The blue of night gave way to the murky pink of day, lit from behind by a sun four light minutes farther out than earth. Kim saw the black shadows dapple the strewn field, lumps of rust-brown nickel-iron weathering the Martian dawn, and finished her seated forward bend.
She found the murder at the base of the cliff. The suit was mostly gone, scavenged already, but the fall had ripped too much and bent the collar beyond repair. Kim turned it over and saw a square hole in a spiderweb of cracks, caked with something a couple shades darker than Martian dirt. The body would have been recycled, of course. There was a print near the head from a different make of boot from the rest of the dead man’s suit.
Six wheels bounced and rumbled on the dust and gravel behind her, the solar-powered cart loaded down with meteorite fragments. The road was pitted and worn, a well-traveled path between two walls of volcanic clay. At one bend the wall was soft; over a hundred gloved hands had been pressed there in passing over the years. Kim counted the number and shape of the fingers, picking out suit models she knew.
Mos Station was empty when Kim arrived; it was too early in the season for the Keter Group to arrive, too late for the Francesquois. The ground around it was warm, wet, and green-black from the bacteria it spewed. There were tracks in the soft mass around the vents, which had a week’s growth on them. Kim cleaned the vents and checked the filters before tapping a little water, air, and soy sauce. It was the only source of salt for a week in any direction.
There was a pile of stones at the fork in the road to Mons Jun-Eris. Kim added her own before moving on, for luck.
The wind had picked up and was howling by the time Kim caught up to the group of bargainers. They were camping in the lee of the hollowed hill that was going to be Zos Kia Station, before the stars fell; a dozen solar tents and lean-tos, a couple trackmounts with lifebeds. Their suits were old Russian things, clear shatterproof helms showing bald heads scraped clean every other day, to keep the lice down. Kim tried signage, hands and elbows moving as the red storm swirled, and they answered in the same. They shared water and salt.
Kim caught up with the tail end of the Francesquois at Go Station; a dozen thin-suits and square-faced helmets turning the soil over while the yeastmaster checked her gauges. They said there had been a mutation in the yeast and they had to clear the contamination and reseed the beds and make sure it took. The entire route depended on Go-yeast for their daily caloric intake in bread and booze. She hadn’t been the only traveler; another had gone ahead. They pointed out his tracks.
The wind had died down at night, and the little cart trundled on behind her. Soft sand had blown over the hardpacked road, filled in or blown away any tracks. Kim stretched as she meditated. The migration route led south, but there was a spur heading west around the Mons—a cut made by those who fell behind, and could spare the oxygen for hard exertion. A man might try that, if he were desperate. Kim placed five rocks in an arrow, to let anyone that might care know which way she was going, and took the spur.
The murderer had fallen into a sandtrap, a volcanic chamber collapsed and filled with soft blowing dust. Easy to mistake for just another valley between dunes. Especially if you were desperate. Kim fetched out the tether and tied herself off for the descent.
He’d asphyxiated, in the end. Oxygen bottle damn near zero, and from the settings he’d been on a low mix for a while. Kim pondered whether the nitrogen build-up had made him careless. Hauling the body up the slope again had cost her, and Kim knew she’d have to backtrack to Go Station and resupply. Her cart would carry the murderer, at least until she could find someone with a use for it.
The sun set, all pinks and pale purples as Kim moved into the downward dog, sipping salty water through the plastic nipple in her helmet. The blue star of Earth crept up above the edge of the horizon, small and far away.