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Martian Knightlife
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A major construction and mining concern called Zorken Consolidated, that had hollowed asteroids, dug tunnels, bridged chasms, and made domed cities out of craters across the central parts of the Solar System, had conducted a pilot survey and made test borings for a possible new space complex in the Tharsis region. The engineers and crew had then pulled out pending a decision on whether to take the project further. While the data were being evaluated, Hamil and Juanita arrived with a small archeological and geological field team and set up camp to investigate the workings that Zorken's survey team had left.

The Troy camp consisted of two trailers accommodating the scientists and a five-man work force, a three-compartment inflatable-frame cabin affording a mess room and work space, and a couple of shacks left by the Zorken workers. One of the latter was pressurized; the other was not, but provided a convenient shelter for power generators and air recirculation plant. Now, in addition, there was the Juggernaut. The structures and vehicles were clustered at one end of a clear area amid boulders and rubble on an irregular shelf a hundred or so yards wide halfway down the broken side of a mesa formation upon which the space complex would stand-like Cherbourg, at Lowell. The mesa side overlooked a crumpled valley floor rising to orange bluffs on the far side, which one day, perhaps, would hold a new metropolis. A road bulldozed out of the shallower lower slopes reached the shelf via four steeply-angled segments connected by reversing strips-the side was too steep to construct hairpins. From the ends of shelf, narrower trails explored the shattered mesa sides, while in the center, a slanting cut carrying an open-cage elevator, again left by Zorken Consolidated, gave access to the mesa top. Above the far end of the shelf from the camp, an improbable rock formation the size of a small house, actually wider at the top than its base, propped by several lesser rocks wedged beneath, balanced on the very edge of the precipice. Dubbed the "Citadel," it was, according to Hamil, another example of the work of one-time water, not an effect of wind erosion as the conventional explanation maintained.

Looking round and diminutive even in a Martian surface suit, Hamil led the way with Jean Graas, one of the geologists from the original group, along a trail that led on from where the left end of the shelf petered out among rock falls and vertical blocks separated from the main face. Rising and falling around mounds of debris, skirting drops into to gulleys forty or fifty feet below, it must have been treacherous initially, but had since been widened and cut for regular use, with rope handrails installed at the worst spots. Kieran and Katrina followed next, Trevany and Rudi behind them, and Dennis Curry, also from the original team, bringing up the rear. Dennis and Jean had met through their shared professional interests, and Kieran could see them ending up as a husband-wife team one day. Juanita and Harry had remained at camp to finish some chores. They already knew the layout and would see the newer finds later.

Hamil waved an arm to indicate the mass of the plateau looming above them. His voice came through the speaker in Kieran's helmet. "The overburden above the site is over five hundred feet deep. Below the first couple of feet of surface, the layerings and grain alignments are characteristic of cementing by finer binding particles under the action of fluids, not wind deposition." So they were looking at the aftermath of immense flooding, Kieran thought to himself, translating into everyday language. And comparatively recent at that, if the archeological finds were below.

"Where are the oceans that did it, eh?" Trevany said, puffing audibly on the circuit despite the low Martian gravity.

"Exactly, Walter."

"How long will it be before the establishment back on Earth accepts it?" Jean Graas's voice asked.

Rudi chimed in, sounding derisive. "What makes you think they ever will? They've got enough evidence staring them in the face of the same thing happening there, but they refuse to see it. Why should this be any different?"

"What evidence do you mean?" Kieran asked curiously.

"Huge sediments laid down rapidly-thousands of meters thick in some places. Not slow over millions of years," Rudi answered.

"Uniformitarian chronology is dead," another voice commented. It sounded like Dennis Curry.

"If oceanic deposits were due to slow, uniform accumulations, they would get steadily thicker with increasing distance from the ridges as the sea floors spread." Rudi again. "In fact that's what some textbooks originally claimed before the facts were in, because they were so sure it would be true. But when they got around to actually dong the drillings, they found the opposite. The thickest deposits were at the ridges and along the edges of continental shelves. Practically nothing on the sea floors far from the ridges, where it should have been."

"But just the places where planet-wide flood surges would be slowed by obstructions and shed their sedimentary loads," Kieran completed aloud. It made sense to him-but then, he wasn't an academic indoctrinated with assumptions that were incompatible with the notion.

"Exactly," Hamil replied. "You have many interests for a busy doctor. Where did you graduate med school, out of curiosity?"

"We have to talk about that, Hamil," Trevany interjected hastily.

Before them, a pinnacle of rock leaning away from the main massif rose thirty or forty feet above their heads, its sides weathered into horizontal grooves and ribs that revealed the strata it had formed from. The trail ended at a leveled terrace skirting the fissure separating the pinnacle from the face, where an assortment of canisters, boxes, and other pieces of equipment lay scattered around. What they had seen of the pinnacle turned out to be only the top part, Kieran saw as they spread out along the edge. The fissure plummeted downward as a narrowing wedge of space that was quickly lost in shadow relieved only by the yellow glows of artificial lighting lower down that told nothing of their depth. Kieran estimated that the lights had to be somewhere near the level of the valley floor below the mesa, although inaccessible from there directly.

