I walked up on Estella and Aurora right as Estella was calling out for H squared. “Where is he? I need him to fix up the panel on the bridge so we can pinpoint which part of the alarm has been set off. Or have you two found that out already?” I asked the two of them.
Estella got the blank-faced look that told me she was using her special power of sensing. “I think Hue’s in here somewhere, or the plant is afraid.” She finally told us hesitantly, succeeding by a “HUE!”
“I don’t think the plant has emotions?” Aurora then gave a shrug of I don’t know.
“I can fit in there! I’ll get Hue, don’t worry!” Guppy yelled and threw herself into a small hole on the wall. Was that a hole that just opened up somehow? I was confused by what the kiddo said. Then there was a muffled cry. I told the others and Aurora assumed it was Guppy whereas Estella and me thought that it sounded more like H squared. At any rate, I led the way into the Aurora-enlarged opening that Guppy jumped into, Aurora followed me and Estella brought up the rear.
“Once we retake the ship, Aurora, work on a device to electrify the hull, it should keep them away for good.” Estella was saying at the back.
“Brilliant notion.” Aurora replied.
I had climbed into the hole but it was not quite adult sized. My limbs felt more like useless appendages that got tangled up by the foliage and I could only push and shove my way through marginally.
“I think we need to clear away some of the vines here first.” Aurora said in my ear.
“Good idea.” I set to work with the hedge clippers. Thankfully, Estella was such an avid gardener that she had insisted spending some of our old spoils on a pair of hedge clippers that responded to voice. Else I was not sure how I was even supposed to work with it in such cramped quarters.
I made some headway with the clippers before the vines fought back, slashing at me with tips that glinted like metal. I was going to loose a volley on the plant life when Aurora yelled for me to hold them back. I let loose. The first energy bolt sent the vines into a panic but no real damage, the second hit and then the last one combusted. There was a big whoosh and then fire spread throughout the plants. Smoke came out and the temperature rose a notch but we were now far enough away.
Once things had quieted down again, Aurora gave me an eager grin while revving her buzz saw which she was apparently busy electrifying as I let loose my volley. “Now all we need is one of those lumber jack shanty songs. Now plan Sam, you shoot our way forward, I’ll watch your back?”
I nodded and shot a few of the vines still strung about the room but the space was mostly clear. The vines looked and acted like normal vines again. “Looks like the spray did most of the work.”
Aurora nodded “Yeah, thankfully, let’s see if we can find Hue and Guppy in this wilted salad.”
“They’re near the center of the room as far as I can tell.” Estella told us, pausing often as she said it.
“Why the hesitation?” I asked her.
“The plant gives off this weird mental static, like the sound of rain on a rooftop, makes it hard to hear things clearly. So it’s either them, or the plant itself.” She shook her head. “I’m not really sure to be honest.
“Right. Wait and see, I guess. Did I tell you about the plant circuit?”
“The what?” Estella gave me her “I dunno know what you are talking about” look.
“The plants were crawling all over everything in here, not just the circuits.” Aurora clearly interpreted what I said differently. I didn’t jump in to correct here, she would work it out soon. “Or did they avoid those?”
“I crawled into the vent to get to the bridge. Once I got there I saw these plant tentacles forming themselves into one big circuit in the room. I didn’t like that somehow and I decided to break it.”
“The way they take over the machine parts I almost wonder if…” Aurora’s voice trailed off.
“Out with it Aurora.” Estella gave her a mildly impatient look.
“It’s stupid,” Aurora sighed, “But the ship is made with alien bits and that garden right? Maybe the alien bits are trying to use the plants to upgrade the ship? Make it better somehow? It explains why there’s a clearing here and it landed us in the middle of it.”
I shrugged. “Unless you can find a way to talk to the alien sentience, we don’t know what’s going on. I’m not keen on the idea though. Who knows what the ship would take it into its head to do besides flying us to unknown destinations?”
“So you’re suggesting we what? Let it run crazy through our ship? See if it doesn’t rip it down to the frame and leave us stranded?” Estella shook her head.
“Like I said it’s stupid. I’m not real eager to let our home turn into some garden freak show.” Aurora agreed.
“One of these days we should find out what the alien part does exactly.” I told the two of them.
“Agreed,” Estella started poking the center of the machinery, “Guppy? Hue? You in there?!”
