#FridayFlash: Grow, garden, grow

Grow, garden, grow

by Tony Noland

Behind neutron-infused molybdenum crystal, thin purple fronds trailed from scaly dark brown stems. Almost two meters tall, the plants were odd looking, but not ugly. The bright lights above the big tank gave each leaf a slightly iridescent sheen, like a butterfly's wing.

"What's so special about these things? They look like dwarf willow trees." Mechanic's mate (3rd class) Tyr Haarfansen was close to the glass, his nose almost touching it. "Why's the tank so massive? Are they valuable?"

Gravitic drive technician (3rd class) Solly Reynollt said, "They must be. I heard Professor Kenndaarek talking to the XO, said that they were some kind of unique species or something. He said they pre-date people, so they must be really old."

"Pre-date people? Hang on, do you mean they pre-date people in this sector? That would make them hundreds of years old! He must mean from when we found this planet thirty years ago. Either way, they don't look that old."

"You got me. I've heard about these Japanese trees, bonsai or something. They can be fifty or a hundred, even two hundred years old and still be only the size of a little potted plant. For rich people, it's a big deal to have one, shows you're cultured. Anyway, all I know is, I was eavesdropping in cargo bay five a couple of hours ago when they were unloading the tank from the shuttle. The exec didn't seem too happy about having these on board. There's a whole political thing mixed up in it." Solly leaned closer to the glass. "The Professor is supposed to make sure they get safely back to Earth. From what I heard, they were a gift from the head of the local government to Emperor Yaablik. The Ministry of Culture is gonna set up some kind of special display for it at the Kew Gardens Botanical Research Center outside Old London."

"No kidding?"

"Yep. I heard that once the display is done, this planet's king or president or whatever will go visit Earth to tour the gardens and sign a treaty. Some kind of diplomatic thing, unity of worlds, interspecies friendship, all that crap."

"In exchange for which the locals are going to give us yttrium mining rights and let us set up a naval base on their moon? These must be some special plants!" Tyr said.

Solly shrugged. "Whatever they are, they must be pretty damned valuable. They came on board inside this locked tank. I don't know if it's because they're so old, or if it's because that makes them rare, or what. All I know is, the Professor told the exec to make sure nobody touched them, because they're unique and they pre-date people."

Tyr was examining the locks on the tank. "Valuable, huh?"

Solly recognized the tone of voice. "Tyr, don't even think it. For one thing there isn't time; a duty shift is due in here soon. Besides, you know how much trouble we'll get into if they find out we were messing with these?"

"What are they going to do? Put you in the brig again? Bust you down? There's nothing lower than 3rd class, dummy." Tyr returned his gaze to the plants. "I bet some rich guy would love to have one of these. I read that you can regrow an entire plant from just one piece of leaf, that it's even easier to clone plants than to clone animals. Look at all those leaves; every one of those plants must have hundreds of them hanging down. We just take one leaf from each one, and nobody's the wiser."

"And then what? You don't know anything about plants. How are you going to keep it alive until we get to Earth?"

Tyr said, "I don't know, put it in a glass of water or something. If it dies, it dies. I know a guy in Brisbane who'll pay top dollar for something like this, even dead tissue. Live would be better, but as long as he can extract the DNA, he's good for a couple of hundred." Tyr took a jury-rigged electronic probe out of this pocket and held it up to the lock on the tank.

"Well, hurry it up, will you? Seriously, Tyr, they're supposed to be down here to inspect the things any minute."

Tyr, working the controls of his probe, didn't respond. After a moment, the lock beeped and slid apart. Grinning, Tyr exhanged the probe for a multi-tool, which he opened to a pair of scissors. He opened the tank and leaned into it, sliding his tool into the mass of fronds of the closest plant.

With a rustling snap, the fronds wrapped around his arm and yanked him forward. He fell face first into the waving leaves. Tyr screamed as blood spurted from his arm, then fountained outward from his face and neck. The leaves wriggled, sawing their sharp edges into his flesh. He reached up with he free arm to fend them off, and it, too was enmeshed in the slicing fronds.

Solly shouted and grabbed Tyr's legs to pull him free, but let go almost as soon as he had started to pull. Fronds had whipped forward, lashing at his hands. Two of the little trees were working together to drag Tyr's struggling, muffled form into the tank.

The other eight trees were pulling themselves out of the soil and climbing toward the open tank door.

Solly turned and ran toward the hatchway of the storage room. It opened before he could reach it. The Professor stepped in, speaking over his shoulder to someone. They turned to face the screams from the tank, saw Solly's terrified face. The newcomers fell back as Solly pushed forward, shoving past them to run away. They all fell in a heap into the corridor. One of the crewmen scrambled forward and slammed the hatch closed just as a waving, crackling mass of fronds reached for the door.

