This place, Adumreb Field, has earned quite a reputation among the locals for being a place where lost items or people have a tendency to turn up, and I found several reports that suggest there is some truth to the story, including a kidnap victim who turned up after being missing for three years. Still, though, it’s hard to say if it’s just a coincidence, something strange is afoot, or somebody is just blowing a few minor incidents way out of proportion; it looks to me like this particular place will require further investigation.
“Well,” Bill said, standing in the middle of the field, reflecting on the diary entry that led them there, “We’ve been wandering this field for like two hours, and I really don’t see anything special here.”
“This Adumreb Field place looks like another false lead, I guess,” Chira added.
“I was hoping Liza would just turn up here,” Evaira said, looking around the field, “but I guess not. Time to move on!”
“She’s been gone for almost a year now,” Chira said, “you really think she’d turn up now, while we’re here?”
“Well,” Evaira said, “we can always hope.”
“The way Liza was describing this place,” Bill said, “I was hoping to find Amelia Earhart’s body here, or something.”
“Well,” Evaira said, “we won’t find her here. After all, we….”
“You know something, don’t you?” Bill asked, “What did happen to Amelia Earhart?”
“Can’t say,” Evaira said, “we promised that NSA guy we wouldn’t.”
“NSA?” Bill asked, surprised, “what have you guys gotten yourselves into?”
“Quiet, please!” Chira interrupted, “I think I hear something.”
“What do you hear?” Evaira asked.
“Quiet,” Chira said firmly, “listen.”
Everyone quickly turned silent.
“I don’t hear anything,” Evaira whispered after several moments.
“Me neither,” Bill said, but then he paused for a moment.
“Alpha?” Evaira asked.
“I am receiving an audio signal,” Alpha replied, “it appears to be the cry of a grounder.”
“You’re hearing grounderspeak?” Bill asked.
“Grounderspeak?” Evaira asked.
“Well,” Bill said, “we can’t just go on calling it the grounder language. That’s too much of a mouthful.”
“It’s coming from that way!” Chira cried
She dashed off into the field, bounding through the grass as fast as her little legs could carry her.
“Chira, wait!” Evaira said, running after her.
“Hold on!” Bill cried out, also following them.
Alpha started to follow them as well.
Chira eventually stopped in front of a small bush growing on the edge of the field. She was looking at the bush, curiously.
“Well,” Evaira said, “I can hear the cry, but it’s faint. Are you sure there’s a grounder in the bush?”
“Positive,” Chira said, “though because the cry is faint, I’d say this is a sprout.”
“Sprout?” Bill asked.
“That’s what grounders call their young,” Evaira said, “or at least, a close enough translation.”
“So it’s a young one?” Bill asked, “How young?”
“Look at him, down there,” Chira said, looking to the ground, next to the bush.
Everybody looked down, and sure enough, there was a tiny grounder lying huddled against the bush; he couldn’t have been more than two inches long.
“Wow,” Evaira said, kneeling on the ground to get a closer look. “ He’s cute. But is he alright? The cry is weak.”
“He’s fine,” Chira said, “we grounders don’t fully develop our voice until we’re about a year old.”
“Then he’s that young?” Evaira asked.
“And I don’t hear any other grounder cries around,” Chira said, “he seems to be all alone. We’ve got to do something.”
“Hey,” Bill said, “It looks like Liza was right about this place. We’ve found a lost soul. How do you know it’s a boy?”
“That’s not important now,” Chira said, “we need to help him out. A sprout that young won’t survive on his own, at least, not for long.”
“But what can we do?” Evaira said, “I don’t know the first thing about caring for grounder sprouts.”
“I do,” Chira said, “we can take him back to the RV. I’ll take care of him.”
“Are you sure about that?” Bill asked, “Will he adapt to living in the RV? I mean, grounders do typically live in the wilderness.”
“I know,” Chira said, “but he’d die for sure on his own out here.”
“We can’t just leave him to die,” Evaira said, “let’s bring him aboard.”
Chira began to speak grounderspeak to the sprout, and the sprout crawled onto her back. She began to walk back to the RV, accompanied by Bill, Evaira, and Alpha.
Once they returned, Chira climbed onto the shelf where her pot rested, bringing the sprout with her. She walked along the counter, up to a bucket of crushed nuts, her favorite food, and grabbed a few to eat, sharing them with the sprout. The sprout then crawled back into Chira’s hair, and began to rest. Chira began to smile.
“With the life I lead, I never thought I’d be a mother,” Chira said.
