Art Pact 72

(Bonus!: the art pact for the 6th of December, which I forgot to post...)

There's no telling how long we waited, but eventually the locals waddled out of the enclosure, accompanied by a few of the grunting noises that Asher theorized might be their means of communication. He reached out an arm to me and told me that we should wait until the locals left the room. I focused on his under-stream, which told me that he was thinking that the locals might not be able to detect us unless we made some noise. If they couldn't see us directly and couldn't hear us, he thought, perhaps they really did have no idea that we were there. I followed a route through him into Capstan's under-stream. It was no surprise to me to learn that he was more cautious. They're lulling us into a false sense of security, he thought.

The large wooden panel that separated the enclosure from the rest of the huge construction swung closed, and the opening mechanism clicked. They're gone, I sent through the connection, and I reached out to Daylan to let him know too. He was cautious himself, although not as much as Capstan. I trusted Daylan more, he had always seemed more even-tempered.

I took the lead, rippling forward to peek out from underneath the odd structure that we'd hid beneath. Capstan, who had been analysing it while we were quiet, reached out an arm to let me know his results. The first thing I saw in his under-stream was that he'd waited until I was out from under the thing to tell me what he'd found - the second thing that the structure had been made of organic material. I shivered in disgust, and the others rippled hurriedly out after me, infected by my emotions.

The enclosure was much warmer than we'd expected it to be, although out from under our cover I could feel a draft of the planet's cold atmosphere issuing from the transparent openings and curling uncomfortably over my surface. I tried to ruffle up my skin as much as I could to preserve my heat, but without rolling myself up completely there was little I could do. Behind me the others flopped forward across the flat surface of the enclosure's lower bounds. I had an uncomfortable thought, and stretched out an arm to Capstan to check. No, he thought, we're OK here. The soft covering we were inching across was similar to some of the materials we had scanned in the enclosure, but it was made of a perfectly natural plastic compound processed into a fur rather than the horrid organic materials that seemed to fill the rest of the room.

There's rock and other minerals, Daylan thought to me. He was trying to hid his emotions beneath his under-stream, but I had known him too long to be fooled. He had gone beyond caution and was well into nervousness now, which he was attempting to keep to himself so as to avoid affecting the rest of us every time he talked to us. I sent him a query, but he withdrew further, sending me the memory of our briefing, and asking for my trust. I let it go, pulling back from Capstan and Asher for a moment so that there would be no leakage through me of the conversation.

We got about halfway across the floor of the enclosure before disaster struck. It was slow going - our transit gel was being absorbed by the floor covering almost as fast as we could secrete it, so we weren't able to move naturally. Instead we had to roll up halfway and then flop forward, trusting in our body mass to carry us a little way before the friction stopped us again. I was rolled almost double when I felt the click from the wooden panel, then I was knocked back by a gust of wind as the panel swung open at high speed. Before I could right myself again I heard a piercing screech from the opening, and when I flopped down I saw that one of the locals was looming over us. One of its upper arms was stretched out towards me, and it made another terrible shriek from the noise-hole in its upmost arm.

Everyone froze - the four of us on the floor, and the local by the opening. It was a pale colour, possibly trying to blend in with the colour of the enclosure, and the extended limb was trembling slightly. A tremendous thudding vibration heralded the arrival of the other one, which appeared through the enclosure opening and made another similar noise, then froze itself. I felt a conversation from Daylan as he brushed his arm against the back of my body.

Now what? He asked.

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