Back in the forest, the old man whirred his hover-round to face the camper. His head was cocked back as if he'd lost consciousness and his eyes slowly opened to dense Spanish moss hanging above. The camper was pulsing with light like one of those little night-lights that gradually dissolve into different colors and the soft light illuminated the forest, especially the jangly moss canopy.
The old man grinned as he lowered his gaze and carefully hovered his way back toward the pulsing camper. Once closer, you could tell the outer skin was completely covered in the same sizzling metallic goo that engulfed Zeke.
Once he'd reached the same spot he occupied when Zeke encountered him, the old man tilted his head back again and read the strange text that was projecting from some unknown source into the underside of his rainbow umbrella.
The characters looked like some kind of cross between Mayan hieroglyphs, Hopi pictographs, and Egyptian symbols. The old man appeared to recognize some patterns in the electronic crackling that emanated from underneath the umbrella.
He reached into his silk robe for a pair of old, cracked spectacles that had little pods at the ends that go over your ears. He inserted each side into his ears and the sounds translated to thoughts the man could receive not as sound, but more like shared, disembodied thought. And, the alien symbols projected on the umbrella morphed into readable text.
"How many are there inside?" The old man responded in thought, "Just one this time. A male. I didn't get a good look at him before I seized, but I think he was mid-aged." "How long has he been activated inside the vessel?" "I suffered a malfunction and lost connection for a time, but I would guess no more than a count of 20 of their secondary time units." "Splendid. Let him cook for another 10, then bring him back." "Standard debrief? Or, will it be denial this time?" "Evaluate his condition upon reentry. If he appears stable enough, let's see how he tolerates denial."
Zeke's free fall over the infinite milky ledge leveled back out into a floating forward motion through what felt like a thick atmosphere that was breathable. Not quite the same as air, but not as dense as water. It took him a little more work to draw in a breath, but it didn't cause him any distress or panic.
Below the cork boat he could see structures raised from the surface, but none had any obvious entry points. No windows, gates or doors. And they looked like they were solid enough, but still sort of soft looking. The structures were all interconnected to each other via large diameter, shining cables made of the sizzling metallic goo material. The entire landscape looked like a giant plasma circuit board of sorts.
The cork vessel glided a bit lower toward the surface and Zeke could make out shapes of beings, but none of their features were defined much. He could just tell something was there and all of them knew of his presence. His mind became confused for a few moments. It was as if it contained several more than his own thoughts and he couldn't focus on just one stream, nor process the multitude.
Confusion and a little fear gave way to a feeling of familiarity. He'd been here before.