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“It looks a lot like Venus,” Ron Saunders said, looking down
on the colorful planet through the ship’s main monitor. His current client had
nicknamed the new planet Venus II and had brought him out to view the alien
world for contract negotiations.
“Oh yeah, it’s colorful and pretty, but the clouds hide a
real nasty side,” Capt. Wolff said. “If you dare go down to the surface and get
a whiff of the air down there, the poisonous gases will eat right through your
lungs, and then the carnivorous plant life will tear the rest of your body to
pieces. The important thing in this deal is we are familiar with your
terraforming experience. We need you to take out the existing plant life.”
“My price won’t be cheap,” Saunders said. “This vegetation is
really thick. Also it’s against interspace law to terraform and replace
existing native animal or plant life.” The Venus jungle reminded him of the Amazon River region on Earth, where, as a boy, he used to
chop down trees. He was amazed how, after clearing a small area, the Amazon
jungle would rapidly grow back.
“It’s only plant life,” said Specialist Jane Collins in a
self-defensive tone. “This isn’t animal life.”
“Yes, don’t be so damn self-righteous,” Wolff added. His hawk
billed face grimaced in disgust. “We are aware of your sleazy record on Earth
7. We wouldn’t bring you all the way out here without checking your record...”
A sudden chill went through Saunders.
He realized how detailed this new client was. In addition to knowing his
technical abilities on this terraforming project, Wolff and Collins also knew
of his slide to the other side of the law. They also probably knew that his
license had recently been revoked and that he couldn’t find legitimate
terraforming work. Maybe he would never be able to run away from the mistakes
he made years ago. As a firm price had not been agreed upon until he surveyed
the planet and this client also probably knew about his tightrope-like
financial situation, he strategically decided it wise to lower his job bid.
“A million interspace dollars,” he said.
“Okay, a million. You have to start immediately and the job
has to be done in three Earth months,” Wolff replied.
“Three months? Terraforming is a series of short-term and
long-term processes! The complex atmosphere and temperature adjustments are
long term. I can complete only the primary work in three months.”
“We have your ship in tow. With your ship and ours you have
all the equipment you need to start tomorrow.” Wolff had an annoyed look on his
“OK. What is on the planet that you want so badly?” Saunders
“Uranium. You’re hired.”
Saunders nodded and looked again out of
the viewer to the planet. It was going to be a difficult job, but this was
very good compensation. These clients had big money behind them.
The mining company, known to most
simply as “the company,” discovered this strange, new planet in an unexplored
part of the galaxy. The advance search team, led by Capt. Wolff, were the first
humans on the new world. The team lost four men to the man-eating plants on the
first day. They lost two men on the second day, but they found rich deposits of
uranium. The survivors returned to Space Station 5 and reported back to the
company. The shadowy men at the top of the company were very interested in the
planet's potential and immediately hatched secret plans for extracting the
As the new planet was unknown to any
authorities, certain options opened up. If the voracious native species of
plants could be cleared away, the company could mine the planet successfully.
For this promising operation, they selected the biggest star ship in the
company fleet—the Cortez. The gigantic wheel-shaped ship, with supplies for
five years, a full science lab, and an eight-man crew, had the power to destroy
or build a world or both. They selected the very effective, but ruthless, Capt.
Wolff to lead a team back to the new world.
Now they needed Saunders, the
terraforming specialist, to complete the team. He would use his expertise to
map out, implement and monitor the transformation from a hostile alien world to
an earth-like planet capable of sustaining human life. After this terraforming
job, hundreds of the diverse plant species unique to Venus II would be pushed
into extinction and replaced by more manageable and less dangerous, less hungry
earth plant life.
“I’d like to see the planet surface,” Saunders said.
“I’d advise against it,” Wolff said. “It’s really dangerous.
On the other hand, it may create a feeling of revulsion that will add to your
motivation to destroy this place.”
As Wolff turned to go, he motioned to
the attractive, blond-haired Collins. Saunders knew that Collins was more than
a crew member to the captain.
“You feel like coming?” he asked.
The captain abruptly turned and left
the control room. Saunders followed and the two men headed for the far section
of the great wheeled ship. Saunders wasn’t surprised that Collins stayed on
board. She seemed a bit young for a sleaze like Wolff and a bit innocent for a
job like this. “What is a nice girl like her doing in a place like this?” he
In the cargo area, there were two
science techs, Smith and Carter, who were checking the shuttles. Wolff selected
the first shuttle and ordered Smith to join them.
