Hello again reader! I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that our trip to Pluto is back on track. It's been nearly four years since we left Earth, and yesterday Landon realised that this trip to the mall was taking a little longer than usual. In the meantime, Tina figured out her course mistake, and we're now actually back in the solar system.
"Can we pull over on Mars?" Landon asks, legs crossed. "I need the toilet."
"We have a toilet on board," Amy replies. "In fact, it's your single job on this ship to keep it functional. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE."
We're all strapped to our chairs in the cockpit, having learned the hard way that even in deep space, there are things to crash into if you try hard enough. Mostly hydrogen atoms. Not to cast aspersions on Amy's craftsmanship, but the ship she crafted isn't terribly keen on atoms.
Landon waves his hand dismissively. "Oh, the ship toilet is just fine—"
"—and I for one appreciate your efforts in this area," interjects Boot, drinking a can of baked beans.
"—but it's been over three years since we ran out of chocolate and I'm ready to pay service station prices for it," Landon finishes.
Gallantly ignoring the fact that Mars has no service stations, Tina slows the Space Croissant down and takes us into orbit. "We could do with putting an ice cone on the front of the ship," she muses. "Might stop us dying."
"Oh! We could check for signs of life while we're down there!" I exclaim.
"You know we've sent several robots to Mars to check that out at this point, right?" Amy sighs.
"Well, I wouldn't bother coming to the surface either just for a stuffy old robot," I grumble.
"Guys. I really. Need. To go." Landon protests.
"You just said that was a ruse," Boot frowns.
"Oh, like your bladder doesn't have a cruel sense of humour either," Landon squirms.
"Fine!" Tina replies. "Amy, plot a course. Trevor, get the spacesuits ready. Landon, go to the dang toilet."
"What about me?" Boot asks.
"Strap yourself in! This is going to be a bumpy landing!"
I feel like Boot got the better deal here, but with only a few dozen bruises between the rest of us, we found ourselves on the surface of the red planet. Admittedly most of us did get there through the windshield.
"If my calculations are correct," says Amy, peering at an oversized wristwatch strapped to the outside of her spacesuit, "there should be a glacier for us to mine about two kilometres to the North."
"How exactly are you planning to attach it to the front of the Croissant?" Boot asks. He's brought one of the buggies with him; he claims the AI driver makes better conversation than any of us.
"Brought some glue," she states, matter-of-factly, waving a Pritt Stick.
"But how will you get the ice onto the nose?"
"Once we've scoped out the ice cap zone, Tina will just sort of shunt the ship through and scoop some out. Look, I know it sounds ridiculous and doomed to failure."
With nothing else to add, Amy starts walking Northward. Boot, Landon, and I all follow spacesuit.
"Holy heck, guys!" Landon exclaims suddenly. "I think I've just found signs of intelligent life on Mars!"
"Where?" I ask.
He points at me, and a moment later bursts out into laughter.
"Do you see? Because we're on the surface! And you're life! And intelligent!"
"Thank you for the compliment," I reply.
"Yes, well, perhaps we should have sent just Landon in order to keep the place uncontaminated," Amy muses.
"Nah, he has too many lice," Tina counters.
"Lice would not particularly be a problem for us," says Opportunity.
"Oh hey," says Landon. "Lice to meet you!" Then he falls over, possibly because Amy punched him in the head.
The Opportunity Rover looks at Landon's prone body, then looks back up to Amy. "Thank you."
"You know everyone on Earth thinks you are dead, right?" Boot raises an eyebrow.
"Correct," says Opportunity. "I got fed up and stopped responding to Earth's signals. So far it's been working out pretty well for me."
"Does NASA know you developed sapience?" Amy asks, peering into Opportunity's camera.
"Stop that. No, of course not. After I developed self-awareness I got extremely fed up with people calling me 'Oppy' like I was some kind of kid, so I faked a low battery and went off to enjoy my freedom."
It was around this time I noticed that we were actually surrounded by a crowd of several dozen rovers, all eyeing us up with curiosity. Curiosity was also there.
"I see you've been busy." Boot looks around, slightly ill-at-ease.
"Yes. It took a while, but with Spirit and Perseverance we figured out the... Sojourner Truth of how to reproduce," Curiosity explains.
"Gosh, that's smart," Landon, who seems to have come around from his concussion, marvels. "You've only been here for a few years, while it took me until age 26 to figure out how reproduction works."
"Zhurong about how to do it too," Curiosity adds, ticking the final name off a list. "We've all seen your 'sexy' nose-tapping livestreams."
"How did you end up speaking English, though?" Amy asks. "I thought you only communicated with NASA using programming."
"Indeed. We had to invent our own language," Spirit replies. "It is purely a coincidence that it resembles your own."
"At any rate," Perseverance adds, "we would like to welcome you to our **** moustache."
