B3 — 8. Apprehension

POV Change: Scarlet Clementine Johnson and returns to Rachel Park halfway down

Recap: Scarlet went down into the hive and found the queens, but accidentally discovered the alien base and is now exploring it.

Scarlet frowned as she walked along the nearly silent crystal hallways, hands intertwined behind her back; the low hum of the walls and soft tapping sounds the orange aliens made behind her were the only noises.  She had to refrain from humming Keep On by Sasha Sloan as it played in her mind to fill the silent atmosphere.

She could only see so far since the path curved slightly, but eventually, she found a crystal wall.  A dead-end?  What’s up with that?

Her head snapped to the left as something resembling the sound of cracking ice; turning around, her brow creased as the orange crystal expanded from the wall, sealing her off from the aliens.

Ah, I get it; they’re putting me in quarantine.  That’s pretty smart, but they left me a lot of room to walk around in.  She put her hands on her hips, examining her free space.  Maybe this is the only area they can seal off.  Too bad for them, I can teleport to shaded locations!

She couldn’t sense that many shadows near her which was odd, but there was one to her right, further into the crystal structure.  Shroud of Darkness quickly expanded as she appeared, looking around with mild curiosity.

She was inside some kind of massive storage space that extended more than a hundred meters in both directions and was at least five meters high.  A smile lit her lips as the area began to light up. I guess it knows someone’s here.

Moving to one of the crystal crates that was nearly as tall as her, she slid her hand across it.  The orange substance began to slide into itself, revealing dozens of clothes inside. This layer was only two feet down and didn’t extend through the entire container.

Scarlet picked up one of the plain white banner-like shirts she’d seen the aliens wearing, twisting it around.  Man, this place is wild.  I wish my dressers worked like this; it would be so cool.  Maybe I should take one of them back with me … that might be a bad idea, though.  What if they’re super offended and launch a full-on invasion … a war started over a stolen crate.  I could see it…

Trying her best to fold it back up, she replaced the item before walking into the main path, clearly identified by a slight indentation in the floor.  It felt a little strange not being able to see through everything around her. Following the pathway further into the alien base, Scarlet made it halfway to the sealed wall before it soundlessly slid open, revealing three aliens.

They all froze, and Scarlet smiled, spotting a room with holograms beyond the three.  She instantly teleported, starting to feel the prick in her gums that told her she was reaching about half energy.

Shrouded in a cloud of darkness that extended a few feet, she observed the new area; her entrance had started a panic, several aliens with white uniforms and yellow crests ran into the storage room, making a strange high-pitched sound.  She could sense their terror, but one seemed to double down on his courage.

Aww, I feel a little bad now…

The lone little guys wearing a black cloak shot toward her, orange energy flaring to life from his rings; Scarlet hummed with interest as the orange atmosphere seemed to be absorbed into the blades in his hands.

Well, isn’t that interesting.  He’s kind of fast, too.

She’d been feeling less and less frightened since the Miami Beach incident about engaging combat, and there was something about being on this new planet that put her at ease; she didn’t have to watch how she looked or acted, for the most part.

Her blood shot out of her body, surrounding the creature; she was a little shocked to see the blades penetrate the crystalline substance as it hardened, but her blood simply molded around its arms and raised it up.

It made quite a racket as it struggled in the air with the others watching from the doorway.  Scarlet slid her tongue over her fangs as she approached; her remaining blood returned to her body, protecting her heart.

Man, so much for being lowkey … of course, a black cloud moving around their home isn’t exactly stealthy.  Something’s up with his cloak, too, I can’t see through it. His head, though … what a strange-looking brain.  It almost looks like stir fry mixed with noodles. I’m not smelling anything that appetizing from…

Her eyes were drawn to an enormous orange rectangular consol center with a hollow center; a massive hologram of the mountains outside could be observed with a valley on the opposite side.  It looked like the jungle had been frozen over and colossal dahlia flowers blooming on top of the trees.

The largest was on the left side of the valley; it was at least five times taller than the towering jungle trees and spread a good distance in all directions.  It almost looked like a shimmering rainbow-colored diamond wonderland.

The most concerning issue was the sun; the horizon was glowing with the onslaught of the coming daylight.  “Shoot!”