A concrete platform set into the lip of the drop carried a motorized hoist mechanism and winding drum with a projecting girder structure and guide wheels, over which a cable descended alongside two vertical rails attached to the rock. A track of lighter colored dust among the rocks and ground into the crevices between extended from the hoist platform to the far side of the terrace, probably indicating where rubble brought up from below had been carried to the edge and dumped.

Hamil was talking inside his helmet, presumably on another channel. Then his voice came through, cautioning: "Stand clear of the machinery, everyone." Moments later, the hoist began running. Hamil extended an arm to indicate the fissure below. "Zorken started one of their slant bores from the bottom as a short cut for getting samples from deep under the plateau. The excavations that they opened up down there attracted our interest too. When we got to poking around on our own, we started to uncover things like pieces of what looked like paving, and stones that couldn't have been shaped naturally. That was when Walter decided to come out and join us."

"I'd been following what was going on. Juanita and I are old colleagues," Trevany commented. "I'd already been talking with Katrina's college about getting them to sponsor some field work. Rudi contacted me to say he wanted to come along too. He had the background for this kind of work."

"And Gottfried," Rudi said.

"Oh yes. Of course there's him."

"Who's Gottfried?" Kieran asked.

"He's a small, tracked remote-controlled robot that I had made for field work out in the Middle East," Rudi replied. "Ideal for exploring things like narrow shafts and awkward places. There is an autonomous mode of operation too-good for mapping areas of terrain or exploring larger spaces. You might see him. He's down where we're going."

The elevator appeared from below in the form of a railed metal platform six feet or so square with the hoist cable attached to the side running on the guide rails. Two men were riding it, clad in double-skinned heavy-duty suits, streaked with orange and brown dust. As the elevator stopped level with the concrete edge, one of them opened the inner section of guard rail like a gate, and together they manhandled off a rubber-tired tip wagon filled with sand and rubble. One had a wizened face with a straggly gray mustache; the other was black.

Hamil clapped the older one on the shoulder and turned to the others. "Hah, people! Here are two of the gang that we depend on for getting the real work done in this operation. This is Zeke. The one with the heavy tan is Lou. Gentlemen, here are our new arrivals, Dr. Walter Trevany, Rudi Magelsberg, Katrina Ersohn. And this is Kieran Thane that I told you about, who's come in as Pierre's replacement. We're all a family here."

"I guess we'll all get to know each other later," Zeke muttered as he moved through, steering the front end of the wagon.

Lou nodded a round of acknowledgments at the company as he followed. "Nothing personal, Doc," he said as he passed Kieran. "But I hope our relationship stays strictly nonprofessional."

"I need to check something with Zeke," Dennis said, stepping aside and looking toward Hamil. "I'll follow you on down."

While Zeke and Lou trundled the wagon across the terrace toward the dump point, followed by Dennis, the others crowded onto the elevator. Hamil closed the gate and pressed a button, and they began descending.

The rock flowed by to rumbling and squeaking of the pinch rollers on the rails sounding faint and distant through the thin Martian air. The far wall edged closer as the fissure narrowed; then shadow fell abruptly, framing a receding patch of pale pink sky above. As darkness closed in around, Kieran reflected yet again on what it was about his life that always seemed to draw him into situations of the strange and unexpected. He had come to Mars in all innocence to visit an old friend and follow a unique scientific experiment. Now here he was, plunging down a hole in the Martian desert, once again involved in something totally unconnected with the thing he had started out with, wondering what twists would lead him where this time. Somebody had remarked to him once that his life was like a lightning conductor.

Light reasserted itself as the elevator passed the first of the lamps on the sides of what had by now became little more than a broad slot through the rock. More lamps appeared and the light grew stronger, revealing the face wall breaking into fault lines and fractures where the pinnacle had torn away. The elevator stopped in what appeared to be a cavern extending under the face beneath a jumble of standing flakes choked with debris and jammed boulders that had fallen from above. The cleave planes and bore holes from blasting showed that it was artificial-or at least, had been artificially enlarged. Another tip wagon stood by a pile of rubble, presumably hauled from farther within. More tools and equipment, stacks of adjustable steel roof props and scaffolding parts, and a humming motor-generator with cables snaking off toward the rear of the cavern filled the rest of the space around the elevator. Hamil raised a gate opposite the one via which they had entered and beckoned the others out. They followed silently, the chatter of the trail above gone now, conscious of moving from one world and its time into another, far removed.

The left side of the cavern ended in a square-cut alcove, clearly artificial, where a section of steel pipe several feet long and a foot or more in diameter, capped by a red plastic plug, protruded up at an angle from the floor. "That's the original Zorken bore shaft," Hamil told the others, waving as he led the way past it and into a low, rising gallery of open floor interrupted by roof props, extending farther back, under the plateau. "But what got our attention when we began exploring the surroundings was this. We were lucky in finding just a trace that the Zorken people had uncovered but not recognized. We've opened up a lot more of it since then."

