Garn the Magnificent hunkered down next to the meager fire his friend Gral had built and tried to warm his half-frozen hands. Once the digits had returned to a half-way healthy shade of green, he bit into the food Gral handed him- and immediately spat it out.
“What in the blazing fires of Thaldor is this?” He dug through his pack frantically to find something to take the nasty taste out of his mouth, but unfortunately, he’d eaten the last of his chocolate before even setting foot on the frozen tundra of Talon III.
“It’s a nutri-bar,” Gral said between mouthfuls of his own pale-gray, cardboard-like lunch. “Package says it satisfies the nutritional requirements for 45 different species.”
“What’s in it?” Garn reached for the wrapper, only for Gral to quickly snatch it back and chuck it into the fire.
“Trillian algae and a bunch of other stuff that you don’t want to know about.”
Garn paled to a rather sickly shade of grayish-green and quickly sat his lunch aside.
“And to think, just yesterday we were sitting pretty on Earth. I miss that little blue-green ball of mud. At least it’s not in the middle of an ice age”
Gral’s brow furrowed. “But there’s a horrible pandemic going on there. You complained constantly while we were quarantined on that planet.”
“Ah, but what wondrous food they had there – chocolate, potato chips and cool-ranch Doritos,” he sighed. “Even those salads Carol kept trying to feed us tasted better than this slop,” he said with a contemptuous sneer.
“There is that” Gral agreed easily. “I was rather fond of cheese puffs, myself.”
“Why are we here again?” Gral looked over the frozen plain they’d been traversing for the better part of the morning. “This is a wasteland.”
“Perhaps,” Gral agreed as he began to break camp and return his stash of nutri-bars to his pack. “And perhaps not.” He tapped on his wrist unit and a small holo-map sprang into view. “Rumor has it that there is a rare, miraculous plant that grows two standard miles to the west of here.”
“Who cares?” Garn yawned. “Botany is so terribly boring.”
“The Council does. In fact, I believe Councilman Unda’s exact words were – ‘don’t bother to return without it.’”
Garn sprang up and dusted himself off. “Well, why didn’t you say so?” He set off at a brisk pace as Gral stared bemusedly at his retreating form. “Well just don’t stand there! Time’s a-wasting!”
Gral chuckled and followed at his own more deliberate pace. The wind blew fiercely, and ice crunched quite alarmingly beneath their boots, but before too long, they reached their destination.
“A cave?” Garn scowled at the ice-encrusted edifice.
“Indeed,” Gral boomed. “What we seek is…probably inside.”
“I’m not going in there,” Garn grumbled. “Do you remember that cave on Yargon I?” He shuddered. “Thousands of venom-spitting spiders. They ruined my best jacket. Nothing good is ever found in caves. You can’t pay me to go in there, my friend.”
“Do I need to remind you of Councilman Unda’s words? We can’t leave without the plant.”
Garn looked around at the frozen landscape. There wasn’t a single town or habitation for hundreds of miles. “Well, this place is kind of growing on me. It’s not so bad, really.”
“Did I also mention that our only food supplies are nutri-bars?”
Garn stated for the mouth of the cave. “Well, what are you waiting for. Chop chop!”
The cave’s floor was quite rocky and slippery, but as they ventured further and further into the cave, the air grew warmer and warmer. After several minutes, they came to a large, crystal-studded chamber.
“Well, will you look at that. Who would have thought we’d find this here?” Garn sighed as he took in the hundreds of ruby-red plants growing in the chamber. They emitted quite a wonderful, sweet scent. “Umm, isn’t this about when a large dragon or something comes charging out to prevent us from taking its treasure?”
Gral rolled his eyes. “You’ve been watching too many Earth adventure movies.” He tapped a few buttons on his wrist unit. “Besides, sensors say we’re the only lifeforms for miles.”
Garn relaxed, slightly. Gral’s wrist unit wasn’t always completely accurate. “Fine. So what exactly are these things, by the way?”
“Well, there is only one way to tell for sure,” Gral murmured. In a flash, he grabbed Garn’s right hand and pricked it with the knife that had appeared like magic in Gral’s large fist.”
“Hey, watch where you put that thing,” Garn cried, snatching his hand back and inspecting the pale green blood that flowed to the surface. “Did you have to stab me?”
“I barely scratched you.” Gral picked one of the plants and began to squeeze one of the leaves. Several drops of ruby-red fluid appeared and Gral deftly smeared them over Garn’s cut.
“Hey – that’s cold!” Garn complained.
“Will you stop whining?” Gral peered at Garn’s hand, a grin appearing on his wide, plain face. “Ah – it is indeed the plant we seek.”
“How can you tell?” Garn cradled his hand protectively against his chest. “And did you have to maim me?”
Gral snorted. “Take a look at your hand, man!”
Garn did and gasped in wonder. The cut had disappeared! Only unblemished skin remained!
“Yes, it’s the fabled Trillan plant – able to cure almost all ills.” Gral stooped and began to carefully uproot and wrap several of the bright red plants in the protective cloth he’d brought.
Garn joined him in his task. “It’s really quite wondrous.”
“Indeed. And I’m glad they weren’t the Slime-galleon plant, which looks similar, but is unfortunately extremely poisonous.”
Garn’s digging tool clattered to the ground. “Do you mean to say that you when you smeared that gunk on me you didn’t know if it would heal me or kill me?”
Gral shrugged. “Well, yes, if you must know.”
Garn growled under his breath. “Then, I insist on a little detour before we deliver these back to the Council.”
Gral frowned. “We were told to return without delay.”
“If you want me to help you carry these specimens off of this gods-forsaken rock, you will ensure that I have a hamburger and a chocolate milkshake without delay.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Gral and Garn stopped on Earth for dinner, and if one of the miraculous Trillan plants found its way to an Earth laboratory, well, Councilman Unda never needed to know, right?
Happy Thursday, Friends!