*Swift, Silent... Not Dead Yet

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OOC Date: August 10, 2011
IC Date: March 24, 2011

Xavier Santiago has been on solitary recon since landing on the planet. In spite of having been hunting for several of its long days, he has found nothing of interest. Until now…


Corona Solaris 2 - Somewhere On The Surface


After several hours of hiking around the lake and across the other side of the plains, Xavier reached the foot of the mountains a few hours before nightfall on the first day. Maps provided by the Genesis' scanners indicate a vast tunnel network within the mountain, though there were no caverns in his immediate vicinity. He would find himself forced to choose between making camp for the night and riding out nightfall, or returning home in the dark. He could also continue exploring in the dark, but that would be quite dangerous.

Camping out is almost exactly what Xavier had in mind when he set out in this direction. After radioing back to camp to let his superior officer know how little he'd found, he launched straight toward the mountains. With the onset of twilight it comes time to find a likely spot to bivouac, and on that count his preference goes to finding a nice spot in a tree to hole up. While not the most comfortable of options, with a bit of rope and the right bit of lumber it might be among the safest of them.

Xavier has little trouble finding the things necessary to build himself a nice perch in one of the more solid trees that dot the edge of the mountains, and spending the night time hours in its relative safety. Along the journey, he would have noticed that the grass grows much taller on this side of the lake, as if the herd animals that graze on the other side never venture over here, and nothing from the mountains comes down to do it, either. In fact, there isn't even any sign of insect life, none of the ants to be found - and by this point he would have noticed that the few he collected glow in the dark. Not even birds. It's as if, other than vegetation, he is the only living thing on the side of the lake.

Over 30 hours of hanging out in a glorified hammock to ride out the planet's extended night gives him plenty of time to do things like gaze upon the stars without the separation of a window, study maps of the tunnel system that he hopes to find soon and simply enjoyed being outside for once after six years of encapsulated existence. Some might find it boring, though he is unlikely to be one of them.

Spending 30-odd hours in a tree would drive a lot of people crazy. But no, he isn't one of them. As stated, he was rather looking forward to this, and this is indeed what he had in mind when he set out this direction. It's peaceful. It's quiet. It's fresh air and trees and open sky, and though it is oddly deserted that doesn't put the Marine off so much as it drives him to wonder why nothing comes here. No birds, no bugs… if this was Earth, it would indicate to Xavier that something in the area scared all of that off, but few things intimidate insects. So he sits and he waits and he watches, making notes - in Spanish - in his little black book, periodically skimming the landscape through the scope of his rifle, and occasionally picking out his vials of glow-ants to shake up a bit. He eats up there, he sleeps up there, and even tries to write his name in the bushes from - that's right - up there.

No, insects aren't easy to intimidate, which makes it even more interesting that his new little friends in the container seem to be quite unsettled and frantic as opposed to when he first captured them. It's as if they'd do not want to be here. If he's honest with himself, he may notice somewhere deep within him an instinct to run, to get away from the mountain and go back to camp. It's probably an unsettling thing to discover, an uncontrollable instinct from within that defies any reason or logic, though it is faint and easily pushed aside. When the suns finally come up, he once again has light to explore by.

Primal fear. This is also not something he is completely unfamiliar with; Xavier grew up in a tiny village in the high mountains of Colombia and those peasants were nothing if not superstitious. It's probably why that awful feeling was kept in check through whispered prayers, and why he greets dawn with the impression of a crucifix pressed into the meat of his palm. There's no point in running yet, though as promised he does hike back to the edge of the woods to radio back to camp before moving forward once more. This void of life begs to be explored. With extreme caution.

There is no discernible threat to be found anywhere near the edges of the mountain, and after signaling back and spending a few hours searching, Xavier manages to find a large cavern about 12 feet high and 10 feet wide that opens into the mountain itself.

Well. Xavier has all day, and then some. He devotes some time to searching the area around the mouth of the cave for any sign at all of its contents, and when that turns up fruitless pulls out a vial of ant to inspect the contents. It's a bit like having a canary in a coal mine.

The little insects surge to whichever end of the vial is furthest from the cavern opening, and rotating it has them quickly scrambling back. Whether they can see the opening of the cave or not, they seemed to know instinctively where it is and want desperately to get away from it. If nothing else, they'll make a convenient compass when inside the caverns, one that always points out. There are absolutely no tracks or signs of anything at the cavern entrance, suggesting that either nothing has come or gone in quite some time, or they are exceptionally good at covering their tracks.

For a few moments all Xavier does is spin the vial. It's only got one poor tormented little ant in it; the other two are in individual vials as well for 'safe keeping.' There are two possible scenarios here and one of them does -not- win him a medal back home. And now is probably the first time that the solitary recon Marine is wishing he'd brought some backup. After weighing those options, however, he creeps forward into the very mouth of the cave, keeping to one side to avoid being totally silhouetted in the opening.

There is nothing at all remarkable about the cavern in any way, save for the fact that the dirt here is reddish black as is the rock the cavern is made from. Other than coloration, it could be any cave back home in the South American jungles.

