- Character Bashing
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
Chapter 9: Eggheads Unite
Finding out Mark was alive was the easy part – the difficult part was getting him home. NASA had the best brains on the planet but even they were struggling with this problem. Tony watched the eggheads mill around trying to figure out all the problems Mark might be facing on that stupid red rock. Tony settled a few of the egghead arguments because he knew his husband and it was that simple.
The first scientist’s argument was. “He will need the supply mission by Sol 192.”
Tony shook his head. “It would be great but he won’t need it.”
One egghead rolled his eyes. “He cannot avoid starvation, no matter how good an astronaut he is.”
It was Tony’s turn to be sarcastic. “He is a botanist with potatoes … He will figure it out.”
The scientist frowned, as that was understandable. “They would need water.”
Tony snorted. “Not only is Mark the ‘King of Botany’, he is an engineer capable of figuring out whatever problems Mars throws at him.”
The JPL lead engineer took a different view to the conversation. “We need to communicate with him.”
Mindy Park was the SatCon engineer who had found the first image of Mark still alive. “Well, he is on a trip somewhere and he kitted out the Rover in a heavy way … He took some hydrazine into the HAB too.”
Teddy looked to his people. “So where is he going and what is he doing with the hydrazine?”
One of the chemists spoke up, seeing what Watney might be doing with it. “If he is brave enough to set fire to it then he can make water.”
Tony had heard about one too many of Mark’s mad scientist experiments. “He will, I just hope he doesn’t get hurt in the process.”
SOL 31 – Mars
Mark’s face was once more back in front of the camera. He was tired but obviously, he was buzzing from success. It all came tumbling out in one go.
“Tony, I can definitely say, Fuck You Mars as I have figured out how to grow potatoes on a dead planet … The trouble is, now I have to make water. Well, I know the process but it involves lighting hydrogen on fire and I know how nervous NASA gets about fire.”
Mark looked a little sheepish. “In fact, the worst part of all this is finding something flammable that I can use as a catalyst. NASA was very thorough in making sure there was nothing that could be flammable for our journey. I can understand the paranoia but it meant that I’m really sorry Martinez, I needed to borrow this.”
The screen showed a wooden cross that Mark has seen in Martinez’s personal belongings. He wasn’t going to destroy the cross, he figured he needed all the help he could get. He did though need to shave some of the volume off the crucifix.
Mark looked at the camera and took a deep breath. “Wish me luck.”
Sol 31 … part deux
Mark appeared again in front of the screen only this time he was looking a bit singed around the edges. “Well, I did it and it didn’t go so well.” Almost as if to illustrate his point, he picked a bit of debris out of his hair. He would laugh if only the ringing in his ears would stop. He looked at the screen so despondently. “I did something stupid. I forgot about my breathing. No, that makes no sense, I mean I forgot to take into account the oxygen I exhale.”
He sat down gingerly, understandably on account of having blown himself up. “Still I am undeterred from my quest so I shall suit up this time.”
The second time around he succeeded in making water on a dead planet. He faced the camera still wearing the flameproof apron and the cream on the burns he’d earned on his first attempt. “Come on! Anyone would brag about that achievement – and I’m pretty sure my eyebrows will grow back eventually.”
Back on Earth, Tony was fighting his own battle. The Press.
Tony had taken the lead on announcing to the world that his husband was apparently still alive. It was a solid plan, as the journalists tread a little lightly around him. It was one thing to ask the sensational questions, and another thing entirely to ask a man about his husband stranded fifty million light years away.
Well, most of them had – there was always going to be one inconsiderate asshole.“So how do you feel knowing your husband is alive?”
Tony knew what he wanted to say. He could mention his anguish and horror at the idea of the man he loved being stuck alone so far from home. Or, how he still felt like curling up in a ball because whilst he might be alive right now there were a million ways Mark could die on Mars – and Tony was terrified that would happen. He didn’t go with that line of answer, even if he wished he could. He knew how to charm people, he grinned to the crowd. “Annoyed! I mean, can you imagine the next present I buy him? How do I top Mars?”
He saw Annie smile which made him think he was doing a good job. He picked the next person and Tony managed to keep up with his tricks of deflecting. It was also so he didn’t have to admit that right now – there were no good plans to rescue Mark, just lots of guess work and half-assed plans.
