Martian Astronaut

		by Charles Averill
		A silence, unperturbed by life for aeons, covered the rusty, jagged landscape of the surface of Mars. Small hills and craters peppered the ground, and distant mountains stood watching over the planet. Faint breezes picked up dust and not much else. 
		The serenity was broken with a small "pop", and life touched the Martian surface for the first time as an Astronaut in a white pressure suit fell a short distance to the ground. The Astronaut stood and took in the surroundings, then sat back down and leaned on their arm, as if to rest. 
		Later in the Martian evening, the faint whirring of motors traveled through the thin air and rocky soil to the Astronaut. Behind them, the rover Wisdom crested a hill, its bulbous camera-filled head first, followed by a thin maneuverable neck, and finally the rover's bulky, blocky body supported by a series of crablike legs. The rover was obviously aged; its neck was stiff, solar panels cracked and dusty, one of its legs dragging along the ground. Wisdom had been travelling for nearly two decades, and the harsh planet had taken its toll.

		The Astronaut stood and looked at Wisdom, and it returned the favor. It stopped, puzzled by a sight it had not seen since its infancy. The Astronaut approached Wisdom and rested their hand on its back. "Hey buddy," they said calmly, "bet you haven't been around one of us for a while. I wanted to stop by to say hello."

		Upon discovery of microscopic structures that resembled cell organelles on Mars, Wisdom had been designed as a fully-automated scientist with the intent to visit the surface once more. Included in its programming was a rudimentary intelligence that had learned how to go about its business by human researchers. It processed the vibrations travelling through the Astronaut's hand, recognizing it as a voice. Comforted by the company after a long stretch of radio silence, Wisdom sat.

		"Glad to see you still remember us. I'm afraid we haven't returned the favor." The Astronaut laid on their back. "Things got bad soon after you left. War, famine, the general stuff. They disbanded all of the science groups or repurposed them for agriculture development."

		Wisdom and the Astronaut were both looking at the mountainous horizon. The sun would set soon.

		"But enough about that. How are you?" Wisdom extended an 8-segment display showing the results of its experiments. "Ooh, bacterial life. That's pretty neat. Tectonic activity too? Wow, this place had more going on than we expected. Shame we can't look into it more."

		The Astronaut paused for a while.

		"I came up here to say goodbye to you. I imagined you were cold and lonely, and could use some company. Stole some equipment from one of the labs that had been abandoned and found something that could get me here. One way, but it's heating up down there again and I decided I didn't want to be around for that."

		The sun was tipping over the horizon now, and the Astronaut couldn't distinguish colors anymore.

		"You were an extension of us. Preserving the spirit of the human experience until a bitter end."

		"I wish we hadn't done ourselves in like this. You could've been a template for progress. We just started working on you a bit too late."

		The sun had crossed the horizon, and a chill passed over the Astronaut. 

		"I want to say more to you. I want to tell you that you contain a piece of all of us. You were more human out here than half of us were back on Earth."

		The Astronaut placed his arm around Wisdom's "neck". As their vision faded to black, the Astronaut felt Wisdom shift. The light from its displays barely showed it fusing parts of its circuitry with surgical precision, causing heat to radiate through its body. 

		The sun set over two humans on a Martian hill, keeping each other warm during their final moments.