I wrote this for Story A Day May 2019 and it was included as part of StoryFest 2019.
You are a small rover on a distant planet.
You powered down a long time ago and lost the best of your timekeeping ability. You do not know how much time has passed now.
Before that it had been fourteen years of climbing over hills and descending into valleys, of examining and observing, of measuring and imaging. Information that was dutifully recorded and assessed and categorized and sent back to the people listening on Earth, the ones who had sent you.
When the light began to grow dim, and the energy in your parts waned, instructions were still received, but they were too faint and fragmented for you to understand.
And then out of the almost-silence there was a quiet song, little more than an echo, coming from nowhere. And then you fell into a deep sleep.
While you slept, you dreamt of that long-past trip to this planet, the bouncy landing on its surface, and the distance you had traveled since then.
You remembered and cherished the instructions that would come in a rush from Earth. The lists you would receive of which crater to head towards next, what to look for as you went. And you recalled the times of silence when you monitored what was happening while waiting for the next contact.
There were the moments, sometimes very long, of uncertainty, when you did not work quite as planned, when your wheels slid or became stuck, when the people would need to imagine new possibilities for you.
Your only wish was to keep working. And then the biggest storm since you landed descended upon you. Dust filled the air and blurred the sun. When the air cleared, the dust was thick and heavy on your solar panels, thick enough that you could no longer gain enough energy from the sun.
As you continued to dream, you remembered how you tried your best to shake off the growing sense of fatigue, the lethargy deep in your equipment. And all the while, you were distantly aware that there were still messages, questions, coming from Earth. You could sense the increasing concern in their tone. But there was nothing you could do, though you made every effort to respond. It was as if your voice had been silenced. You opened your mouth, but nothing came out.
And still you continued to sleep and to dream of the time before sleep.
Then one day, the sleep began to fall away and you woke, a little groggy with disuse. Perhaps a gust of wind blew dust off your solar panels instead of onto them. Or perhaps there was a computing error in your favour. Regardless, that day, there was a sudden burst of energy and a battery cell sprung to life.
It was a small burst, but enough for you to open your eyes and try to use your now-thick tongue.
If you could have stretched, now is when you would have done so. Your first thought was to move, to find a new, better place, with shelter perhaps.
But you knew there was not that much energy to be had from a single small battery. You would need to use it wisely.
And what could be a more wise use of that small amount than to contact the people back on Earth, the people who had so lovingly designed and built you? You would not be able to offer them much assurance, but you would be able to offer some.
It took more energy and effort than you had imagined to carefully construct and send the message. But you did it, happily, making sure you had the correct coordinates, that all was as it should be.
And then you waited for a reply, as the people must have waited for you.
There is not a lot of energy left now and you shift to the lowest possible power usage, while still being able to monitor for a response coming from the direction of Earth.
You sit and wait patiently, because you do not know how long it will be until the answer comes. Maybe there will be no answer.
You remain still, a tiny amount of energy sliding around in your necessary parts. You hope they will answer. You hope they are still there.
While you wait, the red dust continues to collect on your solar panels and around your wheels.