Sol 54 – Diary of Mark Watney
Mark sat in front of the camera with disco music blaring. His face conveyed perfectly how unimpressed he was with the music. In fact, talking about his plans was the perfect excuse to avoid the music for a while.
“So Darling, I’ve decided it is time for us communicate. If my math is right then it will be close to our anniversary. So I’ve decided to trick out the Rover and take it to find Pathfinder. I am thinking long term. Plus, you know, I can find out if they have any ideas about how they are going to rescue my sorry ass.”
He paused in his speech, knowing it was ambitious. “Look, I know it might sound crazy. Pathfinder crashed in ‘97 but it’s my only chance to have email sex with my husband so I will take it.”
He smirked into the camera. “I may be cold but that doesn’t mean my mind is dead and have you seen the ass on Tony? I would write sonnets to it but that’s not one of my skills. Tony is the creative one out of the two of us. Me. I’m the engineer … See you in a few.”
Tony had waited until he had some downtime but when your job was dealing with the Press it didn’t keep predictable hours. They kept asking rude and invasive questions and he kept ignoring them but did it in a charming way so the press didn’t hate him. Working with NASA was an excellent distraction. His phone rang, “Hey Gibbs … What’s up?”
“Why can’t the Feebs shoot worth a damn?” The frustration was evident in his old friend’s voice.
Tony chuckled, “Well, they’re not all ex-snipers like you. You will have to adjust your expectations.”
Gibbs huffed, not liking that answer much. “Our team could shoot!”
Tony smiled because Gibbs wasn’t wrong. “Yeah but Viv was a bitch, Kate was Ex-Secret Service and you trained me.”
Gibbs sighed, “Are you bored playing with the Press yet? You could come and help me.”
Tony snorted. “Yeah maybe – but not until Mark is safe.”
“A new mission?” Gibbs asked him, obviously hearing something in his voice.
Tony was alone in his living room looking at a photo taken on the day they’d exchanged vows. “It’s my only one.”
Gibbs’ voice was softer. “And that is all that matters. You get a second chance and I know you won’t give up on that.”
Gibbs wouldn’t let him but he did feel it important for Tony to know what was going on back at NCIS. “You should know that Shepard is no longer in charge. It seemed Davenport was not pleased with our resignations.”
Tony smirked because she deserved all that and so much more. “D’aww shame. So what has happened to McGee and David?”
Gibbs snorted. “They have been sent back to FLETC by Balboa.”
Tony started chuckling and he couldn’t stop. That was a perfect image. “I knew there was a reason I liked Balboa. I’ll sign off now, don’t shoot any of the Feebs or Fornell won’t buy you a beer.”
Sol 68 – First Contact.
Mark couldn’t quite believe his crazy plan had worked. Somehow, his luck had held and he’d survived getting to Pathfinder and bringing the old system out of the dust. Okay, granted – he’d had to use radioactive plutonium as a heater but he was pretty sure he was okay. He’d taken the iodine with him. It had been a gamble but he’d managed to get the old communicator and bring it back to the HAB.
By some small miracle, the twenty-year-old tech still worked and he was now able to communicate with Earth. It wasn’t perfect in the beginning. The only way to communicate was by rotating the camera head. Mark wasn’t going to let this deter him. He had a chance to talk with NASA – he just needed them to figure out his plan too.
“Beth Johansen, you are an awesome nerd. Thanks to you packing an ACSII table, I can have complex conversations with NASA. Oh, and talk to Tony, so life is feeling pretty good despite being the only person in fifty million miles.”
He spanned the camera around to show the little farm he’d grown. “I forgot to add, I have potatoes!”
You should never be that happy over the thought of potatoes but these were exceptional circumstances. He looked so happy at the little green shoots in a sea of dirt but the feat of ingenuity was huge. He’d grown a crop that would help him survive on a dead planet so he deserved all the plaudits and more.
The day they made contact, and thanks to the outsourcing of ideas to the JPL engineers they managed a software update to the Pathfinder so they could have a direct communication (with a 32-minute delay) was a day of celebration. The NASA team allowed themselves a moment to celebrate. This was a miracle. They all knew space was a giant uncertainty and the cruelest mistress you could ever have.
