Copyright 2016 by Bill Russo
Published by CCA Media at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
My Thanks to the writers of The Creative Exiles and Hubpages where much of my work has appeared and to Amazon where my books (especially “The Creature From the Bridgewater Triangle” and “Ghosts of Cape Cod” have found a comfortable home.
I recommend both of the above referenced websites for anyone wishing to read fresh and interesting works as well as for those who wish to gain valuable literary advice and engage in conversations with skilled authors from every part of the globe.
Along the star-way of infinity is an endless array of astral bodies. In the near future some will be settled for humankind’s salvation and some for its pleasure.
Chapter One: The Theme Park
New Hawaii was certain to be the most popular tourist destination in history, except for the problems with the ladder trees. The governments had refused to allow the construction of the theme park because of the numerous fatal accidents that happened during attempts to clear a small glade of the unusual foliage.
Covered by a thin elastic bark barely hiding a network of bamboo like limbs, each tree had grown into the shape of a ladder. Slim, woody rungs were plainly visible, running horizontally between much thicker, twin upright poles. At the top, leafy palm branches sprouted like pretty green bouquets from each of the two vertical shafts.
So much like a ladder did they appear; that the first group of construction people attempted to climb them, with disastrous results. Jim Braden, a foreman, was the initial victim. He was half way up one, when the tree telescoped down – like a 25 foot Stanley power lock tape being retracted at light speed. In an instant, the tree compressed to less than four feet and broke every bone in Braden’s body.
After a few more men met the same fate, there was never another try to mount them. Instead, the command was given by Marty Rusk, the developer, to knock them over.
“Plow the blasted things under” Rusk directed as he ordered an attack by 14 armored Caterpillar 966 front end loaders. The powerful Cats advanced slowly and noisily on the glade. When the first blade struck a ladder tree, one of its limbs twirled violently in the air and crashed through the windshield of the loader, smashing the head of the operator like an over ripe tomato.
After five more Caterpillars were wrecked and their operators similarly crushed. Rusk called off the assault, fenced off the glade, and commenced to build his park anywhere else in the area, except near the flock of cursed trees.
It was however, too late. The news of what happened on his little tropical planet had reached Earth and the other inhabited worlds. The negative publicity had doomed his quadrillion dollar project.
Rusk had become the richest man in the galaxy because he never accepted defeat. His space ferry fleet and cluster of theme worlds were merely a part of a vast mercantile empire that spread across eight established planets and several others, like New Hawaii, under construction.
After sinking more than a thousand trillion dollars into developing the tiny volcanic planet discovered by one of his exploratory starships, he was not about to let a grove of recalcitrant timbers interrupt his business.
He drafted a proposal to the various world governments stating that he would abide on New Hawaii all by himself for three months to prove that the planet is more than safe enough to be open to the public as a theme park. At the end of his solitary stay on the volcanic planet, he promised to present evidence that would attest to the viability of the venture. Following the assent of the governments to meet with him again in 90 days, Rusk began preparing for the sabbatical.
Chapter Two: The Solitary Battles
The bargain to inhabit New Hawaii by himself was kept, but Rusk prepared for his exile by having a fleet of space tugs drag in a mountain of equipment, machinery, potions, compounds and weapons. He did not intend to merely live on the planet by the side of the ladder trees, but to demolish the grove.
After the last of the supply vessels left New Hawaii for other duties. Marty Rusk, the galaxy’s first quadrillionaire, was alone. Alone he would stay for the ninety days and during that time he vowed he would defeat his woody foes.
For the first week and long into the second he did nothing. Nothing except observe the trees. First from telescopes and later from close up, he simply watched.
He studied his antagonists because he was a student of battle as well as business. He felt that the two were like twin brothers and to win against the one was to beat the other.
Forged from the ancient prose of Sun Tzu, His mantra was – “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Marty Rusk knew himself and swore he would know the enemy. He affirmed that it was the trees that would fall and not him.
