According to her tablet, the sophont had been asleep for about an hour when she suddenly began to moan and whine, pain or panic visible on her face. Januasai was up on her feet in a moment and a quick stride brought her next to the girl. She’d come to this planet prepared to make the galaxy better one sophont at a time. She’d not come here as a medic, nor even taken anything but the most basic of courses in Terran xenobiology, pharmacology, and floret husbandry. But she was all this girl had, and by the Everbloom, she was going to help. A flower bloomed and puffed some Class-E’s into her face. ‘I hope this will help you sleep calmly.’
It did not, in fact, help the Terran sleep. In fact, Januasai didn’t think that it did anything. ‘Odd. I know that was…maybe another…no…I don’t know what another might do…Maybe her physiology is a bit different? Anyone can be allergic, or the opposite, I guess,’ she thought. She sat there another moment and then began to rub the girls back, singing gently. A song from another world, another race, the syllables coming easily to her as she sang about growing things and the sprites that lived amongst them. It helped, the Terran slowly quieting, face smoothing out. Januasai brightened as she was able to help, and kept singing gently.
It woke up to a sound it had never heard before, but one dimly remembered. It listened for a moment, and then rose up, scratching an itch. The Big Thing was still here, so it wasn't a Bad Sleep Time. But The Treasure was still empty, so maybe it WAS a Bad Sleep Time. It walked out of The Nest, followed by The Big Thing that was still making noise. It was followed to the Empty Place and suddenly The Big Thing squeaked as it began to make its wet. Making noise, the hunter turned and regarded The Big Thing. It sniffed, unable to smell danger. The only thing it could smell was its wet.
Januasai “blinked” in surprise as the Terran squatted over a hole and began to urinate. She looked around, glowing slightly, and then realized that this was a bathroom, or would have been. The hole was an unfinished toilet. 'Must connect to a septic system of some kind. Well designed to still be functioning after all this time. But that's also maybe because only one sophont is using it and this bunker was built with a lot more in mind.' The lack of hygiene was just…did this sophont never wash her hands, or brush her teeth? How did she avoid getting sick? Januasai was horrified and saddened all at the same time.
It finished in The Empty Place and padded out silently, The Big Thing following. It hunted again, using ears and scent to track The Moving Food and grabbing it. A short chase later and it had won, ripping The Not Moving Food and throwing some to The Big Thing. The Big Thing made noises and ate, and once it was done, it began to make more noise. It looked at The Big Thing, and cocked its head, not understanding the noises. It kept making the same sounds and patting itself. The Big Thing hadn't hurt or hunted it. It was a nice The Big Thing. So it copied The Big Thing.
Januasai thought she was making headway when the Terran scooted over. But her hopes were dashed when the sophont merely patted her on the stomach, spreading rodent blood on her. "Well, that's just great. But at least you're not running away from me, little one. So that's a start," she sighed. She tried again. She tapped her chest. "Januasai."
It started at The Big Thing as it did it again. Tapping itself and making sounds. It was confused, trying to understand what The Big Thing was doing. By the third time, understanding bloomed. The Big Thing was trying to do something, and it understood. It wasn't a Big Thing!! It was using sounds like The Flying Moving Food could, and it was calling itself!! It listened to the sounds so it knew what The Big Thing was. It was a The Jane!!! The Jane could do that!! It looked at The Jane with new interest, wondering what else The Jane could do. Then it had an idea.
Januasai looked as the Terran seemed to get excited about something. Hooting and jumping, she ran from the room, then came back in and seemed to be wanting her to follow. "Ok, ok, little one. Let's go", she said and followed the Terran through the maze of tunnels and corridors. A truly dizzying maze, at that, which made the Terrans' knowledge of them even more impressive. They passed the corridor that led to the lake, and after marking it, Januasai had an idea. Clicking her tongue, she saw the girl stiffen and whirl around to look at her. "Here, girl. Follow me", she said and she led her back to the lake. Looking out, she made sure that the coast was clear and then she stepped out again onto the lake-shore. The scene was just as beautiful as before, eldritch light gleaming on the water, the rustling of the bat-things from up above. Sinking a vine into the water, Januasai began to drink with a sound of happiness. It was cold, but had a taste of minerals that she'd never had before, a sweet-metallic delight. Add some other flavor and it was easily the most delicious water she'd ever had.
It watched The Jane as The Jane did something that made it make The Happy Sounds. It didnt know why now was a Happy Time for The Jane. Maybe The Jane was happy to see The Wet Place? It didn't know. But then a rope came from The Jane, looking like something from The Big Four Legs and pulled The Treasure from it. It squealed, but watched sadly as The Treasure was taken away. But it couldn’t fight The Jane. The Jane was a good The Jane. It's eyes lit up a moment later as The Jane gave The Treasure back!! And better, it had wet in it!!!! Hooting and squeaking, it danced as it held The Treasure up, and wet landed on its head. It turned The Treasure down and drank deep as wet landed on it and all over its face.