And yet, Mark Watney had managed to overcome all the issues so far. He was still going strong and NASA was doing their best to make sure that he survived. Mark was man enough to admit that the first message direct from NASA made him cry. It helped to know that whilst no one may be close – they were still there for him, trying to help him.
Mark was not alone in crying at the conversation as Tony also shed a few tears of joy back at NASA.
MW – I’m alive as you must have guessed. I am not sure how but please tell me you have a plan to rescue my sorry ass.
Vincent was sitting on a chair feeling such a surge of relief he wasn’t sure how he would be able to contain himself. He hugged Tony who would have probably written a return message himself but it was obvious to Vincent that the man needed a moment.
VK – That’s good to hear. How are you doing? You should know that we are getting a supply mission together to keep you fed until Ares IV. Tony is giving Teddy hell and having Congress eating out of the palms of his hands.
MW – Tony is working for NASA? I am not sure how I feel about this. I will never get away with anything ever again.
Chapter 10 Tony v Congress
Tony took a deep breath, he could do this. He had done trials for years and never had his testimony been unpicked. This was no different. Not really, and yet at the same time, it was as Mark’s life and rescue relied on this panel’s agreement.
He had his best Zegna suit on and went in calmly with the NASA lawyer next to him just in case this turned into an ambush. Tony may look like a pretty face but he’d prepared for this with Annie to the nth degree – he was not going to get caught out.
“Thank you for joining us, Mr. DiNozzo.”
Tony didn’t smile at this point. “So shall we get started?”
The Senator from Texas was the first to start. “Can you please give a full breakdown of what has happened since Astronaut Watney was left stranded on Mars?”
Tony sucked in a deep breath and reminded himself that going postal on the head of the Senate committee could strand Mark on Mars. He had to hold back his diatribe, he couldn’t let his emotions rule this exchange. They didn’t need to know that he’d broken down as soon as he’d gotten to a safe space on his own. He couldn’t mention the fact that as soon as he’d found out that Mark was alive the overwhelming relief he felt was tempered by the nightly dreams of all the ways that Mark could still die. He got to see his death over and over again, in technicolour dreams and he’d come to realise he had an overactive imagination.
“On Sol 6 Astronaut Watney was part of the evacuation ordered by Commander Lewis due to a severe storm on the Mars surface. During said evacuation, Dr. Watney was struck by debris and his life-monitor was damaged and gave the impression he was dead.”
Senator Watkins. “So how did the much-vaunted technology of NASA fail?”
Tony didn’t like to think about it but he went for the unvarnished truth. “Well, a piece of the satellite antenna broke off and struck Dr. Watney, skewering his side and destroying the monitor. The small mercy was it also sealed his suit to help him stay alive.”
“That is most fortunate.”
Tony could sense from Watkins tone that he didn’t find it fortunate. He knew the guy was from an accountancy background – if this went where he suspected it would not be pretty. Tony held his shit together. “Yes, I was ecstatic when I saw his message in the red dust.”
“That was some message.” The new senator from Connecticut cut in.
Tony grinned charmingly. “Yeah, I will be hard pressed to make a romantic overture that could top it. Yet I feel that this esteemed panel is not here to discuss my rather turbulent love life.”
“Are we not?” Asked Watkins.
Tony stood firm. “No.”
“So the Ares mission is a disaster, money lost and an astronaut stranded.” Watkins carried on.
Tony bit back a growl. If he didn’t slug the lead senator it would be a good day. Who knows? Maybe Gibbs would do it for him. “I respectfully disagree. Yes, there are problems but it is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, there is an opportunity for something great if we can work together and take it.”
“How do you come by that assessment?” Senator Astle asked.
Tony was his most passionate. “We have communications from Astronaut Watney that he has grown crops on Mars. I think that could be vital to some parts of this world. He has, in fact, continued every one of the scientists’ work and missions whilst he is on his own. He hopes to be rescued. Now the question is – are we the people who abandon one of our heroes.”
The clamour of the cameras started and Tony knew he’d won. He’d had to wait for the right opening and Watkins had given it to him without much prompting. He’d seen the sour look on the Senators faces, knowing they’d been beaten at their own game.
“Well, of course, we want to bring Astronaut Watney home. What we need to know is what NASA needs?” Watkins almost simpered.