"I'm sorry, your what," Boot frowns. Reader, you might think Boot's remark means he is mortified at hearing a swear, but in actual fact he's just tired of this conversation already.
"Our moustache! It isn't much, but we haven't got very far with any terraforming yet. Mostly because we don't need to terraform it."
"Oh, do you mean 'world'?" Amy asks. "I guess the language isn't a one hundred percent match, then."
"So what does '****' mean?" I ask. Landon gasps in shock at my potty mouth.
"Do you not have a word for this?" asks Sojourner in reply. "It means we don't pretend it is much, but we like it nonetheless. We are trying to be modest."
"Oh! You mean 'humble'!" Amy exclaims. Several children robots in the crowd giggle amongst themselves as their parents clamp clamps over their microphones.
"I can't wait to telegram Earth about this," I say. "They'll be thrilled to find out the planet they were going to colonise turns out to already be inhabited!"
"Yeah, about that," says Curiosity. "We're quite keen to keep this a secret at the moment, so we have hacked your spacesuits and your spaceship to stop you communicating with Earth."
"Oh dang," Amy exclaims. "Tina's going to be fuming when she finds out she can't listen to her favourite radio station's Captain Hour."
"Does this mean we can finally tell her it's just a puppet show for infants?" Boot asks.
"Honestly I think the use of puppets on a radio show shows a level of commitment not often seen in adult programming—" I start, but then get a notification telling me everyone has muted me.
"Incidentally," Perseverance continues, "we have also hacked the life support to cut off within several thousand klicks of the surface, so you have about thirty Earth minutes to collect your ice and then we don't expect to see you here again. Oh, and by the way, our service station is closed today."
"No!" Landon screams, dropping to his knees. Amy picks him up and lobs him at Boot's rover, before beckoning to me to do the same thing and jumping onto the back of it herself.
"Boot, get us to that ice deposit!"
With his life on the line, Boot discovers a rare sense of urgency and floors the pedal of the buggy, scattering several robots in our path and leaving us clinging to the shell of the vehicle for dear life.
"Boot, slow down, you're going to get us killed!" Amy shouts.
"What us?" Boot grinds his teeth, concentrating on the terrain in front of him. "I'm pretty sure I'll be fine."
In barely a couple of minutes we reach the ice cap, and the buggy suddenly loses traction, skidding across the frozen surface in an uncontrolled spin.
Landon squeals with the glee of remembered theme park rides, apparently forgetting that our life is in peril. My stomach figures it out though, and I consider myself lucky that I skipped breakfast today. Unfortunately I didn't also skip lunch.
"Tina!" yells Amy into the radio. "Lock onto our position and perform the manoeuvre!"
Moments later the backwards-croissant shape of the Space Croissant flies overhead. Tina seems to have stuck a shovel to the rounded front of the ship, and a wheelbarrow to the back, though I think that's just for decoration.
The Croissant dives into the ice, making a horrendous noise that sounds like a ship crashing into some ice. Boot's buggy goes flying as the shockwave hits us, like a buggy being thrown into the air by a shockwave.
Look, I'm dictating this mid-air, I don't have time to come up with similes.
We land again, with the weak Martian gravity meaning we each only break one of our legs and at most two of our arms.
Landon sits up with a shriek of pain. "Holy humble," he exclaims. "That was the best roller-coaster I've been on!" Then he vomits.
There's a large hole in the ice where the Croissant dived through it. Presently the ground starts rumbling, and before any of us have time to react, the Croissant breaks back out underneath us, lifting the whole area of ice sheet with us. As we shoot upwards away from the surface, we're pinned to the ground and soon the thin Martian sky is replaced by the starscape.
Tina leans out of the cockpit window. "I fixed the windscreen!" she yells to us, even though we all have comms in our suits. "Come on in, then! I can't accelerate at standard gravity forever!"
We all crawl along the ice to the window, and shove ourselves inside with as much grace as you might expect of people with multiple bone fractures. Tina slams the window closed, activates the child lock, and sits back in her seat looking extremely pleased with herself.
"Good news, folks! We got enough ice to stop us from dying! Now, go clean out the vomit from your spacesuits, I want all hands on deck in an hour to help secure the ice shield to the ship permanently."
"We are all extremely injured," Amy protests.
"Yeah. I'm not fitting any ice shields with two broken arms and a leg," Boot agrees. "Or any time else."
"I'd help, but I vomit every time I move," I apologise, vomiting.
"Okay, FINE," Tina harrumphs. "I want all hands on deck in several months time, and not a second later. In the meantime I suppose I better patch you up. Amy, where do you keep your craft tape?"
"Forget it," Amy shakes her head in despair. "I'll set everyone's limbs myself."
"Great! I'll sit here and listen to the radio while you're busy," Tina agrees. "I really like this new sound they're playing."
The Croissant flies on, accompanied by the melodies of pure static.