A scavenger crew seeking a planet recently overrun by their own planet's forces are investigating the ruins abandoned by the indigenous creatures. What was left is beyond their understanding.
Orlov stood up, grimacing at the fresh pain from his ankle. He wiped the dust and grime from his faceshield, leaving streaks of filth. His platoon mates were above, laughing down at his misfortune. This scavenger work was hardly what he had expected.
“Need a torch down that way, Grace?” Lawton hooted. He was perhaps twenty feet above him. Five of them encircled the gaping maw above, peering down through their opaque helmets. The laughter chugged through the commlinks and Orlov scowled.
“I’m okay, everyone, thanks,” he replied bitterly. He took a few hesitant steps, feeling only mild discomfort. “Probably not even sprained,” he muttered to himself.
“Jeez Crimony,” said Kwitowski in hushed tones. “What in God’s name is that pit for?”
“For catching food. It’s a glowhead version of a bear trap.” Lawton guffawed. Some of the others joined in the laughter.
“Yuk it up, get it on out of your system,” Orlov retorted. The muted light from the hole he’d inadvertently created offered some illumination, but hardly enough. He touched a few buttons along his left wristplate, and a pair of bright lights burst forth from each side of his helmet.
The room he’d found was spacious, with a number of overturned metal boxes that looked like strange versions of storage crates. There were glyphs on the walls, and Orlov thought they might be instructions. He couldn’t read them, and Desmond, their linguist, wasn’t with them. There were no means for him to reach his platoon. Along the far wall was a solitary door, open and inviting.
“Looks like I fell into some kind of storage chamber,” Orlov said. “There’s nothing to help me get out of here. I’m going to the next room.”
“Splitting up even more than this isn’t a good idea,” Kwitowski said, voice thick with anxiety. “We’re on an alien planet, for God’s sake. We can contact base camp for something to pull you up from there. Sit tight. No telling what’s in this building.”
“It could take hours for them to bring the equipment. I don’t want to slow us down any more.” Orlov sighed and glanced at his wrist scanner. “No life forms are present according to this thing. There has to be a way up somewhere. I’ll be fine.”
“Try not to make any more of your own doors,” Lawton added, but there was a tone of seriousness in his voice.
He walked to the door, raising his carbine. He did it from experience, and although his scanners weren’t projecting anything alive within range, there was always something a little spooky about looking around dark rooms with just a flashlight.
He found himself standing before a vast corridor. The walls had a peculiar caterpillar tread running in varied strips along the side. Even through the faceshield, Orlov could notice that the air held a sour tang, and it reminded him of a mixture of diesel and bleach. Fifty yards away from him stood what looked like a ruined suit of battle armor. “I didn’t know the glowheads even knew how to fight,” he said to himself, and he paced forward, trying to find a way back to his platoon.
The commlink buzzed as he examined his new surroundings. “I’m having a balls of a time getting the comp to give me a layout of this place,” ejaculated Kwitowski, followed by an unsettling static burst.
“If our comps can even make a readout of this sort of architecture,” responded Lawton, and his voice was muffled beneath static as well.
“Fellas, I’m getting some interference down here,” Orlov said shakily. A seed of fear had already been planted in this dark place, and total communication loss from his comrades was the last thing Orlov wanted.
“Roger, Orlov,” replied Kwitowski, his words garbled.
“Fantastic,” breathed Orlov, stalking forward. His footfalls brought forth desolate echoes in the yawning darkness.
He saw no doors, only the strange tread and the battle armor. As he neared it, he found himself perplexed. The former residents of this planet were tall, thin beings, ranging up to nine feet in height. This armor looked better suited for a person of the average human height, though the helmet was far too narrow for any head he could imagine.
He tapped the helmet with the nose of the carbine. “What sort of person would wear you?” Orlov wondered aloud.
From within the suit came a ratcheting set of clicks, followed by a mechanical klaxon that nearly took Orlov from his feet. His commlink burst with staticky life; the others had no doubt heard the alarm and were scrambling to contact him. It took him a moment to realize he’d been screaming with terror.