The Professor shouted, "Flood that compartment with carbon tetrafluoride gas! If we don't get them back inside the tank, they'll start tearing through the bulkheads. I only hope this doesn't harm them, or the treaty will be blown!" He turned on Solly. "And you! What the hell were you doing? They were locked up for a reason, you idiot! I made it abundantly clear to your executive officer that no one was to touch them because they predate people!"

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. The pun... it hurts us, precious! Good read, though. Kind of a bizarre gift to seal a peaceful deal but there's no accounting for taste. My only nit would be that the fifth paragraph is a bit long; would work better if it was broken up with a little more back and forth.

  2. Valerie: You know, I sort of thought the same thing about that paragraph, but decided to leave it long for a bit of variety. Suboptimal decision, perhaps.

  3. Triffid-like as well.
    There's always some bonehead opening up the hatch door, isn't there?

  4. I need to read this Day of the Triffids. I always hear it referenced. I liked this, Tony. Since Valerie dropped a nit, though, I'll try to give some feedback too.

    My nit would be the jargon. I laughed at, "Behind neutron-infused molybdenum crystal," because you came out with your genre swinging - a pregnant decision after recent blog posts and discussions (you go, homeboy!). But things like, "Gravitic drive technician (3rd class)," "Kew Gardens Botanical Research Center outside Old London," and "carbon tetrafluoride gas" are so far from what I can imagine anyone saying, even in Star Trek-land, that they actually break the SciFi atmosphere rather than contribute to it. If you think of Just Enough Power (a different sort of speculative fiction, certainly), that has a more natural and thoughtful mode of description, naming and frequency of jargon-usage. I'm not saying you have to rework the whole thing (Just Enough Power might be your best work; it's a heck of a standard), but if you were to mess around with it later, I'd recommend examining the stiffness of language. Even the "predates people" joke at the end would click a little better if characters spoke more casually.

    Man, I hope that didn't sound condescending or horrible. I just know how seriously you take your craft.

  5. Man, John always nails to the best advice. We love your work Tony, you're one hell of a craftsman. But the dialogue is a little too straight-laced for informal talks. I think that's what John said.

    OMG. I'm so thinking Little Shop of Horrors, that is SUCH a neat idea Tony. Carnivorous plants are awesome. Great grisly descriptions!

  6. Chuckle-worthy ending, for sure. As Cathy said, someone always has to get greedy and open the door. But where would our fiction be without these characters, right? Good one!

  7. Pun-tastic. Surely there was room for a Penis-flytrap reference?

    Puns aside, this built rather nicely to its reveal.

    marc nash

  8. Love it.
    Re the critiques... if one approaches the dialogue and jargon from the point of view of it being a pastiche (a la Austin Powers) it takes on a whole new technicolor dimension. 'B' movies and sci fi are meant to be slightly kitsch, no?

  9. lol, great punnery

    Surely the aliens have a ulterior motive in giving these plants to humans...

  10. I thought the jargon was fine. It went a long way to set the mood. Loved the twist, the pun as it were and thanks for a great read.

  11. I really enjoyed this, a very well crafted piece of sci-fi, one of my favourite genres. I have visions of Littel Shop of Horrors crossed with Triffids and a touch of Alien - lovely.

    I would however, consider cutting the last few words from this sentence as indicated:

    "All I know is, the Professor told the exec to make sure nobody touched them, because they're unique and they pre-date people."

    as this was where the penny dropped for me, and I could see what was coming. Just my two cents.

  12. Triffids, ho!

    John: I'll respond to your suggestions in a moment, but first:

    you came out with your genre swinging - a pregnant decision after recent blog posts and discussions (you go, homeboy!).

    Heh, I figured that if I'm going to be a genre-hopping freak, I'm gonna fly my freak flag high and proud. Screw it - this is who I am, this is what I write. Maybe a future publisher or agent might be able to point to angry fan letters or sales numbers or TV show syndication contracts and present an argument to me that carries more influence. Until then, no pay, no say.

    Re: suggestions - I appreciate the time it takes to give a close read and make detailed comments like this. No one, least of all you, John, wastes that kind of effort on a mediocre story, or on the kind of mediocre writer who wouldn't accept such observations as areas of potential improvement.

    In a revision, I think I'd keep the "gravitic drive technician" and "carbon tetrafluoride gas", perhaps revised to "GravTech" and "tetrafluoride" but ditch the full name of Kew. I gave the full job title of Tyr, so doing the same for Solly might be OK. As judebram noted, there's a certain kind of kitschy nature to this, especially after such a full-on Golden Age opening sentence.

    For the Kew Gardens, though, a guy like Solly really wouldn't know the full name. I was concerned that the reader might not either, so I spelled it out. Another instance of me not trusting the reader's powers of inference. Also, I went back and forth on making Absolutely, Positively Certain that the joke had been adequately set up, hence my final restatement of the "pre-date" bit. As Sam notes, I telegraphed the joke too much. Sorry, reader!