Every morning at dawn, by first light he noticed that even the tallest trees were scarcely five feet high. They seemed to hunker down for repose in the cool evening and then stretch toward the warmth of the sun. By noon the eldest ladders topped out at thirty feet.
Their movements, even when there was no wind, suggested that they had an astonishing control over their limbs – a fact that was confirmed when he saw one tree lash out and snare a passing animal the size of a goat. The struggling creature was quickly shredded and shared with nearby trees; each of which consumed its portion of the kill by osmosis. The carnivorous trees sucked in the blood and flesh of the beast right through their skin-like bark. They downed it all, fur and hoofs included!
Odder still was the eerie fact that the trees incorporated some of the animal’s features into their form. A stubble of furry growth began to appear on the flexible bark. A sharp hoof took shape on a root at the base of one tree. A second hoof soon formed on an opposite root.
The strangest thing of all was the formation of two black dots that appeared in the middle of one of the palm clusters on the tree closest to Rusk’s observation point.
Rusk stared at the miniature orbs and shuddered involuntarily when he saw a layer of whiteness appear at the bottom of each circle. The size of the white part began to increase as it was incrementally drawn upward, erasing the dark section. After a moment each circle that had been sepia, shone with a dazzling whiteness. In the middle of the milky spheres, a tiny point of darkness formed. It swelled quickly and developed into a fully formed brown-black pupil of an eye. The pupil slowly moved until it was looking directly at Rusk.
Shocked, Marty Rusk realized that the tree had developed a fully functioning set of eyes as well as a pair of dangerous hooves.
Undaunted by this new development, at the end of his second week of self imposed isolation, Rusk mounted his first assault on the enemy. Not daring to get within 30 feet, he sent from afar, dozens of tiny drones carrying pouches of poison at them. As if prodded by hurricane force winds, the branches of the ladder trees reached out and began swatting and destroying the drones. As each tiny aircraft was struck, its poison sack exploded into a cloud of deadly yellow flakes that settled lazily on the leaves of the ladder trees.
The concoction was guaranteed to be fatal to any vegetation within a day. The next morning, 24 hours later, Marty Rusk learned that the poison had not been fatal to the trees – the trees had been fatal to the poison.
Sucking it in through their skin-like bark they thrived on it. Their green leaves shown even brighter than the day before. The elastic bark on their limbs had darkened some, like a student after a week’s tanning on the banks of the River Charles in Boston.
Some of the leaves on the top branches had curled into the shape of a human fist. The leaf fists were clutching something. A yellow flaky substance was visible in the open space where the fingertips of the leafy hands curled back on themselves.
Shaken but still determined, Marty Rusk sent in his next blitz – a remote controlled, several hundred year old military tank from one of the ancient earth wars. The vintage battle machine, called a Patton, carried an “Ack-Pack” – a deadly flamethrower that could shoot a spray of murderous fire hot enough to melt steel.
From a distance of 100 yards the Patton spewed its charge of flaming propane. As the first searing blast hit the grove the trees began gyrating furiously and created a wind force strong enough to reverse the fire and send it back to the tank where it melted and exploded the propane tank that created the flames. The resulting explosion rocked Rusk’s compound and nearly set it afire. Only a very efficient sprinkler system prevented disaster for the rich man.
Days of diverse attacks turned into weeks and still the trees stood like defiant soldiers in the way of Rusk’s plans. When he matched muscle against the trees they beat him. When he pitted his brains against theirs, they defeated him. After a month and a half of futility, he was almost ready to concede that the trees were invincible.
Chapter Three: The Ideal Planet
On the 50th day of his solitary exile he sat on his deck at dusk and looked out from the shoreline to the calm waters of the ocean. New Hawaii appeared so much like Maui in the United States that he almost forgot he was 20 billion miles and 30 hours at light-speed, away from old Hawaii.
Clusters of palm trees sat tranquilly at the edge of his sandy beach, kissed by the gentle, overlapping waves of the tide. The setting sun ladled out a swath of liquid gold upon the sea. From an island across the bay the golden band stretched to his beach, highlighting his favorite boat – a three masted sailing ship, the ‘Whidah’ anchored a hundred yards out.
