“What can we do?” asked Jim disturbed to the point of hopelessness.
“This weapon I hold was specifically designed for the destruction of the Riachen Mothers. It will not operate through the wall of this shield. I am going to give you the other shield device. We will move back a ways into the tunnel that has been made in the Riachen fluid so that there is open space before us where I can stand and breathe without the dome. You will disengage the shield and I will move forward and then you must reactivate the dome if you are to stay alive. I will activate the weapon. Once the Mother is destroyed you must deactivate the dome and move to form it around both of us once again.”
The gravity of the moment weighed down on Jim, but he took a deep breath, sighed, and said, “OK. How do I operate this thing?” He strapped the rifle to his back.
Lay’tog handed him the second device. “You rub the middle section that is lighted. You must do it with a precise amount of pressure while holding them upright. Always hold them upright the way they are now. I suggest you use your thumb to rub it, and press down with most of your strength, since I am a good deal stronger then you. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Jim tried to sound confident. It really didn’t matter whether he was ready or not, he knew they were running out of time and that they had to do this now. If Clarissa hadn’t already been plucked, she would surely be soon. Succeed or fail, they had to act now. They moved back through the hollowed out goo about ten feet.  Lay’tog nodded at him. He held the strange devices upright, their thin metal pieces spiraling every which way into the air from the straight metal rods with the glowing centers, and rubbed the middle sections vigorously with his thumbs. The dome dissipated and Lay’tog moved instantly about six feet forward. Jim quickly began rubbing the sections again as tendrils fiercely shot in at him. The dome reformed and cut the tendrils off in mid-flight, the pieces of alien flesh, their ends charred, fell to the ground around him.
Lay’tog had positioned his weapon with the barrel pointed forward, the tibiae and tarsi of his larger upper legs finding their perspective holds within the grooves and hooks of the box-like section. The Riachen had already wrapped tendrils around his prothorax and a bottom leg. He fought back against their pull, rubbed the activation section and braced himself as another tendril wrapped itself around his neck. The weapon hummed and the box-like section brightened with a soft violet glow that abruptly shot forth a burst of violet energy with a resounding squeal. The energy sustained a connection to the weapon as it burned through the fluid and infiltrated the orifice of the mother just as it was about to drop another child into it. Lay’tog held the weapon steady as it vibrated with increasing power, pummeling into the Riachen Mother as it screamed in agony, which it relayed through a psionic blast that infiltrated the minds of every living creature in its vicinity. Jim buckled under the magnitude of its cry and fell to his knees, using his remaining strength to keep the dome devices upright and fighting back the urge to bring his hands to his head as some sort of comfort. Lay’tog simply increased the concentration on his mental block so that her scream barely entered his mind.
The mother’s tendrils lashed out at its attacker and Lay’tog was overcome with tendrils from both the Riachen horde and their mother. They wrapped around many of his legs, his abdomen and thoraxes, and he fought with all his strength to keep the weapon upright and its aim direct upon the orifice. The mother began to wither, its color faded, its tendrils recoiled, but not without taking one of his smaller legs with it. The pain was excruciating, but he persevered until he saw the burly black tendrils stiffen, hardening as the Mother died until their weight was too heavy for the monstrosity and they broke off and floated out into the fluid. The Mother’s flesh had become white and the surrounding Riachen released their hold on Lay’tog and rushed to the side of their progenitor in vain, panicked attempts to help her. When he saw the Mother begin to eat its brood, he knew that he had won. They willingly entered her orifice and sacrificed themselves in an attempt to restore nutrients and energy to their ailing mother. But Lay’tog kept the beam steady, cancelling out any restoration progress that had been made until every last Riachen had been devoured and the Mother had become an atrocious immense flab of pale white flesh.  He knew from past experiences that it was beyond healing now and would steadily die as time past. He deactivated the weapon; the violet beam receded back within the barrel and into the box which held its origin, protected and secluded. He strapped the weapon to his back.
“Remove the energy dome. We have some time before the fluid enters this tunnel.”
Jim did as he was told. “What about the children? How do save them?”
“They are alive within those sacs. They will sustain for a short time longer. I have the power to eliminate this fluid with an energy burst from the dome, but the sacs would also be eliminated. We must retreat to the outside of the fluid wall and allow the dome to re-energize and then try and rescue the children a few at a time by using the dome to create tunnels through the ooze and protect us as we carry them outside the fluid wall.”
Jim nodded and moved in close to Lay’tog before reactivating the dome. Together they made their way through the gelatinous mass until they were again outside the ooze. Jim disengaged the energy dome and handed the devices back to Lay’tog. They shared a few moments of uncomfortable silence as they waited for the devices to fully recharge, Lay’tog bandaging the hole in his flesh where his arm used to be.  Jim suddenly remembered Agent E.I.S. and that the local authorities would soon be swarming upon this area, most likely without and open mind toward the presence of Lay’tog. He proceeded to inform his new friend, but before he could open his mouth the alien spoke.
“I know, Jim, thank you. They are still a ways away, but are indeed closing in. You are right, I must not be discovered. I believe there is time for me to help you rescue a few children and then I must go. It is unfortunate that the Riachen will be discovered, we had hoped to avoid that. Perhaps it will lead to your kind being better prepared for when they return.”
“Yes, they are a relentless scourge upon the cosmos. They require the offspring of other living things of flesh and intelligence for sustenance and procreation, as you have witnessed. They do so without regard for sustainability and would easily wipe out whole races of beings if allowed to continue unchecked, much like they have already done within the solar system of their home world. They are as intelligent as they are monstrous, although they are one minded and devoid of individual thought. They know this planet contains bountiful prey and they will return with greater numbers to harvest your kind. It is our sworn duty as a race to prevent the spread of the Riachen, and we could use allies. I will leave the energy dome devices with you, so that you can rescue all the children. But come, it is time to begin.”
