He was almost there. Many expeditions had gone past this sector on their way to the Jewel Box and beyond, but no one had ever stopped. It wasn’t the most interesting of planets from a distance. But Dr. Hugo would. He specialized in researching the unlikely, unpopular places.
His instruments had told him there was an Earth-like planet here, much smaller, but nevertheless one that could be investigated. To previous pioneers, this planet seemed too small to be a candidate for colonization. However, planets that could potentially have life on them were sought out, and he would be more than a footnote in history if he were correct. His tiny yet efficient craft had all the technology needed to test the atmosphere, take samples of the soil and water, and search for any form of life.
He would add this investigation to his archive of meticulous records about other planets and asteroids he had analyzed. His expertise in geology and biology was well known and his well-organized archive provided corporations with information about what resources it contained. This data would make his archive absolutely unique.
Traveling in his Echolance near light speed brought him within visual range in less than a few months. Now in orbit, he set up his instruments and began a general scan. His drone would descend and send back final atmospheric analysis.
The returns were encouraging. The atmosphere was breathable, and with weighted boots, gravity would be functional. It was a planet with less mass, and he did not want to float around. There were indications of bacterial life and vegetation. His sterile zoo had been hoisted up and was not dead. The time had come.
“This is it!” he thought gleefully. “I am going down!”
Dr. Hugo stepped into his suit, which could support his life for several days and had tools and instruments built into it. His lander was small but also loaded with scientific instruments, sample containers, food, light, medicine, and tools – even a flame thrower. Primitive weapon but effective. One never knows what will be encountered. His helmet camera would start recording as soon as he landed. He checked his data once more. One can never be too careful.
He chose a landing spot that was open, a field of grass-like plants, the likes of which he had never seen before. He would start there and work his way into the surrounding ‘forest’, again of tree-like growth unique to this planetoid.
As he stepped out onto the grasses, his instruments whirred and began their work. He looked around, taking in the 3600 view. From his observations, he had about six standard hours of light.
Dr. Hugo noticed trails of sorts through the grasses leading to the forest, and areas of the field which were flattened. His heart pounded with excitement.
“This means life forms travel through the field, to the trails!”
Excited by the prospect of recording a new discovery of life forms, he followed a trail toward the edge of the forest. The trees were huge with massive trunks, and roots that spread out above the soil. His gloved hand could feel the rough bark-like outer covering on the trees. Or were they trees? He arched his back to look up at the tops of the giant structures. At the top they reminded him of an Earth plant – Venus Fly Traps. That was interesting!
Just as this thought flashed through his mind a noise like one he had never heard filled the air and deafened him. Again, he recognized the type of sound, it reminded him of the cicada beetles that sing their pleasant song on Earth at certain times of year. But this was not pleasant. He began to wonder if perhaps he should abandon his research, but his curiosity and desire to make history were stronger than his fear.
As he took several more steps into the forest, the ground started rumbling. Turning his helmet around to look in all directions he saw the tree roots he was near moved! Then another moved! And another! He would be crushed! Dr. Hugo ran as fast as he could toward the field where his lander was. His heart was pounding.
Just as he got to the edge of the landing field another sight stopped him in his tracks – a herd of giant hamsters and creatures that looked like sheep. There was no other way to describe them. They were being herded by something dark. He could not see at first what they were, but the herd and its herders were between him and his lander.
As he ran, zigzagging to avoid the tree-roots that were more like feet, one tree bent arched a branch down from its enormous height and snatched a hamster with its flytrap-like leaves. The leaves closed around the struggling beast. Dr. Hugo stood frozen in place, staring.
Then it occurred to him what he had just witnessed.
“The trees are eating those creatures!” he cried out loud. “They are carnivorous!”
That snacking was followed by dozens more. Trees from the depths of the forest had moved into proximity of the field, and they were rotating around to take turns feeding. The herd tried to escape its predators, but the creatures who surrounded it, herding it this way and that like sheep dogs, were very effective. Now he could see them – they were giant black spiders at least six feet across and several feet in height!
In spite of his adrenaline he captured as much of this on his helmet cam as he could, scanning the area by turning in a circle. What he captured was projected onto his face shield. This would be a magnificent addition to his archive! Alien life feeding! Then, as his camera had almost completed a complete circle, a strange movement in the distance caught his attention.
At first, he did not understand what he was looking at. Then, slowly, as the strange image got bigger, he finally understood. It was a flytrap branch approaching him! It was after him! He would be eaten!
Staggering back, he almost fell. Grasping the vegetation that surrounded him to regain his balance, heart pounding, breath coming hard, his mind raced. YES! These alien hamsters and the sheep were like Earth’s mammals, and so was he! He was now part of the herd of animals kept by the carnivorous trees for their food.
