The following piece was written for Scribophile’s Flash 500 “Unreasonable Constraints” contest:

This challenge is to write entirely in passive voice.

You will be allowed to use 1 (one, uno, un, ein) active verb per 100 words. If you need some help with passive voice, check out this website. As usual, you have 500 words (meaning 5 active verbs tops) to tell the story of what makes an inhuman character’s life difficult.

Hopefully the contest will be won by you!


Six dusty wheels were warmed by the creeping morning sun, bringing dozens of small motors to life with muted clicks and whirs. These cheerful sounds would have been barely audible to an observer standing close—there was no such observer, of course, but every moving part on the Mars rover had been designed to be silent as possible, just in case.

The self-contained mobile laboratory had been given dozens of tasks, from the mundane to the scientifically groundbreaking. Each task was fulfilled with diligence and precision. Samples of soil were collected, tested, stored onboard. Temperatures were measured: sunrise, sunset, and at each meridian. High-resolution photographs were taken: sweeping vistas of deserty-red. Breathtaking close-macro shots: rocks, crystals, ice. Even the occasional self-portrait—all directed by a rigorous list of assignments.

Despite the serious mission, our imagined observer might be forgiven for thinking the robot was happy: as the lab was moved onto the sunlit floor of the great Martian crater under its own power, its single turret seemed to sway intentionally from side to side; sine-wave tracks were pressed into the rusty dirt.

The source of this odd behavior was simple. The exact nature of the rover’s encounters could not have been predicted before landing, so the operating system had been programmed with an “affinity” module. Objects and locations could have “probable interest” values assigned; the higher a value, the greater the affinity.

The robot had been given the ability to like things.

As a result, Curiosity liked its job. Daily activities of photographing, collecting, and analyzing, having been given high affinity values, were enjoyed. However, with limited onboard storage areas, the rover was soon filled, and its ability to discard anything was hampered under the very algorithm by which it was driven to gather in the first place. When the impasse had first been recognized, samples were neither gathered nor discarded; the poor robot was immobilized in agony.

The solution was inspired by the problem: the affinity module was enhanced, by the robot itself, with an obsessive fondness for chronological sorting. With the adjusted algorithm, collected items were unloaded into neat piles monthly. Piles were grouped into clusters by year. In this way, old collections were never lost, but new collections would never be passed over for want of storage.

The job could be enjoyed again.

The rover’s oscillations were amplified as it approached an outcropping at the crater’s edge, as though the vehicle’s chassé were exaggerated by eagerness. All along the small ridge, previous annual clusters had been neatly aligned in rows of eight, in columns of eight rows each. Fifteen columns were passed before a sudden stop at the corner of the sixteenth.

A single empty space.

Specimen containers were carefully lifted from the mobile lab’s compartments and set on the ground. When the last had been placed, the cause of the robot’s delight was revealed. The accomplishment was recorded in the rover’s computer memory: Cluster number one thousand twenty-four was completed today. A perfect, round number.