This story stands alone, but it is the third part of a trilogy I began on May 7, 2011, just over a month ago.

You can read part one Number Eleven and part two Prime here on the blog.

Oh, and I realized too late that “Shade” is also the name of one of the Choose-Your-Own-Romance stories. Oh well!

Sand, Part Three:  Shade

Grandpa was a miner.

My granddaughter is going to be a scientist, just like her parents.

The sand likes her.

I still drive, though she bugs me to let her. Technically, she’s still too young, though I know her dad lets her sometimes.

We find a spot with some rare shade. Another rock formation, the kind the Nau Xibao like.

She takes out her tambourine, and scoops some sand, finding the darker particles differentiated from the tawny ones.

“Hmph. Too stupid.” She says, and scoops up some more. “That’s better.”

I lean over her shoulder and watch as she selects one of the phrases the Nau Xibao understand. “Is water near?”

The sand dances a bit. “Over there! But way down. Way way down.”

The translator has been learning more and more from the Nau Xibao’s feedback over the last few years. It can interpret all kinds of things now, even though getting them to understand a new concept is still a struggle.

“Too far?” my granddaughter asks.

“Not too too too far… you make shade?”

That is what gave us our happy ending. Something as simple as shade. What we thought was simply an oddly darker shade of sand turned out to be a sentient life form.

A life form on the verge of extinction.

I’ll leave it to my kids to explain just what they are or how they evolved or why they’re endangered. What I do understand is that they need both sun and shade to survive. When Grandpa and the other original settlers landed here, the Nau Xibao had no idea what was happening to them. But they did appreciate the shade they found in the shadows of our cities, even though when the cities began to grow too large they…

Well, you know the story.

“We go down down now.” The sand tells my granddaughter.

She spills the particles back to the ground, and soon I recognize the subtle shifts that mean the Nau Xibao are on the move. How can something without legs move? Ask someone else.

The smart girl won’t leave her tambourine on the sand. They like it, and they tend to pile on till the device is completely buried, which doesn’t help with the inter-species translation. I get to work erecting the simple shelter they like so much, the kind with translucent edges transitioning to complete light-blocking opacity in the middle. It’s like a luxury condominium complex for the Nau Xibao. Soon, all the sand in the lee of the shelter is dark, and the tawny silica they discarded is piled up at the base, helping to anchor it and make it permanent.

My granddaughter has been scooping and dumping sand, sometimes laughing, sometimes snorting in disgust. The Nau Xibao are like brain cells; just a few can’t do much. But the more you get together, the more they can do.

I love her laughter. Our alien friends have brought the water directly to her feet. Her boots are wet now. She has a dream to build a giant tambourine, one that will allow a larger than ever number of the sand creatures to congregate and communicate.

She will build it someday.

In the meantime, we will build our cities.

And we will build their cities too.

I kid you not. Tuesday afternoon I was thinking “Hmm… I keep meaning to write that third and final part of “Sand”. I should do that.” Then I decided that I would dare myself, and take whatever the Red Dress Club prompt happened to be that day, and I’d make it fit the ending to my story.

Imagine my laugh when I saw that Karma was with me and the prompt was “A Happy Ending!”

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