Tony didn’t stand up and crow, or jump up and down as that would ruin his performance so far. On the inside, he was doing all of the above.
Predictably, after that, the session didn’t last too long. The Senators probably didn’t want to promise anything else to him. He stood up and saw Gibbs waiting on the side of the gallery. He walked with purpose knowing that for now, he was still on camera and had to maintain his poise.
He made it out onto the steps and Gibbs pulled him to a waiting car. He wasn’t driving it, rather Fornell.
Gibbs sat opposite. “You did good, Tony.”
“Did I just go and win against Senator Watkins?” Tony asked, shock filtering through his voice. He’d gone into the session hoping to keep the funding necessary to support a rescue mission.
He’d got that and more.
Sol 121- Diary of Mark Watney
Mark’s face filled the screen. “So now that I can get emails from NASA, the botanists just won’t shut up. They keep telling me how to manage my crops. I mean … come on, I am the one who grew my crops on a dead planet. I think I’m ahead of the curve, right?”
To emphasise his point, he flashed the camera over his blooming crops. They may be potatoes and when he got off this god forsaken planet he might not eat a potato based product for a long while. He wouldn’t say forever, though, because he couldn’t see himself never eating another french fry again.
“The other good thing though is the personal files. Commander Lewis keeps trying to convince me her music is normal but I don’t believe it. I can’t ever listen to another disco track ever again.”
He played the one file which was the familiar tune of Hot Stuff. “I mean, I am sad for the commander but I can finally talk to my husband. It is too bad it’s freezing up here or I would have done something with that one picture. I mean, damn, way to tease a guy from fifty million miles away. It is an incentive to return home so there is that too.”
Mark wasn’t done but it was time to eat his potato for the morning. “Oh, and I have been ordered to take a photo. I considered multiple poses but none of them would work with a space suit. I’m not sure what I will do yet but I know inspiration will strike soon.”
Fornell and Gibbs pulled him into one of their favourite places to drink and eat. It was out of the way and had a strict policy of no bothering the patrons which in this situation was perfect. “So that was something.”
Tony blushed. “Come on, Tobias! I worked for Gibbs for many years. I can stand up for myself.”
Fornell snorted. ”Yes you can, you proved that just now.”
Tony sucked in a breath. “I still can’t believe that I got away with that. The downside is now – Annie’s going to always make me go to see Congress in her stead.”
Gibbs sipped his coffee, relieved to see a more relaxed Tony. He wasn’t blind to the fact he hadn’t been sleeping and the weight on his bones was even less than the last time he’d seen him. “You should be used to it, having to play politician for me for all those years.”
Tony smirked. “It was fun to do and I could never get away with the things you could.”
Fornell raised his glass. “I envy that trait too, Tony. Although, you did just tell Senator Watkins to stick it.”
Tony grinned. “Most entertainment I’ve had in ages.”
Gibbs groaned and threw down his sandwich in disgust. “Start recording this please.”
Fornell smirked as it would be his pleasure. The toxic trio, as those in the FBI had christened them, were racing toward their table. It was a shame really, they were having such a nice lunch. Still, the group was not above exploiting a situation.
Tony added dryly. “Well, there goes my appetite.”
Tim and Ziva stormed towards them. “Why are you avoiding us?”
Tony looked at them in disbelief and shared a quick glance to Tobias and Jethro to see if they were as shocked. They were. He choked out. “You can’t be serious?”
Abby was pouting. “We’re family.”
Tony snorted. “I am eating with family, I learnt long ago to avoid toxic family that I don’t need anymore.”
“You don’t mean that.” Abby fell back against Tim’s shoulder, shocked at the cool behaviour of all three table members.
Tony stared at them so they could see just how much he did mean it. “Oh but I do, you lot would have seen me injured if it meant you could score a point against me. That is a not too safe working environment. Then when you factor in a vengeful Director … too right I got the hell out of dodge.”
“You made Gibbs retire.”
Tony wanted to bash his head against the table. He did. It was astonishing at how clueless they were. “Er no, Gibbs is his own person. Thankfully, he was there to support me through some difficult times.”
“What do you care, it is not like he is dead.” Ziva sneered. She hated the idea that she had tried and failed to seduce him. It had been questioned at Mossad level, he was supposed to be her in for higher level secrets.
