A small rover

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.

Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 42-46

And this post wraps up my Rendezvous with Rama re-read. You can read my previous posts here if you’d like, spoilers, etc, etc (to the extent that you can spoil a book that came out in the 70s). I’m going to do a summary post of highlights soon, too.

Chapter 42 has Norton and other crew members re-enter Rama and ‘break in’ to one of the buildings in the area they have been referring to as London. Inside, they find large, glass floor-to-ceiling cylinders, inside of which are images/holograms of various objects. After some consideration, they decide it is most likely a catalogue of 3D templates/solid blueprints and that the Ramans build/construct things as they need them (as with the biots). There is a nice analogue in this to 3D printing.

The crew take pictures of the objects in the cylinders, amongst which they find something that appears to be armour of a sort and seems to indicate a being 2.5 metres tall with three arms (and presumably legs).

They are then called out of the building because the lights in Rama are turning off.

Chapter 43 details the quick return to their ship by Norton and the others as the interior of Rama undergoes a variety of changes. The lights are dimming slowly, Rama is slightly re-orienting itself.

Then the lights begin to run towards the Cylindrical Sea and the biots follow them, where they go over the edge to be taken apart by the ‘sharks’ in the Sea. Once the biots are all gone, the lights go back to normal, dimming more as Norton gets one last look before leaving Rama.

In Chapter 44, having left Rama, the ship moves away, still watching Rama as it continues to make manoeuvres (which are explained in great detail!). Eventually Rama begins to accelerate, but without any of how, and, instead of then slowing down in order to move into an orbit around the sun, it continues its acceleration.

Chapter 45 continues with the crew watching as Rama continues to accelerate and, reaching incredible speed as it approaches very close to the sun, gains a protective cocoon or bubble. It picks up still more speed, and appears to be gaining matter or energy from the sun before continuing onwards, eventually breaking from the ecliptic, headed perhaps to the Greater Magellanic Cloud.

The final chapter, forty-six, Chapter 46 wraps things up with Norton and Laura on the ship as they make their way back towards Earth, the Moon, and Mars. Norton has received the permission he sought for another child with his wife on Mars (this includes a brief explanation about how spacemen are sterilized and sperm warehoused because of the certainty of radiation-caused damage, nothing about women is mentioned. Norton flirts with Laura, as there are allusions to end of mission sexual encounters between crew.

And finally, Norton thinks about how he has peaked in life experience now, even though he is not that old.

The final image of the story is a very brief switch to one of the Earth-based experts previously mentioned, who suddenly wakes to the thought of how everything the Ramans do comes in threes. (duh duh)

As I said, I’m going to go through all these posts and synthesize the writing lessons I’ve noted. Overall, though, I really noticed my own tendencies in this book. I’ve read it countless times and I clearly absorbed certain things!

Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 39-41

And my Rendezvous with Rama re-read is finally approaching completion (there are only 46 chapters). You can read my previous posts here if you’d like, spoilers, etc, etc (to the extent that you can spoil a book that came out in the 70s).

In Chapter 39, Norton has to decide what to do with the armed missile that Mercury has sent to destroy Rama (if they determine there is a threat, the missile is there, but on stand by). Rodrigo approaches Norton with the suggestion that he is confident he can disarm the missile (and Mercury won’t know until it’s been done because of the ten minute time delay).

Norton wrestles with the decision and ultimately decides to have Rodrigo disarm the missile.

This, which really begins the climatic sequence of the book, is the first time there is a true barrier for Norton and the crew to face. Previously, the obstacles were slight and easily dealt with (often by circumstances outside of Norton’s control)

An interesting technique that arises again in this chapter is the use of references to historical Earth, presumably to give the reader something to connect to. What I find curious are the elements that Norton has full familiarity with (eg Shakespeare) versus those he does not (eg not knowing what a “buck” refers to). It doesn’t matter in the context of the story, but as a writer I’m intrigued.

The next chapter, forty, is from Rodrigo’s perspective as he makes his way to the missile to disarm it. There is a lot of detail about the technical aspects of reaching the missile and beginning to work.

There is an unintentionally amusing bit about a plate on the side of the missile with contact information for the manufacturer and it is a mailing address (on Mercury), without any other imagined contact details, which is oddly quaint (and funny coming from Clarke, who was usually quite forward thinking and imaginative).

Then, as Rodrigo works, Norton receives notice from Mercury that they will blow up Rama (unrelated to Rodrigo, as they have not seen him yet because of the time delay).

Meanwhile, the missile repositions itself to hit Rama and Rodrigo easily deduces that this is what is happening, but he works quickly, disarming the missiles, cutting the connections to the camera and radio transmissions and then setting off back to the ship.

Chapter 41 is a short, context providing chapter. Norton is dictating another letter to both of his wives, which provides the opportunity for Clarke to share the information that 1) they are getting quite close to the sun and only have 48 hours before the ship needs to leave Rama and 2) the crew is going back into Rama one last time.

And that’s that. More soon.