Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Day 7 at Hypnale
After two days in operation, the airborne probe finally located something large and alive. I order my lander to move a hundred kilometers starward towards the probe’s last location. Further reports from the probe indicate a natural spring in the desert. If life on Earth taught me anything, it was that where there is water there is life. The trip was short and uneventful. I spent a few minutes checking out the countryside at one of the consoles. I am certain a geologist would find the desert fascinating, but without any life, the land beneath the sun holds little interest.
When I land at the spring, I am not greeted with a palm-infested oasis. Instead of tall trees, the only plants I see are either small, purple shrubs (rather similar to thistles) or these giant pods with spikes protruding from the ground around them. Upon landing, I am quick to scoop up another soil sample, as well as clippings from the thistles. I decided to avoid the pods until further observation. There is something about those spikes that look ominous. My instincts tell me to avoid them, and seeing how they have saved my life on more than one occasion, I am inclined to listen.
Without surprise, I learn that the soil is teeming with microbes. Their basic structure is not that different from microbes found on Earth or Europa. Even the genetic material within the nucleus is arranged in a double-helix. I will need a more detailed scan to determine just what Hypnalaforms use for genetic material. The plant’s cellular structure is slightly different from what we know on Earth. The cell walls and chlorophyll are as familiar as my own face, but the secretions are very alien. As I postulated upon learning of the planet’s acid rain, plants on Hypnale do have a thin coating to protect them from the rain. The coating is rather thin on the thistle, but given the vanishing low chance of rain in these parts, that is hardly surprising.
My first animal came into view just before lunch. It was house cat sized, and covered in scales the color of red sand. The animal moves cautiously towards the water, expecting an attack. At the time, I was outside searching for any bones. Watering holes have always been magnets for predators on Earth. It was a reasonable assumption here, yet no bones. Sensors detected traces of cartilage and skin, but not a single bone. My expression was one of major disapproval. When I ran a series of meteorological scans in the morning, there was no sign of rain lately. In fact, it would not rain often enough anywhere in the desert for the rain to eat away the bones.
Perhaps I could study this animal if predators lurked nearby. They did, and came in the most astonishing form. I first noticed the spear thrusting through the air when I spotted a blur from the corner of my eye. In less than a second, the animal went from cautious to dead. The spear was far larger than anything a human could hurl. Alas, it did not come from any megafauna. Instead, the spear belonged to megaflora. I watched in morbid and scientific curiosity as the spear swung upwards towards the top of one of the stationary pods. With a jerk, the impaled animal slipped from the spear and into the pod.
What could only be a branch of this predatory plant quickly returned to its place in the sand? I have observed a few carnivorous plants on Earth while in college, but never have I seen one make such a complex move. A Venus flytrap’s “mouth” was little more than a pair of specialized leaves. All they did was open and close. I move closer to the Hunting Pod as I dubbed it to find out if it is plant, or a stationary animal similar to an anemone. If a plant, I could only suspect the Hunting Pod hunted for nutrients it could not extract from the soil. Perhaps those Hunting Pods further from the spring even extracted their water via hunting.
I took one step too close to the Hunting Pod in my search for knowledge. I was nearly knocked off my feet as a spearing branch glanced off the composite hide of my E-suit. I jump back to catch my breath, and try to slow my heart rate. Never before that moment was I so thankful for Hypnale’s toxic atmosphere. If I made the same approach in shirt-sleeves, I would be dead now. As soon as my wits return, I take up a new position just outside of range of the Pod. At least I hope I am out of range.
I call up a full-scan on my E-suit’s computer gauntlet. The suit’s built in scouter runs every known scan at every known frequency on the Pod. All my eyes can tell me is that they are black (scans say they are actually ultra-violet) and that spears radiate outward. Smaller vine-like structures also radiate outwards, reminding me of the strawberry plant of all things. I call in the airborne probe to get a top view at the Pod. The trunk of the Pod turned out to be a hollow pit full of digestive juices. The animal whose death I witnessed was nowhere to be seen. I seriously doubt they could breakdown their prey that fast; to I conclude the animals are simply denser than the juices.
The Hunting Pod had enemies of its own. The spear-branches form a radial pattern around the trunk, but within a minute of scanning, I already spotted three branches missing. Not only that, but the Pod appeared to have damage on its trunk. While I was searching for bones without success, I also failed to discover any foot prints. I find it difficult to believe that large herbivores could survive in the desert. In school, I was told that elephants roamed what was once the Kalahari Desert, and that desert was almost as dry as the Sun Spot.
I shut down my E-suit’s scouter and decide to return to the ship. I further neglect my E-suits structural integrity at my own peril. The spear did not penetrate it, but it would not be wise to assume there is no damage. The airborne probe can hover above the Pod and continue observations while I checkout my hardware and run a little analysis on the data already collected. With a little childish delight, I find that I can hardly wait to see the look on some of the older scientists when I show them the new heights of plant evolution. If nothing else, my first encounter with the Hunting Pod will make for a good story.