There it sat, silky and woven on the underside of the blue tarp, just like Charles had described. Martin leaned in close to get a better look at the tiny structure. Micro strands of fiber had been woven together to create an organic fence. Within the barrier sat the strange sack. With a bulb at the base, it tapered to a pointed top, with fragile support strings strung diagonally down it, connected to the tarp and the fence.
“What is it?” Martin asked, crossing his finger close to the structure.
Charles slapped his hand away.
“Don’t touch it!” Charles cautioned.
“I’m a scientist, just like you. I know better than to touch it.”
“Sorry. I’m just excited. We’ve discovered something new here.”
“How are you sure?”
“I took photos of it. No flash, of course. Then sent them off to leading biologist, entomologist, anyone I could think of. They’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s amazing. Look at the sophisticated design,” Martin said, circling his fingers in the air over the ringed railing.
“I can only imagine that the fence is for the defense of something inside that cocoon.”
“You think it’s a cocoon?”
“What else would it be?”
“It could be an egg sack.”
“Or, it could be unfinished. Maybe whatever made this got scared off before it was complete? That thing in the middle could be empty.”
“I can’t wait to find out,” Charles said.
“Then why wait? Let’s cut it open and see what’s inside.”
“We can’t do that.”
“This might be the only one of these in observable existence. We can’t just destroy it. I told the boss about this on the up link this morning. He wants us to study it, without disturbing it.”
“Alright, well then, how about we take x-rays?”
“We don’t know how it would effect the pupa. We have to do this the old fashioned way. Watch, and wait.”
Over the following days, they set up an observation station near the sack. They also stationed a video camera to watch it at all times. The two slept in shifts, keeping careful to have eyes on it at all times.
Day in, day out, for a little over two months they scrutinized over the construction and what it might be.
“Time to switch?” Charles asked wearily as Martin approached. He carried two mugs filled with coffee. He sluggishly handed one to Charles, then sipped from his own.
“I can’t keep doing this,” Martin said.
“You have to.”
“I came here to study all kinds of life, not just this one. We don’t even know if it is a living thing! It’s been two months and there hasn’t been any movement. No sign whatsoever of life.”
“You don’t know that!” he shouted. “For all we know, this stupid silken mass is empty and we have wasted two months of our lives!”
“You can’t think that way. It’ll turn out to be something.”
“I’m tired of sitting out here, under this tarp, day after day, just waiting for something to happen. I can’t take it anymore.”
“You’re exhausted. I get it. I am too. Maybe you should take a day off. I can watch it a few more hours. And I have the camera for back up.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? You want me to slack off, so that way whenever this thing is, if anything, then you can claim the discovery all for yourself.”
“It was my discovery. I told you about it. Remember?”
“You credit hogging jerk! I have spent too many hours on this to walk away and leave you to take all the acclaim.”
“I thought you thought it was empty?” Charles asked, getting irritated.
“It is! And I’m going to prove it!” Martin said as he began towards the tiny tower.
“Don’t you touch it!” Charles replied, scampering to his feet.
“I’m going to do a lot more than touch it. I’m going to rip it open and show you that there is nothing inside. Then we can get back to our real work!”
Fearing that their months of observations would be for nothing, Charles rushed at Martin before he could reach the chrysalis. Grabbing him by the hips, he pulled him backwards with force. He fell over backwards, smashing into the camera, and knocking it to the ground with him. Before he could gather his bearings, Charles was atop him, landing blow after blow to his face.
He tried to shake him off and defend himself, but Charles had the advantage.
“You’re not destroying my work!” Charles yelled as he continued to batter Martin.
Blinded by rage, he continued to strike at Martin long after he stopped moving. Once the fire died down, he realized that his partner had gone still.
“Martin?” he whispered. There was no response. He leaned in close, placing his check near Martin’s bloodied face. He waited to feel a warm breath brush his skin, but the sensation never came. He lowered his head more, placing it to Martin’s chest. He longed to hear a thumping, no matter how soft. But there was only silence. He considered for a moment attempting CPR. But chest compressions weren’t likely to help a traumatic brain injury. Besides, they were in the middle of the rain forest. He could never get medical help in time.
He rolled off of Martin’s body, sat beside it, and weeped. This thing, this mysterious creation, had caused him to kill a man. He knew that no matter what the prize inside was, it wouldn’t be worth the cost.
Blinking away the tears, he looked at the baffling sack that he had sacrificed so much for. Stunned, he rose to his feet. The bulb was split open and was now empty. Whatever was inside it had emerged while the two fought. He looked at the camera, lying on it’s side on the ground. So much had been lost, and now they would never know why.