“Well,” Evaira said, “I don’t know if we can keep him. He is awfully young, and I don’t know if the RV is a good place to raise a sprout.”
“I don’t know,” Chira said, “the RV may not be the place a sprout is used to growing up in, but nobody’s ever actually tried it. It could work.”
“True,” Evaira said, “but maybe we should call Shurr. He’d be better prepared than we are.”
“And raise this little sprout to not like humans?” Chira asked.
“I think he’d do a better job,” Evaira said, “and besides, it’s not like he’d raise the sprout himself. He’d probably try to find a family of grounders to take him in.”
“I know,” Chira said, “but I’d at least like to try to raise him myself. I never thought I’d have an opportunity like this. I’ll have Alpha call Shurr at the first sign that I can’t do it myself.”
“Okay,” Evaira said.
She walked into the back of the RV, and left Chira with the sprout.
“How do you contact Shurr anyway?” Bill asked, “I don’t think a grounder could use a cell phone.”
“Of course not,” she said, “I just have Alpha send a signal down to the grounders’ super-secret underground city.”
“The grounders have an underground city?” Bill asked.
“Well,” Evaira said, “Liza and I both think they do. That’s what the evidence we found indicates, but Chira and Shurr have always evaded the question when I asked them.”
“Interesting,” Bill said, “which means they’re hiding something.”
“Probably,” Evaira said, “but we can’t confirm anything.”
“It sounds like it would be an interesting investigation,” Bill said, “maybe we can look into it a bit more?”
“Maybe,” Evaira said, “but not right now. I was just about to go to bed. Investigating Adumreb Field was tiring.”
“See you tomorrow, then” Bill answered.
“Good night,” Evaira said.
So, Evaira went to bed, and Bill stood outside the bedroom, trying to decide on what to transform into for the night. The next morning, Evaira got up to find that Chira and the sprout were already awake. Both of them were sitting on the counter, on opposite sides of a brown wooden board with several grounder-shaped figures positioned on it.
“I see you’re up early, Chira,” Evaira said.
“Iz woke up early,” Chira said.
“Iz?” Evaira asked.
“It’s a word he keeps saying,” Chira said, “meaning it’s probably his name. Anyway, I thought I’d teach him how to play Gwyldo, so I had Alpha make us a set.”
“Gwyldo?” Evaira asked.
“Gwyldo’s an old grounder game,” Chira said, “well, this isn’t True Gwyldo. I mean, most Gwyldo games are played in an open field using live grounders as pieces, and there’s a whole bunch of rules that only come into play when the live pieces go against the player’s orders, but given that we’re in the RV, with no other grounders around, this will do.”
“Speaking of being in the RV,” Evaira said, “how’s the sprout, er, how’s Iz holding up?”
“He seems perfectly fine,” Chira said, “I don’t think the RV is going to be a problem.”
“If you’re sure,” Evaira said, “so, how do you play this Gwyldo?”
So, Chira spent the morning trying to teach Evaira how to play Gwyldo, but while Iz was able to pick up the game relatively easily, Evaira was struggling with the game, much to her embarrassment.
That afternoon, Evaira discussed the situation with Alpha. “So,” Evaira said, “Alpha, what do you think we should do about Iz?”
“My information on grounders is limited,” Alpha said, “Limited to the information given to us by Shurr, and that which is contained in Liza’s diary. I do not have sufficient information to determine the best course of action concerning Chira and Iz.”
“Great,” Evaira said sarcastically.
“Though I cannot provide grounder-specific information,” Alpha continued, “in general, a young organism has the greatest chance of survival when in its natural habitat. Based on that information, the best course of action would be to contact Shurr.”
“But Chira has gotten close to Iz pretty quickly,” Evaira said, “we’ll just have to see how this plays out. Anyway, I’ve decided on our next destination…”
The next morning, when Evaira woke up, she walked over to Chira’s pot. Chira was standing in front of Iz, and she looked like she had a worried look on her face.
“Evaira,” Chira said, “glad you’re awake. Could you get me the Grodizine?”
“What do you need grounder medicine for,” Evaira asked, opening a cupboard to get a bottle of brown medicine with the label “Grodizine-1962” pasted on it, “are you feeling alright?”
“It’s not me,” Chira said, “Iz looks a bit sick.”
Evaira looked at Iz. He didn’t appear to be well. His brown skin looked more wrinkled than usual. He cried to Chira, but his cry was weaker than usual.
“How much?” Evaira asked.
“For a sprout his size,” Chira said, “a quarter teaspoon should do.”
Evaira carefully poured out a quarter teaspoon of the grodizine, and passed it to Chira. Chira nudged Iz over to it, and he drank it.
