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Spangler's Potted Spies
"I need two volunteers for a long-term spy mission. You will be modified for the duration," General Cooper announced from the door to the barracks. Stubbs and I raised our hands before anyone else.
"Two of the best," our platoon's Gunnery Sergeant answered the General's unspoken question.
"Collect your gear and report to Lieutenant Spangler in the Science Section. Make out their transfer orders, Gunny," Cooper barked and left. Ten minutes later, Stubbs and I carried our duffel bags to the Science Section. Lieutenant Cooper waited.
"I need you two naked and hairless to prepare you for the mission," he said. We snapped a salute and stowed our gear and clothing in two footlockers. White-coated staff took our gear and showed us the showers. The staff led us through the facility in our bare feet and exposed bodies. None of the staff we passed seemed to notice our nakedness. Some distance inside the building, we reached a laboratory with a sheet of paper taped to the door that said: "Inanimate."
Lieutenant Spangler joined us in the lab. It was steel gray with one cabinet and a large lab table jutting from a wall of cabinets like a kitchen island. At the end of the table rested two terra-cotta planters about three foot high and two feet square at the top. Spangler stopped next to the planters.
"The mission is long term. There is a significant chance that we won't be able to recover you from the field. This is your last chance to refuse the mission."
"Negative, Sir," I answered.
"We are committed, Sir," Stubbs added. The Science Section always had tough missions. Most of the soldiers who volunteered for these assignments never returned.
"It's time to begin. Have either of you had trouble with the organic radios in your bodies?" Spangler asked. He picked up a headset used for close range transmission to organic radios.
A decade before when the war began, Science Section developed organic radios that for implantation into human bodies. The radios permitted encrypted, two-way communication over several hundred channels. Since then, every soldier had one installed. Most of the time soldiers kept their radionics inactive to prevent cross-talk and interference. Several hundred soldiers communicating were too distracting to use in everyday life. However, in battle or on a mission, the radios became invaluable, and Central Command used the radios to guide troops movements and artillery. Stubbs and I activated our radios. Central Command assumed control and reset the frequency to long-distance. There would be no interference on this channel.
Spangler spoke to us using only the radio.
"This is how you communicate from now on." He paused for Command Central to active a portion of the organic radio that shut down the nerves to our vocal cords. We couldn't speak if we had the urge. He continued: "We have an opportunity to place two spies in Supreme Leader Cormack of the Eastern Continental Force's quarters. If we succeed, then we will know his plans ahead of time and be able to counter any troop maneuvers."
"Audacious," Stubbs answered over the radio.
"Bold! Will we be guards or servants?" I transmitted. Rumors floated around the Special Corps that Science Section found a way to alter human bodies to resemble captured enemy soldiers.
"Nothing like that. Supreme Leader Cormack changes his guards and servants every two or three days. The man's paranoia even surpasses the speed of light."
"I don't understand, Sir," Stubbs transmitted.
"You two will be our ears in Cormack's office, passive listeners. That's what you are right now. Command Central hears everything you hear." Spangler opened a cabinet and removed two medium-sized flasks sealed with ground glass stoppers. Each held a green fluid. He handed one to me the other to Stubbs.
"Drink this, all of it."
"What is it?" I asked over the radio.
"It's like a wheatgrass smoothie. It will do wonders for you."
Stubbs and I drank. The thick liquid tasted bitter like kale and had a peppery bite.
"Different," Stubbs broadcast, too loud, too many channels. It was one broadcast he shouldn't have made.
"Too much chatter, Lieutenant Spangler. Get it under control," General Cooper boomed in our heads.
"I need them talking for a few minutes, General," Spangler answered sharply into the radio. He isolated our channel and put a limiter on the level that we could broadcast. Then he turned to Stubbs and me. "General Cooper is anxious to get underway. The only way that you will be completely undetectable is if you simply rebroadcast everything you hear to Command Central. Stenographers and other intelligence officers will be listening to every sound that Cormack and his staff make and translating that into useable intelligence. Your commentary would interfere. I'll repeat what I said. You are passive listeners."
