said Mark.
“Well it’s like they’re saying that the best thing my brother ever did was die and inspire me. But it was the opposite.”
"That does sound messed up," said Mark.
"Yeah," said Hiro.
"So was your poo farm going to feed you indefinitely?"
"You need to get over the poo," said Mark. "And no. For one thing, potatoes aren't quite a complete nutrition. Now if I had a never ending source of butter... Well, I've been supplementing with the original meal packs, which are overloaded with the missing nutrients. But that's not the limiting factor in this case. See, with the space I have available, I can only grow about 1100 calories a day. Which you may notice is a fair bit less than what I need to survive."
"Still though," said Hiro, "I was expecting to find you half starved when I got here. That was another reason why I brought a bunch of food, in case we had to wait for you to get your strength back before takeoff."
"Is this your way of saying you're starting to appreciate my poo farm?"
"Ew, no," said Hiro.
"Mark," said Baymax suddenly, "I believe now would be a good time to continue your meal. Could I interest you in: beef stroganoff, or veggie lasagna?"
"Stroganoff, if you know what you're doing," said Mark.
"Do not fear," said Baymax. "I am proficient in the cooking of dehydrated meals."
"He really is very versatile," said Hiro.
"Apparently," said Mark, watching the robot tear open the pouch of food and pour it into a bowl before adding water, stirring, and setting it to cook in the microwave.
They still had over fifteen minutes to wait for a response. They didn't talk of anything of great importance while Mark ate, and Hiro was cajoled into joining in the meal with the lasagna.
Finally the reply came.
[11:42] NASA: This is Venkat Kapoor. I don't think NASA and JPL have been this anxious and excited since the moon landing. The world is watching with bated breath for your every update. Our every resource is dedicated to bringing you home. Please send a video message."
"How's your bandwidth?" asked Mark.
"Not much better than what you had before," groused Hiro.
"Oh, poor Hiro! Only able to make a slightly better radio than NASA could."
"Shut up. And I could have made a better one if I'd had more time... So why are they wasting the time for a video message first thing?"
"Oh, they don't trust you," said Mark as he typed. "They want to make sure they're actually in contact with me."
[11:42] WATNEY: This is Mark. Our video message will come soon. Hi mom! Also, sorry Ms. Cass, for stealing your nephew.
"Why do you think they don't trust me?" asked Hiro.
"Well A, you're the best hustler in town, and they know it now, so of course they won't trust you. Not that they necessarily doubt your intentions, but definitely whether you'll follow directions to stay in here two weeks. And B, they only just got Pathfinder to work before you got here, which means they worked their butts off to get their message, for me to expect a message from you from Venkat, in under the wire. Because they wanted me to know right away that I wasn't supposed to just leave with you."
"Lame," said Hiro.
"Come on, smile for the camera."
"So one of the big questions on everyone's mind right now is what's been going on in your head? Because I think we can all agree that you're in a pretty unique situation."
"Well, it's not just any one thing,” said Cass. "I'm terrified, of course."
"Well what parent wouldn't be?" asked Ellen.
Cass had been surprised when Fred had shown up at the Cafe with a lawyer in a three piece suit. Hiro had broken the law, whatever his motivation, so, they had explained, it would better for him to have legal representation sooner rather than later. One of his mandates to her had been to start managing public perception of Hiro, and that was how she found herself on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
"I learned that about parenting pretty quickly when they first came to live with me. Hiro was always far too clever to keep up with, and clever boys get into all sorts of mischief. I’ve been stress eating like crazy lately. But I have to admit, I've been feeling a lot of pride and amazement. Amazement with what he's accomplished, but pride that he's using it to put everything on the line to help someone he's never met."
“What do you think's motivating him?" asked Ellen.
"Well, I think part of it's a family legacy," said Cass. "His parents were medical researchers. His brother Tadashi built a medical helper robot to make health care more accessible to people. I think Hiro has really internalized this sense that he's supposed to use his gifts to make the world a better place.”
She had been encouraged to talk about how Tadashi had died. She couldn’t bring herself to yet. She didn’t know if she could in the future.
"Hiro must have really idolized his big brother," said Ellen.
"Oh, he still does," said Cass.
"Now I was with you back stage when they released the audio from Hiro's Martian landing. But can we listen to that again?"
"Oh, any reminder that he's doing well is a good thing."
"Let's play the clip," Ellen told the production crew.
"Hiro Hamada to Mission Control. I have slowed my descent to ten kilometers per hour. I am two-hundred meters above my landing site. Preparing for soft landing."
"Five kilometers per hour."
“Setting down now. Mission control, I have landed. Powering down the engines. Powering down flight systems."
"Flight systems are powered down. All systems remain in optimal conditions. I am reading no structural instability in the ship. Please provide reassessment of exterior conditions.”
The lag time here was cut out.
"Mission control to Hiro Hamada, we are showing clear conditions on the Martian surface. We are receiving your suit feeds clearly. The HAB is 729 meters from your position. You are cleared for EVA."
"I am entering the airlock now."
“Opening the airlock door… Descending the steps now…I am standing on the surface of Mars.” Here, he paused to chuckle. “I’d like to mark this momentous occasion by thanking all of the SFIT professors whose dedication to their students helped to make this possible. NASA, for their incredible support both before and after launch. My friends, for providing technical and moral support. Alastair Krey, who saw something incredible, and decided to help make it happen. The countless students who came to lend manpower to my project, who worked as though you were building a true space ship. Without all of you, I don’t think I would be here today. And Aunt Cass, I know that right now you’re probably wishing I was the kind of fifteen year old who spends his days playing video games, but thank you for giving me the home and family that I was able to thrive in. You always raised me like your son, and I hope I’ve made you proud.”
“Alright, Baymax has joined me. I’ve powered down everything but the communication system. We are prepared to walk to the HAB after an external check of structural stability.”
“Wow,” said Ellen. “Even hearing that again, it’s incredible.”
“It is,” said Cass, wiping a tear from her face. “I think I’m just relieved at the moment that he’s going to be on solid ground for the next two weeks.”
“Every step of the way, it must be nerve wracking. Especially the reason why they want him to wait those two weeks.”
“Oh, that I’m not worried about,” said Cass.
“I’m not. The thing is, when Hiro was little, and he was first inventing things, it was hit or miss, whether it worked or not. It was incredible either way, but, you know, incredibly bad in some cases. But as he’s become older, I’ve learned to have a lot of faith in the things that he builds. Hiro built that ship to save a life. Those engines, that reactor, they’re not going to hurt him. He built that ship to withstand cosmic rays; it’ll withstand them. No, what keeps me up at night is the thought of meteor strikes, or you know, some solar flare. Something random and destructive from space, that he can’t foresee or protect against.”
“Well, talking about signs that he’s doing okay, I’m hearing now that they have sent messages from the HAB, and it’s good news. Let’s take a look.”
It showed up on the screen behind them looking like a cell phone text message.
This is Mark Watney. Calling home.
The audience cheered. Cass clapped her hands together as though sending thanks to a celestial being.
“Oh,” said Ellen, “and here’s one more.”
This is Hiro Hamada. Safe and sound in the HAB. Love you Aunt Cass.
Another text bubble, a different color, like a multi-chat.
“And here’s the response NASA’s sending back.”
The ellipsis of a text-in-progress showed up on the screen for a moment before being replaced by NASA’s message.
This is Venkat Kapoor. I don't think NASA and JPL have been this anxious and excited since the moon landing. The world is watching with bated breath for your every update. Our every resource is dedicated to bringing you home. Please send a video message.
There was more applause from the audience.
“That’s swell,” said Ellen. “That’s really swell.”
“Oh, I’m so happy right now,” said Cass.
“Now I’m getting the impression he’s a bit of an Auntie’s boy.”
“He’s a good nephew,” said Cass. “Mind, he’s responsible for more than his fair share of grey hairs.”
“Well I don’t see them,” said Ellen. “I don’t believe it. This kid must be an angel.”
“Well, hey, we were talking about things he’s built, I understand you’ve brought a video with you today,” prompted Ellen.
“That’s right. From his presentation of his freshman year project,” said Cass.
“Now this got some buzz at the time, too, didn’t it?” said Ellen.
“It did,” said Cass, “well, I’ll let everyone see for themselves.”
“Let’s take a look,” said Ellen.
The video was set in a small lecture hall. There was a panel of three professors sitting in the front, with an assortment of students behind them.
“Hello, I’m Hiro Hamada, and this is my presentation of my freshman project, Baymax 2.0. Baymax was an invention of my brother Tadashi’s. He’s a health care companion robot, capable of diagnosis via hyper-spectral camera, manual assistance with numerous health care and day-to-day needs, first aid, CPR, and defibrillation. Let’s take a look.”
“Ow,” he said. From the red case on the floor next to the lectern, Baymax quickly inflated and took in his surroundings.
“Hello, I am Baymax, your personal health care companion. I was alerted to the need for medical attention when you said, ‘Ow.’ On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?” An illustration of the pain scale lit up on his chest.
“I’d say a one, right now, Baymax.”
“I will scan you now. Scan complete. I am detecting signs of neck strain. Common possible causes include improper computer use and poor sleep positions, such as when you sleep in your computer chair. Recommended treatment at this time is a warm compress to the back of your neck. I can prepare one for you, or I can use my hand to act as one.” He held up his puffy white hand, which started to glow red.
“Thank you, Baymax, but that won’t be necessary. I’ve brought you out to demonstrate your capabilities for these people.”
Baymax turned to the audience. “Hello,” he said with another circular wave.
“In creating this new version, I focused primarily on adding speed and utility,” said Hiro. “In a health care emergency, prompt assistance can mean the difference between life and death. Though he retains the same default settings for movement in day-to-day activity, he is capable of becoming much more nimble and quick in emergencies.”
Hiro turned to Baymax. “Buddy, could you get me my backpack from over there.”
“Certainly, Hiro,” said Baymax, shuffling off of the stage, and then up the steps of the lecture hall to where Hiro had left his bag at the top row. Once he had it in his hand, Hiro interrupted him.
“Alright, Baymax, I need you to pretend that that bag is a bandage, and that I have a hemorrhaging patient here at my feet.”
Baymax suddenly deflated to about 50% of his capacity to reduce air-resistance as he launched into action, swiftly leaping down the aisle steps and back up to the lectern before placing the backpack at Hiro’s feet.
“Alright, Baymax,” said Hiro, laying down on the ground. “Now suppose I have just received a neck injury, but dangerous conditions mean that you cannot wait for a bodyboard. You need to get me out ASAP while keeping me from being injured worse. Show them how you’d get me out of the room.”
Baymax paused to scan Hiro before carefully positioning him for transport, cradling his neck deftly, before scooping him up and running from the room, bobbing about in such a way as to reduce any shock from his movement from transferring into Hiro. In a flash, he was out of the room.
Moments later, the two walked back in to some applause.
“Now, Baymax has always been capable of basic first aid care, but I have included in some upgrade attachments for immediate treatment of life-threatening injuries and conditions. Baymax is now capable of providing pharmaceutical assistance in the event of stroke or seizure. He is also capable now of suturing wounds, even hemorrhaging arteries. I have here a medical simulation of a severed femoral artery. Baymax, please render assistance,” Hiro said as he activated the simulation.
The lifelike device began squirting blue liquid through the simulated injury at the splatter shield. Baymax went to work, faster than the eyes could really see, his fingers opened up to reveal various fine tools. A small clamp darted into the wound and stopped the bleeding while a shear cut through the jeans worn by the simulation, exposing the injury. More even finer appendages swarmed out and sutured the artery, and then the wound, before a small syringe stamped down quickly, delivering a local anesthetic.
Hiro stopped the timer he had started as Baymax began wrapping the wound with bandages.
“Five seconds,” he said for emphasis. “That’s a life and a leg saved.”
Now there was big applause from the excited audience.
“Guys, I am just getting started,” said a grinning Hiro.
The video stopped.
“Wow!” said Ellen.
“I say it a lot,” said Cass, “but I am so proud of those boys.”
“That’s incredible,” said Ellen.
“And the goal is for there to be a Baymax in the home of every person in this country and beyond who needs in-home care.”
“Every one,” said Ellen.
“Within five years,” said Cass.
“That would be a life saver,” said Ellen. “Literally. And a robot would be a lot more cost effective than a lot of the services available now.”
“The goal for Baymax, of both Tadashi and Hiro, has been for greater accessibility to life-saving and palliative care, and to allow people to maintain their independence in their own homes.”
“And he seems so friendly too,” said Ellen.
“He really is. Would you like to meet him?”
“Would I! Isn’t he on Mars though?”
“Well,” said Cass. “The…robotic consciousness…that Tadashi built, and that Hiro has been working with, and that you met in Hiro’s presentation, is on Mars. But Hiro made a space faring body for him, and left version 2.0 behind. He also left a copy of the base Baymax programming for future development and production.”
“Well let’s bring him out,” said Ellen.
From the side of the stage, Baymax walked out, waving to Ellen.
“Hello, I am Baymax, how can I be of assistance?”
“Well would ya look at you,” said Ellen. She turned to her audience. “Isn’t he something?”
“Hello,” said Baymax, waving to the audience.
“Now Baymax, I understand that you actually give very good hugs,” said Ellen.
“That is correct. I was built with a warm huggable exterior,” said Baymax.
“Could I have a hug,” asked Ellen, holding her arms open.
“You may,” said Baymax, stooping down to hug Ellen.
“Wow, you really are warm and huggable,” said Ellen, squeezing him tight. “Hey, does anyone else want to give a hug to Baymax?”
More than a few people from the audience got to hug Baymax, but then the big moment came when the video message from Mars arrived.
“Hello Earth,” said Mark, and there were loud cheers from the audience. He had an arm around Hiro’s shoulders. “Hello JPL and NASA. Hey mom. Hey Dad. It’s really good to be able to do this again. I’m a little overwhelmed, so um, I’m going to let this guy take over.”
“Hey Earth. Love you Aunt Cass. Doctor Kapoor, Mark is farming potatoes in his own poo, and that is only awesome from another planet away. Please let me come home now.”
Mark started laughing. “That’s the message you want to send home?”
“It stinks! Here, let’s show them,” said Hiro. He picked up the camera, and panned it around the HAB. “Every available square inch is covered in ‘night soil’. That’s brilliant. But it’s also torture on my nose.”
“I can barely smell it,” said Mark.
Hiro gave a close-up of the ear-plugs in his nose. “I can still smell it.”
“Oh, and Aunt Cass, your flatbread was delicious,” said Mark.
The video stopped, and the audience kept laughing.
“He’s a character,” said Ellen.
“That’s my Hiro,” said Cass. “I wouldn’t have him any other way.”
“And I’m still wrapping my head around these potatoes,” said Ellen. “These last few days, the word’s consistently been that there’s no conceivable way for Mark Watney to not be starving right now. It’s basic math, we’ve been told. No one’s said, hey, he could be farming potatoes over there.”
“And I’m relieved,” said Cass, “because aside from the fact that Mr. Watney’s doing a lot better than we all feared, it just means that we’ve got these two great minds up there, working together.”
“That’s right, two remarkable people. And now, we’re getting the live feed of NASA’s response, though Mark and Hiro aren’t going to be seeing it for a while.”
The video came up, with a smiling Doctor Venkat Kapoor standing in Mission Control. The people around him were still laughing about the message that had just been received.
“I’m glad to see that you’re both in high spirits. The next few weeks are going to be very busy for the both of you, but I know that you’re up to the challenge. And Hiro, I’m sorry, but you’re advised to get used to the smell. Observe proper hygiene practices, and stick to pre-prepared foods. Mark, I don’t think you’ll have any problem doing the same, you’re probably sick and tired of potatoes by now.”
“And there you have it, folks,” said Ellen. “Earth is now in full contact with Mark Watney for the first time in ten months.”
“And now we have the very special opportunity to send a message to Mars ourselves. How does that sound?”
The audience loved the idea.
“I’d like that,” said Cass.
Ellen addressed the camera. “This is Ellen DeGeneres calling Mars. Hiro, Mark, we’re taking this opportunity to send you all of our love,” the camera panned around to the screaming audience before coming to rest on Ellen and now Cass, “and to send a special message.”
“Hiro,” said Cass, “you are still so grounded. But I love you, and I’m so proud of you. And I know that you and Mr. Watney are going to work together and come home, and I can’t wait. Mochi misses you too.”
