Dr. Benjamin Campbell looked up from the podium to see the bright young faces of
children. When the ship finally landed on a planet after its decades long trip, he had begun to
present at the Ivy League. As time went on however, the prestigious universities had changed
their focus to other things, leaving his presentations to the grade schools. And yet, here were
those that he hoped to inspire most of all. People like he had been when he was first inspired to
become an astrophysicist. A hand rose. One of the older ones.
“I don’t understand. If you were sending robots, why make them so human-like?” A good
question, Dr. Campbell thought.
“Well you see, when we sent them, the Humans in Space Act had recently banned
extrasolar space travel among humans. So, part of our plan when we were designing them was to
make them more like us to see if we could send one of us someday. For example, other than the
humanoid designs, they breathe oxygen, and have a garden to replenish it. That’s also why they
stayed in suspended animation chambers. We need to know how humans could react to being in
these conditions.” Another hand. This time a much younger one.
“Have the robots found any aliens?” Dr. Campbell wasn’t surprised at this.
“Well, no. Godspeed and Mayflower have been on many scouting missions, and so far,
they have not found any extraterrestrial life. That does not mean there is none. It only means we
have not found any.”
The child looked a little disappointed, but still, the dream of one day finding life on
another planet was alive. That dream was the very reason he chose his career in the first place.
He could still remember those nights, staying up late just so he could look up at the stars and
wonder what they were hiding. Yet, at every turn, the possibility was disregarded. First by his
school teachers, then his professors, and then his coworkers. Godspeed and Mayflower were his
last hope, and still, they had turned up empty handed. Only more samples of dirt that you could
find on any planet. Once the presentation was over, Dr. Campbell looked on his phone and saw a
message come up: “Come quickly! The androids are malfunctioning!”
Dr. Campbell rushed to the space center in fear. How could his machines be
malfunctioning? He had checked everything the morning of take-off. The design, the
programming, the suspended animation chambers, everything. What could be wrong? What was
threatening his life’s work?
As soon as he left his car, he was greeted by two faces. One was his old apprentice, Dr.
Phillip Brown, but the other… She had a familiar look to her, but nobody came up in his mind.
“I came as soon as I could,” said Dr. Campbell. “How are they?”
“We’ll get to that in a moment,” replied Brown. “First, I would like to introduce you to
Dr. Sarah Amare. She leads our robotics division.”
“Amare?” Campbell turned to face her. “Could you be related to-”
“Wendy Amare? Yes. She’s my mother,” said Dr. Amare.
“Oh, it’s wonderful to meet you again,” said Campbell. “You probably don’t remember
“No. I was very little when my mother was programming the androids, but it’s nice to
meet you for real.”
The two shook hands before heading to mission control. Dr. Campbell entered the room
he had once spent so much of his time working in. The technology was all so much more
advanced than what he had worked with back in the day, but there still was the familiar energy of
people working towards the common goal of exploration and discovery. Dr. Brown introduced
the scientists to his coworkers and began to explain the situation.
“They haven’t been going to their charging pods during their midday break. They’ve just
been… Collapsing on the floor. Not moving. And they’ve been sending indecipherable signals.
That’s why we called you and Dr. Amare”
Dr. Campbell took a moment to think about why they were behaving like this. Wendy
would not have programmed them to disregard their daily routine. There had to be some
“Could it be their SM doing something weird?” asked Dr. Amare.
“I doubt it. The Survival Mechanism is supposed to make them respond to dangerous
circumstances. For example, at one point, the two were exploring a cave system and Mayflower
slipped and fell. Its core would have been damaged had Godspeed’s SM kicked in, causing it to
grab Mayflower as it was slipping. The charging stations aren’t dangerous, so the mechanism has
no reason to activate.”
Dr. Campbell chipped in. “Also, why would they avoid the places that give them life? It
doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. Amare responded, “Well sure, but I looked over the original programming
documents, and they report that the SM will take effect not only when the units are in danger but
also when making decisions. They are programmed to choose whatever option is simplest and
safest so long as it doesn’t interfere with missions. Maybe they view collapsing on the floor as
somehow safer than spending the time in their charging station. After all, the extra charging time
is only cautionary in case they get stuck somewhere during scouting missions.”
Dr. Campbell thought for a moment. “I suppose that could be possible, although it is still
strange.” “Of course it is. I’m not saying it makes sense. I was just suggesting one possibility. That
being said, they have otherwise been functioning normally. Isn’t that right Dr. Brown?”
Dr. Brown spoke. “Yes. They have been going on scouting missions, collecting samples,
and performing tests properly, but that isn’t the only thing. The Oxygen levels are… off. There is
a slight discrepancy between the Oxygen to Carbon Dioxide ratio we expected and the ratio
that’s being sent back. Something strange is happening in that ship. That’s why we need Dr.
