Onboard Impounded UFO
May 30, 1978
1445 MDT/2045 GMT
THYRON SAT PERFECTLY STILL on the bench occupying the Cerulean Nimrod's lower deck, the very spot where he'd tromped the 'troid in a tysa game during their recent journey; one of his most cherished moments of botanical victory. That association was fading rapidly, however, as a bearded man with dark brown hair streaked with shoots of grey scrutinized him with curious green eyes.
"Clearly it's a botanical lifeform," the man stated to a small cluster of uniformed humans, then removed a small light source from one of many pockets in his tan jacket.
Invisible behind his carefully arranged leaves, Thyron rolled his botanical eyes. Lifeform, indeed. Classifying these people as morons was far too generous.
"Strange," the man went on.. "It looks like an oxalis palmifrons - gigantea hybrid, a type of wood sorrel quite common in Brazil. South Africa and Mexico, too, as I recall. I wonder if it was brought here or harvested? They're known to have medicinal properties, which could make them of interest."
"What do you suggest we do with it, Doctor Greenley?" asked an older soldier of considerable rank, judging by the cluster of decorative ribbons and dangling metallic ornaments on his chest. His uniform, unlike the others, was a shade of blue, similar in color to coagulated Sapphiran blood.
"We need to secure the specimen in a sealed unit to assure its safe arrival at the Nellis lab, Colonel. It looks rather hardy, but we don't know what its heat tolerance is, which could be exceeded during the trip across the desert. Furthermore, it shouldn't be exposed to contaminants like molds, fungi, bacteria, and such, which could prove lethal. Hopefully, that hasn't already occurred."
"Yeah, I know," the colonel grumbled, expression grim. "We were so taken back, we jumped in without proper precautions. It's not like we have an SOP, at least around here. We usually send in a specially trained detachment for this kind of thing. By the time I checked the manual, it was too late. I'm sure I'll hear plenty about it from my superiors. At least so far no one's gotten sick."
"Spilt milk, Colonel Jenkins. Fortunately, I brought along an ECV."
"Environmentally controlled vivarium—an isolation chamber. To protect it from the environment, at least from this point on. Designed and built it myself, but on loan from NASA's Astrobiology Branch."
"Great. Let's do it. We need to get this thing off the tarmac. A crane's on its way to load it up on an eighteen wheeler so we can get it out of sight until departure tonight."
Greenley removed a notched strip of metal from one of his pockets and handed it to the nearest soldier with hair the color of deciduous leaves after a frost. "Here's the key to my rental car, airman. It's in the back seat. Two of you should be able to handle it."
Airman? Thyron thought. Odd. He didn't look as if he could fly.
"While your men retrieve the ECV, I'm going to take a sample to study in the astrobionics lab when I get back to Houston. Then I'll be able to determine conclusively whether it's native or extraterrestrial."
Thyron gasped as the botanist reached into another pocket and extracted a cutting device. Take a sample?
Instantaneously, an ancestral defense mechanism lurking in his DNA activated. Thyron froze, having never experienced anything quite like it before. His cytoplasm tingled as deep within his primary bulb potassium transmuted to sulfur that bonded with two oxygen molecules, forming sulfur dioxide. Fortunately, the burning sensation tipped him off before it combined with water being drawn from his leaves, allowing him to stop the process before it emitted a toxic cloud of gaseous sulfuric acid, injuring and possibly killing everyone within ten meters.
The mental concentration required to perform this humane action, however, prevented him from cloaking his thoughts. As soon as it escaped, all he could do was hope that no one within range was psi-sensitive enough to pick it up.
No such luck. The botanist's eyes widened and jaw dropped, hand gripping the cutting device frozen in midair.
"What's wrong, Dr. Greenley?" Jenkins asked, stepping closer. "Are you all right?"
The scientist closed his mouth, blinked a few times, then turned in the officer's direction. "Holy guacamole! It just refused! Rather adamantly, in fact. I swear! To be exact, I had the distinct impression it said, Like hell you will."
Several more mouths fell open amid chuckles of disbelief.
"What's that smell?" one of the airmen asked.
"Well, it wasn't me," the scientist stated. "Whatever this species is, Colonel Jenkins, I suspect it's intelligent, perhaps highly so, and possibly dangerous." He shook his head, muttering, "Too bad Backster isn't here to see this," which earned even more mystified expressions.
Greenley dismounted from the bench, narrowing his eyes as he returned the obnoxious tool to his jacket's breast pocket, then stared at Thyron with elevated suspicion.
"I've seen thousands of botanical species, from the tropics to Antarctica, from the Andes to the depths of the Mariana Trench," he said. "But this specimen's unlike anything I've ever encountered, anywhere on Planet Earth."
The colonel took a deep breath and blew out his cheeks. "Yeah. If it's a talking plant, I'd say that's intuitively obvious, Dr. Greenley. Intuitively obvious."
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