Dr. Hugo frantically searched for a path to his lander, but trees, hamsters, sheep, and giant spiders were now covering a vast area of the field – the herd went as far as he could see. Just as he was considering his flame thrower, the deafening song stopped. Looking up he saw just in time that he had been noticed again. The flytrap branch seemed to hesitate, perhaps considering this new kind of food. He had only seconds.
Panicked, his eyes darted all around for a path, and he ran. Perhaps his odds were better through the herd of tree-food than around. Clutching his flame thrower in one hand and his laser in the other, he dashed into the field. He was grateful for his years in field and track – he was always a good runner.
A giant black spider, moving faster than any human being could, was in his path before he could think. As it reared up – almost 12 feet high – its huge snapping teeth gaped out of the jaws. Without thinking, his hand squeezed the trigger and the flame thrower fired. The spider dropped in its tracks. The carcass was immediately swarmed by hamsters, who fought each other to get at it.
“Even the food is carnivorous!” his mind roared. Definitely not the fluffy pets he knew from Earth or the meek sheep of ages ago.
He cried out loud, “I must get to my lander!”
The deafening tree song began again. The massive trees were moving into field, toward him. The hamsters, still in a frenzy, raced around within the confines of the spider-driven herd. He could be trampled by these beasts. Smaller than everything around him, he darted in and out of creatures, fending off would-be snackers with his laser and flame thrower. Each carcass provided distraction for precious seconds. His fuel and powerpack were limited.
News travels fast. He made a mental note that the sentient trees must communicate by the cicada-like song he heard. Several other huge strange carnivorous creatures entered the panicked herd, some snatching lunch, some eaten by the trees before they could steal a hamster, but all headed toward the new food that had landed on their planet. He did not take time to investigate the new life forms. If his cameras caught it as he fled, he could look later. For now he wanted to survive so he could look later.
Sweat was pouring down his face inside his helmet and suit. He must smell edible. Don’t animals smell fear? His hands shook. His heart was going to burst. As he ran, he looked in every direction for new threats.
Only 50 feet to go! The trees were closing in on his lander now. The thumping of the carnivorous treetops shook the ground as they snatched their prey from the swarm. 20 feet. He swung around just in time to blast another spider. Hamsters swarmed around the fallen creature. Dr. Hugo took advantage of the brief distraction and with tremendous effort sprinted the last few feet to his lander. The trees were dangerously close. If they entangled their root-feet around his landing gear he would never get off this wretched planet.
Without hesitation he fired the launch sequence. The roar scattered the herd, but the trees did not slow down. His lander only had one method of defense – he would have to change that later, if he lived. He was halfway up to the treetops. Almost out. Then a giant flytrap snapped at his ship, tentacles reaching out, one latching onto his landing gear and the tiny ship lurched.
Dr. Hugo slammed his gloved fist down on the button that said “FIRE”. The engines let out a super-charge of fire, usually used only to increase acceleration in space. The tentacle let go and his ship lurched forward, heating up as the hull moved through the planet’s atmosphere. Hopefully, that left him enough fuel to couple with his craft, still orbiting the tiny planet.
Fortunately, he did. After the hull cooled, he glove-docked the lander with his ship and entered the decontamination chamber. The time it took for this process usually irritated him, but today, he was glad for the time to rest. His heart slowed, he removed his helmet and suit, and just sat.
After his narrow escape, Dr. Hugo had sent his videos and reports to the Universal Theological Imperium (UTI) for review, admonishing them that this was a dangerous planet and should be either avoided, or preferably eliminated. They regulate all space activity from their great facilities on Earth. He thought perhaps a warning would keep anyone else from venturing into such danger.
However, in their infinite wisdom, they decided that Dr. Hugo should be made Official Guardian of the little planet, after all, such unique life forms must be protected. He was to see that no one attacked this wonderful place, and that all the life forms it holds flourished so they could evolve.
Dr. Hugo did not want to be guardian of a planet full of creatures to whom he was lunch. Yet one cannot argue with UTI. Then he came up with a very clever plan. He would set a drone satellite in orbit with cameras pointing in all directions, beaming their images back to the UTI computers.
UTI thought this a marvelous idea, ordered Dr. Hugo to proceed, and charged him with regular visits to the little wondrous place. After all, UTI would need updates on the evolution of such unique forms of life. Perhaps they would become intelligent and make good allies. UTI always thinks ahead.
Dr. Hugo retired from the planet exploration business. He never returned to the Carnivorous planet. Now he is happy on his ship finding asteroids with precious materials to mine. He has become quite wealthy in the process. He secretly imagines revenge on UTI, and dreams of exterminating the ‘unique life forms’ he discovered.
Perhaps one day he will accomplish both.