It appears to go on at a gradual downgrade for several hundred yards with no sign of stopping before his vision in the limited light can see no further.

If there really is something supremely hazardous on this plot of land, Xavier is supposed to find out about it. He tucks the ant into its pocket and dons his night-vision gear before unshouldering his rifle once more. It's slid into a readied position, just in case, and once again he begins moving forward. Slowly.

Even with night vision, there is nothing to be seen except cavern. Walking along slowly, it will take awhile, but the gradual downgrade takes him lower into the planet's surface which makes the heat slowly rise. After nearly an hour of cautious travel without any signs of movement nor any branches in the tunnel, it appears that the tunnel widens out up ahead. Checking his navigation gear, he finds that he is almost a mile underground and 4 miles into the mountain. The temperature is a hundred and twenty five degrees fahrenheit.

That is dangerously hot, and there still is nothing to show for whatever might be down here, or what causes everything to avoid this place like the plague. Xavier crouches, listens, and watches for about a minute before finally coming to a decision. Now, finally, the decision is to fall back, to finally have something to report when next he phones home, even if it isn't anything more exciting than 'weird ass cave.'

As he turns to head back up the tunnel, he catches sight of something, like an engraving on the cavern wall just up the head. It could be shadows and relief making him see things, and at this distance it's too hard to tell, but it seems vaguely picture like.

Or maybe he's been in the heat too long. This really is uncomfortably warm, but that..? That's almost not entirely exactly what he expected to find down here. So Xavier stops and turns back around to move up slowly again, still wary of the cavern ahead but now intent on hunting down that carving, or crack, or whatever else it might be.

A good, cautious look about the cave reassures him that he's still alone, and three separate tunnels branch out from this cavern room, identical to what he shows on his map. After collecting his bearings and making sure that all is clear, things get very interesting.

It's not easy to make out at first, but once he realizes that it reads from right to left and bottom to top things become a bit easier to make out. Individual panels, like a comic book or a slide show have been carved into the stone wall depicting what appears to be a story. The carvings, it should be noted, and the panels that frame them are not the crude, primitive carvings one might expect to find back on Earth from the stone age - these are precise, the panels perfectly shaped and identical in size, the engravings themselves almost laser sharp and highly detailed to the point of photo realism. It shows tentacle creatures that walk on three longer tentacles like legs slaughtering all of the animals on the plain with weapons shaped like crescents, a curved blade extending from both the top and bottom of the handle clutched in a tentacle. Some of the creatures carry only one or two, others three or more, and in gruesome detail they butcher all of the turtle like herd beasts all the way to the edge of the lake. They massacre the small, gray furred rodents as well with savage fury. Several kinds of birds are also seen being driven away or sliced to pieces. At the end, the creatures go back into the caves.

Awesome. Interstellar tentacle snuff porn. This takes a little bit of time to figure out, and then a little bit more time to comprehend. Even though it is in vivid detail, it's still in that black on green nightvision light scale that makes it slightly harder to discern. The record feature on his rig is flipped on to save this for posterity though and the whole lot is skimmed again slowly, right to left, bottom to top. When Xavier is satisfied that he has a good, cleanish copy of it, he stops recording and makes for the tunnel again. Swift and silent; these are two of the watchwords of his unit, embraced now like the little crucifix that hangs by his dog tags, all of which get clutched in his off-hand.

He is nearly blinded when he turns, his night vision briefly sweeping past one of the openings that branch off the cavern, some bright light source down the tunnel far more than the night vision had been adjusted to. This puts a brief snag in his retreat, and also suggests that something is getting off light down that tunnel.

Swift, silent, blind. It's a small miracle that he doesn't make any noise when black and green turns blazing, but recoils instead to put a hand against the wall to steady himself with. It does put a snag in his retreat, and in fact inserts yet another delay into that most excellent and wise decisions. Light, this far underground, is unusual. But then, so is finding such cleanly cut carvings where none should, realistically, exist. And so Xavier goes, carefully changing the settings on his eyewear to compensate for the sudden brightness. The ant may have to get him out later after all.

The light is some ways away, easily another quarter mile down the tunnel, and as he gets closer to it it gets brighter until it's almost like being in daylight. He's also going further down, now, deeper into the ground, and the temperature is rising accordingly. As he gets close to the end of the tunnel, he sees the source of the light - in a giant cavern up ahead, a sphere hangs high above, near the ceiling, glowing like a miniature sun to the chamber below.

When it gets bright enough to not need the night vision bit Xavier turns that off and turns his recording device back on. The viewers back home are going to have to suffer through the silent Descent meets Blair Witch results, but this clearly needs recorded for posterity. He's hot. He's miserable. But at this point he's past a point of no return - that glowing light is probably the source of the heat, and is probably going to give him radiation poisoning or something, but hey.

