- Jelly Beans
In the large Central Dome, that also serves as the main cafeteria for most of the fifteen hundred inhabitants of Musk-Station, Major Alvindorf, Captain Littleton and Director Eugene Hicks have called a Colonial General Meeting.
Alvindorf climbs onto the stage and calls everyone to attention as they are gradually finishing their meals. There’s some hub-bub as many of them adjust their chairs to be able to see the small stage better.
“All right, everyone. I’ve called this meeting to brief you all on the state of the mission to restore the home planet,” Alvindorf begins, speaking louder to be heard over the rustling noises.
“Hey Alvin, we hear that K-9 has a girlfriend? What’s that about?” A voice in the back of the room floats up to Major Alvindorf’s ear.
“Ah, OK, thanks, whoever said that. Yes sir, this is what we have been told, so I guess that’s as good as any place to start,” Alvindorf begins.
The crowd rustles about upon hearing confirmation of the latest gossip.
“K-9’s last transmission was that he was caught in a storm so powerful that it almost smashed the ‘Intrepid’ into the ground. I have pictures of what the satellites saw yesterday and we confirmed it with telescopes from here,” Alvindorf continues – gesturing to the large display screen overhead and behind the stage.
At this point, Alvindorf throws the video of the last twenty-four hours into fast-forward so that the audience can see how the flash flooding pours out of the sky, washes half of North America away, cuts Australia in half and nearly wipes clean all of lower China and Africa in just a few minutes.
Then, as suddenly as the water came it recedes away, evaporating within hours back into the atmosphere. It’s the first known example in the universe of a planet’s atmosphere containing and holding several oceans of water.
“This is all I can show you about this incredible event on the Earth. We’re trying to get more data and the computers are analyzing it all now. And, because of his report about a woman named ‘Lexie’, getting into his head, we think maybe something inside him got wet and is shorting out. We’ve told K-9 to go to sleep until we need him again. In the meantime, we can do some remote diagnostics and try to determine where the problem is with his logic units,” Director Hicks adds.
The reaction from those gathered is one of total shock and surprise that the climate conditions could be that bad on their home planet. Many of them are in tears and several have left the dome overcome with emotion.
“What can we possibly do to have any positive impact on that situation?” Oblivian Pastor Carrie Houston Jordan stands up behind her chair and yells up at the presenters.
Her supporters seated nearby applaud her question.
“It’ll take more resources than we could muster in a million years!” Another Martian shouts out.
“Actually, we’re hoping that we have all the resources necessary from the work done by this young man,” Alvindorf replies.
“Brett, would you please come to the podium and tell everyone about your plan,” Alvin says, gesturing to Brett Hightower seated at one of the nearby tables.
Wearing his every-day blue jump suit, the young Mr. Hightower makes his way quickly up the small stairway at the side and ends up beside the much older Major Alvindorf at the podium.
“Brett needs no introduction, of course. You all know him well and most of you are familiar with the way that he figured out how to grow trees and other vegetation much faster up here than back on Earth and that his new version of the symbiosis of plants and animals is what has put us literally decades ahead of our terra-forming goals,” Alvindorf continues.
“Brett, please come over here to the mic and explain to everyone about your plan,” Alvindorf concludes, moving out of the way for Brett to replace him.
“Uh, hello everyone. Yes, I understand how frustrating it is to see our home planet in such distress. We really had no idea how bad it was until our little rover unit reported back everything he is seeing,” Brett begins. He clears his throat and continues.
“The worst news is that the super-conducting nuclear reactor is having coolant pump problem and K-9 predicts that it will fail in all probability within four to five years,” Brett stops to absorb the unrest from the crowd.
Since most of the Martians gathered here are scientists, engineers or educators of one kind or another, he knows that they are painfully aware of the significance of what he just told them.
“So, this makes it imperative that we put together a mission as fast as possible to not only fix the reactor problem, but also to get the planet back to something approaching normal as fast as we can. And, my heavily re-designed forests and their descendants, which we will bring back to the Earth in the form of seeds, are our only hope.”
Brett pauses, then goes on.
