“No you can’t have the red thermos, Nebraska, that’s my lucky thermos.” “But, my sweet hen, it brings me luck when I’m on an archeological dig, you know that.” “Yes my dear rooster, but I will be joining you for this dig, and so I will need my thermos. You should know that.” Nebraska sighed and then broke into a clucking laugh. Dang I love that hen, he thought. He handed her the thermos and they went back to packing. It had been two days since they received notice that their permit from the nation of Lithuania for the dig had been approved. It was six months before that they had submitted their request for a permit. It was a year before that they had finally deciphered the elder code on the map which they had acquired from an ancient mariner – a salty old seal – in a sea-port while on vacation along the coast of the Baltic Sea. They left early the next morning, flying first to New York, then on to Amsterdam, then a short hop to Copenhagen, then on to Riga, Latvia, where they waited another two days for their baggage to catch up with them before they hired a driver and drove the rest of the way into Lithuania.
“Ah, spring,” said Nebraska a little too dramatically. “So green. So super green.” Crimson Hen’s beak was deeply buried in an ancient-looking atlas. “Mm-hmm,” she intoned automatically, “super green, indeed.” “You know Crim” Nebraska said lightly, still looking across the wide green rolling hills of the ancient countryside. “This is kind of like another vacation, except this time the university is picking up the tab.” Crimson Hen said nothing. The hillsides rolled by, finally disappearing into a flat, lightly wooded area. The driver, a little quiet sheep, cleared their throat and coughed politely. “Hem, hem.” Their English was halting. “This . . . ah . . . where . . . you go?” Crimson Hen and Nebraska Rooster both looked up from their reveries. Crimson brought out a compass and Nebraska checked his GPS. “Yes,” they said in unison. Later that night, when the two chickens were setting up camp next to a low rise that punctuated the otherwise flat countryside, Nebraska took a moment to look at the little hill and said, “the map was right, there is definitely something here.” Crimson came up next to him and looked out on the hillock. “Yes,” she agreed. “There is definitely something here. Let’s turn in early so we can get cracking at it at first light.” Nebraska nodded and they both moved to their waiting tent.
It was two weeks before they came to anything that wasn’t dirt. Archeology is slow, painstaking work, and it was many days that Crimson Hen wanted to just take the shovel and go at it. But Nebraska Rooster was a consummate professional. He made sure each shovelful was sifted and carefully cataloged. On one such afternoon, Crimson was exasperated for the millionth time, and Nebraska said, again for the millionth time, “Now Crim, I know you’re used to action and saving the world and whatnot, but this is my work, it’s important, please be patient . . .” Right at that moment, Cinnamon’s shovel struck something solid. “Hey!” Nebraska shouted. “You should be shoveling softer, don’t hit it again, you might damage whatever it is!” They spent the next two days brushing a four inch square section of what looked like a pretty simple wall. “But Crim, you can’t rush this!” “It’s a wall, dang it, we’ve been out here for weeks, and have finally found something and you want to excavate it with a toothpick and a paintbrush. Let’s clear the dirt away already!” “But Crim,” “Don’t ‘but Crim’ me. Tomorrow, I will take up my shovel, and by God, I’ll show you how to use one of these things.” As if to punctuate her point, Crimson Hen raised her shovel and brandished it above her head. Nebraska sighed. There wasn’t much changing Crimson Hen’s mind when she was determined about something. And true to her word, she was up and out of the tent clearing dirt away by the shovelful the next day before the morning coffee was even on the flame. “See, my lovely rooster, there is just more wall here.” She had cleared away a five foot square section of the wall. Nebraska frowned at her, but looked at the wall more closely. “Crim, look at this.” “What is it?” “Look here at the wall, what do you see?” Crimson Hen regarded Nebraska Rooster with skepticism, but finally took a closer look anyway just to humor him. “Well, it’s gray. It’s a wall. It’s made of something hard.” “Right, but how old is this supposed to be?” “Um, I guess the map indicated it was from the elder days of the druids. In this area, that would put it at around two to two and a half thousand years ago.” “Right, and what would anyone around at that time have had to build with?” “Um, right. Stone I guess.” “And does this look like stone?” Comprehension dawned in Crimison Hen’s bright eyes. “Of course! This isn’t stone at all. It’s . . . it’s not even concrete!” “Right, then what the hey-ho is it?” “I . . . I don’t know.” “Neither do I, my hen, neither do I.”
“Well, I think we should just forget about archeology.” Crimson Hen was digging rather furiously around the edges of the wall. About twenty feet had been exposed. “This is clearly not archeology any longer, and I think you know that.” “But, my hen, this wall is still worthy of careful, scientific study,” Nebraska said. Crimson Hen nodded thoughtfully. He had a point. Still… “Whatever is going on with this strange wall, we’re bound to find a door at some point, and that’s when the real adventure begins.” “But Crimson, this is a scientific endeavor, not an adventure.” “Dearest rooster, I promise you I can tell when an adventure is afoot, and this is most certainly the beginning of an adventure.” Nebraska Rooster sighed. For once, he thought, I’d like to take things slow, document what happens, and not get chased by maniacal pie-throwing robot clowns. “Alas,” he said out loud. “I fear you’re right.” Crimson Hen stopped shoveling and looked at her partner. She was bull-headed sometimes, but she did care about Nebraska deeply. She could tell he wasn’t as enthusiastic about the prospect of some weird and dangerous adventure. I have to remember, she thought, he doesn’t have the kung-fu like I do. Crimson thought back to a few years earlier when she had fallen into the secret cave in the highlands of China where she had discovered secret ancient stone tablets which held the key to learning a nearly invincible form of kung-fu. Because she had access to the stone tablets, she had learned the form, but the tablets had been destroyed before her companions had the chance to learn it. Her kung-fu abilities had saved them more than once, but it also gave her a confidence going into adventures that not all of her companions over the years had. Sometimes she became over-confident, and this landed her in trouble. I should remember that, she chided herself. When she went back to digging, she promised herself she would take it slow, for if nothing else, it would make Nebraska Rooster happy. And that’s important, she thought with a sincere smile.
