” Loading the last stack of bio-quintiles, STUD, open inventory chambers, please “, Cobb spoke to his HUD. The quadric rover swiveled lazily through the cloud of red mud. Storms frequented every three hours on Mars. And even more so at the Observatory Station, at East Canyon. Cobb had survived thousands of them over his stay. The expedition was commanded to be cut short, after 477 days. Mars days to be precise. Reasons given by Earth Base indicated to a meteor shower trajectory through Mars orbit.
” Opening chambers now! Cobb? Do I initialize the launch protocols? ” STUD, the VI assistant replied. The base door of The Apotheosis gradually swung open as the quadric rover approached it. This would be the last time that Webb had to load the samples. Mars was habitable.  The 300 trillion dollar question that bugged humanity for ages, had finally been answered.
” Log entry, 7245, The quintiles have been locked… And sealed. Expedition completed. Close the door, STUD ” Cobb said switching on gravity field within the shuttle. He couldn’t answer STUD on the launch. Not yet.
” Cobb, logs saved. It’s best that you come up to the docks, now ” STUD spoke through one of the speakers in inventory chambers. STUD was designed as a cognitively thinking and constantly evolving Artificial intelligence. Apart from everything else that he did, STUD was Cobb’s only companion on this planet.
Cobb walked up to the Observatory dock to have one last look at his home for more than a year. He was about to go back. But not to home.
” STUD, is there a way to extend our stay? ” Cobb said looking at the vastness beyond him. The planet and it’s serene sense of existence. Unpolluted. Unyielding. Pure.
” Cobb, the protocols have already been initiated by the base camp, I’m sorry. There’s nothing much I can do now ”
” Well. You couldn’t have stopped it. Can I be honest with you, STUD?”
” My interface architecture is imprinted through this Shuttle’s mainframe. Even Earth can’t reach me if I don’t want to. So yes, whatever you say is going to be with me. Only with me, that is! ” STUD replied. Cobb looked up for a second. All he could see was the metallic silver lining of the shuttle. But his eyes were concerned with what lay beyond.
” Rhetorical question STUD. The thing is, I don’t want to go back. This is my home now. Not to the chaos and tragedy again. Can’t take that man !! ”
” Cobb. It’s beyond you too. Your petition to stay has been rejected by the council. Do you want me to contact them again? ”
” Oh no no. They don’t believe that I can live here by growing life out of quintiles. They are organic for God’s sake ” Cobb strolled around, quite animatedly. He had found a way to infuse life into specifically chosen quintiles. All he needed was to artificially treat them with atmospheric pressure of 3300 pounds. And more importantly, he needed to stay. At least for a week. Everything stood cancelled.
” Initiate Launch Protocol STUD. Maybe they’ll send me again. Organic Samples should count for something ” Cobb said taking a seat clicking a sequence of switches on the control panel. He buckled himself with the seat belt.
” Running Diagnostics. Air pressure, Surge capacity and Krepon reading normal. We’re good to go ”
” I wanna live here man. I’m the greatest man on this planet, dude!! ” Cobb shouted as the ignition systems went green. Tonnes of Fuel burned, hot smoke mixed with the cold red storm. And The Apotheosis lifted beyond the atmosphere. Mars left behind.
” Give me the wheel and the ETA, will ya? ” Cobb said unstrapping himself and turning down Pull friction levels to the minimum. Gravity got annulled. Cobb floated to guidance panel and turned up the AMOLED.
” Going Manual…. Now. You should have it, Cobb. ETA to Earth, 38 Days 17 Hours! ”
” Earth. Crooked and Slimy Earth. I just hate the place. Anyways, give me the fuel and resource count ”
” Fuel checked for 40 days of drive. Ghost mode, approximately 43 days. Resources the same ” STUD answered
” Should be enough right? ” Cobb said closing his eyes. He could take the storms. But not the dizziness.
” Planning any detour? ”
” I wish. But no! ”
” Auto Pilot’s been fed with affirmed Trajectory. Want it to take over? ”
” Not yet. In a couple of hours maybe, when I go to sleep “
“Making good space are we?” Cobb asked his VI after a good ten hours of pill-induced sleep. He sleepily walked through the empty cabin rooms. Mars wasn’t for everyone. What started as a five manned mission, now had only him surviving the trails. Every human presence was sorely missed. But, Rick was something special. He made him see life when they hadn’t still found it.
” Tell me, STUD. How many of the crew had Cortana, and not you?”
” 2 Cobb. But why do you ask?”
Cobb poured himself a cup of coffee from the espresso machine. He took a sip of it and sat on a plastic table, smiling within himself.
” Nothing. Just curious. ETA?” he said feeling the cup in his hand with his palms.
” 23 Days 07 Hours. No Sign of Meteor Shower anywhere” STUD answered promptly
” Probably a farce. Have I told you how my wife found out about me?”
” You might’ve mentioned. Storm 312 remember?”
” You even logged that?” Cobb stood up and picked up a memory drive from a cabinet and placed it on the media player. It got absorbed into it and STUD spoke again
” Play Rick’s Poem STARS ” he said and walked away. To his cabin. To his memories.