Quickly scanning above her for the nearest cave she could teleport to, she threw the alien to the side; before it could touch the ground, her blood had returned, and she’d vanished.  It took another two caves before she was in the range of ground level.

She breathed a long breath of fresh air as she looked up at the brightening sky; the moons were surprisingly still showing in the sky, slowly moving to the east.  Vision penetrating the jungle, she found the mountains they’d labeled north.

“Crap, it’s coming up so fast!”  She groaned.

Scarlet vanished in shadows, swiftly moving in the direction of the base camp, keeping an eye out for the crystal.  It took a few jumps, grumbling every time she scanned each new area and didn’t spot her destination. Every second was a moment closer to her sublimation.  

Eventually, she released a sigh of relief; she’d found the site.

* * *

Rachel’s ears twitched, shifting to the south as she caught Scarlet’s sporadic sounds; she was rustling leaves, appearing on branches, and cursing to herself.  Fiona was coming back, too. Maria had taken the red panda back into the vehicle to pet him; she was talking to it like a dog.

Her vision swept the area; the sun was coming up.  The insect in Fiona’s Wind Prison kept trying to break past the barrier but was repelled each time; the attempt didn’t hurt it but simply shot its arms and legs back.  She could barely hear the alien creature moving at all; it was sitting down, almost as if it was waiting for something.

If Fiona’s coming back, then … she has some creatures with her that are squawking.  She’s supposed to get an understanding of what’s happening up on the mountain; she must have found some pressing information.

Scarlet’s a bit frantic; I guess she didn’t realize how much time had passed while underground.  Hopefully, one of them figured out what’s going on with this little orange jack-o-lantern.

Scarlet appeared first with a stressed smile on her black lips.  “Rachel … sorry I took so long.” Her eyes shifted to the stone prison.  “You captured one of the orange Martians; they have a huge crystal base underneath the jungle.”

Rachel’s ears stiffened.  “They’re under us? I can’t hear anything down there.”

“It’s super loud when you’re right outside of the stuff,” Scarlet said, pulling back her black hair before putting a hand on her hip.  “It sounds kind of like horrorstep.”

“What’s that?”

Taliesin and Thomson hurried over to them, the Captain saying, “Did I hear you correctly?  We’ve got a possible enemy under our feet?”

Scarlet’s right cheek bunched as she looked down.  “Well, I don’t know if they’re an enemy; I mean, we are kind of trespassing.  Rachel, you’re filthy! What … oh, they’re sending up some of those tentacle-like crystals toward us.  I saw them all over the place down by their base; I can’t see through the ones that glow.”

Rachel’s ears pointed down as she lowered her body, glaring at the mud.  It’s soft … slow … I can’t believe I missed it.  It’s like an accelerated growing root, pushing past the dirt and around stones.  At that rate, it should take another twenty minutes or more to reach the surface.  What’s its purpose?

Her red and pink petaled eyes lifted to Scarlet.  “You said you can’t see past the crystal?”

Arms crossing, Scarlet shook her head with a slight frown.  “Nope. I had to feel my way out using shadows; their ship or base or whatever it is is really bizarre.  It’s like—made out of this orange crystal stuff—like all of it, and it can do all sorts of things.”

“Ship,” Thomson asked, eyes sparkling with interest.  “You actually boarded their ship?”

Scarlet shifted uncomfortably, shaking off the mud from her shoes.  “Umm, the sun’s kind of coming up.” She bit her lower lip, rubbing her left arm.  “So … should I go to the cave?”

Rachel hummed, glancing back at the crystal.  It’s about time that we report back to Tom.  This could be critical information. We don’t want to appear anymore hostile to the aliens, too.  Perhaps if we release him, then it’ll show them that we’re not a threat. If they have a huge base underground, who knows what weapons they could utilize?  It really depends on what information Fiona brings back; at least we’re getting somewhere.

Turning to Thomson, Rachel asked, “Hey, can you go to the other side of the crystal and make sure it’s still cut off from the sunlight?”

“Eh, yeah…”

“Oh,” Scarlet’s eyes widened before a touch of concern entered her tone.  “Am I going to go back? I can still do things underground, too. I don’t have to go back.”

