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.