Author : Ron Wingrove
Discovery of the Omniflower should have been one of the greatest of the 23rd century. It happened on a distant planet, to a ragged crew from an equally-shabby exploration ship. Anybody who could cobble together an FTL drive went into exploration. Most never made it back.
The landing was hard with the heavy gravity, but the ship got down safely. The captain had one important question to ask his science officer.
“There air outside?”
“Yes sir, but…”
“It’ll do… MAC!” A dirty face appeared round the hatch to Engineering.
“Make sure nothing broke after that bump. We’re going for a walk.”
The crew was met just outside a settlement by an alien. Yellow skin, vaguely human. The captain was a more casual than the movies liked.
“Kwishath ack narothdack?”
“Sure, man. We come in peace, and leave in pieces, and stuff. Yeah.”
“Astana retoothka? Squirly a chondack?”
“Yep, that too… What the hell is that?”
“That” was a short plant that appeared by the alien’s feet. It grew from a seedling to a small bush, put out some blue leaves and one fruit, then died back to nothing in the space of a few seconds. Totally calm, the alien bent down to pick the blue fruit. He broke it open, removed something from inside, and handed it to the stunned captain.
“So, what’s this? ‘English-Narothdack phrasebook?’ You gotta be kidding me!”
Flicking through the pages, the captain looked for one specific phrase, and found it in a chapter marked Social Colloquialisms for Informal Occasions.
“What in God’s name is going on? Kveesta unacktra ban de plositch?”
Plositch was the closest the language could come to God.
It meant “Small blue plant that provides us with all we need.”
With the phrasebook, the alien explained to the spacefarers. It was called the Plositch, and popped up wherever something was needed. Dinnertime? One would open with your favourite food. Nighttime? A larger one, with a bedroll. Predator attack? A long one would open containing a spear. All you had to do was imagine a flower opening nearby, and what it would contain. The captain named them Omniflowers.
A week later, and it was time to go. Efforts to make the omniflower grow anywhere other than the surface failed, but there were no limits to what it could make. When Mac dropped his ancient pocket watch in a stream and wished for a new one, it was discovered that the plant could produce complex mechanisms, and the captain figured out a way of making some serious money. The ship’s library had pictures of collectables, and the omniflowers produced crates of small “antiques.” A moment of whimsy produced a large gold watch. It fitted nicely into a pocket of the captain’s jumpsuit, just right for timing the lift-off.
“5… 4… 3, first stage ignition… 2… 1… Lift-off, we have lift-off, retracting landing gear…” A pause. “Altitude 35,000 meters, standby for second stage ignition…”
“Hey, that’s not right!” The captain’s shout made everyone turn and stare. Instead of a watch, his hand held a pile of greenish slime. A second later, it had dried to dust.
“Oh, bad luck, captain. The things made by the plants can’t leave the surface either. That means those crates are gone, too.”
“Second stage ignition in 5… 4… 3… 2, first stage shutdown complete… 1…” An ominous silence. “Second stage ignition failure! Mac, what’s up with your engines?”
Mac went deathly pale.
“Boss? The second stage fuel pump! Needed replacement, but we didn’t have one…”
“I replaced it with one from a plant.”