Captain Wolff expertly piloted the
small shuttle away from the Cortez dock and through the Venus II atmosphere.
After they penetrated the thick veil of clouds, Saunders could see the dense
purple and green vegetation.
“The bright colors are so intense, it almost hurts the eyes
to look at it,” Saunders said.
“Yeah, you might think this vegetation is pretty, but you
haven’t seen anything yet,” Wolff said with a sinister smile. “This place is
really warped.” He pushed several buttons and released a fuel bomb into the
dense jungle. The explosion cleared a large circular area for landing.
The shuttle landed in the middle of the
jungle clearing. Donning the environmental suits, the three men stepped outside
onto the charred surface. The suit and extra weight of the 1.3 earth G’s made
Saunders feel bulky and sluggish. As he wandered to the edge of the blackened
blast area, he was surprised at the size of the tall, purple, tree-like plants.
The sloping branches and high oversized leaves blowing in the wind left large
moving shadows in the dense underbrush. It left him with a spooky impression.
Seeing a quick movement in the branches to his left, he turned quickly around.
“The moving shadows are spooky,” Wolff explained. “The reason
we go down to the surface in threes is that we need to look in all directions.
The movement that is dangerous is the creeping ground vines. The vine thing
grabs you and like a python it wraps more and more vines around you until you
suffocate. Those things killed two of my men on the first exploration team.
Also when walking through the jungle, you really have to watch your step. You
never know when you might step on one of the jaw flowers. It’s a ground plant
that grabs your foot and doesn’t let go. But the most vicious species is this
thing we call the Cobra. It’s in the deeper part of the jungle. It’s sort of a
giant Venus fly trap. The cobra thing hides on the ground and then, in a flash,
it stands up to about 20 feet and strikes at its target.”
Saunders took a step back. Like a
crouching panther, the tall hostile jungle seemed to be silently watching and
patiently waiting before striking for the kill. He had the uneasy creepy feeling
of being watched, even though he knew there was no animal life. He got the
unsettling sense that something or some kind of intelligence was watching them
from behind the shadows.
“We need to leave now,” Wolff said. The men nervously turned
and headed back to the shuttle. Saunders was startled to see that the lower
section of the craft was covered by a strange purple-green alien moss. The
fast-growing jungle was already reclaiming the land burned up by the bomb.
“Hurry up,” Wolff said. As he entered the hatch door,
Saunders heard a scream through his helmet radio. He spun around and saw
Science Tech Smith’s foot trapped by some kind of blue flowering plant that had
sprouted from the charred ground. The man seemed to be in terrible pain.
Feeling a strange tugging on his left
leg, Saunders was horrified to see a greenish alien vine aggressively wrapping
itself around his suited leg.
“Ahh!” he screamed.
Wolff quickly reached over and jabbed
at the hatch release. The door slammed safely shut and chopped the clinging
vine in two. The vine piece that had wrapped around Saunder’s leg went slack.
Both men stepped into the ship’s decontamination section.
“What about Smith?”
The captain didn’t answer and rushed
through the shuttle’s decontamination process. Then he ran up front to the
“What about Smith?” Saunders asked again as he moved into the
shuttle co-pilot seat.
“Once those jaw flowers grab hold of your foot, they never
let go,” Wolff said in a dull tone. "You have to chop off the foot. We
have to worry about ourselves now. We don’t have much time.”
The look on Wolff’s face revealed the
seriousness of the situation. Saunders could see that the shuttle windows were
already covered with the purple-green moss. Wolff fired the engines and blasted
away from the surface. The shuttle responded sluggishly at first, then headed
upward at a sharp angle as Wolff, flying blind, gunned the jets. The alien moss
finally fell away and the men could see out of the front viewer. Wolff piloted
the shuttle into a low pass over the landing area and released another fuel
bomb over the landing site. The resulting blast incinerated the landing area
along with Science Tech Smith.
“It was the least I could do,” Wolff explained.
Wolff maneuvered the shuttle into a
safe altitude. Then he went back to the hatch and deposited the dead piece of
vine into a sterile sample container. When they finally docked the shuttle to
the large mother ship, Saunders was relieved to be safely away from the planet.
