The next morning, Adam didn’t help prepare breakfast. He didn’t follow Pin through his morning tasks, asking endless questions as was his ritual. Instead, he remained high in the branches, claiming illness when Emma called up for him to come eat with them.
He watched her shrug and turn back to the small fire where fish sat smoking, ready to eat. It was a mere flicker compared to the ritual blaze he’d seen the previous night— a sight he couldn’t shake from his mind; the flames licking the darkness, filling the valley with an acrid haze. He could still taste the smoke on his tongue. It stung his lungs and itched his eyes even hours later.
He hadn’t lied to Emma. He did feel sick.
Adam watched Pin and Emma eating from above. They sat across from one another, the fire between them, engaged in idle chatter. Emma laughed at something Pin said, obviously no longer angry or upset. They seemed happy in a way he felt he never could be again.
Adam sat up and leaned against the dark red tree trunk. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind, but the wicked images of the night before were not so easy to erase: the ogre in bones, his deafening death rattle, the baby with marbled skin and its mother’s piercing screams still lingered in his mind. They were a part of him now, the scene playing out like on a loop in the back of his mind.
He opened his eyes to see a lime green hopper with a transparent carapace scamper across his bare foot. It tickled his toes as it moved across his skin, then jumped off and landed on a branch high above his head.
They were in danger, Adam knew. Maybe he didn’t understand everything he’d seen the night before, but that much he did know. He needed to warn Pin, get them all as far away from the ogre camp as possible. Maybe then the chanting would leave his mind.
Chara! Chara! Chara! The word rang in his ears like a ringing death knell.
His mind made up, Adam plucked his spear from its resting place beside him and threw the strap over his shoulders. Then, with simian agility, he gripped the trunk and slid down to the dirt below. It felt cool against his feet, becoming gradually warmer as he approached the breakfast fire.
Emma looked up as he sat down next to her, but said nothing. Pin nodded towards a slab of purple fish, halved and steaming on a flat warming rock next to the fire. But Adam didn’t feel like eating.
Pin eyed him for a moment before saying, “And where were you so late last night?”
Adam looked up, surprised. “How did you—” he started.
“Saw you creeping into camp just before sunrise,” Pin replied before Adam could finish the question. “Unlucky for you, my old bladder gets me up early.”
Pin ripped a hunk of fish away from its bendy spine and stuffed it into his mouth. “Even if you can’t sleep, you have to stay close to camp. You know this.”
Adam hung his head, overcome. He was bursting with thoughts and feelings, yet didn’t know how to get any of them out. Instead he started crying. Softly at first, then, before he knew it, he was sobbing.
Emma looked at Pin, shocked. Adam rarely showed emotions openly.
Pin dropped the fish he was holding and moved to sit beside him. The boy crumpled into his lap as soon as he sat down. Pin held his hands up in surprise, unsure of how to comfort the boy at first. Then he lay his hands over Adam’s head, letting him weep uncontrollably in a type of close seclusion.
He didn’t know what could be troubling the boy so much, but for now he needed protection. Adam being who he was, Pin knew he would talk soon enough.
And sure enough, later that morning, Pin and Emma listened intently to Adam’s story of the ogres, their raging bonfires, wild dancing, and cries to the red planet above.
While he told them everything he’d seen, he kept the fate of the child to himself. He did this for Emma’s sake, but also because he couldn’t bring himself to speak of it.
Pin scratched at his beard thoughtfully as Adam spoke, raising his right eyebrow and grunting to himself as certain details emerged.
Then, when the boy began describing the large black sphere that sat atop the tall wooden tower, Pin’s fingers froze and his eyes opened wider. He leaned forward and motioned with his hand as though urging the boy to provide more detail.
“This object,” he said seriously, “how big was it?”
“Bigger than me,” Adam replied. “Bigger than you, too. And round like a big black boulder.”
“And you say it had spikes on it?” Pin went on. “How many? How long were they? And were they thin, or thick?”