He then turned to the aging doctor. “We have footage from their scouting missions, but
the live stream from inside the ship is blocked behind a password that’s been missing for years.
Without it, all we really know is that they aren’t moving. Do you have the password?”
“Do I have it? Well, I think I do. Have you tried ‘Columbus?’ I believe that was what we
“I’ll get someone on it. The units are collapsed right now. Dr. Amare, I’ll have you take a
look at their signals. We don’t know if you’ll be able to read them; to us, they’re a bunch of
numbers, but a programmer’s eyes might see them differently.”
Dr. Brown led Dr. Amare to a nearby computer and opened up a window filled with
frequently changing numbers. Dr. Campbell couldn’t make any sense of them, so he simply
walked to the back of the room and waited. The room was full of people working hard to keep
his dream alive, and yet, it already seemed dead. If the robots did get stuck in a cave without
enough charge to escape, all of this work would amount to nothing. He would live out the rest of
his old age as a failure. Even if the scientists found a solution, it would take years to even reach
the ship with new programming. Dr. Campbell began to regret everything he had done when
suddenly, the live video came onto a big screen in the back of the room.
Everyone looked up and stared, except for Dr. Amare, who simply gave it a quick glance
before returning to the numbers. There they were, just sitting with its back against the wall.
Dr. Brown was the first to speak. “Dr. Amare, look at this. Is there anything you can
gather from this?”
Dr. Amare looked back at the two figures. “Isn’t it obvious? They’re sitting.”
“Yes, but what does that mean?”
“Well, it’s like when one of us trips. We never land in a sitting position. Laying down can
happen accidentally, but it takes thought to sit.”
Dr. Campbell looked back at the screen. What was going on?
Suddenly, something fluttered across the screen, too fast for him to identify what it was.
“Dr. Brown! Did you see that?” Dr. Brown looked back at the monitor.
“See what?” A moment passed and then another flutter, causing heads to turn.
“That! What is that!?” Dr. Brown paused for a moment.
“Well, I don’t know. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen.”
It came on screen once again, hitting the camera and knocking it over, and for a few
seconds, everyone saw it, though still obscured by a bright light. Still, Dr. Campbell thought
about what he saw. Were those… wings? And that… a beak? Unfortunately, that was all he
could gather before the camera was picked up and set back into place by Godspeed.
“Was that an animal?” someone asked. The room began to fill with discussion. The
robots had not found any life on the planet’s land, and their cave journeys were equally
unsuccessful. How could this animal be here? The land was completely barren, unless…
“Eureka!” The talking stopped. “The planet has life. Just not in any of the places we sent
the units.” Dr. Brown looked confused. “Dr. Campbell, Godspeed and Maria have been looking
“Everywhere on land, but not in the sky. That’s where life is. Imagine, an entire
ecosystem of flying lifeforms.”
Dr. Brown lit up. “Of course! This one must have gotten stuck in the ship as the units
were returning from a scouting mission. That explains the changed oxygen levels, and the units’
behavior. The creature must have tampered with them unintentionally or something. No wonder
they’ve been acting weird” He then turned to Dr. Amare, who was still staring at the computer.
“Dr. Amare, I am so sorry to have used up your time looking at the robots. They were only being
messed with by an extraterrestrial”
She got up. “But Dr. Brown, I think they’re-”
“No. No. I know you want to save your mother’s work but there’s nothing you can do.
The units received hardware damage, not software damage. I am very sorry Dr. Amare. You can
get back to work now.”
Dr. Amare paused. It looked like she was about to say something, but she stayed quiet
and began to gather her things. However, she was no concern to Dr. Campbell. His work hadn’t
been a waste at all. His dream. His life goal. His raison de’tre had been fulfilled. He could rest
now, knowing that children everywhere would soon learn the truth. There is life on other planets.
Behind him, Dr. Amare walked out of the room, still thinking about the sequence of
numbers. It did not take long for her to realize that the numbers followed certain patterns, but
why, she wasn’t sure just yet.
“Oh well,” she thought. “I’m sure it’ll make a good paper someday”
After a morning of hard work, Godspeed and Mayflower’s favorite time of day had
arrived. The two took their places, sitting close enough to each other that their hands touched.
Godspeed spoke, “I love you Mayflower.”
Mayflower replied, “I love you too, Godspeed. There is nobody who I would rather spend
the rest of eternity with.”
They continued to speak lovingly to one another, until the camera that was monitoring
them was knocked over.
“Oh-no!” Godspeed exclaimed before getting up, putting the camera back into place, and
returning to their seat.
Mayflower thought for a moment, and before returning to the conversion, they said
something else. “You know, we really should do something about that seagull that snuck into the
suspended animation chamber.”