“You know,” Evaira said, “this could be because he’s away from the colony.”
“I doubt it,” Chira said, “he’s just a little dried out. It’s not that unusual for a sprout to get dried out like this, but the grodizine should have him feeling better by the end of the day.”
“I don’t know,” Evaira said.
“It’s like the common cold for us,” Chira said, “except we can cure it!”
“If you’re sure,” Evaira said.
But despite Chira’s confidence, a few hours passed, and Iz was not looking or acting much better. Bill was looking at him carefully.
“I guess he needs more grodizine,” he said.
“No,” Chira said, “We shouldn’t give him more. A quarter teaspoon is the limit.”
“But I’ve seen you take a full teaspoon at once,” Bill said.
“I’m full-grown,” Chira said, “I can take it, but a sprout like Iz shouldn’t be given any more than a quarter teaspoon. I guess Iz is sicker than I thought. I’d better cool him off, and get him something to drink. Bill, could you…”
“And you’re sure this has nothing to do with Iz being on the RV?” Evaira interrupted.
“Well,” Chira began, “there’s still a lot it could be that has nothing to do with the RV.”
“But shouldn’t we look into that further?” Evaira said, “We can let him outside and see if it seems to help him. It’s easy enough to test, right?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Chira said.
“Alpha,” Evaira called, “pull the RV over at the nearest isolated open field.”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
A few minutes later, Alpha pulled the RV over, at the edge of a large, open field. Evaira and Chira got out, Chira carrying Iz on her back. Once they got into the grass, Iz jumped off Chira’s back, his energy seemingly renewed, and he disappeared into the field.
“Guess he just needed some fresh air,” Chira said, “I’ll make sure he’s alright.”
Evaira watched the field. Chira and Iz played in the field, though they were practically invisible thanks to their grounder camouflage. After watching the field for a few minutes, Evair went back inside to grab an outdoor chair. She sat on the chair, reviewing a manuscript for Mr. Basilworth. About an hour later, Chira and Iz appeared out of the field.
“Iz seems better now,” Chira said.
“It looks like the problem was the RV,” Evaira said, “should I contact Shurr?”
“I don’t think so,” Chira said, “this could just be a single isolated incident. He was perfectly fine yesterday, and the day before.”
“True,” Evaira said, “but think of the symptoms.”
Despite Chira’s confident words, deep down, she was worried. She had grown attached to Iz. Though she had realized that being back in the colony was probably the best place for Iz, she wanted to keep caring for him; she figured she could make it work.
Iz seemed perfectly alright for the rest of the day, but the next day, Iz was looking sick again. Alpha once again pulled the RV over, next to another isolated field, and Evaira and Chira took Iz outside, so he could run around.
“If all Iz needs is to run around for an hour or two each day,” Chira said, “We can make it work.”
“I don’t think so,” Evaira said, “sure we’re in a rural area right now, but what if we go to a more populated urban region. We may not be able to find an isolated place to let Iz run around. And besides, we’re on a long journey. By having to let Iz out for a couple hours every day, we’d be taking time off from travelling, and finding Liza would be more difficult and take longer.”
“You’re right,” she said, “I just know you’re right. But I never thought I could be a mother, and I do love Iz very much…”
“And now,” Evaira said, “you’ve had that chance. And if you love Iz…well, sometimes, when you love somebody, you know when you have to let them go.”
“You’re right,” Chira said, sadly, “once Iz has his fresh air, we will call Shurr.”
After Iz finished his frolicking, they got back in the RV. Evaira asked Alpha to send a message to Shurr, explaining the situation. Shurr replied by agreeing to meet to pick up Iz. They arranged to meet at an isolated field, about three days ride from their current location.
Over the next three days, Chira continued to play with, and take care of Iz, but wasn’t quite as happy, knowing they were taking Iz to the colony, where Chira would likely never see him again. Though she knew it was for the best, deep down, Chira knew she would miss Iz very much.
They, of course, continued to stop daily to let Iz run around in an open field, to keep him healthy. But the three days went by relatively fast. Before they knew it, the RV had pulled into an open field near an abandoned church. Evaira got out. Shurr, who was hiding in the grass on the edge of the field, showed his face to Evaira when he recognized her.
“Hello, Evaira,” Shurr said, “where’s the sprout?”
“Iz is back in the RV,” Evaira answered, “still with Chira. She’s grown awfully attached to him.”
“Well,” Shurr said, “bring him out here. We need to get him back into the colony. I know his parents, and they are very eager to be reunited.”
