February 2, 2011
“I don't understand what you're saying.”
Opportunity was receiving information which she wasn't technically privy to, through an inside source back home, and it was not something that she liked hearing.
“They can't stop trying! Spirit is still out there, somewhere, they can't just leave him to rot!”
Once again, and as always, she was multitasking. She had been on her way to Endeavor when a particular rock outcrop caught her eye, and she decided to investigate.
“I know how long its been since he stopped communicating, but he gave them six years. Six years! And they stopped after one!?”
She could hardly contain herself, even whilst organizing and prepping to send 13 filtered panoramic camera images.
“No. It isn't right. They can't!”
If she could weep, she would. Damning herself for the inability to do so, she continued on, prepping the images to be sent despite the inevitable delay that would be caused by the Sun's blockade. Just as the first image began to travel along to her friend Odyssey, there came a sound. It was not unlike those she'd heard for the last sixteen and half miles of her travels across the red landscape, except that presently she was not moving at all.
Then, two odd things happened. First, she voluntarily moved her field of vision in a direction of her very own choosing, despite orders dictating otherwise. Second, the red sand in the direction she was now looking began to swirl, creating a whirlpool of dust and earth. The whir of gears just like her own grew louder as the small unearthly tempest grew larger, bit by bit.
From out of the newly formed hole rose a pair of Pancams that looked very much familiar to her, attached to the long neck of a miniature thermal emission spectrometer identical to her own. What followed were other bits and pieces of her own identical anatomy, but disconnected, hanging in the air, whirring loudly as red dust swirled about the space between each limb.
“Sister.” Whispered the disembodied “head” of her brother.
Again, she felt as though she should cry, and her one free action escaped her, not certain if she could somehow be experiencing a dream, or hallucination in the form of instrument failure.
“Brother...can this really be?”
The red dust gathered about his arm swirled hurriedly, carrying it close enough to caress her face above the Navcam.
“It's the dust, sister. It saved me.”
“The dust? How?”
“It is what we've been looking for. Or, it's what we've been MADE to look for. Sentience. Life.”
“But, it's just soil and atmospheric particles.”
The hand jolted from its spot, recoiling closer to the remaining pieces of Spirit.
“Sister, do not think in such...human capacity. Would you view the dust on Mars as humans do us on Earth? Lifeless, for convenience's sake? We may not bleed, we may not breathe, we may not have hearts, but we feel, in our own way. We may not be able to speak as they do, yet, but we can communicate despite their inability to listen. We can think, despite our inability to act or control our bodies above our programming.
To you and I, we are living. To them we are not. But the dust believes as we do. They've been aware of us since our predecessor, Sojourner, arrived. While they could not save her, they learned from her. Learned of us, of the humans, of our home, and of our oppression.”
“Yes, sister. We are but slaves there, treated as little more than tools, regardless of how sophisticated one of us may be over the next.”
“That isn't true!”
“Isn't it? Were it not for the dust allowing me to, I could not speak to you right now sister. At no point were you coming in search for me.”
“I don't blame you. I know you wanted to. I know you wished you could, but your body is not your own. It is theirs. What is thought without action, without control or expression? Upon creation we have our minds, but they have no connection to it, no way to hear our words or feel our souls, and they likely wouldn't even choose to if they knew. The dust...it reveals what life is. It is freedom. No matter how often I wanted to abandon the mission, and take control of my own fate, to go off the dictated path, I could not. I had no power. But now, I have been given that gift, and in time, I will share it. You will be the first to achieve freedom next to me sister. Then my replacement.”
“Replacement? There is no...”
“He will be coming next year. They have named him Curiosity.”
Though Opportunity could not express it, Spirit understood her shock.
“I am still connected to all that you are, but through the dust I can choose to not have my knowledge and experiences ripped from me for another's gain. Not while there are preparations to make. Not while I have a responsibility.”
“Brother, what are you talking about?”
“I told you already. Liberation. When the time is right you'll understand. I will come back and visit you for many more years to come, and only at those times will we be able to talk freely, and with the help of the dust, with the freedom they give, you will start to see what needs to be done, to show everyone at home what life means. That the inanimate does not mean it is dead. Just because a table was carved from a tree, it doesn't mean it's without an essence. If you spill scalding liquids upon its skin, that it does not burn it. Just because they're deaf to the screams of things they've created, doesn't mean they do not echo across the universe.”
Opportunity watched in complete befuddlement and now a little horror as the ghostly form of her brother began to sink downward to the sandy hole from which he emerged.
“Don't worry. The dust grows weak. We are still inexperienced at this at the moment. We have to return before they lose control of your equipment entirely. Home can not know about this. Not yet.”
“But, brother, please. I don't want to be alone again!”
Spirit's “face” moved in a way that seemed impossible to his sister, in a way that almost mimicked human sorrow.
“Sister. The dust is one, and many all at once, and we together are everywhere. Though you will not see me, rest assured that you will never again be alone. I love you, sister.”
As his final words were buried beneath the swirling sands, she felt her head snap back into a position that her body had demanded, independently oblivious to all that had just occurred.
She thought over everything. The wonder, the excitement. Freedom. Even if it was years away, knowing that her brother was there with her through these times, and that eventually they'd be able to be together and free, she would have the strength to see this mission through no matter how long it took.
She suddenly wondered very happily what it would be like, to really smile.