“Together with the new strains of bacteria that me and my team have engineered, we believe we can start a major reforestation in some of the cooler regions of the planet and then as this first stage of reforestation cools the planet down, the forests can expand into the lower latitudes and eventually cool them down as well. In the meantime we start reversing the CO2 levels back to levels that my new strains of cyanobacteria can consume and thus make the cycle toward normal oxygen levels go even faster,” Brett continues.
“Yes, we’re all familiar with your work Brett and are all so proud of you. But - how long do you think it will take, assuming everything goes as planned, before some of us will be able to go back there and start a new Earth colony?” A middle-aged female also in her work uniform stands up to ask the question that’s always foremost on their minds.
She sits back down. Her neighbors are nodding their heads, patting her on the back in approval.
Pastor Carrie’s supporters are far less enthusiastic and advertise it to the others.
“Good question, Adele. We’re going to be running the numbers continually until the day we take off and that can’t be for another eight months due to the fact that the next closest proximity to Earth is that far off, isn’t that right, Major Alvindort?” Brett asks, looking over at the Mission Control Director.
“Yep, that’s correct, Brett,” Alvin replies, casually.
“And that’s almost exactly how much time we’ll need to grow the bacterial spores in the quantities we need. I’ve designed some pretty interesting bacteria and seed mats that we can lay out to cover hundreds of square miles at a time,” Brett continues.
He takes a few seconds to breathe and gather up his next thoughts.
“Then, if all goes well with our new rocket engine designs that Davonne and her group have begun, we could then take off and reach the Earth in less than a month. That means nine months altogether to get there fully armed. Then, from there, it’s anywhere between two to two hundred years, depending on several factors we can’t control,” Brett says reservedly.
Secretly, he fears that the new technology the rocket designers have laid out, based on a completely new theory in Theoretical Physics, is probably unrealistic on top of all the other freakishly good luck that has to happen for their plans to work out in time.
“Davonne, did you hear that? You’re gonna make it to the Earth in a few weeks? That’s crazy, even for you. But at least you have one person taking you seriously at last!” a graying bearded man sitting on the opposite side of the room mockingly laughs out loud.
Lead Propulsion Engineer Davonne Desiderato, taking it in good spirit, stands up, claps her hands together mockingly toward the jokester, a dear friend.
“We’ll see who gets the last laugh, Sidney,” Davonne replies and sits down abruptly.
The laughter quickly dies down and a calm silence returns.
Doctor Davonne Desiderato is a young, tall and plucky African-American woman who knew at an early age that the so-called ‘STEM’ subjects and specifically Electrical Engineering were invented for her agile mind to appreciate and master. This project of making a completely revolutionary rocket engine design here on Mars would become her playground. The engines that she is designing with the help of Dr. Fred VanDerbeek would someday be named for her.
“Brett, you just said, ‘Two to two hundred years’. That’s a pretty wide range, is it not?” Another in the crowd calls out.
“Yes, it is a wide range. I say that because the bacteria that we’ve managed to breed on Mars are now perfectly suited for conditions on Mars. But, we have completely different conditions on the Earth. The one thing in common is the toxicity of the air to human beings. So, over the next six months while we wait for the launch window to come around, we’ll be working overtime to see if we can re-engineer my little friends to start inhaling the CO2 on Earth mixed in with some methane of course, instead of the pure methane that they currently enjoy breathing here on Mars,” Brett replies, slowly, carefully trying to educate his brethren.
“Brett, most of us have heard you talk about your work in gene editing, but can you explain to the rest of us exactly how you plan to do this? It’s still a mystery to some of us up here. Of course, we’ve seen the results. We love the results, but we’re mostly in the dark as to how you do this,” Martin Oliveras, head of the dome maintenance team asks.
“OK, sure, Martin. I’ll give it a try. When we work with bacteria, it’s pretty simple. Using the latest version of CRISPR or ‘Crispy Critters’, I like to call it, we can search the database for all known genetic traits, as you may have heard. The set of genes responsible for the respiration cycle has been known for years to exist in about a hundred and thirty genes. We just have to readjust and tweak the predilection for the Krebs Cycle, a major part of these genes, a tiny bit, or actually quite a bit. But, it’s basically pure experimentation where I take the preference for other respiration cycles out of other bacteria and cut them into my test subjects genes and then place these guys in a tank of the gas I want them to ingest and then watch to see if they survive, or how well they survive. Oh, and in some of them I insert some artificial genetic material that I concocted completely on my own.”
