It sat in the center of the room, alone. Dara stood exactly 10 meters from it. She tilted her head to the right, then to the left to gather more information from the surface of the thing. There were details from her point-of-view that she was sure the others couldn’t see from their positions dotting the invisible circle that they formed. No one was allowed to move from their spots along the perimeter during initial visual analysis. It was protocol.
Because of this, no one could see the whole object at once. Collaboration was essential. As a population, that was one of their strengths. It had served them very well in the past.
For Millenia, they explored foreign galaxies in search of planets that were compatible with their needs. Their many colonies throughout the universe attested that their methods were sound. Distance from a subject and from each other provided time for escape, if necessary, and with minimal casualties. It was the perfect mathematical solution.
Is this just an object? Yes, Dara thought. “I don’t see any signs of life. It is inanimate. Further observation is necessary though to determine if it is inert.”
Hagar stood one hundred eighty degrees opposite Dara. His position in the room allowed him to see the side of the thing that Dara couldn’t see. Wait. Did he detect a flicker? It looked like the thing opened its eyes. Uh, did it have eyes or was his mind playing tricks? He leaned as far to the right as he could without moving his feet. He stretched up trying to see the top of the creature. He leaned to the left. “I see a wing. The creature isn’t moving right now, but it is alive. It is some species of bird; I think.”
Along the wall of the circular room, forming a ninety-degree angle if a line were drawn from Hagar to the object, or bird, and back to the wall, stood Erol. He was looking down at the ground. The others in the room were waiting for his assessment, but he said nothing. His silence made sense since he wasn’t studying the object, or bird, or whatever it was.
“Erol?” asked Dara. “What do you think it is?”
Erol’s mouth pinched tight, his head still facing the tile floor in front of him. He shook his head hard from side to side, not lifting his eyes to the object. His face showed fear. His voice didn’t say anything.
“Erol!” Hagar scolded in a gruff tone. “You must tell us. We are not going to be able to report unless we can identify this. The others are waiting. I don’t have to tell you how important it is that we find a safe zone in this galaxy. We won’t be able to do that if we don’t have the information from your perspective. You know that this was the only thing that set off our scanners.”
Erol raised his hand, blocking the sightline between him and the object, or bird. Without speaking, he looked over at Hagar and shook his head back and forth again just as vigorously as he had the first time. He met Hagar’s stare with his own, then dropped his eyes back to the floor.
“What the heck?” Hagar said under his breath as he looked at Annie who was standing against the wall equidistant from both him and Erol. “What say you?”
Annie glanced at each of the others, the path of her eyes forming two chords of equal length and a diameter. She brought her left index finger up to her mouth and tapped it against her lips. A moment later she said, “I can’t see any movement, but it certainly seems lifelike.” She gripped her own chin gently, pondering. “Do you think it is an artist’s rendering of a bird?”
“Maybe but let me watch it awhile. I could have sworn that it had eyes that blinked at me.”
“Nothing can sit so still for so long.” argued Dara. “My far vision is not acute, but surely I would have noticed a movement by now. Hagar, you said you think you saw eyes blink and the shape of a wing or was it wings, plural? That matters. If it is a bird, shouldn’t you see two wings?”
“No, there is only one wing. I think it has its head turned towards me. That means the other wing would be visible from your perspective.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t see any details that convince me that there is a wing on this side. It looks like Erol is not going to look at it to find out.”
A low hum came from the air vent above Annie. A gentle breeze filled the room. It ruffled the object at its center. “Well, that is not helpful, but at the same time, it is.” stated Annie.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Annie. Might you rephase that so your observation is not so, well, convoluted?”
“The air circulating from the vent may have caused the movement that I just witnessed. So, it may not be alive. However, I can say for sure that whatever it is, art, taxidermy, or live, it has the main characteristic of a bird. It is covered in feathers.”
“Does anything else on this planet grow feathers?” asked Dara.
“I don’t believe so.” Answered Hagar. “At least we are halfway there then. It is a bird. It would really be nice to get an opinion from Erol.”
“Erol?” Annie started in a gentle tone. “Will you please look at it? We need to know what you can see?”
Erol lifted his hand again blocking the view of the bird. “A-A-Annie.” he stuttered, “It is not the type of bird that we studied on Quasar IV. I can’t look at it without a feeling of dread. It is something much more.”
“What do you mean?” asked Hagar following up his question with a scoff.
Erol continued in a shaky voice, “It spoke to me without speaking.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Hagar turned and looked at the others. “We would have heard it. Did you hear anything?” he raised his eyebrows waiting for a response from Annie and Dara.
“No.” Dara said simply. Annie just indicated the same with a quick shake of her head.
“Our time is almost up.” Hagar said after glancing at his watch.
“What shall we answer? It didn’t blink again, if it ever did. So, I will let you decide.”
“It is taxidermy.” Annie voted without any confidence behind her voice.
“Agreed.” said Dara.
“Okay, I will submit it.” Hagar lifted his wrist to his mouth and spoke into it. “Quasar IV, we have determined it to be a stuffed bird of unknown species. Nothing else in this building set off the alarms on our scanners. There must be a glitch in the software. After careful inspection, we believe it is safe for the rest of you to come down. We will start planning the settlement as we await your arrival.”
Erol’s pale face turned a grey, unhealthy color. His body began gently convulsing. Though he was still upright, his weight seemed suspended rather than supported by his legs. The other three watched him with concern until his shaking stopped.
“Erol, are you alright?” asked Annie in her calm tone.
Erol looked at her, eyes unnaturally wide. He didn’t speak. He just lifted his hand towards the center of the room.
All eyes followed to where the object, or bird sat seconds ago. It was no longer there.
It was unknown how the crew of Quasar IV all died that day. No one was able to record the horrors, none except Erol, who was no longer really Erol.