Januasia gasped as she looked out at a scene of wonder. Even as dimly lit as it was, the chamber they were in sparkled. Ferns, the ones she’d seen by the lake, grew from cracks in the walls and waved in the breeze. A steady spray of water from above had her looking up and she saw the source of the noise. A waterfall at the other end of the chamber thundered, filling the air with mist as the water dropped away into the darkness. Lichen glowed softly on the walls, and the stone flowed and dripped, wet with moisture. What looked like little lines of lichen were crawling on the stone, and she realized they were glowing worms. As she shone the light, it made a glorious rainbow that had Amee squealing and pointing.
Delicate gypsum flowers bloomed, making shadows behind them, and other crystals glittered. One particularly large outcropping of amethyst that was partially encased in flowstone glittered in the light, purple sparks covering the wall. She looked around, and saw that there was actually a small side tunnel, almost a ledge that moved around the chamber and slightly downwards. Almost a walkway, but it was unworked. So something that formed with time. And while it might be slippery for a Terran…well, she wasn’t a Terran, was she? She had more than enough ways to anchor herself and Amee.
The Amee was amazed. The Jane had made The Glowey, but it was perfect, and it looked around and saw The Wet. The Wet was falling from on top, like The Broken Pipe Place…but The Amee couldn’t see a The Broken Pipe Place. Maybe it was too high-high-high? Before it could look more, The Amee saw the shapes and colors and it hooted loudly, squeaking and pointing. Trying to show The Jane the wonderful colors that it could see!!! All over the wall, The Glowey!!!! The Amee squealed and yanked on The Crunchy Stuff Thing that was next to it. It pointed and squealed.
“Ok, ok”, Januasai said, laughing as Amee yanked on her antenna and made noises, pointing. It seemed her little friend was very excited by the lights and the way that the crystals and mist refracted the light. Which made sense, since she’d probably never seen colors like that at all. Turning, she walked to the ledge, letting the vines that made up her feet anchor themselves in the rocks before she took another step. At the same time, they sucked the moisture off the rock, sampling it with a shiver of delight. It was almost the same as the water from the lake, but slightly different. A different mix of minerals, maybe. ‘A different tributary’, she thought as she took another few steps. Now looking at the space, this bore, from another angle, she shined the light and then grinned as Amee once again made the cutest sounds of happiness and excitement. Looking down, it took Januasai a few moments, and a few flicks of glowing ichor to see what was down there. The bore extended downwards another twenty meters, the bottom covered in water. A few ledges extended from the bottom of the bore into the water, ferns and lichen dotting the walls. Januasai saw a few long white shapes laying on ledges. Curious what they were, she took another few steps, and then saw one shape roll over into the water and give out that bellowing snarl that she’d heard before. Amee whimpered, and as Januasai felt warm wetness trickle down her back, she nodded. “Ok, it’s ok, little one. We’re up here, and they can’t get us.” Amee was NOT comforted as she tried to get away, and Januasai took a few steps back the way they’d come from, which seemed to calm Amee a bit. “Remind me to get a bath later”, she said with a smile.
The Amee was scared. The Big Four Legs Thing was down there, and The Jane was going to go down there. Letting out some wet in fear, it patted hard-hard and tapped, and The Jane listened and went the other way. That was good, The Jane was a good The Jane. The Amee sat and watched the glowey and The Flying Moving Food until it was time to hunt. The Amee was all Rumbley-Grumbley, so it needed The Moving Food. The Amee patted The Jane and looked back at The New Interesting Place. The Jane made some noises but moved back the way they came to The New Interesting Place. Then The Jane stopped.
Meanwhile, On The Surface…..
Glasha stood with Alduriana and the rest of his team in the cave. It hadn’t been hard to get here, nor had it been hard to find their way through the cave system. Not when they had help from the Baeira. They now stood in front of this massive steel door. It was taller than even an Affini, some six meters tall and four meters wide. And according to the Baiera who scanned it, it was six meters long. Like a cork in some jug, it protected the inside of the complex from anyone who wanted to get inside. Which, unfortunately, was them. It took about three seconds for them to spot the keypad.
That was when they had the first issue. The keypad had shorted out. That wasn’t SUCH an issue and they were able, with some cannibalized wires and some ingenuity, to reroute power from a tablet to the keypad. It took them less than four seconds to crack the code. That was when the next problem arose. The door simply refused to budge. They had power, they had the code, but it simply refused to move. And Glasha had no idea why, until Derofiri Aethalbi, Third Bloom, took a closer look at the rock around the door.
