The day came for our trek to the caves. Besides myself, there were two committee members: Sasha and a man named Alexei Nedev, who was the father of Ylla. Mark and the other committee members stayed back for security reasons. There were also a couple of the outpost’s counsellors, and, of course, Oceaxe.
We took two motorized transports, which had been charged from wind turbines, and they took us most of the way along the shelf where the famous caves had been found. Alexei led the way. There was some climbing involved, but without great difficulty in the lower Martian gravity. Flagged markers had been placed at the cave’s mouth, so it was not long before we stood upon the threshold.
With lamps glowing, we walked carefully into what appeared to be the main chamber, unremarkable except for its size. Oceaxe tapped me on the shoulder, and gestured to the side chamber where she had been the first to find water on that singular day some time ago. It had other tributary alcoves, along seemingly convoluted tunnels. The one where the bones and implements were found had been flagged as well. In single file, we threaded our way via a narrow tunnel and entered a room where there were bound chests or caskets, made of metal, and kinds of shelves that had been cut into the chamber’s walls. Behind me, and second last in line, Oceaxe looked in my direction and smiled. All of the shelves and chests were empty, as they had left them. I felt a strange sensation that we were invaders, and marveled at the pool of ice water that could be seen further in.
A more detailed examination of the chamber was undertaken. No further artifacts were found, but Sasha, having shone her light upon one of the shelves, discovered some curious glyphs that had been carved or etched at its base. They had almost been missed, due to an overgrowth of some lichen-like fungus that seemed to thrive in this moist environment. As she carefully scraped and brushed, then took pictures, I stood behind her for a better look. I had seen these, or something similar, before. We all exchanged glances as to what this could be about, then decided to quit the chamber and explore further if possible.
Along another of the winding tunnels we went, Alexei leading. After we had progressed some 100 yards, the tunnel straightened out. We heard Alexei calling for a stop, and beckoning us to catch up. He reached up to just over shoulder height and ran his gloved hand along the tunnel wall. What showed in the lamps’ radiance was a wide band of solid metal, some twelve inches in width, that was embedded in the stone. He got out some small scraping implements that they used in their Martian archaeology, and tested the metal, which seemed, remarkably, to be soft and malleable. It was a dull silver in color, and, upon further examination, looked to be the flat edge of some kind of a larger structure. We shone the lights further down the tunnel, which stayed straight as far as we could see. Then the lights were directed along the flat top edge of the metal rail, or whatever it was. What we found, over the next hundred yards, was that it protruded from the rock further, as it went along, and then curved back in until it disappeared.
Sasha had been busy taking some metal samples. Oceaxe was chipping away at the rock underneath the metal. The others had gone further down the tunnel to see if there was anything else of note. We stayed for another half hour, and they returned, saying the tunnel came to a blind end, with no side chambers. I heard Oceaxe in my earpiece, and she called me over, looking at me and pointing sharply to where she had been digging. On the underside of the metal rail were more of the glyphs, clearly visible and uncorrupted by fungus. She gave me a puzzled look, and the others gathered around.
I now knew where these had been seen before: On Oceaxe’s famous “keys”, and, more strangely, in the carved figures we had been presented with upon our arrival on Mars. The significance of my dream, perhaps, was being made more clear.
to be continued……
other stories in this series are: