by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.
The ride from Corona City to the Great Woods took two silent and excruciating hours. As the gray steel and white stone of Corona City melted to green grass and tall trees under a fading blue sky, Ko-Sha felt expectant that the nagging itch at the back of her mind would finally be scratched.
The tram landed near a small green building with a laser transmitter dish on the roof, its emitter pointed skyward to send and receive signals from the hundreds of satellites that made up Turast’s orbital network.
Ko-Ren was waiting for her, his hands holding the reins of two large black crawlers. The large beetle insects pawed the ground and made soft clicking sounds as he patted their heads. He stared at his wristwatch as she climbed from the tram and walked toward him. “You sure took your sweet time getting here. We only have a few hours to go there and get back before the late shift comes on.” He handed her one of the reins. “We have to take crawlers up there because of the magnetics. I have packed a standard non-electronic specimen case in your saddle bag.”
“I did not say that I was wanting to collect anything,” she said.
He reached over and pressed the top of a blinking crystal embedded in her crawler’s carapace. The crystal stopped blinking. He did the same to his crawler before climbing into his saddle. “I know you better than that, Ko-Sha. Now come, we will not have much time before the recorder registers the tracers being off.”
She slipped her feet into the stirrups and turned to follow her cousin as he rode down the trail. The smell of early evening air and the thick forest of trees tantalized her senses as she rode along. She stopped, gasping as she looked up and found herself staring at four faces carved into a large mountain in the distance. “Ko-Ren, who are they?”
Ko-Ren turned around and rode back to her. “Them? No one knows for sure. There is a myth that they were built by the Umanh long ago, but no one has ever bothered to investigate.”
“They must be sixty feet tall,” she said, staring at the face on the far left. A shimmer in the left eye of the sculpture reminded her of a tear. “Did you see that?”
Her cousin looked up. “I do not see anything, but that is irrelevant. Event Hill is at the base of that mountain, so you will be able to do two things at once.”
She nodded, smiling, and urged her crawler forward as she slipped on a pair of night vision goggles. Ahead of her, Ko-Ren was studying the spinning lights of his Directional as he rode along. He frowned at the confused device before slipping it into a blue pocket of his uniform jumpsuit. He pointed to a small grassy plateau. “That is Event Hill.”
She followed him to the foot of Event Hill and hobbled the two back legs of her crawler before climbing to the top. Below them, the Great Woods expanded in all directions like a vast black carpet, presided over by the stone faces in the mountain. “Cousin, is it not true that in each Event a ship or plane falls to the ground?”
“That is what I have always been told, yes.”
She pointed. “I am no ecology expert, but I do not see any evidence that anything has been disturbed here.”
He shrugged. “The Ecological Guild is very good at its job.” He looked around. “Now, please hurry so we can get out of here.”
She pulled a small silver case from her saddlebag and opened it. Inside were several small glass specimen jars and a portable black and silver scanner. The scanner itself was useless, but the specimen jars were very useful in obtaining samples of the soil and grass. She clutched her ears as a loud whine assaulted her senses. “Do you hear that?”
Ko-Ren nodded, looking fearful. He pulled her down to the ground. “That is the sound of an Event. Get down.”
The whining sound increased to the sound of a loud roar, its force pushing them off the plateau to roll helpless down the sides of Event Hill. The ground shook for several seconds as the sky above the plateau fractured in a blue light. A metal pod, triangular in shape and dark black, fell out of the light, hitting the ground. The blue light faded.
“Cousin?” She looked around. “Ko-Ren? Where are you?”
Ko-Ren was nowhere to be found. She ripped off her night vision goggles and searched around for him. At the bottom of the hill, she found his goggles and uniform. A liquid mass was oozing from the fabric. “Oh no,” she moaned. “Ko-Ren.”
She hid as a large white aircraft appeared overhead, the wash from its twin rotors buffeting the ground on its landing. A side door on the craft opened and several men and women dressed in protective silver suits jumped out. They walked over to the metal pod and examined it from all sides. One man, whose suit had a gold band around one sleeve, reached over with a metal rod and cracked open the pod. If I only had a working recorder, she thought.
A body fell out of the pod, to be scooped up by the team and carried to the nearby hopper. Large glowing marker rings were placed around the pod before the team climbed back into the hopper. Without a sound, the aircraft lifted off and departed.
She waited until the forest fell silent before standing and creeping toward the vacant pod. She was not dreaming, she saw a body being carried off. She slipped on a pair of thick leather gloves and reached out to touch the surface of the pod.
The metal surface was cold even through the gloves and was covered in raised lettering that she could not recognize. A symbol the size of her hand showed a raised greksa bird holding a cluster of arrows in one set of talons and a branch in the other on the upper center of the pod’s lid. Above the greksa was a banner bearing the same unknown writing. This was no ship or plane, she mused, this object was similar to escape pods used by the Pilots Guild.
“They will be back for this object,” she muttered. “I need to collect some evidence before it all gets hauled away or destroyed.” She rummaged through her pockets, then ran to her crawler. Her data pads were still in her white carrying bag. She pulled out a blank one and hoped that with some of the lies she had been finding that bad electronics was another one.
She switched on the crystal and was relieved when it flashed its readiness to record data. She ran over to the pod and scanned an image of the metal surface before a spot of liquid on the interior cushions caught her eye. The liquid was bright red and was quickly drying out. She grabbed a specimen jar, set it for a liquid sample, then scraped the spot into it.
A flash of light made her look up. She stared at it for several minutes, then ran for her crawler. She stopped for a moment to turn Ko-Ren’s tracer back on. At least her cousin would have the peace of a proper burial now.
She untied the crawler from the tree and climbing on, hurried the animal back to the waiting air tram.
Copyright © 2012 by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.