Januasai smiled widely as the little sophont danced with glee, and then doused herself with water. Clearly, she was enjoying this. And then she realized that this Terran hadn't understood how to use the canteen as a tool, how to refill it. "Oh, little one," she said, her heart breaking for the eleventh time today. She held her hand out for the canteen as she clicked her tongue twice, the Terran immediately staring at her. She waited for the Terran to bring her the canteen, but it didn't happen, not even after asking for it. So she took the proffered canteen back, dunking it back into the water even as a vine on her back grew a sharp edged thorn and sliced another vine off. It would grow back, but this sophont needed this more. Taking the cut vine, she tied it together after looping through the attachment point on the canteen, securing the lid. She made to hand it back to the little Terran, and then had another idea. She walked over to the Terran who stared up at her, trusting her, and slowly lowered the canteen on its new vine-bandoleer over her head to rest on her hip. Stepping back, she watched the little Terran to see how she would handle this new development.
It looked with curiosity as The Jane lifted something over its head, and then it gasped as it realized. It was The Treasure!! But The Jane had made a New Treasure!! A Rope-Thing Treasure!!! It jumped and danced with happy, hearing the wet move inside The Treasure. But the top was on so the wet stayed inside the Treasure. And that was good, it didn't need wet now.
Januasais figured that now was as good a time as any to try again. She tapped her chest, and said her name. Then tapped the sophont and made a questioning noise. The Terran looked at her, confused, head cocked at an angle. She did it again, and a look of confusion crossed her face.
Mental gears caked in verdigris and the weight of years tried to turn. The hunter tried to remember, tried to uncover memories long since buried. On both counts, it failed. But while it was thinking, it opened its mouth. "Ahhhh….", and then blinked, unsure what happened. And it happened again. "Ahhhh…mmmm…eeee", a dry, cracked, rusty sounding voice whispered in the darkness.
"Amee? Is that your name, little cutie?", Januasai asked. "Amee. Pretty name for a brave girl", she said.
It looked at The Jane, wondering what all the noise was for. Then The Jane starting pointing at it, making sounds. The same sounds, over and over. Oh!! The Jane must know what it is!! Paying attention to the sounds, it sat up taller when The Jane made those sounds. It sounded like the sounds it had made, but faster. Odd. It wondered if The Jane was always like this. Making sounds and pointing at things. Maybe it knew things. But The Jane knew it was The Amee!!! The Amee sat up and hooted, and then scampered to another exit that led to The Interesting Place. It turned around and waited for The Jane to catch up as it wondered if The Jane was always this slow, and how it hunted The Moving Food like this. Maybe it only hunted The Not Moving Food, The Amee thought.
Januasai moved through the tunnels, following the quick little Terran as she would scurry into the dark, then turn back, and then rush forward. ‘Like a little kitten’, she thought, ‘waiting for me to catch up. Roots, that’s adorable.’ She had no idea where they were going but she assumed Amee had explored this facility from the bottom to the top. Which didn’t stop her from marking their path, but it made her a bit more comfortable. Amee stopped at a closed door and waited for her, looking at it and then back. “In here? This is where you want to go, little one?” Amee didn’t answer, just looked at her with that pointed look, and then at the door. Januasai shrugged and joined her at the closed door. There was nothing to suggest that there was any use to the things inside. A quick wipe of a vine revealed a sign next to the door that read “Level 1 Library”, and Januasai blinked. “Little one…this is a library. Are you sure you need something in here?” She suddenly realized that Amee had been hampered by closed doors that she couldn’t open, or sadly, didn’t know HOW to open. Perhaps this facility HAD things that could help them get out.
There was no answer.
“Well, if you insist,” she said, and used a few vines to safely herd Amee away from the door. Just in case there was something inside that was dangerous, or a cave in, or some hazard. After seeing the giant creature from the lake, she wouldn’t discount anything. She wormed a few vines inside the door, creating some space, and then she pulled.. Wrenching the door open created an appalling amount of noise and dust, rust flakes flying up into the air. Seeing Amee back up and hold her ears, making a sound of pain, she assumed that Amee had preternaturally sharp hearing. ‘Probably one of the ways that she hunted. Dirt, that probably hurt.’ She resolved to find a way to muffle the sounds next time. “Oh roots, I’m sorry, Amee.” If there was a next time, if they weren’t out of here by then. So many ‘if’s’. She wasn’t used to this many doubts, or even having to worry about a sophont in this sort of situation. Dirt, she’d never HEARD of this kind of situation before. “Well, here we are, Amee. Breaking new ground in so many ways.”
