Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

“Damn it Jones! Haven’t you got that translator working yet?”

The ensign was baffled. He had set up translators on hundreds of worlds. This program was the very best, drawing on any slight nuances of anything that could conceivably transmit language, whether it was electrical impulse, sound, smell or motion. It could usually get a landing party hearing broken basic from any race in a day or two. “I don’t get it Captain. I’ve tried resetting all the perimeters as many different ways as I can.”

The captain looked across the river from the bay window of the cloaked ship toward the village of mindless blue bipeds running around playing, frolicking, laughing. Oh yes they could laugh. But how did they communicate? They were obviously intelligent to some degree. They slept in sturdy shelters with running water and automated climate control. They fed from long tubes that led directly to large replicator tanks. It all ran flawlessly. The crew had not once witnessed the beings perform any kind of maintenance on any of their equipment. “That’s it!” exclaimed the captain.

“What sir?”

“I’ll bet they lost their smarts somewhere along the way. They built everything too perfectly. They didn’t need to think anymore so they eventually devolved.”

“Hmmm, I guess it’s possible Captain. But that would take a long time. Do you think all this technology, all their structures and machines are really that old?”

“I’m going to order a scanning team to start dating the structures. You keep working on that translator!”

Then to the utter surprise of both men the translator suddenly crackled to life, speaking in its robotic tone. “Cattle in quadrant northeast are ready for slaughter. Prepare for killing and processing to commence.”

Both men stared at each other bewildered. Then the captain smiled, eyebrows raised. “Great work Jones! You finally figured it out.”

The ensign looked unsure. “Uh yes it seems to have finally latched onto an ancient previously catalogued language I’m not familiar with, but none of this data is making any sense. And besides, these creatures don’t keep cattle. The program must be misinterpreting something.”

The one aspect that everybody on the ship seemed to like about this place were the beautiful alien plants that swayed in the wind like multi-colored trees above the village of blue bipeds.

The translator announced again, “Initializing mobilization.”

The two men, jaws agape, stared out the window as a dozen of the colorful tree-plants suddenly stepped forward on their long stalks, and moved quickly into the village. The blue bipeds noticed it too and became nervous and agitated; something the humans had not yet witnessed.

Without warning the biggest tree-plant reached down into the throng of bipeds and scooped up a number of them, and then hurled them into the air, the blue creatures screaming aloud. Other tree-plants caught them and began to horribly rip the unfortunate beings to shreds. Still others gathered the guts and gore, and via hollow vines began spraying the biological food-fertilizer amongst their brethren.

All over the ship alarm bells sounded as the Captain barked, “Highly unexpected contingency! Prepare to abort mission! Make ready for lift off!”

The tree-plants continued methodically with their slaughter. And as the horrified ensign searched for anything else out there to draw his attention momentarily from the carnage, he spied one of the lofty giants form an upper limb into a prying tool and use it to remove the top off of one of the replicator feeder tanks. Of course, he thought. You have to maintain your equipment. You have to keep your cattle well fed.


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