I paced around the bare ground, not sure what I was looking for. V’x and K’eel stood to the side. V’x looked about nervously, twittering quietly. K’eel fluffed in irritation, but remained still silently observing.
There were a few scuff marks on the ground. A slightly burned bush. I could swear there were 15 people running around in this very spot last night, but there was hardly any evidence of such activity. There were no tire marks, no holes, no crushed plants. Just a couple of scuff marks and a slightly burned bush. I brushed at the dirt at the base of the bush. It was solid. I brushed some more, and a tiny groove in the hard soil became apparent. It was perfectly straight and went toward the point on the horizon from which the vehicles had come the night before.
“Huh,” I muttered as I brushed more soil away. The groove continued on. I swept it clear for about three meters. The groove widened to the width of my palm, then vanished under hard-packed soil.
“Huh,” I repeated.
“What is it?” said K’eel.
“Bet this is what they were working on,” I said. “I need a brush.”
“No. Don’t,” said V’x. “Don’t do it.”
“Do you know what this is?” I asked.
“Well, no. But they will come,” she replied.
“Are you sure?” I probed further.
V’x looked away. “No.”
K’eel cocked her head at V’x. “Have you seen this before?”
“No,” replied V’x.
“You haven’t even looked,” I muttered.
“I know what that is,” V’x said.
K’eel raised the feathers on her neck. “What is it then?”
“I mean, I have seen it before.” V’x sat down, looking away.
K’eel squawked. “V’x! When will you give us answers?”
I waited. V’x was silent. K’eel took to pacing. I shrugged. “So, I need a brush.”
“May I go?” whispered V’x.
“Go? Go where?” snarled K’eel.
“I want no part of this.”
“No. You will help here,” snapped K’eel.
I went to V’x and squatted down. “What will I find if I clear that dirt?”
V’x turned away.
“Oh come on. Tell me.”
“I do not wish to…”
“Tell him, V’x,” squawked K’eel. “You will tell him.”
V’x looked at K’eel out of the corner of her eye and sighed. “There will be a cord. A rope of some sort,” she whispered.
“That’s all? Have you pulled any out before?” I spoke softly figuring she didn’t want K’eel to overhear. K’eel continued to pace.
“We pulled it out, W’x’tl and I. It was just cord. Connected to a bush like that. And it went underground.”
“Did anything happen?”
V’x glanced about. K’eel paused and glared at her. V’x lowered her head again. “I tried to cut it and it bit me.”
“It bit you?” I said.
“Well, it burned me and my face was numb.”
“Wait, what? How did you try to cut it?”
“I bit it. It bit me back.”
“And it burned you?”
“It made me jump.” V’x shuddered. “I don’t know. I don’t understand.”
“I think I do,” I said, eyeing the bush. “There’s nothing special about that bush is there?”
K’eel hopped to the bush and sniffed at it. She plucked off a leaf, nibbled on it, and spat it out. “There are many of these. They are common, but not something that we make use of.”
“OK. Where do you find them usually?”
“They are everywhere,” said V’x. “Usually by themselves.”
“Only on the plains?”
“Mostly,” said V’x.
“Mostly, but not exclusively?”
“Hm,” muttered V’x. “Maybe they’re only on the plains.”
“Huh.” I walked over to the bush. I bent it back to look at its base. The stem was smooth and grey. A thick trunk rose vertically from the ground. At even intervals, branches came off, making a uniform spiral pattern around the trunk. It bothered me. “Have you ever dug one up?”
“No,” answered K’eel.
I scraped at the dirt at the base of the bush. It was soft like that of the groove. The softness extended a palms width away from the trunk, and then the dirt was rock solid again. “Really wish I had a brush. Or a trowel,” I muttered.
K’eel squatted beside me. “What is it?”
“I don’t know.” My fingers found something solid. I kept digging. The trunk of the bush connected into a box, that had been hidden by the soil. I found a wire extending from the groove and connecting into the side of the box. I sat back on my heels.
K’eel peered into the hole. “That’s not right. What is that?”
“I don’t know. But it ain’t natural.”
V’x leaned over my shoulder. “The Keepers made that, I think.”
I looked up at her. “Yeah, I think you’re right.” I swept at the dirt some more. “I wonder how far down it goes?”
“Will you take it out?” asked K’eel.
I sat up again. “No. Not yet. We should bury it back.”
“Yes,” V’x said eagerly. “Yes. Hide it.”
I turned and looked at her directly. “Yeah. We’ll bury it for now. But I need tools. And we’ll be back.”
Read Chapter 23.
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