"What is this one called?" said the shorter man as he gazed up at the sky.
"From the English dialect it translates as Curiosity," said the other taller man as he too directed his view skyward.
"Humans," said the first with a shake of his head. "Do not they have an adage as to the consequences of curiosity?"
"Yes," smiled the second, "but that is the essence of their spirit. They regularly enjoy challenging the established and very rarely heed their own cautionary warnings."
"You admire them too much."
"I like to believe that I see their potential."
The shorter man snorted his disbelief as he turned to look at his colleague. "You are of the minority opinion on that. The Star Council has very little hopes for their species. Every realistic projection shows that humanity will be extinct in less than 100 orbits of their planet. Most of the models predict that it will even be accomplished by their own hand."
"Data driven projections are not always accurate," said the other, returning his partners gaze.
"They are 99.9% accurate."
"I believe that if anything can prove to be that .01% it's humans. They have an amazing ability to hope and dream."
"They also have an amazing ability to kill and destroy."
"They have a quiet nobility."
"They are children playing with fire. If they are not creating better ways to hasten them on the path of oblivion they squander their technological resources on frivolities, social networking, automobiles, even something called blogging. Worse yet half their planet sits in abject poverty while the rest revels in its gluttony and excess. If they dedicated even half the time and effort to coming up with sustainable food sources that they dedicate to improving the quality of their home entertainment screens than maybe I might agree with you. We have both seen it first hand. Each day they add new blocks to the unbalancing of their world. It cannot hold the weight much longer."
"Humanity is not perfect," said the second man after a long pause of thought. "They are far from it, in fact, and they have many challenges to overcome. I never meant to suggest otherwise. It will be a long and treacherous road ahead to navigate, but I believe that they can overcome the demons of their worse nature. In the end, they will be that much stronger for the obstacles they have surpassed.
"Take for example the event we have come to witness today. It is a moment that future human generations will look back upon as a quiet but important milestone in their evolution. It is a project that faced great opposition and technical challenges, but even in the face of all the problems and difficulties, perhaps even despite them, they never gave up. Now human beings are set to land their most sophisticated and largest piece of land exploration equipment ever created on the surface of another planet."
"Sophisticated? To us it might as well be a flying abacus." The first man rubbed his fingers together idly feeling the smooth energetic texture of the microscopic shield that encircled his body and held the harsh world's environment at bay. "We both know this mission will end in failure. Less than 30% of these gadgets that humans fire toward this planet ever land successfully, if they make it here at all. It is like humanity just picks a point in their sky and randomly fires a rocket at it. This time will be no different. The only reason I chose to accompany you is because it has been a while since I have seen a good crash landing."
The taller man returned his gaze to the sky. "You're wrong. This will be the first step to humans setting foot on this planet. When that happens Earth will finally learn that there is nothing it can't accomplish. We have seen it happen before. Once a species sets foot on an alien world a spark ignites and there is nothing left to keep them bottled up on their own little planet. The people of that small blue orb will spread to other worlds like the light of their own sun."
The shorter man smiled knowingly. "You said the same thing when we witnessed humanity's first steps on their own moon. You were wrong then and you are wrong now. If humans do ever step on the soil of a planet that is not their own it will be a stunt, a one time event. They are too self-absorbed, too selfish, too lacking in long term resolve to accomplish anything more than that. As long as they have their creature comforts they are unwilling and incapable of pushing themselves to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary for anything else."
"You're wrong, brother." He turned his head slowly as he scanned the sky. "Their imagination and their ability to dream is beyond the scope of any species we have yet seen. All the people of Earth need is the right provocation, the right motivation and they can accomplish anything. This small red planet can be that spark. In many ways it already is."
"You have always been naive," said the first. "Do you know what really angers me about humanity? It is the fact that I do not disagree with you. You are correct in your assessment of their abilities, but when I look at Earth I see a planet of people who squander that potential everyday. Worst yet, they do so knowingly. They see the problems with their world. They are aware of what steps they need to take to overcome many of the challenges that lay before them, and yet they do not even attempt to alter their course. Instead, they bury themselves in greed and laziness. They hide their heads preferring to ignore their difficulties and thus sealing the fate they are afraid to face. That is why humans will never set foot on this planet or any other. They lack the passion required to even save themselves, how could they ever find the spark to escape their own insignificance, let alone expand beyond it."
It was the taller man's turn to smile knowingly. "You see only their flaws, that has always been your greatest weakness. The people of Earth have a deeper strength than you give them credit for. Yes, they can be cruel, but they are also capable of great compassion. Their potential for beauty and creation is as awe-inspiring as their potential for destruction. You say they lack true commitment, I say we have yet to see the resolve that humans are capable of when pushed to their limits. Yes, they can sometimes be superficial in their technology, but from those seeds of frivolity comes imagination and collaboration that rivals any I have witnessed in the Seven Galaxies. You see them as a people unwilling to face their own destruction. I see a people who hold onto hope like a precious stone and find their faith for a better tomorrow in the very humanity you so discourage."
"Humans are doomed to a fate of their own making. You will never persuade me otherwise," said the first man as a distant boom sounded from high above.
A small streaking light appeared in the sky cutting its way through the thin upper atmosphere of the planet. Both beings watched this miniature sun as it plummeted from the sky like a fallen god. The ball of light grew in brilliance as it drew nearer its two silent observers, and then died. With a sudden and impossible jerk the metallic craft stalled in air, but only for a moment. The parachute that deployed wavered as it filled with Martian wind. Impossibly the flimsy fabric apparatus held and the decent of the craft slowed, but only slightly. The bottom heat-shield of the capsule continued its screaming fall toward the surface, jerked free of the larger vessel. It impacted the distant landscape with a thunderous noise.
The next sound that echoed through the wispy atmosphere was of that of rockets being fired. A smaller utilitarian craft broke free of the capsule shell and trailing parachute. Four rockets firing on all side slowed this smaller exotic metal object even further. The apparatus danced and swayed, slave to the gust and torrents of the weather as much to its own internal programming. Performing its mesmerizing ballet, the craft's descent abated to a hovering crawl. From its belly, like some great technological spider came the final piece of the miraculous puzzle. The creature lowered itself slowly on its sparkling strand of cable. Delicately, as if testing the temperature of a warm bath it touched down upon the sands. One wheel, followed gracefully by the rest.
With some unheard signal the mechanical cocoon from which the great creature was born detached its life line and took off with a whine of engines so loud that the noise bordered on a spectrum which no human would have been able to hear. The dust swirled, kicked up by the rocket blast as the machine disappeared back into the Martian heavens. When the cloud finally settled again the two men found themselves faced with the last remaining piece of the great craft, a six-wheeled motorized land vehicle carrying some of the most complex scientific equipment of human design.
"Pretty good for a flying abacus," said the taller man.
"Yeah," agreed the shorter. "Okay, that was... impressive."
"Humans," agreed the first. Both men disappeared in a beam of light
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