“The interplanetary body C-4758-A6950981—did I get all the numbers right?” she paused turning back to check her counterpart, “oh good,” she faced the visors again, “is just that: a wayward asteroid. Not even of great enough girth to merit the name, planetoid. And though it plays host to a single bacterium, it will never be more than that or home to anything else. We cannot maintain the preservationist attitude that influences interplanetary policies in such a harmful manner. Furthermore, our models indicate that if left to its own trajectory, this interplanetary body will plummet so close to our host star as to annihilate any life on it.”
“I’ll trust your models when they begin to indicate anything other than a positive outlook on any asteroid harness that contains large traces of rare earth metals.”
“This concerns more than an asteroid Dav——“
“Of course it is, it’s an interplanetary body, a near rogue planet, and more than that it is an extra-terrestrial biome!”
“One bacterium on an atmosphereless lump fails to cross the threshold of a biome.”
“It’s good to know that academic distinctions are best understood by corporate entities rather than academic institutions. How foolish of us to think we had an established definition for what does or does not entail an extra-terrestrial biome. I truly appreciate your generosity in such a kindhearted explanation, which of course would in no way be skewed by an enormous financial incentive.”
“You’ve always had a penchant for spineless snark.”
“Call it the hardened cynicism of someone who protested the Melwinsky Decision. I’m afraid I at this juncture of my career I can muster nothing else.” The glare of the lights reflected off the visors.
“That’s beside the point as is the discussion of a possible biome on C-4758-A6950981. Whether there is a biome or not, there will not be once it has orbited our host star and obliterated any remnant of the bacterium. If we wait until the bump-window has passed, the body will continue on its current trajectory to be roasted by our host star.”
“There is no evidence that a bacterium which survived deep space would be unable to survive the exigencies of a close orbit and the temperatures induced by such a trajectory. We are making assumptions when we have no samples.”
“Even if it could survive the temperatures, what does it matter? These bacteria are virtually lifeless, nothing more than mere microbes and provide no value. They leech life from the iron and replicate on one of the richest asteroids we have ever encountered. These metals will provide jobs, and inject life into a slagging mining industry off of D-EST-1.”
“These bacteria have enormous value. This is only the third self-sustaining extra-terrestrial biome we have ever discovered. Knowledge about these creatures (which we have called bacteria based on initial scans, but we cannot really know) could be invaluable in better ascertaining the necessary conditions for life. Furthermore, these creatures live in extremis. They survive one of the harshest conditions we have ever encountered in a self-sustaining biome. The bump window needs to be delayed in order to obtain samples.”
“The bump window has already been delayed for these useless discussions! Every second that passes by this object has moved another 25 kilometers and becomes magnetically more expensive to retrieve. Interplanetary retrieval Industries survive on two razors edges, that of discovery, and that of the bump window. If you slip just a little in either instance, you have your throat cut. You can get the samples when we retrieve the body. There is no reason our objectives need to be mutually exclusive.”
“You are an excellent masseuse of fact, madam. The impact from the bump could cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem rendering any study of it impossible.”
“Which it will become regardless.”
“There is no guarantee that the ecosystem could not survive the orbit!”
“This rock has been through deep space for hundreds of millions of years. Whatever is alive on it has never come that close to a planet, much less a star. It is incredibly unlikely that it would survive the orbit and even if it did, the rendezvous on the far side would be near impossible as we have already ran the figures. These are rare metals embedded in that rock, worth Decillions to this system.”
“We cannot interfere in a self-sustaining extra-terrestrial ecosystem.”
“Not even to save it?”
“How truly selfless of you——“
“I suggest the Inter-Parliament now having heard the two expert opinions put it to an immediate public referendum.”
“The public should not be voting on whether or not we should be protecting extra-terrestrial ecosystems. This is a matter of policy, not a matter of public opinion!”
An Intersect spoke:
The Inter-Parliament of the Daffod System moves to put the proposed intercept and ‘bump’ of C-4758-A6950981 to a mandatory public referendum. All in favor?
A moment passed in silent counting.
The motion passes 11 to 2.
“This is a matter of policy! These sorts of decisions should not be put to the public. They have much to gain at the expense of these organisms which cannot speak for themselves. We cannot do this! WE HAVE NO RIGHT. This is not our decision to make without consulting the Institution of Interplanetary Studies——” The movement amongst the on-site audience and the drop in viewers indicated the end of the hearing. He loosened his grip on the spiro-pad and accepted the decision he had expected all along.
He looked up. What the hell–Why not give it one last hurrah? “This should be beyond our sphere of influence!” he yelled, “Our first encounter with an alien lifeform in this system should not result in extermination for a passing profit.” No one heard. No one noticed.
A short while later, the results came over the Intersects: The referendum passes 62% to 23% with 15% in abstentia. UB INT Technologies may proceed with the bump after meeting with regulatory monitors and complying with the proscribed interplanetary protocols as well as the necessary…
A ringing swelled in his ears before bursting into head and into the back of his eyes. He hung his head and sat for a long while before someone from his lab came and pulled him away. The Inter-Parliament would now hear proposals on recreational satellites in low orbit around the system’s EST-1.