Rachel smiled, folding her arms as she turned toward the north; Thomson was already running to check Earth’s daylight condition.  Fiona was racing back at an accelerated pace; apparently, her guests were interested in some of their songs, causing Fiona to start singing.

“We’ll probably give the general a report once Fiona returns.  We’ve made some headway, and Fiona’s main job was to find us an animal informant and figure out what that Azure Frost is.”

“Oh, is that what it’s called?”

Rachel’s tail twitched.  “You’ve seen it in the alien ship?”

“Well, a hologram of it; the valley on the other side of the mountain is covered in these diamond-like flowers.”

“Hologram?”  Taliesin cursed.  “They must be more advanced than we are.  It could be a problem if they start getting serious.”

Scarlet shrugged.  “I don’t know; I mean, yeah, they did have some cool stuff, but they were terrified, even before I showed up.  It’s everywhere around the jungle; everything’s scared.”

Rachel looked up as Fiona neared.  “Fiona’s just about here.” Her head tilted to look at the crystal; Thomson came back through with a thumbs up.

“Still covered!”  He shouted, jogging back to them.

“Go ahead,” Rachel chuckled, noting Scarlet’s nervous glance back at her.  “We’ll be right behind you. Also,” Scarlet hesitated, “don’t think you need my permission, Scarlet.  We’re friends, I’m not your commander.”

Scarlet breathed a relieved sigh.  “Right, thanks, Rachel. Sometimes I just … nevermind, thanks.”  She looked troubled for a moment before smiling and vanishing in a cloak of shadows, appearing beside the crystal.  Without a backward glance, she passed through.

“Does she normally act like that?”  Taliesin asked, folding his arms.

Thomson rejoined the group.  “What’s up?”

“She’s had … a really bad last few days.”

Her lips curved into a smile as she heard Fiona singing, coming nearer.

“… you got that something I want next to me.  Only you is like a little piece of ecstasy. If you knew what I was thinking, maybe we could be.  Only you … ah, oh, ah, ah, ah, oh … and I still got that feeling you’re the one that I need. Take you to another world, another f-fantasy.  If you only knew what I was thinking … oh, we’re back! Rachel, hey!”

Before anyone could respond, she puffed out her cheeks, glaring at one of the birds with a challenging tone.  “Wait … what do you mean our songs are weird? What do your songs sound like?”

Everyone winced as one of the larger birds started shrieking like a dying dolphin, but Fiona listened with a critical eye.  After a short performance, Fiona folded her arms across her chest and nodded with a soft hum. “Not bad, but you could work on the lows.”

“Not bad?”  Thomson mumbled.  “That sounded horrible.”

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“No,” Fiona’s brow creased.  “It wasn’t that bad … oh, you can’t understand them.”  She said with a spark of understanding. “Yeah, how do humans sound?”  She asked, turning back to the four. A few squawks later, and she turned to Rachel, “Say something.”

“Umm … did you learn anything important?”

“Oh, totally!”  She presented the four with flourishing motion and energy, pointing at each.  “Meet papa Ge’r, mama Ha’e, lil sis Te’r, and big bro Ja’a. They’re going to tell us all about the crystals!  They actually come from a different world than this one; it’s a double crystal event. Pretty wild, eh? The Azure Frost comes from their world, it’s kind of like an apocalyptic thing for them, pretty sad, actually.”

Rachel’s mind flipped into overdrive as she processed each of Fiona’s words and the implications.  Double crystal event … they understand what they mean … Azure Frost … apocalyptic.

“We’re going back to meet with Tom, bring the birds.”

“Oh, that quick?”  One of the birds made a gurgling sound.  “What was that? We sound like blustering Tailfin Quakers?  I have no clue what those are … well, that’s scary.”

Rachel had already turned to Taliesin.  “Can you let Maria know we’ve gone to the other side and to have her follow us.  She can bring the little panda thing. Fiona, could you release the alien and…”

“Umm … I guess, and what?”

Dang it … I didn’t ask Scarlet about the other bugs.  She didn’t mention it as a threat, but they did attack the previous unit.  We’ll keep that one in the Wind Prison until Scarlet gives her full account, but the aliens are definitely a possible problem.  Actively releasing it could prevent any attacks while we’re gone; they already know where we are and sending some kind of crystal tentacle … that never ends well in movies.