The planet was ideal – a small orb one tenth the size of Earth – with a Hawaiian climate throughout. Four large, inactive volcanos set in a line, 90 degrees apart from each-other, circled the globe. Their icy peaks fed pristine rivers that washed down to the valleys filling the ponds and lakes and providing an abundance of free water power.
Rusk envisioned a mega city of 30 million permanent residents; planned and built systematically in a location alongside his sprawling theme park which would be larger than the combined area of the Earth states of Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont.
People would come to visit the park from all 950 states of the United Countries of Earth as well as from all seven other inhabited planets. He would fill New Hawaii with enough magnificent buildings and wonders to make it the dream destination of every living soul in the known worlds.
After completion of New Hawaii, he would exercise his option on the other two habitable globes of the ten in the cluster, and build them into industrial planets to house his workers and factories so that he could venture even further into deep space exploitation and development.
All this would be his. Only the ladder trees stood between Marty Rusk and his elaborate schemes. The area of New Hawaii in square miles was 50 million (about 130 million square meters) and less than one square mile of the entire surface was covered by ladder trees. Rusk would never let one square mile of anything stop him from development of an entire planet. Yet, as he sat in his vast living room with a panoramic window stretching across the entire outer wall, he did begin to feel twinges of doubt. Less than a month remained before he had to present the proof that the planet was safe.
As he gazed out on the ocean he looked upon his “Whidah”, a replica of a real life pirate ship from antiquity. He felt a kind of an atavistic longing for hair. Though evolution had long ago removed all traces of fuzz from human beings, Rusk loved looking at images of the pirates of thousands of years ago. Adorned with long ragged hair and shaggy beards, they looked fearsome.
At far less than 6 feet (1.8 meters) and totally hairless Rusk was like all other sapient creatures. Only wild animals still retained the grubby growth called fur or hair.
Still, he mused that if he had the beard and mane of an ancient pirate, he might better know how to fight the trees. He dozed in his chair and dreamed of slashing down the timbers with the sharp cutlass of a pirate.
Chapter Four: A New Discovery
By the 65th day, he had learned much about his enemy. The trees were not actually trees at all, but one single plant. Everything below ground was interconnected like the tunnels of the Boston subway system. Just as all tunnels in Boston (The Capital of the Eight Worlds) emanate from Park Street, the roots of the ladder trees got their orders from a central nervous system in the middle of the grove.
For all his fervent observation and study Rusk had failed to notice that while he was attacking the tree on almost a daily basis, the central nervous system of the ladder tree was scouting him. Initially the tree lacked sight but had other remarkable senses including that of touch and of a rudimentary hearing system that transmitted aural information via vibrations from its roots and limbs.
While defending itself from constant sieges, the tree became proactive and formed its own offensive battle plan. The central system organized a squad of tiny creeping rootstalk scouts called rhizomes. Silent and hiding under ground, the more than 700 assembled rhizomes began crawling to the very foundation of Rusk’s mansion.
Reversing their normal routine of retracting by night and expanding by day, the rhizome scouts remained underground during the hours of sunlight and in the early evening.
In the darkest part of the night they pushed through the mantle of dirt and rose to heights of 30 feet and beyond. With their newly formed eyes they studied the sleeping form of Marty Rusk, his mansion, and all the things in it.
As dawn neared, before the early rising human awoke, the silent rhizomes retracted and dove underground where they would relay their findings to the central nervous system – its complex mind now equipped with both eyes and ears; albeit those of a beast.
Meanwhile, a desperate Rusk flung all his weapons in succession at the ladder trees. Each new wave failed more miserably than the preceding attack.
Dejected; with his deadline less than two weeks ahead, he contacted his second in command; Kennedy, who was based at the Rusk corporate offices in Boston’s Scollay Square.
“Kennedy. I need you to go before the Council of Presidents and get an extension of a month.”
“Okay Chief will do. Still no progress on the ladder trees?”
