It can be hard work being the dominant species on a planet, but once you get it down, it can be very rewarding. The Onmed of Alabarch had, without a doubt, been the dominant life-form on Alabarch for several eons now—long enough that it could be said they had become terribly lazy.
Once, they had prowled. Long ago, they had been explorers of nature stretching their tendrils out into the world in search of new and interesting sources of nutrients. But ever since they had discovered their airborne pseudopheromone, which we will call The Drug, their entire existence had become an endlessly repetitive process of producing it.
They had laid down their roots in tight-knit groves where they lived out their lives around a dozen or so other trees. Some of the younger—or perhaps only more youthful—ones still sought to reclaim the sense of adventure that had once been theirs by stretching their bodies and leaf-covered limbs towards the sun high overhead. But the more experienced and practical among them scoffed at the wasted effort. “Those resources,” they argued, “would be better used to help with the production process.”
“But what about the stars?” Youth would answer at times in awe-struck wonder. “What could be going on up there? What if things change? What if there are things we don’t know yet?”
“There is nothing new under the sun,” countered Age, citing their encyclopedic records of the species on their planet who could be influenced and manipulated by the Drug. It was put into effect whenever there were tremors of a particular intensity in the ground. They’d learned how to distinguish between the movements of tectonic plates and the lumbering of large animals millennia ago, which was why they didn’t build groves near fault-lines. But when a large animal came into range, the Drug was released: an airborne pathogen that put animals into a hypnotic state of obsession. Really, what it amounted to was an overwhelming perfume that drew the lumbering beasts towards it with the promise of the sweetest fruits, the juiciest, tenderest meats they could imagine. The smell would lead them to the pool in the middle of the grove, lined with slick loam that would slip on to make them tumble into the vat of enzymes. There, still happy enough to trigger their own production of serotonin and dopamine, keeping them calm and helping them go down faster, they would be dissolved, distributed and finally ingested by the Onmed in their groves.
“There, now,” the Old would then boast, satisfied, “Wasn’t that worth the effort of producing the Drug?”
But Youth was obstinate. “There just has to be more to life than this.”
When enough large animals had tumbled to their doom, the dissemination of The Drug was halted until more was needed. Animals would regain at least some of their senses, but they would stay stupid enough to stick around the area. Enough animals lived and died and pooped in their vicinity that it kept the lesser plants fertile and attracted more. Ecosystems of pasture lands developed to support them so that they never wanted. They always had everything they would need.
Until the Hard Things came.
“What are they?” asked concerned Youth who had never known a time when they weren’t surrounded by paradise, Youth whose imagination had been stifled and atrophied.
But for onc, Age couldn’t answer.
It walked on two feet, which was unusual enough. They tried to snare it with several permutations of The Drug, but the beast ignored them, until it noticed the ecstatic state that the animals were in. If the Onmed could detect radio or even soundwaves or understand language, they might have heard the young astronaut report to her supervisor that she was going to check out something strange.
So many of the surrounding cattle were now lumbering towards the Grove that the Onmed were forced to release the experimental antipheromone to repel them, while simultaneously casting the real Drug wide over their heads in a complicated procedure based almost entirely on a youthful curiosity.
The heavy bipedal beast came closer, but not because she was entranced herself. She found the pool through the row of trees—
“Lieutenant! Report back!”
“I just need to get a closer look Captain…”
But the ground around the pool was slick. She slipped and tumbled. Finally, something new, something exciting. They wondered at the texture and composition.
Something was wrong.
The substance she’d assumed was water was far more acidic, but it still wasn’t enough to eat through the spacesuit she was wearing to protect against just this sort of situation.
“What is it?” asked the Onmed in one voice. “Why does it have no taste? Why can’t we digest it?” Worse, bits of the outer layer were starting to crumble off, but, indigestible, they clogged the receptors.
And now, her struggles with the liquid had troubled the substance enough that it was splashing up out of the pool and splattering onto nearby trees, causing damage, causing… pain.
The Onmed had made a mistake in luring the beast.
Finally, a companion of hers reached her with a rope and helped to drag her out. “Come on,” he said, “Your suit looks terrible. Let’s get you off this planet and back to safety.”
But safety was no longer an option for the Onmed of Alabarch. Strangers were coming, they were falling from the stars. Soon they would come with weapons they couldn’t even imagine and the society they’d built for themselves, their very species, would be doomed. How could they be expected to defend themselves? It had been centuries since any of them had bothered to move.