“Reinforce the energy trapping the bug and open the stone prison around the alien.  Thomson, could you grab the blood packs that were brought over and take them to Scarlet?”  When he nodded, he turned back to Taliesin. “Maria?”

“Yeah, I’m on it … strangest OP I’ve ever been a part of.”  He mumbled.

When she turned toward Fiona, she saluted her.  “Got it, Captain Rachel!” Her green aura mixed brown as she collapsed the stone, tossing the dirt into the jungle.

Rachel made it two steps before the sound of an explosion flooded her mind; her ears flinched, jarring sensation shooting down her spine.

“Flip!”  Fiona screamed, covering her ears as all the soldiers’ dove to the dirt or behind objects, expletives close to their lips.  The shrill sounds from the birds were even louder, but Fiona was quick in calming them down.

Staring at Fiona’s dirt pile as mud rained around the area, she sighed.  “The claymores,” she muttered, scratching her scalp before flipping back her hair.  “Dang…”

The alien looked as startled as them, glancing back at the spot, up and alert.

Rubbing her left ear, Rachel finished walking to the edge of the dust tornado surrounding the creature.  “Fiona, drop the shield.”

She held her hands up toward the alien as Fiona dropped the shield, and she gestured for it to leave, pointing at the jungle.  It stared at her a moment before its vision shifted between Fiona, the birds, and the soldiers; after a moment’s study, it jumped five meters at a time, jumping from trunk to trunk to disappear into the foliage.

From the looks of the soldiers, they doubted her decision, glaring after it before turning their gaze to her.

Rachel motioned to Fiona.  “Let’s go.”

Fiona beat her to the crystal, flying through without a moment’s hesitation; Thomson was next, hauling a cooler through.  Rachel took one more glance around before going following; the area was brightening rapidly.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the enclosed space with bright lights stationed around the crystal; her body tensed, ready to move as she heard someone rushing her at a rapid pace, but from the sound of her body, she could tell it was Scarlet.

“Rachel!”  Her arms closed around her back as she hugged her.  “I feel so much better. Thanks for having me come back.  Oh, too much? Sorry, I just … kind of … I’m coming off of a high.”  She mumbled, shrinking back a few feet apologetically.

Rachel shook her head, smiling at the Vampire.  “No, well, I haven’t been much of a hugger, but it’s fine.  A high?” Her mind swiftly ran through the possibilities before her ears stiffened.  “Wait, you mean the emotions? You said the aliens were afraid … I hadn’t considered how that might affect you.  Sorry.”

“Uh-uh, it’s fine!  I know you must have a lot on your mind, and it’s not terrible, it just … makes me feel different.  It’s good, but not good … it’s hard to explain. It just feels a bit better, sleeping back on Earth.”

There were several men with heavy-duty weaponry stationed around and mounted turrets surrounding the crystal; they kept silent as they listened and kept an eye on the glowing structure.

Fiona was giving the birds a tour of the area.  “And this is a … well, I don’t know what kind of light it is.  It’s not really a spotlight, I don’t think, but it’s like … a construction light?  Hey, I know what it is … just not what it’s called. You didn’t know what everything was called in your world, I bet … liar!

“Wait for Maria, then we’ll see if you’re telling the truth!  Yeah, feeling nervous now that someone can call you out? No … doubling down, eh?  You don’t think Maria can tell if you’re lying?” She said with an impish grin. “We’ll have to see!  Oh? Coming clean, eh? I thought so! Of course, I’m going to punish you … upside down? Hey, hey, I’m joking!  Don’t cry … jeez.”

Rachel frowned as she watched the group banter.  Do these birds really know anything about the crystals?  Fiona seems pretty certain, but it could all be made up. I could have jumped the gun by bringing us back when she didn’t explain it to me.  They could have an agenda of their own for getting onto our planet.

They’re just as alien as the orange guys, and Fiona can be a little bit of an airhead.  Well, I don’t honestly know that much about Fiona. She’s a powerhouse and has a good heart, but her change has affected her mind more than I think she realizes.

For us to randomly find just the creatures that have the answers we want … seems too good to be true.  It smells like a setup. Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on Fiona … the Addled State wasn’t her fault back at Miami; we just didn’t understand our weaknesses or powers that well.  We still don’t. Man … when have I started worrying this much. I feel so anxious. Something just feels off.