Days passed. More of the wall became visible. They settled into a routine: Up with the sun and a quick pot of coffee, then a few hours of shoveling before a break for breakfast and tea. Then shovel until lunchtime. After lunch they usually took a walk around their work to make sure they didn’t miss anything – any sign that they were coming to a doorway or any kind of change in the surface of the strange wall. Then they’d work until tea-time, when they’d break for a cup of tea and a butter and cucumber sandwich. After tea-time came another several hours of work before stopping for a late dinner.
Twenty feet, then thirty feet, then forty feet, then fifty. The wall seemed to stretch around the entire hillock they were camped at the base of. Two chickens with shovels seemed hopelessly slow, until one morning, just after breakfast, Crimson Hen struck something different. “What do you think it is?” Crimson Hen asked. “I . . . well, I don’t know,” came Nebraska’s response. They spend the day uncovering a ridge in the wall, a kind of ledge or small outcropping. Crimson was sure it was a door to the inner chambers of the mound. Nebraska remained resolutely unmoved in his speculation for, as he was wont to say repeatedly, “A scientist never prejudges a situation.” But by evening, Crimson’s analysis seemed the correct one. When they had all the dirt shoveled away, it was clear the ridge was probably some kind of opening or doorway. It was only a one or two inch ridge in the wall, but it was about three feet by three feet square, and looked an awful lot like a door or window. “But how does it open?” Crimson Hen voiced out loud the question they were both thinking. They carefully scanned the surface for any sign of a lock or knob or any kind of way to open it and found nothing. Stumped, they went to bed, exhausted from the day’s work, but excited to find a way inside the mound.
In the morning, after coffee, Crimson Hen and Nebraska Rooster found themselves elated that the day had something different in store for them other than digging. They quickly got to work, but immediately found it wasn’t clear what their work was. Nebraska tapped incessantly on the outside of what they were calling “The Window.” After around an hour of careful tapping, he declared, “I don’t know sweet hen, The Window doesn’t seem hollow.” Crimson Hen looked The Window over carefully, screwed up her face in deep concentration and concluded finally, “let’s get some dynamite and be on with it.” Nebraska Rooster was appalled. “I’m appalled Crimson, we can’t blow up an ancient archeological site. This could be the most important find in a century!” “Think, my rooster, we don’t recognize the material the wall is made of.” “Yes . . . so . . . “ “So it’s not ancient.” “But it’s clearly ancient.” “No, it’s clearly not ancient.” “I must disagree, dearest Hen, the layers we dug through clearly demonstrate the ancient nature of the wall.” “I must also disagree, dearest Rooster, the nature of the material the wall is made of means it isn’t ancient.” “But surely you agree it’s old.” “Yes,” Crimson Hen was thoughtful. “It is old, but not of the ancient world.” “But if that’s true, then what world is it from?” “That’s the million dollar question, Nebraska.” They went back to tapping on the wall and examining it without success. Finally Nebraska gave up and sat down. “What we need,” he said. “Is an ultrasonic transducer.” “What’s that?” “It’s a device that uses sound waves to show a picture of what’s behind a solid structure.” “Do, um, you know anyone with a uh, ultrasonic thingy?” “Transducer,” he corrected, but then immediately wished he hadn’t. Crimson Hen gave him a withering look. “As a matter of fact, I do,” Nebraska said, trying to recover. “And you do too.” “Excellent!” Crimson Hen exclaimed. “Who is this lovely character, and how do we get them here with their gear?” “Well, they’ll have to come the same way we did, and it will be a long journey for them. I don’t know if they’ll want to make the trip.” “Stop being coy, Nebraska, who is it that we both know and who also has an ultrasonic transducer?” Nebraska smiled mischievously. “Why, Mr. Rabbit, of course.”
“Why, I declare! It’s Nebraska Rooster . . . you’re coming in a little fuzzy there Nebraska.” “I’m on a satellite phone!” Nebraska was shouting to be heard above the hiss and crackle of the cumbersome sat-phone. “We need your help!” “You’re eating kelp?” Mr. Rabbit paused and looked away off the screen. “I don’t know dear, he says they’re eating kelp . . .” “No!” Nebraska shouted, ‘WE NEED YOUR HELP!” “Ahh,” said Mr. Rabbit returning to the phone. “You need my help.” He paused again. “But aren’t you in Lithuania just the now?” “Yes! We’re in Lithuania on an archeological dig, and we need your help.” “But that seems an awfully long ways away for me to be able to help.” “Right – I know it does . . . er” Nebraska looked away from the screen. “What . . . are you doing -” “Gimme that and cut to the chase!” Crimson Hen wrested the sat-phone from Nebraska’s wings. “Look, Mr. Rabbit, we’ve found a wall made of something that’s clearly not from this world, and we need your help to get a look inside. Bring your ultrasonic transducer and any other ideas you might have for getting into such a structure, and hightail it over here. Fly into Riga, and hire a driver. I’ll send you the GPS coordinates. Any questions?” “Er . . . um . . .” “Good. We’ll see you in a few days. Oh, and bring Dr. Rabbit along, you might enjoy a holiday while you’re here, though if my gut is right we’re on to a rather large adventure here.” “Yes, well you see . . .” “Gotta go! Remember, bring your gear!” Crimson Hen hung up the phone and looked at Nebraska. “You didn’t really ask him if he wanted to come.” “No, I guess you’re right.” “That’s kind of rude.” “Yes, I suppose it is. There was a silence between them for a second. “Do you think I ought to call back?” Nebraska didn’t answer for a long minute as he contemplated this question. Finally, he said, “No, no I don’t think so.” “Fine then, shall I fix us some lunch?”
