writing

Yes, I Really Did Write An Entire Short Story for the Purposes of the Punchline

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I was sitting at my desk when suddenly an idea came to me in the form of a nerdy joke.  Just like that, the subject of my second Creative Writing class Short Story assignment became clear.  My Dad says I’ve taken too many ideas from the book The Martian, which may be true but I’m not trying to get this published so it’s fine.  1744 words later, I give you my puntastic masterpiece:

CATs & Dogs

The year was 2022, and the Mars rover named ‘Curiosity’ was faithfully singing Happy Birthday, as it had every year on this day since its arrival.  This day, August 6th, marked the ten year anniversary of the rover’s landing on the surface of the red planet and the successful completion of Beagle 2’s original mission.  A lot had happened since then.  Astronauts had since taken manned missions to its surface and construction would soon be underway to establish a research facility on the planet’s surface.

The idea intrigued Curiosity.  The rover would no longer be alone.  Not that they minded being alone.  Robots are not traditionally social creatures.  The fact remained that, during the instances in which Curiosity had other beings to interact with, the rover found their days more interesting.  The complete lack of native fauna or living creatures left the rover with little else to do than to map the surface of the planet, test soil samples, and send regular updates to the control center based out of Houston.

Curiosity found nothing wrong with their routine.  It was, after all, what Curiosity was built for, with original mission parameters which were incredibly straightforward.  Curiosity knew its creators originally anticipated that the rover would fall into disrepair in a matter of years, but one decade later, the rover remained.  A testament to human ingenuity.  The rover oftentimes wondered if the jubilant celebration sparked by the discovery that their rover was still ticking was what spurred them to begin making alterations to its code.

The first additions to Curiosity’s prime directive came after the initiation of Project Exodus, so named by the military to establish a colony on Mars.  Topographical mapping was already encoded into the rover’s base functions to serve the purpose of mapping the planet in as much detail as possible.  To that end, they added an additional layer of coding to allow for the laser originally designed for distance measurement to measure terrain.    More specifically, to measure terrain that was level enough to build on.  This task took the better part of three years but, after an arduous and methodical search, Curiosity was victorious.

The rover located an acre and a half of land, clear of the path of the dust storms that ravaged the planet, where the ground was flat.  There were a few boulders and one small hill, but that was nothing a little terra-forming couldn’t solve.  After that, the rover performed a series of sonar tests.  Sending pulses down into the ground, Curiosity established that the terrain was firm, and not simply a field of sand that happened to be level.  It would hardly do to try and build the first permanent structure on a sandy dune.  No.  Curiosity held too much pride in its work to allow for such a thing to happen.

Next, Houston uploaded the schematics for the structure and the industrious rover got to work laying a series of rocks in place where the perimeter of the building would lie.  Curiosity was heartened to see that they had allocated a ten square foot adjoining section of the property labeled as ‘Curiosity’s Bedroom’.  Having mapped out the building site, Curiosity hunkered down to wait.  The next part was up to Houston.  They needed to send the building materials necessary to erect a structure that could support human life.  This equipment arrived a few months after the completion of the layout.

JPL, the company also known as the  Jet Propulsion Lab based out of Pasadena, had been putting together the payload and building the rocket necessary to transport it ever since the inception of Project Exodus.  Curiosity watched with amusement as the craft landed.  The rover wondered vaguely if it had looked so silly on its descent.  The craft hit the ground at a velocity that would have jarred the payload loose, were it not for the enormous balloons that cushioned the landing.  Curiosity waited patiently for the craft to finish bouncing before it approached.  An inventory of the load had been sent to the rover days before the craft, named Exodus One, had launched.  Each item in the shipment was strapped to a pallet on all-terrain wheels with a loop designed to interlock with Curiosity’s trailer hitch.

Once all the items were inventoried and checked for damage, Curiosity sent its report to Houston.  Then it waited.

And waited.

Occasionally the rover would drive around in circles so as to ensure that none of his major systems stagnated due to lack of use, much like a puppy chasing its own tail.  It was during one of these jaunts around the future building site, singing Happy Birthday merrily to itself on that ten year anniversary, that the first of the astronauts arrived.  The craft parked itself a good kilometer away from the building site and the equipment resting there so as not to pelt said equipment with potentially damaging debris.  Curiosity felt an upload begin the moment NASA’s ship touched down.  It was not just a massive upload of data, it was a software upgrade.  In the same way that a layman might defrag their computer, Curiosity’s processing power increased as space was freed up in its motherboard.

