At 10 kph, the Multi Mission Space Exploration Vehicle would never qualify as a rapid transit vehicle, but it did give the crew a chance to work in a shirt sleeve environment for the trip out to the probable impact site. It took just under an hour to arrive at the estimated location that lay in a deep depression west of the colony. Amira and Sergei had been checking and cross-checking the last reported trajectory of the sled in an attempt to narrow down the crash site. Nothing had been heard from the crew and no automatic beacon had been activated over the past 90 minutes which did not bode well.
Arriving close to the lip of the depression, Sergei parked the SEV back from the edge which appeared with the naked eye to be unstable and left it in the ‘kneel’ position.
“I don’t see any smoke or debris,” Sergei said quietly.
Amira nodded. “There are no reports of any of the seismological sensors picking up tremors consistent with an impact either which is odd.” She pursed her lips. “Think they may have got it under control?”
“If they did, then why haven’t they checked in?”
She pointed at the thin clouds of dust that were the remnants of the last dust storm that had cleared through just minutes ago. Visibility was clearing now but there was a possibility that it may have blocked the signal, especially from the bottom of the depression. “Maybe the dust storm?” Sergei didn’t look convinced, and he was right of course, but Amira was happy to entertain any interpretation of the situation that didn’t indicate disaster. There was only one way to be certain however.
“Time to suit up and find out then.”
Aft of the driver and crew position in the cab were ‘suitports’, a hard docking access point that allowed the crew to climb through the bulkhead directly into their suits and then detach the suits to exit the vehicle via side ports. This meant that the suiting up process was much quicker than had been the case previously with the added bonus that it kept any external sand and debris out of the cab itself.
So it was that a little over 10 minutes later, Sergei and Amira had clambered out of the SEV and were carefully making their way towards the lip of the depression. Amira pointed at the crumbling sand ahead, and her crewmate nodded.
“Over that way?” he said, pointing across to the right. It seemed to be more stable where the edge intersected with a rock outcropping Amira agreed, and headed carefully towards the observation point. As she approached within 5 metres or so of the edge, she heard a faint crackling through her comms and was immediately convinced that it was a weak and distorted transmission from the sled crew. Excitedly, she turned to Sergei only to see him mouthing something into his pickup.
“I can’t hear you Sergei,” she replied but he tapped the side of his helmet and indicated that they should retreat back from the edge. She raised her eyebrows, but his actions were insistent. BACK he mouthed, beckoning to her to follow him. As they moved away from the edge, the crackling subsided and Sergei’s voice broke through.
“...interfering with the comms, and look.” He tapped the wrist panel on his left arm. Amira checked her own and saw that the readings had flatlined for several seconds coinciding with the comms blackout.
“Radiation?” Even she wasn’t convinced by her suggestion, but was at a loss to think of anything else that might have caused the drop out.
“It would have to be very localised to not have some kind of fade in. No, I don’t think so...”
Amira studied the lip of the depression which gave no clue as to what lay below, just out of sight. “Well, we need to see what’s down there...” Walking back over to the SEV, she fastened the clasp of the tow cable to her tether loop and tugged hard. The connection held tight and she motioned for Sergei to take the remote and feed out some of the cable.
“If anything - and I mean anything at all - looks out of whack while I’m at the lip, you reel me in pronto ok?”
Sergei nodded, clearly unhappy, but realised that there was little other option.
Walking out towards the intersection point again, she heard the familiar faint crackling interference which steadily grew louder and she turned to look at Sergei. He immediately stopped reeling out the cable, so she quickly indicated to him that she was ok, but then tapped the side of her helmet to let him know that the frequency was jammed again. She could see his look of concern and before he could object to her continuing, she turned and kept walking.
Carefully stepping from the edge of the deep depression to the more solid rock outcropping, she paused a moment to steady herself then turned so her back was to the rock face. She waved over to Sergei to indicate that she was ok and then turned her attention downwards to look into the depression itself.
Her mouth fell open in shock at what she saw and she felt unable to move. She would have been prepared for almost anything, but not this...