The rescue and the plan (top)
When the rescue team reached Jay’s group, a bloody yet eerily surreal scene unfolded before them.
The original two thousand four hundred plus people had dwindled down to about one thousand and eight hundred while waiting for help to arrive. Around six hundred lives were lost and almost a quarter of those were trampled to death amidst the chaotic commotion.
The surrealism though came from an unexpected development. In the middle of the carnage stood a young couple. They were shaking so hard that they could barely hold themselves up. They didn’t dare fall though because beneath their feet was a floor of green plants that was slowly retreating. Afraid of complications, the rest of their group had given them a wide berth.
The rescue team was understandably shocked when they arrived, but they had no time to stop and investigate. All they had time to do was to take a few quick snaps of the situation and beam them back to the Hope. After that, other than the two hovercrafts that were ordered to stay and tend to the survivors, the rest of the fleet went off to rescue Unit A.
Jay saw the arrival of the hovercraft fleet out of the corner of his eye, but frankly, he didn’t have the luxury to pay them much attention beyond that. He was trying immensely hard to not move a muscle for fear that sudden movement would cause the plant tendrils that were still circling around him to lash out against him. Getting mummified was definitely not on his to-do list!
Xiao Chen, who was still holding Jay’s hand, was similarly scared, but not as much as Jay. She too wouldn’t dare to move, but her eyes continued to scan the plants underneath them. She noticed that there were a lot of creeping movements, as if they were searching for something.
The soldiers on rescue detail decided to not approach the couple because the situation was too much of an anomaly to act rashly. Back in the Hope’s labs, these plants had shown a capability to eat through all sorts of materials, including the space suits. However, they did find out that the plants wouldn’t directly digest human flesh; they had the animals under their control to do that. That was why the scene before them was so confusing. The couple was knee-deep in these plants, yet they appeared unharmed and their space suits were wholly intact. However, they knew for certain that they had no time to waste. The plot of vegetation was already slowly decreasing in size, and the moment they were completely gone, the creatures would return and that could only spell doom.
Of the people who stayed, there were two Black Stars. One went by the name of Lin Fei Biao and the other was Yang Wa Luo. Fei Biao was of average height, build, and looks; there was nothing of note in his appearance other than a gleam of viciousness that occasionally flashed within his eyes. Wa Luo, on the other hand, was a fragile-looking, soft-spoken individual. If not told of his position, nobody would have guessed he was a soldier.
Each of the men had a hovercraft under their command. Following their orders, they started depositing batteries along the designated trail.
When the first battery landed on the sand, it was as if the plants were affected. Almost instantly, they disappeared from underneath Jay and Xiao Chen.
The couple breathed a collective sigh of relief and then slowly slid to the floor. Immediately after, a troop of soldiers joined them, lifted them up, and started to escort them back towards the Hope.
Both Jay and Xiao Chen were still too stunned to realize that they had been given special treatment. Instead of leading them back to the civilian survivors, they were marched alongside the soldiers. As they gradually walked off their dazed state, they started to pay notice to their surroundings.
One of the things they noticed was that at the very front of the troop, a hovercraft had been dropping square-looking objects at regular intervals. And as the mysterious objects hit the soft sand, bursts of green would appear. Later they noticed that this strange phenomenon was happening at the rear end of the party as well.
Probably still reeling from residual shock, Jay was reservedly pensive. Xiao Chen though had slowly reverted back to her dauntless self. She grabbed one of the soldiers beside her and asked, “What are they tossing? And why does it attract the plants? And why do we need to attract these plants?”
The soldier was African American and he was visibly annoyed by the interruption and bombardment of questions. Nevertheless, he had the grace to patiently answer, “According to scientific study, these plants are heavy deterrents against this planet’s fauna. As long as they are around, the creatures won’t come near us. For some reason, these plants are heavily attracted to energy and
metals. Okay, miss, I’ve answered your questions, can you please let me go now?”
Xiao Chen harrumphed and let the soldier go. Jay, who was standing beside her and overheard the conversation, started to have a ridiculous thought fermenting in his head.
Is it possible that… the plants appeared before because they understood what he said? He said that there was a ton of energy with him and thus they appeared in search of it?
But could that really be the truth? Now even alien plants could understand English….? That’s preposterous!
While Jay was busy wracking his head over the impossible idea, the party had made it safely back to the Hope against all odds. There was instant celebration when they went through the cabin door. Some even fainted from the combination of prolonged exertion and sudden burst of joy. The medical team who stood ready at the entrance quickly rushed forward to issue help. People with serious injuries were carried off to immediate treatment and those with minor injuries were given balms and bandages.