Jim could barely process this information before Lay’tog had moved near him and reactivated the energy dome. He could sense the alien’s need for haste and ran to keep up with its swift movements as they burned through the fluid to the nearest sacs hanging from the wall. Using the dome they made a tunnel in front of about five sacs and then disengaged it so they could disconnect them from their perches, which required using Lay’tog’s energy swords to cut through the slimy tendrils that attached them to the wall.  Jim could carry two, although they were very heavy, and Lay’tog could handle three along with the dome devices. They reactivated the dome and made their way to the outside of the fluid once more.
“This sac is very thick,” spoke Lay’tog as he glided a tarsus along its slimy surface. “You will have to cut into it very carefully so that you do not harm the children. They will need immediate medical attention once they are released. I would wait until the authorities arrive before you do so. I must go now. Here are the dome operating devices, and an energy blade to cut down the sacs. Simply rub the box to activate the blade, be very careful.”
Jim studied this strange creature as it spoke, so completely alien from human kind yet full of compassion and nobility. He admired him greatly and clasped his tibia with his hand as Lay’tog’s tarsus clasped his arm and they shook in mutual appreciation. “Thank you, friend,” said Jim. “I hope we will meet again under better circumstances.”
“Yes,” spoke Lay’tog with clicks and clucks. “I will speak of our contact to my Queen and perhaps we will send an envoy to your leaders soon in hopes of gaining an ally against the Riachen. Good luck, Jim, and farewell.” With that the alien withdrew his leg from the human’s grasp and hurriedly scuttled off, the four long stalk-like legs of his metathorax switching back and forth at a blurring speed as he ascended the rising floor on his way out of the Riachen den.
Jim began the long task of rescuing the remaining children. No long after Lay’tog’s departure, a mass of armed authority ascended on the den followed by medical personnel with their equipment and vehicles. They overwhelmed him with questions, and Jim tried to keep his answers focused solely on the important task of saving the children. He assured them that the children that were imprisoned in the sacs were still alive and relayed the details for rescuing them that he had learned from Lay’tog. When they questioned the validity of his information, he assured them that he had a reliable source that he would later reveal, when they had more time. And yes, he would explain the origin of the strange alien technology that he now possessed. With their help he managed to acquire all of the remaining sacs. They began then to carefully cut the sacs open, revealing children immersed in thick goo with thin cable-like veins attached to them from the inner walls of the sacs. As they cut the veins and pulled them from the goo, the children would become conscious and attempt to breathe, sucking in the goo that covered them instead of air. They had to wipe the goo from them quickly and resuscitate them with the help of trained medical personal and their machines. They managed to save most of the children, but sadly not all of them. One of the children saved was indeed Clarissa, Jim recognizing her from pictures Elizabeth had shown him. For this he would be eternally grateful to Lay’tog, and would tell him so when they met again years later.




They didn’t seem to take notice of him and he quietly moved in behind the shield of the strange hominine insect as it moved forward with measured deliberate movements. It began unstrapping a long wooden rifle-like weapon from its back and readying it before its person. The insect was seemingly unfazed by the attack of the creatures as many more then he could count were swarming upon it. There was something very large before them, in the distance, obscured by the numerous creatures wiggling through the goo. The insect turned its head back to him, suddenly, and took a long examining look at Jim with its large black compound eyes. Something slimy wrapped about his right arm then, and jerked it up, forcing him to lose his grasp on the rifle. It dropped down, but his left hand had a tight grip on the forestock and prevented it from hitting the floor. He simultaneously looked up and pulled his arm back in vain. An orifice of layered flesh flaps and tiny fangs stared down at him, a purple tendril dropping down from the side of the orifice and tugging at his arm with tremendous strength. One of the hump shaped things was above him in the goo, a second purple tendril shot out from it and wrapped immediately around his neck, tightening. The tendril was rubbing and burning into his skin like coarse ship rope. Within seconds his breathing was cut off, and it felt as if it could squeeze his head off. The pain of not breathing overcame him and caused him to panic. He dropped the rifle and tried to pull at the tendril around his neck with his left hand, while trying not to have his right arm yanked off by pulling it back against the thing’s grotesque strength. He would be choking but all his air flow had been cut off, spit was drooling from his lips and he felt as though he were falling into a deep fog.

He could see that the human was dying. He was compelled to help him, but at the risk of completing the mission? One for many, or many for one? To him the choice was obvious; sacrifice one for the many every time. But he hated the Riachen, and he couldn’t stand by and watch them take life. Anger filled him and he disengaged the shield, drew and elongated an energy blade while holding the wooden weapon with his other leg and slashed the tendrils with a single swipe. The Riachen reeled back a bit from the pain and he moved expeditiously to stand over the human, engaging the shield once again, burning through tendrils and Riachen that had moved in to attack him at the sight of the breach in his defense. He turned the blade off and pouched it, and then pried at the still tight tendril with his tarsus until, eventually, it was removed from around the human’s neck, whose face had developed a bluish hue from the lack of air. He hoped he hadn’t been too late and was relieved to see him take in a sudden, and deep, gasp of air, open his eyes and sit up choking and spitting. The human’s eyes were wide with shock to see his alien physique positioned over him, and he hastily got to his feet making short, high cries of surprise and aversion, frantically looking around until he spotted his rifle. There was enough room for the two of them to stand and move within the field, although it was a very tight space. The alien motioned for the human to take one of the shield devices. He nervously eyed it but kept darting his eyes toward the rifle. However he shortly acquiesced and took the device. The alien then reached into a pouch and drew a small disc shaped object and rubbed it until it glowed.
