panda-like calm through fiction
I’ve always fretted I was alone. It’s been years since I’d seen another living thing; years since I’d even been infected by a bacterium (I scraped my knee hiking the Bonneville Crater- despite what you might have heard otherwise).

And then I found tracks in the dust, wheeled tracks. I remembered my youth, when we were more abundant on the planet. There was a female with humbled limbs who relied on wheels to get about who fancied me, but I was young enough to shun her for her physical imperfection. I'd have traded all the digits on my pleasure hand to have her here now, just to talk to.

But I refused to hold any optimism. The tracks were likely old, wretchedly old, yet somehow protected from the elements by some feature of the topography I was too close to comprehend. At least, I told myself I wasn't nurturing hope; but I followed them.

For days I followed the tracks, to a point I was not sure I could make my way back to my supplies. I was berating myself for fostering a loneliness strong enough to make me wander to my death in a desert, when I caught a glint on the horizon. Metal on the wheels, I thought at first, how strange that they were shining at me from this distance- how unusual. But after a time I came to realize the sparkle in the distance came from more, whatever I was following was metallic.

This only further piqued my curiosity. I no longer concerned myself with survival; my far off, shining hope for something different was enough. And as the hours turned to days I found myself gaining. And then it stopped, at the edge of the Missoula Crater, and waited for me, waited several days until I arrived.

She was beautiful, a slender, shining automaton with solar cells outspread, and she made no attempt to cover them as I approached; there was something charming about how comfortable she was with herself. She started humming to herself, a numerical music of ons and offs, and we started walking together. By the time we reached the Lahontan Crater, I was beginning to understand the syntax of her language, and we started to talk, first about her home planet, then about her. She extended her rock abrasion tool and I took hold of it, and we stopped, and I stared into her panoramic camera lenses.

Her name is MER-A . I slip my limb around her graceful, telescoping neck, and she whispers to me in binary that she doesn't know how to love. I tell her that her battery's still strong, that she has plenty of time left for me to teach her.

* * * * *

Approximately 225 million kilometers away, in a place called Pasadena, one technician turns to another. “Matt, Spirit just broadcast something. And now it's rebooting again- but the broadcast, it, it sounded like mood music.”

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