“I don’t remember, exactly. Maybe six, or even ten spikes where on it. It looked like some had been ripped off and some were broken. I think the ogre wearing all those bones was holding one of them. He pointed it at the sky, up at the red planet as he spoke. I remember that.”
Pin rose and kicked dirt over the fire. It hissed out of existence.
“Follow me, children,” he said calmly, picking up his spear. Adam and Emma got to their feet quickly and grabbed their own spears, slinging them across their backs.
“Where are we going?” Emma asked.
“Far away from here, I hope,” said Adam.
“Keep your spears close and your eyes open for danger,” said Pin gravely. “We’re going back to the cliffs, to where Adam was last night.”
“What?” Adam huffed angrily. “We can’t. Please, we need to get as far away from there as we can.”
“We will,” answered Pin. “But first I need to get a look at this black object you say you saw last night.”
“But why?” Adam asked, letting his shoulders slump in disappointment. This was not the course of action he thought they would take.
“Because if it’s what I think it is,” said Pin, “then it could very well get us off this moon.”
When they were close to the cliffs, Pin told Emma to get in the trees and signal them if she saw anything approaching. She nodded without a word and scampered into the branches, pressing on ahead of Adam and Pin below.
“We’ll stay in the tree line until we reach the cave,” Pin said as they kept moving. “Then, if Emma says it’s clear, we’ll move out and you can point out the probe below.”
“Probe?” Adam asked, stopping a moment to take in the new word. “What’s that?”
“Years ago, when I was a boy about your age, there was a scientist named Sophia Le Guin. She was in charge of finding a new Earth, a new planet for humans to move to. They called it Eden Star, gave it a name before they even found it. Maybe a bad idea in retrospect.”
“Why?” asked Adam, curious to hear more.
“Because they never found it. Spent millions of dollars sending hundreds of probes out into space to search out new planets and moons, but none of them returned any information about a planet that could support life.”
“I suppose the folks in charge eventually figured it was a better idea to spend money on getting us into space and onto ports than on a dream. Earth was making too many people sick by then.”
“But if there’s a probe here on this moon, why didn’t they all come here?” asked Adam. “Everyone could have lived here.”
“I’m curious about the same thing,” said Pin. “Maybe the electric storms on the surface of the gas planet disrupt its signal somehow. Hell, maybe it just broke plain and simple. But, if it is a probe and we can turn it on then, well, my boy, there just might still be someone listening on the other end.”
“Why do the ogres have it?” Adam asked, ducking under a low hanging branch covered in bright yellow vines.
“They must have found it,” Pin said, then stopped. He held his hand up to block the sun as he looked up towards the sky. “Can you imagine their wonder at hearing it break atmosphere, then looking up to see it hurtling towards them in flames? Imagine their surprise at discovering its manmade oddness? In a natural world like this, with nothing remotely resembling technology, it would have seemed like magic to them. Like a gift from their gods.”
Pin paused to wipe sweat from his brow then said, “Or a curse.” He looked down at Adam, who was looking up, intrigued. “It probably scared the hell out of them. And like you described, drove them to ritual. Or worse.”
“We’ll have to get it away from them,” said Adam as though he’d just realized the challenge in that himself.
“That we will,” replied Pin gravely.
“It’s very big.”
“That it is.”
A soft whistle rang out from above and the two of them looked up. Emma had come back with news.
“Is it all clear?” Pin asked in a whisper.
“Come and see,” replied Emma.
“What is it? What did you see? Did you see the camp?” Adam asked nervously.
“Just come and see for yourself,” she said, waving them onwards before disappearing into the foliage again.
When she had gone, Pin and Adam looked at each other. Pin could tell the boy was scared. He walked beside him and patted his back comfortingly as the two of them moved to break the tree line together.
“Don’t worry, my boy,” Pin said softly. “You’re not on your own anymore. You don’t need to be scared Whatever happens, I’ll be right here beside you.”