Dr. Mae Cassendor wheeled yet another load of spoil to the heap. Sweat beads spilled from her brow down her round cheeks, and not just from the physicality of her work; her suit’s heat exchanger was reaching its max. Though the outside temperature was just below freezing, the atmosphere was too thin for her suit to effectively radiate her own body heat, so, somewhat unintuitively, a cooling system was necessary.
The dig site was 36.6 kilometers from the habitat, separated by a dead and featureless expanse of Daedalia Planum. It was close enough to seem downright lucky in the scheme of things, but from a practical standpoint she wasted a lot of daylight roving back and forth every day. If the dig was further from the hab she could justify setting up a satellite hub.
In any case, she would have to wrap things up for the day.
She collected her various tools, mattocks and trowels, buckets and shovels, and loaded them into the rover, and then went to pull the large cover over the site. The windy season was still months away, but the local weather on Mars was proving harder to forecast than even Earth’s. She pondered when she might break through—imaging indicated an empty depression beneath the surface with unusual calcium deposits within, but she could only estimate within a couple of meters how far down it truly was. She walked carefully backward, pulling the rubberized cover as she went, when her foot suddenly fell through the ground as if it were thin ice. She landed softly on her backside and wriggled her foot free.
She rolled into a prone position, spreading out her weight, and bellied up to the hole left by her boot. She tried to peer in, but her bulky faceplate made it impossible to get a good look. Carefully, she pulled away compact sheets of cinnamon colored rock like shale, opening the cavern below to scrutiny. Instinctually she tried to wipe the sweat from her face, bonking her faceplate—old habits.
At last, she fit the bulk of her helmet into the opening and shined her light within. A fear, primal and raw, filled her gut like ice. Her sweat became a cold sweat, and waves of nausea crashed on the shores of her ribcage. Within the open space were dozens of human skeletons.
It was a shallow grave. On Mars. But how had they gotten here? And who had buried them?
And where were they now?