“I hope we discover some food,” said Leroy.
“Our first sign of life since Earth and it makes you hungry?” Jillian asked.
“Shuttle rations make me hungry,” the colonial security force officer said to his partner.
The planet’s surface shimmered green against the star filled backdrop. Occasional blue splashes breaking up the lush emerald thicket enfolding nearly every inch of the planet’s surface in a rain forest. Life away from Earth had thus far remained elusive and undiscovered.
Of all the planets the crew of LARC5 encountered since it left Earth nearly ten years ago, this world alone supported life. Plenty of barren rocks contained metal ores and a variety of minerals to mine. Numerous gas giants replenished the massive colonial vessel’s stores of essential basic elements.
A sleek silver craft shimmered in the morning sun as it slid into the atmosphere. The body of the craft swooped with the curves of a Manta Ray, stretching two hundred and fifty feet long and curving out to the same width. Its propulsion systems sent ripples through the top of a dense fog as it descended toward the planet’s surface. In the nose of the craft, a transparent viewport exposed two layers of rooms; the upper room housed the crafts controls, cockpit, and seating for its five occupants. The lower level offered a view below the craft in an observation room. The glass wall and its adjoining floor held a crescent table top, allowing the crew to take meals and attend meetings while enjoying the view.
The explorers lived together in the shuttle for nineteen days on the journey away from the colonial ship to the green world and the shuttle would need no less than another week to reunite with its home.
Their space faring colony and its propulsion vessel, called LARC5 spanned three miles in length and a mile diameter in its center; tapering to one thousand feet at its hollow tip and aft, bulging its tail back to a mile in diameter for its propulsion ring.
Admiral Nguyen had jumped at the opportunity to explore the world in passing, but had ordered against altering the colony’s course. Their intended destination lay another eighteen years ahead and nothing warranted delay.
“I hope there are ferns here,” said Marcel Renoir, “I miss the ferns that grew in Sorel on the banks of the Saint Laurent.”
“Any ferns we encounter would likely resemble their central American cousins,” said a petite woman with ordinary features, except that they gave no hint of the zoologist’s age.
“Dr. Keller, let us hope we see something unique and remarkable,” Marcel said, flashing a smile. The Quebec native had brown hair, a slight frame, and a sharp jaw line.
The three remaining crew sat in silence, fixated on the view as they flew a dozen feet over the canopy looking for a clearing to set the shuttle down. Dr. Morin glanced at atmospheric data from the ships instruments in his tablet on occasion. Leroy Phillips leaned over the railing on the lower observation deck already in full colonial security force gear. His partner Jillian Taylor wore a bright smile as she made a recording on her communicator for her friends back on the ship to see later. Her blonde hair rested in a low bun under SFC cap.
The football field sized clearing allowed for sunlight to pour in seizing the opportunity to shine beyond the top of the canopy. Renoir thought they could be at the deepest point on the planet’s surface, assuming there was true surface. The ship touched down with an unaccustomed squish. The ground, dense with undergrowth of green life, gave no sign of how far down soil sat. After waiting for a few minutes and allowing the ship to settle, Marcel opened the bay doors to the passenger portion of the shuttle allowing the team access to the surface.
Dr. Morin, Dr. Keller, Taylor, and Leroy emerged from the craft moments after they confirmed the atmosphere breathable. When their boots touched the ground, the squish down ended in a moist suction. Every step lagged a bit by the tiny pull on their boots, and a murky gray substance ringed the soles and shone in the sunlight. Dr. Morin crouched, filled a small tube he held in a gloved hand, corked, and secured it in his satchel. Dr. Keller found a small flock of flying animals hovering near the fruit of a massive tree and approached its base. Her boot marks left small pools of moisture as she made her way toward the edge of the clearing.
“Eeeww. I hope this stuff washes out. I don’t want to break in another pair of boots” Jillian said to Leroy in a low tone. The air and muck on her boots smelled of rotting plants.
“I’ve got a boot polish for that, partner,” Leroy replied.
