Thursday, May 19, 2011

Untitled Chapter 10

Constable Gilmore had found the wrecked vehicle the previous day, but it was already getting dark so he had decided to wait until the next morning to try to reach it.  He didn’t enjoy having to drive three hours in the dark at over a hundred kilometers an hour.  He certainly wasn’t going to climb down a ravine at night by himself with the only potential medical aid that far away.

“Shit.  I need a damn deputy,” he said to himself as he stood at the edge of gully.  He could see a trail of wreckage strewn all the way down the deep slope culminating at the overturned rover.  His robots could get down there from here, but he would have to find a gentler slope if they needed to bring anything back out.  He had no way of recovering the rover itself short of airlifting it so this would probably be its final resting place.

He pulled the levers to lower two robots from their storage spots on the right hand side of his rover.  Once the robots successfully unfurled themselves, Gilmore climbed into the rover to give them their instructions in comfort.  He removed his mask and rebreather and hung them on the wall before he sat down at the workbench.  He picked up his data pad and opened the robot control program.

A list of menus appeared at the top of the screen.  The left side of the screen showed representations of his four robots, two of which indicated they were online and ready to receive commands.  A satellite view of his current location filled the rest of the screen with two green triangles representing the robots next to the red square of the rover.  He zoomed the map until he could easily identify the large boulder about two-thirds of the way down the slope.  He noticed there was another slightly smaller boulder at the bottom near where the overturned rover would be now.  Then, he drew an ellipse around the area of the crash site and opened the accident menu to give the robots their instructions.  The triangles on his screen began moving toward the gully.
Once he confirmed the robots were indeed walking over to the edge of the gully on the monitor above the workbench, he checked the satellite map for an easier way out of the gully.  The problem with satellite maps though is that they don’t give the best impression of how steep a grade might actually be.  He marked a couple of candidate locations within a kilometer on the map and set off to check out the closer one first.

Oddly enough, the first entry point he checked was perfect.  About five hundred meters from the crash site, the surrounding terrain formed a shallow depression which made the gully a few meters shallower.  Entry into the channel would be a breeze, and he might even be able to recover the vehicle if he could get it to this point.  He suited up and started making his way back up the channel on foot with data pad in hand.

Just as the wreck started to come into view around a bend in the gully, an alarm sounded on the data pad to indicate that one of the robots had located a person.  Gilmore acknowledged the alarm on the display and noted it was located inside the rover.  It had already been twenty-seven hours since he received the first call from Dr. Lima, but as long as the rover wasn’t compromised, there was still a chance he might find a survivor.
He started running down the ancient creek bed, but before he had even take five steps he could see it was too late.  He already knew the rover was overturned, but this new vantage point showed him the grisly details of the crash.  Dying of exposure on Mars was never pretty, but this man had also suffered a massive head trauma.  Gilmore hoped he had died on impact.

The body lay at an awkward angle against the boulder.  One arm extended out the windshield, but the other still held onto the steering wheel.  A large dark stain covered the ground and much of the lower half of the boulder.  The liquid in the blood had already evaporated.  The man’s face was blackish-blue and swollen to the point that any features were unrecognizable.  Two desiccated, blood-stained raisins dangled from his eye sockets.  From the wound that hopefully mercifully killed him on impact protruded most of his brain.

As he approached the gruesome scene, Gilmore noticed that the waist of the body looked too thin, and the chest and neck looked bloated.  Nausea overwhelmed him when he realized that the sudden change in pressure inside the man’s body had caused his internal organs to try to escape through his head.  The poor bastard’s stomach was literally in his throat.  Gilmore vomited into his mask.

“Oh, my fuck, I need a goddamned deputy,” he thought with every tentative step as he walked back to his rover.  He had to fight the urge to run to keep the bile in his mask from splashing into his eyes.  He tried to remove his mask as fastidiously as possible inside the airlock, but he still got vomit all over his pressure suit.  When he got into the rover, he vomited into an evidence bag.

