A riot of color: yellows, oranges and reds. Plants. Or autotrophs, really. They moved. Everything was brighter. Everything had an odd sharp tinge, like being in a spotlight, a slightly color shifted, daylight tinted spotlight.
The drone had gone through first. It was a light weight one, a little bigger than the ones civilians could buy off the shelf. It had a whole lot more interesting sensors on it than a what a civvie would easily buy. It had scouted and scoped out the terrain. It had been followed more drones. Even some very large solar powered drones. There were some on station now, scoping out the world for us.
The drones had been followed by rovers. The rovers explored and poked and prodded, but it was found they didn't get very far. A rocker boagie might work well on Mars or the Moon, but in the woods, especially a woods were the 'trees would move their roots at will and then themselves, albeit slowly, made the rovers get stuck. And later get crushed.
The rovers were followed by upgraded Atlas robots controlled by telepresence. These were controlled by operators using virtual reality goggles, teslasuits, mind reading machines and controllers based on where the operator moved their hands: mind reading was a new thing back then. Unless an operator was willing to have brain surgery. None did.
These brought back samples. Brought back life and explored to a point, but the technology was simple, relatively speaking. Primitive and not as adaptable as a person. That was where we were to come in.
The scientists finally decided on a name for the new world, Fortuna. And it was safe for people to go through. It turned out even micrograms of selenium were lethally toxic to Fortunian life. If any critter took a bite of us and they die. Most could smell the toxicity and leave us alone. Smart them. They could munch on some Earth plants, but not much. Fortunately, hence the name, we could eat Fortunian life with impunity. At least most.
So, the scientists decided to send us through. We still wore skin tight spacesuits. We looked around, even had a volunteer without a suit who stayed and was observed. She has been fine for six months now.
Two thirds of our team was special forces: folks with crazy determination, experience as infantry in multiple environments, psychologically stable and bright. They were not expected to be scientists, but they were expected to face the unknown and no one wanted a crazy soldier on another world under pressure. There were no air force, despite some colonel in blue claiming because it was another planet, the USAF ought to be in charge. Jack something? Not that it mattered.
The rest were scientists. Field scientists. No physicists. No molecular biologists. No lab types or theoretical folks at all. Honest to goodness folks who didn't mind getting dirty and understood how to survive in bad situations if necessary.
We went through and we explored. No deaths, no unnecessary risks. Samples. Looking around. Mapping and exploring and seeing. Stupidity, at least the common variety was left at the portal. We all wanted to go home. And come back.
It was a world of reds and oranges and yellows. White trunks like aspens or poplars. It was strange. It was wondrous. It was exciting. To see a world where green was banished. Where the light was bright. Where critters that looked nothing like ours clambered the bushes and trunks and leapt and bit and bred and grew and died. It was amazing.
A drone had spotted the ruin. A ruin a good 10 kilometers from the portal. A ruin with a plaza in the center and something interesting within. Then we were sent forth once more. The team and the scientists, smart, reasonable and careful. We marched and climbed and mapped as we went.
The ruins were signs of intelligent life. However, there was no sign of any active intelligence, the ruins reminded us of Angorwat or El Mirador, overgrown and abandoned and probably would have not been noticed for a good decade if not for the plaza. The perfect plaza with its curious object in the middle.
We had entered the plaza after a four day hike and climb. If we could have brought a helicopter through, we could have gotten there in no time. We couldn't and couldn't keep a field clear: the trees would crawl back into place after we cleared them. Not only the trees, but all the 'pants' would move. So! On foot only for the moment.
We had climbed down into the plaza. The plaza that remained mysteriously clear of the Fortunian plants. Stone and clear and in a pattern like rays of the sun. In the center, a circle. In the circle...black and smooth and untouchable. Like something from a film 50 years before. And it had raised all sorts of interesting questions.
Simply, it was a black monolith.