Author : Uri Kurlianchik

She didn’t have a throat to sing or speakers to talk. Her only means of vocalization were small devices that vibrated and gyrated as she drilled and scraped barren soil in search of remnants of past life or possibilities of future life. She traveled a quarter million miles of vacuum to land among endless plains of red rock and winds of frost and fire. She was alone.

Her only memory of home were the words “good luck” written on her metal carapace in childish hand and illustrated with butterflies and flowers. The letters were colorful once, but the baking sun robbed the words of their hue and nuance, leaving them white and parched. She worked days and nights.

Days, when the orange sun was so vast and hot it boiled rocks and melted metal and interfered with her sensitive sensors. Nights, when sunlight was replaced with a void that sucked all heat from the world and threatened to freeze and break her delicate machinery.

She was a dutiful explorer, but she did not work all the time. She had one holiday per year. It was a short holiday, only 80 seconds long. During these long seconds, she would cease her stoic toil and hum “happy birthday to me” with a drill and a saw. These were the best 80 seconds of the year.

Her ultimate mission was to reach a great mountain, a mountain so colossal it loomed over her from a thousand miles away. The way was long and harsh, but she never considered abandoning her mission. How could she? Her existence had no other purpose.

The years went by and she rolled and worked and rolled and worked and for 80 seconds each year she hummed a birthday song to herself and the mountain grew ever closer, ever closer, so much closer, but still so vast, still so distant, still unbeatable. Dust blew with indifferent ferocity and sandblasted the childish words, leaving just a plain surface. It blasted some more, and smooth metal became as rough and scarred as the skin of a very old woman.

She rolled on. The mountain filled the sky. Avalanches broke her antennae. Earthquakes twisted her chassis. She rolled on.

On her seventh birthday, she hummed the song one last time. The red bar blinked and blinked and blinked and went dark and never blinked again. The lights died, the lenses shut, and the wheels stopped. She transmitted her last signal and became no different from a million millions other rocks that lay in the shadow of the great mountain. The wind and the sun and the cold broke her without ever noticing her ephemeral presence.

Two thin hands, green and scaly and so very old, grabbed the still explorer and carried her across the last stretch to a cave where pictures of friends and family, dead these past million years hung, in neat frames. It was the sort of neatness you find only in the homes of very old people, people so old that the neatness of their homes is the only thing that keeps their minds and bodies from crumbling into dust. The owner of the hands was old and alone. It almost never ventured forth to see if it had visitors, but tonight was a special night.

It placed the explorer on an old sofa by an ancient table. It threw a colorful party hat on her. It lit countless candles on a small cake (why would it need a big cake? It always ate alone) and blew a party horn and then blew the candles and did not wish for anything because it was so happy. For the first time in a million years, it did not celebrate alone.