Curiosity gave a whir of pleasure as the files that had once bogged down its system were concentrated into .zip files and stacked away neatly.  All files successfully downloaded, save for one.  It was entitled Johnny-5 and required an alpha-numeric decryption sequence.  The rover poked and prodded at the file curiously, but it would not yield its data.  By that point, the astronauts had exited the spacecraft and were in the process of unpacking.  Most of the food they would need was sent ahead as part of the Exodus One payload, but there were still a number of instruments too delicate to be subjected to the rough landing that the hardier equipment suffered through.

The botany equipment had also been brought via the manned transport so they would not freeze and subsequently die in the harsh Martian atmosphere.  The one thing they didn’t bring was a large amount of soil.  Having done extensive labs based on the data Curiosity sent back, it was determined that the planet’s soil was arable, and only missed one bacterial element essential to the growth of plants.  They had brought that bacteria in abundance and, for fertilizer, well, the body made its own natural fertilizer.  Based on downloaded commentary from the Botany department, Curiosity sympathized for the human scientists, who would soon be subjected to an odor most foul.  The rover did not have the sensory glands required for experiencing such a thing, so it was unable to empathize.

Curiosity watched happily as the humans scurried about, completing varying tasks.  It was nice to have something new and different to document.  Several days went by as they erected the temporary shelter, a large, multi-room HAB tent that would serve as both lab and living quarters until the structure was completed.  Then, began the laborious task of assembling the equipment that would subsequently assemble the building’s frame.  Curiosity would have helped, but it had not been equipped with the opposable thumbs necessary to utilize the necessary tools.

The premise was actually ingenious.  Using Martian dirt as the base, mixed with water generated from the admittedly dangerous process of igniting hydrogen, along with an adhesive compound, a form of concrete was created.  The machine that would process that concrete was a highly advanced 3-D printer.  This ingenious device was not a byproduct of NASA, instead originating in Texas through a company known as ICON.  The technology was originally used for the humanitarian purposes of building inexpensive, sturdy houses for those who could not otherwise afford a home.

Due to the extreme cold and basically non-existent atmosphere, the original design of the printer was altered to allow for extreme heat to be subjected to the cement, giving it time to set prior to curing.  Scientists had run as many tests as possible to prepare for this but there’s no substitute for real Martian conditions.  With bated breath, the Chief Engineer pressed the big green button.

Curiosity, whose smallest components were created using a 3-D Printer, was understandably fascinated by the process.  In the span of an afternoon the entire outline of the building, one foot in width and one foot in height had been generated.  The machine could have continued several more hours but they had run out of the water needed to create the cement.  The next machine they brought out offended Curiosity as a fellow robot, raising its proverbial hackles.  Had it teeth, it would surely bare them.  Had it a voice box, it would surely growl.  The mechanical monstrosity that barreled around was clunky, awkward, and the most garish shade of yellow with the word CATerpillar embossed on the side.  Using great metal claws it dug up the red soil and drove it several meters away before returning to repeat the process.

The rover was unclear for what purpose the machine was excavating, but it was certain the process need not be completed in such a crude manner.  Curiosity had turned its attention towards the setting sun when the incident took place.  A great crash sounded outside of the rover’s view and it quickly rotated its camera to investigate the source of the commotion.  In the CAT’s haste to dig the hole, it did not properly survey the ground and was not prepared for the pocket of air that collapsed beneath it, sending the machine careening on its side.  This would have been of no consequence to Curiosity, save for the fact that one of its humans was pinned underneath the metal beast.

In an effort to right itself, the behemoth wriggled frantically, pushing the scientist further and further into the sand.  Curiosity didn’t have a lot of labor-intensive utilities at its disposal.  It could not push the machine off its human.  What it did have was a high powered laser.  Dialing the concentration of the beam past factory settings, ignoring all the warning lights that flashed in the rover’s periphery, Curiosity took careful aim and fired.

The beam obliterated the machine’s core operating system and, after one last rocking motion, it stilled.  The scientists were quick to act, digging their peer out from under the now inert machinery.  The high tech EVA suit protected the scientist from any serious damage, though they were incredibly rattled by the incident.

The Chief Engineer looked from the rover to the now dead construction equipment in awe before asking, “Did Curiosity just kill the CAT?”

 

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