Her focus shifted to Scarlet as she took one of the blood packs out, and Thomson was studying Fiona’s conversation with interest.

She bit into the bag, eyes glowing red as she sucked out the liquid.  “-iona, what’s up with the birds? New pets?” She asked, bending down to take two more bags out.

“Refugees,” Fiona replied with a peace sign.  “They’re way better than that perverted panda … honestly, I’m a little worried about leaving Maria with the guy.  Was that red-furred creature from your guys’ world? Yeah, thought so … it knew about the Azure Frost, so … their whole culture is like that?  Yeah … let’s not bring the thing to … Maria!”

Maria came through the portal, carrying the red panda in her arms, snugly situated between her breasts.  Her brow creased. “Sup?”

“Why’d you bring the pervert?”

The birds made several squawks, and the small, small dog-sized bear made a few grunts, nose twitching; it squirmed a little in Maria’s arms, so she gave it a platform to shift around.  “What’s…”

“Nope!”  Fiona yelled, and the bear shot out of Maria’s arms and into the air, floating high above the ground with high-pitched sounds of surprise.

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“What’s your problem?”  Maria asked, looking up at the creature with concern.  “He was just trying to…”

“Go for the milk,” Fiona huffed crossly.  Glaring up at the bear, twisting around in the air with her manipulations.  “Seems these guys are pretty messed up! Know what … I’ll be right back.”

Before anyone could say anything, she shot through the crystal with the bear.  Everyone looked at each other raised eyebrows; after thirty seconds, she reappeared, sniffing in disgust.  “I threw the thing back into the woods and told the soldiers to shoot it on sight if it comes back. That guy’s seriously twisted!

“You totally let it sniff you up and down, didn’t you!”  Fiona demanded, flying right up to Maria’s face, red dust cascading around her.  Fiona backed up with her hands in the air.

“I just—I mean, yeah, but chill!  He was just curious…”

“You have no idea,” Fiona said with a tired sigh.  “I’m just glad he hadn’t finished his investigation.  Seriously, Maria, you need to be more careful around guys like that.”

“Guys like what?  He just looked like a cute panda…”

“Right … animals are messed up … no, I’m not talking about you guys.”  She muttered, waving at the indignant birds. “I know you’re nothing like the Gobenax … please, no more stories.  I’ve heard enough; he’s gone.” She said with a sharp shiver.

“Okay … thanks for watching our backs,” Rachel said with a forced chuckle.  “I’ll keep that in mind if I see one of them later.”

“I’m considering genocide … they have some nasty tools in their kit,” Fiona grumbled, floating back to the birds.

“So, what’s next?”  Scarlet asked, finishing off her eighth blood pack.

Rachel opened her mouth but hesitated as Fiona folded down her ears.  “No! I should have given him to Scarlet … that would have been a million times better!”

“You really didn’t like him,” Maria whispered, but she rubbed her arms with concern as she glanced back at the crystal.  “Qué lástima…”

“Anyways,” Rachel cleared her throat.  “Let’s go see Tom.”

“I’d like to join,” Thomson asked with a hopeful grin, but it fell into a depressed sigh when Rachel hummed and shook her head.

“Sorry, dude, but this will probably be classified.”

“I get it … I’ll just go back and collect more samples.”

He trudged back through the gate as Rachel waved for the others.  “Scarlet, mind making a blood portal to Tom—if he’s in a place without sunlight.”

“Yeah, no problem.  I’m juiced up!” Scarlet said with a giggle.  “The last blood pack was from a really happy girl … feels nice!  I think I’ll keep this feeling for a bit.”

“I forgot how blood can affect you … some blood’s like Molly to you, eh?”  Maria asked, glaring down at the pool of blood that extracted out of her body.  “Umm—I’ll walk.”

“Suit yourself,” Scarlet shrugged with a bright smile, showing her pointed fangs.  The soldiers were eyeing her nervously. “Tom’s in the portable building we saw him go into; it looks like he’s Skyping with a few people.”

Rachel didn’t hesitate, jumping through; Fiona’s previous words sticking with her.  The Azure Frost is an apocalyptic event for them … we need to get ahead of this.

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