Awen: Tongue of Flame

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The Hidden Depths

Forcing his eyes open, Jensen bore witness to the unimaginable. The three of them were being suspended in animation, a mere ten feet from the surface.

'Are you okay, sweetie?' Jensen asked Rose.

'Daddy, I'm scared.' she replied, unable to move closer to him.

'Let us down, you bastards!' James yelled. With a strange whirring noise, the energy field powered down immediately. Gliding gracefully to the floor, they landed on their feet.

'That was too easy.' Jensen said.

'We can't exactly climb back up there.' James replied, his gaze running up the immense cliff's edge. As soon as he said it, the large metal hatch closed over again, ending with the resounding thrashing of a gong.

'You don't think...' Jensen began.

'That Taylor and Jen wound up falling here too?' James finished.

Shaking his head, Jensen huffed. 'Anything's possible.' he said, feeling for another doorway.

'Are you here to let me out for my daily walk?' a hoarse voice asked.

'Who said that?' Jensen demanded.

Following the dim false lighting of a wall-mounted lamp, they saw movement, and Rose screamed. Stepping out of the shadows, a skeletal figure arose, bearing a ghoulish complexion.

Amidst the gruesome gashes covering the majority of his pale skin, and the threadbare clothing upon his back, he bore an unsettling sense of familiarity.

'Who are you?' Jensen asked. Instead of replying, the man ran at him. Hugging him tightly, he threatened to squash Jensen like a bug.

The man was crying. 'It's been so long since I've seen another person!'

Looking directly into his eyes, Jensen recognised the man immediately. 'You're Captain Dares, aren't you?' he asked, in awe.

With a sceptical eye, James sized the man up. 'It can't be, the Captain vanished two years ago. Supposedly hearing voices, he set off running and never came back.' he interrupted.

'I'm familiar with the rumours.' Jensen scolded.

Ignoring the insult, the man continued to speak. 'I haven't heard my name being called in such a long time, two years, you say?' he asked.

They quit bickering in an instant. 'It can't be him.' James exclaimed.

Ignoring James's outburst, the man offered his hand in greeting. 'My wife Rachel and my son Connor would always call me Jason, and you can too.' he said.

An awkward silence flooded between them, realising that someone would have to tell the man about his wife. Noticing that James was shying away from the task, Jensen would have to do it himself. 'Rose, cover your ears.' he instructed.

'I know that look.' Jason said, bracing himself for the worst.
'It's your wife, Rachel. I'm afraid that she's dead.' Jensen said flatly; there would be no way of polishing up such a harsh truth.
Falling to his knees in anguish, Jason was distraught. 'How?' he barely managed to ask.
'We found other survivors being held hostage outside of 'Aspire', and she died trying to save them. Those of us who survived made it to the shuttle and then we came here.' Jensen said.
'Was my son with her? He would've had dark hair, and he'd be around seven years old now, I think. He's got a fondness for adventuring, and he can be a little rascal when he wants to be,' Jason pleaded.
'Connor is safe, Jason; my wife is back at the shuttle with him. Rachel saved him as well.' James replied.
A wave of relief crept over Jason at the news of his son being alive, and yet curiosity gnawed at him. 'Who was holding those people hostage?' Jason asked.
'When the big flare hit, Red Star Tech Conglomerate brought armed mercenaries to take over the ship; we had no choice but to run. We weren't armed, but we managed to rescue some of the hostages.' Jensen said.
'Those bastards killed my wife?' Jason demanded.
Jensen nodded. 'They killed a lot of people.'

'We've got to get out of here if you want to seek revenge.' James said.
Tasting the tang of fresh blood in his mouth, Jason looked annoyed as he stood biting his lip. 'I have been down here for years! Don't you think that I would've found a way out by now?' he asked.
'Where are we anyway? Earlier you mentioned them taking you out for a daily walk.' Jensen interrupted.
'Answering my question with another question, very clever Jensen,' Jason said. 'A doorway opens to a different enclosure once every day. It's always a different place as well.' he added.
'Who's controlling it?' James asked.
Jason sighed with frustration. 'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
Jensen knew what he was going to say. 'They're aliens, right?' he asked, grinning at Jason's startled reaction.
'How did you know?' Jason asked. Taking the next five minutes to fill the man in on the preserved specimen which they had found, left Jason feeling amused.
'I have to admit; I didn't expect you to react this way.' Jensen said.
'Don't you understand, they must've survived down here for a long time, those who made it to the shelter that is.' Jason replied.
'I guess that the one which we discovered was not so lucky.' Jensen agreed.

