The Martians, having eavesdropped, knew far in advance that another rover was coming from the blue planet. They made the appropriate preparations to hide all traces of themselves — of all organic matter — and suspend their above-ground operations. Once the rover landed, they avoided its field of view and restarted some out-of-sight surface enterprises.
The rover analysed rocks, moved a little and took some photos. Although they were inconvenienced, the Martians were pleased to see it followed the same patterns as previous rovers and hence posed no threat.
A game started among the children called How Close Can We Get To The Cute Little Rover While It’s Uploading Its Data And Can’t See Us. Three red-shelled friends managed to slip past their disapproving parents, who had conveniently forgotten their own exploits with the now defunct old rover. Victorious and ready for adventure, the three emerged from a concealed cave in the otherwise empty rover region.
The rover was in the middle of its upload salute, antenna pointed skywards and all other instruments motionless; inactive for the duration. One of the children, Dilgi, had hacked into a hidden surveillance camera and kept an eye on it while they scuttled nearer. They approached from behind its main optical sensors, far enough away that the curvature of the planet hid their cave.
They had covered about a kilometre when Dilgi cried out. The rover’s antenna was moving! Its uplink was complete and soon it would start recording data again. The other two squealed and all three skittered for the nearest cover.
“That was too close,” said Zyrna, once they were safely clear of the abandoned cave entrance.
“It’s fine,” said Qari. “There’s no way it saw us.”
“Probably not,” said Dilgi.
“Next time,” said Qari, “we should start closer to the rover. It won’t see us while it’s uplinking and we’ll have more time.”
“No way!” said Zyrna. “What if it does see us?”
“More time for what?” asked Dilgi.
Qari waved a spiny hand dismissively.
“Its uplink time is way faster than the last rover,” said Zyrna. “We have no idea what else it might do. I’m not going out there again until we know it’s not going to shoot lasers or something.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” asked Qari.
“Don’t be silly,” said Dilgi. “As if the Bluelings have invented lasers if they’re still throwing clunky things like that at us.”
“You don’t know that!” With a final look of ill-hidden fear, Zyrna scuttled back to the populated areas.
“I want to go out again tomorrow,” said Qari. “Will you come too?”
“I think it’s cute.” Dilgi warbled uncertainly. “But maybe you can go first. Just in case there are lasers.”
The next day, uplink-time found Dilgi in another empty cave. This time they were barely a hundred metres from the rover.
“Good luck,” said Dilgi, handing Qari a radio receiver. “The upload just started.”
Qari rocked sideways in satisfaction then crept out of the cave. The alien machine was clearly visible. Even Qari had to acknowledge that the cave entrance was dangerously close. Especially if lasers might be involved. Just in case, Qari covered it up completely before ambling forward.
A metre from the rover, Qari hesitated. Its optical sensor was pointed away and the uplink was clearly still in progress. Dilgi cooed at the machine through the radio in Qari’s ear. Qari ignored the noise and sidled around it. Up close, the rover looked very different to the one of their parents’ generation. It was about the same size, but it was shinier and the instruments looked different. None of them, despite Zyrna’s fears, looked like weapons.
“Run!” screamed Dilgi. “It’s alive!”
Qari looked up. Antenna raised high, the uplink was definitely still in progress.
But the rover’s optics were moving. The camera slowly swung around to face a frozen Qari. The giant artificial eye blinked.
Qari yelped and skittered away. Underground, Dilgi was already fleeing.
But it was too late. Sixteen minutes and twenty-three seconds later, the blue planet started to panic.
Copyright © 2012 Tsana Dolichva.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, January 2012.
This page last updated 13th Feb 2012.