A Meadowlark Called
Aamil al-Asmari sat atop a dusty bit of sandstone near the edge of a ravine. His flock contentedly munched on the sparse, dry grasses that had sprouted from the ground as the winter snows had receded, melting away. His people’s cantonment was located a click or two up the arroyo near the base of the Roan Cliffs. He could see lights peaking out of tents in the setting sunlight. Aamil’s job, during most evenings and nights, was to watch the flocks that traveled along with the camp from one land lease to the next. He was supposed to check the position of his flock against the lease using a GPS device the Bureau had rented his people, but something was wrong with it tonight.
Regardless, everyone knew that the cheatgrass needed to be cut back before the monsoons of late summer arrived. The lightning that fell from those clouds would ignite trees, already tinder-dry, and the brown grasses that grew beneath; any fuel that was left too abundant would quickly become a firestorm. Everyone knew this, but that pair of Federal enforcers circling to the south on their dual-fan HTVs. Aamil’s head hung his head in frustration; the damned device would not get a lock on the satellites. He suspected that the Federal officers hovering just above the river meant that he had moved the flock into un-leased land. But why were they waiting there?
Aamil tucked the device into his satchel and picked up his crook. Perhaps if he walked up to the top of the hill he could catch their attention. Maybe they would fly up and tell him where the boundary line was. The air was dry and the heat of the day still radiated from the stones under his feet. The flock below bleated occasionally, a sign of their contentment. Some way down the arroyo a meadowlark called in its flutelike singsong. The evening birdsong was one of the best parts of Aamil’s job.
Once he reached the mesa of clay and pebbles, he crossed under a few gnarled juniper trees redolent of resinous sap and dust blown two or three hundred kilometers from the Great Basin to the west. His people’s camp, higher up along the line of cliffs that extended all the way to where the Green River split the range, was where the piñon might be found. Only recently had he learned how to collect their seeds, using a big rock to knock the cones down from where they hung, then picking out the nutty, hard seeds, one by one. The little ones in the camp loved to wake him early, so that he would whack at the piñon and they could race the ground squirrels for the right to pocket the nutty booty.
At the edge of the mesa, where it fell of sharply toward the river snaking red-brown below, Aamil pulled the infernal device from his satchel and turned it on. The backlight of the screen would aid him as he signaled the law men on the hover bikes. He raised it over his head and started to wave the GPS before he looked down at the collection of militarized raiders beneath. Only a little time, a mere blink or two of an eye, passed before the hover bikes, already speeding up the arroyo, loosed their first volley of 20 millimeter auto-cannon fire.
Aamil’s first thought was for his sheep. He looked over his right shoulder and realized that short bursts erupting from the bikes weren’t targeted on the flock. He felt a moment of relief before his his attention was drawn back to the crowd of ground vehicles still by the river. Aamil felt something sharp and heard the buzz of a hive a moment before the crimson blossom emerged from his shoulder. His hand was still on the wretched device when he realized he had been shot, but it had dropped to the stones by the time the bullhorn on the command vehicle belched, “Stay where you are! This is a federal capture, impound, and removal of trespass sheep action underway.”