“So... what is it?”
The it in question was about thigh-height, tripedal on spring-loaded legs, narrowing in a tetrahedron shape towards the top... except, instead of a pyramid, it was capped with a cylindrical center, with concentric rings lining the flat top. The outermost ring seemed to be semi-transparent, perhaps part of some display.
Cody rubbed his hands together, dislodging particles of dust that floated ethereally in the harsh beam cast across the cavern by their lighting equipment, playing havoc with light and shadow. The thing had been buried deep; he was a field geologist, not a historian, but his best educated guess was that it predated human civilization at least and probably the rest of the alien civilizations along with them. Then his knowledge got hazy – that was Sadie’s department.
And she didn’t answer his question.
Cocking her head, she stared at the strange device, lost in thought. At least she didn’t seem to be ignoring him out of principle this time.
“Is it Prothean?” Cody asked, tapping the thing with his nail and getting a ping-ping-ping for his trouble. “Turian? Did some guy at HQ bury it and send us out here on a corporate dare? Am I anywhere close?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. Her lip quirked in a smile, “But I don’t think it’s turian.”
“Great. That narrows it down.”
Ignoring his sarcasm, Sadie glanced around the cavern, then nodded to the wall. “You said scans picked up more of these things deeper in?”
“These things, probably,” Cody replied. “Maybe some other artifacts made out of the same material, but it’s hard to tell precisely what we might find.”
Sadie nodded again, stretching her arms in a now-familiar pattern. “I’ll take this one topside, then. Keep your men digging.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Scratching his forehead Cody, made his decision. “Look, Sadie... I’ll, uh... have one of the guys help you with that.” He waved in a wide arc at the device. “No need to burn yourself out over an old hunk of junk, right?”
After a moment’s deliberation, the woman frowned. “I would be grateful, so long as it doesn’t set us back.”
“Not at all. We’re stuck here for the long haul, anyway.” Turning, Cody radioed back up the shaft. “Alright, everyone – back to work. Jeff, I want to talk to you a minute....”
The dig uncovered more of those strange devices, one after the next. Fortunately, they were compact and stacked rather well. William and Hadil dropped one, prompting the thing to spring force a telescopic pole from the cylindrical circle – since then, Cody assumed they were some sort of communications amplifier. Whatever they were for, no one poked them after that.
In addition to the amplifiers, they found a number of other artifacts – a couple of dead gadgets, mostly broken pieces of forged metals, and a strange metal cube. Nothing worth a major archaeological contract, but likely worth enough to keep digging.
But at least Sadie was pleased, in the quiet way she could be pleased; Cody took some delight in that. In fact, she was more absorbed in this puzzle than any other since she had joined his company, sometimes even forgetting to come to meals.
Unfortunately, it did little for her reputation.
“I think she’s going nuts,” Hadil confided in him one lunch break, a week after they found the first device.
“That’s not fair,” Cody snapped. A little harsh, perhaps, but insanity and biotics weren’t topics to be thrown together lightly.
“Fair? Sir, she spends all day at camp, locked in her unit.” Before he could get a word in, Hadil continued, “You know, I saw her with one of the artifacts the other day, it was glowing.” She jabbed a finger in his direction, “You know the worst of it all, those... things we dug up? Those things have blood on them.”
“Blood?” Cody grimaced into his coffee. “I think you’re going nuts; maybe you need a vacation.”
“It’s alien blood,” Hadil insisted. “On the shafts, when they extend. I don’t think those things are amplifiers, I think they’re weapons.”
“And I think you’re full of it,” Cody replied. “Those things could be totem poles, for all I know. But as they are, they’re harmless, and so is Sadie.”
Hadil pouted, then sighed. “I hope you’re right, sir.”
She took her thermos and her lunchbox and disappeared up the shaft. It was the last Cody ever saw of her.
Something was definitely wrong in camp. Hadil had been missing two days. Sadie was definitely acting peculiar, more so than her usual eccentric loner behavior. Cody refused to believe she had gone nuts, as Hadil claimed, but he was certainly worried about her. Everyone else was on edge, and there was no blaming them.
Work had come to a complete standstill, in all three divisions of the camp. Except for Sadie, who didn’t seem to give a damn and spent all her time fondling that damn cube.
In the darkness outside his unit, something shimmered blue and vanished. For a moment, Cody fancied that perhaps it had been a biotic display, signaling Sadie returning to her senses, but he doubted it. It was probably the darkness playing tricks on him. In the light cast through the windows, one of the amplifier-things sat forgotten a distance away from his wall.
Maybe Hadil was right. Maybe they were weapons... and they were buried in the hopes of being forgotten. Cody shook his head, dispelling such asinine thoughts, and closed the window shutters.
Settling down on his bunk, Cody closed his eyes and struggled to relax. He needed sleep, but sleep eluded him, particularly as he worried over Hadil’s disappearance. But the rational part of his mind reminded him that there was nothing he could do – everyone except Sadie were already taking turns searching and he himself hadn’t slept since she vanished.
Eventually, Cody drifted off into a dream, where Saddie was whipping the camp units around in a slow-motion biotic carousel, fun in a strange, rocking way. All the while, Hadil was scratching at the window with bloody, bony fingers, matching the dry scrching sound against the wall outside.