Captain Steve Burton is exploring the surroundings of where the Spindrift has landed in a dense forest on a strange planet.
He started back toward the ship. And, moving in this direction, he saw something he’d altogether missed on his way along the fallen tree trunk.
Examining the way about him, he now saw a gathering of debris he could have walked into without realizing it. The debris was arms and armor, broken and scattered practically at random. There were casques and greaves and breast plates; there were pauldrons and lances; there were saw-toothed weapons and wholly gruesome instruments of destruction. Spearpoints; monstrous daggers; there was no medieval kind of armor or hand weapon not represented in this collection. The only thing that was true but unbelievable was that none were made of metal, and none were made for men. Instead, they were brilliantly-colored arms and armor which were chitinous instead of steel. They were the weapons and defenses of giant insects. There were the carapaces of beetles and the deadly stabbing weapons of creatures the size of a rhinoceros. Yet the creatures which had worn and wielded such deadly items had every one been killed and devoured by something more terrible than all of them.
Then Steve saw a crack in the surface of the ground. It was a round crack. It was a circle. It was like an almost-closed trap door. In fact it was a trap door, held ever so slightly from closure by claws or paws or something belonging to a creature in hiding beneath it. It could see through the crack it maintained. Steve believed for an instant that he saw glittering eyes peering out of the crack, and by some instinct he froze to absolute stillness.
The round lid covered the mouth of a tunnel which was an underground ogre’s castle lined with silk. Its occupant was pure horror, peering, out at the world with insane eyes. When something came near enough –.
Something approached. It was a beetle, not overly-large for this planet. It sang a strident, happy song as it trudged on some unguessable errand through the forest. It was possibly five-feet long. It seemed comfortably plump; even chubby. It might have weighed two-hundred pounds. As it marched along, singing, something glittering and lovely flew past overhead and vanished behind tree trunks. Something absurd appeared, grasping the ground before it with multiple feet and arching its back extravagantly to draw a rear group of clutching feet up behind the front set, which lifted and groped ahead again. It proceeded steadily by this less-than-reasonable system of perambulation. On Earth it would have been an inchworm, at most two-inches long. Here, it was two yards.
But Steve’s eyes returned to the trap door in the middle of what was no less than a charnel house. He heard the strident, deeper-than-bass song of the marching beetle. It arrived where the ground was strewn with the proofs of a hundred murders. It marched on blandly, blatting out its deep-toned tune. It could see the dried-up corpses on every hand. They had no meaning to it. A thing has meaning when it reminds us of something not itself. The beetle was doubtless capable of recognizing things, it’s proper food, for example. But it was not capable of being reminded. Corpses of dead creatures did not remind it of danger. It ignored them. It trudged on blandly, uninformed despite the evidence all about it.
The trap door flew back and something colossal and black and eight-legged and horrifying leaped. It seemed to soar. It hurtled down upon the plump-seeming beetle. There was instantly a whirlwind confusion of furry legs and tumbling bodies. The beetle fought. It fought desperately. It even uttered again its low-pitched automatic cry.
But the tumult subsided. The beetle was dead. The black-bellied lycosid crouched over its latest victim, already feeding upon it.