“Glasha…see this? Those are scorch marks. Something moved here, ground against the rock, and was hot enough that it scorched the rock. It’s probably even worse on the inside. I can’t guarantee, but based on the level of scorching and damage to the surrounding area, the motor for this thing probably burnt out pushing this out and then pulling it back in the first and only time.”
“Hey Baiera, this is Glasha. Any chance we can get a nanoswarm or two to eat its way through this door?”
“Hey, that’s a really good idea”, Alduriana said, nodding approvingly.
“Sorry, Glasha but it won’t be quick. That door is a steel and ferroconcrete mixture, heavy on the steel, by our analysis. It weighs in excess of one million kilos, and would take a nanoswarm almost three days to chew through. And…hold on, I’m zooming in….it looks like there are some areas of congruence in that door and the surrounding area.”
“Ok. What does that mean?”, Glasha asked, glaring at the door. If he could Domesticate the door just to make it move, he would.
“Oh. It..umm…it means that when Januasai went through, there was so much heat generated that parts of the door melted into the rock, and vice versa. There’s no way that door is coming out unless you drill it out, or take the time to have a nanoswarm eat through. And as far as I know, you didn’t bring any excavation equipment, and even if you did, it wouldn’t fit through those tunnels. You’d literally have to lift the top of the cave system off.”
Glasha sighed, and rubbed his core again. “Great. So start looking for an entrance, somewhere we can actually get to, ok? And keep trying to reach Januasai on her communicator.” The Affini turned around, and sighed, then ordered his team back to Freedom’s Blessing. Unaccustomed to failure, he could do nothing at this point but pray fervently that Januasai and the sophont she’d gone to rescue were ok.
It tasted like liquid ash in his vines.
Back in The Place
“Hello, what’s this?” Januasai asked as she saw what she’d thought to be a seam in the rock but actually turned out to be a passageway leading away from the bore. Entirely natural, since she couldn’t see any signs of work. “Well, let’s see where this leads, hmmm?”, she said, turning sideways and going inside. It was a short passageway, and Januasai doused the light as soon as it ended. They didn’t need it. The chamber was smaller but taller, so Januasai could stretch up to her full height, which was a relief. Glowing worms covered the walls along with lichen, giving the room a faint but definite light source. An outcropping of rock on the side of the ceiling steadily dripped water into a catch basin, which overflowed into a small pool in the center of the room. Ferns covered the floor, and was that…Dirt, it WAS dirt!!! Januasai realized that it must have been years and years of the ferns blooming and then dying, degrading to make dirt, which then supported more ferns. A quicksilver movement on the wall turned out to be a cave lizard that swallowed a worm, and moved away, skittering motions as the ferns waved in….’Huh. There’s no breeze, so how are they moving? And why?’, she wondered.
The answer was obvious as she looked a bit closer. The ferns had all oriented themselves towards the largest concentration of lichen and worms. They must have developed some other method of using the ambient light to survive, Januasai realized, like deep-sea algae and other things that lived near volcanic vents. How amazing!!! “Life truly does always find a way”, Januasai said quietly to Amee. Then she noticed that there was a tiny skeleton nestled in the exposed roots of the ferns. Maybe the ferns were also carnivorous, and used the waving as a way to catch flying insects and the rodents in addition to catching the light? It wouldn’t be the first time she’d seen plants with more than one method of finding sustenance. Hadn’t she herself been uplifted from one such plant?
The Amee watched as The Jane looked around. The Glowey was everywhere. The Moving Food was a bit too far away, since it couldn’t get off The Jane, but also The Slappy-Stingey was all around. And while it could tolerate it, it made it itchyscratchy for almost a full sleep. The Amee watched as The Jane looked around, and pulled The Interesting Thing out from inside it. Doing The Interesting Thing with The Interesting Thing, The Amee heard a click. Looking around for the source of The Interesting Noise, The Amee couldn’t see it. But after sitting there for a while looking, The Amee felt the Rumbley-Grumbley and it tapped on The Crunchy Looking Thing next to it. Insistently.
“What is it, little cutie?”, Januasai asked as they went back to the hallway. “I know you were scared of those things below us, but they can’t climb, as far as I can tell, and we’re safe”, as they bellowed again and Amee whimpered She opened her vines as soon as they were back inside the complex proper, and put Amee down as the little terran patted her again, a bit more insistently. Putting the lamp and its battery pack away in her vines, she cocked her head, curious as Amee scampered to the edge of the water. The little Terran took two or three careful steps and then crouched, looking intently at the water. Looking for those fish again? But she was scared of them before. “Amee…those fish might still be in there”, she said as she walked over. And sure enough, they were. Which made it even more curious as Amee patted the top of the water, sending ripples through the water.
