I'm flying through the air, antennae already through my side, burning a hole in me. My ears pop, almost instantly, and I accept my face. This is how I end. Exploring the galaxy. I'm happy with that.
My last thought, as I watch Johanssen reaching out for me, is that I love the crew and I hope they make it home all right.
But then, the next morning, I'm not dead. It's light out, there is a really fucking loud alarm blaring in my ear, and I'm almost entirely buried in sand. That antennae is still shoved into my side, still piercing right through me.
My first emotion, of all things, is pissed. I feel gypped, as if I was supposed to be a martyr for humanity and instead I just have a fucking metal rod in my side. I wish I'd just died properly, painlessly, hence the deep and profound desire to just fucking die.
The feeling passed, because I realized that if I was here, my crew probably was still here, and they'd patch me up and finish the mission. As soon as I had some anesthetics and some stitches it wouldn't be so bad. My injury was nothing to scrub over. I just had to let them know where I am.
It's kind of weird, really, that they haven't already found me. My suit has a homing mechanism.
This is the first thing that puts a sinking feeling in my gut.
Maybe when the communications array came free, they stopped working. I'm not sure how they work, but I know a lot depends on the comm array laying beside me.
I stand up, not wanting to yank out the antenna just yet because it would breach my suit, and of course it's fucking connected to the satellite dish. I cut myself free and start to climb the hill, trying to call the team on the radio. It isn't going through. Maybe my suit is the thing that's busted, which makes sense considering an entire satellite dish slammed into it.
I crested the hill, feet locked in the sand, and didn't immediately process it.
The MAV landing struts are standing empty.
Why was the frame empty? Did it tip?
I stare a couple more seconds.
Wordlessly, it sinks in.
My first instinct is to sink to my knees, into the rusty sand dune, and let go.
My knees buckle. I almost give in.
I know that if I fall to the ground now, I'll never get up again. I'll just fade away. I don't even need to think about it to know that nobody will ever know what really happened. Nobody will think that I was too far away from the satellite, nobody will be able to see my footprints in the sand. I'll just kneel into this dusty hill, and die.
Time slows, then stands still.
I look at the scenery, standing on the Martian sand dune. Silent, wild wind blows sand tornadoes in the distance. The mountains tower beautifully, taller than anything on earth.
Ultimately, I don't want to die from oxygen oversaturation laying on a rusty sand dune, so I'll at the very least make it to the Hab. Instead of folding, I drag my knee forward and step. Then another.
I try not to think. My entire trek back to the Hab is punctuated with thoughts about saying goodbye. What I would say. If I could.
The world moves before me in a blur. The airlock opens, air hissing out, blaring alarms, but none of it reaches my ears.
Stitching myself up is a fairly mechanical affair. I almost don't know why I'm doing it. Just to give myself the option, I guess. If I don't, I'm going to die quickly and painfully from blood loss or an infection. I don't want my last hours to be highlighted by radiating infection pain.
But in the same drawer as the analgesics are syringes of morphine, enough to kill a horse, already in the vial. They're sealed with little plastic caps that can be ripped off easily in emergencies.
I don't take one, not immediately. But I can't quite bring myself to pull my hand away, either.
I look up out the window, which, when we set up the Hab, we positioned to have a view of the MAV. The landing struts are still empty.
That's when the coherent thought finally occurs to me.
They left. The crew is gone.
They must think I'm dead. I'm alone. I have no way to contact them. The math does itself in my head, without my consent, as fast as thought. I have food for around 300 days. But after 300 days, I'll starve to death. I have no way to escape. The only other MAV is 3200km away, and it doesn't have enough fuel, and I just can't get that far, and even if I could the Hermes has probably left and there's no one for me to get to.
I grab the syringe out of the drawer, cool in and smooth in my hand as I walk over to the window with the view of the MAV. The morphine is clear in the vial. It smells like space equipment and antiseptic from where the antenna went through my body. My hands trace every curve of the glass, body suddenly aware that these moments could be my last.
24 hours ago, I was with the Ares III, living my lifelong dream of being an astronaut, friends surrounding me, finally finally finally fulfilled in life.
Now, I'm considering suicide.
I didn't even get to enjoy the full duration of the mission. We were 6 sols in and most of them had been spent on setup. I worked my whole adult life for this when really, I was just being sent here to die. Another me would be angry, but there's nothing in me anymore. I'm dead.
I say it out loud. "Mark Watney died on Sol 6." That's what they're all saying, on the Hermes, in Houston. Probably in the news; it's a big deal when an astronaut dies. Hey, I guess I get to be famous after all.
Seeing it standing there, empty, is perverse. Unholy. Human eyes aren't meant to see that. It's against the martian mountains, and there's something artistic about it.
Never have I been a philosophical person. My botany peers in college wanted the New World Order, and my peers in the masters programs came from philosophy undergraduates who were full of 'deep quotes' and always trying to ask me what I thought the meaning of life was. Up until now, it all seemed like pointless navel gazing.
But staring at the empty landing struts, the martian tornadoes in the background, a lethal dose of morphine in my hand, I understand why it matters.
What was the fucking meaning of this?
There's no fucking meaning, Mark. There's nothing out there. There's no meaning to any of it. You lived, you died. That's all.
The empty landing struts are almost poetic. Humanity has left this place, and here are their leftovers, destined to remain undisturbed forever. I now understand how all those Egyptian relics were lost to time, how entire cities could get completely buried in the sand. Here I am, being buried with them.
My hand grips the syringe of morphine. The sand is going to bury me here, my final resting place a dusty tomb. I'm dying in this Hab, sand will flood into it and I'll be erased.
