It was a beautiful planet–wild, untouched, clean air, though the oxygen levels were higher. There were so many strange and intriguing plants such as mushrooms that flew off when you picked them and sprouting fern-like plants that uncurl, yet when you touch them they tightly curl up again. And tree-like plants, some taller than anyone ever saw on Earth and the green…greener than a shamrock. This paradise planet was inhabited with small beings, bipedal and humanoid. Their skin pigment was the color of saffron, their hair long and the color of mahogany. It was a new world and we would try to leave it the way we found it. We should have settled for a less than optimal landing site. We soon learned that we should have avoided this planet altogether….
“Hey, watch where you’re stepping, Fox.”
“Why is there cow sh…?”
“There are no cows on this planet, Fox. But there’s all kinds of sentient life and if you don’t watch where you step you could be killing someone.”
“Aw, you’re having me on, Bud. Aren’t you?”
“We just came from the same briefing. Did you not listen at all, Fox?”
“Fox doesn’t like to be told what to do. He made a bad career choice.”
“Hey, Capt Price.”
“Okay, what’s eating you, Sgt. Fox?”
“I’m not feeling up to warfare lately. Could I meet with you real soon to discuss my options?”
As Capt. Lindsey Price headed to her gunship, she wondered what Fox was up to. Sgt. Adam Fox never cried “wolf” and he had an uncanny sense for danger–Lindsey always listened for Fox’s voice over the com when they were airborne. She learned the hard way that there was no other soldier more skilled, observant or clever as Fox.
Fox went to the gunship an hour later (GMT) and found Lindsey asleep in the passenger section, her long legs stretched over two seats and her long, straw-colored hair freed from its usual ponytail….
“Hey, Lindz, wakey, wakey. C’mon Cap. Wake up pilot!.”
Lindsey was savoring the coffee Fox brought her. She wondered why it always tasted better in her gunship. Then again, she would live in the gunship if the Colonel would let her….
“Captain! Did you hear anything I’ve said?”
“Calm down, Fox. Yes, I heard you. You believe the indigenous population here is far more dangerous than previously assessed. Tell me why, Sargent. Is it your prescient mind again?”
“Those mushrooms are sentient. Much of the vegetation is sentient. Those little guys that look a lot like the horse jockeys of Earth’s Nuclear Period, converse with the tree-like plants and the mushrooms. Something is going down, and soon. We need to bug out. They understand our language, Captain. What else can they do?”
Capt. Lindsey Price was running late for her meeting with Col. Jack McCall in the Mess. When she arrived he was all smiles. While they were eating Lindsey quietly told Jack about Fox’s theory and warning, knowing that Jack and many in Command considered Sgt. Fox to be the best and most reliable prescient mind in Fleet.
They began packing up that night. Landing 25,000 troops was a lot easier than packing them up. They worked through the night, finally sending up the big, automated guns and gunships. There still were around six thousand troops on the ground when they were attacked by the horse jockeys. Command was expecting them. Suddenly gunships were raking ordinance all over the enemy, leaving the dead in their wake. The horse jockeys had green blood splattered on their yellow bodies.
Capt. Price headed for the trees. Based on information from several other prescient minds, Command believed that the trees were the brains of the planet’s lifeforms. The Captain led the gunships into the trees. They never had a chance against gunships. The devastation cut a huge swath in the woodlands. Within a few hours soldiers were mopping up, preparing for the last of them to leave. Then they saw it. A magnificent tree creature approached and used the intergalactic sign for surrender. They wanted to talk so the Colonel walked out of the compound to meet the enemy. Fox caught up with him and walked along side.
And so, it was on that day that all Fleet ships orbiting the planet disappeared in the smallest of moments by what appeared to be an intense, blue light. On the ground, everyone experienced a blue light covering the sky, and Col. Jack McCall and Sgt. Adam Fox both peered up at the tree creature and knew they had been duped. The Colonel yelled at the tree, asking how many ships it destroyed. It spoke to Jack in his head. It told him no ships were destroyed and he explained everything to Jack and only Jack.
Once back at the compound, Jack called a meeting with the remaining pilots and non-coms. Jack explained that the ships orbiting the planet, along with everyone on board, were sent into something akin to null space. They were safe for the time being. The tree creature wanted half of the remaining personnel, equipment, and ships to temporarily stay on the planet. If the conditions were agreed to then the Fleet ships would be released. They must leave the system or those on the planet would perish.
Naturally, they decided to accept the tree creature’s conditions. The decision about who would stay behind was dealt with by a lottery program. Both Lindsey and Fox were selected to stay, though they had no idea what was in store for any of them. Jack knew more than he let on. He thought it was safer that way. There were a few hotheads staying and he didn’t want to give them any reason to blow up half the planet. Jack wanted that privilege himself.
Everyone that could leave, did, but many of them wanted to stay behind. Col. McCall stood by the results of the lottery. After everyone departed and rendezvoused with the Fleet ships, and headed out of the system, Jack, dead tired, laid down with Lindsey in her gunship. It was going to be a long, temporary assignment…probably for the rest of their lives.