    (Just Enough Power might be your best work; it's a heck of a standard)

    Thank you! I like that story a lot, and I'm really enjoying working in the noir voice. All that darkness and violence, laced through with black humor and brooding introspection. And guns. And knives. And spoons! Yum, yum!

    Dialogue and humor are so aural, really. You've got to read your lines or tell a joke at least five times before you get the rhythm of it. Everything starts out dissonant, and smoothing it out into funny takes a very light touch in the final passes. The grisly bits are a little easier for me to punch up (glad you liked it, Carrie!). I'll admit that I had to rush the editing on this one, but that's just an FYI, not an excuse.

    Regardless, I'm glad you liked it everyone!

  13. Great dialogue! And here I thought you might be going for the plants being an invasive foreign species or puppet masters or something.

    OMG the pun! My side hurts. lol

  14. I loved this story and the pacing! Now, would you please explain the pun at the end? I guess I'm slow...

  15. Laura: "Predate" (pronounced preh-DATE, vs. PREE-date) is a technical term used by field biologists and ecologists. It means, "to prey upon". It's usage isn't all that common in normal speech, hence poor Solly's misunderstanding.

  16. Great story, lovely descriptions of gore, and I laughed so hard at the end my kids were asking "Mommy okay?" Thoroughly enjoyed this. TonyNo, strikes again!

  17. Thank you! I figured it was something to do with predator, but I've never heard of the word predate in that sense. Now I'm happy. :)

  18. All valuable suggestions apart, I love this story!

    I'm with mazz. From the moment you mentioned it was an alien gift, for a peace treaty no less, I thought there were second intentions in there, heh. I was surprised to learn that the scientists knew it was carnivorous!

    Great title, by the way, and thank you for explaining the pun thing. I was a loss too. :)

  19. I was ok with the (3rd class) stuff, but when Solly says, "I was eavesdropping," it blew it for me. These are dopey characters - it sounds awkward to put "eavesdrop" in their mouths.
    Otherwise, very funny.

  20. Great stuff, Tony. What would scifi be without camp? And the pun-aliciousness is great.

    Peace treaty, my hind end.

    Loved it. :-)

  21. ROFLMAO!!! Predate, eat... why do scientists have to be so ostentatious?

  22. So much fun - and such a cinematic little ride, too. Could see this a short film (or part of a longer one). You've got a punny patois - loved it all.

  23. I'm so glad you all liked the wordplay punchline!

    It does seem a bit visual, doesn't it, dijeratic? There are so many sci-fi trope threaded through this that any one of a hundred movies come to mind. I had to add the wordplay to make it fresh and new for the reader, so as to get thee to a punnery.

    Thanks, everyone!

  24. Doh! Now I get it. I liked the description of the plants doing their work of predation.

  25. I liked the pun - but thanks for defining it, I wasn't sure.

    This was a great story full of interesting details. I really appreciate watching you take on different genres - I mentioned it in the comments of my post today.


  26. Oh I love it! Firstly, because it makes me think of triffids (and they're just enough predatory plants in fiction these days) and secondly, because nothing beats a good pun!

  27. A Golden-Age SciFi throwback that ends in a pun? Somewhere Asimov is smiling down at you!

    I've read some of the comments about the dialogue, but I really enjoyed them. To me this is a throwback stories to the SciFi I read years ago. The old Grandmasters from the 30's through the 60's. It's just how many of the stories were written. So I think it fits becuase there's a nostalgic quality to it.

    Even down to the Professor who doesn't simply say, in a moment of crises that the plants "eat" or even "attack" people, but sticks with "Predates."

    I don't think you can have that ending in a guise as anything other than an Old-School SciFi type story.

    Well done!

    PS- My only nit is this sentence: "He reached up with he free arm to fend them off" I think you were looking for "his."

  28. Love the play on "predate." I like the overuse of jargon; it tells us about the society and the characters. Great story.

  29. I read this over breakfast in Melbourne and had a small giggle to myself when I read about that blackmarket type botantist dude on Brisbane... I'll have to keep an eye out for him when I get hom ;)

    I loved the pun at the end... though I'm a bit slow I have to say and wondered if it was an actual word (you've answered that higher up). My first thought was Triffids x Little Shop of Horrors x Muppet Show... and rather than being carnivorous they were rampant growers which overtook the existing environment. And I guessed it was a Trojan Horse.

  30. Thanks, everyone. I had the old Golden Age sci-fi in mind as I was writing, so the over-precise definitions fit that mood. Just a feel, y'know?

    Muppets, attack!


  31. Loved your dialog and the setting you created. Your story flowed very well and the Pun worked as an ending.



  32. Ha! Great misunderstanding and descriptions of the carnage. I hope they don't plant those out in the open.



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