“If we encounter sentient life today, we are the aliens,” Dr. Morin said with a smile.
The trio took in the scene as the lithe Dr. Keller went bird watching. The environment looked unique from anything on Earth, yet the similarities emerged. Some of the canopy’s trees bore needles while others contained leaves similar to the Oaks, Maples, and Birches found in the Northeastern United States back on Earth. Small bushes and vines grew in the space between the canopy and the spongy wet floor.
A blur moved across the forest floor and the three shot glances in its direction. A mossy green lump of fur ripped at a leaf from a bushy plant nearby. The small furry creature had two small paws that emerged from its plume of green and a tooth filled mouth that munched greedily upon its fistfuls of foliage. The dark green leaves formed shapes like an American football. Spherical lavender colored flowers adorning its body. The shrub filled the space of a refrigerator with dozens of branches about as thick as Leroy’s thumb sprouting from a central bud. The center looked, to the lean and average height security officer, like a watermelon with a pair of longitudinal cracks in it.
A bird’s cry far above, caught their attention as flying animals joined the little flock of fruit eaters. The newcomers reminded Leroy of Pterodactyls. He glanced back down at the empty space where his own little mammal had been. The big bush that reminded Leroy Phillips of his mother’s Rhododendron in the suburbs of Hartford Connecticut shook as if recovering from being knocked into. The foliage seemed out of place with fuzz and dark red fluid near that bulbous growth at its stalk.
Dr. Keller shrieked aloud as the small bird-like creatures she watched got seized by ravenous scaled animals. Drops of blood rained down at varying speeds and held her attention for a moment. Dr. Morin, Jillian, and Leroy ran to her aid, splashing fluid up from the spongy ground. Keller apologized for the outburst in a hushed tone. Hoping to watch the larger flyers without ringing the dinner bell down on the team, she returned her gaze skyward and crept closer to the tree line.
Dr. Morin and Jillian began to peer at the bush the little mammal had been eating. Its leaves rustled and a branch began approaching the pair. Morin looked intrigued. “Prehensile plant life… Earth plants move, but this is extraordinary!” He edged closer, even as the plant stretched its branch toward him. He stood, entranced in the moment. Jillian Taylor watched as the Doctor and the bush reached toward one another. His ebony hand stretched toward the nearest leaf, now only inches apart.
“Look out for thorns,” Jillian said, in a cautious tone.
“Arghh!” Morin jerked his arm, trying to get his hand free from the vine like limb now entwining itself around him. He jerked harder and cried out as thorns dug into the skin on his hand and wrist, tearing flesh. The plant continued to twist and snare the doctor. Leroy shouted and began sloshing through the murk toward the two. Jillian drew her firearm and leveled it near where the branch connected to the water melon shaped stalk.
Before either officer could react, Morin flew across the ground as the branch whipped him toward its stalk like a rabbit in a snare. Its melon snapped open and thin thorny fangs lined three sides that spread like flower petals. A wet pink surface gleamed as Morin flailed toward the green jaws. Jillian Taylor felt her hands rumble and saw the muzzle flare; the sound rang through her ears, through the swampy foliage. Dr. Morin stumbled to the ground with a plop as the water splashed up. The vine grasping his arm thrashed violently about. Purple fluid oozed out of its end and out from the stub near its stalk jaws. The mouth-like center snapped shut.
Jillian intended to holster her sidearm and help Dr. Morin with the thorny leafy snake he struggled to remove. Instead, her knees buckled and she fell in a heap on the wet spongy ground. Jillian’s outside world fell away, and within her mind she felt a strange new presence. A strange foreign presence in her mind grasped her tightly, holding her prisoner, motionless in her own skin. Jillian relived her fondest memories from childhood, her darkest fears, and obscure moments in class rooms and training centers for colonial security force. She felt as if she had aged a year or more in that instant, as if all the recollections had taken the same amount of time they had when first she lived them.