'Who are they, Jason?' James asked.
'I don't know, but they allowed all of us to come down here. Plus, there's the fact that these things have kept me alive for two years.' Jason replied.
'There has to be a way of contacting them, did you ever ask to speak with them?' Jensen asked.
'Maybe they want to be our friends,' Rose interrupted.
Jensen smiled. 'They may be friendly sweetie, and that's what we need to find out,'
'I've tried, every day,' Jason barked.
'Let's try again,' Rose said.
Laughing at her blunt attitude, Jensen looked around for any communication device. There was nothing. 'I suppose that I'll have to shout then.' he fumed.
'Why have you brought us here?' he asked. There was no answer.
'Perhaps we aren't asking the right question?' James suggested.
'We come in peace, seeking shelter from the storm.' Jensen said, using hand signs to portray the flare's impact upon the planet.
A high pitched whining filled their ears, and a constant ringing made it impossible to hear. Hidden within this nerve grinding assault on their senses, they began to identify distinct patterns within its delivery. An intense gurgling screech began to turn into something that could only be described as hysterical laughter.

A glimmering speck of light in the darkness bloomed into an explosion of colour, as the veil was drawn back on their prison, and a huge hatch, similar to the one which they had fallen into opened up before their eyes.
'I wonder how many other colonists have met these things before now?' Jensen asked.
'It's so pretty.' Rose said, gazing wide-eyed into the glistening room ahead.
'Who knows, I've never met them like this before. Perhaps I was the first, that would explain why they've kept me isolated for so long.' Jason replied.
Cautiously walking into the bright white room, the setting resembled a hospital. It boasted pristine surfaces which were uniquely spartan in design.
'Can you feel that?' Jensen asked, closing his eyes. A beautiful cool breeze flooded through the room, where robust ventilation systems were hard at work.
'There's only one direction now.' James pointed. The next-door led to what was unquestionably a decontamination chamber. Whoever these creatures were, they were intuitive and brilliant.
The flooring was cold to the touch. They could even feel it nipping at their toes through the padded insulation of their boots. The trail of dirt behind them was an insult to whoever lived here as well. There was nothing that they could do about it now, though.
Plumes of ice-cold steam suddenly filled the chamber in an instant, and they could not see a thing. Several flying metallic wired brushes descended upon them, somehow remaining invisible until they were in place to act. The agonising pain of metal grating across skin was swiftly inflicted upon them, and Jensen could hear Rose crying. 'It's going to be alright.' he screamed, fumbling around blindly trying to find her.

It was over as quickly as it had begun, and they were all left with a mild tingling sensation in the extremities, along with sets of remarkably clean clothes. The aliens had seen fit to wash them, and their clothes at the same time.
The final hatch opened, and a silvery steel-plated hallway led into a vast dwelling. Everywhere they looked, hundreds of creatures with spindly limbs and stick-thin torso's scuttled around. Gargling screeches formed into hysterical laughter, as they spoke to each other.
'It's their damned language, for a second there I thought that they were laughing at us.' Jensen remarked.
'They look event skinnier than the specimen that we found.' James said, inspecting the creatures.
'They're probably malnourished from living down here.' Jensen suggested.
Approaching the centre of the dwelling, they discovered a bustling marketplace and a gargantuan communications station. Holographic images of human cities and ancient ruins hovered above them. With a sharp intake of breath, Jason pointed at one of them and gasped. 'That's my ship!' he said.
'These images are up to date, and it looks like they have this planet mapped out in its entirety. James replied.
'At least they've decided that we mean no harm.' Jensen said.
'We don't know anything yet.' Jason reminded him.
The lively street suddenly came to a standstill, and the flitting creatures knelt on one knee in silence. One creature was towering above the rest as it walked, and it wore an ivory white crown which was woven into its head. Six cerulean blue eyes, fixated upon them as it crawled forward on eight thick legs.
Staring up at the creature, Rose did not flinch. 'My name's Rose, what's your name?' she asked innocently.
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