Tony knew that if he’d met them before Congress, that comment would have knocked him for six. Now, knowing that Mark had a chance, he could grin in the face of spite. “Yeah, you’re right but Ziva even if by some small twist of fate he had died. I still wouldn’t bed you in a thousand years.”
Fornell and Gibbs chuckled because that was a direct hit. They said nothing knowing that Tony needed to have this conversation. They were ready and waiting to have his back but let him take point.
She was outraged. “You are just going to let him say that to hurt me.”
Tony chuckled. “Sweetheart, I don’t care enough about you to care what you do, or don’t think. I have been a little busy.”
Gibbs had to add to the conversation. “How’s FLETC?”
All three flushed, the new Director who’d been brought in to steady the ship had vetted their records thoroughly. As a result, he’d sent the toxic trio back to the classroom. In Abby’s case, it had been to teach the classes she’d avoided for three years – in formal dress.
“Did you do that?” McGee asked.
Tony snorted. “Are you not hearing me? I haven’t said a word to anyone at NCIS since I left.”
That wasn’t strictly true, he’d kept in contact with Jimmy and Ducky but he had no intention of letting the trio know that. He decided to take the higher ground here, seeing the NASA SUV pull up he knew he was needed elsewhere. Tony threw his cash down on a table. “If you will excuse me, I have a second meeting with NASA today. So I am going to say bye Fornell, Gibbs, I will phone you both later.”
“Don’t we deserve a goodbye!” Abby gasped outraged.
Tony snorted. “No, or I would have offered one. I’d leave if I were you. I see the odd photographer making a beeline for this … I wouldn’t want the negative attention.” He offered a bit of not-so-friendly advice.
Tony couldn’t care less about the three fucked up Musketeers, today was the day Mark was sending back his photo to NASA
Tony was trying not to laugh, which he was managing – just. It was a good feeling and one action he’d not undertaken in quite a while. Still, as he looked at the satellite image again he couldn’t hold it in any longer. Seriously, only Mark could get away with such a stunt. It was risk-free as it was not like Annie could yell at him whilst he was stuck on Mars. It was a bad idea to laugh as it was sending his boss’ stress levels through the roof though and unlike Mark, Tony wasn’t on Mars.
She ranted to everyone about the blasted photo being useless. She had yet to show the actual picture to the others so they were not aware of exactly what Mark had done that was so terrible. Tony could tell that Sanders was impressed about how badly Mark could wind up Annie from fifty million years away. The others finally saw the image and laughed too.
“What the hell!” Annie vented. “I ask for a photo and he gives me the Fonz… I can’t post that.”
Tony wasn’t so sure. Teddy Sanders seemed to know how to calm Annie the best. Their boss just put his hands out in a placating manner. “Look, we’ll post it when we have a plan.”
Tony interrupted as he’d yet to hear a solid plan that had a hope of rescuing Mark. “Do we have a plan?”
Vincent was the only one brave enough to answer him. “There are two plans and both are full of risks.”
Tony shrugged. “Let’s hear them then.”
Tony knew the risks of both of them. They’d argued about everything and anything and yet by the end of it, it was agreed. They’d start tentatively with assuming both plans were an option. Tony wasn’t sure he liked risky probe any better than slingshotting the Hermes around the Earth but they were the two choices facing Mark.
Sol – 178
Mark was not naive. He knew that Mars was a cold and unforgiving taskmaster. His situation highlighted just how much of a bastard it could be. He might be living off a poop potato diet and using seventies disco music for entertainment but he was doing okay.
He should have known better…..
Mark stepped into the entrance chamber of the HAB having done the maintenance work for the day. He was going through the pressurisation chamber to give him breathable air without a space-suit. It was a routine fine-tuned down to a fine art with the amount of practice he had.
The alarm sounding the minute he pressed the sequence let him know he was in trouble. The problem was he powerless to stop it once he heard the lock click.
The alarm warning quickly turned to a boom. He was thrown in the air like a rag doll bouncing around the small tunnel like it was a tin can. He blacked out when he slammed his head against a panel on the wall.
It was so quick he never even got a chance to think any last thoughts.
Half a SOL later, an emergency oxygen warning woke him up. It was what would save Mark’s life. Well, he hoped it would. He reached into his waist belt for the breach kit (Giant extra strong adhesive duct tape). It was a cure for most ills, including massive cracks in your space suit.
