The spider scuttles forward aggressively, hairy legs waving in the air
as it rears up, fangs displayed. With a weary sigh, you extend the
long plastic tube in your hand and suck the small spider up into a
storage unit in the equipment worn on your back.
|Artwork © Ulysses Ai|
"It's safe now," you say.
A whir of motors comes from the next room, and one of the denizens of
Teeheehee pokes her lovely head around the corner of the doorway, eyes
wide with the haunting memory of the horrible spider.
"Oh, thank you!" she exclaims, emerging to embrace you with sincere
You sigh once more. It was supposed to be a dream job. A planet full
of women, helpless before a hoard of small, non-poisonous spiders;
needing someone to come and deal with them. The woman on the monitor
was so beautiful that you did not hesitate to agree, imagining how
they could express their gratitude. But looking now at the Teeheeheean
before you, you remember keenly the disappointment you felt that day
you boarded their ship, and every day as you receive countless hugs
and kisses from them.
The clues were there. The woman was green; a little odd you thought,
but hardly an obstacle for a lusty young man like yourself. She told
you that they reproduced asexually, so there were no males on their
planet; great! No need to share.
Now you understand all too well. She stands before you like some kind
of arboreal mermaid: a lovely humanoid woman, green, above the waist;
and a bark-covered tree below. Up from her back grow a number of long
delicate fronds, and she has a halo of buds ready to flower growing
around her head. Initially, trying to make the best of a bad
situation, you eyed their naked upper sections hopefully. But the
embraces with which they greeted you as their saviour tore away your
last hope as you clasped their woody bodies in your hands. No soft,
yielding flesh; it was about as satisfying as hugging a giant broccoli.
Leaving the house, the woman; if it can be called that; escorts you to
the front door, thanking you profusely. Her roots are buried in a
large, blue, glazed pot that sits atop a pair of motorised treads,
allowing her to roll along at your side with a whir. You disentangle
yourself from her embraces and move off down the street.
As alien planets go, Teeheehee is a nice one. The whole planet is like
a landscaped garden. The Teeheeheeans feed directly on sunlight via
photosynthesis, and so have never needed to labour to live. Instead
they fill their days with leisure and gardening, their one passion.
Returning to the small house where you live, you see with relief that
the alarms are not ringing. Each room is fitted with a siren and a
flashing red light that will alert you when one of the natives sees a
Dumping your equipment on the floor, you collapse into an armchair.
Not for the first time, you reflect on your life. Nothing you have
ever done has gone to plan, yet this uncertainty and unpredictability
has failed to result in any excitement, apart from one brief episode
involving a luxury cruiser falling into a star. But that's not the
kind of excitement you need.
As always, you reach one inevitable conclusion: you need a girlfriend!
But how to get one? Every time you suggest leaving, the treemaids
start crying and offering you whatever you want. Unfortunately what
you want is the one thing they can't provide.
As you are just getting into feeling sorry for yourself, the alarms
sound, the lights flashing. Sighing, you collect your equipment and
walk over to the screen next to the front door to see the address of
the 'emergency'. Your eyebrows move slightly as you see that it is
You went to the palace on your arrival, but you don't remember much
about it (experiencing as you were at the time a crushing
disappointment). Leaving the house, you stroll up the grand avenue to
the many-layered palace. The palace is a terraced hill with flowering
arches leading inside. Two treemaids stand guard outside, armed with
shining spears and blasters. They bow to you.
"Welcome, honoured spider-catcher!"
You wave, stifling a sigh. Entering into a large, airy passage, you
make your way to the centre of the hill where a grand hall has been
built. Sunlight shines down from large, vacuous windows, illuminating
a great tree that stands in the centre, rooted into the soil of the
planet. It is Queen Hotbutt herself. The great trunk splits into
three, the centremost rising up into a woman, twice life size, with long
delicate limbs and a head of flowers. The other two stems break into
boughs that spread into supple leafy branches, arrayed around her
humanoid part like great green wings. Her bark is silvery grey, and
covers her human part as well. But she is very much animated, and
smiles down at you with bright red lips and shining green eyes.
