The purple tree with purple leaves exploded in a shower of shards and splinters. Samuel holstered his plasma rifle and smirked.
“Yeh shouldn’t aggravate the trees, young-un,” said Shamus. His tone was more warning than disapproval. “Ah, stuff it, Shamus, I do what I want,” Samuel said.
“Have it your way, lad.” Shamus checked his pack to make sure the Gruuntheld was safe then hoisted it to his shoulder.
This planet had more of the substance than they knew what to do with. On other planets you had to dig at least below the crustal layer to reach any of it, but here, you could almost walk along and pick it up off the ground. The Branth corporation had claimed this planet first, but smuggling and straight stealing were deeply lucrative for such a rare mineral, particularly one as useful as Gruuntheld. You could run a ship’s fusion drive off a gram of the stuff for a year.
Shamus and Samuel were shipmates, but from different worlds. Shamus came from a mining family and had been working for Branth his entire life. Samuel came from an upperclass family who’d cut him off. When the military got fed up with him, he’d racked up too much debt to go free and Branth had bought him as an indentured servant. He was theirs for twenty years or till he died, whichever came first and the way he worked it seemed likely to be the latter.
“You coming back to the ship?” Shamus asked. “We don’t yet know what lurks around at night.”
“No I have three more areas to check before Stultz’ll let me back on.”
“By jiminy, what have you been doin’ all day?”
Samuel took out his pistol and fired at another tree.
Shamus shook his head and started back toward the ship. “Don’t let your pistol run out of charge before nightfall,” Shamus called over his shoulder.
Samuel shot a tree five times in reply.
Samuel was only halfway into his second area as the world’s sun began to set. He looked up at the red disk. “Screw it,” he said and threw down his scanner. “Stultz’d lose a good worker if I die overnight… he’s gotta let me in.”
Samuel threaded his way through the trees, but nothing he saw seemed familiar. He found rocks and outcroppings he thought he recognized, but the trees were always in the wrong place or looked different than he remembered. Samuel had a good memory, enhanced to photographic by an implant he’d gotten in his school days to skip studying. He checked the geographic compass on his data pad, he was still going the right way. He went down a little hill he remembered going up and at the bottom found his way blocked by trees. He turned to his right and found that also blocked. He turned to go the other way and found that too blocked. He turned to go back the way he’d come and found it too was blocked by trees. Then as he turned around again to look for a way out the walls of trees seemed to grow closer. Samuel took out his blaster and started firing. Behind every tree he obliterated, another tree stood blocking his way.
A root shot out of the ground and wrapped itself around his ankle. He shot it off, but not without searing his leg. Then another root shot out of the ground and grabbed his other leg. Before he could shoot it, a branch wrapped around his gun hand, then another root grabbed his other foot, a second branch wound itself around his free hand a third root reached up and encircled his torso. Slowly, irresistibly, Samuel was pulled to the ground as trees continued to close in.
The next morning Shamus found Samuel’s gun still with half its charge next to a large pile of Gruuntheld.