“If there were progress Kennedy, would I be calling? Just get me the extension. The damned trees are impervious to every single weapon we have. Even fusion, E-rays, and D-bombs have failed. I’m going to deploy an anti-oxy field tomorrow. For two hundred feet above and below the ground there will be zero air. I’m hoping a couple of weeks of oxygen deprivation will finally kill them off. So tell the presidents that things are going very well and I just need one more month to wrap everything up.”
The first rays of warm sunshine caressed the leafy bouquets of the ladder trees early the next morning. It was a daily action like that of an alarm clock, rousing the trees from their repose of retraction, and sending them upwards in step with the rising sun. By noon on a normal day they would leisurely reach their full length.
Something was wrong. The eyes of the trees were dry. Vision was blurry. Limbs that usually yawned easily upwards were straining to move even an inch.
On this day, the flexible bark covering the bonelike bamboo limbs of the trees was taut and refused to expand. The normally lithe ladder trees were being forced to emulate the other trees of new Hawaii – to become like immoveable, stationary, sedentary sentinels.
Just before it ceased functioning, the central nervous system of the ladder trees realized that it was suffocating – as a result of the latest attack by the alien beast.
For the remainder of the fortnight to the end of the deadline, the ladder trees were silent, unmoving and apparently dead. It was a fortunate situation for Rusk for the extension of time was refused by the world governments.
On the afternoon of the 90th day Kennedy informed him that the inspection team was shipping off from Boston and would arrive at the New Hawaii dock in precisely 30 hours.
“That’s fine Kennedy. Tell them the docking station will be ready and that I will receive them in the conference area of my Great Room. I want you and the entire project team to hop on corporate ships and get here at the exact same time as the inspectors.”
“I got it Chief,” Kennedy agreed, “Is everything really okay? Are the trees really defeated?”
“Of course they are. The oxy plan was a complete success. No movement. No activity. I have seen nothing from them in two weeks. You will be very happy with the results as will the inspection team. “
Two hours before midnight the following day, two elite light-beam cruisers docked at New Hawaii after a 20 billion mile flight that took 30 hours.
Rusk dispatched an android team to meet the inspection team, comprised of 18 people. There were two each from the eight federated worlds and two more representing the interests of the undeveloped planets.
He ordered the androids to inform his project group in the second starcraft (four dozen of his highest confidants) to accompany the inspectors to the Great Room where he would meet them.
“This way please ladies and gentleman. We will board the monorail train which will take you right to the entrance of Mr. Rusk’s conference center on the edge of New Honolulu Bay,” directed an android named “Dean”, the leader of the small group of A.I. being that Rusk had been allowed to keep with him during the three month period.
“New Hawaii staff will board car Alfa and inspectors, please board car Beta. Name tags have been placed on each seat. Take your proper position. Data packets will be provided to your specific location. Each packet will have a full report of the destruction of the Ladder Trees and proof positive of the viability of the theme park. You may open the packets straightaway and any questions you have will be answered by Mr. Rusk in the conference room,” continued the android called Dean.
The monorail was to be part of the theme park, a hundred car long excursion vessel that would give visitors a panoramic view of the planet at a height of 60 feet. It was capable of great speed but for the transport of the inspectors Rusk had its velocity set at tourist rate, a leisurely 20 miles per hour.
The trip from the docks to the conference area would consume one hour, during which time the inspectors would be able to observe a good part of the lush surroundings.
The inspectors, in Beta car had never seen New Hawaii before and they were in awe of its beauty. They glided by sandy beaches embraced by emerald-blue water with gentle waves. In the deeper part of the pearly ocean they were thrilled to see humpback whales jumping from the depths and twirling around in the air as they fell back to the warm water.
Beta car silently moved on. It slithered past fields green with native plants resembling corn and trees that bore fruit similar to apples and pears. Before they had gone five miles, the inspectors agreed that New Hawaii was the most serene and beautiful spot they had ever seen. Not a single word was spoken about the Ladder Trees.
