The child was back. He beckoned to Kathy and Prescot followed. The other villagers were just ahead. He could hear the faint music of the woman’s escorts.
“We need to talk to her,” he turned to Kathy. “Maybe you could get closer. It seems to be a problem if I try”
“We have no idea what these people’s customs are, Prescot. I get the impression that we’re not doing too well so far. Let’s just go with them and see what happens?” Kathy insisted.
Prescot needed to be in control. He needed a plan. None was forthcoming. Perhaps she was right, though he would never admit it. He did not relish the thought of trying to survive in the jungle. There seemed little alternative. The path was too narrow to get the woman. Even if he could, he got the imagined that the others would not take too kindly to it.
The narrow path cut through dense jungle and nothing grew or encroached upon it. Prescot followed behind Kathy, considering his position. They were going downhill but he could not tell anything else. They were being led to wherever the villagers wanted them to be and that did not sit well with him.
It was impossible to tell the time. He tapped his watch, which had stopped sometime after the sap had oozed onto it. The position of what the woman had said were moons, gave no clue.
She did not turn back.
“Is your watch working?”
Kathy looked back then with a shake of her head but said, “Watch your step here, Paul.”
They climbed down well-worn steps and crossed a narrow stone bridge. The river splashed and foamed beneath them. All at once, Prescot was aware of sounds. When they had crossed the river, the jungle seemed to come alive with them. He caught movement but could not see what made the large leaves move. The villagers visibly relaxed, and for the first time, began to chat amongst themselves.
“Can you make anything out of the language?” he asked.
“It seems to be almost Arabic but perhaps more similar to some of the African tribal languages… the tongue clicks are anyway… the musicality of it…”
Prescot seemed genuinely impressed. She raised her eyes.
“Prescot, I haven’t got a clue! It’s an alien language. How the hell would I know what they’re saying! “She had raised her voice without intending to.
“You’re good with languages! I just thought something might be-”
“What? Familiar? Why would you think that? No! That’s not how things work. You need a common...never mind!” Kathy protested, turning away.
They walked on in silence. She was furious with him. Kathy did not expect him to understand and was not in the mood to give a lengthy explanation. It was not familiarity and she was not, she felt, good with languages. She had worked hard to understand but reading people was easy. The words just gave the form to what she already knew. To Prescot, it was inexplicable and therefore relegated to the realms of fantasy. What he could not see, he refused to believe.
At last, she said, “You’ve never given me the respect I deserve! It really grated with you that Ellis wanted a civilian crew. I dread to think where we would be now if you and yours were the only ones he sent!”
“Where did that come from? Why do people assume that security… ex-military of any kind equals thick? Guns blazing… You’ve heard the joke about the Army, Navy and Airforce officers who are asked what they would do if they found a bear in their tent? Never a truer word spoken in jest! Haven’t you read my file? I’ve read yours! Look, I just thought…”
“Nothing is familiar… at all. OK!” she protested.
“I’m not pressuring you, I just-”
He supposed it was natural. The Mission was the priority and she was civil to him for the sake of it. She had no reason to be now. They continued to argue and had not noticed the silence. It was Prescot who stopped, urging her to be quiet and this only served to annoy her more.
“Did you just shush me?” Kathy demanded to know indignant.
Prescot held his finger to her lips. The villagers too had stopped walking and were standing perfectly still, as if waiting. Kathy’s eyes darted back and forth along the dense vegetation either side of the path; nothing stirred but that did not stop her feeling like they were being watched. The villagers’ expressions remained calm, almost passive. Only the boy looked perturbed. He scanned the jungle on either side of the path as if his life depended on it, holding the hand of the man nearest to him.
The boy shot her a warning glance and she fell silent. Kathy remembered the nest and the silence was uncomfortably familiar. She looked at her feet, but there was no sign of the thick roots which had taken Jon. There were, however, familiar imprints between the villagers’ footprints. Prescot carefully lowered his hand with a slow shake of his head, pointing downwards. They both looked down and waited, knowing how little good it would do them.
Suddenly, the villagers continued to walk slowly down the path. Whatever had prompted them to stop had been resolved and she was too far down the line to notice what it was.
There had not been a sound but as she passed by the point at which they had stopped, she noticed the vegetation had been flattened. The marks in the path were consistent with someone being dragged away. Yet there had been no sound. No one had screamed for help. She counted the men in the line. One of the villagers was gone and the group simply continued as if it was hardly even an inconvenience.