Leroy closed the distance between the doctor and himself in two dozen strides. He heard Dr. Keller behind him and yelled at her to board the shuttle. The branch thrashed and dug into Dr. Morin’s forearm. He screamed and batted at the assailing limb. Leroy shielded his face and stomped on the branch at its midpoint, pinning it down. He quickly placed his left boot inches from Morin’s bleeding hand. He tore off his coat and twisted it into a rope. Leroy wedged the coat between Morin’s hand and the vine, prying the thorns out. Dr. Morin pulled his injured limb close to his chest and backed away toward Jillian. With Morin clear, Leroy hopped back with both feet, hunching down to protect his face. He hurled the vine with a circular sweep of both arms, releasing the coat with one hand and sending the branch sailing through the air into the brush.
Dr. Morin approached Jillian slowly as she lay motionless on the damp moss covered ground. Leroy was shoulder to shoulder with the Doctor. “Is she alright, Doc?”
“Not that kind of Doc, son. Did something bite her?”
“I don’t think so. She shot that branch off as the Rhododendron tried to eat you, then Jill fell over.”
Jillian Taylor gasped and bolted upright into a seated position. She panted and took in her surroundings, clearly confused. “He… he … knows me now. We lived my life again… That plant thinks like we do…” Jillian said, her voice quavering and she leveled a finger at the plant whose branch continued to thrash around in the brush.
“Let’s regroup on the shuttle,” Leroy said, taking Jillian by the arm and helping her get to her feet. Dr. Morin motioned for Keller to join them inside the shuttle. Onboard, Keller applied disinfectant to Morin’s cuts and wrapped them. Jillian sat and drank water with trembling hands. Leroy told Marcel about the encounter with the carnivorous plant.
“I had a Venus fly trap as a boy, but it could not pull bugs in. It only waited around to catch a meal,” he said.
“It’s smart. It knew Dr. Morin was alive, and when I shot its branch off it got into my mind. That plant made me recall most of my life; I feel like months went by. I think it was trying to learn about us.”
“I have learned about you, about humanity, and about your journey through space.”
The words weren’t heard aloud. The five explorers heard the statement as a though in their minds. Leroy gasped and clutched his head. Dr. Keller smiled and nodded. Marcel looked about the shuttle frantically trying to reveal the speaker’s location.
“Marcel, I am not in the shuttle. I’m what you would call a bush, the one who grabbed your colleague Dr. Morin.”
“How do you know my name? How can I hear you? You aren’t making any sounds!”
“Your species would call the method telepathy. I learned about you when I shared Jillian Taylor’s memories.”
“What do you want with us?” asked Dr. Morin, drawing his injured hand close to his chest.
“I no longer wish to consume you, and you have my sincere apologies. We have never encountered beings with self-awareness outside of our own kind.”
“There are more like you?” Dr. Keller asked with raised eyebrows over a curious expression. She walked over to the open shuttle hatch and looked into the forest.
“We are several hundred individuals. Our common ancestor became self-aware four generations ago. It flowered dozens that also became aware. We communicate with one another in the same method that I’m communicating with you. We also enter the minds of our prey in order to guide them within reach, and to pacify them so we are not damaged while feeding. Your sentience overrides my ability to control. The lack of control gave me reason to look deeper into Jillian’s mind.”
“What is your name?” asked Jillian.
“We have never needed to identify ourselves individually. Location distinguishes our individuals. However you may refer to us collectively as Venatorrhodon, after the flora from your home and our manner of consumption.”
“I must have a closer look,” said Marcel. “My grandmother kept beautiful rhododendrons in her yard.”
“I have been sharing our encounter with the remainder of my kind. They are also eager to encounter your people.”
“Rhodo-- May I call you Rhodo?” asked Dr. Morin.
“I am fond of that name,” it replied.
“Are there other carnivorous plant species or animals we should be cautious around?”
“Doctor, there are many dangers for you kind. However, the Venatorrhodon can serve as guides. It would be an honor to help you navigate part of our home.” Rhodo said.
Dr. Morin and Dr. Keller asked Leroy to accompany them to explore the area and instructed Jillian to remain with Renoir to secure the shuttle. Jillian happily stayed behind since it gave her an opportunity to communicate with Rhodo at length. The trio gathered gear and instruments, and disappeared into the foliage under Rhodo’s direction.