“This allows you to understand what I am saying”, he said showing the human the device.  His mandibles were chawing around the labrum, the red maxilla peeking out and the labium moving up from the bottom as the palps jutted in from the sides. This made clicking and chomping noises in different tones that seemed to be translated through the device into English within the presence of his mind. The antennae rotated and repositioned about the alien’s green triangular head as its black compound eyes were seeing him in ways that Jim could only imagine. It was truly astounding to witness such a creature, and it was talking to him. He was overwhelmed with wonder. “You have nothing to fear, I just saved your life. I am Lay’tog. You are born like me, not made like them.” He motioned to the hump worm-like things that were crashing feverishly into the shield causing an array of sparks to flash moment to moment all around them. “They are called Riachen. That device you hold, and this one, keeps the energy dome full. Pick up your weapon and follow close to me. We don’t have much time.”
  He turned away from the human, readying the wooden master weapon before him. The Mother Riachen was very near. They moved forward under the protection of the energy dome, Lay’tog knew that it didn’t have much power left. He couldn’t move too fast or he would out pace the human, but he was able to convince Jim to jog a little in time with his long four legged strides. The horde of Riachen was dissipating as their numbers burned into charred bits. They had thrown themselves foolishly at the shield in abundance the moment he had gotten close to the Mother in a panicked attempt to try and curb his advancement. With their numbers thinning they could now make out the Mother’s lair. An immense animation of vibrating beige flesh, crowded with long burly black tendrils that extended out from her, floated before them in what appeared to be a thinner solution of the syrupy fluid. A large orifice exactly like those of her brood, was located in its center, surrounded by smaller purple tendrils that whipped about, a few extending out to the walls of the den. There, countless translucent sacs were attached to the walls. Inside were the unmistakable forms of small human children and babies.
“Oh my god!” Jim was deeply disturbed, horrified at what he saw.
“Yes, it is a gruesome sight. You must stay strong in the wake of this abomination and the repugnance of its acts. Stay focused human, we must rid the cosmos of this existence above all else.”
The smaller purple tendrils were plucking the sacs off the wall and moving them through the goo and into the gaping orifice. It was obvious they were being eaten. Once it had placed four within its maw, the larger black tendrils swelled at their stem and a bulbous mass pushed through them to their ends. Out of each one oozed a dark grey sac of hideous organic material pockmarked with calluses and sore-like abrasions, which hung in the ooze and began to glow from within. Mere moments later the sacs reached a burning brightness and the skin cracked and separated, revealing coiled fully formed Riachen that released themselves from the tendril and floated into the goo, uncoiling and immediately joining the attack on the energy dome. The Mother was in a constant state of reaching to pluck sacs of sustenance from off the den’s wall. 



He swung the rifle strap around his shoulder, shut the cargo hold door, and faced the direction of the deepest part of the forest. Where were these things? In which direction? He closed his eyes and meditated, trying to get some sort of feeling for where he should journey. He took some deep breaths, cleared his thoughts, and his mind calmed. The air smelled so good out here, the rain seemed to only bring out more of its freshness. The cries of the local animals could be heard from moment to moment as they went along their daily routines, and the buzz of insects was a consistent cacophony. He could sense this forest life evolving, moving, and flourishing all around him. He could see it in his minds eye in an array of bountiful colors flowing and mixing in nature’s grand design, except for a particular point directly before him, a ways off. A place devoid of color, bereft of sound, emitting a deep noxious feeling and a fetid aroma. That is where it must be; he swung the rifle around and took it from his shoulder. He placed the butt under his right arm and his right hand around the trigger guard with his finger on the trigger, his left hand gripped the forestock. Feeling as ready as he would ever feel, he moved swiftly and cautiously into the forest, noticing that someone else, somewhat bigger then he, had taken this path not too long ago. Whatever it was, it wasn’t human. It had four legs; he could see its marks in the mud. It was probably a part of whatever was kidnapping the children.
He felt confident he was on the right path and increased the pace of his movements to a steady trot. His boots splashed into the strange muddy tracks of whatever creature had already passed this way as the leaves of bushes and tree branches slapped his red rain coat. After a time, Jim noticed that dark gunk was building up on his coat and pants and starting to decorate his gun. He stopped abruptly and held the rifle with his right hand and hastily began brushing the gunk off his jacket with his left. It was wet decayed foliage and boscage. Looking up he could see that all around him the forest was dead and decomposing, and must have been like this for the last twenty feet or so. He had been too caught up in the urgency of the situation to notice earlier. The bark of the trees was black and the branches drooped and sagged. The leaves that were once green were now brown, yellow and deep purple, quaggy and mushy. The forest was rotting before his eyes and the vile smell assaulted his senses and his stomach lurched vomit into his mouth. He spit it out and took some deep breaths, trying to ignore the smell and regain his focus. He readied his rifle once again and carefully trudged through the slimy muck. It was now dead silent, nothing stirred in what he had previously found to be a forest constantly vibrating with life. It chilled him. What were these things? From whence had they come? They weren’t here when he had explored this landscape a year or so ago.
