A Little White

“Now this is the reason I signed up for exploration.” Shuz spread his arms wide. “Look at these beauties.”

He was stood with Taine at the outskirts of Base Three. Before them were thousands of plants, each half a meter high. At the top of every plant sat a single blue flower.

“It’s good to see the week spent hiding from that monsoon was worth it,” Shuz continued.

Taine laughed. “Think how I feel. I’ve had to put up with you bouncing around the domes like a caged animal.”

“I don’t like being bored. This gig should have been way more interesting than the last six months turned out to be. At last I’ve got something to study.”

“Yep, miracle plants that appear overnight, flower and all.” Taine swivelled on her heal. “I’ll leave you to stare while I get on with the real science.”

“No way, I’m not letting you beat me to this one.” He dashed by her and headed for the entrance to the complex.

***

“What do you think?” Shuz asked.

Taine stood up from the display she had been hunched over. “I agree; there’s nothing unusual about these things. Genetic structure mirrors other flora. They’re just another plant.”

Shuz rubbed at his eyes to ease the ache of tiredness. “Except they are a plant that grows hundreds of times quicker than anything else on this ball of rock and not only that but they produce flowers and fruit over night.”

He picked up one of the white globes they had harvested. It was small enough for him to wrap his fingers around, but not that soft that it gave way under pressure. The skin was smooth with a furry feeling; the sensation reminded him of velvet.

On one of the worktops sat a row of containers. Each held part of the plant either whole or dissected. Inside the four globes they had cut open could be seen a white fleshy material with little strands of fibber running through it.

“And if that wasn’t enough I’m left wondering what a seedless fruit is for and why the thing bothers with flowers when there is nothing to pollinate it,” Shuz said.

“Beats me,” Taine replied. “Heck, they grew enough, so maybe there’ll be another change in a few days. Have the other camps seen anything similar?”

“Not a thing, but then we’re the only ones who got the rain.”

“Well, I’ve had enough for one day. I’m going to grab some food and sleep. A clear head might bring about new ideas.” Taine started for the door out of the lab.

“I’ll think I’ll join you.” Shuz followed, still rolling the white fruit thoughtfully in his hand.

As he closed the door behind him he heard Taine make a low cooing noise and saw her crouch down.

“Look who’s back!” she said. “It’s our very own native substitute baby.”

As Shuz stepped around her he was greeted by the sight of the ungainly kitten like creature that had become their pet. He bent to join Taine.

“Hey, Nunan, where have you been? Hiding from the storms?”

As he rubbed the creature’s stubby head it rolled over onto its back. Long spindly legs kicked in the air and Shuz moved his hand across Nunan’s belly. If he closed his eyes it was easy to imagine he was fussing a cat.

“What do you think to these new things?” Shuz asked, offering out the white globe.

Nunan shifted onto its side and appeared to study the new object. Then the animal swiped out with one paw and knocked it from Shuz’s hand. The fruit rolled across the ground and came to a stop.

Taine laughed and Shuz reached over and gave the fruit a flick to make it move again.

“So you think it’s a toy, eh?”

Nunan remained where it was, watching Shuz’s attempts to entice it into a game.

“Maybe not then,” the explorer said. He picked up the white ball again. “What about as a food?” He dug his fingers into the flesh and broke it apart, offering half to the animal.

“Don’t do that,” Taine told him. “It could be toxic to her.”

Shuz glanced across at his fellow scientist. “How many more tests do you want to run? This thing couldn’t kill a fly.”

Taine stood up. “Maybe that’s why there aren’t any insects, and besides,” she gestured to Nunan who was shying away from offered fruit, “our little friend knows best.”

Shuz straightened. “Well, fortunately for science I’m not as picky as you two.” He slipped the fruit into his mouth and bit down on it.

“You dumbass.” Taine walked away. “I’m not cycling your blood through the scrubber when you’re nearly dead in the morning.”

“I’ll be fine.” He took on a thoughtful look as he chewed. “You should try this stuff, it tastes a bit like chicken, which is weird.”

“Come get some real food and stop messing around. We’re not in university now.”

***

Taine hit the door’s access button for a third time. “Are you going to drag yourself out of bed?” she called through the thick structure. I need help with more of the analysis and there’s harvesting to do.”

Behind her Nunan was spread out on the ground, soaking up the morning sun. After another minute Taine gave up waiting and keyed an override on her wrist pad.

The door swung inwards and Taine was hit by a strong smell; a mixture of iron and wood. As her eyes adjusted to the lower light, her heart jumped. Most of the room was filled with a tangled mass of roots and branches. Blue flowers had sprouted from some. As the sunlight reached in they began to turn towards it.

The sight that pulled at Taine’s gaze was in the centre of the room. There, suspended above the floor by the thickest branches was Shuz’s body, his stomach ripped open by the plant.

—————

16 July 2010
The mystery of why scores of people in the Yunnan province of China collapsed and died at a certain time of the year has now been solved with the discovery that a type of mushroom, which only appears after the monsoons, is highly poisonous.

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