“The whole world is rooting for you,” said Ellen. “And you’re both welcome on the show when you get back. Though Hiro, that’s pending the end of your grounding.”
Mark reached out and touched the screen where Venkat had just been in NASA's reply message. He started sobbing suddenly.
Hiro’s eyes bugged out in surprise. “Um,” he said.
“I’m okay,” said Mark, leaning hard on the desk, as though his legs would no longer support him otherwise.
“Are you though?” asked Hiro awkwardly.
Baymax was quick to go next to Mark and wrap an arm around him. “There there,” said Baymax. “It will be all right.”
“I just, I’ve been alone for so long,” said Mark.
“Not anymore,” said Hiro.
"I know," said Mark. "You came for me."
Hiro sighed and walked to Mark, wrapping an arm around him beneath Baymax's.
"It's like they said," said Hiro, "you've got the whole world on your side now."
"Yeah," said Mark.
They stayed there for a minute while Mark regained his composure.
"Alright," he finally said. "Let's get you unpacked."
"Sure," said Hiro. "And Baymax, now's a good time to run some scans on the HAB."
"How does he scan things, by the way?" asked Mark.
"Hyperspectral camera," said Hiro.
"How's that efficient?" asked Mark.
"Quantum computing," said Hiro.
"No kidding?" asked Mark. "I didn't think anyone was playing with Quantum outside of CERN, Google, and a few labs."
"My brother and I made our own prototype a few years back," said Hiro. "Tadashi really ran with it at-"
“Oh no,” said Baymax.
“What is it, Baymax?” asked Hiro.
“Immediately return to your EVA suits, please. I have detected an instability in the HAB fabric.”
“Come on!” said Hiro to Mark, as he rushed to his suit, glad that he’d been able to further innovate a more accessible suit design.
“How bad is it?” asked Hiro.
“I do not have the programming needed to fully assess the severity of the instability,” said Baymax, who had rushed to help Hiro into his suit.
“Where is it?” asked Mark, who was no slouch about suiting up himself.
“It is adjacent to the seal strip of airlock one,” said Baymax.
“I’m good,” said Hiro, sealed in his suit. Baymax went to help Mark finish his own suit assembly as Hiro went to examine the airlock. Data flowed from Baymax to Hiro’s HUD, highlighting the source of the instability. A camera in Hiro’s helmet zoomed in on the area, and displayed on the screen on Hiro’s arm. Hiro could only just make out where there was a gap in the carbon fiber mesh that was built into the HAB fabric. Hiro sent the data to NASA.
“Here it is,” Hiro said to Mark, who had come to join him, pointing to the tiny spot of canvas and then the image on his display.
“Yeah,” said Mark, “that’s a ticking time bomb.”
“I’ve sent the info to NASA,” said Hiro.
“I’m reducing HAB atmosphere to 80%, said Mark. “As I do, I want you to reduce the airlock pressure to the same.”
“Got it,” said Hiro.
Mark started working the controls, as Hiro prepared for his part.
“Pressure down to 97%,” said Mark.
“Matching that,” said Hiro.
“94%,” said Mark.
“Right,” said Hiro.
In that way they brought the two compartments down to 80% of one atmosphere, significantly reducing the strain against the weakness in HAB fabric. Mark went to communicate their actions to NASA, while Hiro continued examining the area of instability. With NASA updated, Mark set about fiddling with the CO2 settings for his plants.
“What do you suppose NASA’s going to want us to do?” asked Hiro.
“Probably to just cover both sides with more seal strip and coat the seams with extra resin,” said Mark. “And then, to stop using Airlock 1.”
“Make’s sense,” said Hiro. He turned to Baymax. “Hey, buddy, while we’re waiting, could you give the rest of the HAB a thorough examination?”
“I have taken the liberty of doing so already,” said Baymax. “I detect no further instability in the HAB fabric.”
“Great,” said Hiro. Then he had a sudden thought. “Oh, jeez, I hope they don’t tell Aunt Cass about this.”
“Well, it’s public information,” said Mark.
“Right,” said Hiro. “She’ll have a fit.”
“Well, we’ll have to let her know that you’ve now officially saved my life now,” said Mark.
“Oh hey, yeah,” said Hiro with a grin. “I thought I was going to get back to Earth, and everyone would have been like, ‘Oh, he could have waited for a resupply probe with his potatoes.’ In their face!”
“I’m glad my hypothetical doom makes you feel better,” said Mark.
“It does, really,” said Hiro. “Those potatoes really put a cramp in my style.”
“I know, you won’t stop complaining about them,” said Mark.
“Hey, I already said that they’re awesome,” said Hiro.
“Well, I am the best botanist on the planet,” said Mark.
“Oh, you like that one?” asked Mark. “What if I told you that you were the tallest fifteen year old on the planet?”
“Now that sounds good,” said Hiro.
“But you’ve messed me up now though,” said Mark. “I was building a record for ‘longest spent alone on a planet.’”
“Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s going to be beating ten months anytime soon,” said Hiro. “You might just keep that record in perpetuity.”
“Hope so,” said Mark. “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Oh, and I’ve been first to so many places.”
“Heh, yep,” said Hiro.
“First to recover a Martian probe, first to grow crops on another planet, first to drive long distance on Mars.”
“You’ve been putting a lot of thought into this,” said Hiro.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think,” said Mark. "Meanwhile you're setting all your own firsts and records."
They chatted about Martian records until an alert from the computer terminal told them that they had received a reply from NASA.
12:41 [NASA]: Reduce HAB and AL pressures to 80%. Remain in your EVA suits. Hold for further directions.
They had clearly sent the message before Mark had told them they were going to do just that.
“Called it,” said Mark.
“How long until they tell us to slap some seal strips on it?” asked Hiro.
“There’s probably hours of committee meetings before they get back to us with more.”
When Hiro asked Mark how he wanted to spend those hours, Mark replied with, “Listening to something that isn’t disco music.”
Hiro queued up the latest alt-rock to play over their suit radios.
“Who’s this?” asked Mark.
“The Blind Birds,” said Hiro. “They’re new.”
“New is awesome,” said Mark, taking a seat on his bunk. “So hey, tell me about North Korea trying to shoot you down.”
“Dude, it was sick!”
The word had come down three days in that they were not going to actually dock with the Hermes, and Hiro’s ship would not be coming home. Instead, they would be doing an EVA over to the Hermes. Basically, though they had not found anything wrong with it, NASA was treating Hiro’s ship as though any part of it could cause a critical failure in the Hermes. This included Baymax, and so Hiro would only be able to bring his green chip with him. The ship meanwhile, would be sent back to Mars to act as an orbiter.
What they would be able to bring with them was rock samples, and Hiro had been put to work with helping in the cataloguing and sorting of the samples. This was his third official work task assigned by NASA after the fix of the HAB fabric, and the subsequent full assessment of the HAB. At least those first two jobs had had some urgency behind them. Rocks were boring. There was a reason Hiro had never taken an interest in geology.
Every evening, Hiro took the time to go over the schematics and controls of his ship with Mark, who was to be his co-pilot on the journey to the Hermes. Fortunately, Mark was a quick study. Hiro also spent time preparing a program to take care of his ship after they had rendezvoused with the Hermes. He didn’t have what he needed to make the ship an autopilot, but he could have it communicate with what was left of Baymax once the green chip was removed. The yellow chip already acted to enable Baymax to be Hiro’s co-pilot. Hiro was upgrading it to let the robot fully man the ship with remote commands from NASA.
Hiro found that he did not really have the patience for life on Mars, though part of that was NASA not letting him do anything fun. He started every morning with a full physical exam, which should have been quick, but wasn’t. Because after a scan from Baymax, NASA was having Mark confirm everything by manually checking Hiro’s vitals. The information was all sent back to Earth for analysis, though so far Hiro remained in fine health.
Afterward, there was a reconstituted breakfast, which almost managed to taste like real food. Hiro found that powdered eggs were an abomination, although microwave sort-of-pancakes weren’t too bad. After the facsimile of breakfast, they got to work, with Mark running HAB maintenance and EVAs, while Hiro was studying, recataloguing, and storing rock samples.
Hiro was stuck inside the HAB, because, again, they didn’t trust that his suit was adequate for protection from the cosmic rays that bombarded the relatively unprotected Mars. Mark had spare suits, but not even Johansen’s would properly fit Hiro’s small frame. So while Mark went on EVA’s, even when Hiro’s own work was done for the day, Hiro stayed inside.
They spent a good bit of time enjoying modern media in their down time. Mark was overjoyed to have something other than the ancient TV and music he had been subsisting on. He still managed to be disappointed that Hiro hadn’t brought any of his own cultural touch-stones. For himself, Hiro was glad to catch up on some of the cultural zeitgeist he had been missing out on recently.
A week in, Hiro helped Mark harvest his potatoes, which had the effect of making everything smell about ten times worse. They had both agreed though that in the event that they wound up stuck on Mars, they would need to keep the farm in production, and so they farmed. Hiro was just glad for an ample supply of sterile gloves.
Hiro found himself wishing that time would move faster. NASA had made Mars boring. The only saving grace so far was that Hiro had been given permission to get the Sojourner rover working again, and he amused himself by tinkering with the antique. The decision had come down that they could bring it with them on departure, though Pathfinder would remain behind.
Two weeks passed like molasses crawling down the side of a port-a-potty. But pass they did, with Hiro receiving a clean bill of health.
“Alright,” said Mark when they got word from NASA. “Lets get to work.”
They traveled to the ship at night, again, in fear of Hiro’s exposure to cosmic rays. They took the rover, allowing them to bring everything they didn’t want to leave behind, including the rock samples, the food, and Sojourner.
To start with, they ran hyperspectral scans of the ship, confirming again that there was no damage from the landing. They entered the ship, and Hiro powered the different systems up as he started going over the controls with Mark while Baymax stowed the gear. When everything was booted up, Mark started relaying their status to NASA.
They worked through the night, running diagnostics and manually checking various systems, as per NASA instructions. With dawn approaching, they returned to the HAB to nap through most of the day. The next night they returned to complete pre-launch checks and preparations. Shortly after the Martian midnight, they launched. It was time for Mark Watney to leave Mars.
Hiro went along too.
"Oh my god, we're really doing it!"
"We're really doing it,” confirmed Hiro as they flew up with a modest two g's.
"I'm leaving Mars. I'm going home...Thank you."
“Is it here yet?” Beck asked as he entered the bridge. It was the third time he’d come to check.
“Almost,” Johanssen said. “Ninety-nine percent. It’s been taking forever.”
“No kidding,” said Vogel.
“You’re looking cheerful, Martinez,” Beck said.
“My son turned three yesterday,” he beamed. “Should be some pics of the party. How about you?”
“Nothing special,” Beck said. “Peer reviews of a paper I wrote a few years back.”
“Complete,” Johanssen said. “And yeah, it’s a big one. Video file for some reason. Let’s see, all the personal e-mails are dispatched to your laptops. Some communiqués for the commander. Also there’s a telemetry update for Vogel and a system update for me. Looks like the video is addressed to the whole crew.”
She looked over her shoulder to Lewis.
Lewis shrugged and gave the go-ahead, though a part of her was worried that it could only be bad news. They still weren’t close enough to Earth to really make video messages worth the effort. “Play it.”
Johanssen opened the message and sat back to allow everyone to get a good view.
Mitch Henderson’s face filled the screen.
“What could this be about?” asked Martinez.
“Shh,” said Johanssen.
“Hermes, I’m sure you’re all probably wondering what merits a message like this when you’re still over a month from Earth. Well, we have big news. News that you might find to be unbelievable, so I’ve decided to tell you as directly as possible.
“First, I’d like to tell you that what I have to say is unreservedly good. It may seem alarming at first, but we only have cause for celebration. Mark Watney is alive. A rescue mission is underway, and the Ares III crew is going to play a large role in that mission.”
Johanssen gasped, as remarks of disbelief were muttered by the crew. Lewis stared intently at the screen, Mitch only paused for a moment to let his statement sink in.
“Mark survived Sol 6 with only minor injuries, but he regained consciousness only after your departure. We found out three weeks ago when he sent us a signal with the Pathfinder probe. For reasons of crew morale, it was decided not to tell you at the time until there was reason to hope for his survival. I was against that decision, but I went along with it.
“Now you may at this point be thinking that Mark would have to be starving by now. And you would have been correct, if not for the fresh Thanksgiving potatoes that were sent along on the mission. He’s taken us all by surprise by turning the HAB into a potato farm.”
Lewis heard Vogel give a startled laugh from behind her.
“Now, as to the rescue. Obviously, we don’t have anything that can get to Mars in a reasonable amount of time. But fortunately, we weren’t the first to notice that Mark was alive. There’s a fifteen year old SFIT student, I suppose he was just fourteen at the time, who noticed irregularities in the Sol 12 photos of the Ares III site that were released. But when he couldn’t get past the first tier of NASA public relations, he took matters into his own hands.
“He had already invented reactionless engines, and a compact power source, but he hadn’t revealed them to the public just yet. So he won himself an Oberfeld grant and built himself a ship, leading NASA to believe that it would never fly. By the time we put two-and-two together, it was too late to stop him. He launched without any authorization, and disregarded all commands to abort. He landed on Mars two weeks ago, and about six hours ago, he launched again with Mark.
“Due to damage his ship has taken, they are unable to land on Earth, so they’ll be riding home with you. We’ve included details for the rendezvous and boarding preparation and procedures, and we are starting to make plans for you to have a seven person crew. They arrive in two days.
“I’m sure that you’re all going to have lots of questions. And we’ll be here to answer them. I’d like to give you the day off to process all of this, but you’re going to be very busy for the next couple of days, so you have three hours of no assignments.
“Now lastly, because this all seems more than a bit unbelievable, we’ve included a video message from Mark himself.”
Lewis gripped the back of Johansen’s chair tightly as the screen went blank only to light up again with Mark’s smiling face.
“Hey guys,” he said softly and giving a small wave. He only looked a little haggard.
“Oh my god,” said Vogel.
“I thought Henderson was crazy,” said Beck.
“So, I’m alive,” said the video of Mark. “I uh, I should start this by saying, it’s no one’s fault that I was left behind. I’ve said that more than a few times these last couple weeks of being back in contact with NASA because, well it’s true. And the five of you most of all should know it. What happened was a freak accident, caused by a freak storm. A piece of antenna from the dish ripped right through my biofeed, and a good bit of me, so it would have looked to you like I’d died. But the hole in my suit was small, and it mostly sealed with frozen blood and sand. So by the time I came to, I had just enough air to get myself back to the HAB.
“Commander, this is me telling you to stop beating yourself up about this.”
Lewis just shook her head.
“So I’m growing potatoes here,” Mark went on. He picked up the camera and pointed it to the HAB floorspace so they could see his farm, which also consumed their bunks and two of the lab tables. “Neat, huh?” He returned the camera to it’s former position. “And I had all these plans to get to the Ares IV site to catch a ride home with them. That would have been a trip, huh? They’re all in their HAB and I just roll in like, ‘hey, what’s happening.’”
“Still, I thought I was going to be a goner unless NASA sent a resupply at least before then. So you can understand I was a little dismayed to learn that after ten months, NASA had just noticed this little lone martian.
“But then this punk-ass kid shows up peddling pizza delivery jokes, and actual pizza.” Mark laughed and turned the camera now to point off to the side, where, lo and behold, this improbable boy was sleeping limbs akimbo atop a pallet of blankets on the remaining lab table and resting his head on the leg of a big white anthropomorphic robot.
“That’s Hiro,” said Mark. “I’m still not entirely sure he’s real, but we’re riding out to check on his space ship tomorrow. If all goes well, we’ll be launching to rendezvous with you. So whoever’s taken all my things, I want them back in my bunk by the time I get there.”
“I’m still wrapping my mind around it, but it’ll only be a two and a half day journey from Mars to the Hermes,” Mark continued. “And my plants better still be alive when I get there!
“Anyway, I look forward to seeing you all, almost as much as I look forward to getting off of this rock. Mark Watney, over and out.”
"Someone pinch me," said Martinez.
"Ouch! Geez, not with your nails."
"It's real," said Vogel. "He lives."
"Holy crap, you guys," said Beck. "This is amazing! I can't even, right now."
