Fenton peered around a tree trunk, leveling his rifle at the ruins in the clearing. He dropped his eye to his scope and studied the damaged structures. With a few adjustments, the distant images snapped into focus, pulling a curse from his lips. He touched the comm jutting from his ear and slid to the ground. "Everyone fall in on my signal, double time."
Rolling to a knee, Fenton examined the crumbling walls. As the silence lingered, he spun away from the devastation and sat down to watch his squad's arrival. When the last member of the squadron approached, Fenton rose and wiped his face. "Anyone discover anything dangerous during the brief walk?"
"We..." Shandri gasped, "need to correct Diana's definition of that term."
"Be quiet!" Fenton jerked his thumb at the ruins. "What oddities did we encounter?" After a series of negatives rang out, Fenton nodded. "No matter, I'm sure Jarvis is already cataloging whatever wildlife we missed." He shouldered his rifle and walked through the trees toward the ragged structure. "Let's hustle over there and explore the remains of our ancestors' colony."
"What are we looking for?"
Fenton snickered as his eyes studied the path. "Brianna, I thought our mission was self-evident." He patted a tree and smirked at the woman behind him. "We're here to discover what happened to that outpost."
"Is anyone else nervous that we haven't come across any wildlife?" Drew asked as his head spun about, attempting to focus in every direction at once.
Brianna shoved her shoulder into Drew's and chuckled, "Don't be so jumpy."
He jumped, training his weapon on her.
Brianna batted his rifle to the ground, "Calm down! The landing wasn't stealthy. I'm sure all the critters and creatures scampered away. Before long, we'll run into all the mysterious things Dyrk and Diana discovered from orbit."
"Their descriptions make me uncomfortable." Drew lifted his gun while resuming his meticulous inventory of the surroundings.
"The simple reasons are most often the right ones." Fenton ran his hands along the fragmented edge. He punched the wall and turned to face his team. With a deep breath, Fenton jerked his head toward the damaged barrier. "While there is some decay, it's obfuscating the actual source of the damage."
"What happened?" Shandri asked, touching the rupture.
"Among everything else, an explosion," Fenton replied as his gaze wandered to the interior structures.
"What?!" Alek cried out. "Why would our ancestors bomb themselves?" He stalked to the gap and touched the destruction. "What could have prompted that decision?"
Fenton pointed at a building in the distance. "Morris, you take Briana and Shandri and inspect that structure."
"What's our job?" Drew asked.
Fenton shook his head and gestured at another form, "We're examining that."
The skittish man squealed as he leapt out of the colony.
"If you'd prefer, you can stay here and keep an eye out for the wildlife you're so eager to discover."
Drew lowered his rifle and clutched his chest. "I am not keen to run into things of myth." He narrowed his eyes and sneered at Fenton. "Though it seems I'm the only one concerned with their absence."
"Don't confuse my lack of attention to disinterest," Fenton rested his weapon against his shoulder. He wiped an eye and cracked his neck, "Unfortunately, we have a job to do, and Jarvis wants us back at base camp as quickly as possible. Now would you join me in the exploration of our ancestor's vessel?"
Alek nodded as Drew eased through the useless wall, "Fine, let's get this over with."
Fenton walked with careful abandon toward the overgrown craft. He reached out and touch the moss growing over the hull and closed his eyes. The cold of the bulkhead soothed Fenton's fingertips. "Once inside, we need to find the cockpit to access the computer core. I'm sure they'll be some records that'll give us the knowledge we seek."
He searched the perimeter until he discovered a hatch. Fenton forced the heavy door open with great effort and pushed Drew and Alek into the vessel ahead of him.
"Do you think the ship's layout will make sense?" Drew asked.
"Keep going," Fenton answered. "I'm sure our ancestors were as sensible as we are. The cockpit's going to have a direct tap into the core."
"We cannot search a dozen decks to locate the cockpit," Drew complained. He turned down a corridor and hit the wall. "And I doubt this bucket has power running through her."
"What makes you say that?" Alek inquired.
Fenton chuckled and pointed at an opening, "For starters, there's a stairwell." He cleared his throat and banged the metal wall. "I won't argue it'll increase the difficulty to complete this mission if we cannot locate a working terminal, but that doesn't matter." Fenton bounded up the stairs two at once until he reached the top. He wedged his rifle into the door and wrenched it back and forth. As the slab slide away from the doorway, he slipped through and waited until Drew and Alek joined him. Fenton wandered the corridor until he located the cockpit and forced his way into the room.
Once inside, Alek grabbed Fenton's arm, "Do you think we'll find anything?"
"There's only one way to answer that," Fenton replied as he tried activating the consoles.
Drew's eyes danced about the lifeless machines, "I guess we're too late."
A hum erupted as the computer activated. Fenton's smirked as his gaze drifted to his fidgety companion. "It appears the computer needed to warm up."
"Pull the data, so we can leave," Drew retorted as he marched out of the cockpit. "I won't feel comfortable until we return to the fully functional ship."
"Are you seeing anything?"
Fenton sucked his lower lip as he skimmed through the initial entry. "There's too much. This expedition's commander kept an extensive log." Fenton pulled a storage device out of his bag and inserted it into an open port. "I'll make a copy, and we'll leave."
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Over a century after the failed colonization, the backing government finally agreed to launch another expedition. This time instead of trying to spread to a new world, the expedition's primary goal will be to discover what happened to the original c...