an Eventuality tale
by Brad Andrews
part 1 of 2
We fell towards Horatio-17 in eight small drop ships. According to our briefing, there were 639 of the small craft. We were all strapped tightly into our harnesses and being thrown around by the turbulent air. A few were having some minor difficulty with their morning chow.
Fortunately I wasn’t one of them. It was the sight of three troopers spewing their guts out that did it for me. By the time the ship started to burn a path through the night sky I was retching with the best of them. Vomit plastered itself into every crevice it could find under the torture of high-gee.
Instinctively I checked my weapon. The Infantry 10-2-8, commonly known as the 28, was a true multipurpose weapon capable of firing a wide range of ammunition, from bacterial fungicides and chemical sterilizers to more traditional ordnance. It was a mini-rail gun and had needle-sized rockets. I had modified my 28 more towards the bio/chem spectrum with two clips of a particularly nasty quick-acting defoliant with another four loads on standby.
In this squad, bullets and rockets came second, if at all. Plants the size of small ground cars, spreading underground, rarely cared if you shot them. Rockets would destroy large sections of their leafy parts but would do very little to the root system. These things were like icebergs on the ocean; you saw so little of the actual monster until it was too late. I have seen a trooper walk over smoldering remains only to watch him be impaled by a stem from the root system. It took us days to kill that plant.
I braced myself with a mild stim-breath and pulled down the visor of my armor and read the blue safeties as they told me that all was well in my little self-contained world.
Every time I dropped onto a new planet I remembered something a fungal-infection instructor once told us: “We can train you to pull your own toe off, but it will never be like actually having to do it.”
It was an anti-climatic phrase, but one that seemed to strike home as the doors opened and I got my first glimpse of the wide patch we’d just fried to create a landing zone. The encroaching green nightmare was trying to make its way back in.
I was second out, my small AG belt providing a gentle drop. The sensors in my armor came alive. Combat. The readouts told me everything, from the residual heat of the weapon we’d just fired to the virulent spore-laden atmosphere we’d just been dumped into.
I dropped to a knee and took a covering stance as the rest of my squad took up their positions. As the last of them hit the dirt the drop ship pulsed its drive and shot straight into the air. Now bereft of human cargo it rose at a brain-squishing rate. I never cease to be amazed at that.
The natives were restless. I stepped on something blackened; it popped, and readouts told me that I had just stepped on a type of spore-like egg. Further information came in and I felt a momentary “Ah crap” sensation pass over me. We had just vaporized a nursery, and the land of writhing, spiked stems sliding our way did not seem one bit happy about it. As I prepped my first D-load I realized I didn’t blame them for being angry.
I had been on Horatio-17 for all of 33 seconds before I fired my first shot. The LZ had not been as efficiently cleared as we thought, and the enemy was fast. That became horribly apparent when one of ours, Lizze Smara, was skewered by a meter-long barbed thistle. She might have survived, but after it had gone through her it extended barbs as it retracted into the ground. It nearly turned her inside out. I nearly turned inside out, myself; I’d been with her since our first after-basic training. She was a good soldier with an endless wit.
A quick review of latent-imaging showed a rapidly advancing “bunny-trail” just before the spike shot up out of the ground and through our squad mate. I noticed that everyone focused their gaze on the blackened soil at their feet.
The thistles came all at once. As one we opened fire, each using our preferred method of destruction. I used defoliant on an explosive-tipped penetration round. I was going for depth to get under the root system. When the round exploded, it spent its force upward and killed the plant instantly.
The strategy worked up to a point. The problem was that we had so disturbed the soil that it all looked jumbled and upturned, and it was still so churned from residual energy that even if dozens of the damn things were coming our way it would be another minute or so before the ground settled enough to let us see them.
We were young, and sometimes it showed. However, our lieutenant was an old hand. He turned to me: “RT2nd Catch, pass it along: use secondary comm units as passive seismographs. Just throw ’em!”
The tactic worked brilliantly; we cut up a dozen more of the thistles before they even got close. The method, disturbed soil or not, saved a number of lives and killed hundreds of the enemy.
While this was happening I began to form an idea for another defense against similar natives. I knew that thistles were not the only plants to spread underground in such an ivy-like process. I remembered the chemical tents of old, meant to keep pesticides in place. I began to devise a method of mag-charging some of our nastier systemic-class weapons to the planet’s magnetic field.
Anywhere you go, native life has small amounts of the same magnetic particles in their physical make-up. The ordnance would stick to native life because it was native. But that didn’t happen quickly, and we had pissed the natives off. Or whatever their version of piss was.
The natives hit back, and all at once. The counter-offensive was put down twenty-five hours later. Only then was the chemical officer able to determine that the natives were using a pollen transmitter to convey tactical information. We brought in weather satellites to help control prevailing air currents. It was a stop-gap measure, but it gave us time to regroup and count our dead.
For the next two days we fought on the run. We would gain ground only to lose it again. After a week we had fought to a stalemate and realized that we were going to have to come up with something quick. Otherwise we would have to N-bomb the planet and lose it to human terra-forming for a decade while the radiation seeped away. We didn’t want to wait that long.
It nearly happened too, as an Admiral surveying his troops lost a hand to a fungal stinger fired by a native hiding in a trap door. The admiral’s aides strung the native up, cutting him from his main root system and letting him dry out under solar lamps.
The admiral was about to order orbital bombardment when a solution presented itself. A guard, a non-com who was standing watch and was in charge of positioning the solar lamps on the captured native, came up with an idea inspired by the opposite of the way in which they were killing the prisoner. “Water, sir. Too much water kills plants.”
So it did, and it was actually in line with one of the major terra-forming goals. Our forces had already positioned hundreds of massive water-ice comets, some natural, some artificial, in preparation of creating oceans, lakes, and rivers.
Another hundred artificial comets were brought in. One by one, then in twos and more, they were dropped onto the planet. It rained for two years straight with an average of ten inches per day. Within six months most minor natives had simply wilted under too much rainfall and halfway into the second year the rest had begun to die of humidity and disease.
The planet’s population was dwindling fast, but the plants did mount a number of major offensives. The battle of Hill 337 was particularly gruesome example, but it was nearly the last of such actions.
After three years, the fight had simply gone out of them and we were told to expect a group of senior delegates to discuss terms. Knowing what I knew and seeing what I had, the natives were not going to like our terms. But they simply didn’t have a choice.
The group of four natives were large and very impressive, similar to the ancient Earth cycads. Scans told us that these plants were all well over a thousand years old. They were almost stately in their movements, their main root systems stabbing into the ground that smaller, water plants were preparing for them. Their secondary roots buzzed in the air as if tasting it or twitching in nervousness.
They came to meet with their human conquerors and to bow to any condition put before them. If they wanted to save what was left of their species they would do so with a smile on their stamens. It had already been decided that the native species of Horatio-17 were not going to get much and that they had better be happy with what they got.
Copyright © 2006 by Brad Andrews