Author : Aaron Henderson

“It’s going to be a kick-ass weekend,” Gus thought to himself as he maneuvered the ratchet and claw, carefully removing a panel from the dusty robot that lay a few feet in front of his maintenance pod. He was looking forward to watching not one but two great games and spending some quality time with the wife.

He was about to finish up the last procedure in his monthly check on Spirit and Opportunity, those two Mars-roving robots that seemed to live forever. Usually he just had to knock loose some of that coarse Martian sand from their servos, or give their batteries a little more juice. Most of the time he didn’t even need to leave the relative comfort of the pod. Today was going to be a little different, as he could see by the caked-on dirt on the inside of the panel.

Those NASA boys had pushed Spirit a little harder than usual this week, and some of that red grit had collected in the rover’s main arm control unit. Gus let out a heavy sigh as he grabbed his helmet and outer boots. He shook his head as he sealed his suit and picked up his toolbox. “Delay of game!” he shouted and chuckled to himself, stepping onto the Martian surface for the first time in several months.

Gus cocked his head as he approached the robot, planning his repair and dreading the tight spaces he’d have to tackle. He had nothing but respect for the guys who designed and built the tough little rovers, but they sure didn’t leave much room in ’em for a grease monkey to turn a wrench or solder up an abraded power line.

He dismantled the control unit as much as he dared and started cleaning it out with a microvacuum. There was no maintenance manual for these things, and if he screwed something up he was about 78 million kilometers from the manufacturer. He could fabricate almost any part he needed back at the shop, but he was entrusted to preserve as much of the original equipment as possible for the sake of history.

He was in luck: the dust hadn’t bound up the servo unit yet. Gus put down the microvacuum and pulled out his finest brush, then cleared the visible dust from around the servo. He gently put the control unit back together and sealed it in its compartment on the rover. After a quick diagnostic check on the robot, he climbed back into his pod and took off his boots and helmet.

When he arrived at home, Jan had the main viewscreen tuned to Spirit’s main camera. “Spying on me again, darling wife?” he asked jokingly. Jan was the mission coordinator for preserving the two rovers, and she watched with interest any time they were being worked on. “It’s always nice to see a professional at work,” she replied. He kissed her cheek on his way through the kitchen to the family room. Gus had commandeered the couch, kicked off his workboots, and was about to change the channel to something more interesting. “But even professionals sometimes make mistakes,” Jan said.

Gus was confused. The robot worked perfectly. It had passed all the diagnostics… Jan knew the look on his face. “The rover’s fine, dear. Your craftsmanship is not in question at all, but I think you might need to check your toolbox.” She pointed at the main screen. Gus watched as Spirit’s main camera tilted down to reveal his microvaccum laying in the dust next to the rover’s front wheels. “I’m sorry, I didn’t spot it until you landed just now.”

“Oh, no…no, no, no!” He knew what this meant. Gus pleaded, “Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“The Earthlings are already starting to wonder why those two rovers have lasted this long. They need to discover life on other planets, but we’d rather not have them do it by finding your misplaced gadgets. If you hurry you can be there and back before the game starts,” Jan said firmly.

“I’m tempted to put a certain bacteria-laden present in their sample scoop!” Gus grumbled as he put his boots back on.

“Well that would certainly be a discovery,” Jan chuckled. Gus kissed her on the cheek as he headed out the door.

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