"This is all impossible, though,” said Johanssen, though she was smiling.
"Not technically," said Vogel. "Everything said is possible, I think."
"Commander, you okay over there?" asked Martinez.
"I left him behind," she said quietly. She felt such a wave of despair at saying it. "He's been alone on Mars all this time."
"It's not your fault," said Beck. "He said so himself."
"It doesn't matter," said Lewis. "I gave the order. I was responsible for bringing everyone home, but I gave up on him."
"You will bring him home," said Johanssen. "He's going to be here in two days."
Lewis nodded to herself. "Then I have work to do," she said.
"You look nervous," said Mark. They were getting ready to call it a night on their first day in space.
"I'm just thinking about the transfer to the Hermes," Hiro admitted.
"Why's that?" asked Mark.
"Well, I mean, I've been off structure before, but not without a tether. I've got my maneuvering jets but still, I keep thinking of what would happen if I missed the Hermes."
Mark started laughing.
"Hey, it's not funny. Space is low-key terrifying," said Hiro.
"You're not- you're not going to be off tether," said Mark, trying to stop laughing. "NASA's not crazy. Alright, so here's how NASA's instructions for the transfer are probably going to play out. Beck's our EVA specialist..."
"We are at a full relative stop with their ship," said Jahanssen over the comm.
"We're ready for you over here," said Mark, who's voice was still the best thing Beck had heard for the last ten months. "Atmosphere is vented, and the door's wide open."
"Alright, Beck," said the commander from the bridge. "You are a go for EVA."
"Detaching from structure now," said Beck. He gave a gentle nudge and drifted away from the air lock, before using the MMU to thrust towards the small ship adjacent to the Hermes. Behind him, Vogel let out the tether.
Soon, the other ship loomed large, and Beck used precision maneuvers to gently approach the open airlock. Gripping it around the edges, he carefully boarded the vessel.
"Someone call for roadside assistance?" he asked over the radio.
"Beck, you're a sight for sore eyes," said Mark.
"Missed you too," said Beck.
Space suit hugs were awkward, and so were zero-gravity hugs, so they just sort of braced each other's arms and grinned at each other through their visors.
"And you!" Exclaimed Beck at Hiro. "We've got you to thank for this." He clasped Hiro's shoulder gently, mindful of the zero-g.
"Well," said Hiro, "someone had to help."
"Yeah, and you're the only one who did," said Beck. "Come on, let's get you two taken care of."
"One more thing," said Hiro, turning to the robot.
"There there," said the robot, patting the boy on his helmet. "It will be alright."
"I know," said Hiro. "Last hug." He wrapped his arms around the robot, who returned his gesture. "I am satisfied with my care," he said finally, pulling back.
The robot drifted over to some ports in the wall of the spacecraft that he seemed to lock into. It's eyes closed, and an access port on its chest opened, revealing two chips, one green, and one yellow. Hiro pulled the green chip out and secured it in a zippered pocket on his leg.
"Alright," said Hiro, "I'm ready."
"Come here, my space baby,” said Mark.
“Tandem skydiver,” said Hiro, as he got into position to be strapped to Mark’s back for the journey over.
“Space baby,” said Mark as Beck started clipping the two of them together, checking and double checking the connections.
“You look good to go,” he said, clipping the tether into an O-ring on Mark's waist. “And you do look like a space baby.”
“You guys suck,” said Hiro as Mark moved them forward through the airlock and out into space.
“Alright Vogel,” said Beck. “Reel them in.”
The tether slowly pulled taught and then drew the two away from their ship and towards the Hermes airlock where Vogel waited to catch them. Then, while they slowly drifted, Beck shot off past them on his MMU, beating them to the airlock by a full minute. Together, he and Vogel secured the two wayward astronauts and closed the airlock door, setting the airlock to cycle in air.
Mark started laughing as they untethered Hiro from him.
“It is good to have you back,” said Vogel. “The crew is overjoyed.”
“I still can’t believe it,” said Mark around laughs.
“I know,” said Martinez over the radio. “I thought I’d gotten rid of you.”
“Martinez, no one’s pushed you out of an airlock yet?” asked Mark.
“Wow, I’ve actually missed this,” said Johanssen.
“I’ve missed you too,” said Mark, who’d regained a little composure.
“It is my pleasure to welcome the two of you aboard,” said the Commander. “And that’s enough pleasantries, we’re still only half way through this transfer. Mark, Hiro, please exit the airlock, remove your EVA suits, and report to the med bay. Beck, Vogel, you are cleared to retrieve your secondary target.”
“Copy that,” said Beck as Vogel opened the inner airlock door for the other two. It was time for him to go retrieve the cargo.
"We have just received an update, Astronaut Beck has boarded the spacecraft."
There was a small cheer in the Lucky Cat Café as CNN made the announcement, as there had been for each update indicating that things were going as planned.
"Don't worry, Miss C., he's got this. That's an EVA expert getting them."
"Thank you Fred, I know," said Cass. “But I'm not going to relax until they're home."
"Soup's on," said Wasabi, walking into the dining area, bringing a tray of bowls filled with udon noodle soup. It was just the five of them in the closed Cafe, waiting for word that Hiro and Mark were safely aboard the Hermes. He passed out everyone’s respective bowl, while they listened to the news casters discuss for the third time the specifics of the transfer, and one of them mentioned again that Hiro’s EVA suit was amateur built.
“The suit’s solid,” Gogo reassured Cass again. “Honey and I both looked over it, and Hiro put it through the same tests NASA does.”
“The faceplate is made from alum-glass,” gushed Honey Lemon. “That’s about as strong as steel. And I turned him on to the polymer he used for the outermost layer; no way is anything going to rupture that suit.”
“If anything goes wrong,” said Wasabi, “the precision MMU he built into his suit will take him to the nearest airlock with the push of a button.”
Cass nodded thoughtfully between the two of them. She turned back to Honey Lemon. “So meteorites won’t be a problem?”
“Their radar will pick up anything big enough to cause a problem. The suit can absorb damage from anything small enough to slip through,” said Honey.
They started eating as Hiro and Mark were pulled to the Hermes, and one of the reporters just had to talk about the force required to break the tether. Finally though, they received the news that they had been waiting for.
“The Hermes reports all crew are on board. Here we have the audio for you.”
“Houston, this is Hermes Actual. We have seven crew on board.”
“I knew they could do it!”
“Oh, I can finally stop stress eating,” said Cass, drawing up more noodles from her bowl.
“The Hermes doesn’t have a med bay,” said Hiro as he pulled off his helmet in the zero-g confines adjacent to the airlock. “Right?”
“She just means Beck’s bunk,” said Mark. “He’s our medical officer, so all of our medical equipment’s there.”
“More tests,” sighed Hiro.
“More tests,” confirmed Mark.
“Mark,” said Johanssen, not on the radio, but from right there on the other side of the corridor. She started gliding towards them, and eventually low-speed barreled into Mark for a hug.
“You smell awful,” she said, still hanging on to him, as he wrapped one arm around her, and held onto the wall with the other.
Mark became indignant. “I showered twice before we left. I’m in clean clothes.”
“Dude, that smell is going to live in your suit forever,” said Hiro.
“Come here,” said Johanssen, beckoning to Hiro, “you too.”
Hesitantly, Hiro joined into the odd zero-gravity three-way hug.
“Thank you,” said Johanssen.
“Yeah,” said Hiro. “Sure.” And then when the hug went on: “Awkward…”
Mark ruffled Hiro’s hair obnoxiously.
“I need to take your suit into quarantine,” Johanssen told Hiro. “Please power it down, and remove it’s power source.”
“Well, I kind of need my body back for that,” said Hiro.
A minute later the task was done
“Is that the robot's quantum chip?" asked Johanssen of the health care chip, now in Hiro's hand.
"Yeah," said Hiro. He suspected that the only reason he was allowed to hold onto it was because the Hermes didn't have a quantum computer of its own, the technology still being relatively new. Mark stowed his own EVA suit in a large sealable bag. It wouldn't be used again, but it wasn't considered a potential danger to the Hermes.
Soon the two of them were floating down a corridor towards Beck's quarters in their under clothes, Baymax's chip stuck in Hiro's waistband so he could properly maneuver. He kept running into walls anyway, and Mark laughed every time. The ship's rotation had been halted for the transfer, so Beck's quarters were still in zero-g, and the two of them floated around outside the large hole in the wall that was the Hermes med bay. It was a bigger hole than the rest of the quarters scattered around the ship. Hiro clutched the chip in his hand, now able to hold onto a wall.
"It feels so weird to be here," Mark finally admitted as they waited. "I keep expecting everything to be different."
"I think I'm still in shock a little," Hiro admitted, "because I'm really not appreciating the fact that I'm on the freaking Hermes."
"Um, are you sure that it's not the fact that you've already been to Mars in a sci-fi space ship?" asked Mark. "The Hermes must be a little underwhelming after that."
"You kidding?" asked Hiro. "Tadashi and I used to play pretend that we were on the Ares II mission. We built a rocket powered shopping cart so we could pretend we were going to launch to the Hermes."
"You did not," said Mark.
"Six stitches," said Hiro, lifting his hair to fringe to show the scar that was just hidden under his hairline. “I was very insistent at the time that we needed to bring robots to the Hermes, which for some reason, still doesn’t have any.”
“Well, now look at you," said Mark. "You take playing pretend way too seriously."
Hiro snorted a laugh.
"All crew are secure on the ship," came the commander's voice over the intercom, and Mark gave a cheer. "Brace yourselves for resumption of Hermes rotation. Mark, please show Hiro how it's done."
"Come here, space baby," said Mark, maneuvering himself to grip a hold adjacent to the wall that would soon become the floor.
"That is not my nickname," groused Hiro.
Mark surrendered his position so that Hiro could copy the bracing position exactly, before bracing himself. Johanssen had given him a radio, and he used it to report that they were ready.
"Begin rotation in 5...4...3...2...1," said the Commander.
The structure started moving, bringing Hiro along with it. About ten seconds in, he really started feeling the pull to the floor.
"Woah there," said Mark.
"I'm okay," said Hiro weakly, struggling to regain equilibrium. "That rotation really throws in a new dimension of weird."
"You can let go now," said Mark.
Hiro released his grip and rolled over onto his back. Mark got up and stood over him.
"How're you doing?" he asked.
"Looks like I'm still getting my space legs," said Hiro. He’d thought he’d do better after all the flying he did on Baymax.
"You'll be fine," said Mark.
Hiro weakly got to his feet.
"Alright," said Beck, who came strolling down the corridor as though he had not just been floating around in the black of space. "Who's my first patient?"
Hiro and Mark both pointed at each other.
"Mark," said Beck. "The sooner I clear you, the sooner you can grab a shower."
“Then I'm all yours," said Mark.
The doctor led him into the quarters-cum-med bay.
Hiro hadn't been alone for more than a second when Vogel, the Hermes chemist and navigator arrived. "We are well met. You have brought my friend back to me."
The two shook hands. "Nice to meet you too," said Hiro. "You know, I've got a friend back home who'd love an autograph from the Ares III chemist."
"Of course, you shall have it. Your friend is a chemist them self?"
"The best chemist I know," said Hiro. "She helped me synthesize a lot of the components of my ship."
"This, I would like to hear more about. I was very jealous that Beck was sent to see it before it's return to Mars. A shame that it is to only be an orbiter."
"Well hey, now SFIT has their own Martian satellite," said Hiro. He was hoping his school counted that as a win.
"It is very exciting," said Vogel. "You must tell me, what is the structure of the quartz of your reactor?"
Hiro opened his mouth, but the precise words failed him. "Well," he finally said, "I'll have to draw it for you, I'm no good at explaining it. But we actually used norellium."
"Ah, I think I start to see where this is going," said Vogel, looking very excited. "We must confer in my lab when you are free. The reactor was a collaboration though, yes?”
"Yeah, my friends helped me with a lot of the technical issues. Honey Lemon, my chemist friend, and Wasabi helped me get the crystalline structure just right. And my friend Gogo helped me design the containment field."
Vogel nodded. "That is what I miss about university. Great minds coming together to create, without the bureaucracy."
"Yeah," said Hiro, "I do miss school. And my friends."
"Yes, as I miss my family, and as I missed my friend. But you have now reunited this crew with Mark Watney, and so we will reunite you with your friends and family.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Hiro, finding that, in spite of the fact that being on the Hermes was a dream come true, he really did want to return home as soon as possible.
“In six more weeks, we will be there,” said Vogel.
“All hands, please note that we are preparing to resume our deceleration in T-minus-five minutes,” the Commander called over the intercom.
“What does that mean for us?” Hiro asked Vogel.
“For the four of us here?” asked Vogel. “Nothing. The turning on of the ion engine is overseen by Johanssen, Martinez, and our Commander Lewis. My job as Navigator has already been fulfilled. The deceleration is so slow, that you will hardly notice it. Only in zero-gravity is there a drifting of things that are not tied down.”
It was at that moment that Mark was released from the med bay, with Beck following him out, promising more tests after he had been settled.
“My friend!” exclaimed Vogel, taking the time now to properly greet his lost companion.
"Vogel," greeted Mark with a warm smile. "Hugs for after I take a shower."
Vogel scoffed and hugged him anyway clapping him briskly on the back.
"You still haven't turned the Hermes into a death laser?" asked Mark, after he had apparently found the hug to have lasted long enough.
Vogel released him and turned to Hiro. "His running joke is that I am a mad German scientist."
"What can I say, he was doing mad science on his own Martian base," said Mark.
"You seemed to think my science to be very boring when you were collecting soil samples."
"Don't let him fool you, Hiro, you have to keep your eyes on him."
"He was just interrogating me about my quartzite battery."
"We're doomed," said Mark.
Vogel rolled his eyes.
"Alright, Hiro," said Beck. "You're up."
Hiro was soon sat with an oxygen meter on his finger, a blood pressure cuff on his arm, and a tongue depressor in his mouth.
"What could pothibly be in my mouth?"
Beck gave him a look.
He ran his tongue along the roof of his mouth once he had it free to get rid of the wooden taste.
"I'm fine, really," said Hiro.
"You'll have to let me be the judge of that," said Beck.
"I promise there aren't any alien spores in my eyes," said Hiro as Beck was checking pupil response with a pen light.
"I'm thinking the doctors at NASA medical would have strangled you if you'd had to sit through a full pre-flight physical. Be glad that I don't have the equipment to give you that entire exam."
"Mark already gave me a physical every day for the last two and a half weeks," complained Hiro as he had his lymph nodes felt up.
"Not helping," said Beck, starting that check all over again. "And Mark checked your vitals. There's a big difference. It's my job to do two important things: to make sure you don't have an illness that's going to incapacitate the rest of the crew; and to make sure you don't have any hidden medical conditions that are going to combine with the rigors of space travel to kill your ass dead."
"I guess," said Hiro as Beck hammered at his knee caps.
"Alright, shirt off," said Beck.
"I mean, I'm kind of at that stage of adolescence where I don't like to take my shirt off. Very awkward to go swimming."
Another flat look. Hiro sighed and took his shirt off. Beck pulled out his stethoscope and probed about before having Hiro lie down for an EKG.
"You know," said Hiro, wincing every time cold electrode gel was pressed into his skin. "I'm pretty sure Baymax would have told me if I had a heart condition."
"Ah, yes, the robot that's supposed to replace me," said Beck. "Has he been approved by any federal organizations yet?"
"No," admitted Hiro.
"Then I'm going to go ahead with my exam," said Beck.
"And he's not supposed to replace doctors," said Hiro. "My brother made him to fill in the gaps. I mean, in home care is expensive."
"Sure," said Beck. "Now sit still while the machine works."
"How still exa-"
That lasted a couple minutes.
“Alright,” said Beck, “I’m going to want to do some tests on the treadmill later, but I don’t think you’re going to keel over anytime soon. Still feeling nauseous?"
"I'm feeling better," said Hiro. "I think it's going to take some getting used to, the frequent switches between gravities."
"Yeah it does," said Beck. "Let me know if you need an antiemetic."
"'Kay," said Hiro. "Is that it?"
"Almost," said Beck. He started preparing a syringe.
"Aw, what's that for?" asked Hiro.
"Broad spectrum antibiotics," said Beck. "Like I said, we really don't want anyone getting sick."