Eventually he noticed a clearing ahead and slowed his movements. Stepping slowly and discreetly, he bent his knees and bowed his head, pointing the rifle forward as he approached the clearing line. Once there, he took a knee and examined the blunt glassy walled structure. The rain was coming down in heavy cascading sheets and it pounded into him. He noticed that raindrops seemed to become part of the structure as they hit it, instead of being repelled off. It gave the impression that the rainfall was flowing into it. Jim found the structure very surreal; it was if it were hard rain, like waterfall walls. It mesmerized him for a spell and he had to shake his head and remember why he was there. He didn’t know if he was ready for this, but he got to his feet and quickly ran to the left of the structure’s opening, putting his back against the wall so he could lean over and peer into it. Empty. The twilight came in through the glassy walls with a diffused smokiness, but enough of it shone through to make it clear that nothing living was scurrying around in the immediate area. Jim entered with his rifle pointed before him and made his way in the only direction available, forward along the floor as it slanted downward, underground.  
The floor was made of the same substance as the ceiling and walls, it was very slick and Jim’s boots could find no hold as he found himself waving his arms and trying not to fall. Eventually he figured out that if he slid his feet as he walked, as if on a wet floor, he could continue onward without falling, although he had to move rather slowly. The area was devoid of obstruction and before too long he realized that he was going to be underground and lose his light source. He hadn’t wanted to use his light box and attract any attention, but he would soon have no other choice. He found it very bizarre that he hadn’t encountered any of the creatures that Agent E.I.S. had picked up in the infrared, and he hoped that he had somehow lucked out rather then it being some trick to lure him into an ambush. He decided it was time to turn on some light and he took a small clear box out of his jacket pocket and shook it. Light filled it and illuminated the area in a thirty foot radius in all directions from its origin. The other property of this tool was that it adhered to metal surfaces, and he placed it upon the metal rail in front of the scope on the rifle. He resumed his journey forward and was soon amazed to see that the fortifications of this enclosure oozed into a clear syrup like embodiment of fluid some thirty feet ahead. He stopped bewildered as to what he could do now. How could he enter that and breathe? What a defense. If Clarissa was here that would mean that she was in there. And if she was in there then how could she still be alive? Despair began to overtake him, but he shook it off. He couldn’t just give up at the first sign of adversity.
With deliberate sliding movements he eased toward the liquid wall. As he neared the gelatinous mass he noticed that there was a large fissure in it, slowly closing as the liquid oozed in upon itself. Still it was large enough for him to enter. The question was: did he dare? This was it, a choice that could cost him his life. If he didn’t go, it could mean the end of Clarissa’s. But how was he to know if she was even still alive? He was wracking his mind in the span of seconds trying to come to a clear resolution that he could feel sure about, feel good about. There was no way it could be that easy, and no thought entered his mind that would make him feel like he was making the right judgment. And judgment is what it was, to condemn or be condemned to death. Time was running out, the fissure was closing, although gradually. What is it to live without the will to sacrifice yourself for others? He didn’t want to know, to know that kind of apathy, of resignation. To die for a cause would always be the better choice for him, then to live with contrition. He took a deep breath, pointed his rifle before him and went into the syrupy mass. It was indeed a haphazard, meandering tunnel through this strange substance that seemed to get larger the further he traveled. Before long he beheld the miner: an insect of great stature and girth surrounded by some sort of energy shield that was burning through the liquid, creating this passage. Large beige hump shaped, worm like, things were shooting purple tendrils at it from their horrid bodies, which were being burned as they met the shield, causing sparks to shine. This didn’t seem to deter them and they began to attach themselves to the shield, even though they were instantly charred into fleshy black carcasses. 



“Listen, it looks bad but we really don’t know what we are looking at,” said Steven, attempting to reassure the couple. “We can’t have E.I.S. turn on his light or they will locate his position. We’re thinking that we need to contact the authorities before we do anything else.”
As Elizabeth sunk into his chest and sobbed, Jim turned his head back towards them. “Do you have the exact location pinpointed?”
“Yes. It is a few miles within Timber Park, close to the northeast entrance. Why?”
Jim stood up slowly, bringing Elizabeth up with him. He whispered into her ear and she began to walk with him toward the stairs, leaning heavily upon him. “Look, you guys do what you think you have to do,” he turned and shouted back to the news guys, “but we can’t wait around any more. If there is any chance that Clarissa is alive we have to go now.” He began moving up the stairs with Elizabeth.
“You’re fucking crazy.” Ron was flabbergasted. “Did you see how many of them there are? You’re dead meat you walk in there.”
“We don’t have any choice, there isn’t enough time. I’m going to put Elizabeth to bed and then I’m heading out.”
Ron turned to Steven. “Crazy bastard.”

The images assaulted him in waves. Dead infants of both his and the human’s race encased in pods and fed into the orifice of the Riachen Mother, sounds of the infants’ cries as they were devoured. Riachen tendrils wrapping about his neck and legs, pulling at them until they are ripped off, white fluid spurting out. His mental barriers kept them at bay, exposing them for what they were and failing to fool him into believing that they were really happening. The Riachen surrounded him, squirming across the floor, writhing along the wet, translucent walls, wiggling along the ceiling overhead. He activated the devices within the grasp of his smaller legs. A multitude of tendrils exploded toward him from all angles. They shot through the air and met a dome of electrical current surrounding the intruder; each tendril burned and was violently forced back with bolts of current. He fired his pistols, targeting the fleshy humps in rapid succession. He knew this would only deter their advancements for a few moments. He activated another component of the devices. The dome surrounding him became solidly visible and bursting with energy. As moments passed it became brighter and brighter into blinding white light until it shot out a solid current of explosive energy in every direction, burning the Riachen as it contacted them until they were charred black pieces of dried meat. This lasted mere seconds and then the dome flashed out, devoid of energy. It would need some time to recharge. This was a dangerous time when he would be without his shield and would have to rely solely on his abilities as a warrior. He put the devices back into their pouches on his belt and dropped the pistols from his large legs to his now empty smaller ones. His two larger tarsi reached to the side of his belt and each drew a small square box with an indented area that was lighter in hue. He rubbed these areas simultaneously and a thin triangular energy beam spread out from each box, the bottom was wide and the beam thinned out to a sharp point at the top. He held these out to his sides as he slowly moved deeper into the den.