The Long Biteys were there and they came fast, looking for it. But The Amee was faster, and as The Long Biteys moved, The Amee reached out quickety-quickety quick and grabbed one. Or tried to, since it slipped away. Which happened, and it just meant that it needed to hunt again. Patting The Wet again, The Amee waited, and then grabbed one. This time it worked and The Amee snarled as it hauled The Long Bitey out of The Wet. The Long Bitey tried to flip and make The Owie but The Amee was quickety-quick quick. Slamming it down onto the floor until The Not Moving Food stopped moving, The Amee moved back as it prepared. Biting the head off, The Amee bit The Hard Waveys carefully off and then squeezed The Guts out. Looking up, The Amee ripped The Not Moving Food in half and then offered half to The Jane.
“Impressive”, Januasai said as she watched Amee snatch a fish from the water and butcher it effectively. Somehow her little sophont had managed to learn how to do that, and as Januasai focused, she could see a few scars on Amee’s legs that looked like little pinholes that matched the fish's teeth. Evidence that the knowledge had been painfully gained. Still, Amee had learned, and she ate the fish, which tasted delicious. Cocking her head as she watched Amee grab the offal and throw it back into the water, she understood when the water immediately erupted into a roiling froth as the fish swarmed, all trying to get to the food. Amee ran to the water and hauled another two fish out, whipping them around by their tails until they stopped moving. The swarm didn’t even notice that two more of their number were gone.
The Amee ate more of The Not Moving Food happily as it tossed The Guts back into The Wet. The Long Biteys came out again, but The Amee wasn’t feeling The Rumbley-Grumbley so it just watched until The Wet was calm and The Long Biteys were quiet. The Amee looked around for a way to get back up to The Pipe. The Long Biteys were still there and it didn’t want to get any The Owies.
“What are you looking around for?” Januasai asked as she walked up to the little sophont. She could see Amee looking all around, judging the water, and then back at the walls. “Oh, how are you going to get back to the pipe?”, she asked. There was no answer. “You know you don’t need to, I can just carry you over the water.” Amee paid her no attention, and kept looking. Shrugging to herself, Januasai simply strode over and lifted Amee up. Amee began squealing and fighting, until she was put on the pipe. Then she stopped the minute she was on the pipe. Januasia watched as she scampered along the pipe until she reached the end. But first she went into every room she could, even if she had to cling to the underside of the pipe to get there. Januasai stood underneath her, making sure she didn’t fall, but the little Terran didn’t. She was remarkably surefooted, even when she was hauling herself on the pipe upside down. Once she reached the end, she hopped off onto the crates, and then back to the doorway, landing without a sound.
The Amee was back off The Pipe and back in The Place that The Jane had found. Waiting for The Jane, The Amee quickly made its way up the stairs. The Quick Moving Food ran from its approach, but The Amee didn’t give chase. The Amee had no Rumbley-Grumbley. The Amee stopped at The Place, and waited for The Jane to come. The Jane made a lot of noise, and The Amee shook its head. It took The Treasure and shook it. There was The Wet inside, but it couldn’t get The Wet. Scrabbling, it whined, and then looked at The Jane. Looking at The Treasure, and then The Jane. The Jane took The Treasure and did The Thing and suddenly The Top was off. Hooting happily, The Amee lifted it up and tried to get the wet. The wet went in its mouth and on it, but that was ok.
Januasai smiled as she watched Amee cavorting around, trying to drink and dousing herself with water again. “Well, it’s not like you don’t need a bath”, she said with a smile. “I think we should maybe figure out a way for you to have an actual bath. Something that’s a bit more substantial than just getting wet from that little canteen, hmm?”, she said. Amee stopped and looked at her, head cocked, and then tried drinking again “It’s empty, little one. Here, let’s take it and fill it, ok?” and she held out her hand. Amee looked at her hand, then her, then her hand again. “Well, maybe we’ll work on that a bit later, darling”, Januasai said as she stepped forward and took the canteen. She led Amee down the hall, back towards the lake. Cautiously looking around, she didn’t see any of those giant predators, so she carefully filled the canteen and brought it over to Amee after they stepped back into the hallway. “There, ok?”, she said, capping it and then placing it over Ame’s shoulder. Amee started patting her legs and stomach, which Januasai guessed was a good thing.
The Jane had put more Wet in The Treasure!!! The Jane was a good The Jane. Amee patted The Jane and led them back to the Empty Place. Once The Amee had finished making its wet, it led The Jane to The Nest Place. Hugging The Treasure, The Amee settled for A Good Sleep Time.