Was it morning already—Zay wondered how long he had been lying almost helpless near the crash site. The thick brush only allowed him the view of a small piece of sky and he was uncertain if any time had passed. He held an information disk tightly in his paws. The knowledge suddenly rushed back into his mind–he needed to absorb what he could learn about this world to survive. Throat dry, eyes burning, he bit down hard on the disc and tilted his head back from the rush of sensations.
Inhabitants called this world “Earth.” The creatures here had a variety of cultures and languages being very disorganized and lacking any real union. Zay closed his eyes as the cartridge dissolved. It would take a while to assimilate the data in his current state. He twisted his space chronometer and realized that only a few hours had elapsed since he had landed, but it felt like years. He needed to relax for now and try to let the disc do its job. Soon he would be able to communicate– at least with some of the planet’s creatures.
A tiny buzzing sound indicated the presence of a group of small life forms near his eyes and Zay strained to examine one of them. He tried copying their sound, but they did not respond in a non-hostile fashion and attempted to injure him. He brushed them away, trying not to damage them.
The green around him had remained still since his abrupt introduction into the habitat. The plant life near him was either non-sentient, or it had been injured in his fall. Recognizing that he had snapped several of the small extensions above him he reached out and begged forgiveness. The fern-like structures felt his sympathy and his pain, but kept to themselves. He was getting nowhere. It might be best to just wait for the accumulated knowledge from the disc
Something stirred the brush to Zay’s left and he froze. This creature was moving and about his own size, Zay estimated from the movement while he lay perfectly still. Maybe something had seen him fall.
Maybe someone was here.
Afraid to breathe before he knew the newcomer’s disposition, Zay watched a few stripes appear from the surrounding green. Yellow eyes examined him silently. This creature had the look of a predator. Zay shivered imperceptibly.
When their eyes met and locked, a loud noise issued from the other that Zay knew had to be language. Its body was covered in stripes, and its fur was shiny and well cared for. The tail had sprung up in question—a symbol that seemed to be universal. “I am Zay,” he tried his own dialect without success.
The beast made a little meowing sound that seemed very welcoming and had begun to lick his injured leg with a rough tongue just as the disc kicked in and his mind was a flood with facts and words. Zay tried several languages getting curious responses from something called “English” and then finally finding what seemed to work. “I’m Zay,” he had said this over and over in a variety of speech forms, but this time the creature’s head snapped around and it responded in kind.
The thing that Zay’s information identified as a ‘cat’ made a series of soft noises that, once interpreted, made perfect sense. “I’m Sheldon,” its head tilted in curiosity. “Just what are you?”
Marching slowly up the rise to the road, burden still hefted on one shoulder, Jane stopped to let her heart rate slow. She may not have considered herself old, but the climb was getting harder and the rock had seemed a lot heavier as she broached the precipice. Sucking in the damp morning air in gulps, she bent over and dropped her newfound treasure between her feet. At the edge of the black top road that led a winding path toward the park entrance, Jane turned and looked back out over the vast expanse of trees.
Her home, perched as it was on the far side of the road from the drop, was a haven of esoteric delights dating back years and documenting her history. The view that now captured her attention was one that she saw every morning. This house had been her home since her mother had died and would no doubt be where they would find her as she took her last breath. It was perfect, she thought, glancing over her shoulder with an expression of pleasure as she examined her residence. Looking down at the bag that held the meteor, Jane let her mouth curl into a smile. Her house would be even more perfect when she placed her new find.
It was always like that. Finding another thing to collect, something else she simply had to have, and yet nothing ever really filled the space. Jane shook off the feelings of emptiness as she spotted a white panel van driving a bit too quickly up the hill toward her. Not many traveled this route to the park. Jane waved as the truck sped past causing dust and leaves to carry skyward in a little tornado around her head that lifted her blue straw hat into the air. The hat string pulled taut on her chin and the hat dropped onto her back as the van raced toward the redwoods.
“Some people are just annoying,” she noted aloud when the man in the vehicle had not even bothered to acknowledge her presence. She had never seen the van before and most likely would never again. Yet, for just a moment, Jane wondered where the vehicle was going and why the driver was in such a hurry. She was lonely. Wishing with all her heart that she could make the driver stop and come in for tea, Jane paused only a moment more to wipe the sweat from her brow with a blue kerchief. She crossed the road and forgot about the man altogether as she sought the perfect arrangement for her new possession.
There was no time to lose. Cyrus single-mindedly drove the speeding vehicle toward the meteor impact. He would be the first one at the site. There had been no other traffic on the small road for over an hour. The most direct route to the redwood park was the one less traveled and it took him past private land as well as public. Trying to assure himself that no one else had seen the thing plummet to earth, Cyrus was taken a little aback as he drove past a woman on the roadside who had clearly been out searching the morning sky. He needed to hurry. His livelihood—his very reputation— might be at stake.
Counting the hours that would have passed since the collision, no one else should have been close enough to gather the sample before him. Accessing the park area through the open gate, Cyrus parked the van near the ranger’s tower and grabbed his gear from the cargo bay. Equipped with a pack containing food and water, compass and climbing rig, he proceeded down the nearest trail that headed north.
Cyrus put a hand to his forehead to limit the amount of light as he gazed up the canyon. That was when he realized that the road would have offered him better access if he could have parked and dropped over the hill. The woman he had seen would have been in just about the right….
She might have found the impact site before him.
It would not pay to let his imagination run wild. Maybe she had just been out for a walk. Maybe she was too frail to make the descent and climb. Cyrus needed to find and inspect the impact himself. Science did not allow him to jump to conclusions or to speculate on his first contact with the woman.
He focused his gaze on the hillside road once again and tried to imagine what someone like her would be likely to do with his meteor. Cyrus shivered at the possibilities, seeing it buried in a flower bed or jutting from beneath a pile of carelessly tossed debris used to mulch around her trees. Grinding his teeth, he began the grueling climb up the trail to where he believed he would find the impact crater and the stone perfectly intact. It had to be there.