The den slanted down beneath the planet’s surface, which was where the Mother sat, feeding. It was dark down there; no light was able to enter from the outside world. Immediately his antenna picked up the presence of Riachen moving toward him, about thirty or so. They would soon be close enough to shoot their tendrils at him, and he prepared himself for the coming battle. As soon as they were within firing range, he began to blast them with his pistols. He was able to target about half of them, successfully keeping them from shooting the purple rope-like tendrils inlaid with red branching vessels, but the others did not hesitate. The grotesque rope-like extensions shot toward him again, and with deft slashes he cut them out of the air with his energy blades. He could hear the Riachen cry out in pain, a combined sound that overloaded and assaulted his antenna, as they swiftly drew their tendrils back. He had never stopped firing blasts from his pistol during this assault and soon he had this wave stunned and immobile. He then targeted them one at a time and shot blast after blast into their fleshy hides, taking huge chunks out of them as purple and green fluids spurted into the air and ran upon the ground. When he felt sure that one was dead he would repeat the process on the next one. When he got close enough he began slashing the bodies with his energy blades, cutting them in half and assuring that they would never move again. 
He was close now. The slick translucent walls, ceiling and floor began to run together into some clear thick syrupy fluid that made up the entire inner sanctum of the den. He paused here. A hundred or more Riachen slithered about within the fluid and he knew from experience that the Mother was right behind them, along with any babies still alive and encased in pods. He holstered his pistols and drew the two devices he had previously been holding. They had fully recharged by now. He activated the energy dome and strode into the fluid. The energy burned and forced the fluid to push out and around it, unable to penetrate the protective dome. The Riachen seemed to know not to shoot their tendrils and instead hit him with a psychic blast that stunned him and froze him in place. He was reluctant to use the energy blast; he needed the energy dome to last as long as possible. He withstood the psychic blast as it nearly caused him to lose consciousness. But he fought through it and pressed on. A Riachen got brave and approached the dome looking for a weakness. A bit of it brushed up against the energy and it was instantly burned. It hastily retreated by wriggling violently through the fluid. He knew that he could keep pushing foreword until he reached the Mother, the Riachen would keep their distance knowing that attacking him would prove futile.

Jim parked his car nearby the only other car in the lot. He had driven to this part of Timber Park purely on guesswork and feeling. The presence of this other vehicle seemed to substantiate the likelihood that he was close to where Clarissa was being held, but that wasn’t exactly a sound conclusion. It was probably a hiker. He got out of his car, his boots pushing into the small wet stones, the rain washing over him like heavy mist. After adjusting his ball cap, he lifted the hood of his rain jacket over it and tied it securely. He then walked around to the cargo hold and opened it. Inside was a high-powered pulse rifle complete with scope and Bull energy amplification unit. He had carried it with him during his days of exploring the park. He picked it up and toggled a sensor located over the small of the stock. It clicked, whirred, and then settled down to a low vibrant hum. He picked up the amplification unit and locked it into the accumulator located behind the firing chamber. The humming got louder; it could now knock over a large animal with one blast, where as before it would have taken two. Unfortunately, it will also deplete the energy supply twice as fast, and then will take several minutes to recharge once it is powered down. He didn’t know how many of these things there were, probably more then he had energy blasts for, but he had to risk everything and try and save as many children as possible. 



Eventually he arrived at the park and stored his car in one of many open stalls in a vacant lot. He exited the car and immediately disengaged the disguise and returned comfortably to his own natural form, his antennae twitching alertly. He opened the cargo hold door and took out various devices and inserted them into his belt. He then opened the door to his vehicle and reached into the back seat and brought out a larger device with a long, thin barrel about four feet in length. It was built out of a substance that resembled wood with a smooth finish; it had little grooves and hooks on a box-like part where the barrel jutted out from, designed for his tibiae and tarsi to take hold and operate. He slung this so its strap rested against his neck, just below his head, and the device settled upon his prothorax as he bent it forward about fifteen degrees, it protruded out to either side of his body a good length. He stood a moment facing the wood in the direction of the den, crossed his large upper legs and bowed his head to draw strength and to focus. His senses were acute and he could feel the dark spot. Devoid of light and warmth, it sucked at its surroundings and drew in the energy of the neighboring life, whether it be animal or plant. He pictured its vile form of moist rounded walls built from Riachen fluid secretions that had solidified and became shelter, as it sat under the covering branches of surrounding woodland trees. His mind journeyed within the moist rounded walled den, to the thick syrupy fluid center where the Riachen mother bathed and fed. He saw her clearly in his minds eye and he imagined her pain and saw her screams bubble through the syrupy goo, screams that he would draw from her as he took her life.
He raised his head and the four legs attached at his metathorax moved back and forth along the ground as he scuttled through the bush under the trees. The nearer he got, the darker the wood became and where there were the myriad sounds of birds and animals earlier, silence deepened as the surroundings became bereft of life. The flora sagged and faded in color, browning and decaying the closer he got to the den. Then it was before him, mere yards away, slick and glassy translucent walls made from the fluids of Riachen workers. It was not a large structure, merely twenty or so feet wide, about ten or so feet high, mostly built underground. The Riachen were a burrowing horde, the rains keeping the ground soft and easily minable. The prey that had hung from the trees earlier had been plucked, most likely for the immediate suscitation of the Mother. Pausing here, his antennae alert to the number of Riachen directly within their structure, he began to prepare himself for the first assault. This was always a physic one, designed to cause despair and hamper motivation and focus. He was not prepared before and they were able to crush his will enough to cause him to retreat. Part of the reason they were able to do so was the revelation that a Riachen Mother was present. This unhinged his nerve, he had not prepared for her and confrontation would have resulted in his demise. Now he was ready and he concentrated, building up mental barriers that would shield him from their physic attack. With the larger legs of his prothorax he drew two pistols from his belt; his smaller legs each drew a different device. With long slow strides from the legs of his metathorax, two at a time on each side, he walked into the opening of the den.