I wanted more information but decided that my silence and acquiescence would be better appreciated. I raised both hands at Spangler. He realized I was asking him to reveal the next step.
"Please kneel in the planters and sit on your feet. Fold your arms around your chest. Head held high. We've already created a dirt and rock base."
Stubbs and I climbed into the planters and sat on my bare butt with my knees up and arms around my legs. The layer of dirt and rock sat me just high enough that my shoulders were level with the top of the planter. I wiggled my butt into the dirt and let my genitals flop down between my legs. The dirt tingled. My delicate parts began forming roots. I could see the short white sprouts growing out of my body, reaching for the soil.
"We're going to be potted plants. That isn't merely long-term," I said to Spangler. He nodded affirmatively. Several technicians came over with buckets of dirt, fertilizer, and vermiculite to fill the planter.
"Cormack loves big, grand spaces. There's a Diplomatic Mission in a couple of weeks. They will present Cormack with gifts of potted plants grand enough to decorate a big office with high ceilings."
He did his best to smile and make it sound fantastic. I wasn't buying it. I could feel my body sprouting roots into the dirt as the technicians piled it around me.
"Is that your way of saying this is permanent?" I asked. Spangler brushed my concerns away like dust bunnies.
"Being a palm tree isn't terrible. Being inanimate isn't terrible. The ugliest transforms are into living things like rodents and parasites like a tapeworm. There's always a chance to revert when you're inanimate. Who wants the memory of being a rodent?" Spangler made a few changes in the dirt being packed around me and then watched as the technicians covered Stubbs.
"I hate rats. What good is a tapeworm?"
"Debilitate the enemy; awful stupid tactic." He deliberately shivered to animate his fear. "My fear was becoming a jockstrap to collect blackmail information. Spend years cupping another mans sweating cock and balls to gain information."
"You can keep your that fantasy to yourself. How long will I take to transform?" Stubbs asked.
"You two are my first plants. Not more than a few hours, I hope. I would like for you to describe what the transform feels like as it happens."
When the dirt reached the top of my shoulders, the technicians built a mound of mulch up my neck to the base of my chin and out to the edges of the pot to keep the dirt from being splashed. They watered me. It should have felt cold, but it didn't.
Stubbs and I sat in our pots. At first, I didn't feel much of anything but dirt against my body. However, I tried to shift my arms, but they stuck to my torso. I told Spangler.
"I've been watching your neck get thicker and longer, too," he said. I did notice my head was higher than the edge of the pot. I wiggled and felt the stiffness and thickness. I tried moving my feet and felt dozens of new roots held me fixed in the pot.
"I think that my legs have become a root system."
"You are a fast transformer. Your body will condense into a ball to act as a base for the tall palm trunk. How about your arms?" Spangler asked.
"I can't move anything."
A technician behind me did something that caught his attention. I couldn't twist my head to see what it was. Wood was moving up my spine and toward my skull.
"Your spine will be the trunk of the palm. Don't panic when wood engulfs your head. Once that happens, branches and fan-shaped palm fronds will grow. they will be your ears."
He stood right in front of me so I could see. The stiffness of wood, lignin, and cellulose crept up my neck, past my ears and into my scalp. I could feel fronds forming like hair. The world disappeared from my eyes. For a time everything was silent, and I felt my trunk and branches growing, reaching upward. When green fronds sprouted from the branches, my hearing returned. With each new frond, my hearing improved.
I would be the best listening device to spy on Supreme Leader Cormack. I had nothing else to do but listen and retransmit everything I heard.
The Diplomatic Mission carried Stubbs and I to Supreme Leader Cormack and left us in his office. No one in the Eastern Continent's Military realized that we heard every word spoken. I have a good feeling that we won't die in the bombing and subsequent fires when the final battle occurs.
1600 words (more or less)
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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