"Don't you need my aunt's permission to give me anything?"
“Oh, no, she already signed your life away.”
“This is just actually payback for me being a bratty patient,” accused Hiro.
“Could be,” Beck agreed.
“Man, space sucks sometimes."
"She is a harsh mistress," agreed Beck sagely.
“Commander,” Mark greeted, his hair still damp and wearing fresh clothes. He had been summoned to the commander’s quarters. They embraced
“We’re all damned happy that you’re back,” said Commander Lewis, eventually pulling back. “I can’t even imagine what’s going on in your head right now.”
“Oh, I still keep expecting to wake up back on Mars,” said Mark.
“I don’t blame you,” said Commander Lewis. “And I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I swore I’d bring us all home together.”
“Well, that’s what we’re doing,” said Mark.
“Because we got ridiculously lucky, at the eleventh hour,” said Commander Lewis. “You were on that barren godforsaken planet alone for ten months. I’m responsible for that.”
“I mean, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that,” said Mark.
“No, the rank on my arm says that I don’t actually have to agree to that,” said Lewis.
Mark rolled his eyes. “There was nothing you could have done,” said Mark. “And besides, the planet wasn’t barren for long. I had my crops.”
Lewis gave a brief laugh. “Only you could have pulled that off.”
“What can I say, I was the best botanist on the planet,” said Mark.
“That stopped being funny on Sol 2,” said Lewis.
“It’s a Martian classic,” complained Mark.
“What was it like? Being there?” asked Lewis.
“Well, it had it’s ups and downs,” said Mark. “The solitude was a bummer. But…I don’t know. Everything I did to stay alive, to get in contact with NASA, it was everything I became an astronaut for. I grew crops on Mars. I made my own water out of jet fuel. I retrofitted a rover. I watched a hundred Martian sunsets. But also, all I had to listen to was disco, so discount everything I just said, it was awful.”
“I will defend disco until my dying day,” said Lewis. “Now tell me about this kid.”
"What can I say, he saved my life. I'm a little biased."
"Still," said Lewis.
"Well, he's brilliant, obviously," said Mark.
"Clearly," said Lewis.
"But he's very much still a kid," said Mark.
"Immature?" asked Lewis.
"A little juvenile at times, but not when it matters."
"So he fits right in with you," said Lewis.
"I mean, I would have said Martinez," said Mark.
"You were saying," said Lewis.
"He's a good kid," said Mark. “He can take things seriously, but he loves it when he doesn’t have to. He loves to complain, but he still does what he’s supposed to….and I wouldn't be here if he was well adjusted."
"What's going on in his head? Do you know?"
“Well, he thinks his brother was a saint. Maybe he was, but I think he's trying to feel close to his brother by helping people in grand ways."
"So his heart’s in the right place at least. But will he be a liability on this ship?"
"Well, he can do whatever tasks he’s given with minimal instructions. Meanwhile, the only orders he hasn't followed were the ones to turn back."
"And it's not that I'm not grateful," said Lewis.
"No, I get it. You have to be the bad guy."
The shower was surprisingly normal, but perhaps that was to be expected, given that it had artificial gravity. It had a deadman’s switch, so you couldn't leave it running, and the water only got luc-warm, and there was a ridiculous amount of ventilation. Vogel had still given Hiro a five minute lecture on its proper use. Still though, it beat camping wipes.
Once Hiro was cleaned and dressed, now in an unused jumpsuit that had been among the few things from the ship that Beck had been able to bring over, he was summoned to Commander Lewis's quarters, and again Vogel had escorted him there. Hiro was nervous, because this would be the first time he was in the presence of an actual authority figure since he had left.
"Come in," she said, only a moment after Hiro had knocked.
"Hello, Commander," said Hiro as he entered, trying not to sound nervous.
"Hiro Hamada," said the Commander, standing up from her little chair next to her little desk. "It truly is a pleasure to meet you. Please, have a seat." She gestured to her bunk.
"It's an honor to meet you," said Hiro. "And to be here."
Commander Lewis nodded. "You have rescued my crewman. I left him for dead, with no hope of recovery, and you brought him back. I don't know that that is a debt that can ever fully be repaid. Come two months from now, we will be on Earth, and you will have my undying gratitude. If you need letters of commendation, you only need to ask. If you want burgers and shakes, I will drive to pick you up for it, and I don't live in California. But we are not on Earth yet."
"Right," said Hiro.
"What you did took courage, ingenuity, and no small amount of brilliance. It also took recklessness, lawlessness, and no small amount of dishonesty. We are in space, and that means that we are in constant danger, and any wrong move can be our last. And you are not supposed to be here. You may be used to being the smartest person in a room, but here you are a kid with no real training or experience, and we're six weeks from our approach to Earth."
"I understand," said Hiro.
"Mark used to be on the bottom of the chain of command. You have now taken that place, not as an astronaut, but as an astronaut apprentice. You will follow all commands from all crew members. You will not go anywhere or do anything without clearing it with a member of the crew first. You will not so much as go to the bathroom without telling someone."
Hiro blushed. He had not missed that aspect of high school.
"If there is an emergency, you will not do what you think is best, you will wait for instructions, and follow them precisely.”
"I get it," said Hiro.
"I'm not done. You will not appeal my decisions to the rest of the crew. I'm sure they all feel a great deal of sentiment for what you have done. You will not be cashing in on it on this ship."
There was a pause, and Hiro filled it. "I will absolutely respect your command."
"Good," said Commander Lewis. “There’s a few things for us to discuss about life on this ship. First, let's talk sexual harassment."
"What?! That's not...I mean I'm not going to...are we sure that's necessary, to talk about it?"
"Yes," said Commander Lewis.
"There is no dating or flirting on this ship, and there is no one on this ship young enough to be dating or flirting with you."
A tragedy on Mars left the world reeling ten months ago. Astronaut Mark Watney was reported dead in a Martian sandstorm that threatened to overturn the rocket that was to bring the Ares III crew home. The nation mourned, and waited to welcome home the survivors of that ill-fated mission. Until, that is, the world was rocked again with the news that Mark Watney was still alive on Mars, and that a teenaged boy would be his only hope for survival. I’m Anderson Cooper, and this is 60-Minutes.
“There is a certain amount of…horror… in what happened,” said Teddy Sanders, Director of NASA. “Mark Watney thrived on Mars for ten months, in many respects, but he was also completely alone for ten months. That he retrieved the Pathfinder probe was as much a testament to his ingenuity and resourcefulness as it was to how alone he must have felt.”
“The resources that have been retasked and the amount of overtime that has gone into bringing everyone home safe, I’ve heard people saying that nothing like this has happened at NASA since Apollo 13,” said Anderson. They were sitting in Teddy’s office, overlooking the grounds.
“Things are quieting down, now that they have reached the safety of the Hermes. But for the last few weeks, yes, NASA’s been like a bee-hive that’s been knocked down. Everyone’s been doing their part, everyone, like you said, has been working overtime, practically living in their offices. It's more overtime than we have the budget for. You know, it was only after they had launched from Mars that our teams stopped furiously trying to put together a resupply probe. Because if something went wrong, and they couldn’t leave Mars, they would need a resupply sooner, rather than later. Before we had full communication with Mars, our friends at JPL were working night and day to get in contact with the Pathfinder probe. And it was only after they rendezvoused with the Hermes that our teams of engineers were able to step back their efforts to understand Hiro’s craft, and his technology, because if something went wrong, we had to be in a position to give the right information to correct the issue. Of course, everything’s gone off with nary a hitch, but I don’t think anyone regrets the effort that they put into this. We had astronauts in need, and we did everything we could to make sure that they would come home safely.”
“Now these events have set a lot of precedents,” said Anderson.
“They have, at every step of the way. There’s never been a situation like this in all of NASA history, or in the history of manned spaceflight. Of course, we thought that Mark was the first person to die on another planet. Now, he holds the record for the longest time spent on another celestial body, and his resourcefulness there has been astounding. As has been pointed out by the University of Chicago, Mark’s alma mater, he has literally colonized Mars. Meanwhile the technology that has gone to reach him, the reactionless drive, the quartzite reactor, have captured the imaginations of scientists, engineers, and laymen alike. We’ve all seen just what they’ve accomplished already, and it was that potential that led us to work with Hiro Hamada in the first place.”
“Now that’s not a name that is without controversy,” suggested Anderson.
“Oh, there certainly is,” said Teddy. “You can’t create an international incident with North Korea without staring in some controversy. And I certainly appreciate what he’s done. But I don’t know that I can condone his actions.”
“Well, not as the Director of a government agency, perhaps,” said Anderson. “But if you weren’t. As a human being, experiencing these events that have brought the world together, what’s your reaction to Hiro Hamada.”
“Well I’ll tell you this, I’d like the chance to shake his hand again.”
Director Sanders is not alone in that sentiment. I sat down with the two people who most of all in this world want to thank Hiro Hamada.
“You think, as a mother, that you know that losing your child would be the worst pain imaginable. But that’s just an idea, a concept that anyone can suss out. It’s not until it happens, that you actually know what that grief is like. People would tell me that Mark was a hero, that he died for all of humanity. What did I care? I just wanted him back.”
“And now, you write each other daily,” said Anderson.
“It’s like someone turned the color on in the world again,” said Mrs. Watney.
“We both took it hard,” said Mr. Watney. “You know, when your kid tells you that they want to be an astronaut, you tell them to shoot for the stars. When your kid actually joins, well that’s scary. It’s the most dangerous job there is, and we knew it. Nothing prepared us though, for getting the news we got.”
“Meanwhile,” said Anderson, “your son has shown a tremendous amount of resourcefulness in his survival on Mars.”
“What can I say,” said Mr. Watney. “That’s how he was raised. And besides, well, I made him promise his mother he’d come home, and Mark’s a man of his word.”
“Of course,” said Anderson, “we’d be having a very different conversation today if not for the actions of one individual.”
“Hiro,” said Mrs. Watney. “The mother in me wants to smother him with kisses and confectionary, and set him to doing enough chores to keep him busy with his feet on the ground until he turns eighteen.”
“I don’t know about all that,” said Mr. Watney. “I think if a boy can do incredible things, he should be able to do incredible things. We certainly never held Mark back.”
“Even with all of the laws he’s broken?” asked Anderson.
“I say, the government dropped the ball with Mark,” said Mr. Watney. “Could they have foreseen his being stranded there? Maybe not. But they should have been in the vanguard of bringing him home. Instead, they ignored the one person telling them that he was alive. So I think, sometimes, you have to take matters into your own hands.”
“All I see,” said Mrs. Watney, “is a boy who didn’t let anything stop him from saving my son. I’d ask anyone who wants to condemn him for that, to say it to my face.”
In the aftermath of Mark Watney’s apparent death, Hiro Hamada led the front of voices that were crying out that he was still alive. But that group was a small one, and Hiro’s efforts never gained any traction with NASA or the public. It can be argued that there were other ways to have gone about revealing the truth of Mark’s survival to the world. At no time did Hiro Hamada contact members of the press. And when he gained the funds and cooperation he needed from NASA to build his ship, he did not take the opportunity to share his theories with NASA personnel. So I went to speak with some of the people who knew him the best to ask why his efforts to reveal the truth were so short lived.
“I think he came to the conclusion pretty quickly that there were two ways to save Mark: to get NASA to rescue him, or to do it himself. He went with the former initially, but when he couldn’t get any traction, he switched tracks hard. Not for any personal reason, I don’t think. He knew that if he pushed on both fronts, then he might spoil his chances of being able to mount a rescue of any kind," said Wasabi-No Ginger, sat amidst his friends in the SFIT robotics lab.
"I don't think it was so much that Hiro didn't think he could convince someone like Teddy Sanders in a face-to-face meeting," said Honey Lemon. "But he couldn't be sure of the outcome. If, say, Director Sanders wasn't convinced, then he also might realize that Hiro had an ulterior motive for building his ship, and that could have put an end to everything."
"One question that's been asked a lot is, did anyone know that Hiro was going to launch his ship before he did it."
"Well we sure didn't," said Gogo Tomago.
"You didn't have a clue?" asked Anderson.
"I wouldn't go that far," said Gogo. "We knew he had the tech to do it. We worked on the reactor with him. He told us he wanted to finish his ship and then reveal everything, and finally get an audience who might listen to his theory about Mark Watney. Then, when NASA looked to confirm that Mark was alive, he'd pressure NASA into using his ship to rescue Mark."
"We didn't necessarily think it was a good idea," said Wasabi, "we weren't even sold on whether Mark was alive or not, but we respected his decision. When he asked to postpone our presentation of the quartzite reactor, we went along with it. If for no other reason than that the reactor was his brainchild in the first place."
"I mean, I suspected that he was at least thinking about doing this," admitted Gogo.
"Same," said Frederick Lee.
"You did?" asked Anderson.
"It's the logical conclusion, my man," said Fred. "Hiro always goes all in on everything he does. This story was always going to end with a launch, one way or another."
"For me," said Gogo, "I saw how much he was obsessing over what would happen to Watney. I found him once, up late in the lab, researching the effects of starvation on the human body. Really graphic stuff too. I think he was beating himself up that he couldn't build it any faster. I kind of figured that launching himself was an option he was at least considering."
"And did you ever share your concerns with anyone?" asked Anderson.
"No," said Gogo. "I thought there'd be time to talk him out of it, if it looked like he was going to go that route. But then, of course, two hours after the announcement that Mark was alive, Hiro was gone. I guess he was spooked when he saw NASA guarding his ship. The NASA engineers had been scheduled to come take a look at his ship three days later. I’d figured if he didn’t confront them about Watney then, I’d know what he was planning.”
"For me," said Fred, "I just figured, you know, you don't stand in the way of greatness. Hiro's proved to the world now that he had what it takes to pull this off, but I already knew he did."
"He's kind of like a force of nature," agreed Wasabi.
Hiro didn't have time to feel down about his actually-kind-of-terrifying first meeting with Commander Lewis. He was surrounded with crew members helping him set up his own bunk.
Finding a place to put Hiro had apparently been quite an issue for everyone at NASA. The ship was big, but it didn’t waste any space. There were six bunks, one for each crew member, not including Hiro. Of them, only Beck's and Lewis’s had the floor space to make up a pallet for Hiro. But NASA had decided that such an arrangement would present a safety hazard in the event of an emergency.
There were a few alcoves in the ring section of the Hermes used for storage. One of them was just big enough for Hiro to stretch out in. Given that they were most of the way through their journey, the crew had gone through enough of their provisions that space could be made there for Hiro’s make-shift bunk by jettisoning a few empty containers. Vogel and Martinez were setting up guidelines for a blanket that would act as a privacy screen, while Hiro and Johanssen debated the best way of crafting a sleeping surface out of clothes and linens. Mark sat and watched, offering the occasional commentary. Everyone’s science schedules had been cleared for the day, and with the rendezvous completed, and the ship back on course, everyone was free to hang out.
“Alright,” said Mark, once Hiro had his pseudo bunk. “I think it’s time to teach our space baby to get around in zero-gravity.”
“Apprentice,” supplied Hiro.
“Aw, he is our space baby,” said Johanssen.
They walked to the nearest ladder that ran up to the center of the ring, where it connected with the rest of the ship.
“Nope. Nope, nope, nope,” said Beck coming down the hall.
“Not more tests,” complained Hiro.
“I told you I wanted you on a treadmill. NASA Medical’s just cleared the tests, and I want them done before you go playing in zero-g. Same goes double for you, Mark.”
“Buzzkill,” said Mark.
“I’m okay with that,” said Beck. “Come on, the both of you.”
“We’ll see you guys once you’re cleared to have some fun,” said Martinez.
Beck led the two of them to the gym, which was cramped and small. There were two treadmills, side-by-side, and they were apparently already set up for running stress tests. Beck pulled out wires from a compartment on one of them, and attached fresh electrodes to them, which he stuck to Mark’s chest, before doing the same with Hiro.
“Alright,” said Beck. “We’ll start out with a slow walk.” Standing across from Mark, he reached over the control panel to turn on treadmill, which started rolling at its lowest setting. He did the same with Hiro’s, before stepping back to look at his tablet, which was apparently getting feedback.
“Alright,” he said after a minute, “let’s move it up to 2.0.”
“Can’t we start running yet?” asked Hiro, who was bored of the whole thing already.