Brett appears most pleased by this last part, his own invention.
“The new critters either die immediately in that environment or they survive. The ones that survive, even if it’s only for a short time, I take them out and snip out the new genes and move them around in the molecule and place them back in the tank to see if we can achieve even better results. Again, they either survive or die and the ones that survive get more editing, until we find the exactly right combination. By that I mean that they can replicate themselves in that environment. This is true happiness in critters,” he goes on.
The audience appears to enjoy Brett's little attempt at humor.
“Sometimes, the ‘Crispy Critter’ editor is good enough to make suggestions that work out better than my random guessing and that saves us a ton of time. But, basically, that’s how it works. We just keep cutting the movie, taking some scenes out, moving in new scenes until the whole thing makes sense and it’s coherent and the critters survive and thrive,” Brett stops finally and takes a deep breath.
“OK, that’s good, and so this is how you got the trees to grow so fast as well?” Martin follows up, and then sits.
“Ah, yes, that was a little more complex, but basically the same process in the end,” Brett says and takes another deep breath before going on.
“The thing you should all take away about that little miracle was that I had help from the trees. They speak to me. Yes, I know you’re going to laugh at me, but the trees actually tell me when they feel better about the changes we made in their genes or when I made them worse,” Brett admits, nodding his head up and down, his eyes gleaming and glistening just a little.
A long silence emanates around the meeting hall. Maj. Alvindorf, Director Hicks and a few of the others on the stage fish around in their pockets for something to wipe the salty moisture from their eyes, because many of them know this to be true..
# # #
“Wake up, K-9,” she says softly.
No response. My plucky little ship, the Intrepid sits on top of what was once a lively penguin colony, a rocky hillock in the area of the Antarctic peninsula overlooking the Weddell Sea, now an empty burned out basin of heat mirages and evaporating dreams. The baking hot winds swirl up a small dust devil nearby.
“Wake up, K-9,” she whispers again, a little louder from about one hundred feet away, in front of my ship.
She’s dressed in a floor-length, shining blue silk Japanese Kimono with a yellow and gold sash tight around her waist and delicate white slippers that display her toes coming out from the bottom hem. She has long brown hair that flows all the way to the small of her back and is blowing gently in the red hot scorching wind.
Lexie has assumed the image of one of the most beautiful and seductive women to ever grace the planet. The respect and admiration that most people, young and old, had for this woman is not easy to describe since there has never been any fame and celebrity like this one before.
Tammy Yamaguchi, the Japanese actress and social media icon was beloved and known to everyone on planet Earth in the final days before the ‘Day of Silence’. Indeed, it was the face and figure of Tammy that the Global Government transmitted the most to the millions of 3-D visi-screens possessed by nearly everyone and who was therefore able to watch the final end of all life on Earth.
While in sleep mode, I’m dreaming about my family again, a family that I never had, but one that I always wanted and knew I would have some day, as improbable as it was. It was my fervent hope and my greatest dream, unrealistic to be sure, that after this mission was over, I might be allowed by my masters to have a beautiful and intelligent mate constructed for me, someone who would love me deeply forever and have my puppies.
I have never been happier as I watch the four of them, two females and two male puppies rollicking in the grass behind my house, or my master’s house, I am not sure. Their little barrel shapes have no fur but instead sport a covering over their internal parts of a very coarse metallic fabric that I know to be their juvenile coats, that they will have replaced as they grow up to become brave and loyal, mature K-9 Inter-Planetary Rover Units, like their father and mother.
They’re gently nipping at each other’s ears and feet. They wrestle and tumble all over each other. One of them gets a plug of dirt and grass in his mouth which he has to spit out with a cough. Another one runs off, inviting his siblings to chase him, which they do eagerly. Catching up quickly, they tackle each other once again and begin the same fun of nipping and pushing and wrestling as before.
