Random Writing 7

We looked in the cage, keeping our distance. The big body of the thing was sure to prevent it from getting between the bars, but the tentacles looked like the could have reached out pretty easily, and in the twilight it was almost impossible to make out where it was. In the full light of day it had been easy to spot once you knew what to look for, but I think if we'd stumbled into someone else's camp and found the cage we'd have walked up to it as confident as anything and no doubt we'd have been grabbed immediately and ended up in bits. Milo had the smart idea of gathering twigs (well, we called them twigs, but of course that wasn't what they really were at all) and using them to make a circumference on the ground around the cage that would show us roughly where we were safe. It was risky guesswork, of course, since we had no idea whether the tentacles could shoot out like a squid's, but it was better than nothing, and I figured a pretty good use of our effort even if it only reduced my chances of being horribly mangled to death by 20%. I'd pay that price for that payoff - who wouldn't?

"Do you think it sleeps?" Milo asked.

I shrugged.

"How would we tell?"

"Yeah," Serge agreed. "I watched it for an hour, it didn't move at all. I guess it doesn't breath or whatever. I could have sworn it was dead."

"Nah," Milo said. |"It was breathing. Everything here's got to breath, it's no different from back home."

Milo was our biologist - or the closest thing we had, anyway. He didn't have any more qualifications that Serge or me, or even any of the people back at the sales pens, but he read a lot of the science dispatches, which he referred to as "keeping up with the enemy". I'd never really thought of the scientists as our enemies, just as kind of an annoyance. The thing about the scientists was that their strength was also their weakness. They had to announce everything they'd found. The provisionals could use that to work out where they needed to put their resources and what they particularly had to protect. But the provisionals were slow, of course, and in the meantime we were reading the same scientific papers and when something important came up we could get there, snag a few specimens and get out before the guards got there.

"Here's a thought," he said, and Serge and I knew that he'd had some idea about the specimen, because that was always what he said when he'd got an idea that was going to put one of us in danger. "We could stick a recorder in there, maybe get an audio of it breathing. Perhaps it'll make some more of those - those squeaks it was making earlier?"

"What?"

"You know, that squeaking noise. Sounded like a rusty ceiling fan."

We stared blankly at Milo.

"I didn't hear nothing," Serge said. I nodded.

"It was doing it when we brought it in," Milo insisted.

"It was completely silent," I told him.

"No no no. Wait, where were we all?"

I thought back - we'd got it against the cliff with two rounds in it, but the tranquilisers hadn't had as much of an effect as we were expecting, and it had managed to wrap a tentacle around Milo's leg. We'd rushed in, and Serge had hit the thing with the butt of his rifle. That made it let go, and then we'd managed to force it back until it was up to where we'd put the cage. Luckily the cage capture mechanism had worked nicely, and Milo triggered the lock from his PDA.

"You were in front of the mouth," I said cautiously, "and Serge and me over to the side."

"It's directional."

"Eh?"

"It's got some kind of directional sound it can produce. Look, normally sound comes out all around the source, like a speaker or someone's mouth. But it's possible to make soundwaves that travel sort of like lasers, they just go in one direction so unless they hit something or you get right in the way of them you can't hear them. Like a maser communicator rather than a radio, right?"

I had no idea what he was talking about, but Serge was nodding as if he understood and I was damned if I was going to look stupider than Serge, so I nodded too. Hopefully it wouldn't make any difference anyway, Milo would just do something or tell us what to do. That was how things usually worked out.

"Where's the mouth now?" He said. Of course none of us had the slightest idea. "Here, give me that torch."

Serge handed over his torch, the purple chromed one that he'd won in the casino at Camp Hera. Milo flicked on the switch and the quarter-of-a-million candlepower beam Serge was so proud of jabbed into the cage. We could see the thing more clearly now, and we walked up to the boundary that Milo had laid out and examined it carefully. There was one of the tentacles, follow that back towards the body, and...

"There!" Milo said, pointing. "And it's going that way." He stepped round the body, then nodded and gestured Serge over to him.

"Oh yeah," said Serge. I stepped in myself, and it was as though the thing had started squealing just for my benefit. I stepped back. Nothing. In again, and there was the sound, like a mouse caught in clockwork. I listened for a few moments. It seemed familiar.

"You know what that sounds like?" The others looked at me blankly. "It sounds like that distress cry, you know, the one those little squirrel-bird things made. You said they were mimics, right Milo? Maybe this is what they were mimicking."

We looked at each other for a moment, then as if by telepathy we all got it at once.

"Oh shit," Milo said, fumbling with the torch to turn it off. "It thinks there's another one out there."

Serge spun around nervously, looking out of the camp. We were against the cliff on one side, but apart form a few man-sized rocks there was nothing protecting us the rest of the way.

"Uh," I said. "Yes. Uh.. what if it's right?"

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