“What’s in the cages?” asked Brother V.
“Ah, terrariums,” replied Dr. Brum. “You’ve got a curious mind. Your pattern comprehension showed that though. The answer to your question is: reptiles. Like most terrariums. I can show you some before we get started. After the . . . I don’t want to say blood-letting, that sounds so barbaric, and collection sounds too bureaucratic, but at any rate, after our procedure you may feel a bit disoriented so now’s the time.”
He lead Brother V to the nearest box, about the length of a desk and slowly lifted the black blanket. There was a large log in the center, surrounded by bits of tree branch with varying foliage. Its chief resident was a snake, or what Brother V at first took to be a snake. This long scaly green thing with brown stripes draped itself among the branches. Yet it had tiny clawed ‘hands’ running along its body at roughy two-inch intervals. Its head as well did not seem to be an extension and end-point like the head of a snake but rather jutted upward like a human head. It had a neck and the head came to a point in the front like a snake’s would, but its cranium became oblongly spherical near the top. Its snout was vaguely wolf-like and Brother V felt an inherent nervousness about looking closer at its face, although this nervousness fought viscously against his sense of curiosity.
“This is Raina,” explained Dr. Brum. “She came from western Belarus. A naturalist friend of mine knows where the colony is, but doesn’t tell. Belaurus is quite conservative with its nature. She is weak because unfortunately, we have to test her. Also, you won’t find her in any books yet. Maybe my friend wants to name them after himself, although he thinks there is much more to them than just a reptile. Maybe they do not live there all the time. Maybe they live much deeper in the Earth and have outlets at various places. Allow me to demonstrate.”
He placed the curtain down over Raina and led Brother V to a terrarium across the room. This one was smaller, but Brother V detected the faint sounds of activity within. Dr. Brum lifted the blanket, revealing a similar landscape to Raina’s only this one had sand sculpted into precarious structures. Skinny hills that seemed they should collapse. Brother V’s eyes hurt looking at the structures and he couldn’t figure out why.
“If you look to the side, away from the cage,” said Dr. Brum, “maybe you see them.”
Brother V did just that and immediately was treated to a series of darting shapes, like nervous fish, moving around on top of the sand.
“Breathe slowly,” instructed Dr. Brum. “Stop concentrating so hard. Focus on your heart instead.”
As Brother V did so, bringing his attention into his chest, following these yoga-like directions, he noticed a pen on a nearby table and let his eyes rest on that while in the corner, he saw shadowy humanoid shapes maintaining these towers. It seemed like a sped-up film.
Dr. Brum moved behind him, speaking to himself said, “quickly now,” he counted down and pressed a button on the wire leading to the light which turned the light a dark red, like a bathroom heat lamp. He slid aside the top and pulled something out and walked over to Brother V. “Look.”
In his hand was one of the creatures. At first glance, like a kind of garden lizard, but with longer and more muscular arms. Their heads as well, like Raina’s had distinct necks and formed into the spherical smoothness at the top, like an egg. Upon closer inspection, their faces were not reptilian but more leonine. Strong mouth and jaw.
“I must put it back now,” said Dr. Brum. “These were found in Southern Nigeria. A striking resemblance. Archeological digs tend to uproot these in desert areas. Perhaps you’ve never seen these famous photographs which also accompany the reptiles.”
He stopped over at his desk and shoved a clipboard with papers in Brother V’s direction. “Also, I’ll need you to sign these. Nothing special, just saying that you voluntarily gave blood as condition for employment. It’s also saying we’re not giving your blood to someone else and that we’ll notify you should any unexpected genetic diseases show themselves, stuff like that.”
Beneath the bureaucracy, Dr. Brum opened a file cabinet and pulled out a folder. “We keep hard copies of these because if our systems should get hacked, heaven forbid. At any rate, I like to show people what I’m up to as well down here. Rumors are always worse than the truth. Unfortunately,” he handed the stack of photos to Brother V, “being present in these pictures means being . . . relocated, at the conclusion of the project, like a witness protection thing.”
Brother V scanned through the stack. In various climes, jungle, desert, forest, coastline, it showed excavated holes in the ground revealing giant humanoid skeletons. Giant in scale to the humans standing around them.
“We need scale,” explained Dr. Brum, “otherwise people would assume they are fakes, or just normal skeletons. These photos are global and span decades. Same with the discovery of these alien-like creatures. The reason you find them inherently off-putting is that even the chemical components of their genetic material, or what we’re calling their genetic material, is completely unique to anything we’ve seen before.”
Brother V had had enough. “Why are you showing me these?”
Dr. Brum smiled. “Because of the secrecy of this position. Every official who comes here knows of these and they’ve all agreed to keep it under wraps until we know more. Kind of inspiring, no? Despite philosophical, political and religious differences, discoveries like these are what it takes to unite world leaders. And needless to say, although I’m required to say it, the consequences for violating this confidence are dire for you and . . . everyone around you so just . . . don’t. It’s been kept secret for decades and not always through pleasant means.”