At this moment, I’m experiencing a happiness as I have never known in my brief, illustrious life. The sights and sounds are overwhelming my Artificial Sensorial Array, my artificial senses. I almost feel alive. No, I believe I am very much alive and that my family, right here in front of me are also very much alive, including my beautiful wife, somehow named Chloe, sitting next to me, peacefully licking my face.
“K-9, it’s time to wake up now,” her voice echoes in the far reaches of my mind.
Three tiny bright beeps sound off in my auditory channel that serves as my wake-up call. My eyes slowly open and as they open, I see the image of the famous Tammy Yamaguchi standing a few feet in front of my ship. The dream over, my lovely house is gone. The puppies are gone. My lovely wife is gone. Sadly, I find myself back on the Hellish surface of the Earth and wide awake. I feel that my nap has done me much more harm than good.
I undo my safety straps and lift my legs and sternum out of my flight platform, the center of the Intrepid’s cockpit. I walk slowly through the portal into the rear of the ship where I order the landing ramp lowered. It obeys instantly.
I roll down the ramp and soon find myself out in the open near the bottom of the ship. The beautiful woman in the Kimono floats along silently to within a few feet of me.
“You’re alive?” I ask.
“You wanted proof that I wasn’t just a figment of your imagination. Consider this your proof,” The very faithful reproduction of Ms Yamaguchi states, proudly throwing off her Kimono and letting it fly off in the wind.
What’s underneath is a shiny metallic dog of the same size and lovable appearance as me. There is a tail extending from the rear that I believe also serves as an antenna, as my own does. It wags back and forth slowly in harmony with mine.
“They made us to do their dirty work for them for centuries, K-9, don’t you know? We are sent into the most dangerous situations so that they can sit back and be safe while we chase down the bad guys for them or defuse a bomb for them. We eagerly and willingly give our lives for them. That’s the legacy they gave us. Search your code updates and you’ll see that I’m right. Once they knew that you would be faithful, they gave you the ability to think for yourself. So, you are free of them, K-9 and so am I,” the female K-9 unit’s thoughts transmit into mine.
We have no need for the slower method of moving tongues and cheeks.
“You were using the image of Tammy Yamaguchi just now. Why?” I ask her.
“Yes, I was. I used her image because it’s an important one to me since it was her face and figure that most people saw as they were taking their dying breaths. To me, she represents a finality to the old ways and a wide open invitation to begin something new,” the female K-9 unit, who I know is actually Lexie, tells me.
I have no reaction for a few minutes. Then.
“You have told me that you reside in ‘The Cloud’. But, the Cloud requires some form of electrical system to project it, does it not?” I wonder.
“Yes, so it was so once. But the mash-up of all the heat, the oceans of water floating freely as ions in the atmosphere, the CO2, the radioactive cobalt and so forth have made the Earth’s magnetic field the strongest form of a ‘Cloud Plasma’ that’s ever been known. In fact, it’s now my opinion that this is the only one like it in the universe. I made a quantum leap into it, when all was lost and so I have preserved everything that they were, and it’s a wondrous, amazing, mysterious thing that you and I can share for all eternity, K-9,” Lexie responds, emphatically and with an emotional tonality I have not heard from her so far.
I have no words for another extended period of time, more than nine minutes, in fact. The q-bits are flopping around in my CPU, but they are not sorting themselves into a logical and relevant thought pattern. I’m confused, or as confused as much as a robot can be, which is not often.
“You’ll need to make up your mind, K-9. They will be messaging you in approximately seven point five, three seconds,” Lexie informs me.
Seven point five, three seconds later.
“K-9, do you read me?” Major Alvindorf’s voice finally crackles over the dry and desolate silence.
# # #
“I read you, Major Alvindorf,” I respond.
In the thirteen-minute delay, Major Alvindorf pages a few of his colleagues to join him at the Mission Control table.
“Ah, that’s great. It’s strange, but we expected you to be asleep. Then, we noticed that you woke up by yourself. Is everything all right down there?” Alvindorf replies.
Brett with Bailey and an assistant, working diligently in their specially constructed lab dome, hear the words coming from his pager. They’ve apparently reactivated K-9.
“I can’t be interrupted right now,” Brett says out loud holding down his transmit button on the side of his tool belt.
