Author: Steven French

“You’re kidding me!” Roberts exclaimed, “You mean they make their spaceships out of wood?!”

Alari’s eyebrow tentacles waved in affirmation but then they added, “Well, it’s a kind of plant found on the Travok homeworld but a tree would be the closest equivalent. The best translation of the name would be ‘ironwood’. And they don’t actually make them, they grow them …”

Roberts all but spat his Vorakian beer across the little table.

“That don’t make it any less weird my friend,” he replied.

“Well, it’s all molecular level manipulation, so … not so weird.”

“And what this molecular level manipulation gives you is a big-ass spaceship?” Roberts asked.

“Sure. Well, just the hull and main components, not the fittings.”

“Oh right, not the fittings, that’s obvious …” Roberts took another drink from his mug, “So why are you telling me this?”

“Because people will pay big money for that tech and I know how we can get our hands on it”, Alari answered, leaning forward.

Roberts gestured for them to continue.

“The Travoki have just terra-formed a world on the edge of their federation and they’re about to start growing these ‘ironwood’ trees on it. But right now, the only thing that’s there is a small lightly guarded complex, with just a few hundred seed pods so they can see if they’ll take root in the planet’s soil …”

“And you’re planning to go in and snatch some of those pods, right?” Roberts asked, lowering his voice.

“Exactly. I see this as a two-person job, in and out and gone before the Travoki even know we were there”, Alari replied.

Roberts knocked back the last of his drink and looked around the bar again, taking in tables and booths full of low credit customers looking just like him, ragged around the edges, clinging on to that last sliver of hope …

“Ok, fine, I’m in.”

The journey out went so smoothly that Alari felt compelled to voice what Roberts was thinking:

“I know, this seems too easy. But as I said, we’re way out on the edge here, and the Travoki have become complacent.”

Roberts nodded but was still on edge when they left the ship and started marching towards some scrubby-looking hills. As they walked their boots kicked up small clouds of dust and looking around, he said,

“Even with the terraforming, this seems a crappy kind of place. Are they really expecting to grow these spaceship trees here?”

Alari simply shrugged.

By the time they reached the complex, it was already dusk and lights were on in the collection of dusty grey buildings. Alari marched up to one of the closest and, pointing to a small door in the side, said

“You stay here and call me on the radio if you see or hear anything.”

As he nodded in reply, Roberts heard a noise behind him. Turning his head in surprise, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck and lost consciousness.

Coming to, Roberts found himself on his knees, with his hands restrained behind his back. As his vision cleared, he could see half a dozen others held like him, lined up beside a long metal trough. Behind him he heard Alari’s voice:

“Sorry about this. I actually quite liked you,” they said.

As Roberts lifted his head to snap back an answer, he saw a tall Travoki move down the line with a sharp knife, expertly slitting the throat of each captive.

“Ironwood needs iron-rich blood,” Alari continued, “and you humans have plenty of that.”