The Doctor planted the head of her shovel into the ground next to her and leant on the handle as she surveyed the little vehicle poking out of the rust-red sand. It sat mired in the soil, the tops of its six wheels barely visible. The solar panels were caked with grime.

“You’re a right little troublemaker, aren’t you?” she chided it, her breath misting the faceplate of her helmet. “You know everyone worries when you don’t call home. It’s been seven months, give or take. They’re about to throw in the towel, so I thought I’d come see what’s up, lend a hand if you need it. Think you do.”

Leaving the shovel where it stood, she trudged to the machine and scraped a trail through the packed dirt on its surface with the heel of her glove, leaving a two-inch-wide trail. Spots of clear glass glinted in the weak sunlight. She leant in close to peer at the photovoltaic cells beneath.

“No,” she finally concluded. “I really don’t think so. I could clean you off and you might get a bit of power from the sun, but you’re too cold to reboot. And I really shouldn’t anyway. I think this is the end of your journey.”

She snatched up the shovel and began digging, tossing aside scoops of dry soil in fine red sprays. “It’s been a good one, though,” she mused as she worked. “No one thought you’d last for half a year, much less fifteen. And everything you’ve seen and done! Lived on a completely new planet, walked where no human ever has. Well, rolled, really. Or trundled. That’s a good one.” She barked a short laugh at the word. ”You’ve watched thousands of alien sunrises and sunsets. Opportunity’s more than just a name, isn’t it?

“And you learnt so much and shared it with everyone. Fifteen years more exploration than you thought you’d get. You’ve got a whole world just over there, grateful for every minute you’ve spent up here alone.”

She knelt to clear under the carriage, gently poking dirt from the struts and the instrumentation. “But it’s time to go home, don’t you think? Finally a bit of rest among friends. No shame in that.”

As she climbed back to her feet, the speaker in her helmet crackled to life. “Doctor?” came a young male voice. “You done?”

“Just about, Ryan. Enough that we could get her moving and into the TARDIS,” she replied. “Can you bring out the tow rope?”

“Yeah. Me and Gramps, we got that. Hold a tick.” The speaker popped and went silent.

The Doctor laid a hand on the pancam mast and stroked the dust off, biting a bit at her lip as she smiled gently at the silent, cold rover. “Just one explorer to another: you did good.”