“Chira, come on,” Evaira called.
“Coming!” Chira cried back.
“What happened to Iz anyway?” Evaira asked, “How did he get to Adumreb Field?”
“No idea,” Shurr said, “he just disappeared. Rather strange, as this Adumreb Field place you mentioned is nowhere near anyplace our colony’s been.”
“I guess there is some truth to the story after all, then,” Evaira said, “missing things do have a tendency to turn up there.”
“Sounds like it,” Shurr said, “but I can’t really say. Unusual phenomenon like that is more Liza’s area of expertise.”
Chira climbed out of the RV, Iz was clinging to her head.
“Time to go, Iz,” Evaira said.
Chira looked up and frowned.
“I’m going to miss you,” Chira said in groundespeak, “but this is best for all of us.”
Iz looked back at Chira, confused.
“Go on,” Chira said, “Shurr will take you home.”
“Come on, Iz,” Shurr said, “I’ll take you back to the colony.”
Iz climbed off Chira’s head and slowly stepped forward to see Shurr. Seeing Iz approach Shurr, Chira stepped forward too.
“I see you’ve grown rather attached to Iz,” Shurr said, “I trust you know you can’t raise a grounder on an RV, and besides, Iz has parents of his own, who are quite worried.”
“I know,” Chira said, “I should have let you know the moment we found him. You’re probably mad at me for keeping him as long as I did, aren’t you?”
“Actually,” Shurr said, “I understand. You’re not the only grounder who doesn’t lead a typical life. As the leader of the colony, I don’t have the time for a family of my own. I don’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to raise a sprout, and yet, from what other grounders have told me, I know it’s truly something special – being able to impart all your knowledge and wisdom, and raise and nurture a sprout.”
“It is,” Chira said.
“If the opportunity ever comes,” Shurr said, “if I ever get more time, I would certainly take the opportunity to start my own family. But I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. It’s just the kind of life that you and I lead.”
Chira was still looking at Iz. They stayed there for a few minutes, before Evaira turned to them and said, “come on, Chira, it’s time to go.”
“Goodbye,” Chira said.
Though upset by the goodbye, she looked at Iz one last time, before she began to return to the RV with Evaira. As they left, Chira heard the sound of Iz calling to her, making the strongest-sounding cry they had heard him make yet. When Chira heard this, she smiled.
“What did he say?” Evaira asked.
“My name,” Chira said, growing teary-eyed, “Iz cried my name.”
That evening, Evaira was sitting down, playing Gwyldo with Chira. Evaira had just moved one of her pieces.
“Hold it,” Chira said, “did you just move a front offensive piece backwards? I’m afraid you can only move those pieces forward.”
“Then maybe this move,” Evaira said, moving back the first piece, and moving a different one.
“No,” Chira said, “that’s a marching jump. You can’t do that with an offensive piece that’s already moved.”
“Man this game is complicated,” Evaira said, moving a third piece.
“It’s no more difficult than chess,” Chira said, “at least, it is to me. It’s too bad you seem to be struggling to learn it. I do miss Iz; he was a pretty good Gwyldo player.”
“He’s much better off in Shurr’s colony,” Evaira said, “living with his own kind, in a place where grounders are meant to live.”
“Yeah,” Chira said, “I do miss him, but you were right. Sometimes, when you love somebody, you just have to let them go. And while I’m sad he’s no longer here, I feel happy that he’s back with his family, back in the place he belongs.”
“No problem,” Evaira said.
“Hey,” Chira said, “after all the times I have to keep your head straight, it’s only fair that you return the favor.”
“Thanks, Chira,” Evaira said, “I think.”
“Anyway, it’s my move,” Chira said.
She pushed one of her pieces forward.
“Gwyldo!” she cried, “I win again!”
“How can an infant grounder learn this crazy game?” Evaira complained.
“He just does,” Chira said, “must be a grounder thing.”
As Evaira continued to complain about her defeat, and the fact that she still doesn’t understand Gwyldo, the RV continued to their next investigation.
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
The Sprout Phenomenon, where to begin? Well, it’s a big story for Chira – the most development she’s had in a while, and a lot about the grounders in general. I also introduce the game of Gwyldo, which will surely become a running joke.
I wanted to explore the idea of love, and how you treat those you love. I mean, everybody wants to be around their loved ones, but what if being around them hurts them? If you love somebody, you want what’s best for them, even if it’s difficult for you. Also, Chira is usually the most rational, level-headed of the gang, and putting her in a situation where emotions play a major role helps her character. It’s things like this that help characters grow and change.