Kline tried to control his breathing, but couldn't hide his fear. A monitor on the troopship would show his heart rate too rapid for just a pre-mission adrenalin rush.

“So what do you reckon happened?” Bolcher asked. His voice sounded confident and unassuming through Kline’s helmet speakers.

Bolcher, the junior tech of the platoon,  could afford to be calm. He would only enter the derelict base after Kline determined no threat exsisted, or run like buggery back to their shuttlecraft after Kline had died.

Kline still couldn't accept his selection for point duty. First in - first dead. They were treating him like a grunt, not a military inspector. Grunts were supposed to go in and secure the zone before the the military inspector entered to examine it.

“Fifty metres to go,” Sergeant Bilge reminded them. His voice as clear in Kline's helmet speakers as if he stood right next to him, rather than safely orbiting the planet.

“Is that how far it is,” Bolcher joked.

Tell us something useful, Kline thought, like why all communication from this base abruptly ceased?

“What do you reckon we’ll find besides eight dead terraformers?” Bolcher asked

“Dunno. Nothing much after twelve years." Kline tried to reassure himself.

“Bastards. Consanto should have had sent someone to investigate straight away. There must have been someone nearby.”

Consanto had not considered the plight of eight terraformers worth a rescue mission. Not even when one of the missing had a military cross.

Only after years of constant urging from the Interplanetary Terraformer’s Federation was Kline’s thirteen-member platoon ordered to spend tens years in hypersleep travelling to Vega.

During the platoon's hibernation, radio telescopes detected no signals on, or from, Vega. That meant the base's nanobots must have self-destructed, but Kline still worried, as nanobots frequently rewrote their own operating system.

A ramp lead down to the base's entrance. It was just wide enough for a troop carrier. So why not send in the whole platoon?

‘Because the place is totally dead, no people, no electronic signals, no threats.’ Kline repeated Bilge's words to himself. Why was he on point duty and with the rest of the platoon waiting safely in orbit if there were no threats?

“Stupid arseholes. Who in their right minds would choose to work out here?” Bolcher joked.

Kline agreed: you would need to be borderline insane to choose to work billions of kilometres from any other humans. For what? You spend nearly all your life creating a breathable atmosphere and a liveable environment while becoming too bloody old to enjoy your creation. Unless your devotion to the cause lead to rejuvenation rewards.

“No sign of their communications dish,” Bolcher said. “Can’t see any sign of a meteor strike either, so they must have dismantled it.”

“Seems like they didn’t want to be contacted.” Sergeant Bilge stated the obvious.

“Why would she dismantle communications?” Lieutenant Deli asked.

The she Deli was referring to was the leader of the terraformers - Captain Patricia Symcox.

“Well, good luck,” Bolcher wished Kline. “Save some for me.”

Kline hesitated. Point had been maimed or killed on their previous two missions. In their last mission point had been ripped apart by a nanoswarm. So why not send in a probe, just to be sure? It would not mess up a crime scene if its controller was careful.

Kline considered contacting Deli to argue the case for a probe.