"Welcome, great protector!" she intones, and her entire court of
treemaids bows to you. "My apologies for summoning you with the siren.
There is in fact no spider, but an emergency of another kind."
"What is it?" you ask, hoping to hear that the planet is plunging into
"Show him!" the queen commands.
One of the treemaids whirs forward, offering you a box of tissues.
You regard it with some uncertainty. Many times since your arrival on
the planet you have wished for tissues, especially when visiting a
certain small room in your house. But you refrained from bringing up
the matter, as you were uncertain how the treemaids would react to the
idea of anything made from wood pulp.
"Er, what is this?"
The queen seems disappointed. "You cannot identify this item?"
"Yeah, it's a box of tissues."
The court exclaims, and the queen leans forward eagerly. "Show us what
it is used for."
Feeling very self-conscious, you reach out and pull free one of the
tissues. You fold it over and raise it to your face. You give your
nose a blow, causing the treemaids to exclaim once more.
"He is expelling sap!" says one incredulously.
"They would destroy us for this?"
The treemaids start speaking in loud agitated voices. You have never
seen them act so upset in the whole week you have been on their planet.
The queen waits for the talking to die down, and then addresses you.
"The humans are threatening to conquer our planet."
"Wa? Why?" you ask.
"They want to cut us down and turn us into these tissues. Your people
have cut down all the other trees in the known universe, and cannot grow
more for at least a month. In the meantime, they intend to fill the gap
by slaughtering our population!"
"That's... terrible," you say. "But what do you want me to do about it?"
"Go to Earth and stop them!"
The queen gestures helplessly. "You know your own people better than
us. To be frank, we find your kind confusing and unpleasant. You are
the exception of course, Honoured Protector!" She pauses to beam at you.
"We shall give you whatever you need to complete your mission!"
Looking around at the large, pleading eyes, shining with tears at the
prospect of their doom, you feel your heart wrench and with a sigh you
know that you must help them. "Ok."
Your announcement causes great joy, and you are swept up in countless
woody hugs. After the initial celebration subsides, you are informed
that a forestry ship from Earth is already in orbit, making preliminary
assessments for a larger fleet. You will be sent off to deal with them
As promised, the treemaids offer you anything that they can provide to
assist in your mission. You don't know what will help, but ask for a
blaster, a golden credit card with 100 Galactic Roubles on it, and a backpack
containing some sandwiches.
The treemaids provide the items without question. Before your departure,
you are taken to see queen Hotbutt, and are placed on a levitating
platform that brings you up to her level. "Farewell, Noble One!" she
says, hugging you to her woody bosom. Tears appear in her eyes, but she
smiles and hands you a small crystal leaf on a delicate silver chain.
"Take this. It will allow you to communicate with plant life. But be
warned. Much plant life is primitive and will have little of worth to
You thank her for the amulet and after another silvern hug, you are
deposited back on the floor and escorted with great fanfare to the
spaceport where a small ship stands within a ring of cheering treemaids.
You quicken your step, which the grateful treemaids perceive as the
determined step of a heroic saviour; in truth you just want to avoid
more hugs. But you pause at the doorway as you see one treemaid you
recognise. It is Bigones, the treemaid who first brought you here.
True to her name, the fronds growing up from her back are huge. She
smiles, and hugs you before you can slip away.
"You are a great, great man!" she sobs.
"Er, just doing what I can," you say.
"I have no doubt you will succeed!" Bigones says fiercely.
"I can't promise that," you say nervously.
"I have faith in you, but... if you do not succeed, we do have a plan
B. But it shouldn't be necessary."
"Plan B? What is it?" you ask, hoping to be able to wriggle out of this
heroic, man-making mission.
"I've offended you. I'm sorry. You will succeed!"
"I'm not offended," you reassure her. "I'm just curious."
