They lowered the foundation first, an industrial hourglass shape made of engineered basalt. Cameras mounted on the underside of the construction ship recorded the reaction of the indigenous major fauna. It was obvious by minute mark one that the researcher had her work cut out for her. The sloth creatures ran away sensibly, but then, after the foundation was settled on the ground but before the grappling hooks had been disengaged, they came creeping back to check out the new, alien structure. It took them less than thirty seconds to start trying to scratch the surface with their long, hard claws.
The construction ship checked the foundation was level, took some air and soil samples, and returned to the orbiting mother ship.
The administrators reviewed the video first, before using excerpts to brief the researcher. In their estimation the sloth creatures showed an intelligence level at least on par with Earth gorillas. If she wanted the supply ships to keep coming, they explained, she was going to have to get close enough to these animals to interact with them. And if she ever wanted to repay the student loans she owed them and get off the planet, she was going to have to produce excellent research work. They proudly announced they'd added old data on Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall to the resident pod's archives, for inspiration.
The researcher took copious notes, and only asked factual clarification questions. At the end she requested protective gear to wear when venturing outside. The administrators showed more photos of Fossey and Goodall and said "no".
The saucer-shaped pod was cramped and stuffy during the descent to the planet. Because of how the gear had been stowed away, the researcher only had about a square metre of space to her own. She remembered not to brace herself when the planet's gravity kicked in, and scrambled up from the heap she'd made on the pod's floor to look out the only portal she could get to. The pod's location was in a small clearing, surrounded by a dense assortment of flora most reminiscent of a tropical jungle, although the administrators had informed her the forest was mostly giant ferns, not trees. Minerals in the planet's soil tinted all of the chlorophyll-creating life a dark turquoise.
The pod bumped against the foundation brackets, and the researcher curled into a fetal position on the floor. The final shudder as the grappling hooks were disengaged made one of the shipping crates fall on her, but it only had blankets and clothing in it, so she escaped with only a few bruises.
The researcher spent the next several days checking none of her supplies had been damaged during the landing, assembling the prefab observation deck and vegetable garden on the roof, and taking notes on as much as she could of her surroundings without leaving the pod. She didn't have to worry about going to where the sloth creatures were — they came to her, and in greater numbers once her vegetable garden started to smell interesting.
She was able to make plenty of detailed observations from on top of the saucer, which pleased her, because the sloth creatures were both large — the smallest ones were three metres tall on their hind legs — and aggressive. Even though the research station seemed to have sustained the interest of a large group, they fought with each other like male elephants in mating season. Their multi-coloured fur patterns indicated self-domesticity, but it seemed as if they spent all the time not dedicated to sleeping or eating either having loud, vigorous sex, or else trying to kill each other. They alternated between the latter two activities very abruptly, some couplings going from courtship to carnage in minutes. The researcher made plenty of video recordings, but even after much study was unable to determine what caused the shifts in behaviour.
The research pod's foundation never ceased to fascinate the creatures. The largest of them could stretch past five metres. They spent a lot of time trying to climb the foundation, but its surface was too smooth and hard to allow that. The researcher discovered with some alarm one morning that three of the beasts were attempting to form a sort of acrobatic pyramid so that they could gain access to the roof of the pod.
The foundation was twenty metres high, and try as the creatures might, they couldn't manage the last five metres. That didn't stop her from running to the trap door and diving back inside the pod when the creatures made a more serious attempt, however.
She was awoken one night by the scream of metal against metal. She'd long moved her cot from its assigned position by one of the portals to the centre of the pod, near the trap door used to get to ground level. In the morning all was quiet, and she ventured onto the roof to discover the creatures had created vine ropes and tried to lasso and pull off some of the safety rails from the observation deck. She photographed the damaged railing and collected as much of the rope as she could.
The administrators demanded she collect some scat of the beasts. She ventured down the pod's rope ladder during the quietest time of day, and barely made it back to the pod. It took weeks for the long claw-gash on her arm to heal. She took many photographs of the injury, including the healing process. To understand if the claws had poison, she wrote in her reports, but she hoped she was making another point.
Her final report included video footage of two sloths tying vines into an imitation of her rope ladder, and a plea for her pod to be retrieved before the creatures could complete their work.
When the transmissions ceased, the investigative team found only an empty foundation, surrounded by pod wreckage like a monument forgotten.