Leroy Phillips led the way through the dense growth under the canopy. He wished that he could use the machete strapped to his leg, but refrained. It would be tragic to hack into the limb of someone welcoming them into their home. Rhodo did not direct them as much as create a link between its presence and the presence of the next closest member of its species. Leroy could feel the new consciousness grasping toward them and strengthening as Rhodo’s presence seemed to fade a bit with every step forward. Now and then Morin and Keller would call their march to a halt to examine the unique flora and fauna they encountered, snapping pictures with their communicators or collecting samples of insect sized animals or sapling plants for their lab.
Nearly an hour passed before they stood beside the mind that had drawn them into the foliage. They faced a beautiful bush, nearly the size of Rhodo. Its pink flowers swelled from seed pods within, and decorated its branches from top to bottom, releasing a mild and delightful fragrance. The three spoke greetings to the being and awaited a response.
“Leroy, this Venatorrhodon requests permission to share your experiences. This will enable it to communicate with your species as I do.”
“Alright,” Leroy said in reply.
Leroy Phillips felt an unusual presence fill his consciousness and he relaxed his guard, allowing the encounter to proceed. Childhood memories of riding his tricycle and eating cookies drifted to his kid sister’s birth, then on to memories of cutting class in high school. He relived boot camp for the Colonial Security Force and gazing at the stars through a viewing port on the colonial ship with his partner Jillian. The consciousness pondered his feelings of romantic interest for the beautiful, bubbly, country girl and seemed confused by the fact that Leroy had hidden his feelings from her. Moments passed, yet in his mind a lifetime had replayed in real time. He became aware of lying on the forest floor and his back moist with water squishing through the mossy ground.
“Thank you for sharing your memories, Leroy,” The voice felt distinct from Rhodo yet it rang in his mind in like manner, “I’m intrigued that a mobile animal is capable of self-awareness and thought beyond what instinct would dictate.”
“I’m happy to expand your horizons,” Leroy said in reply, “we are intrigued by your existence as well.”
“Please call me Bloom.”
The scientists also exchanged formalities with Bloom and began asking questions about life as a stationary organism and of their sense of community despite their distance. The Venatorrhodon preferred the distance since it established a territory for their hunting without starving one another. Their seedlings sprouting close to the parent caused despair, prevented only by the parent controlling the mind of a small mammal and physically moving the seed into a more desirable area. This method met with only limited success and usually cost the mother organism a meal. Through the conversation Dr. Keller learned that Rhodo had recently pollinated Bloom and their seeds had nearly completed fertilizing. Keller explained some of the horticultural techniques used on Earth to propagate plant species. Bloom felt fascination and at the same time shocked. The Venatorrhodon related it to Leroy’s memories of Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.
“I would be delighted to see a demonstration of your ability to control the mind of your prey” Dr. Morin said.
Bloom drew the trio’s attention to a flock of flying creatures nesting near the top of the canopy hundreds of feet above the surface. A single animal broke from the flock and gently descended down through the various layers of lush foliage to rest on one of Bloom’s extended branches. She delicately wrapped around the animal using a thorn to slit its throat before gently placing it in her open mouth.
“It died painlessly; I hope you are not appalled by our consumption. I should think you can relate since many humans are flesh eaters as well.”
“Thank you for the demonstration,” Dr. Morin said, “Your etiquette is what our kind vainly refers to as humane. Men also strive to kill with kindness while feeding.”
They spent another hour exchanging stories and demonstrating mundane motions that the seemed remarkable to the observer. Bloom proudly showed off her developing seed pods to Dr. Keller who vividly described the human reproductive process, to the plant’s interest. The Venatorrhodon delighted in her procreation and at the same time despaired that many of her progeny would not thrive into an age of conscious awareness.
“There is a path toward a dense group of my kind. They are eager to meet you and the journey should only take a half hour at your casual pace.”
