Author : Eric Spery

Teena Tolstarre’s Interplanetary Cultural Archeological Team (ICAT) had been onsite on Gliese 163c for over a year. A warm super-terran mesoplanet, Gliese 163c had evidence of at least one extinct sentient culture. So far, the team had discovered camps, fire-rings, the remains of cultivated plants, cliff paintings and evidence of animal husbandry. Based on available data, the team hypothesized that at least one culture was comprised of humanoid beings with an advanced agrarian society; but no physical remains of these humanoids had been discovered.

Until now.

Teena stared twenty feet down the side of a hill through a thick tent of vines ringing one of the countless giant-leafed Gliesean trees. The vines were parted like a tent flap. Beneath them, protected from the unending rains, was the mother lode of physical remains.

Teena was sure she could see at least one whole well-preserved humanoid skeleton amongst the other bones. There appeared to be non-biological artifacts as well. Overwhelmed, she took a knee in the moist dark detritus of the woodland floor.

ICAT Protocol dictated that site investigations include at least two team members to guarantee site integrity and security. But, after a year of crawling around the rain-soaked woods alone, she wasn’t calling the rest of the team until she had a closer look for herself. She had earned this.

She stood and shuffled down the loose loam of the steep bank. Stepping inside the tipi of vines, she looked down at the remains. They were even more spectacular than she originally thought. There were skulls of at least four species, maybe more. And old? How the hell had these things not decomposed in this humid atmosphere?

She knelt to pick up one of the skulls, but there was some resistance.

“What the hell,” she said.

She pulled harder and it came loose from the pile with a little pop. In astonishment, she looked more closely and realized it wasn’t a skull at all. It was skull shaped, but made of a woody material. Sap oozed from the stalk where she’d pulled it free. She picked up a few of the other bones. They too proved to be stalks of fibrous plant material.

It was uncanny.

A slight rustling in the vines around her jarred her from her reverie. She stood and turned. The tent flap was closed and the tipi of vines was closing in around her. Panicked she stepped towards the vines and attempted to push through them.

The vines were too strong. Caught, she felt herself pressed backwards against the trunk of the tree. She had little time to

scream before the vines crushed the life from her.

She was completely digested within six hours and the tree had time to grow a new skull before the arrival of the next

ICAT member.

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