She used some vines to try to clear the clouds of dust and rust from the air, holding Amee back. The little Terran was really excited to get in there, and she was fast. So fast that she had slipped her vines more than once, taking her attention until she said sharply, “Amee!!” That got the little Terrans attention, and she crouched down, looking with curiosity at the Affini. Januasai could hear the scurrying and squeaking of rodents from inside the library, and she wondered if Amee had just been looking for a new hunting ground. She highly doubted that any of the books in here were still functional, if they were made of paper. And if they were electronic, she wondered what state they’d be in. And she had no doubt at all that Amee couldn't read. Or maybe she just had a need to explore? She didn’t know, but while she was thinking, the little terran had escaped her vines, and jumped past her, literally bouncing off the door frame, and into the room. “Oh dirt,” she said, and followed as Amee landed on all fours and sniffed, making a beeline for the back of the room
The room was a mess. The books, many of them paper, had been destroyed. Time and rodents had rendered them unreadable, the pages chewed up and used for nests. The shelves were askew, three or four having collapsed over time. There were desks that housed electronic terminals, the screens dark and covered in dust so thick that she was fairly certain that the dust had invaded their innards and a fire would break out if she even tried to start them. Chairs that had collapsed into piles of rusty metal abounded, and the lichen grew in clumps along the floors and the walls. A few holes in the walls showed the ingress and egress of the rodents, and a vent that hung open on the upper wall had a few glowing eyes inside it that disappeared as the two sophonts moved closer to the vent.
The Amee ran for the back of The New Place, avoiding The Hurtey Things. Nothing good ever came of getting too close to them. Hitting them made The Ouchie and The Tasty Wet come from it, but it was hurtey. Making their way to the back of the room, The Amee looked around as the last of The Moving Food disappeared into the holes. Looking around, it found something interesting and looked at it. It was…it was The Shiny. The Amee had never seen The Shiny like this, and after looking at it, squinting in the glowey, it squealed and turned to run and show The Jane. Maybe The Jane knew what it was.
Januasai watched as Amee ran over, holding something with both hands. “What do you have over there, little one?”, she said gently and looked as Amee handed it to her. It was a blue crystal the name of which escaped her, but she knew they had been used in liquid displays for centuries amongst the Terrans. Easy to mass produce, they tended to turn back into solid form from their gel state if current wasn’t run through them every few months. Deciding to show Amee something nice, she lifted a vine behind the crystal and let it glow slightly brighter, making the crystal light up and refract the light. The look of sheer wonder and delight that appeared on the little Terrans face from this simple thing was something that she would never forget. No matter how many times she Rebloomed, Januasai was certain that this memory would be engraved on her core.
The Amee looked on in wonder as The Jane made The Shiny look all glowey…it was fascinating and The Amee hooted as it looked. It knew that it had chosen right when it showed the Jane The Shiny. Maybe there was another Shiny somewhere else. Running from the room, The Amee stopped and waited for The Jane to come along.
“Alright, little one. You’re a demanding one, aren’t you?” Januasai said with a laugh. “Whoever’s lucky enough to domesticate you is sure to be busy," she said as she followed Amee out of the room. "Although, I'm not quite sure who's going to be in charge." She followed her new friend to another room whose door was partially sealed. Peeking through the door showed empty racks, crates stacked next to them. A look at the plate next to the door had her shaking her head. “Nope… sorry, little one. I’m not opening the door to the Armory”, she said. There was no chance in any of what the Terrans called Hell that she was going to do that. “The last thing I want is for you to get hurt… or worse. Pick a different door.” Amee looked at her, then the door, then back to her. Januasai shook her head, and then waggled a finger. “No.” Amee blinked, and then looked at her, then the door, then back at her. “No, Amee. I’m not doing that.”
The Amee didn’t understand. The Jane was able to open the New Place. It wasn’t opening this New Place. The Amee looked at The Blocking Thing, but The Jane made some more noises, and made a motion. It didn’t understand, but The Jane wasn’t doing it, even after The Amee waited. Maybe The Jane needed to have a Good Sleep Time? The Amee could even see into The New Place. The Amee looked at The New Place, then at The Jane, but The Jane waved and made more sounds. So The Jane wouldn't open The Blocking Thing. Dismissing it, The Amee scampered to The New Place, and looked at The Jane.
Januasai blinked as Amee just seemed to give up and move on, standing next to a different door. The hallway continued into the distance, clearly the main thoroughfare of the area. "Well, ok then. Let's see what's behind door number three," she said. Walking to it, she brushed the plaque next to the door. "Level One Stairwell C," she read out. "Well, that DOES mean that there are some more levels… and some more stairs. It would be too much to hope for to find a stairwell that leads us up and out, right Amee?" she asked. She smiled gently as Amee made a sound. Certainly not a word, or even a letter, but who knew what the little sophont understood. Januasai liked to think that either her talking to Amee might jar something loose, or might start the road to comprehension. Looking at the door, she was impressed by the foresight of whoever built this bunker. It was a steel door that had been hermetically sealed around the edges, even though the sealant had corroded and was no longer effective. "To seal off the other floors in case of emergency?" Januasai said out loud, and then began looking for a way to open the door without damaging it too much.