Back in the science lab, Saunders threw
his energies into a detailed terraforming plan. He found to his surprise that
the captain had been right about the trip to the surface. The native plant life
of the planet was so violently hostile that it was impossible not to develop
deep, visceral negative emotions towards the strange world. It was much easier
now to rationalize the morality of destroying all life on the planet.
The first step in terraforming and
remaking Venus II in Earth’s image was to kill off the plant life. Saunders
allocated a month for this task. Since it was easier to heat up a planet than
cool it, he decided to create a runaway planetary greenhouse effect that would
kill off all vegetation. Venus II had a high concentration of methane and
ammonia—good greenhouse gases. He planned to set up a series of solettas (large
orbiting mirrors) to be placed around the planet. He estimated he could raise
the surface temperature from 100F to 900F. That should be enough to kill
Next he had to reduce the amount of
solar radiation on the surface. As Venus II had almost no magnetosphere, in the
first month he also planned to install an artificial magnetosphere. Large solar
powered electromagnets at each pole would create an effective shield that would
protect fragile human beings from intense radiation from space.
In the second month, after all
vegetation had been destroyed, he planned to change the temperature and
atmosphere to be optimal for the support of human life. By removing the solettas
and starting the removal of excess ammonia and methane, the temperature would
fall. By installing solar powered converters the long-range process of
converting the atmosphere would be started. The entire process would take
several years, but at this point in the terraforming plan, it would be safe to
walk on the planet surface in protective suits.
Another issue was the need to add extra
nitrogen to the planet’s chemistry. Saunders planned to crash asteroids into
the surface of the planet. He also planned, at this point, to stabilize the
planet’s volatile weather patterns. Venus II had a very slow planet rotation
which made for very uneven heating of the surface. The resulting sudden storms
and unpredictable winds up to 250 mph were dangerous to human life. Saunders
planned to utilize the ship’s tractor beam to tow the smallest of the planet’s
three moons in a counter clockwise motion. The gravity pull would speed up the
planet’s rotation and create days that were approximately 24 hours long.
He planned, in the third month, to
introduce genetically altered earth bacteria and lichen. Several years after
this primitive vegetation took hold, hardy Earth plants could be added.
Originally he had planned to delete two of the world’s three moons and remove the
excess salinity from the dead oceans. Now, as he realized his client wanted
merely the eradication of the vicious plant life, he decided to go with three
moons and salty seas. At the end of three months, he envisioned a planet safe
It was an ambitious and lengthy
project. He had never undertaken a terraforming job with such a radical
atmosphere change. He would have to stay for several years to monitor the
temperature drop, but after the three months, they could start mining and start
turning a profit.
Saunders sat back in his chair and
looked at the piles of paper he created. The mapping out of the terraform plan
delighted and energized him. The whole experience of the large project made him
feel like a real scientist again. It made him feel young again. He vowed to
himself that this was his last illegal job. He could use the money from this
contract to start a new life.
The next day, under Saunder's
direction, the solettas were evenly spaced in orbit around the planet and
rotated to face the system’s main star. At the same time, two crews landed
giant electromagnets on the poles. It was a long and eventful day period, but
he still felt full of energy. He decided to stay an extra three hours in the
science lab, and with great pride, powered up the electromagnets.
“All is working according to plan,” Saunders thought
confidently. He wandered back to the sleeping area and took a sleeping pill to
calm him and help him sleep.
The second-day tasks were completed on
schedule. There was one aberration. The electromagnet at one pole was
malfunctioning. Saunders was undaunted and sent a robot probe to investigate.
On the morning of the third day,
Saunders had the crew install one of the atmosphere converters on the surface.
Then something unexpected happened. The converter readout showed the mechanism
wasn’t changing the atmosphere. He was baffled. Carter, the science tech, had
informed him that the large converter mechanism was new and tested OK. The
double-check on the feedback mechanism produced nothing. He stared into the
monitor for hours, unable to reason why there was no atmospheric change. He was
considering his options when the electromagnet at the other pole failed.
Looking at the robot probe video
readout, Saunders noticed the electromagnet structure was now covered by a mass
of the purple-green moss. He speculated the resilient moss had shorted the
“Any problems?” Wolff asked. The unexpected sound of the
captain’s voice made Saunders jump.