Six interminable days later, during which Crimson Hen and Nebraska Rooster reorganized their camp, their exploration packs, their toothbrush kits, and generally didn’t know what else to do with themselves, a vehicle drove up. It was the same driver that had brought them into camp. “‘Ello . . . two dig friends . . . are here . . .ah . . . friends!” The driver was cheery and upbeat as they leaned out the window. Crimson and Nebraska came up to the car as all the doors on the vehicle swung open at once. Mr. Rabbit, as expected, came tumbling out of the front passenger seat, but from the back came familiar faces they did not expect – Deloris Squirrel and her mate the Gray Squirrel each from one side. They were met with many huzzahs and hugs, and even the driver, oddly, seemed to get into the reunion, handing out hugs and smiles with abandon. “But Mr. Rabbit,” Crimson Hen said when the hubbub had died down. “Where’s Dr. Rabbit? “Well, you know, with the new litter just arrived a few months ago, she felt one of us should stay home.” “One of you?” “Why, yes, I encouraged her to come. She has as much or more experience as I have with the ultrasonic transducer, but she doesn’t enjoy traveling much, and, urm . . . I will also say that she doesn’t take too much of a liking to the . . . urm . . . adventures I seem to get wrapped up in when I’m with you and Nebraska over there.” Crimson Hen nodded sagely. “We do tend toward trouble, don’t we?” Mr. Rabbit smiled wide. “There’ve been some doozies, for sure. Now, help me get my gear out of the trunk of this here vehicle.”
The next morning, they all gathered around the ultrasonic transducer. “How does it work?” asked Crimson Hen. Mr. Rabbit straightened up his bow-tie and smiled. He loved to explain things. “So,” he began, pointing out the different parts of the machine. “The probe sends out sound waves, which strike the surface of the material and bounce back. Those reflected sound waves are captured by this dish, and then translated into images on this screen.” “How does that show us what’s behind it?” Nebraska asked.
“Small variations in the interior density and thickness of the material will show up as areas of light and dark.” Mr. Rabbit straightened his shoulders and adjusted his bow-tie again. “It’s a very sensitive tool, you know.” “Well, let’s turn it on and see what we see,” said Deloris Squirrel. Mr. Rabbit set up the controls, and switched the dials. The screen hummed to life. They all leaned in to see what they could see. The screen whirred and blinked on. “What is that?” The Gray Squirrel had said it, but they were all thinking it. Behind the seemingly blank exterior panel of wall they were calling the Window, was not an image of something, but an image of many somethings, all swirling around. The screen was filled with what looked like little black and white living fireworks explosions. Sinewy swirls and little slow motion burstlets swished on and off the screen. The four friends took in the scene quietly for a moment. Then Nebraska Rooster said, “it’s . . . it’s like it’s alive.” “That doesn’t seem like a door I want to open,” said Deloris Squirrel. “Nope,” said the Gray Squirrel.
“Yeah . . . I think this is one we should maybe let go, Crimson,” said Mr. Rabbit. “So . . . how do we fine tune this device . . .” Crimson was turning dials and switches on the ultrasonic transducer. “No! Crimson, stop!” Mr. Rabbit looked with horror at the screen. The living fireworks were starting to pulse in unison. “Something the ultrasonic transducer is doing is having an effect on whatever is behind the Window. Shut the ultrasonic transducer down now!” But his words were too late. Crimson had dialed the ultrasonic transducer to its highest energy and frequency and the living fireworks seemed to be going crazy. Before anyone could shut down the machine, the Window began to glow, and a faint hissing sound could be heard coming from somewhere inside. The Window began to dissolve before their very eyes. It flashed green, then orange, then red, then green again, and then, in a blast of smoke and a whir of color, the Window was gone. What was left in its place was an opening, a darkness. A moment later, the darkness was filled with brilliantly colored, coral-looking . . . things . . . which began to emerge from the darkness into the summer morning. Slowly, they pushed their way out into the sunshine, hovering in midair, moving slowly, ominously toward where Crimson Hen and her friends sat dumbfounded, in shocked disbelief.