Three hours from the nearest shower and covered in vomit was not Constable Gilmore’s ideal way to start a day.  He took a moment to regain his composure and clean himself off as best he could, and then he put on a spare rebreather and mask just to get away from the smell.  He had lost his data pad somewhere, probably when he threw up, so he pulled his backup out of a drawer and quickly ordered the robots to recover the body.

By the time he got back to the accident scene, the robots had finished removing the body from the wreck.  They stood quietly next to the corpse waiting for new instructions.  Gilmore put one of them into wheeled mode and ordered it to bag the body and deliver it to his rover.  He didn’t bother to supervise the task.  Instead, he found his primary data pad, unbroken, right where he knew it would be.  He set the pads on top of the remaining robot and proceeded to inspect the scene.

He tried to enter the rover through the rear airlock, but it wouldn’t respond.  He walked around to the front and inspected the broken windshield with trepidation.  He could probably fit through the hole, but there was also a good chance he would rip his pressure suit in the process.  A small tear in his suit wouldn’t be fatal, but he decided to err on the side of caution.  Besides, that’s why they had robots.  He retrieved his data pads and found a small boulder to sit on while he worked the robot.  He put it in manual mode and activated the POV camera, and then he began the tedious task of removing the windshield via remote control.

Once he had finished with the windshield, he moved the robot a few feet away from the rover and put it standby.  He put the spare data pad back on top of the robot and walked around to the back.  It took him a minute to enter the identification number from the back of the rover.  He had never been good at reading things upside down.  A few seconds later the data pad confirmed what he already knew.  The rover belonged to Arch Coal.  The looters had been miners.

He walked back around to the front of the rover and set his data pad on top of the robot.  He took off his utility belt and laid that on the robot as well.  He took a couple of deep breaths before he grabbed his flashlight and crawled into the cab.  The inside of the rover was surprisingly neat for a vehicle that had barrel rolled down a ravine.  These miners had been good about stowing their equipment.

Everything that hadn’t been properly stowed in the rear of the rover lay in a pile at the bulkhead behind the cab.  Gilmore gripped his flashlight with his teeth and began sorting through the debris.  He saw the square metal box that must have been Dr. Lima’s safe right away, but he had to clear the pile before he’d be able to retrieve it.  He set aside a half full flask of vodka, but everything else got quickly inspected and tossed into a new pile on the shattered overhead light.

“What the hell?” he asked himself when he saw the writing etched on the box.  This was no simple looting.  Doctors Lima and Floyd obviously mistook Constable Gilmore as a fool.  Questions began to form in his mind.  First and foremost, what was in that box?  What was the connection between the archaeologists and the dead miners?  The question that bothered him the most though; did those assholes really think he was dumb enough to believe this thing was a millions year old Martian artifact?

Gilmore threw the flask out the opening behind him, and then he dragged and flipped the box to the front of the cab for his robot to retrieve it.  He picked up the flask from where it had thankfully landed  far enough away to clear the large blood stain in front of the rover and collected his things from on top of the robot.  A few minutes later he walked back to his own rover with the robot rolling along ahead of him with the safe.

On the walk back, he placed a call to the Olympus Mons airfield to have the rover airlifted out of the riverbed.  He needed to know if the accident was really an accident, or if someone had tampered with the vehicle prior to the crash.  He placed a second call to have a mechanic standing by to inspect the wreckage as soon as it arrived at the airfield.  He held off on calling Dr. Lima.  He wanted a clearer picture of what was really going on here before he confronted Lima.

He received a call from the mechanic while he was still half an hour out of the settlement to inform him that the rover had arrived, but it would be several days at least before he could give Gilmore any kind of report.  Gilmore told him he understood, but to please work as quickly as possible.  When he finally pulled into the Dome 1 parking garage forty minutes later, he took his usual spot next to the entrance to the jail and hauled the safe inside.  He spent the next several hours staring at it, trying to figure out the best way to get it opened.

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