September 08, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Eighteen

Glen wasn’t sure exactly why he’d pressed so hard to join their little expedition. He felt certain Jenna needed protecting—mostly from the madman now sliding cautiously down the sand dune ahead of him. He absolutely did not believe their story of space ships and seven foot lizards, and there was no way he was going to let Skylar—if that was his real name—paint fanciful pictures for Jenna of finding her past and end up hurting her.

He was sure whatever lay in Jenna’s past, the answers weren’t going to be found by breaking into the side of a sand dune. Skylar had already lied at least once…Glen wasn’t going to let Jenna go anywhere alone with this man until he got to the bottom of the matter.

As they reached the door, Skylar pointed his electronic device at it once again. He looked at Jenna as he spoke.

"Still no movement and only minimal energy readings," he reported. Glen watched as he hung the small tool on his belt and Skylar and Jenna took up their positions on opposing sides of the door.

Glen stood beside Jenna, the better to protect her. There was no way to know what was in there that might not like its door opened, and he couldn’t deny it was a very strange door…. He glanced at Skylar, wondering if he really knew what lay beyond it. The grim look on Skylar’s face wasn’t reassuring.

At Skylar's nod, Jenna pulled the handle down. Glen held his breath.

The massive doors slid aside with only a soft whoosh, and the three figures crept quietly into the…Glen groped for the name they’d given to the lizards…Claudia-Pond base...no, that wasn’t right. Uh, Clod-Fawn base, yes, that was it.

Glen watched as Skylar stepped to his side of the opening and pulled a handle on the inside and the doors slid closed, leaving them in utter blackness.

“Hey!” His protest at having the light cut off sounded loud in the stillness, echoing off the walls of what sounded like a long corridor.

A small pop sounded and a green light began to glow as Jenna cracked the seal on a light stick. “I only have two glowsticks,” Jenna murmured, “so we’ll have to be careful.”

The green light was quite bright in the darkness surrounding them and Glen squinted to protect his eyes. Out of habit he looked to one side, rather than directly at the light stick, having camped enough to know how to preserve his night-vision.

“Now what?” Glen asked. His words bounced off the metal walls again, echoing off into the depths of the darkness. He watched Jenna’s face, almost eerie with the green glow in this strange place.

“Glen,” Skylar whispered. “We need to be as silent as we can. Even tiny sounds travel far beyond line of sight, and we’re not sure how close the Klodfons are.” A strong hand reassuringly gripped Glen’s forearm, taking any censure from the words.

“Right,” Glen murmured and patted Skylar’s hand to show no offense had been taken. As Skylar moved closer to Jenna, Glen considered her anticipation of needing the light sticks in this dark corridor. Had she known the need or had she merely guessed? Glen stroked his chin, watching her, his eyes now adjusted to the semi-darkness of the corridor. If she’d known this place was here, if she’d come out here in order to find it, then it made a lot of sense to have the sticks with her. Could their tale be true, space ships, lizards and all? He’d have to explore this thought later, when he had more time with less confronting him.

He watched the pair reholster their weapons without fastening the safety straps. Jenna folded her strap backwards and tucked it between the holster and her leg, her nimble fingers speaking long familiarity with the holster, though it wasn’t her usual one.

Glen hoped they were faster at drawing their weapons than the lizards were, then remembered Jenna had said the creatures carried rifles, which needn’t be drawn at all. These two must be crazy to go after lizards armed with rifles when they carried only pistols. He grimaced. And they thought he was inappropriately armed! He hefted the comforting weight of his rifle and waited for the signal to move forward.

Skylar indicated for Jenna to lead the way, then stepped behind her, motioning Glen to follow. Glen, watching the command shift from one to the other, wondered who was actually in charge of this little escapade into insanity.

A little way down the hall, there was a depression in the wall to their right. Jenna motioned for them to stay put and disappeared with the light.

"Who's in charge, you or her?" Glen’s whisper was soft, but still the sound echoed down the corridor. He devoutly hoped none of the lizards were near enough to hear him.

Skylar’s voice held the smile Glen couldn’t see in the darkness, but could hear in the murmured words. "It's my mission and I outrank her, so I'm in charge, but she's been to the base before, so I appointed her as our guide." Skylar’s voice was pitched low, but Glen noted in passing that somehow Skylar managed to keep his words from echoing. He tried, unsuccessfully, to do the same.

"If she's really been here before," Glen softly said with surprise, "then why did you need me to bring you out here?"

