Obviously, the easiest thing to do was head for any break in the flat off-white hardpan, and check it to see what was causing the irregularity. Sooner or later, I’d either find something useful or I would die of exposure. This really simplified things.
Straightening my sunglasses and dusting myself off one more time, I set off into the emptiness. I would, I decided, lie down with my hands crossed over my chest like a sleeping vampire if I started to succumb to dehydration before finding anything. The presentation of your desiccated corpse to future archaeologists is the last chance you’ll ever have to impress anybody. My recommendation is that you don’t squander it.
The first three deformities in the ground were a pair of gritted-over spinifex bushes, and a mummified rabbit carcass respectively. I passed the skeleton of a tree clawing sideways at the horizon with a coating of salt, then walked to the next lump and gave it a kick. It was a metal plate, rusted almost to nothing but with faint traces of yellow lacquer on one side. Maybe a piece of a vehicle, maybe an old sign that had once said NEXT WATER 3,000 KM. Hard to say. It wasn’t a trapdoor, in any case.
The next lump was another carcass, this one larger and more thoroughly predated, the bones scattered across a wide area and then grown over with years or centuries of hardened sand. Then there were a couple more bushes. The sun baked down, waiting for me with infinite patience.
“Not quite infinite,” I said, squinting up in the sun’s general direction. “Your time will come, you big yellow bastard. Oh yes.”
The next lump, as though to reward my pointless defiance, was the slightly-warped corner of a trapdoor. I scraped and brushed away the build-up of grit, found the handle and the hinges, and pulled the trapdoor open with a scrape against the crusty earth. I allowed myself a little sigh of relief as the cool darkness yawned before me.
I scrambled back down the ladder-stairs-thing, leaving the door open above me just to see if that made any difference.
The hard, square beam of sunlight illuminated a standard small, square room with a single door set into one wall.
“So much for my theory that observation … ” I began, then trailed off.
Lying on the floor between the foot of the stairs and the door, its battery case popped open but looking otherwise undamaged, was my torch.