Crimson was the first to recover. “Back away slowly, everyone. No sudden movements,” she said as she slowly began to back away from the mesmerizing glowing firework organisms. Nobody moved. Crimson Hen bumped into Mr. Rabbit as she was backing up. The collision hardly affected him as he stared uncomprehendingly at the things, whatever they were. Finally, Nebraska Rooster shook his head a little to clear his vision. “Wooowww,” he crooned. Mr. Rabbit came to a moment later. “Wha – what are they?” Deloris Squirrel fell back into a sitting position. “Jeeeeepers,” she moaned without blinking. The Gray Squirrel looked like he’d been frozen in place. He said nothing. Crimson looked around. The floating fireworks had stopped advancing and were hovering near the group. One floated a little lower and came to a stop about two feet right in front of Crimson. “Uh, hello?” she said. The undulating light creature blinked a little in response. “I’m Crimson Hen,” she tried again. The organism blinked again, this time, in a rhythmic way. Crimson turned to Mr. Rabbit, who was still in the thrall of the blinking colors. “Mr. Rabbit, do you see the blinking? I think they’re trying to communicate! Can you record this so we can play it back?” Mr. Rabbit looked dumbly over at Crimson Hen. She had her wings on her hips and was looking at him expectantly. “Oh, uh . . . “ he seemed to come out of his thrall. “Why yes! Of course.” He went over to his bag and pulled out a video camera and hit the record button. Crimson Hen turned back to the organism. “I’m Crimson Hen!” she said loudly as though to an older person who was hard of hearing. “We are friendly and mean you no harm!” The organism blinked its response. “Who are you?” she asked. “Where are you from?” More blinking. “We are friends.” She emphasized the word ‘friends’ and made a circling motion with her wing. The organism gave a little floating sway in the same direction of her circling motion, and did its blinking on and off again. Crimson Hen turned to Mr. Rabbit. Nebraska had pulled himself together, and was standing next to him. “What do you think guys? They don’t seem hostile.” “Yeah,” said Nebraska Rooster. “They don’t.” The Gray Squirrel and Deloris Squirrel came up to where they were grouped around the video camera. As they did, some of the other organisms floated toward the lead organism. “Look,” said Crimson Hen. “They’re gathering around, just like we are.” “Do you think they’re copying us?” asked Deloris Squirrel. “Maybe,” said Mr. Rabbit. “But if they are, we need more data. Keep talking to them, Crimson.” Crimson Hen turned back to the organisms. “It’s very nice to meet you,” she said slowly and deliberately. She couldn’t be sure, but the blinking the organism made in response seemed to have the same deliberate slowness. She decided to try something. “It’s . . . very . . . nice . . . weather . . . today,” she said with exaggerated slowness. The blinking response was equally slow and deliberate. The Gray Squirrel whistled. “Whew, that’s interesting, that is,” he said. “Do something else, Crimson,” Nebraska said, recovering his scientific tone. Hmm, she thought, what can I do here? “Oh,” she said aloud. “How about this?” Then she started counting slowly. “One,” and she drew one mark in the dirt. “Two,” two marks. “Three . . . four . . .” She went on like this until she got to ten. The organism seemed to regard her and her speech and her marks all very carefully. Then, it blinked, and the pattern was very clearly a counting pattern. “Golly,” said Mr. Rabbit. “It’s counting. Sure it’s counting! We can use this Crimson. Keep going.” And keep going they did – all afternoon. The organisms never seemed to get tired, though the group did. After a certain point, Nebraska volunteered to fix them all some lunch. They were all sitting in the shade of a tree, and the organisms didn’t seem to have anywhere else to be. Crimson was trying everything she could think of to communicate with the organisms, and Mr. Rabbit was faithfully recording all of it. Finally, as night came down, the little group trailed off to bed. At last, Crimson said, “We’re tired, and need to sleep, but we will see you in the morning.” Then she stood up, stretched a little, and motioned for Mr. Rabbit to stop recording. They waved to the little organisms, and turned to go. The little floating fireworks organisms blinked as they were wont to do, and then slowly followed Mr. Rabbit and Crimson Hen back toward the camp. Looking over her shoulder, Crimson Hen said to Mr. Rabbit, “They’re beautiful, but I do hope they don’t try to get into our tents. They’d make it awfully hard to sleep.”
The organisms were respectful, and waited patiently outside the tents through the night. In the morning, Crimson Hen unzipped her tent and was face to face with one of them. “Oh!” she said in surprise. “Hello! How are you this morning?” Blink, blink, blink was the only response. “Well, let me get my breakfast and coffee real quick-like, and I’ll be with you in a minute.” She stepped out of her tent and around the little floating organism. It followed her lazily through the camp to where their cooking site was. Mr. Rabbit was up already getting a tea kettle to boil. “Ah, you’re a good rabbit, Mr. Rabbit.” Crimson Hen clapped him on the back and after a few minutes of fussing with coffee grounds and mugs, they were sitting in comfort, sipping their coffee. “I’m getting kind of used to them hovering around us all the time,” Crimson Hen said. “Yes, they’re very constant, and not at all pesky,” Mr. Rabbit mused. “They’re kind of like little floating pets.” “Hmm . . .,” said Crimson Hen. “I don’t think we should start to think of them that way. These are clearly ancient or alien creatures.” “We don’t even know if they’re alive,” said Mr. Rabbit. “What makes you think they’re not alive?” asked Crimson Hen. “Well,” Mr. Rabbit replied. “For one thing, they seem to be mechanically repeating back to us whatever we give them.” Crimson Hen gave him a blank look. “In their . . . uh, you know, their blinky kind of way,” Mr. Rabbit hastily added. “Right . . . I guess I could see that.” Crimson Hen sounded skeptical.
“Well, I guess I could review the video and do an analysis.” Mr. Rabbit began to unpack his video gear. “Yeah, maybe that would be best today. We’ve got hours of video from yesterday. What can you get done before lunchtime?” “I’m not sure, but I can have an early report back by lunch.” Mr. Rabbit straightened. Now, with a mission, he was ready to go. “Make it so, Mr. Rabbit.” Crimson got up. “I’m going to take a walk and see if I can learn anything about this organism or mechanism or whatever it is. Tell the others that we’ll reconvene at lunchtime.”
At lunch all the gang gathered around the camp. The organisms hovered harmlessly nearby. Crimson Hen spoke: “Friends, Mr. Rabbit has an early report on an analysis of the video we took yesterday. He had a hunch this morning that the organisms might not be alive after all, but might be sophisticated mechanisms. He felt they just repeated back to us whatever input we gave them.” “Repeated back?” Deloris Squirrel said. “Right,” said Mr. Rabbit. “In a blinky kind of way.” “So . . .” Crimson Hen cleared her throat. “What have you found, Mr. Rabbit?” “I’ve spent a few hours doing an algorithmic analysis of the blinking patterns the mechanisms display upon being spoken to, and I’ve discovered that the blinking patterns are, indeed, simple repetition of the speech patterns we make.” “Really?!” said Nebraska Rooster with fascination in his voice. “They don’t display any signs of conscious communication?” “Well . . . “ Mr. Rabbit continued. “It is fascinating that these sophisticated devices can take in our audio input, and repeat back a visual version.” “Yeah,” said Deloris Squirrel. “And they float.” “Right!” said Mr. Rabbit. “And they float.” “Hmm . . .” said Crimson Hen thoughtfully. “I wonder – if they’re not alive, then what are they for?” “They could be for anything,” said Nebraska Rooster. “Maybe they’re bombs, and they’ll go off if they’re given the right input.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” reprimanded Crimson Hen. “They’re clearly not bombs.” “Whatever they are, they’re friendly,” said Deloris Squirrel. One of the mechanisms was floating lazily by her head, just out of reach. “Hey, I’m noticing something,” said Nebraska Rooster. “They seem to keep out of our reach.” He reached out carefully with his wing, and the little mechanism floated gently, but swiftly away. “Hey, that’s something we haven’t tried.” Crimson got to her feet and walked toward what she thought of as the leader of the group. “We haven’t tried to touch one of them.” “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Nebraska Rooster was up and walking toward where Crimson Hen was standing. He was, as usual, too late. “Come here little thingy-wingy. Come to mamma Crimson.” Crimson Hen was reaching out toward the lead mechanism. It was backing away, but Crimson Hen had it locked in a very loose approximation of a stare-down. “No! Crimson, don’t! We don’t know what -” Nebraska Rooster’s warning came too late, as she reached up with her wing and ever so gently touched the outside edge of the mechanism. When her wing crossed some kind of threshold into the interior of the mechanism, she froze. The mechanism seemed happy to comply. A warmth coursed through her wing, and then she saw black. In the clearing at the camp lay the forms of the friends strewn in a circle around what was clearly a detonation site.