“Oh, Commander,” said Beck, effecting a heartbroken tone, “I’m sorry his poor heart just gave out because I couldn’t follow basic instructions for a stress test.”
“My heart’s not going to give out!” complained Hiro.
“We’ll see,” said Beck cheerfully.
“If anyone’s heart’s going to give, it’s Mark’s,” said Hiro.
“How did I get into this?” asked Mark.
“He’s been on Mars for ten months living in a poo house,” said Hiro. “His heart’s probably on its last legs.”
“My heart’s just fine, thank you very much,” said Mark.
“No one’s heart is fine until I say so,” said Beck.
“Beck’s always been a little mad with power,” Mark confided in Hiro.
“Bring it up to 3.0,” said Beck.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” said Hiro, starting to power-walk.
“How are we doing?” Mark asked Beck.
“All readings normal, so far,” said Beck.
It wasn’t over until they were sprinting on an incline, and puffing hard for breath, but finally it was over. For the time being.
“Alright,” said Beck, “so far so good. Go take a break in the galley, have a small snack, and I mean small, rehydrate, and come back in half an hour.”
“There’s more?!” asked Hiro.
“Breathing test,” said Beck.
“Lame,” said Hiro
“Alright, Hiro, glance over your shoulder, then small push,” said Martinez.
Hiro gulped, and followed the directions for his fifth try. Small push, and then everything was out of his hands for the three seconds it took for his feet to enter the shaft that led to the ring. Vogel was waiting inside to catch him, just in case, since Hiro’s short arm-span meant that he could fall quite a ways without being able to grab anything if he messed up very badly. But this time, Hiro didn’t bounce off the edge, or spin away from the ladder, and he was able to grab on to one of the sides.
“Great,” said Martinez, “okay, hold there.”
Hiro was feeling the spin now, but so close to the center, it did not present much of a downward force.
“Alright, you oriented?” asked Martinez.
“Yeah,” said Hiro. He had the ladder gripped on both sides, and inner curves of his feet hugged the sides as well.
“Alright, loosen your grip just a little,” said Martinez.
Hiro did so, to no effect.
“Alright, a little bit more,” said Martinez.
Hiro slackened his grip more, and felt a little give as a millimeter of ladder slid through his hands.
“Just a little bit more,” said Martinez.
Hiro started falling, slowly.
“Don’t let yourself go too fast,” said Vogel, still below him, getting out of the way by pressing himself to the side of the shaft.
Hiro tightened his grip and came to a jerking halt.
“Yeah, but not that slow,” said Martinez, still peering over the side.
Hiro took a deep breath and loosened his grip again, falling down to the galley in a controlled fashion.
“You’re doing great,” shouted Johanssen from below.
It became harder to control his descent the closer to the bottom he got, his gut rearranging to having gravity again, but he managed to come to a stop at the bottom without breaking anything.
“Alright, Hiro!” congratulated Mark, who slapped Hiro on the shoulder. Hiro grinned. “Now do it again,” said Mark.
“Right,” said Hiro, starting the long climb back up. “I don’t know why you guys need a gym, this is a workout all on its own.”
“Tell that to NASA,” said Mark.
They had started out with fun zero-gravity malarky, like Hiro had gotten to do on the vomit-comet. But at the end of the day, Hiro needed to be proficient in getting around the ship, so they had gotten down to business, first teaching Hiro to travel from point A to point B instead of to point Z, to catch handholds, the proper way to hold his body while gliding about. Now this, transitioning from the ship’s two gravities, the Hermes crew made it look effortless, but it was currently taking all of Hiro’s effort.
Space was just really hard. But Hiro had never walked away from a challenge, and he wasn’t going to start.
“So, damage control,” said Teddy. “How’s it going?”
“Better than it could be,” said Annie. “With everyone relatively safe on the Hermes, the public's too happy to be too critical. Meanwhile, people here are actually following my directions for talking about Hiro with the public.”
“You sure we can’t throw him a parade when he gets back?” asked a refreshingly chipper Mitch.
“For the last time,” said Annie, “we can neither condemn, nor condone his actions. Condemn him, and we’re bullies. Condone him, we’re irresponsible. We’re grateful that everyone is okay. We’re working hard to make sure they stay that way. And we look forward to a future made possible by this new technology.
“I mean, yes,” said Venkat, “but people can appreciate that there’s nuance to all of that, can’t they?”
Annie choked on a laugh. “Wait, oh, you’re being serious. No. No, we’re not doing nuance. The less we have people fighting about whether he did right or wrong, the less we have people talking about how we messed up in the first place. Mark’s coming home. It’s a miracle. End of story.”
“Legal keeps trying to have conversations with me about whether or not we have cases for fraud or breach of contract for the Oberfeld,” said Teddy.
“Well tell them to stop,” said Annie. “Remind them that he’s saved us millions of dollars if you have to. They’re very glad that Mark’s coming home. It’s a miracle. Should I be making posters about this or something?”
“They’re not the only ones having discussions about it,” said Venkat. “SFIT, the US Attorney’s office, they both have their grievances.”
“I’m not worried about SFIT,” said Annie, “they have their own head of public relations. If they’re smart, they’ll celebrate his achievements and slap him on the wrist. The kid's lawyer should be able to handle the rest quietly, unless we give him a reason to handle it noisily.”
“Moving on,” said Teddy. “How are things on the Hermes?”
“Mark is about as healthy as can be expected,” said Mitch. “Medical isn’t expecting any complications on the way back, but Beck’s going to be doing regular check-ups. Hiro’s doing just fine, and Medical is excited to be able to study the effects of space travel on a pubescent body.”
“Yeah, let’s leave that last part out of the talking points,” said Annie.
“No discernible effects from living with a quartzite reactor for however long he had one plugged into that robot of his?” asked Venkat.
“No,” said Mitch, “at least, not that can be discerned with the medical equipment on the Hermes. Meanwhile, Commander Lewis has given him the Talk.”
“Which talk is this now?” asked Annie.
“The no-hitting-on-Johanssen talk,” said Venkat.
“Good,” said Teddy. “How’s morale?”
“Fantastic,” said Mitch. “They’re all thrilled. There’s no indication that group cohesion has been damaged, though we’re monitoring the situation. Beck says the kid’s a bit of a smart-alec, but he follows directions. Commander Lewis reports that he seems to accept her authority over him. Psych is hopeful that they’ll ride the high of the rescue all the way through to mission completion.”
“Alright, Venkat, you had a proposal?”
“Yes,” said Venkat. “We need to send people back to the Ares III site.”
“Why?” asked Annie. “It’s the best studied section of Mars we have.”
“Is this about Pathfinder?” asked Teddy. “We already let them bring Sojourner home so we could study Martian weathering.”
“Sojourner’s been compromised by having been brought into the Hab in the first place,” said Venkat. “Moreover, we want to send specialized equipment to do a more in-depth examination of Mark’s farm.”
“Everything will be dead by then,” said Mitch.
“The plants, maybe. But the soil? The Hab’s still running warm and humid with plenty of CO2. The only things running are atmospheric control, so it should be able to keep going even if most of the solar panels get covered in dust. This is an opportunity to study long term growing conditions on Mars.”
“I might be able to sell it,” said Teddy.
"I can't stress how important the data would be for future Mars colonization," said Venkat. "I've got scientists saying it would be worth scrapping the original Ares V mission to go back to Acidalia Planecia, if that's what it takes."
"Get me a proposal I can present," said Teddy. "Hopefully it won't come to scrapping the Ares V landing site."
"We can't just hop over with reactionless engines?" asked Annie.
"It could be ten years before we can clear a manned mission to Mars with this tech,” said Venkat. “If we postpone Ares V, we could get there in five. The only reason I’m not suggesting postponing Ares IV is because the MAV is already there and it can’t stand there indefinitely.”
“There’s also the consideration that we’re going to be juggling a lot of project proposals now that this technology exists,” said Teddy. “JPL thinks they can get a probe to Proxima B within five years if they start working on it now. The shuttle program is talking about doubling the frequency of launches now that fuel cost won’t be a consideration. Meanwhile I’ve had three separate proposal’s for manned expeditions to Europa.”
“We’re not ready to put people on Europa,” said Venkat.
“Tell them that,” said Teddy.
“No, but these are the conversations you guys need to be having publicly,” said Annie. “I want to start a publicity campaign, the Future of Space Travel.”
“I thought we couldn’t throw Hiro a parade,” said Mitch.
“No, but we can throw his tech a parade,” said Annie.
“Sounds good,” said Teddy. “I’ll forward the proposals to you.”
“You know,” said Mitch, “thirty years from now, Hiro’s going to be known as the kid who took us to the stars, before anyone remembers that he flew to Mars that one time.”
“Mark’s doing great,” said Beck, in a private meeting with Commander Lewis.
“Surprisingly so,” said Commander Lewis. “Not just physically. He’d been alone for so long.”
“He had a lot of things going for him. He kept busy, he had concrete goals to work towards, and as much as he likes to bash it, he had your data stick. Plus, he’s Mark, he’s always been resilient. Don’t get me wrong, he needs some TLC, but I’m very optimistic.”
“And Hiro?” asked Commander Lewis.
“Hiro, well, physically he’s just fine. He’s not quite up to astronaut standards, so lets just say it’s a good thing we have the habitat ring.”
“And aside from physically?”
“You know, he sleeps with that chip,” said Beck.
“He sleeps with everything he owns up here,” said Commander Lewis. “We all do.”
“I mean clenched in his hand, held close to his body,” said Beck. He hadn’t been snooping, it was just that the privacy screen they’d put up had a habit of getting pushed to the side as Hiro tossed and turned in his cramped bunk.
“Is that a concern for you?” asked the commander, giving him a puzzled look. “This isn’t some grudge against a medical bot, is it?”
“No,” said Beck. “I’ve been going over the medical files Baymax sent us. It’s actually pretty impressive. They really could replace people like me. Someday, anyway.”
“So what’s the issue?” asked Commander Lewis.
“It’s what it represents,” said Beck. “Like I said, I’ve been going over the medical files the robot sent NASA Medical. The thing is, they’re not just medical files, they're psych too. I don’t think Baymax saw a difference; mental states, being physical states, and all that.”
“Hiro has a diagnosis?” asked Commander Lewis. As Commander, there was not much that she was not privy to.
“Acute grief and depression,” said Beck, “related to personal loss, the death of his brother seventeen months ago. Per the files, he was recovering well, working through accepting the loss.”
“I think I can see where this is going,” said Commander Lewis. “He was surrounded by friends and family then.”
“Yeah,” said Beck. “And when he launched, he had Baymax, which Mark reports was a giant fluffy hug factory. Basically a robotic security blanket, and now we took that away too.”
“Have you noticed anything?” asked Commander Lewis.
“No,” said Beck, “but it’s over a month until we get to Earth and start our aerobraking procedures, closer to two months until he can actually go home. I’d rather be proactive.”
“Alright,” said Commander Lewis, “let’s break out some morale boosters.”
There was no one part of the ship that was designed for seven crew members. For instance, there were six flight chairs on the bridge. When the Hermes began its aerobraking maneuvers, Hiro would be strapped in in the infirmary like a medically fragile patient. There were also only six chairs in the commissary/rec room. Hiro mostly just sat in a corner when they were all using it together, though sometimes he perched himself on the table, or was allowed to squeeze in to share Johanssen’s chair. There weren’t any portable chairs on the ship, and NASA didn’t want the obstruction that bringing in a storage container for Hiro to sit on would cause. Today he was squeezed in as he threw his dice on the table.
“28,” said Hiro.
“That is a hit!” said Vogel.
Hiro gathered up a few d8s to roll the damage.
“Seventeen radiant damage,” said Hiro.
“The dark elf lets out a cry as your holy-blade swings true, but you can see that it is more furious than injured and it locks its black eyes onto yours.”
“Eep!” said Hiro. “Mark, you want to help a guy out before she’s able to hit me back?”
“I mean, I want to help you out, Hiro,” said Mark, “but Hagar thinks you’ve made your bed, and now you need to lie in it. He casts Blink.” Mark rolled a d20. “Thirteen, Hagar disappears from existence, watching you all from another plane.”
“Hagar sucks,” said Hiro.
When Commander Lewis had announced that they were having a game night, it was quickly decided to revive the crew’s dungeons and dragons campaign, which had originally dissolved when Mark had been left on Mars. Hiro had played a little of the seventh edition when he was ten, and Tadashi had been playing a campaign with his high school friends. The crew was still playing sixth edition.
“Yeah,” said Martinez, “Hagar is way more trouble than he’s worth.”
“You didn’t say that when Hagar blew up the prison,” said Mark.
“I did,” said Martinez.
“We all did,” said Johanssen.
“There’s a reason we don’t let Hagar have explosives anymore,” said Lewis, “and it’s because Hagar blew up the prison.”
“You’re welcome,” said Mark.
Beck threw some popcorn at Mark. They had had a movie night a couple nights ago, and Hiro had learned then that there was no fresh popcorn in space, since it was way too easy to burn in the microwave. That was fine though, since Hiro loved the tinned stuff with various sugary flavors. Commander Lewis had told them that they had way too much of the stuff left, so they might as well use it, prompting excuses to use it, like movie and game nights.
“I cast Bardic Inspiration on little Ragon,” said Martinez.
“Ragon is seven feet tall, thank you very much,” said Hiro.
Johanssen, who loved not being the smallest crew member anymore, ruffled his hair.
“The dark elf draws back her battle axe,” said Vogel, “saying a prayer to Loviatar as the blade of her weapon shimmers with black energy. She swings the blade down at you, trying to cleave you in two with her Finishing Strike. She rolls…unnatural 20.”
“Use your bardic inspiration,” said Martinez.
Hiro picked up a d10 and threw it at the table.
“2! Tie goes to the defender!” said Hiro.
“Perhaps in 8e,” Vogel, “but here, the tie goes to the one who attacks.”
“Arg,” said Hiro.
Vogel started picking up a lot of d10s.
“47 damage, and you are knocked prone,” declared Vogel. “She winds up for a bonus attack.”
“Okay,” said Hiro, “I am way past bloodied. Does anyone have any reaction abilities?”
“I think you’re on your own, Hiro,” said Beck.
“The dark elf swings to separate your head from your body…but she rolls a twelve and plows a gouge into the ground.”
Hiro heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank Bahamut for small favors.”
“Commander, it is your turn,” said Vogel.
“I Translocate,” said Commander Lewis, “switching places with Ragon.”
“The dark elf is furious that her prey has been stolen from her.”
“Well that’s too bad for her, because Tyree unleashes a Stinging Fury with her twin daggers with a…28.”
“That’s a hit,” said Vogel. “Roll for-.”
He was interrupted by a flashing red icon on the touch screen that was mounted on the wall, and it’s accompanying chirping.
Hiro was temporarily displaced as Johanssen got up to check on what the alert was for.
“NASA’s implementing a course correction. We’ve drifted off course by fourteen hundred meters.”
“Alright,” said Commander Lewis. “Looks like game night’s over. Martinez, you and I will be on the bridge running system diagnostics. Johanssen, please complete a full reactor and engine check. Vogel, you can recheck telemetry in the morning.”
“You got it, Commander,” said Martinez as the three filed out.
“What do we do?” asked Hiro to Mark, Vogel, and Beck.
“Clean up,” said Beck. “It’s minor issue. All hands aren’t required. If they find something the matter, then we would see who's specialty is needed to correct it.” He was taking a picture of the playing board for future reference before placing the figurines into a small box and rolling up the playing grid.
Hiro couldn’t go and observe what was being done either, because he wasn’t allowed in the bridge or the reactor room.
“Come,” said Vogel to Hiro, “I was going to check on my crystals before bed.”
Coming back from Mars, a lot of Vogel’s time was spent analyzing the Martian soil samples with Commander Lewis, but throughout the journey he put a lot of focus on the growth of crystalline structures in zero-gravity. There was a lot of tech applications for such things, and Vogel’s experiments were in anticipation of a permanent space station that would grow such crystals. Hiro had a lot of appreciation for the experiments after how much trouble he went through getting the right crystalline structure for his reactor. As an apprentice astronaut, he’d been helping with the different science duties.
