Zoe looked around them and she could see their little cave off in the distance, situated amongst an outcropping of sand and rust-colored rock. Levi was checking his equipment to make sure it had travelled safely and Sapphire was swooping around, looking for a place to shift into her human form. Levi pulled Ruby out of his pocket and set her on a nearby log next to his feet in the tall savannah grasses. Ruby flitted her wings a little bit and transformed from a ruby and pink sunbird into a small girl with long, blond hair. She ran around in circles and made a small path in the brown and yellow grasses of the African savannah, but she never strayed very far from Levi. Levi picked up his camera and took a quick picture as soon as Ruby was a little girl again. Sapphire was now Hazel, a tall, thin intellectual-type girl, younger than Zoe but older than Ruby. Technically, Hazel was Zoe's niece, but they didn't really think of each other that way. They were more like friends who helped Levi solve crimes and catch terrorists.
"What do you think Levi? Is anyone hungry?"
Zoe was already thinking of food, so she pulled a few snacks out of the bottom of her travel pack and passed around some salami, cheese and crackers along with a few apples. Ruby and Hazel sat down to eat and the four of them shared a light lunch under the acacia tree.
"Maybe we should check the cave painting first? What do you think Levi?"
Zoe looked at Levi as he finished chewing on a piece of apple.
"Maybe we should. We can see if it matches the time inscription on our cameras. Have you seen anyone wandering around here?"
Levi took a quick glance around them, but there didn't appear to be anyone else near their acacia tree.
"Where did Hazel and Ruby run off to?" Zoe shielded her eyes from the sun and thought she saw a couple of small figures running around the other side of the acacia tree.
"Hazel! Ruby! Come on! We're going to see the cave!" The girls ran over to Zoe and Levi as they gathered up their cameras and travel packs and headed off through the tall grasses in the direction of the rocky outcropping and their cave. When they reached the cave, they entered the interior and saw again the four symbols that formed the original painting: the sun, the water, the vase with its treasure underneath, and the crops. This time, there was no black X.
Zoe and Levi stood for a minute lost in thought, wondering about their painting. Ruby and Hazel came inside the cave for a closer look.
"What's the treasure supposed to be?" Ruby asked Levi, but Levi himself seemed unsure.
"We're not sure Ruby. We haven't figured that part out yet. I know, let's ask Hazel and see what she thinks."
Levi stood behind Hazel with his hands on her slender shoulders. Hazel was peering squint-eyed at the painting on the wall, but when she turned around, all she did was shrug her shoulders.
"Beats me, Levi. Maybe we should find some cave people and see if they understand what it means. What's the treasure symbol supposed to represent?"
"We're not really sure." Zoe explained.
"It could represent just about anything that was of value to the civilization: jewels, gold, diamonds, silver. Come on Hazel, let's see if there are any other people here. Maybe we could ask them."
Hazel and Zoe stepped outside the cave and into the bright sunshine, blinking for a few minutes until their eyes adjusted to the light. Levi was still inside the cave checking his camera's photos and getting Ruby's opinion. Ruby decided she wanted a camera of her own, but Levi had to explain that as long as she was a shapeshifter, she needed to keep her material possessions to a minimum, because that was kind of the way things worked around here. Ruby ran outside and found Zoe and Hazel searching the savannah for cave people. Zoe had a pair of binoculars and she was scanning the horizon.
"I thought I saw a few figures moving off in the distance. They might be people. Here Ruby, take a look."
Ruby grabbed Zoe's binoculars, but she mostly ended up staring at the yellow-brown grasses up way too close and didn't see much. Levi came out of the cave and took a quick look at the horizon with Zoe's binoculars before handing them back to Ruby.
"Are those people Zoe?" Zoe was starting to take a few notes about the days events and sat nearby on a small rock.
"I'm not sure Levi. They might have been people, or perhaps small giraffes. It was hard to tell from this distance. Did you check with your binoculars Levi? Maybe they can see farther than mine."
"Just a sec Zoe, I'll check." Levi grabbed his thermal monocular from his Travel Pack. "This only has one lens, but I think it has higher magnification and resolution than your binoculars Zoe. Maybe it's time for your upgrade!"
Levi smiled at Zoe, but she wasn't entirely convinced.
"Let me see what's out there." Levi scanned the horizon with his monocular and made a few notes in his notebook. "You were right Zoe. They are very far away, but I think those are people out there and not animals. Maybe we should start walking in that direction. Is everyone up for a hike this afternoon?"