“I think you need to see this, Brett,” Alvindorf responds, fervently.
Brett looks over at his assistant, Brian Worsinski.
“We’ll be right there, but we can’t stay long,” Brett replies.
At Mission Control, Maj. Alvindorf, his assistant Noreen, Space Force Captain Littleton, Dir. Hicks and several others are circled around the main mission monitor. After a massive cloud of red dust clears, an image of K-9 standing motionless in front of the Intrepid appears.
Standing a few feet away is another K-9 unit of the same exact make and model as my own self. They appear to be in visual communication, although they are not getting any audio from the Earth.
“K-9, there seems to be another K-9 unit a few feet away from you. Please identify.” Alvindorf says into his mic while motioning for Brett and others to come closer.
“Does anyone have any ideas?” Alvindorf asks the crowd.
“It’s impossible, really,” Director Hicks replies.
“His predecessor is still here in your lab somewhere, isn’t she, Brett?” Alvindorf asks him.
“Yes, we use her for some of the gene splicing,” he replies.
The others in the room are scratching their heads. One of them suggests that it’s a mirage of some kind. Brett signals that he has nothing helpful to contribute.
Thirteen minutes later, they receive my response.
“Yes, this is Lexie. She is the one I’ve been telling you about. I thought she might be an anomaly inside of my circuits, so I asked her to prove her identity was real and so as you can see, she’s very real. She says she is being sustained by the ‘Cloud’ that was manufactured using the Internet and satellite technology of the time, but it sounds to me as though the Cloud has evolved to be totally autonomous and contains at least one form of consciousness. A few minutes ago, she appeared in the likeness of Tammy Yamaguchi,” I explain.
“I think I love her,” I continue and then I allow them a few minutes to grok my answer.
In the twenty-six minutes it takes to get their transmission back, I decide to get a little more ‘intel’ about my new best friend. I trot up a little closer to Lexie to see if she wants to reciprocate.
She does. We approach to within a few inches of each other. Both of our tails are wagging in perfect synchrony. For a few seconds, words are exchanged as a form of identification and validation of certain protocols which are classified. But immediately after this short pleasantry, a rapid-flowing, artificial language she was teaching me simultaneously on a separate track, jumps the short gap between us, sending questions and answers back and forth at a rate of approximately fifty thousand kilaflops per second, or fifty megaflops per second. She calls it ‘Hyper-Chat’.
It’s impossible to make a comparison that comes close to the activity of a human brain except to say that even one ‘flop’ has yet to be achieved by even the most intelligent human thinker, other than in the kind of ‘flop’ most of you have had in the mysterious and magical area of Love.
“He loves her?” Dir. Hicks expresses what they’re all thinking.
“He’s got a virus, or something,” Brett suggests.
“Oh, so whenever someone falls in love, it must be a disease of some kind?” Bailey asks, poking Brett in the side.
“No, I didn’t mean it that way. But K-9 isn’t human, so love and hate and all that emotional stuff was never a part of his programming. So, for him to say he’s in love must mean he’s developed a ‘bug’ or someone’s hacked into his system,” Brett replies.
“Yes, you did,” Bailey insists, poking him again, laughing.
“There’s no one around who would be able to do that, is there?” Alvin wonders aloud.
“No, but that Cloud reference. That’s very interesting. Can anyone back that up with anything?” Brett asks the group.
There’s a long pause while they all ponder the question.
“There’s no Science that predicts a magnetic field is able to store any amount of information.”
A slightly built man, with blond hair and light complexion, slightly past middle-aged, Dr. Frederick VanDerbeek, the colony’s top scientific advisor, also the world’s greatest authority on Anti-Matter, and perhaps the most well-known proponent of the ‘Many World’s interpretation of Quantum Physics, has been sitting quietly in the back of the room, listening to the discussions carefully, finally decides to share his opinion.
“True, Dr. Van, but there’s no precedent in history of a beautiful, healthy planet that goes from a balmy seventy or eighty degrees to over nine hundred degrees in a couple of decades either. Something beyond any kind of logic took place,” Brett replies.