“Actually, I’m already promised to Mark,” said Hiro. The hydroponics equipment had been on the fritz all day. They’d been working on it before dinner without much luck. They’d decided to do some more trouble shooting before bed, as well as give the plants some manual TLC.
“Then I bid you good night,” said Vogel, “should I not see you till morning.”
“Night, guys,” said Beck, “I’ll be in my bunk. Hiro, Mark, don’t forget, we’re doing a blood draw tomorrow, so no more food until then.”
“Ug,” said Hiro.
“You say, to the man who was starving on Mars,” said Mark.
“Yeah, you’ve put on five pounds since then, Mr. Potato Farmer,” said Beck. “You can managed twelve hours.”
“Fine,” said Mark.
“Night,” said Hiro.
“Come on,” said Mark. “Lets go save my plants.”
Mark had two labs. One in the ring habitat, and one in zero-g, allowing him to run control tests. They were headed to the lab without gravity, necessitating a long climb up the nearest ladder. Hiro was starting to get the hang of the long climbs, but was still huffing a little when he reached the top and launched himself to the nearest stationary handhold. Then the two of them made their way towards the back of the ship and Mark unsealed the hatch to his hydroponics lab. He set Hiro to watering the plants their pre-set amounts, while he started opening up the access panels to the machinery that was supposed to automatically tend to the plants needs. Johanssen had already determined that there wasn’t a software glitch, which meant that there was a problem somewhere in the sophisticated mechanisms. He started poking around while Hiro was still using a special syringe to pump doses of water and nutrients into various tubing.
“So how’ve you been doing, Hiro,” asked Mark after they were settled into their work.
“I’ve been okay,” said Hiro.
“Tell me about it,” said Mark.
“Er, well,” said Hiro, “I think I’m settling in pretty well. Case in point, I can get stuff done in zero-gravity now. Everyone’s been great helping me.”
“Yeah?” said Mark.
“Yeah,” said Hiro, “even if Beck has to keep poking and prodding me.”
“I could do without that too,” said Mark. “I’m sure we make great test subjects though: The Martian, and the first teen in space. He’s probably writing a paper on us as we speak.”
“I thought he was doing the tests on NASA’s orders,” said Hiro.
“Oh, he is,” said Mark. “But we’ve all got papers to put out while we’re up here. He’s hardly going to pass up the opportunity to put his stamp on all of this. I’ve been writing a few papers myself, mostly on my potato farm, in addition to my experiments up here.”
“Maybe I should get writing then,” said Hiro.
“Yeah, you should,” said Mark. “You could be published in pretty much any journal you apply to.”
“It’s so much work though,” complained Hiro.
“And building a spaceship wasn’t?” asked Mark.
“That was fun,” said Hiro. “Like, every step of the way. I didn’t think it would be, since my true love will always be robotics. But there’s a lot to be said for spaceships.”
“Well that’s good at least,” said Mark. “So, feeling homesick at all?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” said Hiro. “I mean, not like you probably were.”
“Eh, it’s not a competition. Besides, I haven’t been gone from home any longer than I had planned to be.”
“Still,” said Hiro.
“Yeah,” said Mark. “It was real hard. I think you saw some of that when you first got there.”
“You were kind of freaking out,” said Hiro.
“And you were a big help when you got there,” said Mark. “It was good to be connected with another human being, you know? And now I’m back with my friends, heading home. So I’ve been doing pretty well. There's still some nights I have to wander the ship to convince myself it's all real, before I can get back to sleep. But I’ve got people I can reach out to when I need help now. And I know we’re not the friends and family you left back home, but so do you.”
“What? I’m fine,” said Hiro.
“Sure,” said Mark. “But if you weren’t. I don’t think there’s anyone on the ship who wouldn’t give you a hug.”
“I’ll…keep that in mind,” said Hiro.
“Great,” said Mark. “Now, come here a minute and help me get into the pump assembly.”
“We checked that already,” said Hiro, already drifting down to where Mark was working.
“I’ve got a hunch,” said Mark.
“I bet you tomorrow’s dessert ration that it’s a slipped gear in the nutrient distributor.”
“You’re on,” said Mark… “Wait, I should not be betting with a hustler.”
“Too late,” said Hiro. “Your dessert is mine.”
“Welcome, welcome, welcome and thank you for joining us on Last Week Tonight! I’m John Oliver, and we start tonight with a Mission to Mars, or, as Rotten Tomatoes likes to call it: 25%.”
The poster for the 2000 flop appeared over his right shoulder.
“Now, you all already know the story of Mark Watney, stranded on Mars, and Hiro Hamada, his unlikely rescuer. So what we’ve been trying to dig into isn’t what all has happened, but how did all of this happen? How did no one notice he was still up there, and how did a fifteen year old boy get away with building a fully functional space ship without raising any eyebrows. I think most of us remember fifteen as our awkward goth phase. Or as we told our mothers: it’s not a phase mother, darkness is my life! I’M EBONY NOW! CALL ME EBONY! GOD!” The image of a teenage goth looking very moody had appeared over his right shoulder.
“The answer to those two questions, we’ve discovered, is a complete lack of imagination, on NASA’s part. Check out this interview that CNN had with Irma Vales, who runs the public relations department that Hiro repeatedly cried out to, sharing his evidence of Mark Watney’s survival.”
“It’s just that…we don’t exist to advise NASA,” Irma stated. “You know, someone calls and says they like what we’re doing, we send them a thank you letter. Someone tells us they’ve left a bomb in NASA headquarters, we call the FBI. That’s happened more than a few times. People call us all the time though to say, oh, there’s aliens on the moon, or that the ISS has some critical flaw they need to warn NASA about. It’s not really our job to pass along every crazy theory.”
“That’s right,” said John. “Three weeks later, and it’s still a ‘crazy theory’ that Mark Watney survived. And you might be asking, why it isn’t their job to pass these things up the chain of command, and the answer isn’t so surprising.”
“I’d say that fully two-thirds of the communications we get are from pranksters or nut-jobs,” said Irma. “We get plenty of legitimate calls too. People who want to know how they can watch a launch, people who are interested in job opportunities. We take calls from people who think that space debris has fallen on their property, and sometimes it has. But we get a lot of people calling to say that space travel is against god’s will, and we’re going to burn in hell. We get people harassing us to say that we should be shot for helping to cover up aliens. We got calls from two separate people last month who thought that one of the astronauts back from the ISS had been replaced by bodysnatchers. We get letters from people who’ve compiled what they think is evidence that the Chinese are planning a hostile takeover of the ISS. But we’re not really there to tell the scientists and the bureaucrats how to do their jobs.”
“Exactly,” said John, “they are so inundated with bullshit twenty-four seven, that Hiro’s perfectly reasonable theory that Mark Watney survived Sol 6 just sounded like more noise in a sea of crazy. Now, when asked what someone with a legitimate concern is supposed to do when they need to share it with NASA, Ms. Vales had no clear answer. And we checked for ourselves. We searched the official website, and for the average layperson, there is no recourse. All roads lead back to Irma whether by phone, email, snail mail, or fax. Now, as John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, I was able to call Annie Montrose, Head of NASA Media Relations, and have a chat about having NASA Director Teddy Sanders do an appearance on the show, and we’ve already received a response directly from him politely declining. But not everyone has the pull to accomplish that kind of rejection. So I’ve had Keith, a member of our camera crew, trying to get in touch with NASA management for the last week and a half. We consulted with a former JPL employee to come up with a reasonable sounding concern about a possible hazard on the ISS. Keith’s only job for the last week and a half has been to get someone to actually address that concern. Keith, how about you come out here and tell us how you’ve done.”
“Oh, hey John,” said an awkward looking guy in a t-shirt and cargo pants, walking onto the stage.”
“So Keith, tell us, has NASA saved the astronauts on the ISS from certain death.”
“Um, I don’t know about that,” said Keith. “I did get this nice letter, thanking me for my concern. It’s like, on really nice paper.”
“Okay, but who have you been able to talk to about this?”
“Um, I got in touch with people at NASA’s call center. They didn’t do anything. Then I like, googled for contact information for NASA employees. I got the desk phone of this middle manager in some field I don’t understand. He hung up on me. And I got an email for some guy, I don’t know what he does, but he hasn’t gotten back to me.”
“Is…is that all?” asked John.
“I got Teddy Sanders's secretary on the phone,” said Keith.
“You did?” asked John. “How did you do that?”
“I lied my ass off,” said Keith.
“Okay, but what was the result?” asked John.
“Well, they changed her number,” said Keith.
“That’s as far as you got?”
“Nah, after that, I called their front desk. I’d found their company department list, so I just kept asking to be put in touch with the different department heads. They didn’t really want to talk to me though.”
“Is that so?”
“Well, I told one of them that I was a professor of astrophysics at MIT.”
“How did that work out?” asked John.
“He asked me why I was calling from New York in the middle of midterms."
“Yeah, that’s fair,” said John.
“So I went to NASA headquarters.”
“Wait, I didn’t give you a budget for that,” said John.
“Yeah, you did, you said to do whatever it took to get someone to listen to me, so the quartermaster gave me a plane ticket.”
“Wait, coach, right?”
“…Sure. Anyway, I got kicked out of NASA a couple of times. Eventually, I wound up outside with a sandwich board.”
A video came up of Keith standing out front of NASA with a sandwich board reading 'CRITICAL ISS FAILURE IMMINENT', handing out fliers.
“Wait, who’s taking the video?” asked John.
“Oh, Sandra over there,” said Keith, pointing to one of the camerawomen off to the side. She poked her head out from behind her camera.
“Hey, Keith,” she said with a wave. “Looking good up there.”
“Thank’s Sandra,” said Keith.
“Wait, we sent Sandra and a camera along too?” asked John.
“Yeah, and her crew,” said Keith.
“Okay, this is getting out of hand. But what were you able to accomplish?”
“Well, I didn’t get arrested,” said Keith, and now a video of him being approached by police came up, followed by a shot of Keith walking dejectedly away from NASA in his sandwich board.
“I’m assuming we would have had to pay to get you bailed out,” said John.
“Yeah,” said Keith. “Luckily, we still had enough petty cash to go to Disney World while we were there.” He put on a Micky Mouse hat.
“Alright, get out of here!” cried John. “We are having a talk later,” he said to Keith’s retreating back.
John turned back to the audience. “So basically, it’s impossible for a private citizen with a legitimate concern to bring it to NASA’s attention. Which generally hasn’t been a concern, until they left an astronaut on Mars, and didn’t realize it.
“So we’ve determined how Hiro Hamada failed to bring Mark’s survival to NASA’s attention. Now, to figure out how it was that Hiro managed to build his space ship without raising any red flags we’ve had to go to some lengths. Because while NASA has had plenty to say on the matter, it’s basically all been spin. So we decided to find out if there was anyone who could comment on the matter with no previous knowledge about the launch. Which you would think would be impossible, and we thought so too, until our research department found NASA engineer Ted Chang, whose excuse for being completely oblivious is that he was clinically dead when the news broke, which, is a pretty good excuse, as these things go. Kim went in for a major heart operation on the same day as everything went down, and has been in recovery at the Mayo Clinic, which has a strict no-news policy, in the interest of providing their patients with a stress free environment. When we found out about this, we made sure to get permission to be the ones to let him know.”
John sat in Ted’s living room across from Ted, who was sat comfortably in a recliner.
“I have to say, you look pretty good for a man who was dead two weeks ago.”
“Well, it was a controlled death,” said Ted. “The doctor’s did it on purpose.”
“Yeah, but not many people can say they were dead for twenty minutes and came back.”
“It’s an odd club to be in,” said Ted.
“Now, just to confirm, you have not had access to any news since your surgery.”
“Oh, I got one piece of news,” said Ted.
“And what’s that?” asked John.
“My latest granddaughter was born three days ago. Do you want to see a picture?”
“Alright,” said John.
Ted pulled a picture of his granddaughter out and held it out to John who went in for a close look.
“Yeah,” said John. “That sure is a baby there.”
“I know, isn’t she perfect?”
“Sure,” said John.
“But you didn’t come here to see pictures of my grand baby.”
“No, but, that is a cute baby. I mean, they’re all cute. That’s why we let them survive the crying phase.”
“So,” said Ted.
“Well, I wanted to ask you what you thought about the possibility of a viable space craft being built by university students,” said John.
“Oh, you mean what they’re doing at SFIT,” said Ted.
“Right,” said John. “Do you think they’ll be able to make a space worthy craft?”
“Are…are you okay?” asked John.
“I’m okay,” said Ted.
“You’re not going to keel over during this interview, are you?”
“I don’t think so,” said Ted.
“Alright, so, spaceship.”
“It looks amazing, from what I’ve seen so far. You know, they get to do so many fun things at the university level. They get to put the latest technologies to work there.”
“Well, isn’t that what you do at NASA?” asked John.
“Sometimes,” said Ted, “but usually we’re putting yesterday’s technology to use. Because it’s been tested, tried and true. You know, how many times does Apple have to patch the software before your iPhone works the way it’s supposed to? When you have people’s lives, and billions worth of technology on the line, you make sure you use something that’s not going to fail halfway through the mission.”
“Fair enough,” said John. “But can they do it?”
“Eh,” said Ted. “You know, they’re going to do a lot of amazing work there. They’re going to put a lot of amazing things together. But I don’t know that they’re going to put together something that’s literally space-worthy. That’s a pretty high bar, and they’re building a concept ship, not something that’s actually going to go up there. But like I said, it sounds like so much fun. I’ve half a mind to, to take a road trip over to San Fransokyo and see if they’ll let an old fogy like me poke around.”
“Alright,” said John, “so, about the aspects of the ship that don’t exist yet.”
“The reactionless engine might actually exist in fifteen years,” said Ted. “I’d like to live to see that. The quartzite reactor; well, if they’re possible, maybe fifty years from now.”
“So, why fund him then?” asked John.
“Because, that’s what the Oberfeld is for,” said Ted. “You get people to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Plus, you know, ten years from now, we might be using some of his innovations in an actual craft. And maybe his project actually will inspire more people to get to work on those elusive technologies. Maybe my grand baby will be vacationing on Mars in fifty years, you know?”
“So, now we get to a part where, well, can I ask again…you’re sure you’re not going to keel over?”
“I’m pretty sure,” said Ted.
“It’s just that I’ve never killed anyone before, and I was kind of lying about how good you look,” said John.
Ted laughed again.
“Okay, so as you may have surmised, I have some news for you,” said John.
“Yeah, I got that impression,” said Ted.
“So, part of it is, I’ve been asking you about things I already know the answer to. I’m sorry to say, you got it all wrong. The space ship works, and Hiro Hamada launched it into space with reactionless engines and a quartzite reactor.”
“Are you serious?” asked Ted.
“Absolutely,” said John.
Ted started laughing in earnest.
“Alright, I have to ask, are you still on pain medications.”
Ted held up his thumb and forefinger a smidge apart.
“That explains some things,” said John.
“That all happened while I was gone?” asked Ted, still laughing.
“There’s more,” said John.
“Alright,” said Ted.
“Hiro launched and flew to Mars because Mark Watney was still alive there. He has picked Mark up, and rendezvoused with the Hermes.”
“What?” asked Ted, not laughing.
“Yeah,” said John.
“Mark’s alive?” asked Ted.
“Alive and well,” said John.
“Honey,” Ted called off screen, “Mark’s alive?”
“Yeah, baby, Mark’s alive,” his wife called.
“Oh my god!” said Ted, his hands going to his face.
“Now, sir, I’m British, so I’m going to have to insist that you not cry. Please. Alright, here’s a handkerchief.”
“That’s a flipping miracle!” said Ted emotionally.
“Oh, it’s HBO, sir, you can actually curse.”
“A fucking miracle indeed,” said John, sitting at his desk, “And now, this.”
“And now, How is This Still a Thing? This week, internal combustion engines in cars. How are those still a thing?”
“Um, Cass,” said Wasabi.
“It’s just, that’s your sixth muffin,” said Wasabi.
“I can’t help it,” said Cass. “They’re… they’re ramming the ship into the atmosphere tomorrow.”
“It’s actually a fairly simple procedure,” said Wasabi, going back to work on Cass’s industrial mixer, a job that Hiro would normally have had. “NASA does it all the time. They have been for decades.”
“But couldn’t they bring Hiro home beforehand?” asked Cass.
