Journey’s End


Through hushed halls they stalked – it seemed, for hours –

before reaching the place crudely

circled on his map. Padding past cases crammed

with Ratted, rust-hued stones; bone

-pale blades of evaporite; trays of slate-blue berries

by the score; a brain-sized metal meteorite

“Recovered”, said the sign, “from the edge of Endurance itself!”

until, at last, the Old One stood before his Grail.


“Is that it?” sighed the young martian,

face pressed against the glass,

staring past her own reflection

at the machine inside the case.

“It’s so small, it sounded bigger

in your stories, grandpa; you

made me think it was taller

than Tars Tarkas on his thoat!”


The old man simply smiled, and in

the silence of the darkened MER Museum

knelt down beside the sad-eyed girl

and told her: “Look again.

Spirit they christened her, and spirit

she had – more than many men I’ve known;

more than any gathering of gears and wire

had any right to have.”


The girl looked closer, shielding

her Sun-starved eyes from the spotlights’

glare, wondering how the rover’s

bird-frail, brittle body had not just survived

but thrived in Barsoom’s brutal cold;

if even half the Old One’s bedside tales were true

this rambler of rust and dust was more heroic

than Her Chieftain could ever dream to be…


Perhaps it had scaled mountains after all;

driven through dust devils’ dervish dances

to gaze down upon Great Gusev’s plain

and see Old Earth set with the Sun.

Maybe this fragile thing of rock-worn wheels

and dust-scratched glass had climbed boldly

onto Homeplate’s old, humped back and

rested there, reflecting Phobos’ frosty light..?





“I remember,” croaked the Old One, “how

we sat at our computers, click-a-clicking

through the night, watching picture after picture

come to life upon our screens;

We walked with her, every bone-dry weary mile;

when she went lame, dragging her leaden wheel behind

we would have picked her off the salt-choked ground

and carried her if we could – ”


But the girl could not hear; lured away

By more interesting, more glittery things in

Other rooms she’d skipped on, leaving

him alone to gaze through the glass with Nav- and

Pan-cam memories clutching at his heart;

how he’d cheered on Landing Day, clapped

as someone screamed “She’s bouncing!”;

wept when he read the long-dreaded “She’s dead”…


You should not be seen here caged so cruelly,

thought the Old One, frail fingers

brushing ‘gainst her glass imprisoning walls;

She should have seen you as I imagined you:

staring at the sunset, stood tall

beneath titanic titian skies;

dust skipping o’er and filling the tracks

of your wheels, the wind whispering your name –


“Oh come quick!” sang a sudden voice, high

and Sun-bright from a gallery off to one side.

“It’s the Beagle, you know, the one that got lost!”

The Old One groaned, stood up and sighed

Forgive her, she’s young, one day she’ll understand

what you meant to those watching on Earth.

Then, blinking back tears, walked away from his lost love.



© Stuart Atkinson 2006


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