Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
During their first month on Mars, the two-man and two-woman crew made the most significant discovery in the history of mankind. While exploring the Grover Caves in the Scandia Tholi Mountains, they discovered irrefutable evidence of indigenous, but now extinct, intelligent life. The Caves turned out to be a complex underground city that had contained at least a million beings. Radiometric dating revealed that a civilized Martian society had flourished for thousands of centuries, but ultimately perished more than a billion years ago. Scientists concluded that as Mars’ metallic core solidified, the magnetic field disappeared, and the solar wind slowly, but relentlessly, blew the atmosphere into space, forcing the Martians underground. It was theorized that eventually their numbers dwindled, and their society became unsustainable. There was no archeological evidence that the Martians ultimately adapted, or that they had the technology to escape. Apparently, the Martians died along with their planet.
Dakota Dalton was driving the two-man Transportation Vehicle from the excavation site back to the base camp. Its treads kicked up two parallel red rooster tails as it trekked through the fine Martian dust. “Did you know today is Christmas?”
“I hope you’re not expecting a present,” replied Tom Barrymore. “The Mall is 100 million miles away. Besides, we’re in the middle of the Martian summer.”
“It’s summertime in Argentina too, and they’re celebrating Christmas. Com’on Tom, get in the spirit. We have so much to be thankful for. Look at that,” he said as he pointed to a bright blue-white point of light above the eastern horizon. “How can you look at the Earth and not feel…” Suddenly, the vehicle began to shake violently as the ground began to collapse beneath them. They tumbled a hundred feet into a subterranean cavern, landing upside down. Dakota found himself helplessly pinned under a heavy shipping crate. His probing fingers felt the sharp edges of his fractured right femur protruding through his coveralls. Tom was lying a few feet away. His neck was bent backward at a grotesque angle. Dakota could hear a hissing sound as air escaped from the pressurized vehicle.
A voice came from the radio. “This is Lowell Base,” said Jill Ignatuk, the mission commander. “We’re receiving an automated distress signal. Is everything okay? Hello? Dakota, Tom? Damn. If you can here me, we have your coordinates. We’ll be there in 90 minutes. Hang on.”
But even as Jill was talking, Dakota could hear the pitch of her voice change as the air in the transport became thinner and thinner. He wouldn’t last 90 minutes. Hell, he probably wouldn’t last 90 seconds. As the oxygen content dropped below critical levels, his vision began to fade as he was losing consciousness. There were flashes of light, blurry ghostlike images, then blackness.
When Dakota woke up at the Lowell Base infirmary he saw the commander’s smiling face looking down at him. Tom was standing next to her. “Commander,” Dakota asked, “how did you get to us so fast? I thought we were dead?”
“It took us over two hours to reach you two at the bottom of that hole. When we opened the airlock, you were laying side by side next to the hatch. There was blood on your uniform, but you didn’t have any wounds. When we got you both back to base, we took x-rays. Apparently, you had sustained a compound leg fracture, and Tom’s neck had been broken. How did you set your own leg, and treat Tom’s broken vertebrae?”
“It wasn’t me, Commander,” Dakota replied. “I have trouble putting on a Band-Aid.”