“I think he’s over here!” Aurora called out, cut away vines from a machinery that was just a solid box wedged between the floor and ceiling with various panels and instruments attached to it. Some of the panels were being propped open by vine snippets and wires were exposed. In fact, this was pretty much a repeat of what I saw on the bridge.
Estella knelt down and started pulling off panels.
“Why do they keep taking people? I mean Carnivorous plants usually put them in pools of digestive goo don’t they?” Aurora looked over at Estella for confirmation.
“Some,” Estella nodded, “But they could just as easily take them to let them die, and decompose into fertilizer.”
“This looks exactly like the bridge looks now.” I commented as I went around the machinery towards the direction Aurora said H squared was in. Sure enough, a bulbous plant thingy was pinning both H squared and Guppy on the other side. I rushed forwards towards them. “Mmmmmm…” They had vines muffling their mouths so could do little except murmur.
I shot the thing, blasting a big hole in the bulbous part of the plant body. Green goo that smelled of compost exploded out of there and sprayed around in a big circle. Luckily for me, I was out of range this time.
The vines released their captives and started its death throes. I went forward to check that H squared and Guppy was okay.
“Are you two okay?” Aurora spoke my thoughts.
“I am covered in goo.” Guppy spoke each word with a capital letter enunciation. “It smells gross!” Next to her, H squared slumped into an almost-fetal position on the floor.
“Did that thing do anything else besides trying to muffle your calls for help?” I asked the two of them.
Mother-hen Aurora rushed over to Guppy, “Come on, let’s go get you cleaned up again.”
“It just held me. It didn’t do anything else.”Guppy made this “I’m exasperated with the world” face as she wiped goo out of her hair.
Estella had knelt down next to H squared and was murmuring something to him. I joined them. “Did that plant thing do anything else to you?”
He looked up at me. “Me?” He looked confused and mumbled something about the ship. I took that as meaning he’s unharmed.
“Good thinking Sam, thankfully they don’t seem to be the type to plant seeds in people.” Aurora took Guppy by the hand, leading her off towards the showers. “Once we get cleaned up, I’ll set to work on electrifying the hull and getting a biofuel converter running.”
“It just looked unreal to me, seeing the two of them pinned by a plant.”
“This whole situation has been unreal,” Estella noted, “I never imagined plants could be smart enough to cannibalize a ship. Sam, can you look after Hue? I want to go give the garden a thorough look over and purge it of anything similar to the plants on this rock.”
“Sure thing. H squared, come, I will escort you to the bridge so you can get rid of the plant-machine fusing there.” He just gave me a blank look.
“You will know what I mean when you see it.” I got him to the bridge where I left him happily doing the repairs and then joined the other two gals after having a little Sam-special break at the lounge. They were at the fuel converters. “How’s it going?” I asked as I popped my head in.
“Pretty good,” Aurora gestured to the converter proudly. “This will keep us fueled easily from here on, we just need to feed it garbage, anything compostable really.”
“Maybe route the toilets into it?” Estella suggested.
Aurora gave her a narrow eyed look. “That’s a messy idea, if you want to volunteer to relay the pipes I won’t stop you, but I’m not real eager to try it, one wrong move in your in deep crap, literally.”
Estella quickly shook her head. “Forget I mentioned it, unless Hue feels like doing it.”
“How’s Hue?” Aurora asked me.
“He’s happy doing his repair at the bridge.”
“How long before we’re airborne?” Estella asked.
“As soon as Hue finishes fixing whatever the plant broke, until then the electric hull should keep us plenty safe. Rations aren’t so great, but I can probably rig a bio processor to turn the plants into edible paste if need be.” Aurora said.
Plant paste? Eek! “We should forage for game, perhaps in the jungle, armed with the weedkiller.” I said.
“Does that mean I get to go look for more firefly goo?” Guppy looked hopeful.
“Sure, just give me a bit here to make the fuel converter and electro plating permanent so they don’t fall apart when I leave the ship, okay?”
“I kind of doubt there’s any game left in a forest this hostile, but it can’t hurt to look, could be something adapted to make the plants ignore it.” Estella nodded to me. “I can try to make more weedkiller but I’m about out of ingredients, maybe Aurora can make some kind of sonic repulsor?”
“Possibly?” Aurora shrugged. “Let’s just hunt at night, the plants are dormant then, which is probably when any wildlife will be out and about anyway. We can use the glow goo Guppy found to light the way.”
“Yes!” Guppy gave her enthusiastic approval of the plan, which we all joined in.