Not so in Alpha car. Most of the four dozen employees of Rusk Intra-global Corporation had been on New Hawaii at the time of the fatal accidents. They had seen the horror that the trees were capable of.
They asked Kennedy, as the senior officer, if the trees truly posed no further threat.
“I can only tell you what Mr. Rusk told me. He said that the anti-oxygen program was successful and that they are dead. It is sad in a way.”
“What do you mean?” wondered Crosby one of the junior executives who was making his first journey to New Hawaii.
“They were fascinating,” Kennedy replied. “We had scouted the entire planet and found it to be a collection of small islands nearly identical in nature to the Hawaiian Islands of Earth. There were exceptions. The volcanoes here are inactive and have been for many thousands of years. The plants and animals are similar to, but not exactly like those of earth.
“There are no tsunamis or violent storms of any kind. The weather is nearly always a perfect 80 degrees. The sun shines every day. Precipitation, in a generous amount, happens only at night in the form of a comforting spray like a warm shower.
“As I said,” Kennedy continued, “We had scouted every inch of the planet except a square mile or so by what we now call New Honolulu Bay, where Mr. Rusk’s mansion is located. We discovered a grove of trees that at first appeared to be a hybrid of bamboo and palm. Each tree had two main trunks that were connected together by thinner, horizontal branches.
“They looked like ladders. I thought that they would be a magnificent attraction for the theme park and recommended to Mr. Rusk that we make an enclosure for them and leave them in a natural state so that visitors could observe the most unusual trees ever discovered.
“But Mr. Rusk said that they weren’t Hawaiian enough for him. He wants the park to be a super-sized, augmented version of old Hawaii. He ordered us destroy them. I objected but was quickly told by Mr. Rusk that if I was not 100 per cent behind him, then I was 100 per cent against him and needed to get a new job.
“I suppose there are men who would have told him what he could do with his job – but those men have probably never been in a position of having one of the highest paying jobs in the largest corporation in all the known worlds. I wasn’t about to give up all of that for the sake of a few trees.”
Chapter Five: The Meeting
The monorail silently eased into the Honolulu Bay Station and the Android team escorted the inspectors and company personnel alike to the Great Room of Mr. Rusk’s mansion.
They were admitted to the conference center where Mr. Rusk sat in a throne like chair at the beginning of enormous wooden table that stretched more than 100 feet from the panoramic window at the back of the room to the double door entry at the front.
There were 64 chairs, 32 on each side of the table. Nameplates sat atop the colossal table and each person was instructed to find their name and be seated.
Rusk sat woodenly in his throne and did not speak, allowing the androids to issue all instructions.
The inspectors and company employees alike were instructed to view the contents of the data pack which described in detail the procedure that had been employed to nullify the ladder trees. Televisors displayed a fortnight in time lapse mode which proved that the aboreal grove had been inactive for a full fourteen days.
“The hour grows late ladies and gentlemen. You will now be served dinner. Afterwards you will all retire to your assigned quarters and in the morning after breakfast each and every one of you will be allowed to inspect anything and everything on the planet. I am including my own people in this investigation because I desire for us to be unanimous in our conclusions.
The few who wished to begin the investigation immediately were silenced by the majority, who tired and hungry from the long journey through space eagerly attacked the mountains of delicious food provided by the android team.
After dinner, even those who had been eager to begin, felt a strong desire for sleep and not a single person objected when the androids guided them to their rooms.
“I will see you all in the morning,” said a smiling and strangely convivial Marty Rusk.
Within minutes all 16 inspectors and all 48 company employees were sleeping as soundly as if they had been given a sedative – which of course they had!
As they lay in their beds they were unaware of what was happening outside. Hundreds of creeping rhizomes had broken through the surface from their underground perches and were inching towards the walls of the Rusk mansion.
Like giant fire hoses come to life the rhizomes began snaking their way up the walls of the house. Each open window was soon breached by the bamboo like crawlers with elastic skins.
Soon each of the 64 humans were wrapped up like mummies as the rhizomes coiled around them and began squeezing.