“I thought your kind could not live close to one another,” Leroy said with some
“These individuals are located near a natural bottle neck in the forest. A human expression would be valuable real estate. This enables them to feed easier and more frequently, allowing their proximity to be sustainable.”
“We are happy to interact with your peers,” Dr. Keller said with a smile. “Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.”
“This won’t take us too far from the shuttle to get back before nightfall will it?” Leroy asked with a worried expression.
“They are equidistant to Rhodo. Save yourself only the time you used to reach me in your return from them. Rhodo will guide your evening trek. My brethren seem more eager to engage you that I have ever experienced. I will guide you if another visit with our species is suitable.”
“Thank you Bloom,” Dr. Morin said. “Please lead the way.”
Leroy enjoyed Rhodo’s and Bloom’s company, yet he had a creeping suspicion that the Doctors headed toward a dangerous situation. He tried to ease his own nerves by reminding himself that their attack this morning had been a misunderstanding that Rhodo had shared with his entire species. Colonial Security Force officers are entitled to a bit of paranoia, he thought, especially on an alien world. Without attracting the attention of the two doctors he deactivated the safety of his sidearm, just in case…
Keller and Morin spoke excitedly among themselves as Leroy Phillips guided them according to Bloom’s direction. The elevation began to rise as the three explorers ventured toward their last meeting before they were to return to the shuttle for the evening. As the ground rose, Leroy noticed that the spongy floor had been replaced with firm roots underfoot. He asked Bloom aloud, “What lies under all the vegetation?” He knew he had only to think his query in order for her to hear it. In fact the Venatorrhodon couldn’t hear in the physical sense, lacking the appropriate sensory organs for the function.
“Under the growth is an ocean that covers the entire planet. My species has speculated that vegetable life grew uncontested for millions of years until species evolved that rose out of the water on the backs of their ancestors. The ocean animals must have developed later and made a living for themselves consuming vegetation, until Venatorrhodon evolved to even the score.”
“Plants and animals evolved alongside one another on Earth. The carnivorous plant species Earth hosts are small and non-sentient.”
While Bloom did not convey words, Leroy felt a sense of amusement through the connection they shared.
They drew near to their destination and an image of a narrow pass appeared in Lerpy’s mind. “I will let you advance on your own now; the Venatorrhodon you encounter will share the experiences of Dr. Keller and Dr. Morin in order to communicate. I must hunt for another meal in order to finish developing my seeds.”
Leroy felt her mix of joy and pain and knew it must trouble Bloom deeply to know many of the children being created would not mature into sentience. “Thanks for the directions Bloom,” Leroy voiced to her in his mind, “Do you trust these Venatorrhodon like you do Rhodo? I’ve got a funny feeling about this.”
“They are not open with their thoughts as Rhodo and I are with one another. Do you wish to reconsider? I can bring you back to your shuttle.”
“No, that’s okay. I’m just nervous I guess.”
Dead trunks of massive trees rose up through the canopy in front of the three. In their hollows, Dr. Keller spotted dozens of nests for the small bird like creatures that had captivated her. Primates dug into its dried bark hunting for insect sized morsels and vines grew over the lifeless branches reaching from one trunk to another, then off into the living foliage beyond. They passed through the natural archway into a hollow packed with trunks of trees so tightly that if they had chosen to hike through only one other opening would allow them to pass between the growth. They had reached the small community of Venatorrhodon that Bloom and Rhodo had referred to.
Anticipating an experience that would render their bodies temporarily inert, Keller and Morin sat on the root ground below them and recounted their lives with members of the hollow. Leroy watched over the two during the process. It seemed to last much longer than his or Jillian’s experience had lasted. The silence broke and Keller began first to whimper and then to sob. Tears streamed down her pale cheeks as she opened her eyes.
“We’ve come into a trap. These beings are malicious, it found my painful memories, replayed them over and over, then it told me to approach so it could end my misery.”
“This one wants to eat us, like Rhodo tried before he knew about us,” Dr. Morin said, pointing a finger on his bandaged hand to two vines stretched out and whipping as if the try and grasp at the three.
