Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2028228
Scott peered into the gloom. "This place gives me the creeps."
|The Forest for the Trees|
Seeker’s Log: We've taken up orbit around Alpha Centauri, Planet 3, without incident. Probes have been launched and the initial reports show favorable conditions. Observation of the planet’s surface has been hampered by thick clouds which indicate free water is abundant. The few glimpses of the surface we’ve seen show what appear to be large tracts of forest. Based upon the protocols, we’ve decided to attempt a landing.
Scott peered into the gloom. "This place gives me the creeps," he muttered. The landscape reminded him of swamps seen back on Earth with dark trees rising out of black water and long streamers of some gossamer substance – Spanish Moss? he wondered - hanging in the stillness.
"Creepy or not," Melissa said, "this planet has Terra-like water and atmosphere. My initial tests indicate that it's habitable ... at least from an environmental viewpoint."
A banging sound reverberated through the hull, causing them all to jump.
“What the hell was that?” Scott asked.
“Maybe the neighbors,” joked Melissa, “coming to complain about the noise we made during our landing.” She moved the outside camera to focus on the hull area. “I don’t see anything. Wait!”
The tension was palpable as she made minor adjustments and continued to stare at the small screen.
“Okay, everyone, relax. It appears we broke a few branches on the way down. I can see one swinging and hitting the side of the ship.”
Scott let out the breath he was holding. “I guess I just freaked myself out,” he laughed. “Still, it is creepy out there. It wouldn't surprise me to see an old house with bats flying out of the attic.”
“That would be highly unlikely.” Jerry looked up from the enviro-sensors. "There doesn't seem to be anything moving out there. A n y t h i n g." He drew the word out for emphasis.
Scott and Melissa turned to him. "What's that supposed to mean?" Scott asked.
"Just that. No insects, animals, birds, fish. Nothing."
"On a planet like this? That's absurd," exclaimed Melissa. A chiming sound diverted her attention. She went over to the science panel, peering at the read out. "You're not going to believe this!"
Scott and Jerry moved to get a better view.
"What the hell?" Jerry blurted.
"Wait," said Scott. "There must be something wrong with the unit."
"I ran full diagnostics and it passed. There are no micro-organisms we can detect in the air or water."
"Impossible. Where there's plant life, there has to be something! Complex life forms don’t just sprout full grown. There has to be single cell microbes to form multi-cell life forms to make anything like these trees. There has to be something wrong with our sensors. I'm going out to get some samples," Scott said.
"Hold on," Jerry said. "That's against protocol. It could be you're walking into a trap."
"There's nothing out there," Scott shot back. "You said so yourself."
Over objections, Melissa helped him gear up and left him with "Keep your helmet on and your head on a swivel. Just because we can’t see what’s there, doesn’t mean it isn’t. Maybe it’s something new that’s so small or so different that we just can’t detect it. Be careful."
Inside the airlock, Scott hit the evacuate button, equalizing the pressure inside and out. He was pleasantly surprised that the pressure differential was seemed relatively minor. That’s a good sign. Atmospherics seem nominal.
Cautiously, Scott broke the outer seal and peered out into dimness. Nothing moved and yet something nagged at the back of his mind. “Okay, I’m freaking myself out again,” he muttered.
Melissa’s voice crackled in his ear. “Scott, what is it?”
“Nothing. Just talking out loud to myself. I’m going to go out but I’m keeping a tether to the ship. There’s no visible solid ground and I don’t want to end up taking a giant splash for mankind,” he chuckled.
“If it makes you feel any better, you probably weigh less than the ship and it hasn't sunk yet,” she said in a light tone.
“Thanks for the reassurance,” he said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. “Here we go.” Scott lowered himself to the surface.
“The water’s shallow, no more than a foot deep. The bottom feels like mud, although I don’t have any trouble moving. I’m going to move away from the ship to collect some samples.”
Moving cautiously, he approached the nearest tree ... and stopped. “Son of a bitch!”
"Is everything OK?" Jerry's voice crackled in his ear.
“It just struck me. If there’s no wind, no movement of any kind, how did that branch start swinging and bang into the ship’s hull? Hold on a minute, I need to check something.”
“Scott? Scott, what is it? What are you looking at?” Melissa’s worried voice cut in.
"I'm not sure. This doesn't look like wood, more like a plastic or even ... chitin?" Scott reached out, wiping the wispy moss like substance away from his face plate so he could take a sample.
Inside, Melissa and Jerry watched in horror as the "tree" seemed to start moving, resolving itself into an appendage as the spider's silk wrapped Scott in a hungry embrace. Large mandibles descended, like broken branches, and skewered the struggling form within the cocoon.
Even without the radio, his screams could be heard inside.
An entry for "Second Time Around ~ Birthday Special"
Prompt: Open Prompt
Word Limit: 1000
Word Count: 897