"Someone fetch the archaeologist!”
I thought it was a joke. The only time the crew called for me was to play a prank or assign some tedious cleaning task.
“Not today,” I grumbled as I clumsily sketched Marvin the Martian onto my tablet. Let them grief the zoologist for a bit instead.
“Got her!” Turner burst into my quarters. “Get up.”
A hulking mass of a man, Turner was chief engineer — and my nemesis. He found the idea of an archaeologist on an exploration mission to Mars to be ‘completely stupid’; Called it ‘a publicity stunt’, and me ‘a waste of space and resources.’
Never mind the fact, the Believers of Ancient Aliens Trust fully funded my place, and if it wasn’t for the crowdfunding promoted by BAAT we’d all still be on earth.
I glared up from my doodle. “Get lost.”
A friendlier voice drifted in from the hall, “you’re gonna want to see this.” Hess the geologist peeked her head through the door. “I’m serious.”
“Fine.” I huffed as I put the tablet down onto my bunk and shot another dirty look at Turner as I stood. “if this is another pyramid of cards, I can save us the walk — it wasn’t aliens.”
Turner spared me his usual retort. Hess too was unusually silent. We quickly suited up and the pair hurried me out of the hub to the rover. We bumped over the odd rock as the Martian landscape stretched around us.
It was as disappointing as the day I arrived. Just a flat desert of rust coloured sand, not much different than my aunt’s descriptions of Arizona. The only thing of note was the sky, at night it turned a deep dark pink and in the day it resembled the perfect cup of coffee.
God, I missed coffee.
“It’s over there.” Hess’ voice crackled through my ear comm. She pointed to a thin rock pillar on the horizon.
“That’s unusual,” I said back. Turner gave a short derisive snort — and made the effort to press his comms button so we could all hear it. Wanker.
The rest of the crew, minus the pilots, were all stood around the strange land formation. At about three times my height and width, its smooth sides tapered into a pointed peak. if we’d been on Earth, I’d have sworn it was an obelisk.
Turner cut the engine and opened his door. Our captain waved us over. “What do you make of this?” His typically calm voice had a hint of excitement which made me hurry my pace. The captain wasn’t one for pranks.
I gazed up to the face of the rock. Higher than any of us could reach without a step stool, were deeply engraved lines. My hand drifted to my mouth but slapped against my visor instead.
“It’s cuneiform,” I half-whispered.
“Speak into the comms…” Turner allowed the static to linger before releasing the button, leaving an insult unsaid. But I understood the gist, and that he was too much of a coward to say it in front of the captain.
I pressed the button and took a breath. They were messing with me. They had to be. But — I looked over to the captain who in turn was staring at me expectantly. Earnestly. My heart pattered at the idea this could be real.
“It’s cuneiform, ancient Sumerian.”
The crew all stared but not one laughed.
“Can you read it?” The captain asked.
I nodded and turned back to the lines, trying to conjure up everything I could remember from my post-grad studies in Iraq. “It says,’ In Memory of those who died in the Rebellion of Man’.”
Turner stomped up to the obelisk. “This has to be a joke. Are you sure we’re the first to land here?” He paused and brushed sand off the monument with his bulky glove. “What’s this say?”
I stumbled over, forgetting about the difference in gravity in my haste. Beneath the dirt were a series of symbols I didn’t recognise. I stepped closer for a better look — my foot struck something firm then sank.
Hidden in the red sands laid a pressure plate. The obelisk shuddered. Turner jumped back and I fell on my backside. A puff of air from the landing flowed over my face.
The monument slid back, revealing a dark set of stairs descending into the ground.
“What is it?” one of the medics asked.
The Captain offered me a hand up before heading to peer down the hole. “Only one way to find out. Rhys, are you able to lead the way?”
I jumped at hearing my name. I figured nobody had bothered to learn it. All the haters who had ridiculed me online and in person would soon be eating their words. The nuts at BAAT were onto something, and to be honest, I always dreamed of being Indiana Jones in space.
“Of course, Captain.” I joined him by the passage. “Follow me and watch your step. There could be traps.” I offered a prayer to the Sumerian god Enki as I descended into the dark. The light of my helmet flicked on. Dust clouded its beam.
“Is this more writing?” The medic’s voice broke into my ear. “on the walls?”
I swung my light to the clayish walls confining the stairs. I stared at the uneven lines. My brow furrowed. “No.” I turned back up to the crew lined up the stairs behind me. A butterscotch square of light behind them. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all.
“Rhys?” The Captain broke me from my thoughts. “What is it?”
The zoologist answered for me. “They appear to be claw marks.”