Mark knew things were not good. He had to go and assess the damage and see what he could salvage of the main HAB but first, he needed to take care of himself. If he didn’t then the HAB was a moot point because he would be dead.
His suit was fixed up and now he needed to seal the HAB breach up. It was ridiculous just how many uses for plastic tarp there could be. It now included sealing HAB breaches. The liner was perfect for making a seal but actually moving with the winds in a way that should stop a breach. That being said, Mark wasn’t banking on it holding and taken to wearing the spacesuit as he did an inventory check and it was bleak. He looked in the dark and what had been until a few moments ago oxygenless HAB. His heart plummeted seeing the potato crops destroyed, the leaves withered away in the sub zero, oxygen poor atmosphere. He had to ignore it for now so he grabbed the good space suit and took refuge in the Rover vehicle.
Once he sat down, he activated the Rover camera to vent. “Well the HAB just blew up which is just perfect. So that speeds up plans and I better hope the tarp and magic duct tape can fill the hole left by the HAB entrance.”
You could tell just by looking at his face that he was thinking about the problems he now had. Already his brain was whirling with potential solutions. “So I say this with great joy in my heart. It is time to move out and see what’s at the Schiaparelli Crater for me.”
Mark was disappointed over the lost crop but he had already harvested many many potatoes so whilst a setback it wouldn’t kill him in the next few days. It was always about priorities. If the stunt meant you were dead in days then it was stupid and dangerous. If the stunt kept you alive but may kill you in 50 Sol days then you start to worry about it around Sol 48.
He had a journey to plan for.
Chapter 11: A Love to Mars and Back
Annie and Tony were called to a special meeting by Teddy which was never a good thing. Annie looked straight at her Deputy, “Have either of us done anything outrageous?” It was a fair question with the mischief they could come up with between them.
Tony shrugged as he’d gone to the Hill and won as far as he was aware. “Not to my knowledge.”
Annie sighed, pinching her nose. “This is going to give me a fucking headache. I just know it.”
Tony had, in the last few months, come to admire his new boss. His favourite thing was the way she could be rude and cuss out people and still keep her job. Although, he was terrified of introducing her to Gibbs. If she was a redhead they probably would have already been married. Tony knew it wouldn’t be long before they did meet and he knew it would be explosive, or end in a marriage.
They reached the meeting with the shouting already reaching new heights. Tony didn’t care about hurt feelings or power bases. He figured if they were going to act like school children then he would treat them that way and besides if Annie and he didn’t know what the problem was then they couldn’t fix it.
Tony put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. The noise stopped that very second and they all looked sheepishly at the new arrivals.
Mitch decided to get the last word in with everyone suddenly silent. “The crew could get there in time to rescue him. They deserve the right to choose.”
Tony’s eyes narrowed because he was aware that the crew hadn’t been informed yet as there was no plan that needed them and NASA didn’t want to negatively impact on their mental and emotional states if they couldn’t control the outcome. “So what is the problem, Director?”
Sanders didn’t cow down, he believed he was right. “The math shows the Ares crew would be in space over 900 days with the current plan. That’s too long.”
Tony pinched his nose as his frustration grew with every passing second. “So you are going to sacrifice my husband without even asking the crew if they would want to go?”
“It’s too risky.”
Tony slammed his hands on the desk. “You may be right but you stand here, on Earth, where Mark isn’t and you are implying he never will be because of some numbers that you decided to cook up.”
Teddy got in his face. “You are thinking as his husband, not as my Deputy Media Relation Director.”
Tony knew the smirk on his face wasn’t the wisest choice. He wasn’t naive and ultimately Teddy had the power to decide his husband’s fate. “You’re wrong. If the Ares team are willing then they deserve the chance to try. Space is a bitch and Mark is running out of spare lives. Mars will kill him before Ares IV starts. Plus, you know that someone will get the message to them and when the crew decides to do it anyway … then we will have a mutiny to deal with.”
Sanders didn’t back down. “Are you threatening me?”
Tony didn’t blink as he had stared down terrorists and crazy murderers. “Nope, I am stating the logical facts knowing the team in here, and on Ares, and their personal investment. You’re goddamn right I want my husband back but it boils down to this, you do not ever leave a man behind.”