"Oh," she shrugs. "It's just that if you fail, then we will be forced
to blow up the Earth."
"WA?! Blow up the Earth?"
"Of course," Bigones says in what perfectly imitates a rational tone.
"We can't let them come and turn us into tissues, can we? There are 20
billion people on Earth, and according to our calculations, that will
reduce the demand of tissues by exactly the right amount to enable the
current stockpiles of tissues to last until the plantation trees can be
grown, harvested and processed."
"But... you can't blow up the Earth!"
Bigones shrugs again. "If they can turn us into tissues, why can't we
turn them into space-dust?"
"But... are you even able to do it?" you ask.
"Yes, with that." Bigones points at a large metallic tower that you have
noticed them building over the last week. "It is a weapon that will
destroy any planet we point it at."
"But I thought this threat of being turned into tissues was something
you just learned about!" you say. "You must have been building that
thing for weeks!"
"Oh, yes," Bigones agrees. "The spiders that you have been so brave in
helping us to dispose of are not native to this planet. They were
brought from elsewhere, but escaped from the research facility."
"What were you researching?" you ask in confusion.
"The Organoray," Bigones says, gesturing towards the metallic tower that
is actually a planet-busting weapon. "Do you know that the universe is
full of disgusting, creeping things? We wanted to find a way to get rid
of them. So we devised the Organoray! It is designed to irradiate a
planet, and kill all of the nasty, ugly hairy-legged things, but leave
the plant-life intact!"
"Despite how they look, all creatures have a role to play in their
ecosystems, which are often delicate, and can be upset by the loss of a
single species, and thus bring harm to all other members of the
ecosystem, including the plants," you say.
Bigones smiles proudly. "You are correct! But on this planet there are
no animals. All roles are fulfilled by plants. Thus when we remove
some horrible creepy-crawly, we can replace it with a species from this
You shake your head. "But you can't just destroy something because you
don't like how it looks!"
"Of course not!" Bigones exclaims, laying a hand on your shoulder. "We
value your services, and your noble and courageous heart!"
"Huh? When did this become about me?" you ask.
"Anyway, the Organoray doesn't work," Bigones sighs. "For some reason
anything that kills a spider also damages plants. We seem unable to
identify what the ugly, horrible, creepy genes are susceptible to."
"Of course!" you say. "All this ugly creepiness exists in your own
minds, not in the creatures themselves! If you want to destroy
ugliness, you need to elevate yourselves! Transcend your attachments to
illusionary notions such as beauty and ugliness!"
Bigones looks a little guilty. "Yes, but that will take years of
introspection and dedicated effort. We decided it was more efficient to
just blow up any planets with creepy crawlies on them."
"Blow up?" you say. "What about the Organoray?"
"Like I said, it doesn't work, so we have modified it to just blow up
the planets instead."
"But that will kill the plants as well!" you point out.
"Yes." Bigones wipes a tear from her eye. "We shall collect
individuals to preserve the cultures unique to each planet, and find new
homes for them. Then the universe will be free of horrible disgusting
"So even if I succeed, to stop you blowing up the Earth, you are going
to blow it up anyway because it has spiders on it?"
"Earth has spiders too?" Bigones asks in surprise.
"Of course," you reply.
"Oh," Bigones pulls out a glass rectangle and starts to input data.
"I will add Earth to the Termination List at once!"
You stop talking. What can you do? Bigones looks at you innocently;
unable to understand why you are so upset, but very sympathetic about it.
Giving up, you slip into the ship and the hatch closes behind you.
Slumping in the large comfortable chair that dominates the interior
of the small ship, you feel a deep despair. You have never even been
to Earth, growing up as you did on the excitement-packed manufacturing
planetoid of G15-275. You encountered many Earthlings in your time
aboard the Attila, and found them to be rather snobbish,
mentioning rather too often their place of birth like some kind of
Even so, you are determined to save the Earth, and the treemaids as well.
But how to do it?