043 - Dying
Eve and Tic return! I'm still trying to nail down exactly what she's like, and what her role is. Ideally I'd like to use her to explain things that we take for granted. This one touches briefly on plant biology, but not in any way that would teach things. The trouble is, I think it would take quite a lot of exposition to explore some ideas.
Anyway; in my head, the setting for this is a town in Avatar: The Last Airbender, in a valley, where Zuko and Iroh end up fighting Azula, and Aang gets involved as well. According to Google, it's called Tu Zin.
043 – Dying
Panting, Eve collapsed onto one knee. Her crossbow was smeared in green residue, some sort of ichor from inside the enormous plantoid that was shuddering its last in front of her. Its roots, ripped from the ground as it thrashed, were turning brown, wilting even as she watched.
Something buzzed at her shoulder, and then Tic was next to her. His brass casing was covered in the same slime that the plantoid had vomited up; he shook himself and Eve recoiled as more flecks landed in her hair.
“Watch it,” she growled.
“Sorry,” the little Cog replied.
“Better record this.”
A small hatch opened on the front of his casing and a long bluish-white line shone onto the top of the creature. It quickly swept down it from top to bottom, then turned sideways to sweep across it horizontally. Eve could feel the heat from the beams and breathed in the sharp scent that always accompanied their use. It was a useful trait, though; the little Cog could produce three-dimensional models of the creatures it scanned on demand.
The light flicked off like a candle being snuffed. “Got it,” the Cog chirruped.
The spasms had died down now and the mass of green vines were mostly still. Its head, a massive sunflower, was rocking back and forth on its stem.
“I wonder why the necks are always so thin,” Eve mused. She took a few steps away to get a better view. For all that this thing had been trying to kill her a minute ago, she felt remarkably calm. Perhaps, a part of her thought, this has become the norm.
Tic moved with her. “It’s only the same relative thickness as an ordinary plant. Just scaled up,” he said, then added, “I’m not sure it’s dead yet…”
A groan sounded from the planetoid. A thin slit seemed to be opening in the centre of the sunflower, the coal-black seedpods separating to reveal bark-coloured teeth and a lashing green tongue. Droplets of a clear liquid – sap, she realised – hung from the teeth. With a noise like a thousand kettles boiling at once, it gave a hissing scream and hauled itself upright.
Crouching, ready to run, Eve shouted “I thought we killed it!”
Tic bobbed left and right, a shrug. “Run,” he suggested.
Eve ran. The canyon they were in was long, perhaps half a mile, and the sides were steep; climbing them would be suicide, as the plantoid’s roots were far better designed for rough ground. Ahead, the ruins of the town that had sent for her, completely destroyed by the creature, came into view. Behind her, she could hear the planetoid crashing forwards, knocking rocks and small trees out of the way in its fury. The whistling scream seemed to go on forever.
“What… can we… do…?” she panted. Tic, several metres ahead, cut his speed and allowed her to catch up.
“Fire,” he said. “Burning it might be the only way. I’ve analysed the scan; it seems like it’s got a secondary brain centre in the flower head.”
“Brilliant,” Eve muttered, gasping for breath. Her legs felt like buckets of water and she gritted her teeth, pushing towards the nearest building. She had the brief impression of a two-storey building, chimneys, most of the roof gone and a chunk of the second floor missing, and then she barged into the partially-open door. It slammed back on its hinges and then swung closed. She looked quickly around the room; an inn, fireplace empty, chairs and tables scattered around and in various states of destruction, and a long bar with a cabinet behind it.
“I need ideas, Tic,” she said, looking around for something to block the door with. The door suddenly looked very flimsy, and outside the sounds of carnage were getting closer.
“The spirits,” Tic said, buzzing over to a nearby cabinet. “Alcohol is highly flammable, especially…” he floated closer, lights flickering. “Especially when it’s illegal moonshine,” he finished.
Eve ran over and vaulted the bar. Behind her, the sound of hammering began on the door. She picked up a bottle in either hand and hefted them; they were dusty and half-full with something that had a distinct brownish tint.
“We don’t have a way to make a spark, though,” she said. A window smashed and a green tendril, long and hairy, thrust its way in. It groped around blindly for either of them, then withdrew. Further along, another window burst in, glass showering the floor and bar, and then another. Tendrils flailed wildly, hammering massive dents into the floorboards.
Eve threw the bottles she was holding and grabbed two more. They smashed, some of the liquid splashing onto the tendrils; the green mass quivered and the whistling momentarily increased in volume and pitch. Then the tendrils all turned flat against the wall and pulled.
The entire front wall of the inn crumbled away, revealing the massive bulk of the creature. Daylight flooded in. For a split second, Eve was paralysed by the enormity of what lie before her. Cornered, she trembled. Then desperation took hold of her, and she began to hurl bottle after bottle onto the plantoid as it advanced.
Each impact seemed to cause it pain, but still it advanced. The spirits gave it a thin shiny coating, making it glisten in the light. It squeezed itself between the ceiling and floor and, as it whipped its tendrils forward to grab her, Eve ducked behind the bar.
“I should have noticed it wasn’t dead as soon as I went to scan it,” Tic said. “I’m sorry.”
A seed of an idea blossomed in Eve’s mind at his words, and then the bar was ripped out of the floor and she was sent flying. A thick tendril grabbed her around the waist and lifted her clear of the floor. As she was drawn closer to its mouth, the plantoid filled her vision. Its breath rolled out of its mouth like rotten compost.
Staring into its maw, Eve shouted “Scan it again! Focus your scan on one tiny point!”
“Just DO IT!”
The little blue-white light flicked out of Tic’s casing again, and then narrowed to a single point, focused on the tendril holding Eve. Instantly she could feel the heat it gave off, magnified tenfold now that it wasn’t spread out, and she felt the vice-like grip around her waist loosen.
Then a single spark of flame licked over the spirits coating the plantoid. Almost immediately, Eve was thrown away as flames washed over the entire creature. The horrendous noise it was making increased in volume and it stumbled backwards, out of the inn.
Tic was by her side in an instant. “Eve, are you ok?”
“I will be,” she said, rubbing at her waist. She got to her feet and cautiously moved towards the plantoid, now the centre of its own funeral pyre. “I suddenly remembered something they taught us at the college.” The screaming died down and parts of its body fell in on themselves, blackening. “There was a famous general who used lenses and mirrors to focus the sun onto a fleet of invading ships.” She shrugged and gave a short laugh. “At least my report will make for interesting reading.”
Eve frowned. How could she make jokes when, a moment ago, she had been about to die? When there was something alive dying in front of her? The last screams echoed off the canyon walls and the only noise was the crackling of the flames and the purring of the Cog next to her. It was a long time before she turned, wordlessly, and headed back towards her camp.