Skylar’s voice was so quiet Glen had to strain to hear all the words clearly. "She had just barely escaped the Klodfons when you found her. She wasn't sure how to get back here, so we had to enlist your help."

"Is that who beat her up?" Glen's voice became angry. Skylar hissed a quiet ‘yes’ as he put his hand on Glen’s shoulder to remind him to be quiet. Glen lowered his volume once more, "I'll kill 'em for that!"

"You'd better," Skylar said "or they'll kill you. And be as silent as possible; they might be monitoring the corridor."

Glen resolutely closed his mouth, biting the lips shut from the inside as a child might do, his mind racing. He was honest enough to admit to himself he was a little—no, actually, a lot nervous about these rifle-packing lizards—providing they actually existed—but there was no way he was going to abandon Jenna when he felt she needed him most.

Just then, she returned with the light stick. "Guard room. Here's a rifle for you, Glen. Just point and shoot. I got one for Rantek, too." She handed the weapon to him, adjusting the strap on the second rifle before she slung it over her shoulder. Glen noticed Jenna’s voice also didn’t echo down the corridor as his own did and wondered if there was some trick to it.

Jenna adjusted how the rifle hung, then moved off down the corridor. Skylar motioned for Glen to follow once more.

Glen took a second to look at the new weapon in his hand. Making a quick decision, he slung it over his shoulder as he’d seen Jenna do, keeping his own weapon at the ready. Not only did he feel more comfortable with his own as he faced a new enemy, but he knew the qualities of his rifle and was confident it could protect Jenna as he needed to.

Abiding by Skylar’s silent directions, he dropped back into the rear guard position. If they wanted to play army, he’d play along for now. Acting as if he accepted Skylar’s authority over the mission would give him a bit of latitude, and he could step in and take charge when he felt Jenna was in real danger.

They moved forward slowly and quietly. He was a bit relieved to be in the back, actually. Not only was he performing a necessary function, but this gave him a bit of advantage in facing a new enemy. He would have the chance to see these lizard-things before he had to shoot, if they turned up in front of them. Knowing the black corridors they were passing were empty of the…Clod-Fawns—he was pleased with himself for having remembered the name—they were unlikely to be leaping out from some murky corner they’d just passed!

They traveled endlessly through the darkness. Dust was thick on the floor, cushioning sound, and their soft, careful steps did not stir it up enough to make breathing difficult.

Once they thought they heard a noise behind them, but discovered nothing there. At length the light stick grew too dim to use. He watched as Jenna lit her last one and discarded the first. Glen felt they were now committed to their quest—they wouldn’t have enough light to navigate back the way they had come. They set off once more.

She rounded yet another corner, then quickly retreated. Her voice, barely audible, still carried the surprise and nervousness she felt.

“Footprints in the dust,” she said quietly.

Carefully checking the corridor for signs of life, she moved stealthily around the corner, over to the footprints and examined them closely. Her voice drifted toward them lightly. Glen made a mental note to find out how they could both speak so quietly and still be clearly audible to their intended listeners.

“Boots,” she said, looking at the pattern in the disrupted layer of dust. “A single set…human…and fresh.”

She eyed the pattern over a six- or eight-foot distance. “Look, Skylar. See this?” She pointed to part of the tracks. “They keep twisting around as though to watch behind them, too, so there’s probably some Klodfon pursuit." She glanced at Skylar for guidance.

"Are they going where we're headed?" Skylar’s words were softly murmured.

Jenna shook her head. "No, coming from. What do you want to do?"

Glen closely watched him as Skylar considered the footprints for a moment. “Let’s follow the tracks,” he replied. “Maybe they know more specifically where the Klodfons are positioned right now, which would be extremely valuable."

Jenna nodded and turned once again to take the lead, saying, "I doubt it's Rantek; these prints are almost my size, and he's not that small."

Within minutes, the trail led to a closed door. They took up side positions, with Glen beside Jenna. He felt a shiver race down his spine. It was at once exciting and frightening not knowing what might happen when the door opened. He looked at Skylar’s face once again and saw the deliberation there.

Skylar caught Jenna’s eye, silently asking if she were prepared.

The words ‘prepared for what?’ seared through Glen’s mind as he noted the tension radiating from both Skylar and Jenna. The words barely had time to register before he saw Jenna’s nod answer Skylar.

Skylar’s chest seemed to expand with a fully drawn breath before he pressed the button and the door opened. As if the occupant had been waiting for exactly this moment, a bolt of light came through the door at chest level. It impacted the far wall of the corridor and the metal shattered, bits and chunks of glowing shards falling to the floor.