Meeting Mars Teddy - Part 1
Hidden beneath a dangerous mountain on Mars is a tunnel with a big secret.
It was 4:37am on a Thursday when one of the greatest discoveries in human history was made. The time wasn't really important because 4:37am was Earth time, and the discovery wasn't made on Earth, it was made on Mars.
All the great human discoveries in our solar system have been recorded in Earth time. It makes the record keeping neat, and historians (and their teddys) really rather like neat records. If you have ever tried to work out the time differences between planets, even when the length of a Martian day is only 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than Earth's, you would probably just agree with the historians too.
Discoveries made outside our solar system are recorded on an entirely different scale, but that is a story for another time.
Captain Penny and First Officer Teddy Finally Arrive
"That's what we're aiming for," cried Captain Penny triumphantly, pointing at a small cave mouth. It was difficult to spot, almost completely hidden in the base of the towering cliff face sliced raggedly into the side of the mountain.
First Officer Teddy squinted, eyes struggling to adjust as their rover flew over the edge of the crater and into the full glare of the morning sun. A fraction of a second too late, the visor tinted, leaving the ragged silhouette of a mountain burned temporarily into Teddy's vision.
They had been searching fruitlessly for nearly two weeks, and both were privately beginning to doubt the survey footage that had led them here.
"Let me just mark this on the UPGRADED map," said Teddy with a meaningful glance at Penny. Teddy had carefully marked their destination before leaving base. Unfortunately, two hours into the journey, the marker had been overwritten by a navigation upgrade, leaving them with no option but to search the old-fashioned way. That mistake had cost them twelve days.
Penny had the good grace to remain silent and look incredibly guilty.
The Cave Entrance
The rover skidded to a stop a safe distance from the cave mouth, stirring up a minor dust storm. Teddy turned the map off.
"This is definitely it Penny, well done."
The nameless mountain towered over them. From a distance, it looked like the shattered tooth of a long-dead beast. Up close, it seemed worryingly unstable. The ground all around them was littered with large chunks of sharp rock. Some looked like they’d fallen pretty recently. High overhead dust clouds from rock slides floated ominously off the crags.
"Do you think we should just leave Teddy?" asked Penny nervously.
Teddy was brave but not foolish, "No, but let's be quick."
Leaving the rover, they picked their way carefully through the debris on foot. Embedded in the cliff face, the perfectly semi-circular, pitch-black tunnel entry waited ominously for them.
Into the Tunnel
Penny and Teddy stood next to each other just outside the tunnel entrance. Even with all suit lights blazing at full power, the light could barely penetrate the first ten metres. What little they could see of the tunnel was flawlessly smooth.
"This isn't natural, is it Teddy?" said Penny.
"If it is, I've never seen anything like it before", replied Teddy, sounding more curious than frightened.
Penny held back, a little less confident than Teddy. Teddy took the first tentative step into the cave, then another, and another. Teddy's lights fought to push the darkness back further and lost.
"It’s been machined," whispered Teddy, reaching out to gently touch the wall.
At Teddy's touch, a soft yellow glow flickered deep within the rock. Teddy jumped back in fright. The fragile light wavered for a moment and then died.
"I'm going to come back to you and try that again," said Teddy pensively. "Be ready to run if it goes wrong."
Teddy slowly retreated back to Penny, carefully staying clear of the walls while shuffling backwards. The tunnel remained silently lifeless. Penny also moved backwards, trying to find a position that struck an acceptable balance between the fear of the unknown tunnel and the fear of having a large rock dropped on her head. A moment later, Teddy joined her just inside the tunnel mouth.
"Ready?" asked Teddy, sounding anything but.
"No," said Penny.
Teddy reached out and touched the wall anyway. For a long moment, nothing happened, then, just as it had before, the light flickered into life.
Gradually it expanded, radiating out from Teddy's glove. Thin tendrils of flame followed their own paths, flickering slowly up the wall, making their way towards the tunnel roof. As they approached the highest point, they began to converge, looking like a burning map carved into the rock. Suddenly, another flame burst into life at the top of the tunnel. The two flames joined, flaring brightly and leaping ahead into the darkness, pushing it backwards.
Penny and Teddy watched in amazement as the tunnel suddenly lit up in front of them, driving the darkness back into a distance they still couldn’t make out.
"Have you ever seen anything like that?", Teddy asked.
Penny shook her head. "I wonder what other surprises it has?" she replied.
"Shall we go and see?" said Teddy, striding purposefully into the much better lit, and considerably less menacing, tunnel before Penny had a chance to reply.
Teddy may have started off first, but Penny soon caught up. The tunnel remained perfectly straight, but quickly began to slope downhill. With no end yet in sight, Penny and Teddy began to jog. Or as near to a jog as they could manage in their cumbersome suits.
Penny quickly pulled away, thanks to her longer stride. The slope increased, and Penny accelerated. She was almost at a running speed now.
Reflecting on it later, Penny knew she should have been more alert. The light in the tunnel reflecting off smooth walls was strangely deceptive, making depth hard to perceive. The conditions had hidden the increasing slope, so it should have been no surprise that other features might also arrive suddenly. Like the corner.
Penny slammed into the corner with her shoulder, knocking her off balance. She pitched forward and smacked head-first into the opposite wall. Vision reeling, she bounced the other way off the second corner that lay unseen behind the first. Somehow she got her boots in front of her, digging them into the floor in a desperate effort to stop.
Feet burning from the heat generated by the friction, Penny came to a stop. In front of her, a sheer drop ended somewhere in the depths of the giant cavern below.
Heart racing, Penny had a split second to realise just how close complete disaster had been. Complete disaster arrived a heartbeat later when Teddy barrelled into her and knocked them both off the edge.
End of Meeting Mars Teddy Part 1
Meeting Mars TeddyPart 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4