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.