Leroy Phillips pulled his firearm and stood at the ready, carefully surveying their hollow and hoping to find a place they could use to escape. Venatorrhodon writhed on both sides of the way in and the way out of the other side. The beings grasped toward them with vine like branches, greedy for a meal. Green striated mouths opened revealing fangs and deep purple maws, intent on their demise. In addition to four near the entries, at least a half dozen others scattered through an area about the size of a baseball diamond.
“Rhodo! Bloom! Are you there?” Leroy yelled out into the canopy. “Doc message Jillian with your communicator,” he said, nodding to Morin. “Tell her what’s happening.”
Keller’s sob turned to a scream as she felt a thorny grasp around her left calf tighten with a crushing strength. Leroy ran past her toward the offender, gambling that it would be distracted with its quarry and his approach would go unnoticed. Gunfire rang out in the forest and creatures flew from their perches, taking to the skies beyond the canopy. Leroy had unloaded four shots into the attacker’s jaws. Green ooze leaked from the bullet holes and he raised the heel of his boot, smashing into the center of the four shots. Keller gasped in relief as the grip on her leg slackened. The entire mass of foliage drooped as he stomped the mouth apart, covering his pants in its green slimy blood up to his waist. Leaves rolled up into straws and clung tightly to their branches.
Rhodo shuddered at the realization of intention. Two of the cluster had learned of the humans and still they wished to prey upon them. His mind reached out and met with the beings in the hollow. He felt the other Venatorrhodon and their anticipation, now laced with an eager desperation at what the prey had already cost them. He felt the fading presence of the aggressor whom Leroy had destroyed.
“Stop this! There is plenty to eat in your hollow.” Rhodo pressed the thought into the minds of his brothers. He felt Bloom reaching out with similar pleas.
Rhodo didn’t receive a response accepting his plea. Instead images of the stars and motion through the forest mixed with emotions he only recognized from his probing in Jillian Taylor’s mind. He felt a determination behind it; those hunters in the hollow hoped to gain their quarry’s mobility. While all they consumed had mobility, the mindless, unaware animals in the brush had never inspired them. Instinct driven animals didn’t inspire a sense of curiosity and the desire to explore that drove humans. Rhodo knew that sending Jillian and Marcel may potentially cause all the visitors harm. He knew that guiding them through the forest on their feet would take more time than his kind needed to corral at least one of the three caged humans into a lethal trap. Something occurred to him, something from deep within Jillian’s memories… It seemed so…unnatural though. Rhodo replayed her memory a dozen times. He saw her and her mother removing plants from small containers and placing them into larger ones. He saw that same plant growing larger in her subsequent memories. He had only known a plant to wither when it separated from the soil that anchored and sustained it.
“Jillian.” The voice of the plant rang heavy with fear and desperation, “Please bring me a sample collection pail… the largest you have.”
“Rhodo… what’s wrong?” Even while she pressed for information the feeling that came through with his request sent her into immediate action.
“I need to go to Leroy. Your companions are in danger. I need to get myself there, and quickly.”
Jillian began to ask another question, but withheld her curiosity and dashed into the brush toward the plant. She gasped at the sight before her. Rhodo looked like a spider, holding itself up to eye level; eight vine like branches served as arms. Another four arms cradled a mass of roots, soil, and what could only be digestive organs. All its leaves had curled into straws, just like their namesake would back on Earth in the winter. Realization filled her with purpose and she dropped to her knees, filling the bottom of the pale with loose soil from Rhodo’s former home.
“Are you going to be okay like this?”
“We’ll consider that later. For now I must do everything I can to prevent your kind and my kind from killing. Leroy has destroyed one of us and there are others who would eat your friends.”
