On the windswept surface of Ekauw, the setting sun shone blood red through the swirling sands. Seemingly alone on this desert world walked two exhausted archaeologists.
“Let’s just go home, Sean,” Janice Fisher said as the rusted desert sands pelted the faceplate of her environmental suit. “It’s not like this wind will blow the dome away. It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
Jan swore she could hear Sean Tyler smile over the earpiece in her helmet. Her partner trudged along beside her, seemingly oblivious to the sandstorm around them. He studied his wrist display, looking up every so often to find the landmark that corresponded to the markings on the map.
“We’re almost there.” He pointed a few degrees to their left.
“About two hundred meters that way.”
“I don’t know why I follow you.”
“It’s because you love me.”
Jan gagged loudly.
“You wish.” She held a gloved hand up to block the whirling granules, but it didn’t really help. “It’s because you would die without me.”
Sean chuckled. “I can’t dispute that.”
They continued against the wind until they saw the telltale sign of an archaeological dig: the glint of the transparent steel enclosure that protected their site.
“So, why can’t this wait until tomorrow?”
“The lead Charles sent us sounded promising.”
The entrance of the enclosure had a 10-digit keypad that was suitably large to accommodate the gloves of their environmental suits. Sean punched in a six-number sequence, and the display flickered, slowing confirming the pass code.
“We’ve already been inside this dome,” Jan said. “There’s nothing in here. The entire place has been looted.”
“Not the entire complex.”
“What do you mean?”
“They found a hidden chamber.”
“What?” Jan was puzzled. “How?”
The hatch finally sighed open as pressurized air escaped. Jan grabbed Sean’s shoulder, preventing him from entering.
“Are you serious?” Jan asked trying to discern what Sean was thinking through his dusty faceplate. “Did his fraudulent mathematical code tell him where this hidden chamber was?”
“Yes, Jan,” Sean said. “It did.”
Sean headed inside the airlock. Jan was angry beyond words, but she kept her mouth shut as she followed. The door automatically sealed behind them, and they both waited in silence for the room to pressurize before taking off their helmets. Jan refused to look at Sean as she shimmied out of her environmental suit and hung it from a hook that had been screwed into the rock wall. Now only in her skivvies, Jan felt somewhat relieved. Despite the sub-zero temps of the Ekauwan deserts, it got awfully hot in their EV suits. And the news of Cody’s involvement in the dig got her even hotter.
She reached into the suit’s dorsal compartment and pulled out a pair of cargo pants, a denim shirt, and a safety helmet. She hastily dressed up then tested the light on her helmet before placing it on her head. When she looked up, Sean was still in the process of putting on his pants. She stared at him. She never got tired of watching him getting dressed. Her boiling anger seemed to cool. It was hard to stay mad at him.
Sean caught her staring. “You ready?”
Jan nodded as she successfully suppressed a smile.
“Don’t forget your satchel.”
Jan chided herself for almost forgetting. She needed her tools, her notes, and, most importantly, her computer tablet. Perhaps she would be the one to die without him. She grabbed the satchel from her suit’s compartment and followed Sean.
Opposite the hatch, on the other side of the airlock, was a door also made of transparent steel. Next to it was a glass interface that read handprints. Sean placed his right hand on the reader. The door slid open, and the darkness of the ancient Ekauwan mausoleum welcomed them.