Mr. Rabbit was the first to recover. He sat up and put a paw to his tender head. His ears were ringing and his vision was blurry. After a moment spent collecting himself, he stood and walked over to the nearest of his companions, Deloris Squirrel. With a sigh of relief, he found she was breathing. The others were starting to stir too. It seemed that the blast had only stunned them all. “What the hey-ho was that?!” Nebraska Rooster was squatting near the blast center. “What happened to Crimson Hen?” “That,” said Mr. Rabbit. “Is the most important question.” He scanned the area carefully as the Gray Squirrel was just coming to. “There’s no sign of her. Not a feather.” The Gray Squirrel put that piece together. “That must mean she wasn’t blown to pieces.” “Hey!” shouted Nebraska Rooster. “I don’t care for your tone there.” “Oh, uh, no offense, Nebraska . . . I just meant, you know, she probably wasn’t, you know . . . uh . . .” The Gray Squirrel struggled to articulate what he was saying. “Oh I get you, my dear,” said Deloris Squirrel. “You mean, Crimson Hen might have survived whatever that was.” “Yes . . .” said Nebraska Rooster slowly. “That would make sense. If she were harmed by the blast, there would be some evidence of her . . . um . . . difficulty.” “Say what it is, Nebraska,” chided Deloris Squirrel. “If she’d been hurt by the blast, we’d see bloody feathers all over. But there aren’t any. And so . . .” she turned to the group. “It’s a safe bet she’s been teleported to a remote island or blasted into some other dimension or . . .” “Or into a different time,” the Gray Squirrel said gravely. They all looked at each other. They were worried for Crimson, but the same thought crossed each of their minds: Well, here we go again!
The light was terrible and amazing all at once. Crimson couldn’t tear herself away from it; it penetrated every pore of her small chicken body. She could feel herself moving through space but had no frame of reference and couldn’t tell whether she was in the air, on the ground, or even underwater. Finally, she could perceive a slight change in the nature of the light. It began to pulse blue and white. The pulsing ebbed until finally the light faded to a dim hum of the deepest blue. A few moments later she could tell that she was laying on her back in the dirt. She attempted to sit up, but felt too weak. OK, she thought, I’ve just been consumed by some kind of blast, I should probably just take a beat here and rest a minute. The moment she laid her head back against the sand, the exhaustion and overwhelm became too much for her to handle, and she slipped into unconsciousness.
“Hey Duane.” “Yeah, Sarge? What is it?” “Take a look at that there patch of desert.” “Whad’ya mean, Sarge?” “I mean stop yer gawkin’ at me and turn your ruddy head to that there patch of sand I’m a pointin’ to.” “Oh, right Sarge . . . Say, that there patch of desert don’t seem to be like the others. Is there a storm goin’ on tonight?” “Take a look around, Duane, there ain’t no storm and there ain’t no clouds.” “Kinda pretty though, don’t you think?” “What I think, Duane, is that we’re responsible for monitoring this here remote military base, and that somethin’ very noteworthy is happenin’ over yonder.” “Ooh. Wow.” “Is that all you have to say, Duane?” “I don’t know, Sarge, it’s just what come out.” “Nevermind, Duane. The important thing is that we are highly trained soldiers, and there is an unknown phenomenon occurrin’ right in our backyard, and it’s crystal clear to me that we’re just the men to figure out what’s going on over there.” “It’s kinda bright, Sarge. You sure we should go over there?” “No, Duane, I don’t think we should go over there. I think I should go over there. I think you should get on the horn with whatever brass you can get ahold of at this ungodly hour and get some specialists in here. No, Duane, our job will be to document whatever is going on. You’ll notice that I’m filming the anomaly with my phone.” “Shoot, Sarge, that’s some smart thinkin’.” “Of course, Duane, it’s smart thinking. I do smart thinking all of the time. Now go ring up the brass, and get them down here. I’m going to continue to document the anomaly while you do that. Do you understand, Duane?” “Yes, Sarge, I’m thinkin’ I get you 10/4, loud and clear.” “Good Duane. Now, I’m going to narrate this video with environmental context and . . . hmm . . . OK . . . Now, let’s see, it’s oh one twenty two hours on September third, two thousand nineteen of the current era. It’s about, hmm . . . fifty three degrees fahrenheit. Humidity is almost not present. I’m approaching the anomaly from the south by south east. It’s approximately one hundred yards in front of me. It appears to be a pulsing white and blue explosion of some kind, but one that just keeps going. No, arrgh, that doesn’t make sense. Cut that. OK, now, I’m approaching the anomaly, but it’s growing in intensity. The core of it is too bright to look directly at . . . I mean to look at directly. Dang! OK cut that too. The pulsing is now starting to intensify, but kind of ebb at the same time. I’m approaching the anomaly again. It’s now fifty yards . . . forty five yards . . . forty yards. I . . . I can see something at the epicenter of the blast area or whatever it is. I’m getting closer now . . .” “Hey, Sarge – that there looks a bit like a chicken!” “DUANE! Duane, you scared me. You shouldn’t sneak up on someone who’s doing an official documentation of an unknown pulsing light anomaly.” “Shoot, Sarge, I didn’t mean to scare you . . . but I did get you good, didn’t I?” “I don’t know what you mean.” “Oh come on, I got you, Sarge. I got you good. Admit it. I got you didn’t