Kiri bent her arm down carefully, slowly and deliberately to the dirt in her new back yard. The important purpose of her mission raced in her veins, filling her with pride. I must let base know I’ve begun, she thought. Everyone will be so proud of me! She stopped and popped her thumbs excitedly on her text pad.
“I am collecting my sample now,” she typed out.
The responses from the team averaged more than thirty minutes. Ordinarily, Kiri would initiate a system timeout while she waited, but the excitement of her mission was too great. She reverted through her memory banks to the images of Earth after she first left the atmosphere. One frame in particular with the sun sinking behind the horizon was mesmerizing. It was more than beautiful. It was a perfect picture of the home Kiri left 350,000,000 miles behind. She missed the Earth. She missed the team.
It was lonely in her new home. Suddenly, Kiri was sad. She knew the team back home would be trying to determine, through her research, if there was any possibility she was not alone. The red dirt surrounding her didn’t promise much company. Not even so much as a beetle. She returned to her text pad.
“When will I be coming home, Richard?”
She lowered her arm again and scooped up a handful of dirt. She shook it up and deposited it into one of the analysis chambers in SAM. She powered up CheMin, synchronized the processor and started the analysis process. Then she sadly began to survey the landscape while she waited. The exhilaration when she had first arrived was beyond belief. She was a hero! She would be the one to discover once and for all if there were signs of life on Mars. But that excitement was gone. The more she looked around, the more obvious it became that she was the only life on Mars.
SAM was a magnificent portable laboratory, but he wasn’t much company. Kiri’s mood sank deeper and deeper, lost in the hum of SAM’s analyzers, until finally she was interrupted by a transmission. She jumped in excitement, but then she stared in horror at the words.
“Mars is your new home, Ms. L. You’re not coming back.”
“Kiri’s heart snapped. Depression flooded her. Tears started. They backed up inside her and with no place to go, she could feel them leaking inside, into her circuits, drowning her in a flood loneliness. There was a horrible sizzling sound and just as everything was fading to black…
“Emily!” Her mother’s voice called out across the yard. “What are you doing with your chemistry set outdoors? Didn’t I tell you not to play with that unsupervised?”
Kiri was indignant. “I’m not Emily! I’m Kiri Ossity, the Martian Science Laboratory. I’m collecting Martian soil samples for SAM.”
“Well, go put SAM back in your bedroom and wash all that Martian soil off your hands. It’s almost time for dinner.”
“But nothing! The guys at Cape Canaveral will still be there tomorrow.”
“They’re in Pasadena,” Emily grumbled. She dumped the dirt back in the garden and stuck the test tube back in her little fold-up laboratory. She took one last disgusted look around the back yard of their new home. There really wasn’t any other life on Mars.
Houston Texas: John Grunsfeld, associate administrator at NASA answered his phone. “Hello, Richard, what’s the news?”
“John we have a huge problem. It looks like we’ve lost communication with the MSL.”
“Lost communication? What are you talking about?”
“It’s been well over an hour with no response from last command, and John… there was something really strange about her last communication.”
“What did it say?” John shook his head to himself. Richard insisted on referring to the Curiosity as a her.
“She wanted to know when she was coming home.”
© 2012 Anne Schilde