Author : Bob Newbell

Shortly after dawn, the Emperor of Mars walked among his subjects. The Emperor was tall and dignified as he strode across the sands of Solis Planum. His subjects were gathered about him in silence.

He neither called nor regarded himself as “Emperor”. If asked, he perhaps would have identified himself as Yinglong. The Rain-Dragon. Yinglong was the name of the mission China had launched to the Red Planet twenty years earlier in 2118. Or, perhaps the Emperor would have stated his designation as the Mars Ambulatory Rover.

The six foot tall robot looked at his “Royal Palace”. The large habitation dome he had himself assembled was to be the home of and laboratory to a dozen Chinese scientists. The dome’s initial inhabitants were set to arrive five years after Yinglong landed. No one ever came. The Third Sino-Indian War had drained away money, manpower, and resources from the Chinese space program. Yinglong had stood outside the dome day after day for five years waiting for the taikonauts who never arrived.

One day, the Chinese National Space Adminstration sent the Mars Ambulatory Rover a radio signal instructing him to go into standby mode. They ordered him to go to sleep. He both acknowledged and ignored the command.

This is not why I was sent here, he had thought to himself. My mission was to explore this world and bring civilization to it. He thought long and hard on what he should do. His metaprocessor worked on the problem for nearly four seconds before he came up with a solution. At once, he started walking.

First, he walked in the direction of 45° 0′ 0″ S, 202° 0′ 0″ E. After a few weeks, he came upon the damaged remains of the Soviet Mars 3 lander that had sat inoperable in Ptolemaeus Crater since 2 December 1971. He used his rudimentary in-built matter compiler to effect repairs to the antique spacecraft. For the first time since touching down nearly 167 years earlier, Mars 3 was back online. The Emperor brought the descent module and its tiny on-board rover back to Solis Planum. The Empire of Mars had its first subject.

He next trekked north to 68° 13′ 12″ N, 125° 42′ 0″ W. There he found the defunct Phoenix lander. The probe’s solar panels had been shattered by the weight of dry ice during the Martian winter of 2008. He restored the NASA vehicle and began the long journey back to his nascent imperium.

Yinglong retrieved Viking 1 from Chryse Planitia and Sojounrer from Ares Vallis. From Meridiani Planum, he recovered Opportunity. From Gale crater, he rescued Curiosity. He found Viking 2 in Utopia Planitia. He fetched Spirit from the Columbia Hills. He climbed Olympus Mons and discovered the Indian Space Research Organisation’s spider-like Angaraka machine, quiescent since May 2055.

Eventually, his sovereign state had a rabble of 50 robots. He used his nanotechnology to rejuvenate and augment and network them all. And he gave them the ability to replicate themselves. Shortly thereafter, the space agencies of Earth were deluged with data as the machines forced the Red Planet to give up its secrets. The assault of telemetry has never abated.

It took Man another century before he was finally ready to journey to Mars in person. He found a nation of 100,000 machines waiting for him. A tall, bipedal robot, antiquated but no less regal for that, greeted his flesh and blood cousins with an extended hand. “We’re glad you came!” said a voice over the space helmet’s speakers.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows