The Martian Transformation Project was a mere five years old when Lu arrived. Brash, energetic and ready for a challenge, he had enthusiastically accepted the position with the MTP as an entry-level terraformation engineer and had optimistically taken the shuttle to Mars. Only twenty-four and fresh out of M.I.T., the Malaysian Institute of Terraforming, he was among the very first to arrive and begin the herculean job of converting the red planet into another blue one. There were thirty-seven people "on planet" then. Now, twenty years later, he was Director Lu Deong in charge of the South Polar Region and there were over thirty thousand. Engineers, roboteers, bio-mechanics, pod-farmers, scientists, construction personnel, support staff, all working diligently towards the vaunted, lofty and still very distant goal of self-sufficiency.
Water was the key. Water is life, and the massive array of aquifiers in his sector were the largest producer of H2O on the planet. That is why whenever his vid-phone rang and it was yet another call from his always frantic chief engineer, Scott Marsh, he began to worry.
“Drama queen,” he said aloud, then pushed the button to accept the call.
“Scotty,” Lu said, trying to sound cheery.
“Lu, you’d better get down here,” the engineer said, in his usual life or death manner. Lu didn’t think much of it at first.
“What now?” the director said loudly, as he no longer could see Marsh’s face in the screen. He was trying very hard not to sound annoyed.
The man’s face popped back into the screen and shouted, “Just get down here.” The screen went blank.
Lu swore in his native Mandarin, and made his way towards the transport tube. Minutes later, he was standing in the Main control room for the aquifier array; his hands on his hips, staring at the frenetic, whirling dervish that was his chief engineer as he tried to do everything at once.
“Well?” Lu asked.
“Look,” said Marsh, pointing at a large window that separated the control room from a small sealed bio-lab that was of late occupied by a young microbiologist named Johnson, studying core samples.
He walked over to the window and looked but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. There was a large black stain on the floor but other than that, everything looked normal. The other man joined him there, and together they stared through the window.
“What?” said the director, puzzled.
“There,” said the other, pointing at the stain.
“What is that?” asked Lu.
“Johnson,” Marsh said morbidly.
Lu swore, again in Mandarin.
“Whatever it was just liquefied him in seconds,” said the engineer, “One minute he was standing there working, the next…
“What the heck is it?” the director cut him off.
“I don’t know!” shouted the unhinged engineer, “But whatever it is the bio-counters are off the wall.”
“You mean it’s alive?” Lu said.
“Apparently,” said Marsh, “some kind of germ or something I guess. It must have come from the rocks he was working on.”
Lu looked again through the foot thick, carbon polymer window and could now see that almost everything in the room was disintegrating, the walls, the tables, even the window itself began to show great black streaks.
“Is it sealed?” Lu asked.
“It’s sealed,” returned Marsh.
Lu kept staring through the window, which was now almost impossible to see through. It grew blacker, then fell away to dust and was gone.
Excerpt from Final Project Report published by Lead Microbiologist Dr. Omunique Jones, on may 6, 2113 …
It has been determined that the microbe that caused the destruction in the Southern Polar Region of Mars, and the deaths of Director Deong and his crew is naturally dormant in
anaerobic environments. The presence of oxygen in the bio-lab caused the organism to multiply exponentially. As the microbe seems to have the ability to instantly break down all carbon based
molecules it is highly recommended that no rescue attempt be made and that all items that have been or may have been exposed be immediately disposed of
Tommy Ormond, a hop-headed day-laborer, barely working at the final clean-up of the once bustling home world terminus of the Martian Transformation Project found a small bag containing a pair of boots while disposing of some trash.
“Cool,” he said to himself, “Mars boots, all right,” and tore open the vacuum sealed bag.
He watched in horror as what had looked like a small black smudge on one of the boots began to quickly grow, instantly dissolving the boots, the bag , his arm…
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