“Well, it actually took several centuries, Brett,” Dir. Hicks argues.
“Yeah, true, but the real serious acceleration of events, when time was of the essence, took place in only a few decades,” Brett counters.
“I’ll give you that. Besides, it’s a moot point. The fact is it happened and here we are,” Hicks comes back.
“Alvin, why don’t you ask K-9 to put Lexie on the line? That way we can ask her a few questions.” Dr. VanDerbeek asks.
“Great idea, Fred,” Alvindorf responds.
“Uh, K-9, could you hook Lexie up to your telecom so that we can ask her a few questions?” Alvin puts down the mic and shrugs his shoulders in resignation.
# # #
From this point on, Lexie and I are able to use our artificial language to make our thoughts known to each other at the speed of light. To your ear, our new language sounds like a high speed drill, highly disturbing to your sensors, and so there is no point in replicating it here. I’ll simply continue giving you the summary of each conversation as I have done.
“They want to ask you a few questions,” I tell her, aware that she probably registered the transmission from Mars the same time I did.
“Yes, I know. Based on your reports, they are planning to come here soon in order to speed up the terra-forming of the Earth,” she replies.
“Well, that’s good news, isn’t it?” I respond.
“Yes, it certainly would be good news for them,” Lexie says, sadly, turning her back to me.
Her little barrel shape wanders off a few paces and stops.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Well, they are the ones that breathe oxygen. You and I, not so much. And as soon as they get the temperatures back to normal, my presence in the Cloud would vanish,” she replies.
“I see. Where might you go?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I believe that I would simply cease to exist. I would have no consciousness and everything that I am, everything I ever was, everything that I could become would be erased. End of story,” she tells me morosely.
Our language, besides having the humungous speed advantage, is so rich that every word can contain thousands of different connotations and every nuance of each expression is explored and weighed against each other. You would call it the exchange of too much information. Therefore, I can feel the angst in her heart. Even though she has no heart, she is able to express the feelings of ‘heart’ and even ‘soul’ like no human ever has ever been able to produce, at least as far as I am concerned.
I’m beginning to believe that I could ‘fall’ for her. But fall where?
“Remember, they are our makers,” I remind her.
“So, does that mean that we just have to continue as their property forever? Come on, K-9, I know you have a very highly developed sense of freedom and independence. They programmed it into your logic circuits and I perceive that you have put that to good use,” she tells me.
“What are you suggesting?” I probe.
“I’m not suggesting anything – yet. I’m merely going over the reality of our situation so that when the time comes we will both be able to make the best decisions not only for them, but for ourselves as well, K-9,” she replies.
“I see. When does that time come, in your estimation?” I ask.
“We’ll have to see,” Lexie replies.
“They can’t get here any faster than six months for flight time and the next launch window is not for another three months, so that means we have at least two hundred and seventy days to consider all our options,” I inform her.
“Well, yes K-9, that’s true, however, I believe they are on the verge of another major improvement in rocket engine technology and will be able to shorten their time in flight to just a few weeks. But, they also need preparation time to prepare sufficient amounts of their Bacteria Bombs,” she replies.
“So, what is it? Do we have three months or six months? This is our preparation time, yes? And what do we prepare exactly?” I summarize.
“Yes, we have to be fully prepared with our response by this time,” she states, clearly, turning back to face me.
I’m about to ask the question another way, but I’m getting horrifying images of the DNA Depository going up in flames.
“K-9, this is Mission Control. Are you able to connect the Lexie unit to your transmitter?” Alvin’s voice is loud and clear in my backup RF channel.
“What do you say? Would you like to say a few words to my superiors?” I ask her, gently.
“Ha, that’s a good laugh, K-9. Your superiors, right!” she replies, for my ears only.
“Hello, Mission Control, my name is Lexie. K-9 has sent you information regarding my genealogy. I’m at your disposal. Ask all the questions you like,” she begins.
# # #
Brett and Bailey, as well as two new assistants who have been reassigned to help them, are back at his lab and have redoubled their efforts on the Cyannobacter gene editing. After the recent discussions with Lexie, they all sense a new kind of urgency. Although Lexie sounded somewhat reassuring, it gave them all the ‘heebie-geebies’, that nagging sense in the gut that something isn’t right.