Back in the great room of his mansion, Marty Rusk, or something that had been Marty Rusk smiled in deep satisfaction.
With wooden fingers he scratched his head and what had been a bump opened up, allowing a sprout of leaf-topped bamboo to burst through.
The transformation was nearly complete. With great satisfaction, the central nervous system of the Ladder Tree, which now called itself ‘Marty Rusk’; was pleased at how easy it all was.
When first threatened by the aliens, the ladder tree was barely able to fight back. Soon it had acquired eyes, mouth, and feet. Although the parts came from a dim-witted beast, they allowed the central nervous system to continue its experimentation and development.
Now the Ladder Tree had a human head and voice and would easily be able to assimilate the alien attackers, without regard to how many millions came.
Even as the thing that had been Marty Rusk was sprouting new rhizomes from his ears and the top of his head he contacted the capital of the known worlds.
“Hello Boston, this is Marty Rusk. The inspectors have agreed that New Hawaii is safe for development. The full report will follow in 12 hours.
“In the meantime I am issuing the order to my logistics people to launch enough space tugs to haul 40,000 workers here along with equipment and supplies I want to open New Hawaii inside of six months. Boston? Do you copy?”
“Roger that Mr. Rusk,” came the affirmative from Capital City. We will be lifting off just as soon as you transmit the report of the inspectors. We’ll see you soon on New Hawaii.”
“I’ll be waiting for you,” leered the thing that had been Rusk.
It laughed as it remembered the alien’s last attack – the anti oxygen bomb. The central nervous system had simply gone into hibernation. After two weeks, as soon as Rusk turned the air back on, the Ladder Tree quickly recovered and sent rhizomes that very night to absorb Rusk.
The people of Earth are but a step removed from apes, as proven by the hatred and wars that pockmark their history as far back as the first written word and even beyond.
As one earthly war ends there is a period before the next one starts. It is a quiet time where the conquered and the conquerors mingle. A number of mixed breed children are the inevitable result – some are from marriages and many more are not.
It has forever been so. But what if in space, the enemy that these warlike humans try to destroy, is not human?
If this is so, there will be no mingle and no hybrids.
No living thing on Earth or on any other planet wishes to die. If it were not so, the thing and all of its kind would become extinct in a flash.
Every living thing develops some sort of a defense against annihilation whether it be poison, camouflage, razor sharp claws or the bulk of an elephant. Even trees have primitive defense mechanisms. What if in future, we encounter a tree that is actually able to defend itself?
Along the star-way of infinity is an endless array of astral bodies. In the near future some will be settled for humankind’s salvation and some for its pleasure.
Other books by Bill Russo
Please visit Shakespir, Amazon, Audible, Itunes and other retailers to discover more books by Bill Russo
The Creature From the Bridgewater Triangle
Bill’s riveting account of meeting a puckwudgie
His story is featured in the films, America’s Bermuda Triangle and The Bridgewater Triangle, as well as on Monsters and Mysteries in America.
Swamp Tales and Jimmy Catfish
Two fictional thrillers set in the Hockomock Swamp (The Place of Evil Spirits) and an eerie Cape Cod Lake
Crossing the Musical Color Line
Stories of iconic singers and musicians known or interviewed by the author during a long career in radio and as a newspaper editor.
These and a number of other books can be found on Amazon, Shakespir, Barnes and Noble and from many other online stores.
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No living thing on Earth or on any other planet wishes to die. If it were not so, the thing and all of its kind would become extinct in a flash. Every living thing develops some sort of a defense against annihilation whether it be poison, camouflage, razor sharp claws or the bulk of an elephant. Even trees have primitive defense mechanisms. What if in future, we encounter a tree that is actually able to defend itself?Along the star-way of infinity is an endless array of astral bodies. In the near future some will be settled for humankind's salvation and some for its pleasure. (Recent Review of The Ladder Trees: "Man versus nature and man versus himself. The play on the indifference of nature and the indifference of human nature, juxtaposed with anthropomorphism to illuminate defense and survival is brilliant."