Albacron 6

Coming in 2021

A New Series of Eight Books

Albacron: #6 Sojourner

Sixth in a Series

If exploration is our destiny … if knowledge is our goal … then why not go out and seek it? It will lead us to the truth … or will it?

PART 1: THE MISSIONS

PROLOGUE

Mars: June 14, 2751 C.E.

My mother, father, and I sat in Mars Rover GR614 staring through its windshield at the mile-wide crater.

Mom … Dad, I thought from the seat behind theirs. Sulci Junior? Is this the crater where the sound is coming from?

Dad stretched himself deeper into his passenger’s seat. Yes, Sy. It’s some sort of communication beacon.

I leaned forward supporting myself with my right hand on the top of his seat. But our people have been on Mars for, like forever. Why hasn’t the beacon sounded in all that time? It’s just plain freakonomics one-oh-one.

I know. He turned to Mom. What do you think, Martel?

She shrugged, stared at the crater for several seconds, and swung her gaze toward him. We’ve surveyed here many times. Geologically, the crater is just … unremarkable … nothing there. Yet, three days ago …. I don’t know what to make of it, Adamas.

Did some of our predecessors establish it? Dad thought.

Mom rubbed her chin and let out a sigh. For the nearly seven hundred Earth years our people have been here, nothing like this has ever appeared.

Mom, why do you always compare everything in Earth years? That’s gray-matter scatter. It’s three hundred and seventy-two Martian years … our years.

It’s perspective, dear.

I tilted my head. How old am I?

Trick question, Dad thought.

Mom shook her head. You’re nearly six.

Eleven on Earth, Dad thought.

But I’m not on Earth. I smiled at him and turned back to Mom. Keep it Martian, Mom.

Dad looked at the crater again. Well, we’re here to check out the signal whatever it is. So, drive on, my dear.

Our rover rolled on, it’s big tires kicking up Martian dust behind us. I concentrated on the layout of the crater. A small crater when compared to most on Mars, the terrain extended upwards at a modest angle until it reached the rim six hundred feet above the surface.

Mom, where is the signal coming from … inside the crater?

She reached the incline to the rim and turned left. The sonometer indicates it’s emanating from the west side of the crater base.

As she rounded a twelve-foot boulder, she jammed us to a stop. Where in space did that come from?

Dad shook his head. More important … how did we miss it every time we surveyed here.

I stared through the windshield. No way today, tomorrow, or any day! We couldn’t have missed that.

An opening gaped at the base of the gentle slope of the crater rim.

Dad leaned toward Mom. Can you tell if the signal is coming from there?

Mom shaded the sonometer screen from the incoming sunlight. An orange blip pulsated. It’s definitely coming from the opening.

I leaned forward and gulped. A cave? How can a cave form in the rim of a crater? Meteor impacts don’t make caves, volcanic activity does. Caves are riddled all through Olympus Mons. It’s where my friends and I like to go hiking.

You are so right, Syrena, Mom thought.

If it were limestone riddled with regular rains … it would make sense. Dad scratched his head.

I laughed. Freakonomics one-oh-one, Dad. It hasn’t rained on Mars in over three billion years … and you’d have to have sea creatures with calcium exoskeletons deposited in layers. There’s never been limestone discovered on Mars.

You know your geology, Sy. He pointed to the windshield and looked at Mom. Made by an intelligent race?

Intelligent race? Mom thought. We’ve never found any signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Mom drove on and soon our rover sat outside a rectangular cave entrance.

Mom, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the walls of that cave look as flat as the walls in my bedroom at Olympus Base.

It must be twenty feet high by forty feet wide, Dad thought.

Mom removed her hand from the steering stick. And it’s definitely made by an intelligent race.

I smacked the top of her seat. You think?

What’s the outside temperature, Martel?

She looked at an indicator dial in the control panel. It’s a comfortable minus fourteen degrees Celsius.

Dad opened his door. Let’s leave the rover here and explore it on foot.

Mom dislodged the sonometer and handed it to Dad. We climbed out, and Mom retrieved her geology bag from the rover’s rear storage bin.

Do you realize, Mom thought, what an incredible discovery this could be?

Dad pointed the sonometer at the cave entrance. But why has it appeared now?

We looked at one another and marched toward the entrance. Upon reaching it, we stopped and stared inside. Smooth walls on either side extended back as far as we could see—about two hundred feet. The smooth ceiling hung above a floor strewn with the typical sand, gravel, and small rocks of the Martian surface.

As we stepped under the overhanging ceiling, everything changed.

What just happened? Dad thought. Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Mom turned to him. If you’re seeing no signs of smooth, flat walls and ceiling, and only a natural cave instead … then, yes.

Looking around, I found myself inside a cave with irregular rocky surfaces. Stalactites hung from above and stalagmites jutted up from the floor. Some had blended together to form columns.

This is unreal, Dad thought. This could only be found back on Earth.

He stepped out of the cave and we followed. Turning back to the entrance, I saw the same artificial walls and ceiling I had seen the first time.

A tunnel carved by an intelligent race other than ours, Dad thought. What’s going on?

It attracted our attention, Mom replied, and now it’s created a mystery. I think whoever built it wants us to follow it. She turned to Dad. Should we?

Dad shrugged and nodded. We’re scientists. We’d be derelict in our commitment if we walked away.

I touched his arm. Do you think someone from Earth finally made it here?

After all this time? Dad laid a hand over mine. I still hold with the theory that a global war wiped out all of humanity and the Earth is probably a toxic waste heap.

Mom nodded. It’s too bad Terran Expedition One was never heard from.

More toxic waste added to the heap, Dad thought.

Mom, perhaps we should report this by calling Olympus Base before going any farther.

They know where we are, Sy, Mom thought. Nothing’s going to happen to us.

I smiled, and we marched on and followed the cave.

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