Agent E.I.S. relayed information back to Steven’s metallic book and he shared, “Well boys it looks as though the end’s in sight. Seems that E.I.S has registered an opening in the tunnel about eighty or so feet ahead. He is also registering movement in front of the opening, although it is very vague at the moment.”
“Oh, finally!” exclaimed a weary Ron. “Now let’s hope it’s news worthy.” He looked around to make sure Elizabeth wasn’t present or coming down the stairs.
Jim noticed and leaned in close to him. “I’m going to go get her now, so you might want to watch your insensitive career minded notions from here on out.” He patted him on the back, turned and jaunted up the stairs. He had great news and he couldn’t wait to see the excitement on Elizabeth’s face when he told her. He opened the door to her room and was surprised to find her sitting on the side of the bed, wide awake and starring into middle distance. She did not look up as he entered and made his way to her side. He sat down next to her putting his arm around her shoulder. “You alright baby?”
She turned into him, drawing his warmth in closer, “I was just thinking. The possibilities of what we might find are running through my head. I couldn’t really sleep, I’m so afraid that we won’t find her well.”
“I’m sorry.” He drew her in tighter. “You have to prepare for that possibility. We just don’t know what we are going to find at the end of the tunnel. It might not even be human. Keep hopeful baby, but you have to prepare for the worst.”
She sat up, pulling herself away from his embrace but putting a hand upon his chest. “Why? Why do I have to prepare for the death of my little girl? She’s alive, Jim. I know she is.”
“Look, no one is saying she isn’t, but the circumstances lead us to conclude the worst. You just need to prepare yourself emotionally for what could potentially be devastating.”
“Well I’m not going to, because that works against the positive energy of my belief. I won’t allow that to seep in, ever.”
“OK, ok. Listen, the E.I.S. is close to an exit in the tunnel, and there is movement. We should go down there.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and she stood up briskly. “Let’s go!” She pulled Jim up by his arms and they quickly left the bedroom and headed down the hall to the basement door. They were half way down the basement stairs by the time Steven and Ron noticed, so enthralled were they by whatever was on the metallic book’s screen. Steven rushed up to them while Ron blocked the screen. “Look, I don’t think you guys want to see this. And I’m thinking that we should have had the authorities here. It’s just awful.”
Elizabeth pushed at his chest; Jim had her by the shoulders. “What?!” she said with some alarm. “I don’t care what it is, I have to know!” She tried to push past Steven, but Jim held her tightly and her upper body was pulled back as a leg kicked out. “Let go of me Jim! You can’t keep me from the truth. I need to know!” Jim released her as she pushed up against him again; she stumbled down the stairs in haste and crossed the dusty floor to where Ron stood blocking the screen with arms crossed. She forcibly moved him out of the way and he was easily pushed aside. What she saw upon that screen couldn’t be fully comprehended, at first. It was an infrared view showing countless orange wormlike shapes moving around on a purple background. Perceptibly it began to dawn on her. What she was looking at was what had come for her young child; this was a nest of creatures that are a part of the insectas class. These creatures’ existence was previously unknown to humans, and was only encountered because they settled this distant planet. Creatures of the insectas class operate solely for the benefit of their kind, without mercy or compassion for other life forms. The horror of it was sinking in, they gather for the nourishment of their hive, for the reproduction of their kind. There is no want of ransom, there is no desire to capture and release. Tears welled up in her eyes and eventually escaped and rolled down her cheeks. Her baby was dead. There was no other conclusion, and she fell down upon her knees and wept openly. Jim rushed to her side and put his arm around her, while Steven and Ron watched, powerless as to what to do, from the stairs behind them. 



“Perfect,” said Steven as he placed the metallic book on the table, opening it so the top half faced the hole. On the top half was a screen and on the bottom was an array of buttons and digital sensory controls. He turned it on and the screen came alive with the murkiness of the cellar; the dirt floor stretched out with Jim’s legs in the background. “There is a digital camera within the Agent’s sphere that picks up images in great detail twenty feet away, and at lesser detail between twenty and a hundred or so feet away, and at a three foot radius in any direction. The neck that the camera is on can pivot or move in any direction in order to pinpoint an image better. There is a small but powerful light built into its front under the neck. It can also view and record in infra-red.”
“Wow,” said Jim, marveling at the little bot as its neck rotated and moved about. “You’re not operating any controls; can it operate on its own?”
“Yes, it has an artificial intelligence that is pretty simplistic. It is basically always searching for imagery. Now, it can be searching for unusual footage that it constantly checks against a database of imagery stored at the network, which it accesses via satellite, or it can be programmed to search for specific imagery. That can either be done through pinpoint description, say from a picture of a known fugitive for example, or in more general terms using a broader descriptive category like children, or wallets.” Steven chuckled at his little joke.
Jim smiled politely. “What do you do in this case? We don’t have any idea what we are looking for.”
