OK. So once the whole "Gee whiz, I'm on another planet!" thing wears off--which happens fairly rapidly--being on an areological survey team on Mars gets old pretty quick. There's only work, work, work, and more work, interrupted by brief periods of non-work, and if you're not sleeping or eating, there isn't a whole lot to do up here. There's nowhere to go and the TV reception sucks rocks.
In fact, that's an apt description of what we're doing here--sucking rocks.
Every day we suit up and go out to a sector to chart and analyze every freaking pebble within the confines of the grid, and I mean to tell you, after a while one pebble pretty much looks exactly like every other pebble.
Until today, that is. Today was different, because I found an arrowhead.
I don't know how Johnson missed it; he was out here diagramming this very same area yesterday, and he's a pretty sharp guy--sharper than I am, because he only got here a couple weeks ago, and I've been on Mars for nearly eight months now. He still has that new-planet odor about him, where every day might hold a promise of adventure. He still cares about the difference between basalt and gneiss. He actually studies the rocks by hand before feeding them into the robotic analyzer. I couldn't believe he'd miss something like this.
Not that it really jumps out at you--at first; it looks like just another bit of stone. But as I stared down at it, I realized that it was darker than the other rocks--which was what caught my eye; I was so intrigued by that, dark grey on red, that I bent over very gingerly to take a closer look, propping myself with my sample pick. That was when I realized that it looked like nothing I've seen up here.
I used the tong function on my pick handle to gingerly lift the object, and dropped it on the palm of my glove. The gloves they give us are amazingly flexible, not at all like the stiff boxing mits of my grandfather's generation. I could almost feel the contours of the object through the layers of material and insulation tubules. It was smooth, unnaturally smooth, and I could now see that the edges were wickedly sharp. Furthermore, they looked...
Flint. Flint, my geologist's mind told me. You're looking at a piece of flint. With conchoidal fractures around the edges on both sides. One end is split off entirely, the other has the form of a short, blunt tail...
That was when I felt the evacuator in my pants kick on. Holy shit. I was holding an arrowhead.
The motors in my life-support pack whirred more loudly in response to the dramatic rise in my heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. I rattled off the names of every god and saint I knew, and tried not to fumble the inch and a half long flake of flint. My hands were shaking, and I risked dropping it. Hold it too tightly and I risked slicing through my glove--even though the gloves on our suits are reinfoced, because of the nature of our work, the old precautions they drill into us in training school rang in my ears, along with all the claxons and horns shrieking out the importance of my find.
I heard a crackle in my ear, and Johnson's voice asking me if I was OK, my vitals had just gone off the charts. I heard myself mumbling something that I hope was coherent about coming in, I had found an object we really needed to analyze in the lab. Then I bounced back to the truck, put the arrowhead into a sample jar, signed off my duty list, and headed back to the base.
It was just about all I could do to get out of my suit without falling over and tangling myself up in it. Johnson was sitting by the console when I burst into the room with my find in its jar. I didn't let him get so much as a "Howzit?" out before I was waving the jar in front of his face, the high-pitched rattle of the flint on the container punctuating my torrent of words as I tried to impress upon him the world-shaking import of my find. Oh, sure, it may just look like an innocuous chip of dark grey stone, but the implicatioins of finding an arrowhead on Mars were so huge, humanity itself might not be ready for them.
It meant that we were not the first beings to set foot on the Red Planet. It meant that Earth could very well have been colonized by the same species that left this ancient calling-card on the barren surface of our nearest celestial neighbor. It meant that we were not alone, that human beings really did have origins in the stars, and that I was going to be the most famous person in the history of humanity for finding this conclusive piece of evidence.
Johnson sat at his console in total silence, listening to my tirade with half-hooded eyes which never left the sample jar and its precious contents. Not once did I rub it in his face that I found the arrowhead in the same area he'd been surveying just the day before. I didn't need to hurt his feelings that way.
When I finally wound down, all he did was click his tongue.
And then he drawled,
"Nah, I'm just messin' with you. I dropped that thing out there yesterday. I knew how bored you'd said you were up here, so I brought it up with me in my personal bag. I found that on my dad's farm a couple years ago. I just wanted to get a rise outta you, Kev."
And he grinned at me.
I know one thing. The supplies are going to last a lot longer, now that I've