“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.