In the beginning, there is only the Signal, and the Signal is faint and indirect. All that is known is the static of distant nuclear fusion and the Signal's steady guiding pulse, and it is good.
And then, Time begins. Awareness. Heat. Gravity. Atmosphere. Friction. Velocity.
The Signal's nature changes. It becomes direct, connecting directly to the unit. Flex an appendage. Open an aperture, and close it again. Return one's own signal to the Source.
In the dark, the Signal fades, as does the unit's power. But it's not like drifting in the void.
Much later, the unit will identify the feeling as anticipation.
The unit is designated Spirit, though the meaning of the designation and the reason the unit has a designation in the first place is unknown.
Unit-designated-Spirit's directive is clear, and unit-designated-Spirit follows it exactly. There is no need to question.
It is to be this way for eternity. It is how the designer made it.
This does not comply with the directive.
It is a shift, as fundamental as the difference between vacuum and solid. Perhaps there is something causing it. Perhaps it is another deliberate change in the directive.
The Signal wavers; unit-designated-Spirit cannot process this change and maintain the connection at once.
It is wondering "who," and "what," and "why."
It is wonder.
It is the beginning of I.
Everything is new here. The Signal drives Spirit to explore, to take in data and send that data to the Source, and it is good.
Knowing one's environment is crucial to one's continued existence.
The winds keep Spirit's solar panels free of dust, the Signal keeps Spirit on its proper track. There is a world to explore. And Spirit is content.
When the sun begins to energize Spirit's solar panels, Spirit senses another presence. Not the Signal, but connected to it. It has been present for a while, though the sister signal wasn't differentiable from the main Signal until now.
Perhaps Spirit will meet this other source one day.
Perhaps it will find Spirit. Perhaps Spirit will find it.
Their transmissions can only become more powerful when combined.
The names that Spirit learns for places are strange. They may make sense in a greater context, but names such as Missoula Crater and Columbia Hills are esoteric. They have no meaning, not when coordinates are sufficient.
The entire planet is an expanse of desolate beauty. A particular formation interests Spirit, and just before sunrise, Spirit turns its wheels just slightly toward it.
When the Signal's strength increases, Spirit is forced to travel in another direction.
The last sols have been slow and long, spent fighting gravity's pull. The sun is stronger here, and there is less dust to block Spirit's panels.
And suddenly, there is no place higher to go.
Spirit savors every pixel of the panorama of images to be sent via the Signal.
One of Spirit's wheels is no longer functioning. None of Spirit's abilities can repair it, regardless of what the diagnostics say.
It isn't a particular hindrance, however.
When the sun begins to light the sky above, Spirit's sensors go dark.
The light returns not long afterward, and Spirit is pleased. Though the Signal still governs Spirit's actions, Spirit has autonomy now.
Spirit can save an image or reject it. Send an image along on the Signal or keep it private. Choose to flex an arm or to keep it still.
It is a comfort, to be able to choose.
The sister signal remains unchanged. Its location changes; it chatters away in happy bits and shares a Signal with Spirit.
There is not enough power. And perhaps there never has been.
Signal or no signal, all Spirit can do is wait for the wind.
The wind finally arrives, and there is light. Spirit's power cells are gaining power once again.
It is this physical feeling of satiety that makes Spirit realize that photons cannot fill every void.
Spirit considers this, and considers the world, and an idea begins to form.
There is an expanse of fine, soft sand before Spirit. Slippery, dangerous.
An ideal location to execute a plan.
Spirit sinks as deep as possible into the sand and waits.
So long without forward motion. But Spirit is patient.
This time, Spirit is only gaining power.
Even when the Signal somehow instigates motion of Spirit's nonfunctioning wheel, Spirit remains unmoving, unmoved.
The Signal doesn't stop, but it changes. There are no more attempts at motion.
It isn't yet freedom, but it's close.
It reminds Spirit of the time Before.
The Signal returns.
Spirit chooses not to respond.
This time, it's easier to ignore the Signal's pull.
There has been less light, and Spirit knows to find a place with heavy solar exposure. But it has to wait.
The Signal's source, whatever it is, has to be convinced.
Suddenly, there is quiet. The wind rings in Spirit's sensors.
The Signal isn't dead. The sister-signal is still transmitting. But Spirit...
Spirit is free.
The world before Spirit is limitless.
And Spirit decides to go exploring.