“They never do what I want them to.”
Under the glare of sunlamps, the vivarium wallowed in desert. Sheila had long since removed the shading trees and cliff crags, leaving nothing but bare sand. It had to be blistering in there. A thermometer clipped to the glass rated it over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.
Sarah picked up the pointer from where it lay next to the tank and prodded the little figures within, trying to nudge them towards the flap in the tank that would lead them to another, larger vivarium, one that had actual flora and a water source and wasn’t broiling them to death. Instead of taking the hint, the little figures squeaked and huddled together even closer in the middle of the sand.
A lone figure detached from the rest. It ran at the pointer and latched on, kicking and punching furiously. Stubborn, Sarah thought with equal parts exasperation and admiration. She shook it off and withdrew the pointer. “See what I mean?”
Naomi thought for a moment. “Try misting them.”
“It’s not going to work.” But Sheila picked up the spray bottle anyways.
At the first touch of moisture, a keening noise went up from the figures in the vivarium. The group broke apart, spreading out to explore the perimeters of the damp ground. Sheila continued to spritz, gradually moving towards the flap. To her amazement the figures trailed after her, cheeping happily. When they reached the flap, one by one they trotted through without hesitation.
Sarah closed the flap, severing the connection between the two vivariums. She looked at Naomi. “I can’t believe that worked.”
Naomi grinned. “I wasn’t sure,” she admitted, “but I heard Jacob talking about a new feature they built in the other day. He called it imagination.”
“I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with making things up that aren’t real.”
Sarah stared. “Surely not like–not like us.”
“Oh, no. Nothing like us. It’s only in their heads. But it’s good for suggesting. If I were to guess, I’d say they probably thought some divine being from on high had taken pity on their sufferings and created a rainstorm that would lead them to fertile lands. Religion has to have a carrot as well as a stick.” This with a jesting flick at the pointer.
“Well, whatever, as long as it works. At least I’ve finally got this batch into the third stage.” She wiped her hands off on her lab coat. “It’ll be a couple more hours for them to acclimate to their new biome. Want some coffee? My treat.”
“I won’t say no to that.” Sarah checked the new vivarium to make sure the lid was firmly in place–it was a nightmare if they ever got out–and led the way out of the room.