"So what happened back there... on Tantalus?" She was breathing hard as they hustled through the undergrowth. He was dripping sweat not just from the pace but the humidity as well.
"I thought you were right behind me," she said.
"I did too. I was trying to lay down suppression, but it was weird. I almost think they were trying to separate us..."
She said nothing to that, just looked at him. He'd had this vague worry gnawing away at him, those nights in the ruined city on the grassland, time to ponder the events of the Tantalus fuck-up. Someone, somewhere, had opened their mouth and it was all a mess after that. The question was, who?
They had left in a hurry after the proximity alarms went off. Grabbing a backpack of supplies and a newly- charged pulse rifle, she had a hand weapon as well. She had looked at him, questioning. He knew what she was thinking. Maybe it's a relief team? But there had been no incoming comm, and besides they weren't supposed to be here. Sure someone at Control knew, was monitoring, but no one that would authorize a strike/ exfil team would be in the loop. He just looked at her and she knew. With a grimace she had headed for the door.
The towers came into view as they emerged suddenly from the jungle. They stopped a moment to take in the view, and also to look for any signs of life. There was a slow-moving river between them and the ruins- although they didn't look very ruined. They were in great shape actually, some of the best he'd seen. There was a main tower and several supporting structures, with the characteristic tapered shape. They looked almost flower- like, as if the bulbs were closed up. There was no sign of life, no activity that they could see. It was quiet.
"Too quiet?" Anna asked with a grin.
He just gave her a grim smile.
They came out on the other side, dripping and with guns raised, but it was still quiet. He didn't like being out in the open like this, but there was no help for it. They closed the ground to the ruins quickly, wanting to get out of sight, and close up he could see the signs of damage, the disrepair, but the structures were still in good shape considering. How old were they? No one knew. They made their way to the main tower without discussion, that's where the labs would be. It rose before them, majestic and quiet, it's distinctive stalk topped with a dome-like structure of silvery- blue metal. He never lost his sense of awe, of wonder, whenever he approached or entered a Precursor site. They were so different, so graceful.
"Hello. Wake up," Anna prodded him gently. She was smiling, knew what he was thinking. "We should get indoors." He nodded, and they approached the sphinctered entrance valve. He wasn't sure if it would work or not- sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't. This one did. The valve opened without a sound, and they exchanged a glance. If the entrance was working, anything could be in there. But then again the technicians from the remote base could have had a trigger switch, so it didn't necessarily mean anything. She nodded to him, and they entered.
The inside was lit with a purplish glow and consisted of a catwalk that circled the base of the tower, with a sunken central area full of machinery. The light came from all around, diffuse, and Eric knew from experience that it would stay on and turn off at intervals no one understood. The machinery seemed to rise from the floor- no wires, no connections could be seen- and they gave off a soft hum at times, much like the lights. This was all familiar, but every time he entered a site he looked for something new, something different. Each time he hoped to find the Rosetta stone, the key to unlocking new discoveries. So far he was still waiting.
The machines had no keyboards, no apparent cybernetic interface, just strange lighted symbols that obviously meant something to the Precursors. Linguistics made great progress in cracking their language, but the prevailing theory was that somehow their language was augmented by some other form of communication- psi?- and so their understanding of the symbols they found was necessarily incomplete. Made it hard to wake their technology up.
They made a sweep, using the light from their pulse rifles to augment the purplish haze, peer into corners. No sign of technicians. There was a ramp leading down, underground- the Precursors often built below ground as well as above- and the usual strange steps leading to the upper levels. They were steep and obviously not meant for human feet. Anna took up a position by the ramp while Eric peered cautiously up the stairs. It was deathly quiet other than the humming of alien machinery. He began to ascend and was halfway up when Anna called out.
"I've got something."