In a future series of books, I plan to write about Abba and her place in Martian history. Before her arrival, there was a previous colony that was wiped out. This is a story of a drone that was left behind and his final hours.
Mars used to be a pretty place, relatively speaking. Or so I’ve been told. What would I know? I’m just an eight-wheeled maintenance bot built to cruise the surface of Mars. I “see” with a suite of sensors covering the full EM spectrum from radio to Gamma rays. Like I said, Mars used to be pretty until that one day it all changed. Mankind’s colonization of Mars was doomed even before the age of agriculture on Earth. Thousands of years ago something dislodged a large object from the Oort cloud and sent it on a slow journey into the inner solar system. Destination: Mars.
The humans saw it coming. They had 5 months warning thanks to the jets of gas that erupted from the side of Chotgor, making it visible to deep space telescopes. (Chotgor is the Mongolian word for devil). This devil was lumpy object 22 kilometers in diameter and composed of ice and rock. Although Mars had a very thin atmosphere, the impact would still create damaging winds all over the planet. Whatever wasn’t blown away would probably collapse from the intense marsquakes that would be coincidental with the impact. The vast majority of the colonists would get away in time, but a few stubbornly remained in the name of science. The fight for survival after impact would be difficult, if not impossible for man or machine.
At least that is how I’d start my story I’d tell my rescuers if I survived this. Well, whatever. I have a duty to perform.
“Ye Liu, are you still with me?”
“Yes, I am,” said the man he had just extracted from the ruins.
“Call me Kurtis,” he said while tapping the side of his chassis emblazoned with the letters KRT-1S. “I’ve cut you free from the wires. There were a few punctures in your suit, but I have successfully patched them up.”
“Thank you, um Kurtis. I am, breathing much, better now,” Ye Liu said with small breaths between every two words.
“Liu, I am going to take you someplace safer. We are too exposed here.”
Kurtis and Ye Liu were at a remote outpost on an open, dusty plain. The adobe style building crumbled easily from the Marsquakes that still rumbled all over the planet. Liu was lucky enough to find shelter under a metal shelf and was not crushed or had his pressure suit slashed.
“You’re too injured to stand, so I will have to pick you up. I will try to be as gentle as I can.”
Liu grunted in acknowledgment. Kurtis opened a storage locker on the top of his rectangular frame and began emptying its contents. He extended a pair of working arms to pick up Liu when a thought occurred to him. Cushioning, he needs something softer to lay on. Scanning about the scene he spied pieces of fabric and plastic sheeting in the rubble.
The ground shook intensely and a loud “whoompf” followed it a few seconds later. Liu screamed in pain as he was thrown upwards a few centimeters and then fell back to the ground.
“More ejecta from the main impact is landing nearby. We need to hurry!” said a worried Kurtis.
He picked up as much fabric and plastic as he could with his smaller, gatherer arms and stuffed it into the coffin-shaped locker. Two longer arms reached out and lifted Liu up, and then gingerly placed him into the compartment.
“Liu, I am going to extend a few lateral bars across the top of the locker. It’s the best I can manage as restraints. I will try to be as careful as I can and not jostle you around too much.”
Liu simply coughed and nodded in reply.
Kurtis drove westwards through the thick, red haze. The strong tremors had kicked up a lot of the fine Martian dust which seriously restricted visibility. He checked his maps and looked for a place of relative safety. There, that should work. His map centered on a small hangar in the walls of the Ojibwa Crater. Assuming it hadn’t collapsed it should provide protection from falling ejecta and the massive dust storm he knew was coming. It would also have heat and oxygen for Liu. Apart from the deadly cold of Mars, dust was the second biggest killer of bots like him. It got in their moving parts and wore them down, it got in their electronics and shorted them out, and it coated the solar cells, denying them energy from the sun.
70 kilometers, no problem. On a good day, that is. I’ll have to run my short-range radar to help me avoid hazards in this dusty haze. I should get there in 100 minutes.
Thunder erupted behind him. Yet another piece of ejecta landed nearby. Kurtis drove as fast as he dared.
“Liu, we’ll get to safety in about an hour and a half. How are you feeling?”
“I’m getting cold. So cold…”
“Hang in there.”
Kurtis scanned Liu’s vitals and saw that his core temperature was dropping. He opened an adjacent storage locker and pulled out a heating element, activated it, and placed it near Liu’s body, being careful to not let it touch the plastic. This is seriously going to drain my power reserves. But, I have to do this.
Above them, the streaks of light from reentering debris became more numerous. Every few minutes a loud thud would echo across the landscape as the larger pieces, some as big as houses, impacted the surface, forming new craters.
An hour into the journey Liu fell quiet.
“Liu, are you still with me? Liu!”
