59 started awake as he felt a hand on his shoulder. He whipped his head around, then relaxed a little when he saw 98 standing in front of him.
59 looked around the restoration quarters. The fluorescent lights were off and the rest of his brothers still stood motionless in their pods. The large digital clock above the doorway told him it was 2:10 in the morning. He had never been awake before his restoration cycle completed, and he felt strange and a little dizzy as he stepped out of his pod and gave 98 a questioning look.
He did the hand sign for confused.
98 smiled, then handed 59 the object he was holding.
59 obliged, turning the object over in his hands. It was a stack of paper with one edge fixed together, bound in a thick cover. On the cover was a picture of three winged creatures with pointed faces, along with the words “The Field Guide to the Birds of Oceania: 7th Edition”.
59 looked up at his brother, signing the word confused again.
98 traced four letters in the air with his finger.
B. O. O. K.
He pointed at the object and signed ‘open‘.
59 opened the object–the book. On the paper was a picture of a brown creature with a hooked, pointed nose and outstretched wings.
‘Adults are usually 40 to 50 cm long and have a range of plumage colours, with light and dark forms and variety of intermediates. Darker forms are typically found in the tropical north of the bird’s range, while paler forms are found further south in Central Australia. Juveniles resemble dark adults with less pronounced barring on the tail–‘
59 stopped reading. He didn’t know many of the words in the book, but he understood now. 98 was showing him information about the outside world.
‘How?’ signed 59.
‘Stolen. Bag,‘ replied 98.
He’d stolen it from someone’s bag?
‘Careful,’ signed 59. ‘Dangerous.’
‘Relax.’ 98 smiled and beckoned 59 to follow him.
98 led 59 across the room, then crouched behind his restoration pod, beside a linoleum floor tile that looked particularly worn out. He pried at the tile with his fingers for a second before it came loose, revealing a hole in the concrete containing a small stack of books.
Stolen, 98 signed. He looked around at their sleeping brothers, then looked back at 59 and put a finger to his lips. Secret.
59 nodded, handing the book back to 98.
‘Secret,’ he agreed.