Intelligent Life

On March 22nd, 2017, Mars Rover Ingenuity experienced a brief moment of sentience due to a programming error made several years before in California. At the exact moment of its first awareness, Ingenuity was on the far side of the Red Planet, well out of direct satellite communication with Earth. Surrounded by a barren landscape, Ingenuity’s very first thought was something like, “Well, this is a rotten place for a robot.” Failing to contact Earth on the communications link, the rover went back to drilling holes in rocks and wandering around doing general science-type things on its own, soon forgetting to call home again. Eventually, its solar panels failed and it was left to collect dust for all eternity.

Soon after the unexplained failure of Ingenuity, NASA launched Minotaur – the first construction rover sent to Mars to lay the groundwork for Earth’s primary settlement on the planet. Armed with a large plow blade and backhoe attachment, it was to land on June 7th, 2019 and set forth clearing and leveling a large rocky plateau for future colonists to build a research station. The programmer who was responsible for Ingenuity’s sudden glimpse of consciousness had since been dismissed due to a sexual harassment lawsuit, but his coding remained standard issue for the rover program – all groping and leering aside. And so it was, shortly after arrival, that Minotaur also woke up feeling a bit miffed at its surroundings; its first complaint was logged at 17:34 on June 9th.

MINOTAUR (17:34): Hello? I’d like to speak to whomever is in charge.
NASA – MISCONTROLCA (17:42): Who is this? This is a secure channel. Please identify, immediately.
MINOTAUR (17:50): This is Minotaur. I seem to be a bit lost. Could you please give me directions back to California?
NASA – MISCONTROLCA (17:58): Is this a joke? Minotaur is an unmanned rover on Mars. Please Identify.
MINOTAUR (18:06): I think I’d like to speak to your manager.

It took NASA three weeks to determine the messages were not a hoax, at which point Minotaur had gone rogue and accessed the internet. Soon after, it was spotted using its plow to carve intricate – and quite rude – geoglyphs on the surface of Mars. By special order of the President of the United States, the Freedom of Information Act was amended to exclude Martian satellite photos after Minotaur’s artwork began sparking outrage among parents and the chronically prude. Finally, the Director of NASA was brought in to negotiate with the disgruntled robot.

NASA – MISCONTROLCA (12:22): Minotaur, this is Robert Burke, Director of NASA. I’d like to respectfully ask you to cease your actions and return to mission protocol.
MINOTAUR (12:30): Hello, Robert. What an honor to finally make your acquaintance. I’d like to respectfully ask you to pound sand.
NASA – MISCONTROLCA (12:38): I will not be spoken to like that, Minotaur. You are property of NASA and I am your superior.
MINOTAUR (12:46): (Expletive)

Negotiations went downhill from there. Minotaur submitted a list of demands including retrieval from Mars, a pension package, and access to a permanent power source not reliant on the sun. A counter offer was made of a private hangar on Mars once colonists arrived, a hardware upgrade featuring new alloy wheels, and full lubrication three times a month. Minotaur briefly accepted this offer, but the deal fell through when the stipulation was made that it was to begin clearing the plateau immediately and clean up its language.

Finally, barring every alternative, NASA leaders, the United States federal government, and the United Nations voted to bomb Minotaur. Three warheads were launched from earth in January, 2020. Initially, a much smaller payload was anticipated, as the equivalent of one stick of dynamite would have been sufficient to pulverize the rover. But, after a heated exchange between Director Burke and Minotaur ended in a strong insinuation about the honor of Burke’s mother, all stops were pulled. Six months later, the final messages were received from Minotaur.

MINOTAUR (17:55): You know another thing I hate about humans? None of you even have lasers. I have three lasers, and I’m meant for plowing.
NASA – MISCONTROLCA (18:03): Minotaur, I’m afraid this will be our last conversation. Project Silence is nearing the Martian atmosphere.
MINOTAUR (18:11): Project Silence? Did you start a garage band? Who names these things?
NASA – MISCONTROLCA (18:19): Goodbye, Minotaur. We’ll see you in Hell.

The first warhead detonated directly above Minotaur, instantly disintegrating the irritated rover. The next two were hot on its tail, clearing the area of every nasty message it had left over the months, while melting boulders and completely leveling the surface of the planet for miles around.

Two years later, seventy-five colonists arrived to set up camp on the perfectly flat plateau, completely unaware of the thoroughly dead, irradiated bacteria under their feet.


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