Tash knew it was her tarp as soon as she saw something blowing across the desert away from the dig site.
“We got looted,” she said calmly.
“What? Why do you…,” Jackson followed her gaze, “oh. Maybe we just didn’t put enough rocks on it.”
“Yeah, maybe,” she said, “but you know we did. Between your safe and my jewelry, someone had a good night.”
Jackson slammed his hands down on the steering wheel, “Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! That safe was important. Damn it!”
“You don’t know that. It could have been empty for all we know.” She watched the tarp catch on a large rock. “We should probably catch that tarp before it goes too far.”
“Fuck that tarp,” he snarled, “Even if it was empty, it was still an amazing find. It wasn’t like any other artifact anyone’s ever found. It almost looked like a safe you could buy on Earth today. It had an electronic keypad, for Christ’s sake! And what if it wasn’t empty? Whoever owned it left a fifty carat ruby pendant lying out. How valuable does something have to be to get put in the safe? Fucking looters.”
“We don’t even know for sure it was a safe,” she said, hoping she sounded reassuring, “We don’t even know for sure if we got looted yet. Let’s just stay calm until we see how things look in the pit.”
Jackson pulled the rover into the site and drove slowly past the uncovered pit, “Can you see the safe? Is it gone?”
“No,” she replied unhelpfully.
Tash climbed down from the cab and started to strap on her rebreather while Jackson parked. No sooner had the rover came to a stop, he jumped down from the cab and started putting his on too. He hadn’t even put on his mask yet when he opened the inner door of the airlock.
Tash tapped her visor and shouted, “Mask,” from inside her own. He put on his mask and said something muffled into it.
He reached over his left shoulder and turned on his rebreather, “Oops.”
Tash touched the radio button on her helmet, “Calm down, Jackson. Mistakes get you killed out here. Now let’s go see how much damage they did. And turn off your VOX.”
Before they even got into the pit, the ragged hole where the safe had been was painfully obvious. Tash checked on her own little work spot. Her marker had been stepped on by someone with a fairly large boot, but other than that it looked undisturbed. She even saw something glinting in the morning light. One of the missing diamonds from the pendant, maybe? She knelt down to pick up the glimmering whatever, and she noticed the dirt had been slightly disturbed. Someone had pulled something out from here. She pinched the glimmering mystery item in her fingers and dropped it into her open palm. It was a diamond. At least they hadn’t gotten that. She reached for the pouch on her utility belt, and she realized that neither one of them had bothered to put them on. She wasn’t as unaffected by the robbery as she wanted Jackson or herself to believe.
Tash pressed her radio button, “Jackson, you want to chase down the tarp while I start cleaning up this mess?”
He didn’t answer. He just stood over the hole where his discovery should have been, staring at her.
He put his hand to the right side of his visor, “Sorry, forgot to push the button. Yeah, I’ll go get it.”
“Thanks,” she replied, “and grab my belt out of the rover for me, too. Okay?”
There was a pause before he touched his radio button again, “No problem.” He made his way back to the rover.
“And one more thing, call Dr. Cho and let him know what happened.” Tash didn’t hear Jackson swearing at that last request because he didn’t have his radio set on VOX. The inner airlock door made a muffled clunking noise as she approached the rover. A moment later it clunked again, and then the outer airlock door swung open.
“Belt,” Jackson handed Tash her belt, “Back in a bit.” The outer door clunked shut followed soon after by the muted clunk of the inner door. Tash dropped the tiny diamond into a pouch and watched the rover drive away as she put on her belt.
A few minutes later and a few kilometers down the road Jackson disconnected his call with Dr. Cho. Dr. Cho had told him that he would contact the Olympus Mons Constable and that they should expect a call from him sometime that morning. Jackson could see that the tarp had already been blown off the rock it caught on earlier so he kept going down the road.
When the road wound around a hill, he decided to drive up to the top to get a better look, and he found the tarp caught on another rock a few hundred meters away. As he drove down the hill, he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye. He looked that way but didn’t see anything, but then it flashed again. It looked like a discarded mask, but he couldn’t be sure from that distance. He thought he might check it out if he had time after he retrieved the tarp, but when he saw tracks leading that way while he was folding the tarp, he knew he had to take a look. Footprints in the middle of nowhere on Mars never had a happy ending.