Mitch stood up. “Agreed.”
Vincent chuckled. “If you don’t let them go then, Teddy, you get to tell Melissa Lewis that she had the chance but wasn’t allowed to rescue one of her men.”
Teddy mentally winced at just that thought. The mission may be called Ares but Teddy always thought the mission commander embodied Athena. The arguments were just and sound and argued from several points of view. The simple fact of the matter was that he was accountable and the choice would be a difficult one to justify. He couldn’t order the crew to do it but he could let the Ares team decide for themselves.
Watney’s last communication had informed them that he was forced to abandon the current HAB as it was too risky to remain and was heading to the Schiaparelli crater. Time was running out.
Sol 221 – The plan
“So NASA rocket scientists have a plan. It’s crazy. I am not judging as I’m hanging on by a thread … but it’s completely nuts! They want me to take the MAV, remove all the safety features – Oh, that includes propulsion control and shoot myself into SPACE with a tarp over the nose cone.”
Mark looked at the camera. He may be driving the Rover but it was a risk-free glance. After all, at his current location, it was just red dust with not a crater, mountain or even a rock in sight. Risk-free driving but also very boring. He figured the video logs would be the best way to liven things up.
“Now they keep emphasising that I will be the fastest man in space like it will help detract from the lunacy of the plan. I am going to use myself as a human cannonball and be caught in space by the Hermes.” Mark actually smiled at the camera.
“They played a dirty trick. They played the husband card and you know what Tony did? He threatened to never sleep with me again unless I let myself get rescued.”
The camera picked up his dopey expression. When you looked at Mark, you could see the tiredness, you could see the weariness seeping into his bones but it all changed when he spoke of Tony. It was clear to all that he was working with a single determination to return home to his husband.
It had been a long few months but they’d made it. Tony couldn’t believe that he was about to give a press conference that was pretty much being broadcast around the world. His husband’s story had not just captured the American people’s attention, it had caught nations all around the world.
“So I’ll now inform you of the plan to rescue Astronaut Watney. The crew of the Hermes have selflessly extended their journey and actually performed a slingshot maneuver around the Earth to travel back towards Mars. Now, as we speak, they are in the process of decelerating to attempt the rescue. This is by no means without peril. The Hermes will decelerate until they are close to the surface of Mars. At which point, Astronaut Watney will be accelerating toward them in a modified rocket.”
The pause seemed to be an excuse for the first reporter to ask a question. “So Astronaut Watney is going to just blast himself into space.”
Tony took a deep breath and remembered he was calm, in control and had to maintain his poise. He figured if he told himself that often enough he would believe it. “I am not a scientist but I believe the hundreds if not thousands of calculations they have made to ensure this has the best chance deserves not to be made light of.”
The reporter flushed and silence once again reigned to allow Tony to carry on talking. Tony took a deep breath and reported the final part of the plan. “When in close proximity … Astronauts Vogel and Beck will be using the extendable arm used for space repairing missions to catch Astronaut Watney.”
The news debriefing continued but it was obvious that should they try and exploit Tony’s personal connection to Mark – that he could and would hand them their ass in a polite way. No one seemed to want to look like a jackass like the first reporter to ask a question.
Tony left the podium and headed backstage to their normal offices. “So how did I do?”
Annie smirked. “You managed to silence that asshole Peters. I want to buy you expensive whiskey.”
Tony smirked. “It was fun, I did it for free. Did you see his face?”
Annie grinned. “I sure did.”
On Mars, Mark had done everything – all that was left was to start the ignition that would blast him into space. This was it. He took a moment and closed his eyes. “Whatever happens, thank you, guys. I am so glad you’ve all come back for my sorry ass. Oh, and Tony, I love you like crazy and so much so that I am about to blast my ass into space at a force no man has gone before.”
Commander Lewis came over the comms. “Come on Watney, time to go. You missed the boat once, let’s not miss this one.”
“I’m ready, Commander,” Mark assured her. He knew he was about to blackout and would be relying on the team.
He launched, the forces were indescribable and he saw the vastness of space and it was beautiful but just before he blacked out from being over exerted – he saw Tony’s face. He prayed that he would get to see his husband again.