I?” “Well . . . you may have gotten me a little bit, Duane. But don’t do it again. Do you understand? That’s an order!” “Well, shoot Sarge, you don’t have to get all ordery about it, you can just ask nicely.” “Well, OK, I’m glad that’s settled. Now I’ve lost my train of thought with the video. Ah, yes, ahem . . . We’re now approaching the epicenter of the anomaly. The pulsing light is all but gone. Closer . . . closer . . . closer . . . closer . . . “ “Sarge – if someone were watching this here video yer makin’, don’t you think they’d be able to see on the screen that we was getting closer, without you havin’ to say it?” “Duane. Are you making this video, or am I . . . ? . . . That’s right, I am.” “Yes, Sarge. But I’m telling you that there’s a chicken.” “How could a chicken be at the center of the anomaly?” “Maybe flew there. They can fly, you know. I’m always tellin’ my cousin Jeddediah that they can fly. They can’t, you know fly a whole bunch, but they can fly some.” “That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. That chicken didn’t fly into the anomaly.” “So how’d it get there?” “Duane, that’s the million dollar question. The million dollar question. Say did you get any brass on the horn?” “On the horn?” “Yes did you raise HQ?” “Uh . . . raise? . . . “ “Did you talk to someone who might know what the hey-ho is going on out here tonight. My guess is that this was a secret military experiment, that the chicken was used as a guinea pig for the trial. By the limp appearance of the chicken, I’d say, they threw the chicken into the experiment to see how a living being would react to the anomaly. A guinea pig, I tell you.” “You know, Sarge, I have a guinea pig at home. Her name is Mrs. Noodles.” “Duane. . . that is the dumbest thing I think I’ve ever heard. “Mrs. Noodles isn’t dumb, Sarge, she’s super cute and real smart, why just last night -” “DUANE! I DON’T GIVE TWO FLYING DUCK POOPS ABOUT MRS. NOODLES!” “Right, sorry Sarge, but what do ducks have to do with anything? This here’s a chicken.” “Duane. I’m sorry I raised my voice, but you must understand, this is a historic event. That anomaly was supernatural in origin if I’m a foot tall, and this chicken we’re standing over is at the heart of the whole thing.” “Gee, Sarge, this little chicken?” “Yes, Duane, this little chicken. The question now is, is it alive?” “Well, shoot, I kin tell ya that.” “You can?” “Sure, if you poke it in the eye, it’ll respond somehow if’n it’s alive, even if it’s knocked out.” “That is the single worst idea I’ve ever heard! We can’t move this chicken even one iota. We must leave it intact for when the brass get here.” “But you’re still making that video aren’t you?” “Yes, Duane, I’m recording every last detail for the military scientists and doctors who will be analyzing the data.” “Wow, Sarge. That’s incredible.” “Yes, Duane, it is. It really is.” “Do you think someone will come soon?” “Well, given the time elapsed between when you called the brass and the average airspeed of military helicopters, I would say, we can expect an arrival any minute.” “They could be here any minute? Shoot, that’s neat.” “Yes Duane, that’s neat. I wonder . . .” “What do you wonder, Sarge?” “Hm? Oh. Nothing. I was just wondering if the anomaly was picked up on any military instruments.”
“You mean like the doohickey’s in our remote base?” “JIMINY CRICKETS! Duane! You’re a genius. We’ll leave the chicken here. We must
get back to base and check the logs. No, wait, you stay here with the chicken. I’ll go back and check the logs. Stay right here. Don’t touch the chicken.” “Ok, Sarge. 10/4.” “Excellent. I am now proceeding . . .” “Sarge?!” “Yes, Duane – what is it?” “Who’re you talking to?” “Duane, I told you before that I’m narrating the evidential video.” “Oh. Right. Sorry Sarge.” “It’s Ok Duane, just stick to your current duty. That’s an order.” “Roger that, sir.” “I am now heading back into the base to check the instrument logs. I’m opening the door to the military installation. Now I’m walking into the instrument room. The first log I will be checking will be the radar monitoring log. Hmm. No sign of the anomaly on radar. That’s amazing. Ok, the next log I will check is the seismograph. Hmm. Nothing there either. Ok. The anemometer – nothing. The barometer – nothing. Hygrometer – nothing. Well, my goodness. It’s like the anomaly didn’t even happen. The only evidence that there even was an anomaly is an unresponsive chicken. I am now returning to the anomaly site to confer with my colleague. “Duane! Duane – is there any change in the chicken’s status?” “Ahh, I can’t tell you that.” “What?! Why can’t you tell me about the chicken?” “I was given orders not to.” “Orders? What orders?” “Well, I can’t tell you that either.” “What?! I’m your commanding officer, I command you to tell me what the hey-ho is going on!” “Sorry, can’t do that.” “But the chicken, Duane! Where’s the chicken.” “I can’t tell.” “But Duane . . . oh confound it! The chicken’s gone! Whoever gave you the order to be silent must have taken the chicken.” “I can neither confirm nor deny that, sir.” “Right, good man. If you’ve been ordered by top brass to keep a vow of silence, a vow of silence you must keep. It will be a horrible burden, but you must do it, for the sake of country and home!” “Right, Sarge, it’s my duty.” “Yes, son, it’s your American Duty. Loose lips sink ships!” “Um, I don’t think if I told you about the helicopter that landed here, and the men in full body protective suits who got out and came over here, that any ships would sink, Sarge.” “Silence! I order you to follow your orders! Not another word, do you hear?!” “Yes, Sarge, I will zip my lips.” “Now, Duane, we