“We are probably just going to have it pick up every image that it finds in that tunnel. We can always adjust it if it enters a wider area with more details. We should get started.” Steven carefully and gently picked up Agent E.I.S. and placed it at the beginning of the tunnel. Its appendages immediately began moving and pressing against the dirt as it seemed to be analyzing its footing. The claws gripped in and out of the dirt and it walked forward a foot and then back again as its neck moved and the sphere rotated. Then it popped the light on and it beamed into the tunnel showing that it stretched out about forty feet or so before ending at a dirt wall. “Hmmm.”
Jim furrowed his brow, that couldn’t be the end? He was glad Elizabeth wasn’t here. She wasn’t going to handle any disappointments in this search very well. “Is that it?” he asked.
“Maybe. It’s hard to say. Let’s hope not, it could be that the tunnel goes downward there. Anyway, we will soon find out.” Steven pressed a couple buttons and slid his fingers across a couple sensors and Agent E.I.S. began to claw its way forward with brisk but precise mechanical movements, its appendages moving forward two at a time on each side. Jim positioned himself behind Steven so that he could see the screen on the operating console. Just the reddish brown walls of the tunnel, made up of Taneria’s strange soil and radiated by the Agent’s light, was all he could see for now. Within three minutes or so it was approaching the wall, about a foot and a half from this dirt end it paused. The sphere rotated downward and it switched itself into infra-red; the tunnel did indeed continue. It sloped downward and then forward and angled out of the viewing range of the E.I.S.. Again Steven slid his fingers across a couple sensors and the cam bot moved forward, following the tunnel’s meandering path. After about ten minutes of watching the same visual display of darkness and dirt, Jim realized that this may go on for quite some time. “The tunnel has dropped to about a foot or so below where we are standing and seems to be heading toward Timber Park on the outskirts of the city.”
Jim was very familiar with that park. He would explore it often after first arriving in Galendein, a solution to his pioneering nature and the acute boredom he suffered from the, then, lack of nightlife present in the city. Before the city began booming it was literally vacant most nights of the week. The park was littered with trails from foresters and survey crews that stretched deeply into its rugged woodlands. Even though the forests of this planet were very similar to Earth’s, they still beheld plant and animal life that was fantastically alien, it was highly suggested that residents explore with extreme caution and carry some sort of shooting weapon. Those were good times before the partying began. Hours alone, out in the woods with his thoughts and his ambitions, every turn offering enchantment and wonder. A time of reflection and exploration, he realized then that he could only hope to find himself experiencing such rewarding moments again. If the tunnel did indeed lead to Timber Park, and even though the cam bot moved expeditiously, it would still be an extended time before it reached it.

He took his time to transverse the puddle laden streets, saturated by the unending torrent that assaulted the city. The Riachen brought the rains with them, through a combined psychic link that could draw water to them, an ability they had honed from thousands of years of existence. The rain provided the environment that they needed to exist in; it softened the ground and kept their den damp and their flesh moist. It also kept their prey secluded to their lairs, where it was easier to obtain the soft and fragile shells of their children. When a Riachen Mother was present the pull on the rains was stronger and kept present with ferocity, for she was much larger then her brood and needed more water to keep herself properly moistened to reproduce. With a Mother present it was also more difficult to exterminate the horde, which is why he took his time. Any further moment was used to rebuild strength, and heal, before the battle. It would go far in ensuring his victory. Usually the Riachen harvested the fragile shells of a species without the Mother present, encasing them in a sticky slick pod of sugary secretion that they produced in abundance through orifices located at the back of their grotesque bodies. This was done with the help of copious amounts of water. This encasing preserved the meat of their prey for what was usually a long journey home to where their Mothers awaited the quarry with lustful craving; having long ago harvested the planets in their proximity to extinction. In doing so the pod acts as a life preserving encasement as well, effectively placing the youngling into a state of suspended animation. Every so often a Mother would join the horde, unwilling to await the delivery of her food, most likely swollen with life giving secretion and lacking in the necessary sustenance, starving for immediate fulfillment. This presents the opportunity to not only eradicate a Riachen horde and its Mother, but also thousands of potential Riachen progeny. This thought brought him joy and his human disguise smiled, although his real face never could.



The next morning, after enjoying a blissful night together, Jim and Elizabeth began making phone calls to different media outlets and science agencies in hopes of borrowing a robot cam that could navigate the confining tunnel in search of baby Clarissa.
After being turned down a number of times, they finally found a willing donor. Adroit Broadcasting Channel 32 said they would lend their cam if they received full broadcast rights to Elizabeth’s story, as well as full ownership of any electronic images that the sensor stored in its memory. Of course they would agree. For the station it meant an inside scoop on a story that has plagued the community of Galendein for months, and this was possibly a chance to garner fame for helping to capture the kidnappers. They would send a reporter and a camera operator over this afternoon. Momentarily relieved, they relaxed with a couple of beers and tuna sandwiches on the couch in front of the tele-screen. The 12 o’clock news spewed forth from the screen within the wall. It began with the story that had the community and planet frozen in fear. A story so unusual and mysterious that it was news on every colonized planet and even Earth, though the amount of each communities own trouble and turmoil tended to over-shadow this bizarre curiosity. The anchor-woman continued over the now familiar lines of the story as she had done for the last two months, except now there appeared to be a twist.
“For the first night since the kidnappings began over two months ago, no babies are missing as of this afternoon. All children have been accounted for today, and none have been reported missing. Police believe they know of the location where the kidnapper, or kidnappers, had attempted the sixty third kidnapping. It is believed that the father, having been awakened by his child’s crying, scared the kidnapper away. However, the kidnapper was not identified, nor seen, and the only evidence is a device of some sort found in the baby’s room. Police will not issue any information on what that devise is, but the father has said that he has never seen anything like it before.”