“Well that’s the point,” said Wasabi. “The ship’s still going too fast. That’s why they do a few passes through the outer atmosphere to slow down. Attempting to dock with them beforehand would be a lot trickier.”
“I just…need him to be home. Now,” said Cass.
“Well, he’s in good hands for right now,” said Wasabi.
“Is he though? What if they leave him behind?” asked Cass.
Wasabi cast her a flat look.
“It could happen,” said Cass.
“With Hiro, I’m sure it could happen. I’m sure that’s why they’re sending Hiro and Mark back first, while the rest of the crew preps for the refit missions,” said Wasabi, referring to the overhaul that the Hermes went through between each Ares mission.
“Sure,” said Cass. “Because they’re the least physically fit, and space is slowly killing them!”
“I know!” said Wasabi, forgetting that he was supposed to be reassuring Cass. “Space is so bad for people."
“Oh my god!” Gogo cried from the dining room where she had been working on her homework. “You’re supposed to be reassuring her.” She stormed in.
“Okay, first of all, the Hermes has the most comprehensive radiation shielding of any spacecraft ever designed. It’s equal to the shielding Hiro put on his own ship. And space travel is so bad for people because our bodies atrophy in zero gravity, but Hiro’s spending most of his time in artificial gravity. They’re going to be fine. They’re going to come home in one piece. And it’s going to be great.”
“Oh my god,” said Wasabi. “You’re worried too!”
“I am not worried,” said Gogo.
“Yes, you are,” said Wasabi.
“Oh, my god, they’re all going to die,” said Cass.
“What? No,” said Gogo, shooting Wasabi a ‘now look what you’ve done’ glare. “I’m worried about stupid stuff that’s not going to happen. The Hermes is going to make five passes through the atmosphere. Hiro and Mark are going to be picked up. They’ll be back on Earth in a week. Back home soon after that.”
“I just…I couldn’t survive it if something happens to him.”
“I promise you Cass,” said Gogo, “they’re going to be fine.”
What neither of them told her was that they were going to have Baymax on standby to run a rescue mission if it came down to it. The standard super capacitors weren't up to the task of getting Baymax to space, so they'd recreated a new reactor for him. It wasn't easy without Hiro, but they'd been a part of the creation process, and they weren't going to leave Hiro's fate to chance. He was their teammate, and they'd have his back.
The med bay did have restraints that could not be undone by the restrained individual. Hiro did not want to think about what could necessitate them being there. Fortunately, there was also a regular harness system on the bed/flight couch that he had ridden the aerobraking out in, and he was out of it by himself as soon as he got the all clear from the bridge. He drifted out into the hallway, weightless because the ring section was being stilled for the duration of the aerobraking procedures. He started making his way through the habitat ring. He had been tasked with checking to make sure nothing had been disrupted by the turbulence from the maneuver. Though, he kept getting distracted by the view of Earth through the windows.
The job was mostly a formality. Everything had been secured over an hour before their approach for their first swing around the Earth, and Hiro only found a single solitary pen floating around in the rec room, which he tucked into the cabinet it belonged in. Then he returned to the med bay and retrieved a clip-board with an attached check-list.
The first page was a list of ship components that Hiro was supposed to examine from various vantage points around the habitat ring, and confirm visually that there was no apparent damage. This took a good half-hour, with various comments back and forth with the rest of the crew, who were performing their own checks throughout the rest of the ship.
Halfway through the second page, checking the lab equipment, he was relieved of his duties.
“Hey,” called Mark, drifting into the chem-lab. Hiro turned to watch as Mark grasped a nearby handhold. “That was something, huh?”
“It was something,” said Hiro. “Mostly just a lot of shaking. Thanks for having the feed piped into the med bay, it was nice to at least have something to look at.”
“Oh, if you want something to look at, NASA got footage of us screaming into the atmosphere.”
“Oh, cool,” said Hiro. He pushed off from his hold by mass spectrometer and joined Mark on the lip of the chute.
“So,” said Mark, “you nervous?”
Hiro didn’t have to ask what he was referring to. Now that they were in orbit around Earth, albeit a very unstable one, NASA had decided Hiro could go about handling the legal issues that had accumulated, and Hiro was going to have a video conference with his lawyer. Hiro thought that NASA would have rather Hiro waited until the mission was actually over, but they had apparently been overruled.
“Yeah,” admitted Hiro.
“I’m sure it’s going to be fine,” said Mark, giving Hiro an awkward zero-g one-armed hug. “You’re a global hero.”
“Let’s hope the US Attorney’s office feels the same way,” said Hiro, returning the hug, and handing Mark the clip-board.
“How’s my lab, by the way?” asked Mark.
“It’s fine,” said Hiro. “Nothing out of place, but the hydroponics equipment is still running self-checks. Everything else has been fine too, down here.”
“Up up up,” chided Mark, “no more down.” He was referring to the fact that up and down descriptors were now meaningless without gravity.
“Oh, yeah,” said Hiro. “Out here, I guess. How’s everything else?”
“Well, I’m out here chatting with you,” said Mark, “so great.”
“Cool,” said Hiro.
“Anyway,” said Mark, “go on to the gym so they can patch you through.”
Hiro sighed. “Alright,” he said, and angled himself to the exit closest to the gym on the ring.
"You'll be fine," Mark called after him.
He was going to the gym so that he could have a private space to have a privileged conversation with his lawyer. If he was a crew member, he’d be doing it in his bunk, but Hiro’s makeshift bunk didn’t have it’s own console. He’d close himself off in the gym and make use of the terminal there. The conversation would supposedly be completely free of government intrusion, though they would have no way of knowing one way or another, given that the communication was being facilitated by NASA.
“Hey, Johanssen,” he called into his radio once he was there, and had grabbed a pen and pad of paper from a cabinet, “I’m ready for my call.”
“Alright,” she replied. “I’m patching you through now.”
Hiro frowned to himself by the computer terminal, still unsure of what to expect.
There was no preamble to the call, one moment Hiro was looking at the Hermes OS desktop, and the next moment he was looking at his Aunt Cass and a young man in a sharp three piece suit.
“Aunt Cass!” said Hiro. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“You’re still a minor, Hiro,” said Aunt Cass, “of course I’m going to be involved. Now how’s everything over there? Why are you weightless. Did the wheel break?”
“What? No, nothing’s broken. We’re just keeping the wheel stationary for the aerobraking procedures.”
“Isn’t that bad for your body? You’re losing bone mass.”
“It’s just for a few days, Aunt Cass. I’ll be fine. Plus, I’ll be using the gym equipment to stay in shape.”
“If I may?” interjected the man who Hiro supposed was his lawyer.
“Oh, yeah,” said Hiro. “Hey.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Hiro. My name is Justin Trembly. I have been retained by your Aunt to handle all legal matters associated with your journey to Mars.”
“Okay,” said Hiro. “Awesome. So. What am I looking at exactly, legally speaking?”
“Well, it could be a lot worse, Hiro,” said Mr. Trembly. “You actually did a very good job of protecting yourself in your grant and project proposals. You broke a lot of implied statements of fact and promises of intent, but you never explicitly lied, which does a lot to cover you from claims of fraud. You never explicitly stated that reactionless engines and quartzite reactors have yet to be invented, you implied it. You never stated that your ship would never fly, you implied it. Now, that isn’t to say that SFIT or NASA couldn’t try to sue you for fraud, but they would have a weak case for it. Likewise, your contract with SFIT does allow for the removal of components of the ship from the campus for testing purposes, and your flight to Mars could be classified as a test-flight, given that you did intend, at the time of launch, to return the ship. You did break campus policy by not receiving prior clearance from your project advisor, but that is a disciplinary matter, not a legal one. SFIT would have a very weak case to claim that you stole the spacecraft, or that you have breached contract. They do have a possible case though, that you have lost their property through reckless actions, and could take you to civil court. However, given that they currently have a Martian orbiter rather than a large and expensive paperweight, they would probably lose in the court of public opinion, so I don’t foresee them doing that.
“Now, as I said, they do have you on breaches on their policies, and they could hold you to task for various ethics violations, but that would be an internal matter. There are attorney’s at my firm who specialize in matters of education who could represent you in the event of a disciplinary hearing, but I would like to remain focused on legal matters for the time being.”
“Alright,” said Hiro, feeling distinctly lousy, in spite of what was mostly good news. He had never felt bad before, when he was hustling bot-fighters. But he did feel that he had crossed a line by lying so thoroughly to SFIT and NASA. Whether or not he had technically defrauded them, he had defrauded them, and more and more he was wondering what would have happened if he had come clean after he had received the grant and had everyone's attention.
“That takes us to the criminal charges, of which there are two: the violation of aviation code that you very publicly broke by launching your ship, and obstruction of police duties, which you did by infiltrating the lab. Unless there’s something I don’t know about, I don’t see any good way to dispute these charges, as they were very publicly done. There was talk of a trespassing charge, but I have already handled that. SFIT had already granted you near unlimited access to the lab, and the order to exclude you came from NASA, not SFIT, which was actually a legal reach on NASA’s part.
“Now, again, you are very popular right now. No one really wants to take you to court. But at the same time, the government never likes to give the impression that people can break the law just because everything worked out alright. And in your case, there is the matter of the very real repercussion that it caused an international incident with North Korea. Fortunately, that would up being little more than bluster on their end, but the point remains.”
“So what am I looking at?” asked Hiro.
“Well, we’ve been offered a very good deal,” said Mr. Trembly, “and I’m going to recommend you take it.”
“What’s the deal?” asked Hiro.
“First, they’re going to require that you plead guilty, and provide a brief statement of fact about your launch.”
“I can do that,” said Hiro, writing it down. He’d make it very basic, to avoid mention of his friends and Big Hero 6.
“Second, I’m afraid to say, the Department of Defense has rejected your patent of the reactionless engine on the basis of national security under the Invention Secrecy act of 1951. The Department of State has rejected your patent for the quartzite reactor on the basis that it would cripple the global economy, under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951. The rest of your patents are still clearing the review process.”
“WHAT?!” cried Hiro.
"The DOD has argued that your engines can easily be used in missile technology that could damage the national security should our enemies get their hands on the technology. It's not an unreasonable argument. Meanwhile, the Department of State claims that an abundance of cheap clean energy would wipe out several markets, completely destabilizing the global economy. They're arguing that there needs to be a transitional period to avoid economic collapse. We have patent lawyers at our firm who can appeal on your behalf, but I'm not seeing much basis for an appeal."
The first thing Hiro wanted to say was, ‘They can't do that!’ But like every SFIT freshman, he had taken Patents 101, and knew that they absolutely could. Instead, he said, "so what do they want from me?"
"Two things," said Mr.Trembly. "They want you to sign a non disclosure agreement. It's redundant, the Secrecy Act is basically a gag order, but I suppose they want to have it in writing."
"But I've already shared technical information about them with the Hemes crew and my friends," said Hiro.
"They can't hold you accountable for that, given that this is your first notice. It shouldn't matter anyway. The crew have signed NDAs of their own. Your friends are covered by the Secrecy Act for the quartzite reactor at least, given that they are named on the patent.”
"So what's the second thing?" asked Hiro.
"Well, they want you to consult on the development of the technology."
"What, they want to have it both ways?" asked Hiro.
"Well, yes,” said Mr. Trembly. “You would be remunerated, of course, both for the work, and for the use of your technology.”
“Well, alright, but I don’t… er, I don’t think I want to work with the military, or anything,” said Hiro.
“Your Aunt already made that stipulation on your behalf,” said Mr. Trembly. “I have proposed that you can fly down to JPL on alternating weekends to consult on the technology.”
Hiro sighed. It wasn’t like he could keep JPL from sharing with the military, but it was a decent compromise. He wasn’t exactly anti-military, but he had developed the tech to help people, not build better missiles.
“I can do that,” said Hiro. “Anything else?”
“That’s pretty much it,” said Mr. Trembly. “If you agree to all of that, they’ll drop the obstruction charge, which is good, given that there may be things you don’t want to admit to related to it. You’ll be given six months of informal probation for the aviation charge, which will probably amount to a PO checking to make sure you're going to class, and enrolling you in therapy.”
“Therapy? I don’t need therapy,” said Hiro.
“Maybe not,” said Mr. Trembly, “but from a certain perspective, some of your actions can be seen as…less than rational.”
“Hiro,” said Aunt Cass.
“Take the deal.”
“Okay,” said Hiro. “Wait, do you think I need therapy?”
“Well, I don’t think it could hurt,” said Aunt Cass. “I just…I want you to be okay.”
“I am okay,” said Hiro.
“Well, I want you to stay that way.”
“Now that that’s settled,” said Mr. Trembly, “Hiro, I’d like you to write up a brief statement of fact about your launch. Send it to me for review. There’s going to be a hearing in two days after the next aerobraking. Of course, you can’t be there in person, so they’ll use a similar set-up for you to be there via video-conferencing.”
“I’ll do that,” said Hiro.
“Great. We can keep in touch over email. If you think you need to talk to me via video chat again, we’ll have to petition NASA for the time.”
“That’s fine,” said Hiro. “Hey, can I get a minute with my aunt?”
“Sure,” said Mr. Trembly. “There’s four more minutes allotted to this call, so I think you can feel free to use it up.”
“Great. Thanks for all the help,” said Hiro.
“My pleasure, Hiro. Just focus on getting home safely, and I’ll handle the rest until you get here.” Mr. Trembly walked out of the screen.
“Are you really okay, Hiro?” asked Aunt Cass, once they were alone.
“Yeah,” said Hiro, “they’re taking really good care of me up here. Well, I guess I’m feeling kind of guilty right now.”
“Well,” said Aunt Cass, “you are guilty. So you’re supposed to be feeling that way. But, just remember that I love you, and support you. And I’m always proud of you. And you’ve got everyone back here rooting for you.”
“Thank’s Aunt Cass. I love you too.”
“So how was the aerobrake?” asked Aunt Cass.
“Actually, it was kind of boring,” said Hiro.
“Boring’s good,” said Aunt Cass, “I like boring.”
“Yeah,” said Hiro. “They actually had me strapped down in the infirmary, which is safer than the couches on the bridge, so I was away from all the action, too.”
“Aw, you know just what to say to make me feel better,” said Aunt Cass. “I’ve got some good news.”
“Mochi’s having kittens?” asked Hiro.
“What, no, we fixed Mochi years ago. No, we’ve gotten calls from five separate medical tech companies interested in Baymax.”
“Really? That’s great!” said Hiro.
“I’m going to forward you the information so you can start looking into them, but we got a lot of good publicity from the Ellen show.”
“Oh, good,” said Hiro. “That reminds me, I had an idea for all that. I was thinking, you know, Baymax could have a central intelligence. Like, individual units would be able to act independently of each other, but they all sync to a central hub. So that would be good for a few things. Like, if anything bad happened to one of them, then there’s a back-up, ready to upload into a new body. And then, like, there’d also be continuity of care, so you could go to any Baymax, and they’d already know everything they need to know about you, and what your favorite handshake is, and everything. And it could all be backed up to 5D glass storage in a couple locations to make sure that nothing can keep a Baymax down for long.”
“Well that sounds great,” said Aunt Cass.
“I know, right? But I think the part that would be attractive to any developers, is that it would allow us to really learn a lot about the best practices of health care, because they’d basically all be working together to learn about how best to help people.”
“I always knew you boys would change the world,” said Aunt Cass.
“Even when I was bot fighting?” asked Hiro.
“Always,” said Aunt Cass.
Hiro came to suddenly at the call of his name.
"Aah!" Hiro cried as he suddenly found himself floating in the hall. He'd drifted out of his bunk somehow. He pinwheeled about for a moment, unable to find anything to grab a hold of.
"Need help there?” asked Johanssen, who was the one to find him.
"Yes please," said Hiro, falling still.
Johanssen reached out and took his hand, pulling him to her handhold, which Hiro gratefully clasped onto, having jammed the green chip in between his lips to get a free hand.
"Thanks," he said as he stowed the chip away. This was the second time this had happened, but the first time, there had been no one to pull him back. Hiro had drifted for a minute before he finally collided with a wall.
"Weren't you strapped in?" asked Johanssen.
"I was," said Hiro. The other astronauts had sleeping bags for sleeping in zero-g, but there wasn’t exactly an extra for Hiro. “I’ve been sleeping kind of restlessly though, so I guess I undid them without realizing. So, what are you doing up, other than coming to my rescue?"
