Reluctant Townie: Out of Curiosity, who gets your vote?
The election was a tie. Half of the United States voted for this guy; half voted for that guy. Discontent had reached equilibrium, everywhere there was disagreement and the country lay paralyzed in a quagmire of political gridlock.
Even the electoral college had reached an impasse, unable to come to consensus on who should be awarded the presidency, its hands tied by a perfectly split popular vote. People apt to make incoherent sports metaphors called the outcome a draw in overtime with extra innings at halfcourt.
All hope of governorship seemed lost until it came to light that a scientist from the battleground state of Ohio had, in an attempt to become the first interplanetary colonist (if only by asterisk), digitized his conscious mind into an executable file and installed it aboard the firmware of NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity.
That scientist (whose name was, through coincidence or providence, Hal) then tragically and promptly fell off of a mountain and died.
Given that the orbital cycle of Mars was longer than Earth's by nearly a factor of two and that the late scientist Hal had passed on before casting his Earthbound vote, it was determined by election officials that the scientist's vote was still "in play" via absentee ballot and would be counted once communication was established with his conscious mind on Mars.
And that is how Curiosity, the NASA Mars rover, became the deciding vote of the 2012 United States presidential election.
But whom would it choose? What was at stake for a six-legged space robot with the mind of a Midwestern scientist? Could its vote be purchased by special interests? Would it be attracted to Mitt Romney's calculating, robotic demeanor? Or would it find kinship in Barack Obama's loving embrace of drone warfare?
Earth wasted no time waiting around to find out.
The highly partisan super PACs that were created to spend unlimited sums of money on campaign attack ads now turned their considerable capital toward building dueling interplanetary space arks, with the shared goal of establishing a campaign base on Mars and attacking Curiosity with a media blitzkrieg of political propaganda.
Unable to pass up the opportunity to participate in such a magnified political event, cable news pundits, anchors and politicians booked their stay on their respective arks — the arks were named the Right Wing and the Left Wing, a misnomer considering each had two wings — and the fervor surrounding the mission reached a pitch.
On launch day, Washington, D.C., was a ghost town of empty streets and deserted halls, the circus having already packed up its tents and rocketed them into space.
Meanwhile, on Mars, Curiosity continued its lonely lifestyle of roaming around the barren terrain, blowing up space rocks with its laser and running tests on its mineral content.
The conscious mind of Hal, buried within the circuitry of the Curiosity, was fully operational and beginning to rethink the wisdom of transferring his consciousness into a robot with only one of five functional senses.
More than anything, he just wanted a cup of coffee. He sometimes pondered writing an application that could simulate the experience of drinking coffee. But in trying to convert the sensation of bold Colombian flavor into binary code, Hal always ran into problems.
So he blew up rocks and studied minerals, and for the 15 minutes or so every morning that he got a WiFi signal, he used the rover's onboard antennae to read celebrity gossip from Earth and watch old Folger's commercials on YouTube.
It was Martian nightfall when Curiosity was alerted that two foreign objects had breached the planet's atmosphere. The relay satellites orbiting the planet tracked the objects, which landed somewhere beyond the nearest dunes.
As Hal rolled himself over the dunes, he was greeted by an overwhelming sight: Two massive spaceships next to each other and positioned perfectly between them — its heavy blue curtain whipping wildly in the Martian wind — was a single voting booth.
The hull of each spaceship opened. Gangplanks descended. On the Right Wing, Romney, Paul Ryan and singer-actor Meat Loaf emerged wearing spacesuits. Behind them, the blinding lights of video cameras and photographers, the entirety of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
From the Left Wing emerged Obama, Joe Biden and Big Bird. Behind them, the same media barrage, MSNBC and Rachel Maddow.
"Greetings, Hal," President Obama said. "I want to start by thanking you for having us here on Mars — "
"I believe I have the right to first contact," Romney interjected.
"No, actually the rules clearly state that —"
"You'll have your turn to talk, Mr. President."
"It is my turn —"
"You'll have your turn!"
"My turn is now."
"MY turn is now!"
Eventually the candidates decided to speak to Hal simultaneously, and the summation of their message was simply that they would like Hal to tell them what they could do to count on his vote in the election.
Unable to speak, Hal commandeered Curiosity's laser to burn his message into the sand: NEED COFFEE, HELP ME.
"I have a five-point plan to get you a cup of coffee," Romney said, "that will reduce the deficit by $5 trillion and create 8 trillion jobs."
"I want to make sure coffee is available not just for the 1 percent, but for everyday folks," Obama said. "Like you, the six-legged robot with a scientist's brain."
Curiosity then rolled itself into the voter booth, and time passed slower than it would have on Earth
When it emerged, ballot clamped between in its robot pincers, an election official met him to count the ballot.
"One vote for" the election official read from the ballot, "The Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson?"
"What a waste," Big Bird said. Meat Loaf nodded in agreement.
Ryan Jackson wrote this column to remind you to vote Tuesday, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.