Jim turned off the television, “That’s good news.”
Elizabeth put her arms around him and curled up her legs on the couch. “Yes, I suppose so, but I just want my baby back. Even if the kidnapper stopped all together now, I wouldn’t feel whole again without Clarissa in my arms.”
About one thirty p.m. the robot cam from channel 32 came, escorted by two men; Ron Dancruff the reporter, and Steven Handlbeir the operator. They listened to Elizabeth’s story in detail while Ron took notes, and then they were shown the tunnel in the basement.
Steve sighed and showing some discomfort said, “You have no idea where this leads?”
“Nope,” Jim simply put.
“Well, I can’t say I like risking such a valuable piece of equipment. I mean, that tunnel could collapse, or drop off, or whatever. I’m going to have to check in with my supervisor.”
While Steve went upstairs to make the call via the small communicator in his ear, the others stood nervously in the cellar awaiting the word. Ron began to pace, “You know I wouldn’t worry. I’m sure we’re going to get the go ahead. The robot cam can move slowly and this story is really important to the network.”
He was trying to assure Elizabeth, who had become visibly distraught, but it wasn’t working. She was realizing more and more that no one really cared about the lives in danger, just whether or not it was important to them. “You guys do realize that there are lives in danger here. They may not be related to you, but they are human beings who have been stolen from the ones who love them. There is a chance that they are still alive and we have to try and save them! Don’t you care?” There was an uneasy silence. “Huh?”
Ron was stunned, he couldn’t find any words and she was right, he didn’t think he did care. He had never thought about it before, he wasn’t personally involved so he just tried to ignore it, except for the purpose of bagging a first rate story. “I’m sorry.”
Jim began to console Elizabeth. Steven returned with the word. “Well it’s a go! They’ve decided the story is worth the risk. We’ll just go slow.”
Elizabeth burst into tears. “The story is worth the risk! The story! What about my baby? Do they give a shit about the babies!?!”
Steven stepped back and took a long look at Ron. Jim knew better then to try and quiet Elizabeth down, besides he fully agreed with her attitude, so he merely held her close and let her cry into his chest. A long tense silence overcame the news men, they could find no words except the ones used to apologize and they knew that would mean nothing to Elizabeth. She saw right through their false sentimentality, they had been nailed. Jim realized that it was up to him to keep things moving along, despite Elizabeth’s ethical challenge. Even if she was critical of the men’s motives now, she needed them to help her find Clarissa. If she chased these guys off she would regret it later, and he wanted to save her from that.
“Look…,” he begun, still holding the sobbing woman close to his chest, “…regardless of how we all feel we must continue. If not for the lives of the babies that have already been endangered, then for the ones that will be. This is the only lead we have to the whereabouts of not only the victims, but the perpetrators as well.”
The newsmen nodded. “I’m going to go get Agent E.I.S. out of the van.” Steven took the cellar stairs two at a time as he bounded on his way to retrieve his equipment. Ron began writing some things down as Jim attempted to get Elizabeth to go upstairs with him.
“You need to lie down for a little bit, until you feel better. I’ll watch these guys and make sure we get going on this. K?”
She nodded and put her arm around his shoulders and he held her around her waist as they slowly walked up the stairs. Once there, Jim guided her to her bedroom and helped her lay down. “If you feel better come back down, other wise I’ll come check on you in an hour.”
He shut her door as he saw Steven walking slowly into the house, his two muscular arms carrying a couple of large heavy metal cases. “Can I help you with that?” Steven put the cases down, brushed his pony tail from resting on his chest, swinging it around to his back, and pushed his large framed glasses back against his face.
“Yes please. Go ahead and pick one. Just be careful not to bang it into anything.”
Jim picked one up and the two men made their way downstairs, slowly. Once they were before the hole, Steven laid both cases down and opened them. Each case held half of Agent E.I.S. The front half of it consisted of a small round tinted sphere attached to a metal neck that appeared to have the ability to elongate, bend up or down, and rotate 360 degrees. The neck was attached to a rectangular “body” with two rubber and metal appendages that craned out to either side. The back of this half ended in a cube shaped piece that appeared to lock into a section of the front part of the second half. This piece also had two rubber and metal appendages that craned off a rectangular metal body that concaved into a thin line at its end.  Each appendage had claw-like feet that could either scrape across cement or dig into dirt to propel itself along.
Steven attached the sections, they connected together seamlessly. He pulled out a thin metallic book from his backpack and looked around for a place to set it down. “Can you bring a table down here with a clean, flat surface?”
“Sure, sure.” Jim hurried upstairs.
“What did you say to that woman, Ron?” Steven inquired.
“I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t being sensitive enough. Her child is missing. I’ll make sure my tone is right and I am saying the right things when she comes back.” He motioned toward the hole. “What do you think?”
“Well, it’s a long shot. I mean, a human didn’t burrow through here, I’m quite sure of that. We are on a planet that we don’t know a whole lot about yet, so I guess it could be that something did. We have to check out this lead, I mean there really isn’t anything else to go on.”
“There’s that device they found.”
“True, but that doesn’t lead us anywhere and as far as a story goes the authorities are going to sit tight on that, we aren’t going to get any word on what that is until after they solve the case. It would seem that a humanoid would be the owner of that and not something with a three foot diameter. But this is all we got. The producer thinks this could be something big, we got to check it out.”
“I’ll just stand around crossing my fingers.”
“Yeah, Agent E.I.S is going to do all the hard work.”
The cellar stairs creaked and Jim was bounding down them with a wooden end table. He stopped a few feet from the hole and put it down. “Will this do?”