Her martian monster truck wheels yet to turn,
Her onboard oven yet to burn
Even a single gram of grit or dirt,
Curiosity considers her fate.
While Flashy NASA websites insist
The nuclear-powered geologist,
Was sent to Mars to hunt for signs
Of long-dead primitive martian life
She knows the truth:
She is a robot gladiator,
Taken from the brilliant sunlight
Of a Pasadenan summer
And transported to Barsoom;
A metal, glass and wire John Carter,
Abducted from a world of achingly-blue skies
And rain-fattened clouds to fall
Through alien-hued heavens painted
Not fifty but a thousand shades of orange and gold
Before dropping to the stone-strewn ground
On the end of a tether after those now-famous
“7 Minutes of Terror” to begin
A new life in exile on a world so far
From her Californian home it can only be seem
As a star, on the rare nights the smog will allow.
Her battlefield – the place where she is now fated
To live and die – is Gale, a crater that dwarfs
Any visited before. No swaying palm trees here;
No beaches of soft, warm sand.
This land is cold, colder than a comet’s heart,
And all but a ghostly whisper of its once-thick
Atmosphere has been sucked away by Time,
Leaving behind a desert drenched in dust,
Rust- and ochre rocks a’scattered everywhere,
From wheel shadow to horizon,
Where the crater’s jagged rim wrap around it
Like the Coliseum’s curving walls.
Unlike her sister, still roving half a world away,
She will not explore this bone dry wilderness,
Her goal is to survive it long enough
To discover something – beyond incredible.
Curiosity is more Katniss than Captain Cook;
Gale is her Arena, and each Sol Mars will send
A new Tribute to test her:
Dust storms will try to blind and weaken her;
Software faults will seek to stop her in her tracks.
Every dawn could be her last. And with no silvery
Chutes delivering aid from home she will be totally alone
As she roams the crater floor,
Driving where no robot has ever driven before.
But there can be no escape from here;
Tiers of ancient rock surround her on all sides,
So she must drive in towards the crater’s heart,
Through a Barsoomian Badlands of mesas, buttes and scarps
To where a mountain reaches up to scrape the
Butterscotch sky. Yes, a mountain! Not as sharp
As its (unofficial-but-beloved-by-many) name
Suggests, but still, the highest feature yet
To be seen from below by any roaming adventurer
From Earth, the chance to reach out with a robot arm
And touch its gateau layers of stone
Worth the astronomical cost alone –
– but that is all to come.
Today she stands restless, flexing her muscles,
Waiting, waiting, hating being unable to roll forwards;
A bull crushed behind a rodeo gate,
Horns down, snorting at the stony ground,
Must-see driving destinations all around;
One rock already death ray zapped, millions more
Scattered as far as her sweeping Cylon ChemCam eye can see.
“Release me…” she demands, a trapped wolf growling
In the darkness, “set me free and you will see
What I can do…”
© Stuart Atkinson 2012