…………………………………………..Look and see,
the shooting star is falling across the sky.
I know, one day, that is what I must be,
so I could fly high.
The world no longer feeling real,
I shoot across in confidence,
Looking down on everyone else,
I would brighten up the sky,
and everyone would see me,

” Cobb?” STUD’s eerily synthesized voice woke him up. He hadn’t gone cryo but then after 20 days of driving through nothingness, sleep became his favorite pastime.

” What’s the ETA? What’s happened?”

” ETA is 10 hours. But something’s come up. Please come to the control panel Asap !”. Webb jumped out of his bed and rushed through to the control panel. He feared a meteor shower and looked out of the Observatory dock. Everything seemed proper. Trajectory hadn’t changed either.
” What is it, STUD? ” Webb said stretching his legs and back.
” Cobb, I don’t know why. But I can’t find Earth”
” Come again? ”
” I mean I can’t find it. The trajectory is there, but there is no destination to it. There is no Earth “
” What are you saying?” Cobb ran to the control panel and looked at the orbital readings.
” I….cannot see it. I can’t pick it up! Cobb!” STUD replied sounding for the first time unsure.
” Ok, let’s go systematically here. Try contacting Lunar Outposts. They shouldn’t be far”
” Negative, Cobb. All I can hear is senseless chatter…….”
” Meteor Shower!!” it suddenly struck him. Cobb hurriedly scrapped through the Knott readings for the past twenty hours. He fell silent, shaken to the core.
The meteor shower had been horribly misread. It was never meant for Mars.
Hours passed. The Apotheosis passed elegantly through the debris which was once the moon. The crystally white Moon. The lights in Observatory dock started to flicker. The fuel cells started to deplete. The lone inhabitant of the shuttle and the last surviving human sat helplessly looking at rocks floating by. He inserted the master override key into the mainframe. But before he could turn off all the systems, he had just one last thing to say to his VI
” STUD! Given a choice and a body where would you go, My friend?”
” Cobb, I’ve never thought of it. Right Now maybe the Sun. The brightest star of them all”
” Interesting. You Know what? I ‘ve never thought of it too. We are humans, I suppose. Legs to walk. Heart to wander. But nothing to get lost. And here we are having nowhere else to go”
” You survive at the end of the day, don’t you?”
” Days. Maybe Hours. Even Years. But not our mistakes..!”
” Cobb! Do you think it’s possible that…….”
” It was an honor, my friend. Couldn’t have asked for anyone else to partake this journey. But now we must part. For we went where no one else had. And did what no one else could….Farewell, My Friend..!!!”. And everything went dark. Life was found. As was the destiny, Life was lost. And One man looked on. The Apotheosis floated around void for a couple of days more before crashing into a meteor.
……………………As the night goes on,
I see the towns, cities, and people.
All beautiful in their own way.
I am sad to say,
but soon my time will be gone.
I will fall again,
into the darkness of forever night
and leave my dreams to be
just a dream

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