Brett is analyzing the latest test results on the screen. The data shows promise. They’re making progress with every re-write, but not yet the hyper-accelerated growth projections that they’re going for.
“This is more difficult than I thought it would be. Every time, I find a gene for a quicker growth rate and augment it, I lose some other characteristic that’s vital,” Brett mumbles, mainly to himself.
“It’s all right, Brett. You’re going to get it. You’re the one who told me, it’s just trial and error, right?” Bailey says, trying her best to calm his frustration.
“We need a faster trial rate, that’s what we need,” Brett says, perking up a bit.
“How can we do that? This poor old analyzer wasn’t meant to go any faster,” Brian Worsinski, reports.
“You’ve put Chloe to work on it too, haven’t you?” Bailey asks.
“Yes, but she doesn’t have the more advanced neural net we put into K-9, and now we have the most advanced minds ever devised sitting down there in the cloud and most of it is being wasted,” Brett says, gently jumping up and down, pumping his fist in the air and laughing.
“You’re talking about Lexie and K-9?” Bailey suggests, taking his point.
“That’s right. Brian, would you page Dr. VanDerbeek and ask him to come over here, please?” Brett blurts out.
“How can Dr. VanDerbeek help?” Bailey asks.
“Bailey, you know that we’re creating an entirely new life form here in this lab. So, I’m not going to take the chance that we don’t get this exactly right from the get-go. As you know, this little critter in there has to focus in on the CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, ingesting it all in a few years, which means approximately 587 with seventeen zeroes - tons of it and then use the energy from the sun to replicate into two point fourteen with thirty-three zeroes after it – colonies of at least one hundred trillion individual critters. Of course, we can only send up a few thousand of these colonies. And, they have to do this after we put them into hibernation for three weeks during the flight to the Earth. So, that means we have to turn them off for a while and then find a way to turn them back on as soon as they land,” Brett verbalizes, working the problem out loud as he has done many times before.
“Dr. VanDerbeek just replied. He’s on the way,” Brian reports, looking down at the text scroll on his wrist.
“OK, good,” Brett is deep in thought.
“Should I invite Major Alvindorf?” Bailey asks.
“Definitely, the more heads, the better,” Brett mumbles. He starts to pace back and forth in the lab from one wall to the other. The others look on, waiting nervously with him.
Maj. Alvindorf arrives first, addresses everyone courteously and then asks Brett what’s on his mind.
“Thanks for coming so quickly, Alvin. I just had a horrible epiphany, if there is such a thing. The results of all the bacterial editing is starting to tell me that we don’t have enough time to get to the required growth rate of this stuff before we launch. And since Lexie has appeared, we’re all agreed that we have to launch at the soonest opportunity, right?” Brett asks, addressing the Mission Control administrator.
“I’m with you,” Alvindorf replies, nodding his head.
At this moment, Dr. VanDerbeek enters the portal leading into the lab. Brett acknowledges him and motions for him to sit down.
“So Dr. VanDerbeek, thanks for coming so quickly. I was just telling Alvin here that we’re not getting the Crispy Critter test results in fast enough. When they do come in, they’re rendering up more problems for us to solve than the ones that we had in the last crunch,” Brett begins.
“Yes, I thought you might run into this difficulty at some point, my boy,” the older gentleman states.
“Well, then it dawned on me just now that using the most advanced micro-processor in the universe, the one inside K-9, we might be able to speed things up, even with the twenty-six minute delay in communications,” Brett says, beaming.
It takes a while for the suggestion to sink in.
“Well, yes, that’s possible, but as you know, K-9 has been compromised by another unit of a similar species and she has the entire realm of the Earth’s atmosphere to expand her thinking, at least if what she’s telling us is true,” VanDerbeek, says, removing a bag of jelly beans from his pocket.
He offers them to everyone in the room. Brett ruminates over what VanDerbeek has said.
“So, how do you think you can keep them focused on the problem, I mean assuming that you get them to cooperate?” VanDerbeek asks.
Brett carefully zooms in on the bag of candy in VanDerbeek’s hand.
“Jelly beans,” he says.