The setting was a mix of confusion and order. The one thousand plus survivors felt like they were literally given a second lease at life.
Despite having no visible wounds, Jay and Xiao Chen were also approached by a doctor. When the doctor was trying to assess their situation, a group of black star close-guards sidled up to the trio. The leader said, “Mister Jay Wales and Miss Feng Xiao Chen, am I right? Would you two please follow me?” After that, the group stood to the side, waiting for the pair to move.
Both Jay and Xiao Chen were slack-jawed at the sudden request. But before long, that shock turned into fear for Jay. He felt like his heart had gone up to his throat, because he knew that he was found out, and his head slowly went through all the possible methods of torture that he would be subjected to…
Will I be thrown into jail? He believed the possibility of that was low, because that still required resources to keep him alive. Plus, weren’t they already in a giant jail cell surrounded by space…?
Then he went to the possibility of being exiled out of the Hope! That would be a fate worse than death. He had seen with his own eyes what those monsters could do. He would rather die than suffer more encounters with them!
Or could he still lie his way through… It did do wonders for him thus far, but what if they put him to the test, or question him on geology? What would he do then?!
Going through all the possible scenarios, none of them positive, Jay considerably paled. Spotting this, the attending doctor injected, “Sir, it’s my professional opinion that they stay to be given proper treatment and examination. They have gone through an ordeal, so unless you can confirm that they won’t be maltreated, I won’t allow my patients to be so barbarically dragged away!”
Unfazed, the leader replied, “I’m sorry, doctor, but I can’t let that happen. What I can tell you is that this is a direct order from the Major, and it’s related to the survival of the Hope.” He turned to look at Jay and Xiao Chen. “The most I can give you is another thirty seconds. After that, whether you like it or not, you two will be coming with us.”
At the same time, Yao Yuan was being briefed by a few scientists of their latest findings in the conference room.
“Major, we have conducted more experiments on this planet’s species of plant. They are not directly harmful to man, but they are highly resistant to heat, acidic solutions, and alkaline solutions. Also, they are so durable that normal weapons can do them no harm. So to dispose of them, we could either try to cut through them with high-powered lasers, or suppress their movements with a large acid bath…”
While listening to the leading scientist’s explanation, Yao Yuan had his eyes trained on the monitor before him. His frown deepened as the Hope’s energy level that was projected on the screen dropped. His hands were tied because he couldn’t order the engine room to stop the nuclear energy generators. If he did so, the plants would start eating the Hope instead and that would be even worse!
“Are there any other ways? There isn’t a great store of acid sitting around the Hope; plus, we can’t just create some high-powered lasers. There must be some other more realistic ways. Has the Academy learned how the alien civilization controlled these plants? Don’t tell me that they came prepared with a spaceship full of acid every time they harvested them,” asked Yao Yuan anxiously.
The scientists in the room stole glances at one another. They were equally frustrated, perhaps even more so than Yao Yuan, because they were stumped at the thing that they were supposed to contribute to the Hope: scientific knowledge. However, the difference in levels of technology was simply too great between the two civilizations. Plus, they were on a time crunch, so they couldn’t just pull out and answer in such a short period.
Suddenly, Yao Yuan called them over. “Come and look at this.” Then he pushed a button on the screen and a video popped up. It showed Jay and Xiao Chen standing amidst the bush of vegetation.
“So the story was that the group was going to be wiped out by an alien assault. This pair here was almost killed by one of the aliens, but suddenly, the man whipped out a pen and yelled, ‘There is a ton of energy in here.’ Following that, a pool of plants appeared…”
After a series of explanations, Yao Yuan turned to address the scientists. “I want to know how this man summoned these plants and why they appeared even when there was no actual source of energy near him. Also, we’ve entertained the possibility of these plants having a hive mind; I want a confirmation on that. And most crucially… these plants eat these alien creatures because they have metallic elements in their bodies, but don’t we have those elements in our body composition as well? Why don’t they do that to us? Has it got something to do with these animals being controlled?”
Pointing at the screen to stress his point, Yao Yuan added, “We don’t have much time to figure all these things out. They have drained enough energy to deplete us of one space warp. The ship could only make four jumps; we’ve used one, and they’ve drained another, so now we’re down to two… So be quick! We have to find ways to escape this planet soon, or only death and destruction will be waiting for us!”