must return to our stations, and forget this ever happened. Top brass has been alerted, and we’ve done our duty. We may never find out what happened to that chicken Duane. We must live with the fact that we may never know . . .” “Well, the one feller said they were taking her to a military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland to be studied.” “DUANE! I order you to keep silent!” “Oh, right Sarge. Sorry, Sarge.” “Now – we must carry on as if nothing has happened, Duane. It is our God given, American duty to zip our lips and forget -” “Did you know chickens don’t have lips?” “Of course I know that Duane.” “That feller out there, he said the same thing – makes it hard to resuscitate them, he said.” “Duane. You are violat – wait, they resuscitated the chicken?” “Yup, they did, they – hey! I’m supposed to keep quiet! You tricked me, Sarge!” “Nonsense, my boy. You’re right. Keep quiet. No more talk about the chicken, who’s alive, that was at the center of an enormous blinking anomaly, and who’s been taken to a military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland for observation and testing.” “Right, Sarge. And no more about the men talking about how they didn’t know where the anomaly came from or what it did.” “Right! No more about that. Back to work, Duane. Back to work.” “Roger that, a big Texas 10/4 on that.” “We’ll just never get to know what happened to the chicken.” “Right, sir. Good night sir.” “Good night, Duane. Good night. You were an excellent soldier tonight during this anomaly crisis.” ‘Uh, crisis? Sarge?” “Ha ha! Very good, Duane, keep following those orders, Duane. Until your last breath.” “Uh, right, Sarge.” “Good night, Duane! America sleeps just a little sounder out there tonight because you and I are watching and ready.” “Good night, Sarge.” “Good night, Duane.”
“Stop pacing, Nebraska, it’s making me crazy.” Deloris Squirrel was at the edge of the clearing where Crimson Hen had disappeared. “It helps me think,” Nebraska Rooster said. “Well, I straight up can’t think when you’re pacing, so knock it off,” Deloris Squirrel said angrily. “Dearest Squirrel,” the Gray Squirrel said calmly. “Please be patient with Nebraska, he’s lost Crimson Hen, after all. If I’d lost you, I dare say I’d be doing more frantically worse things than pacing.” “Hmm . . .” Nebraska was ignoring the squirrels for the moment. “We are in a quandary for sure. We have no way of knowing if touching any of the other floating fireworks thingies would take us to the same place Crimson Hen went to, but we have no other way to try and connect with her. We both can’t touch the other fireworks things, and can’t not touch them. It is such a quandary.” Mr. Rabbit walked up. “I heard that Nebraska, and I must say, you’re absolutely right.” He rubbed his chin hair thoughtfully. “Or maybe you would be right, if there weren’t other options.” “What other options?” Nebraska stopped pacing and turned to face Mr. Rabbit. “Well,” Mr. Rabbit said thoughtfully. “We could try exploring the opening in the wall. That was the original plan, wasn’t it?” “By jove, that’s brilliant!” Nebraska did an about face and began swiftly walking back to the camp. “Let’s get our gear and get going,” he said over his shoulder. “Well!” Deloris Squirrel said into the now silent clearing. “That at least got him to stop pacing.”
It took several hours to gather up the gear they needed, but eventually, the four explorers were packed and standing in front of the Window. Mr. Rabbit walked up to the Window waving a small device around as he went. “What’s that you’ve got there, Mr. Rabbit?” called Deloris Squirrel. “This, my dear Squirrel, is a geiger counter. It will tell me if the opening, or whatever is beyond, is contaminated by radiation,” Mr. Rabbit said, happy to have the chance to explain something. “So?” Deloris replied. “So – it would appear that the opening is not giving off any radiation,” Mr. Rabbit said authoritatively. “So it’s safe?” asked the Gray Squirrel. “Well, I didn’t say that, now did I?” Mr. Rabbit gave the Gray Squirrel a knowing look, then disappeared into the opening. Nebraska Rooster followed, then Deloris Squirrel, then the Gray Squirrel.
Once inside, the little group took a moment to adjust their eyes to the dim light filtering in from the bright day outside. There were strange patternings on the walls and ceiling, but nothing that made any sense. It looked as though no one had been inside for many, many millennia. A thick dust covered every surface. “Flashlights on, everyone,” said Mr. Rabbit as he switched his on. Their bright beams didn’t penetrate very far into the dimness. Mr. Rabbit silently took the lead, choosing a direction and heading down the corridor. “Hey,” whispered Deloris Squirrel. Mr. Rabbit stopped. “Yes, what is it?” He whispered back. “Why are we going this way?” she replied. “Why not go this way?” Mr. Rabbit said. “Why are you whispering?” Nebraska Rooster whispered. “Because whoever’s in here might hear us,” Mr. Rabbit replied. “There’s no one in here but us,” the Gray Squirrel said in a normal voice, breaking the tomb-like feel of the place. Nebraska straightened up and found his voice. “Yes, aherm, that’s right. Probably no one here but us.” “That’s one nerve-wracking ‘probably’ you’ve got there Nebraska,” Deloris Squirrel said. The little group walked slowly down the corridor. Each time one of them stepped on the smallest speck of grit that crunched as it was trod on, they jumped a little, so creepy was the confining space. The corridor seemed to go on for miles and miles. “How long do we follow the corridor?” Deloris Squirrel asked. “Until we get somewhere,” Mr. Rabbit replied, “I guess.”
