8.3.5 SW
Earlier that evening
East Wombwood > Mobile Research Camp

Looking up from his microscope, Barden asked Montana, “Anything new from those houndza yours?”


“The doggies… the uh… whaddaya call 'em?”

“Pups.” Montana corrected him.

“Ah, yeah whatever.” he waved a hand at Montana. “Anything worth checkin’ out. Caves? Shafts? Weird land formations?” asked Barden.

The pups Barden was referring to were a set of small spherical spectrograph mapping devices, sometimes nicknamed “Pups” due to a howling sound that they emitted as they floated with anti-gravity propulsion and scanned through an area of terrain with spinning lasers. Barden was always ornery, but he was actually very interested in seeing the results.

“Still waitin’ for the last one to get back.” replied Montana as he pushed a few buttons on at his standing terminal.

Nearby, a 360-degree projection of the area formed on the small holo-tab on the wall in front of him.

“There it is now.” Montana pointed to an area that was still being formed onto the 3D model and the glowing icon was headed back their direction.

Curious to see the new mapping of the forest’s features, Barden huddled uncomfortably close to Montana who gave him a look as if to say, ‘bro, back up’.

As Barden observed the ever-expanding territories unfolding on the map, a surge of curiosity coursed through him. His inquisitive nature propelled him to ask, "Wha, wha, what's that thing? There." he stuttered, a tendency which showcased the fact that his uncoordinated brain to mouth was forever out of sync.

Montana narrowed his eyes, attempting to discern the spot Barden was referring to. There was a very distinct shape held within it. Montana softly muttered, "That... is a ship..."

"Obviously. Obviously it's a ship, genius. I mean, ya know... what's it doin' all the way out here?" he stammered.

Barden's question was not so much a query about the ship's identity but rather an expression of his desire to obtain a clearer view. Montana suppressed an internal sigh, determined not to succumb to the impulse of punching Barden in the face for his rudeness. Instead, he zoomed in on the designated area of the map, revealing a clearing located a kilometer to the west. There, towering like a colossal football field, stood the formidable Sotillo.

Grace returned with a tray of six cups holding strong, black coffee. Vail was the first to claim one, there was no better combination with the lingering taste of cigarette ash. She nudged her elbow towards Grace, indicating her head towards Montana and Barden, which she did. "What do you think has piqued their curiosity so much?"

"Why don't you go and have a look for yourself?" Grace replied, unsure what else to say. She then went around the trailer handing out the cups to the other members of the team.

"Uh, sugar. Two creams, please." said Barden as Grace offered the cup.

Barden missed the glare and face of disgust she made at his rudeness.

"Wow." she muttered and moved on to Montana and the others, eventually abandoning Barden's coffee at the kitchen galley.

Devereaux and Vail continued to watch their co-workers, fascinated by whatever was displayed on the holo-tab. Vail's eyes were thin slits, as she tried to focus the projection half-blocked by Montana's head.

“Fantastic. Wish we got our hands on these puppies sooner. Look at that! Those dots there... those are uh... bio-uh… those are animals, right?” Barden said excitedly as he pointed out several icons in the 3D topography.

“WERE animals, yeah... but the map is based on the time the pups passed through. Few hours ago for most of these. Looks like they were keeping their distance from that ship.” replied Montana. “We should call that in. Comms back up yet?”

“Yessir, we are Connected.To. Satellite!” Grace laughed with pride in her recent triumph of finally fixing the dish. “Checking in with Admin as we speak...”

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