By Jeff Ammons
In the layers of the river bank Sarah saw the passage of time. Decades. Centuries. Millennia.
Common sense said that the deepest layers were the oldest. Practicality said they were closest to her and therefore the easiest to reach, so she started taking samples there.
Her hammer looked like any rock hammer except for the beefy handle designed for the thick gloves of her suit.
A few minutes of effort and the wedge end of the hammer had cracked through the brittle stone of the river bank yielding a number of good samples.
Sarah squatted in the suit and pressed another rocker switch on her arm. Solenoids shot locks into place immobilizing the joints of the lower half of the suit. Now she could sit without tiring the muscles of her legs and body core.
Carefully she began to package the samples.
Each one went into its own little container. Each container had an ID number painted on the outside and three identical radio frequency ID tags embedded into its Lexan body.
Sarah carefully photographed each sample beside its container with her helmet cam before packing it in its capsule.
She dictated details about each sample into her microphone. The suit’s computers took over from there.
Voice note files, photographs, the Martian equivalent of GPS coordinates, timestamps and RFID tag IDs were packaged then relayed to Number Seven’s computers. When they came back up out of the gully, both Seven’s computers and hers would sync back with the Rover. In its turn it would forward the data to HomeBase as well as the orbiting satellites who would stream it back to the waiting scientists on earth.
About five meters up the steep gully bank were several dark layers. That coloration could have many origins, but one possibility could be carbon left by decaying life.
Thirty years of field work taught Sarah not to rush. She patiently collected her samples as she worked her way up the bank and forwards through time.
Two sweaty hours later, she had reached the dark layers. The wall was steeper than it had appeared from the ground, but those dark layers were tantalizing.
The fact of her aloneness enhanced her carefulness, but her curiosity drew her ever higher.
The bank had grown steeper so she chopped footholds into the soft sedimentary stone.
With supreme care she positioned herself on the bank. Her collecting basket hung from a cord clipped to her waist.