“But what if we – wait!” the Gray Squirrel exclaimed. “Is that a light up ahead?” “It sure is,” said Nebraska Rooster. They all picked up their pace, and soon the light came into closer view. Then they were upon it. “What the actual hey-ho!” The Gray Squirrel spat. “I. Don’t. Believe. It,” was Deloris Squirrel’s response. “It really didn’t feel like we were going in a circle. Really it didn’t.” Mr Rabbit was perplexed. “Well it’s obvious that we must have been.” Nebraska Rooster poked his head out into the bright sunshine of the opening that they had passed through coming in. “Well, we may as well hop out of this creepy place and go have tea. I for one am starving.” The crew stepped out of the Window and back into the archeological dig area. They walked the short distance to where their camp was set up. “Hey.” Nebraska looked around the clearing. “Hey!” Deloris Squirrel said when she caught up to him. “Hey?” Mr. Rabbit’s response was confusion. “Hey . . .” The Gray Squirrel didn’t really know what to say. Nebraska circled the clearing. “There’s nothing here! Where’s our camp? It . . . it was here this morning! What happened? Where’d it go?” Mr. Rabbit looked at his friends. “It’s gone – it’s all gone,” he said. And in that moment, they all knew it was true.
Crimson left the lab and carefully picked her way down the creepy green hallway. It smelled of antiseptic and bleach. I hate antiseptic and bleach, she thought. Now, where does a chicken get a cup of tea in this place? She passed other laboratory doors, shut and locked. Then all at once, she heard an alarm. Oop, the lovely doctors must have revived. The awooga of the alarm was punctuated by a scratchy intercom system. “All security to sector 3, zone 2. Repeat, all security to sector 3 zone 2. The target is a small brown chicken. Repeat, the target is a small brown chicken. Use necessary force to immobilize the chicken. Capture chicken alive. Repeat, capture the chicken alive. Well that’s a relief, thought Crimson Hen, and I’m crimson colored, not brown!They’d know that if they had the decency to ask my name. She hurried along the corridor and came finally to a set of stairs. Noticing a sign on the door to the stair, Crimson glanced at it and gulped a nervous gulp. This is sector 3 zone 2, she thought with alarm. I better scram it!
She burst through the the door to the stairway, and heard pounding feet running up the stairway. The stairway wound around an open space. The feet she could hear came from a floor below, but she couldn’t see whose feet they were. She didn’t wait around to find out. With a little running start, she leapt/fluttered up to the railing, then bailed beak-down the center of the stairwell. In a flitting moment she careened past security guards, then opened her wings and fluttered as hard as she could to slow herself before slamming into the basement floor at the bottom of the stairs. She wasn’t seriously hurt but laid at the bottom of the stairs for a moment to collect herself. As she quieted her breathing and beating heart, she heard voices from above:
“Hey, Jimmy – did you see somethin’ jump off them stairs?” “Naw Chuck-Bob, what did you see?” “I don’t know, Jimmy, but it sure seemed like something little and brown jumped down the stairs.” “Chuck-Bob, are you makin’ that up?” “No-sir! I wouldn’t joke about jumping chickens.” “I get that. I really get that. I wouldn’t either.” “I think that may have been the chicken we’re after.” “Say, have we ever had a chicken for a target?” “Well, not that I can remember. I guess not. But you know what? I had chicken for dinner last night.”
WHAT!!!What did that crazy person say?! Crimson Hen was stunned, then quickly got ahold of herself. She remembered the kung-fu breathing exercises she’d been taught in an ancient cave so long ago. Soon, her terror had passed and was replaced by cold seething anger. Here was a place where discussion of chickens being eaten was small-talk! She must be extra careful. Where did that little firework creature send me? The sound of boots on the stairway came floating down to her, and she knew she had little time before the two security guards could regroup and begin the chase anew. I must find out where I am, how I got here, and most importantly – how do I get back??!!
The clearing was empty – except, of course for the usual ferns and bushes and small trees. Nebraska walked slowly around. “What’s going on here?” Deloris squirrel asked. The rest of the group clearly had the same question. Finally they all met back in the center of the clearing where their camp had been. “Guys, something odd has happened,” Dr. Rabbit said. “Thank you for pointing out the obvious,” a clearly agitated Deloris Squirrel responded. “Okay, everyone,” the Gray Squirrel said, putting a paw gently on Deloris’ shoulder. “We all want to know what’s going on. Let’s start with what we do know.” “Which is . . .” Nebraska Rooster wasn’t trying to be glib, but he really couldn’t think of anything. “Which is,” replied the Gray Squirrel. “That we’ve traveled to some other dimension or other time. It’s the only explanation that fits.” They all took that in for a moment. Then Dr. Rabbit looked up at the sky and said, “Well, if we’ve traveled to a different time, we ought to be able to use the position of the stars to tell us that.” “Great – that’s a great start, Dr. Rabbit,” said the Gray Squirrel. “How will we know if we’re in a different dimension?” Deloris asked as though ending up in different dimensions was like getting lost on the way to the grocery store. “Well . . .” said Nebraska Rooster, “I think we’ll know it eventually, if we’re stuck in an alternate dimension.” He paused, thinking then said, “Things will be . . . um, different, I guess.” “Like the camp site,” said Deloris Squirrel. Nebraska Rooster was about to say something in agreement, when they heard the sound of a truck pulling up. The Gray Squirrel responded immediately. “Everyone, into the bushes, quick!” he said.
They didn’t hesitate, and all piled into the bushes. A truck pulled up to the clearing seconds later. It was a small vehicle, not unlike the one they’d been transported out to the clearing in. Doors opened, then slammed shut. Boots crunched on the clearing floor. Voices rang out. The truck’s occupants came into sight of where the little group was hiding. “Whoaa . . .” breathed Nebraska Rooster quietly as the newcomers came into view. “This is a different dimension, all right.”