I turn to look around the Hab, imagining time ravaging it, dust seeping into the cracks and papers being blown around. Eventually it's buried, buried with me inside. Where do I lay? In my cot, with my hands folded? In the center, because it's my tomb? I don't want to decompose. If I breached the Hab at the end, I would remain undisturbed, just like the Egyptians tried to do with their mummification. But it would actually work for me, and an entire planet would be my pyramid. Suck on that, Pharaohs.
My grip tightens around the vial.
I've never been one to give up. I've always thought 'if I were diagnosed with cancer, I'd fight it,' and I would. But this is different. This isn't just cancer, this is terminal cancer, no chance of survival, 100% chance of excruciating pain. Just starvation, pain, suffocation, death. There's literally nothing to be done. There's no one here to stick around for.
My food will last me 300 more days, but do I really want them?
No, best to just get it over with. I'm not one to give up, but I'm not one to delay the inevitable, either.
This doesn't even feel feel like giving up. I'm not in control at all as my thumb moves against the injection slide. I'm already dead. I am the living dead, because I am dead to my crew and I am dead to the world. Mark Watney died on Sol 6, and the guy who is alive right now is just his ghost, drifting around on Mars for 300 more days before he disappears, and no one will ever know.
I prick my fingertip with the needle, not enough to bleed, but enough to know how sharp the syringe is. I press my fingertip into it, feeling the pain as it separates my skin.
It feels like a dream. Who am I really leaving behind? My parents have each other, I have no wife and children, and that crew are my only real friends. They'll move on, they're already moving on. I don't need to wonder what they'll do if I die, because I'm already dead, fading away.
Still, I'm wondering, what was the fucking point?
I didn't put clothes back on over my boxers since I was alone and in pain, so I merely have to reach down for the needle to drag across the skin on my thigh. I raise the syringe in the air experimentally, wondering what it would be like to thrust the plunger down into my leg, to press my thumb down and release the morphine.
I worked for ten years and traveled 140 million miles to get here. My eyes linger on the sight I worked so hard for.
The martian landscape is breathtaking, alien and beautiful. If this was my last moment, well, it wasn't such a bad one.
I feel my thumb press down ever so slightly, feel the pressure against the slide increase ever so slightly. Fear jumps into my throat but I don't notice, so disconnected am I from my body.
But something else, just as uncontrollable, stays my hand.
Faint hope. And boy, do I mean faint. If the Hermes came back right now (which I doubt they can do because of fuel requirements), and I somehow managed to make a rover go the 3200km to Schiaparelli crater, and put the life support in it, and survived long enough for it to make fuel, I could use their MAV to get back. Or I could wait four years for Ares IV, and go back with them. Could leave some sort of message to them, write huge letters in the sand, tell them to only send 5 people instead of 6 so I can go back with them.
The chances of this… ridiculously slim. But slim odds are better than none.
And if I just die now, what was the fucking point?
Besides, I can always kill myself tomorrow. I have 300 more days left on my ticker, after all.
I set down the syringe gently, as if it's a loaded gun, right in the center of the table.
Suddenly I realize my heart is pounding and I shove myself away from the table on the wheely chair, stumbling out of it and towards my bunk. All I want to do is lay down in that bunk and forget about the hole that's torn in my side, forget about the morphine that sits on the center of the table, forget about the fact that I've been abandoned here and never going home again, stare at the wall and get lost in my thoughts until maybe this isn't happening to me anymore.
On my way to the cot I see the habJournal desk, and I slow. NASA will probably never see this footage, but maybe some space colonists a hundred years from now will find this wreckage and be able to get the ancient computers working. I'll never see earth again, my family will never know what happened, no one can talk to me, but I can talk to the people who discover this footage, dozens or hundreds of years from now. Maybe my Wikipedia page will be rewritten, biggest surprise scientific discovery of the decade.
I can't write a last letter to anyone I know, but I can write a last letter to someone.
I log in, hit "record," and the camera flares to life.
I woke up today, and found that I don't really want to kill myself.
I have enough food to last me a year. That's a pretty decent amount of time. If nothing else, I have a solid fucking year to do research about Mars.
I can't get communication reliable enough to talk to NASA back and forth, but I could eventually reach them. I can put the results on a constant broadcast from the Hab, and maybe Ares IV would be able to find it, or maybe SETI would pick it up or who knows what. That would advance science far more than any thirty sol trip could. So, even though I never get to see my mom and dad again, at least my death here could count for something.
Honestly, taking a look at all my equipment, food is really the only problem. Water, shelter, medicine, nutrition, all taken care of. I've got an unbelievable amount of spare parts because I'm a crew of one, instead of a crew of six. Other things will become problems when they break, but not completely unmanageable problems. And it's only got to last me, one person, up to 300 days, so it doesn't matter.
I've even got an oblique goal: survive until Ares IV. It's not much of a goal, seeing as it's almost completely hopeless, but I have to try.
I told the log "if they don't cancel the program," but I know damn well they're going to hold the Ares IV program back. That's what they do every time a bad O-ring kills everyone on board. But I'm going to be there at the scheduled arrival date anyways, on the slim-to-none chance it proceeds on schedule. Their MAV is already there, so at the very least I can use it to communicate to NASA. I'd eat their rations, but they won't be delivered for years, it wouldn't be enough to keep me alive, and I don't want to compromise their mission anyways.
I've only been alone on Mars one day, but already I have a brand new morbid side.
One of the first things I do is pull out a telescope and point it at the sky, looking for the Hermes. Soon I won't be able to see it with a telescope, so the morbid part of me hops right on that. It's not difficult to find, since it's currently closer to Mars than a satellite and also four or five times as large. But it's still a tiny speck in the sky, like a faraway airplane.
I stare at it, seeing no motion, but knowing it's rocketing away. I don't look away, even when my eyes begin to burn.