"Sure thing Levi! Where are Ruby and Hazel?"
"I think they ran over to the acacia tree. Let's get our stuff packed up and we can head over there. It shouldn't take us too long to reach the people we saw."
Levi and Zoe picked up their Travel Packs, rounded up Ruby and Hazel and headed toward the prehistoric people they saw off in the distance. They appeared to be fighting or arguing about a piece of wood or a stick, while a smaller group was seated around a campfire. The orange and yellow flames glowed off in the distance. Levi took one last look through his monocular and then a second glance with Zoe's binoculars and tried to decide if they should approach the cave people or keep their distance.
Levi decided to stop their little group in the middle of the desert, halfway between the acacia tree and the group of arguing cave people.
"What are we going to do now?" Ruby was impatient about seeing the cave people.
"They might be dangerous, Ruby." Zoe was thinking. "We should keep our distance, but I have an idea. Let's see if Sapphire can fly over their fire and pick up any conversation with an audio recording device. Hold on, where's Hazel?"
Ruby called out, "Hazel! Oh, Hazel! Where are you?"
"I'm right here," Hazel's voice replied, but Ruby turned around in her direction and all she saw was Sapphire sitting quietly on a tree branch looking slightly bored.
"Sapphire!" Ruby exclaimed. "You weren't supposed to change just yet! What happened to your blue wings? You're all gray!"
Sapphire blinked slowly, "It seemed like the time was right and I didn't want to startle the cave people, so I shifted colors to blend in. Hold on while I fly over there and see what's happening around the fire."
"Wait a sec Sapphire!" Levi was digging around in his Travel Pack. "I can't find the recording device."
"I think she's already got it around one of her claws Levi, hold on." Zoe glanced over at the owlet to see if a small, black piece of plastic was attached to her claw near the ankle.
"It's on the left foot!" Sapphire announced as she flew off in the direction of the cave people and their fire. "Be right back!"
The owlet flew off on silent wings and Levi watched her closely with his monocular. Zoe and Ruby took turns watching Sapphire with the binoculars.
"I hope those people aren't startled by Sapphire." Zoe wasn't sure if they would try to attack the owlet or not. Perhaps they were too busy arguing to be bothered by a winged visitor. Sapphire was circling the small group carefully. She pretended to dive for field mice once or twice, just so they would think the owlet was simply looking for a meal. Then she flew around their camp a few more times until she thought one of them had noticed her before she eventually headed back in the direction of Zoe, Levi and Ruby.
"Phew!" The owlet was once again safely settled on a tree branch. "That wasn't so bad." Levi turned around and saw Hazel, back in her human form, climbing carefully down from Sapphire's tree branch.
"Plus, I think I picked up a few words of the cave people."
"Cool!" Ruby was excited. "What language do the cave people speak?"
"Probably Cave Speak." Hazel gave Levi the recording device that had been attached to Sapphire's leg.
"I wonder if there is a translation for their language?" Zoe grabbed her Interstellar Communication Device from her Travel Pack and waited to Levi to play the owlet's recording.
"Ok! Is everyone gathered around?" Levi was sitting on a rock and waited for Zoe, Ruby and Hazel. Once they were all seated, Levi pressed the Play button. The audio recording sounded like a lot of grunts, shouts and exclamations, but no words that anyone recognized.
"Here Levi, try the translator on the Communication Device. See if it picks up Cave Speak."
Zoe handed their Interstellar Communication Device to Levi and he fiddled around with it until he got some English out of it. It turned out the cave people were arguing over fire and a piece of tree bark. Levi pressed Play on their translator and everyone listened to the electronic device's English translation:
“You, hear me! Give this fire to that old man. Pull the black worm off the bark and give it to the mother. And no spitting in the ashes!”
"Hmmm." Zoe was thinking to herself. "What do you think Levi?"
"I'm not sure what to think Zoe. I'm not sure these cave people would be able to help us, especially with the language barrier. There are a lot of sounds and noises in their conversation that didn't get picked up by the translator and we don't know for sure whether these are the people who drew the cave painting. They seem fairly simple-minded for a cave painting that holds a message for the future. Perhaps we should look elsewhere for our answers. What do you think Zoe?"
Zoe looked up from her notepad, "Why don't we build a camp near the acacia tree? It's not too far from the cave. We could rest this evening and make plans for tomorrow."
"That sounds like a good idea Zoe." Levi glanced in the direction of the acacia tree and starting packing.
"Let's see if we can get Ruby and Hazel to help us set up camp."