"Based on the data we've compiled from our autopsy…" began the pathologist who stood beside Yao Yuan.
They were standing in front of the glass partition that separated them from the biology lab. Inside, a handful of scientists were still analyzing the alien body.
"The creature's carapace is molded from different kinds of metallic substances. It's akin to a shell-like exoskeleton, but its tensile strength matches that of steel alloy with the hardest parts being even sturdier than that. Of course, that is not its most interesting feature…"
The pathologist continued excitedly, "We've stumbled across a new category of organism: an amalgamation of flora and fauna… Yes, major, you've not heard wrong. This creatures is a composite organism that is one part plant and one part animal. This is because our autopsy revealed that latticed within the creature's animal physiology are plant spores. And these spores are the offspring of the plants that are currently draining us of our energy.
"This means that this creature does not need to consume food; it only needs water to survive, because water keeps the plant in its body alive. And through photosynthesis, or possibly some other digestive process, the plant can in turn provide the necessary nutrients for the creature to survive…"
Pointing beyond the glass panel towards a splice of green plant that sat inside a beaker, the pathologist explained, "When this plant is still young, it is unable to absorb energy and metals directly. Instead, it uses the airborne metallic particles that make up eleven percent of this planet's air in combination with water to create nutrients for survival. Also, we found out that this is a process that can be sped up in the presence of daylight. It's a chemical process that is completely unfamiliar to us."
The pathologist was practically shaking with the excitement of this new discovery, but Yao Yuan, who was standing beside him, frowned. "If I remember correctly, these creatures have bodily fluids that are incredibly acidic. Why hasn't that prevented this parasitic relationship?"
Shaking his head, the pathologist clarified, "This is not really a parasitic relationship, it's more of a symbiotic one… Just imagine it as an evolved version of lichen. The spores are incredibly fragile, or rather, relatively fragile in comparison to everything else on this planet. They would dry up instantly if exposed directly to the planet's sun, but since they need water to germinate and survive, they rely on these creatures for protection and mobility. In return, they produce nutrients as valuable sustenance for these animals. In this barren wasteland, they rely on each other to survive. However, this relationship lasts only as long as the plant's spore stage. When the plant is fully grown and thus gains the capability of directly digesting solid metal, it consumes its host from the inside out because ninety percent of these animals' bodies contain metallic elements…
"And so, perhaps as a method of adaptation to this necessary yet self-destructive relationship, these creatures learned to secrete acid into their bodily fluids as a way to slow the spores' growth. Our analysis shows that this is usable until the creature grows too old to maintain a high level of acidity in their blood. Then, nature takes its course…"
While the pathologist was going through his explanation, an experiment was taking place inside the lab, so the two men turned to look. A biologist was pouring a cup of scalding water into the beaker with the plant splice. In just ten seconds, the less than five-centimeter-wide smudge grew to a moss-like bush the size of a grown man's palm. Glistening with an eerie greenish glow, it started to eat through the glass beaker.
The biologist quickly poured some acid onto it, lulling it into inactivity.
The pathologist turned back to Yao Yuan. "Anyway, we also found out that the matured plant is equipped with some sort of sonar-like communication system. They can use it to issue prompts to the spores within their close proximity. It works by having the mother plant send out a kind of electrical or radio transmission to the spores. We aren't entirely sure how, but now we do know why this planet's fauna gives its flora a wide berth."
Still staring at the aftermath of the experiment, Yao Yuan asked, "What happens to the absorbed energy and metals then? Is it all used for growth?"
All of a sudden, the pathologist's expression darkened. After some obvious inner conflicts, he sighed. "No, it's not that… Major, please look at this enlarged image."
A monitor dropped down beside them and on it was an enlarged photo of a plant splice. The pathologist continued, "These plants seem to possess a degree of sentience in their actions. Instead of spreading out over the planet to increase their coverage, they congregate to form a colony. Of course, depending on the period of formation, the colonies vary in size. But in all of them, a capsule-like entity forms in the center. This is an enlarged picture of such a center. As you can see, there are partitions to wall off specific areas for storing metals. In here, all the metals are in their basic forms and are cleanly organized. We believe that, for example, after they digest an alloy, it is deconstructed into steel, copper, and zinc and then separated into designated compartments. And at the center of this capsule is a small, clear crystal.