Jillian carried the pail over to his root bundle, and using her hands as he uncoiled the branches keeping its innards tight, they potted. Jillian ran back to the shuttle for water and a small bowl, which she used to scoop more soil from the hole in the brush into the top of Rhodo’s new abdominal casing. Its melon shaped mouth rested atop the pail, branches below the mouth formed from shoulders just above soil. Rhodo had encircled six of its arms around the pail twining them together making a protective basket around the pot to keep itself from shaking out in the middle of motion. The branches split into two braids that kept its mass erect over the forest floor, untwining inches from the ground to form tripod feet. Rhodo twined three branches on either side of its mouth giving them the look of lanky arms that hung nearly to the forest floor. Jillian topped off the soil pot working quickly and poured water into the pail.
“I’ll go with you, I can keep up,” Jillian said.
Rhodo crouched low and leaped on its legs, flying up thirty feet into the midst of the canopy overhead before landing gracefully beside her. Jillian gaped at the being.
“Stay with Marcel in the shuttle. I fear I may already be too late.” One of Rhodo’s twined branches serving as an arm extended to her and a single leaf uncurled and brushed against her cheek. Jillian smiled as she thought about the novelty of being comforted by a plant that had just been uprooted. Rhodo left in a flash; the rustling of foliage could be heard overhead fading quickly as the plant raced toward the hollow.
The principles of Rhodo’s limb like motions mimicked how it could grasp and drag prey. It hadn’t been much of an effort to arrange itself in this manner, or a stretch of the imagination to propel itself rather than drag something toward its mouth. Rhodo mused that perhaps its species had never thought to uproot because motion had been considered an activity of the primitive prior to communicating with Jillian and her companions. Rhodo enjoyed motion, despite being driven by concern and fear. Each leap toward the hollow, followed by landing on a branch, grasping enough for balance, then a well-timed release, reiterated the satisfaction of the novel activity. A scream rang through the air a few more leaps away. Rhodo reached out with his mind…
Leroy flexed his arm into a curl, desperately trying to keep it attached. One of the Venatorrhodon had deceived him and the doctors about its true reach by coiling itself until an opportune moment. The humans had hunkered down over the remains of the being Leroy had killed and began to make plans for an escape. A rustling near the opening they had passed through caused him to stand and draw his firearm. A branch from his right hand side whipped out and knocked the weapon out of his grip, sending it sliding into the brush. The branch grasped his wrist, while another wrapped around his neck and shoulder. The attacker had just begun pulling at the arm, trying to tear off a piece of the man that it could fit in its mouth, when Dr. Keller screamed. Leroy grasped his snared fist with his free hand, pulling with all his strength to keep the limb from extending and eventually being pulled free from socket, tendon, and self. Blood soaked his chest from cuts in his neck, chest, and underarm where the whip-like branch’s thorns dug in. He began to see purple spots from blood loss, being partially choked, and from sheer exertion. His knees buckled and the strain on his upper body tore deeper as his weight drooped. The vine on his wrist began winning the tugging contest and his captured arm reached its full extension.
Dr. Morin uttered a cry of surprise when Rhodo landed from a leap to within inches in front of him. The surprise of seeing the Rhodo’s form caused Leroy to released his grip on the branch that threatened to pull him apart. He drew in breath, preparing to speak. Nothing formed in his mind; the situation overwhelmed the man’s ability to rationalize. A wet gasp broke the silence. Leroy slumped to the ground as the branches attacking the man relaxed their hold. The Venatorrhodon in the hollow had ignored Rhodo’s inexplicable approach, focusing on capturing their prey to the exclusion of all other stimuli. His sudden appearance defied the fellow Venatorrhodon’s expectations.
“Have you eaten a human to gain mobility?” The branches that ripped at Leroy uncoiled and brushed against Rhodo’s potted root mass.
“I would never.”
“How have you become like them?”
“I took a necessary risk. Humans are self-aware, the very trait we value that holds us apart from the flora and fauna we live among and consume. Your attacks against them are comparable to eating one of our own.”
“This human has killed one of us,” A branch dripped red blood and pointed toward Leroy in accusation.
“More proof of their sentience,” Rhodo said in retort. “He destroyed a threat to his comrade’s life.”
