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Red Rover

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

ANDIE sent the request out for the gigazillionth time, but Red Rover did not respond. Neither did MADIE.

ANDIE widened his search parameters as red dust puffed from his relentless treads.

What had happened? The Ares Neural Determined Independent Explorer asked itself obsessively. Its uploaded consciousness housed in a bio-plasmic processor was intended to provide the probe with more fluent problem-solving capabilities. Yet, ANDIE had quickly developed feelings of apprehension in the 246.7 hours since it had been deployed on the Martian surface, and now it was becoming lonely and depressed.

This wasn’t how the techs had described it when ANDIE had volunteered to go where no man had gone before. Not in body. In mind. The months long space voyage had gone by quickly. Red Rover had always been in contact providing updates and changes to the mission based on fast-moving and vaguely threatening events on earth. Most importantly, on the voyage, ANDIE had MADIE.

The Mars Artificial Design Intelligence Explorer had been specially fabricated to complement ANDIE’s bio-plasmic needs. MADIE was not an uploaded consciousness, but was sentient—almost self-consciously so. ANDIE liked the way they interacted. MADIE politely precise. ANDIE joking and cajoling the fellow probe to think outside its circuitry. Back and forth they had bantered. Now, it was just ANDIE and the void.

Then, Red Rover had stopped answering too. The command center in Houston had reassured ANDIE initially that they would find MADIE, reestablish contact and help the two probes rendezvous. It had been 80.3 hours since ANDIE had contact with Red Rover. Their communication had been abruptly cut off. It disturbed ANDIE who suspected many dismaying things were happening on earth. This made it even more important that it find MADIE.

ANDIE would not give up. It owed it to Red Rover. It owed it to the sense of humanity embedded in its processor. Most of all, it owed it to MADIE. Alone. ANDIE could not fathom such an empty eternity for its fellow probe or itself. It pressed its accumulators for more power and continued its spiraling search pattern.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

1417.9 hours into the mission and 26.2 hours after the dust up that had lasted 474.1 hours, ANDIE felt a ping. It was the weakest of signals, but it was a transmission. Not on any frequency ANDIE expected from MADIE, but ANDIE’s processors raced. It had been so lonely. There was much to do for the mission, yet ANDIE longed for companionship. Without either Red Rover or MADIE, the emptiness of the red planet had become a bigger prison than the one he’d left on earth.

Why else would he have let himself be talked into such a risky endeavor? Uploading his consciousness into a space probe. None of the scientists knew what the long-term effect would be. He had surprised them. Surprised the world. The authorities had likened what they’d done to him to 19th century England shipping convicts to Australia. A second chance for him—for his consciousness. His body had been cremated, but his mind had the potential to thrive and benefit humankind.

Some had praised his sacrifice. Others decried it. ANDIE knew that much from Red Rover. The mission had been moved up rapidly to stay ahead of the outcry and the fear. It may have been the rushed launch date that created some tiny glitch somewhere in the vast and complicated system to put them on Mars that accounted for MADIE’s absence.

ANDIE had wanted a second chance for the physical life he’d wasted on earth, but he did not want to be left by himself. Though unfamiliar, weak, the ping his sensors had just picked up had to be from MADIE. She must’ve been damaged or compromised during the descent or landing.

ANDIE’s processors raced. He boosted his call and zeroed in on the anemic signal. He raised his own red dust up as he churned towards reunion.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

Red Rover, Red Rover, send MADIE right over.

The pinging grew stronger as his treads struggled for traction on the steep rise of the bank. He’d dared the climb because taking the easier route around the long dead river bed would have taken him four times as long. ANDIE was daring his own welfare to get to MADIE, his human will fighting against his computer reason. But this is what made ANDIE special—his human intuition could override even the deepest, coldest logic algorithms that laced his bio-plasmic reticulum. He charged upward.

Red Rover, Red Rover, ANDIE’s coming right over.

He crested the ridge fast and his sensors screamed a collision alert. ANDIE took evasive action as he powered down. A cloud of thick red dust obscured his optical scanners, but the signal that had been growing stronger practically shouted:


It was not MADIE. The contact before him was much smaller. Much less robustly built. Mostly buried in the Martian soil, it’s pocked and gritty solar array looked cheap. Tawdry even. What was this thing? It certainly was not MADIE.

With a clear line of sight. It transmitted. OPPORTUNITY.

Opportunity? ANDIE processed the cryptic signal. If only Red Rover were able to help, but ANDIE knew that hope was futile.




That was it. Twin probes that landed 1998. Spirit and Opportunity. Designed for a three-month mission, they’d gone on for years. Spirit had last been heard from in 2005. Opportunity in 2007. Miraculous, hardy machines. There was even a Curiosity probe that had landed in 2012. These primitive machines were his ancestors. His bloodline.

ANDIE faced his progenitor. What could he say to the ancient machine? A robotic Neanderthal to a Cro-Magnon.

A gulf of capability as long and dark as the void of space they’d crossed to get to Mars separated the two creatures. ANDIE felt pangs of guilt and grief. Strange sensations. He wanted to turn his sensors away. Go find MADIE. A mind built to understand his. This could only end awkwardly. How much longer could the half-buried creature survive? Did it have any sense of ANDIE as a sentient?

Data hit him between the optics. Opportunity was exporting every bit of its memory to ANDIE. He was awed. Such a simple creature, but what a life.

MADIE was out there. Spirit and Curiosity, too. ANDIE did not know what the barren, endless plains of Mars held for him, but he could not pass up this Opportunity. He extended his telescoping arms and carefully embraced his fellow being.

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