Forgotten Amongst A Rusty Sea

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Two

Our expedition soon set off on the 21 September 2032, as established in the official records. Along with our international crew of fifteen we also had an international cargo of three German manufactured mobile habitats, each capable of sustaining five individuals in a comfortable if dorm like interior. Each one of our habitats of course contained a supply of food rations, water purifiers, carbon dioxide scrubbers, and a reserve oxygen supply for the usual Extravehicular Activities which were bound to occur. The eight independently suspended wheels had the ability to power us along at a steady pace of a rather incredible hundred kilometres per hours. The internal batteries of the devices, created by the Japanese branch of one of our major private companies, were able to maintain enough supply for a total of ten weeks with all mechanical items running. This was important, as the size of our vehicles, at 12m x 2.5m x 3.85m, meant we were on a tight schedule. Though the roofs of the vehicles were lined with solar panels, they would become useless upon the entering of the Mercer Cave Network. To overcome the issues pertaining to radio communication however we were grateful for the work of a South African based company whose speciality was durable radio transmitters that continue to be used in areas of remoteness throughout our own planet. These links to the Martian colonies had small fission reactors, allowing them to be used for future planned expeditions.

Our departure and journey was a calm manoeuvre. Each of the habitats had been assigned so that one of the heads of each department was in a separate vehicle. To make good ground three individuals were assigned the role of driver in shifts of eight hours and fifteen minutes, thus allowing for the slightly slower rotation of Mars. The viewports gave dazzling views of the truly alien landscape of scarred landmass from countless impacts. The red haze of the sky gave the interior of the habitat an otherwise orange hue, though this of course would not be the case once we were underground. The path was easy to follow as the automated delivery vehicles coming and going from Mercer, coupled with the thin atmosphere of the planet’s weakened strength in displacing the dust particles, meant a fine dirt trail safely showed the way towards Mercer Outpost. Holt described the view one day to me as what those who travelled on the long and dangerous Oregon Trail must have seen. Such imagery was staggering to me, clearly a result of the creativeness behind that practical mind. Indeed, at night when the stars were brighter than they could ever be on Earth, I could see what was meant as the vehicles moved along at their steady speeds. The beauty of that moment however is crushed with the knowledge of what would come afterwards to our otherwise noble goal.

We arrived after just shy of five days of travelling at Mercer Outpost. The three areas that made up the base were a welcome sight after the long journey whose only sign of traffic was the occasional automated tanker. The site of the modular structure, painted in a striking blue and grey stripes horizontally, was met with a quiet joy that was transmitted through the radio chatter between our vehicles. It is worth noting that the cave entrance was not yet visible, but in the distance we could clearly see the small mountain range that we knew to be our next destination. Despite this it was time for us to leave our cramped conditions and be allowed to exercise our bodies without the need of breathing apparatus. Even then we had not been fully able to use them for our mad rush to begin our expedition. Parking the vehicles in the pressurised garage, we were met by the Outpost’s coordinator, Colonel Charlton Westwood of NASA. Charlton’s Southern nature meant we were by far more than welcome to his “little home”, as he called it. Indeed he had done everything to make the Outpost feel as Earth like as possible. Morale throughout was high and our arrival only a boost. We would rest here for a Martian day then be on our way to the Mouth of the Cave Network. Until then we were to recuperate from the rush to the last bastion of humanity.

Worth noting that it was at Mercer Outpost that I first gained my premonition of unease. Many will be aware that the reason for the naming of the Mercer Cave Network and the unofficial title of the base comes from one Dr. Jon Mercer, whose studying of the Martian polar caps is of vital importance to the continuation of colonisation. It was at this time as well that Dr. Mercer had returned from one of his trips to the Southern Ice Caps to determine their water and carbon dioxide composition. As men of the same field it was natural that he and I began an immediate friendship which lasted well into the Martian night. It was during this discussion that Dr. Mercer revealed to me his suspicion something was not right with the Cave Network.

“What I am about to tell you is in strict confidence,” he said to me. Clearly this was of importance and I only publish what I am about to type for it will come up as part of my argument. “We didn’t go far into the tunnels. We still wanted to have a light source. However, I am telling you Napier, there was something really strange. No one else has reported seeing the same thing and any attempt to put it in a report has mysteriously been deleted. I am almost certain we are not the first humans to these caves. There seemed to be another set of tracks. Ones that went far beyond as far as we went.”

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