The branches withdrew and silence fell over the group. Dr. Keller tended to Leroy, wrapping his jacket into a cord to staunch cuts around his neck, chest, and underarm. Rhodo scooped Leroy into its arms and motioned for the doctors to follow as it led them back through the entrance of the hollow. The viney branches of its brothers retracted from their path allowing their safe passage.
Leroy recovered in the shuttle while Dr. Keller dressed his wounds. The doctor applied an epidermal adhesive in six places to prevent further bleeding and allow his flesh to begin healing. Despite his fatigue and injury, Leroy laughed at the sight of Rhodo when he regained consciousness. Rhodo hardly noticed as the plant studied the interior of the shuttle, its smooth metal and plastic, unlike anything in his forest home.
The LARC team spent another week observing Rhodo and cataloguing the species of plants and animals near the clearing and the shuttle. Rhodo began to worry that his uprooting would slowly kill him. Jillian shared his concern when his leaves began to yellow on the morning of the second day.
“It’s natural for a plant to focus its energy on repairing a damaged root bed and ignore photosynthesis after something like this,” Dr. Morin said to Rhodo. He reassured the plant to expect a full recovery.
“Thank you Dr. Morin. Are you sure I can live like this?”
“You bet. The colony has an entire terrarium full of potted plants. We grow them for their fruit, vegetation, and simply to enjoy their presence. There are more potted plants than humans on the ship.”
“I would like to join you in your condition,” Bloom said. The Venatorrhodon had been gripped by fear during the situation, and aware of Rhodo’s rescue. It wanted to join him during the rescue, but the seed pods would have died if Bloom underwent such a shock and it lacked suitable containers for its roots and digestive organs at hand. “The seed pods have now fallen. I would take them aboard the colony and give them a life of mobility and exploration if the humans will have us.”
“We would be honored by your company,” Dr. Keller said.
The crew and their two Venatorrhodon friends gathered the seed pods into a dark dry box to await planting when the shuttle rejoined the colony. Leroy and Rhodo hunted for members of the fuzzy herbivore species that the plants ate in order for Rhodo and Bloom to maintain a population of their food source when they relocated. They made a small hutch in the rear of the shuttle that housed a dozen of the little creatures. Dr. Keller delighted in their addition, and requested a breeding pair to keep in her lab as pets.
Leroy began digging into a packet of shuttle rations. Jillian gave him a smile, “I guess you couldn’t find the meal down there, could you?”
“I’m just glad I didn’t become the meal.”
Rhodo and Bloom returned to the hollow the day before the shuttle’s departure. Their brethren had reconsidered their actions and came to agree with Rhodo’s view that humans should be treated as equals among them. They mourned their murdered friend and left it to decompose where it had lived and died, placing one of its own seeds over the remains from a nearby pod that had yet to take root. The two mobile plants shared their uprooting experience with the others in the hollow and found hollowed tree logs from the surrounding foliage, leaving them nearby the ones who wished to uproot.
The sensation of their home world shrinking away from perception felt unique to Rhodo and Bloom. Motion in general was new, but to travel away from a world was incredible. The shuttle began its journey to rendezvous with the LARC5 colony which remained on course toward their original destination.
“We could live here with the Venatorrhodon now that they won’t try to eat us,” Jillian said to Doctors Keller and Morin.
“The colony would crush through the ancient root network and sink into the submerged ocean,” Dr. Morin said.
“We have also influenced the Venatorrhodon population enough by simply encouraging them to uproot,” said Dr. Keller. “Their society is better off developing independently.”
“Besides, there are uncounted worlds that could support life on the way to LARC5’s new home,” Marcel stated from the control console of the shuttle.
Bloom reached out with her perception into the vastness of space. Now that the planet was gone from awareness, sensations of what lie out there blinked and shimmered into awareness. The seeds that had been grown on Bloom’s branches would be the first generation to escape the fate their kind had always known. Every one of them had a good chance of thriving, of a life exploring the countless worlds.
visit www.LARC-SciFi.com for free LARC5 flash fiction adventures and a link to buy LARC Transmissions. The short story collection is only place to read "Macroscopic Abduction", the sequel to "Uprooted."
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