He stopped before a cleared section of floor and indicated it with a gesture of both hands. The others drew up on either side. The area was formed from roughly rectangular, convex-faced slabs, lying regularly with the edges aligned in both directions. To the rear, they disappeared under a layer of rock that looked as if it had covered them and been cut back. At the front, where the group were standing, the slabs ended at an erratic edge where the underlying rock had fallen away into the fissure behind. A trench had been cut to one side, presumably to investigate the foundation and underpinnings.

"Hm. Not unlike several pillow lavas that I've seen," Rudi's voice commented dubiously.

"These are metamorphic, not igneous," Hamil answered.

"And when you probe down under, you can see there are no plumes. They were cut and laid," Jean Graas added.

"Hm," Rudi said again. But even he couldn't argue.

They moved on, still ascending at a mild angle, into the narrowing rear part of the gallery, where Hamil stopped again to let them examine a series of large stones of various shapes and angles that had been set on one side. There were long and short rectangular blocks, several broken curved pieces suggestive of sections of arch, some round pieces, and a few with markings from which encrusting rock had been painstakingly removed, looking tantalizingly as if they could be symbols of some kind. But whether they were or not, it was plain even to Kieran's unschooled eye that these objects had been fashioned. Trevany recognized a couple of instances of indentation marks similar to ones found in South America and Egypt for accepting I-shaped metal pieces to clamp adjacent blocks together. Hamil confirmed that was what he thought they were too. Another broken fragment of rounded rock was surely part of a humanlike chin and nose.

An opening at the back of the gallery, looking at first like a tunnel mouth, turned out to be the entrance to a chamber from which several shafts and crawlways radiated away, some rising, others descending. Hamil led the way, single-file now, along one which required only moderate stooping, through another opening. The far side opened up suddenly, in a way that came as a surprise after the warren that had preceded it, into a space that was high but narrow, braced by props mounted horizontally. The rock on one side had been cut into a rising series of ramps and ledges bearing scaffolding, cable boxes, and lights. But it was the other side that captured everyone's attention as the party crowded in to straighten up and stand in awe along the rubble-strewn strip of floor between. They were gazing up at the wall that Kieran had seen on the screen in the Juggernaut.

"We broke through, and here it was, uncovered by a fall that appears to have taken place at some time," Hamil told them. "We haven't had to do much digging at all."

That explained how it could have been news two days ago, yet unburied to an extent that should have required weeks of digging. The space was more confined than the view on the screen had suggested, comprising for the most part a vertical rock fault that revealed part of the wall all the way to its top, where it ended in a line of corbeling at about twenty-five feet. It was smooth and unweathered, grayer and lighter than the surrounding rock. To the left, the wall disappeared behind a line of obscuring rock slanting down to an opening that looked like a pilot tunnel following the base. Just outside the opening was a small, turret-like vehicle, not much bigger than a shoe box, running on what looked like rubber tracks. It was equipped with a lamp, miniature camera on a pivoting arm, and a variety of sensors, manipulators, and appendages.

"Is that friend Gottfried?" Kieran asked, gesturing.

"Yes," Rudi confirmed. "He'll be in action again later today."

The right-hand side of the wall was buried behind fallen rock extending to the roof, but cleared enough in the lower parts to reveal the ends of several massive stone steps and part of a vertical corner that could have been one side of a gateway. As Trevany and Juanita had said of the mysterious constructions found back on Earth, the way these huge stones fitted was strangely complex yet precise. Kieran tried to imagine what sequence of measuring, cutting, testing, trimming, repositioning and remeasuring would be necessary to achieve such results. He couldn't. Yet, according to the orthodox wisdom that still prevailed upon Earth, it was supposed to have been achieved by cultures that hadn't advanced beyond levers and pulleys, by means of earth ramps and rollers. Trevany scoffed that such explanations were the confident inventions of Egyptologists sitting in university offices; construction engineers, he said, just shook their heads.

So what did it mean? If a close affinity with constructions back on Earth were confirmed, had some lost alien race visited both worlds in the distant past, either from elsewhere in the Solar System or from some other system entirely, and left their enigmatic signatures at enormous expense of effort for purposes yet to be divined? Could they, as some believed, have been the progenitors or creators of the human race? Alternatively, might they have been some advanced but forgotten race of Earth itself, perished in a calamity of interplanetary proportions that had erased virtually all trace of their existence? Or even from Mars, wiped out along with its continents and its oceans? The research that would grow from these beginnings would continue possibly for lifetimes. How much of the planet might eventually be involved in what might eventually be turned up was for anyone to guess. But already, Kieran could see that in terms of additions and revisions to human knowledge, the return over the years was going to be incalculable.

"How about that, Rudi?" Katrina asked with a hint of piquancy. "Does it remind you of any pillow lavas that you've seen?'' She winked at Kieran through her visor.

"Hm. . ." Rudi answered. He shuffled awkwardly in his suit. "It appears we have a lot of work ahead of us. Priceless work, I might add. If my guess is right, this will overturn the conventional school completely."

"Then let's bear that in mind when we set to it," Hamil said to them all. "And think about science. Leave all the petty rivalries and jealousies back where they belong, eh? That was what people came out here to get away from."

 
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