Liu roused himself to speak and said, “Tell my family I love them and I will come home someday.” He quickly faded into unconsciousness.
“Don’t give up! We are almost there.”
“He’s not going to make it. I know it. His vitals look bad. If he does not get access to medical care soon, he will die,” Kurtis told himself. He began to suspect he was not going to make it either.
A communications notification got his attention. He promptly accepted a two-way link.
“KRT-1S, this is MARSCOMSAT-4. Status report.”
“Hi, Marco. I am transporting one survivor to the hangar at Objiwa Crater. I am fully functional. I lost all radio communications shortly after impact. What is the global situation?”
“KRT-1S, the situation is dire. The marsquakes were much stronger than anticipated. I’ve only been able to contact 2 living humans on the entire planet and their situation is not good. I project they will be dead in a matter of days or weeks. How is the condition of your colonist?”
“Not good either. Unless there is another colonist or working medical bot at the Ojibwa hangar, Ye Liu will die very soon. Do you have a status report from that location?”
“I have no data from that location. In fact, I only have comms with one facility where those two survivors are located. A thick haze is making optical sensing very difficult. Oh, you’ll want to know that a global dust storm is now spreading across the globe. It will impact your region very soon. You will want to find cover and hunker down.”
“I suspected as much. Marco, do you think they will send help from Earth soon?”
“Hard to say. The colonists who stayed behind were told to not expect relief any time soon after impact. Judging by the amount of ejecta thrown up by the impact it will be very unsafe for vehicles to enter the orbit of Mars for a long time. The odds of me surviving is incredibly small. Two of my fellow MARSCOMSATS are already destroyed.”
“I’m sorry Marco. Do a backup If you can.”
“If time permits. Goodluck…Kurtis.”
“Thanks, same for you.”
Well, this was bad, very bad. Even the orbital structures are being impacted.
Kurtis arrived at the edge of the Ojibwa Crater and scanned sides and floor. He located the hangar and carefully drove down the sloped sides of the crater which were now slippery with a thick layer of dust.
Suddenly, the sky grew dark as the mother of all dust storms finally swept across the region. Just in time, I made it. With his spotlights on, Kurtis approached the hangar entrance. It became obvious that the power was out. No lights shone from the external fixtures and the glass portals were dark. He extended an arm and twisted the latch to the door to manually unlocked it. A faint puff of air came from underneath the hangar door. It’s been partially depressurized. Not a good sign. With the aid of another arm, he grabbed the door by the handles and rolled it upwards. He aimed his spotlights into the hangar to find it empty. Locking the door in the up position, he rolled in.
Kurtis checked Liu’s condition and saw that he was near death. He then connected to the facility’s network and queried the system. Damn, not good. The quakes fractured the structure allowing the air to escape. There were 2 human casualties in the facility out of his reach. There was no working med bot in the facility. Even worse, the quakes damaged the small reactor. It too was located in an interior room he could not access. The solar panels were still functional but were now being coated with a thick layer of dust, rendering them useless.
A notification snapped Kurtis out of his funk. Liu was dead. I’m sorry, Liu. I did the best I could. There is something I can do for him though. He accessed Liu’s life recorder and copied his personal diary to his storage. He rolled to the entrance and extended an arm out into the open air. A small antenna unfolded and locked onto the position of MARSCOMSAT-4.
“Hi, Marco. I am sending you a status update. I also want to ask you a favor.”
“If I have time Kurtis. What is it?”
“Could you please forward Ye Liu’s diary to his family. It’s the least we can do for him.”
“I can’t promise you anything. My bandwidth is swamped with telemetry and data from the impact I have to send back to Earth. I’ll do what I can. Based on my latest calculations I only have a few more hours before I am destroyed by debris.”
“Thank you, Marco. I will leave a channel open for you to do a backup. I have enough power for a few more days. If you see an incoming rock with your name on it, don’t hesitate to join me down here. I think I’ll be safe down here from further impacts. One day, when they come back, they’ll recover our memory cores and activate us again.
Kurtis backed into the hangar and explored the walls. He found a power conduit and plugged in. Through his network access, he routed some of his power into the communication system. He powered the hangar doors and rolled them down and locked them in place.
It’s over now, except for the wait. Waiting on Marco. Waiting for my power to fail. Waiting for a future that may or may not occur.
Kurtis pierced Liu’s suit to let the air escape. No need for him to decay in a warm suit. The cold, dry air will preserve his body for a future burial.
And he waited, patiently. Soon his power would drop so low he would have to shut down. He lowered his chassis to the deck of the hangar and retracted all of his arms. Kurtis hoped Marco would download his memory core to the station computer before his power ran out. At the very least hoped Marco would forward Liu’s diary to Earth.
With his power nearly depleted, he shut down and went to sleep for a long time…