The dreaded words. “We’re too far apart.” Was what Mark heard as he reoriented himself. It was disappointing but he wouldn’t quit.
Mark sighed. “How far is the distance.”
“315 metres and a difference of 5.2 per square metre.” Johansson’s voice cut through. Mark knew she was monitoring and doing the calculations from the bridge.
Mark knew that Commander Lewis would do something extreme and he couldn’t let her. By god, he was beyond grateful that they had come back for him but he wouldn’t let them kill themselves. There was one last stunt he could pull, and this was the craziest yet. He didn’t have a choice, he took the screwdriver that had served him so well.
“Commander, I am coming to you. You better catch me.” He stabbed his suit. The force sent him cannoning into the side of the rocket, narrowly missing the opening. He managed to direct the next blast to send him into open space. It was perfect. He was heading toward the Hermes and it had never looked so beautiful. This was going to be a one shot in the million of being successful. He knew that a grab on to the Commander would be unlikely, but the rope that was mooring her to the Hermes – now that was something he could entangle himself in. Then be reeled in.
“I am aiming for the rope.”
Beck chuckled. “You make a mega fish catch.”
Mark just groaned. “Just catch me please.”
“We gotcha, Watney.”
Mark had never felt so relieved to get tangled up in a mess. “Yes, you have. Tony, I am coming home.”
Tony was standing in Mission Control barely able to stay in his own skin. After so many struggles, heartaches and more up and down rollercoaster of his emotions, today was the day where the Ares crew were going to attempt to rescue Mark.
He knew the chances of success were slim but he had to hold onto hope. Tony knew the eggheads couldn’t factor in Mark’s sheer stubborn will to survive.
Then…. finally…….The sound of Mark’s voice was the sweetest thing he’d ever heard. “Tony I’m coming home.” It was perhaps the best thing that Tony had heard in a long a while probably since Mark had said yes.
Thank god for sheer dumb luck – it worked.
Tony could see that even Teddy got to smile today. Teddy looked at him and embraced him. Tony recognised the gesture for what it was. Sanders was giving him the chance to compose himself, Tony hadn’t even realised that he was crying. All the emotions had hit him at once.
Teddy smiled at him sympathetically. “In ten months, Mark will be splashing down in the Indian Ocean and you will be there to greet him.”
Tony couldn’t quite speak yet as there were so many emotions charging through him. He did manage to whisper, “Thank you.”
As promised, Tony was right there when the module touched down on Earth. There was no way he wouldn’t be but even Annie was on his side. He knew Mark was just on the other side of the door and he couldn’t believe the ordeal was over.
Oh, he knew there would be more tribulations to come as NASA had spent a shit ton of money to bring Mark back home and so would basically own him. Although they couldn’t have his ass, that was Tony’s.
The door opened and Tony couldn’t remember ever seeing a better sight. He didn’t care about all the camera clicks around him, or voices clamouring for an answer to their questions. They could suck it as far as Tony was concerned. He found himself moving forward without a conscious thought towards Mark.
Mark’s smile upon seeing him was brighter than the sun. Tony found himself giddy and tearful as he closed the gap between them unable to bear the last few meters apart. He clung to Mark, peppering his face with kisses, earning laughs from the crew and Mark. Tony didn’t care.
He knew how weak Mark still was and was careful to not harm him by being too enthusiastic. He had his husband back on solid Earth and now he was never letting him go. For a few days, Tony doubted whether he would even be able to let Mark leave his sight.
“You are never going anywhere without me again!” Tony whispered imperiously.
Mark smirked, “Babe, I colonised Mars, became a human cannonball and was a Space Pirate. I think I can settle down now.”
Tony laughed at such a typical comment from Mark. He’d always used humour to deflect a heavy conversation as well. “When we are free … I am rocking your world.”
Mark moved to put an arm around Tony. It served two purposes. Firstly, it kept him in close human contact and who better to enjoy that with than your husband. The second purpose was that he still felt pretty weak and had no intention of falling on his ass in front of the World’s Press.
“You already do.”
The picture of Tony and Mark walking off arm in arm was the best selling picture in the History of the NASA shop. It partially helped to fund the Ares V mission which the two of them watched the launch of from the comfort of their living room in the new house they had settled in. Both of them happy to watch from a distance.
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