No, it's not the cause of the heat, the further you go underground the hotter it gets due to geothermal heating, but as he's a Marine and not a scientist, he probably doesn't know this. As he nears the opening to the enormous cavern, he finds himself halfway up between the floor and the ceiling, a ramp of sorts winding its way down to the bottom along the cavern wall from the opening. It's probably a six or seven story drop from where he currently is to the floor below. The walls of the cavern are covered in more of the engravings, thousands of square feet worth of them, too much to take in all at once. Still, there is no sign of life anywhere to be seen.

Yeah. No. Xavier is lucky that he got his GED, and that with some difficulty. Geothermal heating is a term that he's probably -heard- but doesn't really comprehend beyond the idea that it gets hotter as you get closer to the molten rock inside the planet, but the big glowy thing in the ceiling is just as good a thing to blame the horrible, sweat-inducing baking on as anything else. Water conservation is going to be an issue soon, since he's going to run out of what he brought in pretty quickly. But this is really bizarre, and it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure that out. Thus, the filming continues, and down he goes, following that ramp in its awful spiral into what feels like hell.

As he begins to descend the ramp, movement comes from one of the tunnels that branch off of the cavern below and deeper into the mountain. He's only about 15 feet down the ramp at the moment, close enough to turn back pretty easily, should he decide to do so. Out of the tunnel and into the cavern comes what can only be described as a metallic spider, approximately the size of a basketball in diameter if counting the tips of the legs, the body about the size of a hen's egg. It is clearly made of metal, not organic, though any detail on the thing is difficult to make out from such a distance. It does not appear to have noticed him, yeah.

A metallic spider. … Well, it's not a tentacle beastie, so that's something. He does refrain from shooting it, though he crouches down and goes very, very still, watching and waiting to see what it does and where it goes.

It skitters along the floor, then up the cavern wall near the tunnel it just came out of. Up it goes, then turns and heads out along the wall with a sense of purpose. After a bit of walking, it stops and begins to do something. It's hard to make out at first, but it becomes clear that it is carving into the cave wall. It would appear to be adding to the vast artwork that lines this giant cavern.

Sentience…! Or the remains of sentience. It's too bad that this spider is way too big to fit into one of Xavier's bottles. He does settle against the edge for a bit to watch the thing, the lens of his recorder trained on the metal arachnid as it goes about adding to the ambient artwork. The fact that it is between him and the bottom of the ramp is a bit of a problem.

The section that it adds to shows an egg shaped craft coming down from the sky and landing near the lake, followed by two more. The creation of camp is shown, including the initial stampede of herd beasts, a run in with a big pack of some kind of predator bull with a sailfin on its back, and now it seems to be etching a second encounter with a small pack of sailfins driving a lone herd beast at the human camp.

Again, very much NOT what Xavier had anticipated finding. It takes him a little bit to figure out what it's drawing in there, but in tracking back to find the shuttles landing and camp being pitched? He may be poorly educated, but he is not actually lacking in intelligence, and it doesn't take more than a few seconds to process what the nature of this room is. So that begs the question: what came before the egg…shaped shuttles?

There are literally thousands of square feet of carvings here, and he only has a view of about half of them from where he's at, so picking through all of the history on the walls to find what he's looking for would probably take quite a while - if it's something that can even be seen from his current perch. The silver spider continues to etch, its speed fairly impressive, and now it is rendering what looks to be Ivan firing a rifle at one of the sailfin creatures, a creature that Xavier has not seen in person since he's been on this little expedition instead. More movement comes from the tunnel that the spider came from, and soon several tentacle creatures stalk into the room on their tripod legs, several other tentacles shorter than those three slithering at its sides. They range in color from a dark purplish black to a sickly yellow, and they seem to be entirely boneless. They have not yet noticed him, but for how long they will remain ignorant of his presence is a good question.

Uh…oh. See, this is why he needs to not spend so much time in the room that bakes the brain. Movement catches his eye though and tears Xavier's attention away from the wall and down into the pit, down to those awful tentacle creatures that have now put in an appearance. This? This could be a problem. NOW it is time to make good his departure, to slide toward the wall and begin edging backwards, up the spiral, toward the tunnel that he came through. He watches all the while though, both to verify that they've come to see what's new on the wall and to ensure that they haven't seen him. Yet.

Perhaps the tentacle creatures have bad eyesight - they do live in dark caverns, after all - or perhaps Xavier is just a total ninja, but they do not see him as he makes his retreat. Slightly over 10 feet tall, they huddle in a small group of six and watch the carvings being made by the spider, which can only be a robot of some kind given its metallic composition and super precise, photo realistic carving abilities. The tentacle creatures make small chitters and sharp, piercing squeaks as they communicate amongst themselves, perhaps discussing these newest carvings and what they might mean.

What they might mean is that Xavier should drop a couple of grenades into the middle of them and blow the whole fucking bunch straight to hell…. but he doesn't. He's a recon Marine, and the best reconnaissance in the world doesn't do anyone any good if it doesn't make it back to base. So yes. He's getting out of Dodge now, having seen way more than he probably ought to. It is in fact time to go.


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