(The following story is found in the If Walls Could Talk short story collection. Please click on the link for all available retailers. It is also featured on the Grim Worlds podcast, episode 2. Here is a link to the episode.)
A short story written by Mark S. R. Peterson
If it wasn’t for the stairs cut precisely into the stone floor, they never would’ve guessed there actually was once life on Mars.
Janice Ling descended, deep inside the cave, careful not to overextend herself as her oxygen level displayed two hours and twenty-one minutes left—if she started running and jumping like a few of her colleagues, she’d find the oxygen being rapidly depleted.
“Do you realize you’re the first woman to set foot on Mars?” Ken Eagle asked.
Of course, but only because Susan came down with a cold.
“I did,” she said. Without turning around, she motioned on ahead. “But we’re here to explore this cave, not reminisce about sexism. Are you the first Indian?”
“I believe we prefer to be called Native Americans,” said Ken. “And yes, I believe so. What do you make of these stairs?”
She focused her light down onto the intricate stonework. The walls and ceiling were similar to the coal mines back on Earth, with a definitive circular shape and size, the walls rough from dynamite blasts and hydraulic hammers.
“You’ll be remembered, you know,” said Ken.
Janice stopped. “Without exact measurements, I’d say the stairs are cut at a ninety-degree angle. However, standard width for stairs on Earth is around nine inches with about an eight-inch drop. These are roughly half of that.”
“Martians may have been smaller. If their species is similar to the one found by Roswell, they would be.”
“Makes it harder to walk on,” she said. “How will I be remembered?”
“Because you’re the first woman.”
“That again?” She continued to descend, waving her hand onward. “If I will be, so will you.”
“Who’s the first woman in space?”
“Most will say Sally Ride, because the history records always remember those from the United States. But the first was a Soviet cosmonaut named Valentina Tereshkova.”
Minutes later, the stairs abruptly ended. The floor now resembled the rough walls.
“I wonder why they stopped?” asked Ken. “Can’t be erosion. Erosion would never be this precise.”
“Come on. I think I see the bottom.”
They were careful not to step on any jagged edges, despite the layer of steel on the bottom of their boots. When they soon set foot inside the oval-shaped room, they froze. And stared. Her heartbeat pounded hard in her ears and she struggled to maintain a regular breathing pattern.
Further proof that aliens do exist, especially at one time on Mars. And, from the looks of it, it hasn’t been too long either.
In the center of the room was a rectangular-shaped stone block, like the tomb of an Egyptian king. Along the sides were carvings of two hands—not the five-fingered hands of humans, mind you, but three-fingered ones—joining together.
Along the far wall was one word. Written in English, oddly enough, in letters at least two-feet tall.