Protocols

The wind did not begin to subside until late the next evening and it was not until the following morning that they awoke to a day glorious and calm. He had work to do around the yard in the morning, chores and repairs on one of the tractors, so it was only after lunch that he left, telling Emma that he was going up to check on the water at the lease. The dugout there had been low the day the object had been taken and there had been no rain since.

Though Emma had given him a look as though she suspected he were up to something, he had no intention of confronting the Concern about the object. He had thought about it the night after their argument and throughout the next day and had decided against it. He knew Emma well enough to understand which of her threats she would make good on. Stubborn as he was, even he could recognize that the object was not something that was worth risking his marriage.

The aftereffects of the storm were evident everywhere as he drove north. Ditches were filled with drifts of a fine powdery earth, almost like sand and several of his neighbors’ yards had trees that had been uprooted. There was a grain bin lying crumpled and warped atop Werner’s hill, an amazing site, for the nearest bins that could have been carried here were at Barthels, over two miles away. None of the power lines were damaged, as far as he could see, which told him that it had been blown high enough to clear them. The fences along the road were all filled with detritus, anything that hadn’t been weighted down had been scattered across the country.

The dugout in the lease was as low as he could remember it being. Two cows were standing right at its center with water up to their waists when he drove up. Unless it rained in the next few days he would be trucking water up here by next week. He swore to himself thinking of how much time that would take. Three quarters of an hour each way, with half an hour to fill up the water tank. Two trips every other day. That would be three mornings gone a week at least, to say nothing of Tommy’s pasture, which he would be hauling water to soon enough as well.

He was about to head home, his head filled with worry for what the rest of the summer would bring, when the ground where the object had been caught his eye. The grass had not recovered at all, had in fact turned a brittle shade of brown. It cracked underneath his feet as he walked across it, and each step was marked with the outlines of footprints. He could feel the color go from his face and he crouched down, as much to steady himself as to inspect the grass. He prodded the individual strands delicately with his fingers and they crumbled to dust at his touch. Cursing under his breath, he pulled the knife from the front pocket of his jeans and dug into the ground to expose the roots below. They too were utterly desiccated.

He said nothing when he returned home for supper, though he could feel Emma’s watchful eye upon him. They went to bed wordless and he again found himself staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to steal him from his thoughts. That night it would not though. Try as he might he could not forget the ruined, brown patch. Would anything grow there again? And was the object having the same unseen effect upon him even as he lay there? It was a terrifying thought to say the least.

The next morning he awoke tired and with an aching head. His jaw had been clenched tight through his fitful sleep, his anger not dissipating, even through his tumultuous dreams. He drank his coffee and had his porridge in silence, Emma watching him as she ate her toast. When he was done he pushed aside his plate and his cup and stared at her. Their eyes held for a moment and then she closed her eyes, warding herself for a blow.

“I’m going to the Concern today. That fucking thing killed a bunch of grass up in the lease. They’re going to have pay for it.”

Emma offered no reply, her face impassive, as he left the house, letting the door slam in his wake.

He went into town after he was finished with the chores, getting some parts at the Agro Centre. On his way back he turned off the highway and headed down the road to the Baas. The three long barns loomed up before him, still the same white they had been when the Dutch company had been running pigs there. A chain link fence surrounded the yard now, which also had a dozen or so trailers near its entrance that acted as offices for the Concern employees. The trailers formed a sort of informal blockade between the gate and the barns where the research was done. There was also a small hut at the entrance where everyone had to check in before being allowed into the compound and Frank stopped there, asking to speak with Hildeck. He was sent to the largest trailer where he found the manager and a young woman he did not recognize.

“Frank, this is Katy Miles. She’s actually working on the project that, uh, you encountered,” Hildeck said as he motioned for him to sit.

Frank stared at her fiercely, derision and rage written plainly on his face, so that Hildeck cleared his throat and motioned for her to leave, which she did, her face flooding with relief. “What can I do for you Frank?”

“That fucking project of yours is killing my grass.”

David frowned and leaned forward. “How do you mean?”

“Where it was, all the grass is dead. The roots are dead. It’s not coming back.”

“Well,” Hildeck said, leaning back in his chair, “That is strange.”

“That’s one goddamn word for it alright,” Frank said. “I touched the thing. What the hell is it going to do to me?”

David started up, as though he had been awoken from his thoughts, and waved his hand. “Oh, it’s been fully tested. We have people working with it all the time. No long term effects have been observed.”

“I bet.”

“I wonder if we could get a look at that grass though. It might help the team get a handle on what happened there.”

Frank smirked and took off his ballcap, running a hand through his hair. “You don’t have a clue what happened do you?”

“Well, I certainly don’t. It’s a little outside my expertise.”

“Not a clue at all,” Frank continued, ignoring Hildeck. “You know what the thing is supposed to do?”

“I’m afraid I can’t really discuss that, you understand. We have certain security protocols,” Hildeck said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “Now, to get back to your pasture, we’d certainly like to get a look at that. Can we discuss getting access? We’ll gladly pay of course.”

“I know you will.”

David cleared his throat. “Well then. I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement.”

“I’d like to see the thing again.”

“The prototype?”

“Yes,” Frank said leaning forward in his chair for emphasis.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible. We have protocols and I don’t think I can get permission. We’ll gladly pay our standard access fees. And of course for the damage the prototype did.”

Frank did not reply, standing up and walking out the door, leaving Hildeck to stare after him in disbelief. He got in his truck, spinning out as he turned around to head back out to the road, slinging gravel across the yard. He flew home, pushing the needle to 160 kilometers, oblivious of the other traffic on the highway. The radio was on but he talked over it, cursing Hildeck and the Concern for stealing the object, and Jennings for letting them. It was clear to him now that they had no more idea of what the thing did than he.

When he pulled into the yard he saw that Emma’s car was gone. He sat in the truck for a moment unable to quite process what he was seeing and then ran inside, calling her name. There was no answer and as he looked through the living room he saw that all of Colton’s toys were gone. There was a note on the kitchen table that read: I’ve gone to Mom and Dad’s for a few days .I’ll call on Saturday and we can talk. He slumped into a chair holding the note up and looking at the words, not reading any of them.

from It Came From Above

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