She shrugged. "Couldn't sleep," she said, pushing off towards the rec room.
"I thought you astronauts were used to sleeping in zero-g, said Hiro.
"We are," said Johanssen, "I'm just worried about tomorrow."
"What are you worried about?" asked Hiro. "You're not the one flying down to Earth in a death trap tomorrow."
She scoffed. "You flew into space on a homemade craft, and you're calling the Stargazer a death trap?"
"Well exactly, I built it with my own two hands," said Hiro. "I don't know who built the Stargazer."
"Wow," said Johanssen dryly. “Okay, so NASA built the shuttles.
"Plus, the Stargazer's ancient."
"The Stargazer is not ancient, it's only seven years old."
"That's plenty ancient," said Hiro. "I was eight when it first launched."
"Wait," said Johanssen with a fake gasp. "That means you're fifteen? I thought you were twelve, max."
"Okay, shut up," said Hiro. "And again, what are you even worried about for tomorrow?"
She shrugged. "I'm just worried about Mark leaving ahead of us."
Wait, did Johanssen have feelings for Mark?
"I mean, last time we separated from Mark, it didn't turn out so well," said Johanssen.
Hiro mentally kicked himself for thinking like a heel.
"Well, it's kind of the opposite situation now," said Hiro.
"Who said worries had to be rational?" asked Johanssen.
"You were literally just trying to rationalize my worries," said Hiro.
"Shut up," said Johanssen. "You want some hot chocolate?"
“Psh, yeah,” said Hiro.
Johanssen pulled out a couple pouches from a cabinet, opened one, and filled it with hot water from the dispenser, before sealing it off and handing it to Hiro, who shook it up.
“We’ll be fine,” said Hiro, once they both had their drinks, and Johanssen had logged the snacks.
“Yeah, you will,” said Johanssen. “You still need to show me the set-up you have for quantum computing.”
“Sure,” said Hiro, “just come down to San Fransokyo some time. Assuming I’m not still grounded.”
“How long are you grounded for?” asked Johanssen.
“No end date has been provided,” said Hiro. “So, maybe forever.”
“I’m sure Mark’ll come rescue you if you ask,” said Johanssen.
“Oh no, this time, I am really on the straight and narrow,” said Hiro. “Just, you know, keep my head down, do my homework, work on Baymax, fly to JPL, apparently.”
“So much for being grounded,” said Johanssen.
“I know right?”
“And I very much doubt you’re going to stay out of trouble,” said Johanssen.
“Hey, I resent that,” said Hiro, “especially when I have been perfectly behaved since I got here.”
“Yeah, ‘cause you’re afraid of the Commander,” said Johanssen.
“Yeah, she’s pretty intimidating,” said Hiro.
“Plus there’s the whole superhero thing,” said Johanssen.
“Kind of hard to stay out of trouble when you’re a superhero,” Johanssen clarified.
“I don’t…what are you talking about?”
“It’s pretty obvious; you’re the Conductor, Baymax is Big Hero Red.”
“First of all, I think he goes by Big Hero Purple,” said Hiro, “second of all, psshhh, I’m not a superhero.”
“No, everyone calls him the Conductor, you know, because he’s the one directing everyone. You know, when you’re actually out with the rest of the group, and not in the lab building a space ship. Or in bed before nine.”
“I don’t know where you’re getting all this from,” said Hiro, “I’m not some, some, some… vigilante. That would be crazy. Besides, all that, that Big Hero stuff happened after you guys launched. So what do you even know about it? And plus, I don’t even have a bedtime, so.”
“I am a huge comic book fan,” said Johanssen, “as you know. My sister’s been forwarding me all the developments about the group since, you know, they’re real life superheroes and all. Then when I heard you’d gone and rescued Mark, I started researching you, and lo and behold, all of the pieces started falling into place.”
“Nuh uh,” said Hiro.
“I mean, analysis of pictures of the Conductor, then and now, show he’s still growing. And guess who’s the same heigh as him throughout, is a tech genius, and has a giant robot friend and reactionless engines.”
Hiro gulped. “Does anyone else know?”
“I dunno,” said Johanssen. “I haven’t told anyone.”
“Are you going to?” asked Hiro.
“I mean, I should,” said Johanssen. “You’re still a kid and all. But I don’t think I have it in me. I can’t be the one to break up the band. And, well, after everything, I kind of believe in you.”
“So why tell me you know?” asked Hiro.
“To tell you to be careful, so I don’t regret not narcing on you,” said Johanssen. “And so you know that you need to build some sort of robot you to ride around on Big Hero Red while you’re on live TV or something, because people are going to start putting it together sooner or later.”
“That’s a good idea, actually,” said Hiro. He was a little surprised that Fred hadn’t suggested it yet, because that sounded like a classic comic book trope. Wouldn’t be all that hard, either.
“Yeah, well, take care. There’s a lot of people who care what happens to you,” said Johanssen. “So don’t fuck up.”
“Duly noted,” said Hiro. “So, any more suggestions?”
“Well, I’m guessing none of you are actually superhuman?”
“Right,” said Hiro.
“So definitely more bullet-proof armor. And don’t forget that bullet-proof doesn’t mean knife-proof. Also, Big Heroes Green and Pink need to be more mobile.”
“Yeah, we’re working on mobility.
“Also, do you not have any offense of your own?”
“I’m still…looking into that,” said Hiro. “I thought about the microbots, but that’s a little obvious, even if there is an excuse of having gone up against them in battle before.”
“Well you need something,” said Johanssen.
“Yeah, everyone keeps saying that,” said Hiro.
“Well, they’re right,” said Johanssen. “Remember, don’t die.”
The last time a Hermes crew returned to Earth, there was a small press release, and a good bit of media attention to the actual landing. But ever since it had been revealed that Mark was still alive, Annie’s job had become a full time broadcast of every little development as it came along. So now when the Stargazer was docking with the Hermes, the whole world watched with baited breath as though it was anything other than a by-the-books crew transfer. Astronaut Eli Werner would be boarding the Hermes to take over Mark’s duties in preparation for the overhaul, and Mark and Hiro would board the Stargazer to return to Earth with the other two members of the Stargazer crew. In spite of the mundanity of the operation, the whole thing had been turned into a large media and celebrity gala at NASA so everyone could get the play-by-play.
Annie couldn’t complain about this development, since it had been her idea. And it was a good idea. Somehow, NASA was getting through some of it’s biggest fuck-ups more popular than ever. And it all would have had a completely different atmosphere if Hiro were to get off of the Stargazer and be delivered into police custody. But thanks in no small part to her own efforts, the Attorney General's Office had finalized a deal days ago, and Hiro was going to be greeted at the landing strip by nothing more than the adoring public and his Aunt.
She had to admit, for however many headaches the boy had caused her, it had been worth it. The 'The Future of Space Travel' campaign had taken off and was being well received. Applicants to the astronaut program and NASA in general were at a twenty year high. It looked like Venkat might just get his extra Hermes mission. And for the first time in history, an Astronaut’s Arlington memorial was being disassembled, because Mark Watney was coming home.
She was just glad Teddy was the one delivering the speech tonight. For a change, she could enjoy the fruits of her labor. Which she mostly did by checking in with members of the press and a couple Senators. Hey, she had a fun job.
“Hermes Actual to Mission Control. We are in agreement that Stargazer is in alignment for docking,” came Commander Lewis’s voice over the speakers. The two craft were visible on the screen, which zoomed in on them as they got closer together.
Someone in the crowd actually gave a joyful whistle at the update.
“Stargazer to Mission Control we are at…fifty meters and closing,” reported the Stargazer Pilot Sean Freeman.
Everyone was quieting down for the docking. All eyes were glued to the screen, where the crafts now loomed large.
“Hermes Actual to Stargazer, you are clear to complete docking.”
“Fifteen meters… Firing retro-thrusters…coupling complete.”
“Hermes Actual to Mission Control, docking clamps are engaged. Docking is successful.”
There was a great swell of cheering and clapping from the attendants as the updates continued to come in. Diagnostic checks were performed, the hatches opened, and the crews greeted each other. Up on the stage, Teddy Sanders took the podium to give a triumphant speech.
“Oh, thank god!” cried Cass as the docking was pronounced successful.
“See, everything’s working out,” said Honey Lemon, handing her a cup of Sprite, and taking a seat nearby. They were in the SFIT auditorium, which was being used to watch the Stargazer-Hermes docking. Whether or not there was going to be a school disciplinary hearing in Hiro’s future, SFIT did seem to be making the most out of the publicity, and was holding a well-attended event to watch the proceedings.
“But just imagine right?” Fred was going on. “Hiro’s superpower origin story. A flight home gone wrong. Hiro, exposed to cosmic rays under the light of a full moon, becomes Cosmic Man, a superhero with the powers of the cosmos.”
“Yeah,” said Wasabi, “I’m going to need you to stop talking. Thank you.”
“You’re not helping,” said Gogo.
“Just imagine the possibilities!” exclaimed Fred.
“I’m imagining Hiro keeping his feet on the ground within a ten mile radius of home for the foreseeable future,” said Cass, “…on weekdays, anyway.”
“I don’t think you’re doing it right,” said Fred.
“I don’t think your brain’s put together right,” said Gogo.
“Well,” said Cass, “I need to go if I’m going to make my flight. I don’t want to miss the landing.”
“Oh!” said Wasabi. “I almost forgot. I brought my plane travel kit for you. Hand sanitizer, wipes, ear plugs, face mask, neck pillow, extra head phones, and a back-up battery and cables. There’s also a toothbrush and toothpaste, but whatever you do, do not rinse with the bathroom water, I’m begging you.”
“Oh my gosh, that’s so thoughtful Wasabi,” said Cass. Though unnecessary. The shuttle would be landing in Southern California, so it wasn’t going to be a very long flight.
“Don’t forget to buy a bottle of water after you get past security,” said Wasabi.
“I think she can handle it,” Gogo told him.
“Go on, and bring Hiro home,” said Honey Lemon. "Let us know when you're on your way back so we can pick you up from the airport.
“I just want to warn you,” said Fred, “if he comes back changed by the cosmic rays, you might want to drive back. Burgeoning superpowers and airplanes don’t mix, is all I’m saying.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Aunt Cass.
“It’s important to be supportive of new found powers!” Fred called after her.
Everyone had been very happy to see each other when the Stargazer arrived, and there was a long procession of hugs all around. Some time after that, after a transfer of cargo and a good bit of socializing, there had been five hours of Hiro reviewing procedures both routine and emergency for the space shuttle. Hiro had been studying them for the last couple weeks, but the shuttle commander, Skylar Iverson, had taken the time to go over every inch of the shuttle with Hiro and drill him on procedure. Finally though, it was time to go.
“We’re going to miss you little guy,” said Beck.
“You’re going to miss your guinea pig is what you're going to miss,” said Hiro. He was wearing the orange ACES flight suit that had been brought especially for him on the Stargazer for the descent. It would only be worn the one time.
“No. No, I am not going to miss my brattiest patient ever,” said Beck. “If I ever have to take your pulse again, it will be too soon. But we will miss our space baby.”
Hiro stuck his tongue out, because if he was going to be defamed in such a way, he might as well act the part.
The commander floated over and shook his hand. “We will miss you both,” she told him, “but we’re glad you’re both going home. I’m glad that I’ve gotten to see you both back safely. I hope you’ll take care until we can meet again.”
“Oh,” said Hiro, “I don’t think I have any say in the matter. I’ll be on a very short leash.”
“Yeah, well, if it’ll keep your feet on the ground, buddy, it’s probably for the best,” said Martinez as he finished a zero-g hug with Mark. “Hey, Mark, go home with Hiro and let his aunt keep you out of trouble till we get back.”
“Like my parents are going to let me out of their sight,” said Mark.
Hiro thought he wound up hugging everyone at least twice before making his way through to the Stargazer and getting into his seat while Commander Iverson, the pilot, and even Mark prepared for departure. Secured in his harness, which barely fit him, Hiro clasped the case the green chip was in through his flight suit pants. It was a habit he had formed the first time Baymax had been without a body. He was definitely looking forward to being reunited with Baymax, and everyone back home.
“You ready for this?” asked Mark, who was getting into his own seat now.
“No,” said Hiro, because he wasn’t. Things had been pretty simple on the Hermes, in their own way. Life on Earth was going to be complicated, and Hiro didn’t know that he would ever be ready to tackle it.
“That’s alright,” said Mark.
“It is?” asked Hiro.
“We’re never ready for the crap life throws at us,” said Mark. “You and me, we pull through.”
“Somehow,” said Hiro.
“Just, the next time anyone gives you shit for what you did, remember that there’s someone out there who’s gotten to go home to his mom again because of you.”
Hiro smile gratefully.
“Momma’s boy,” he called Mark.
Mark rolled his eyes. “You’re one to talk.”
“Doesn’t count,” said Hiro. “Aunts are cool.”
“Oh yeah? Is that what she told you?”
“Alright kids, let’s check you out” said the Commander, who double checked their harnesses while the pilot was going through pre-flight checks with NASA.
“Hey, so did you go to my funeral?” asked Mark.
“Grim much?” asked the Commander. “Yeah, everyone went to your funeral. It was very tasteful. Good food at the wake.”
“Yeah, while I was eating Martian rations,” said Mark.
“Hey, at least you were eating,” said the Commander, who went to get in his own flight couch.
“Imagine if you’d had a big telescope,” said Hiro, “you could have watched your own funeral Tom Sawyer style.”
“Too bad I couldn’t have crashed my own funeral Tom Sawyer style,” said Mark.
“If you two are done talking about funerals,” said Sean, “we’re just about ready to get this show on the road.”
“Great,” said Mark, “I’m ready to get back to Earth.”
“Same here,” said Hiro.
“Oh, I’m not sure Earth’s ready for either of you,” said the Commander.
Cass had her heart in her throat through the entire landing. She was standing with the Watneys as they waited together for their babies to come home, off to the side of the tarmac.
The Watneys had been very enthusiastic about meeting her, and told her what a wonderful young man she had raised. They hoped that Hiro wouldn’t be grounded for too long, though they admitted that they were biased on the matter. Now though, they waited in silence for the shuttle to come down. Somehow, it takes a full hour for the shuttle to land. Cass felt very disgruntled that it can take so long for something to descend from the sky.
But she could see the shuttle now gliding almost daintily down. Someone had said that it was traveling at Mach 2 earlier, but it had slowed since then. The engines were off, of course, it was basically just a controlled fall. She wrung her hands together as the shuttle loomed larger and larger. She didn't know why she never took the boys to see a landing. There was something surreal about the whole thing, but kind of amazing at the same time.
There was a scream of rubber on the tarmac, and the drag chute deployed, seeming comically small in comparison to the behemoth shuttle.
“Come on,” said Mrs. Watney, and she led Cass over to a nearby Jeep. They all got in, and a NASA employee drove them to greet the shuttle, which was already coming to a stop. Off to the side, the press was already set up.
They waited an abhorrently long time as steps were wheeled out, but then finally the door was being opened. There stood Mark, his helmet under his arm as he took in the crowd and waved, a big grin on his face. He started down the steps, beelining towards his parents. And then there was Hiro, standing at the top of the steps, somehow looking very sharp in the orange pumpkin suit he had ridden to Earth in, as he used a hand to shield his face from the sun’s glare. He gave a big gap toothed grin as he caught sight of her.
“Hiro!” she called out to him.
“Aunt Cass!” he said, rushing down to meet her.
He threw himself into her arms.
“I missed you so much,” she said, squeezing him tight. “Don’t you ever do that again.”
“I love you, Aunt Cass,” said Hiro. “I missed you too.”
Cass looked over Hiro’s shoulder at the other happy reunion, Mark sandwiched by his parents, who were holding onto him just as tight. Hiro had kept his promise to her. He had brought the both of them home. She felt a great swell of pride.
“You are in so much trouble, young man.”
“I know,” said Hiro, still holding on tight. “It’s good to be back though.”
Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think.
I originally had Hiro's faceplate be made out of palladium-glass, but user Mathismagic pointed out that palladium glass is not actually transparent. There is a glass they're developing using an aluminum byproduct that is about as strong as steel, but which can only make in small amounts at the moment. I took the liberty of giving it its name.