Winslow set the skimmer down on one of the pinnacles overlooking the dustbowl, close enough to get a good view of proceedings, not so close that he risked getting knocked off his feet by the artificial tornado or getting his helmet visor sandblasted by flying dust. He could simply have watched everything through one of the remote cams, or even ignored the whole event. After the initial excitement, uncoverings of Ancestor cities had quickly become anticlimactic. Something about the spectacle still fascinated him, however. He never tired of watching the layers of dust peeled back to reveal the structures beneath.
The surface of the dustbowl was smooth and featureless. Without radar, no one would have known that an entire city lay buried beneath that talcum-fine pink dust. The radar images showed that the city conformed to the same plan as all the others: seven massive domes laid out like a six-pointed snowflake, with bridges linking the outliers to the central hub. They had found nearly a hundred by now, some battered almost beyond recognition by meteorite impacts, some tantalizingly intact. All were lifeless and empty, stripped of even the smallest artifacts that might have given some clue about their mysterious builders.
Far below, the dustmovers had started to crawl across the surface of the dust, electrical discharges crackling in their wake. Distance reduced the massive machines to ant-like black dots. Winslow saw the first miniature dust devils forming behind them, short-lived and gauzily insubstantial, tiny heralds of the monster to come.
“Grid is at sixty and holding,” said Drake’s voice in his ear. Winslow ignored him. He kept his eyes on the machines below as they danced in their strange mechanical ballet across the lake of dust. Concentric patterns spread like ripples over the ground, waves of superheated gas rolling out in perfect rings from the apex of the buried city.
The main funnel was forming now, dust roiling upwards like smoke. The sky overhead darkened. His suit microphones fed him the sound of the twister, something between a hiss and a moan in the thin atmosphere. He checked his tether again and crouched down in a cleft to wait.
When the air was clear again, the city lay before him, its seven huge domes perfect and unblemished. Tiny rivulets of fine dust trickled from the dark metal.
“Winslow, we’re seeing an energy spike,” said Drake’s voice in his ears. “Are the ‘movers still active?”
Winslow frowned. There was something glowing in the crater. He thought at first it was no more than a final residual flicker of lightning from the dwindling tornado, but then he realized that the light was coming from inside one of the domes. A moment later, a second began to glow, followed by a third. He watched as one dome after another lit, until all seven were illuminated. Intense blue-white light spilled out through the thick glass.
“Better wake the specialists, Drake,” he said at last. “I think somebody’s home.”