"It was just there. I couldn't believe it. It had the look of a dying puppy, the look Forrest would have had if he never married Jenny. Just...sadness. Who does that? Who puts a huge stone statue in the middle of a field, lying down as if it's just about to die of the weight of the world? Statues are supposed to be magnificent, leaders on pedestals, men marching, benevolent Buddhas, leaping lions and the like."
Vaughn poked a stick into the campfire under the coffee pot, sending up sparks. Myles slurped a spoonful of warm beans.
"There are those creepy angels in cemeteries," said Myles, chewing thoughtfully.
"They're, I don't know, protective and haunting. Not sad, not like this was," said Vaughn. He stretched his back and looked at the stars.
"You gotta show me where that thing is," said Myles. He scraped bean sauce noisily from his metal plate.
"I don't know. Tomorrow maybe. I'd rather keep going. We can't have detours or we'll run out of food."
"You don't think it's interesting? Something like that? Here?" asked Myles.
"I think we'd be best to leave it alone, but I have to admit, I would kind of like to see it again, even if it was unsettling the first time."
Vaughn stood and cracked his back and then his knuckles. He ambled over to the tent and crawled inside. Myles cleaned his teeth with his tongue, and looked into the forest and down the path that Vaughn took. The wind trickled through the trees, and they swayed gently. The path seemed lit from within, ever so slightly, but Myles decided it was just the opening the path made in the forest that allowed more starlight down and to reflect outward. He stood and poured the coffee out onto the fire. Smoke rose up, and he checked for any remaining embers with his foot. When he was satisfied, he looked one last time at the path. He felt the chill of the wind and shivered. He crawled into the tent and laid down next to Vaughn, who was already asleep.
At dawn they were up, and quickly disassembled the tent and packed up there camp with long practiced efficiency. It was a cloudy, foggy morning and they worked in silence. Myles thought of asking Vaughn again about the statue, but reasoned that the rational thing to do would be to continue on their journey. He consulted his map and compass, and made a mental calculation of how far they could travel before noon.
When Vaughn was finished packing their gear, he looked once at Myles, then set off down the path he had come back on that night with firewood. Myles looked up with surprise, but followed dutifully without comment, the coffeepot banging rhythmically at the end of his backpack. They walked for ten minutes, until they came to the edge of the meadow.
"It's over that way," said Vaughn pointing.
"You can't see anything through this fog," said Myles.
Vaughn walked out in the direction he indicated, and soon disappeared from view.
"Wait!" yelled Myles, running after him. "We'll get lost. We can't get separated."
"You're the navigator," said Vaughn cooly.
"Yeah but, you know we don't have to do this."
"I just feel we should. Like it was important."
"There you are!" said Myles, reaching out and touching Vaughn's shoulder. "This fog is unreal. And look at this grass. Soaking wet. My pantlegs are drenched. I'm never going to keep warm today. Why'd you stop?"
"It should be here," said Vaughn, his voice cracking.
"It's foggy, how would you know?"
"I know," said Vaughn. He turned around in a circle twice, then stopped, pressing his hands to his mouth.
"What is it?" asked Myles.
"Oh god," said Vaughn. "Look at the grass."
"It's laying down." Vaughn grabbed Myles by the shoulders. "It was here. And now it's gone."
"It got moved?"
"It was stone."
"What? You've got an imagination."
The wind began to pick up, thinning the fog.
"Well it didn't just..." Myles noticed the grass further out. "...walk away."
The pair stood frozen in the field, watching more and more of the fog clear. There was a clear trail of massive footprints. Myles fished out his map and compass. He found magnetic north and found the meadow on the map. He raised his hand in the direction of the footprints and matched it to a vector on the map.
"The ship," they said together.
They immediately began to sprint across the meadow, and soon found the edge of the forest again. Trees were uprooted, and the footprints cut into the soil. They scrambled over them, panting. After ten minutes full sprint they had to rest. They walked on further, with pink cheeks and fear. By noon they were halfway back, and the footprints were their constant companion.
"It knew," said Vaughn.
"How can it know?" asked Myles.
"Well, obviously, for one, it's not a statue. It looked so human. Why would it look like it?"
"Why would you think that we put a statue here?"
"I don't know. We're not the first here," Vaughn stopped walking and wiped sweat from his forehead. "What's the point..."
"We've got to see if the ship is safe," said Myles.
"It won't want us here. It will have destroyed the ship by now."
"How do you know that?"
"I just felt it, when I saw it. Just the look on its face. Like it was beyond hate. It despaired that we had come."
"Now you're the one with the fertile imagination. Maybe it's...species...just looks like that. Maybe it's their happy face. You never know." Myles smiled wanly. "Come on, let's keep going. We might as well see if we're stuck here or not."
They continued walking on into the afternoon, shedding layers of clothing as the heat rose. They made quick progress going downhill a bit, and saw the top of the ship over the trees by late afternoon.
"It's still there," said Myles brightly.
"So are the footsteps," said Vaughn.
"They are," acknowledged Myles.
Shortly they arrived at the clearing where they had landed the ship. The footsteps ended several yards in front of it.
"Okay, where did it go?" asked Myles. "Did it backtrack or something?"
"Maybe they fly," said Vaughn.
"Flying giant statue people?" Myles burst into laughter.
They circled the ship, checking the hull for damage, but it was perfect. They ran up the ramp and closed the ingress. They dumped their backpacks in the storage area and ran up to the navigation room. Myles turned on the main power and ran a diagnostic.
"All systems fully functional," he said.
"I don't know how you read that stuff," said Vaughn.
"I'm a nerd. I can figure out any system with moving parts or moving bits. Even if it's a stolen alien one."
"Well, let's get out of here then. Away from the sad rock people. Pick another planet from the database."
"Yup, already working on it. Despite the matching vegetation, this obviously isn't Earth."
Vaughn rubbed his face and sat down on the floor next to a chair that was comically too tiny for his frame. He leaned against it.
Myles started the engine cycle, flicking buttons and sliding his fingers around on the glass panels. He punched in the coordinate sequence for the nearest candidate planet and let the computer work out the safest route that avoided bad stars and patches of debris. He turned and looked at Vaughn.
"I'm sorry I got you into this," said Myles. "It was a dumb idea."
"Who wouldn't give it a go? I fantasized all my life about getting off Earth and away from all it's mundane problems. Never thought I'd miss it this much." He smiled at Myles. "Maybe someday we'll make it back in our lifetimes."