"With some calculations, we have confirmed that about ninety percent of the metals absorbed are stored and the remaining are either released back into the atmosphere or used by the plant itself. It's hard to tell which one it is. On the other hand, the energy that is absorbed is more complicated. It seems to vanish without a trace. The only thing that seems relevant is this crystal. Therefore, some scientists have come up with the speculation that… the plants have crystallized the energy."
"Crystallized energy?" repeated Yao Yuan incredulously.
The incredulity was reflected on the pathologist's face. At that moment, a physicist beside them stepped forth. "Major, let me help explain that to you."
The pathologist nodded in courtesy and vacated his spot for the physicist, whom Yao Yuan could recognize as the German physicist, Silewei. The famed physicist moved before Yao Yuan, saying, "Crystallized energy, I agree, is the stuff of science fiction. An element of pure energy sounds preposterous to any logical man… But theoretically speaking, it is not impossible. Take for an example, the common cellphone's power bank. Is that not an example of stored energy? The concept's the same. Technology is always improving, so this won't forever be the stuff of imagination. Nevertheless, the technology to crystallize energy is definitely not within human grasp. The force required to crystallize just one milligram of energy would be beyond human understanding."
Silewei stopped to point at the crystal on the monitor. "There are many mysteries in the cosmos, but for me, this isn't one of them. I'm certain that this crystal is not made of pure energy. It does contain energy in its composition, sure, but it is also constructed with other elements. Of course, even something like this is already beyond our comprehension… I would argue that we shouldn't even be analyzing these crystals, because we aren't certain of their potency and property. One wrong move and the Hope could be blasted into oblivion…
However…" Silewei added, "an intern of mine did have a curious hypothesis about these plants. Would Major be interested in hearing her out?"
Yao Yuan was still digesting all the information that was given to him. He was trying to formulate a plan that could take advantage of these plants' weaknesses or features to rescue geological unit A. Somewhat absent-mindedly, he nodded.
A few minutes later, an expressionless young woman sauntered into the room. To his surprise, Yao Yuan recognized this lady as well. She was one of the three young ladies Zhang Heng had pledged his rank to rescue, and also one of the few civilians living on the fifth floor, Bo Li.
With just a simple nod at Yao Yuan, Bo Li went straight into business. "It's my opinion that these plants are man-made… I do not believe any plant life would naturally evolve to gain such industrialized properties."
A slack-jawed Yao Yuan asked in return, "Manmade? You mean through genetic engineering? But we don't have such advanced technology."
Bo Li looked askance at Yao Yuan, as if berating him for his idiocy. She later added, "In that case, let's calls it alien-made."
Without missing a beat, Yao Yuan followed up. "But why? Why would an alien species engineer something that could contribute to the slow destruction of a whole planet? What good would that do? Then again, could it be that this biohazard is caused by an experiment gone awfully wrong?"
Bo Li turned to stare at the monitor. "You could be right… But don't you think that these plants are too purposeful in their actions? To collect metallic ores and energy crystals, these seem like specific purposes… I believe that these plants are some kind of harvester created by aliens. Just like how we created drills, an alien species engineered these plants to help harvest minerals. Unlike us, who rely on manual labor, they would only need to pollinate a planet with these planets and after a certain period of time, perhaps a few decades or even centuries, they return to harvest these plants. They would have gathered the minerals and energy of a whole planet, and the process can be repeated as they traverse the galaxy.
"Don't you think that this kind of method is much more efficient and advanced than how we are currently gathering supplies?"
As Bo Li went through her elaboration, Yao Yuan could feel chills running down his spine…
If there was even a grain of truth behind what Bo Li was saying, then how advanced was this alien civilization? They have, after all, achieved such a godlike status that they can manufacture a new species! How disadvantaged mankind would be if pitted against such a civilization… the thought itself was spine-chilling!
At that moment, commotion broke out within the lab. Not long after, the biologist's voice could be heard coming through the intercom. "Major, this plant's gene map has just been unveiled, but… Major, would you like to see it for yourself?"
"Of course!" replied Yao Yuan almost instantly. "We would all like to see it!"
Afterwards, on the monitor, the enlarged picture of the capsule was taken down and replaced by the plant's gene map…
It looked like a symbol overlaid with letters. Upon closer inspection, it looked more and more like…
"Trademark?" Guang Zhen asked curiously.
Yao Yuan nodded his head, repeating, "Yes, it does look like a trademark…"
"For what? To prevent counterfeiting…?"