0055: The Hollow

With What Strange Eyes? #28

Venturing through the forest of what Lamont had started to call in his mind, “knockers,” was easier said than done. They grew in clusters, seven to 10 feet high, with often a foot or less between one cluster and the next. They could be bent with some effort, but one had to be careful not to push the stalks too hard, lest they snap back with bruising force, unleashing a cacophony of clattering in the process. As he attempted to keep track of the captain’s lanky figure weaving through the small open spaces ahead of him, Lamont felt that they must certainly be drawing attention to themselves, if there was any attention to be drawn.

“I think I see a clearing up ahead,” Francis called back to them, keeping his voice as quiet as he could while still being heard among the rustling din. 

After a few paces, Lamont saw the silver back of the captain’s jacket. He was standing still, looking ahead. “Francis, what is it?” He asked, edging around another patch of knockers. Quite suddenly, he found that the area ahead of him was unobstructed, and he could now see what had so captured Carter’s attention. They now stood side-by-side and took it in.

The forest of knockers opened into a hollow that Lamont estimated to be roughly 30 yards in radius. In the center of it was a structure, dome-like in shape, but apparently open at the top. Lamont guessed that it was no more than 15 feet tall. It was primarily made out of the stalks of knockers, woven together like a basket, but worked into its structure were objects of many other kinds: Planks of an orange, bark-like substance, shells of various shapes and sizes and, most startlingly…

“Metal,” Captain Carter said, taking a cautious step closer.

Woven with no apparent rhyme or reason into the surface of the structure were scraps and shards of twisted metal, some rusted, some dull gray or mottled copper.

“What are we looking at?” Lamont whispered.

The question may have been rhetorical, but Carter answered anyway. “Obviously some kind of intentional construction. Primitive, but clearly intelligent. Made of found objects.”

“Including refined metals,” The newspaperman added.

Just then, Rico emerged from the dense ring of knockers and immediately pulled his pistol from his coat. “Madre!” He exclaimed.

“Put that away,” The captain ordered, waving a hand at the startled security specialist. “We don’t appear to be in danger.”

“We do not know that, sir,” Rico objected. “We must be prepared to defend ourselves.”

“I suspect that self-defense is the whole purpose of this structure,” Francis suggested. Lamont gave him a questioning glance and he explained: “Think about it. This forest of reed-like plants is a natural alarm system and stockade rolled into one. Any ground-based attackers would draw attention to themselves long before they arrived.”

“No one is here to meet us,” Lamont observed. “Which means whoever made this is still hiding. Or their defenses failed.”

“I don’t like it,” Rico said, reluctantly slipping his automatic back into the holster inside his jacket. “Why did we not see this from orbit?”

To answer the question, Lamont pointed upward. Strung across the clearing, from one end to the other, was an uneven netting. It was supported in the center by metal rods that emerged from the top of the dome. Hanging from the intersections of the net were the bleached tops of knockers, drilled in such a way that a quiet, complex drone whistled perpetually through them. “Too widely spaced to serve as any kind of real defense,” Lamont noted. “But I’d wager it can camouflage this structure from a satellite.”

“Quite clever,” Carter agreed thoughtfully. “But why would such a thing be necessary?”