“The fast growing moss has caused a failure of the
electromagnets on the poles. It’s no big deal. After the temperature rise kills
off all the vegetation, the electromagnets will kick in again. We’ve gotten the
temperature of the planet to rise steadily.”
On the fourth day, the planet
temperature readings showed a drop in mean temperature. By the end of the day,
the planet temperature had fallen to the original position before they started
terraforming. Saunders struggled to identify possible causes, but several hours
later, he could no longer deny a failure. He could see no discernible increase
in overall temperature. Considering the power of the orbiting mirrors, he was
perplexed at the stable temperature phenomenon. A sharp voice behind him
snapped him back to reality.
“I’m sick and tired of waiting on this,” Wolff said. He was
in a ugly mood. Collins was behind him and had a worried look on her face.
“This is nothing like anything I’ve ever seen,” Saunders
stammered. “It's like the planet is adapting to what we do and somehow dropping
“You’re useless! Time is money and I have to try something
else,” Wolff said. “I’m going to nuke everything and flood the entire
planet with radiation. That will kill all plant life and we can still turn a
“Yes, but you’ll always have to use protective suits to mine
“Radiation will be an improvement to this hellhole!” Wolff
declared angrily as he turned and walked away.
Saunders wanted to protest the captain’s
radiation decision, but he couldn’t formulate a logical counter-argument. They
were dealing with something unknown down there. Depressed and a little scared,
he picked up his notes and left the lab for the sleeping quarters. As he walked
through the storage section, he was shocked to see Collins packing supplies
into Shuttle 2.
“I’m stealing a shuttle and taking off,” Collins said. “If
you’re smart, you’ll join me.”
Saunders looked in stunned surprise at
the determined young woman. She was giving up any share of the mining operation
and abandoning her boyfriend. She was clearly shaken by this experience.
“You’re leaving Wolff?”
“Wolff was as much of a mistake as this assignment was. You
should escape too. Come with me.”
“By contract, Wolff still owes me for 25 per cent of my
terraforming fee.” Saunders explained.
“A 25 percent fee isn’t much to a dead person. I saw the
crazy look on Wolff’s face. He gets angry and frustrated when he doesn’t know
what he’s doing. As for you, you’re in way over your head.” She coldly turned
away and continued to throw supplies into the shuttle.
Saunders shook his head and walked
away. The chick must be crazy! In a small, slow shuttle, it would take Collins
about six months to get back to civilization. He walked down to the sleeping
area and collapsed on his bunk. Even though he was dead tired, an unresolved
internal turmoil prevented him from relaxing and drifting into sleep. After 20
minutes of anxious turning and staring at the ceiling, he realized what was
really bothering him. Some part of the deep inner workings of his mind was
terrified and was screaming at him to run back and join Collins in the shuttle
before it was too late.
The next day period, the great starship
took 10 evenly spaced passes around the planet and systematically saturated the
surface with hydrogen bombs. Saunders, his diminished role now being to merely
monitor the plant life, took readings on the planet surface. After 48 hours, he
was encouraged by signs that the flora was almost completely eradicated. The
entire planet was dying. News of the progress put a smile on Wolff's face and
seemed to raise the morale of the crew.
The smiles turned into gloom on the
third day. Saunders, in his daily monitoring, was greatly surprised when the
large brown patches of dead vegetation appeared significantly smaller. On the
entire planet, the jungle was clearly growing back. If that was happening,
these plants were the most resilient and adaptable species yet encountered by
“What the hell is going on?” Wolff shouted angrily as he
looked over the figures. “How could anything take a nuke pounding and all that
radiation and live?”
“I don’t know,” answered Saunders.
It was the fourth day when a strange
coughing illness hit. Two crew members developed symptoms of uncontrollable
coughing. Saunders noticed that both men had been working in the cargo hold.
That was close to where the shuttles and the science lab were located.
He thought back to that frightening day
when he ventured to the planet surface. One of the planet’s clinging vines had
grabbed his leg in a vice-like grip and the closing shuttle door had chopped
off a segment. Wolff had taken the vine and put it into a container. The
container was then moved to the science lab. There was a possibility of
contamination during the brief time before Wolff put it into the container.
Another possibility was a bio leak in the science lab. If the alien vine on
board gave off airborne spores...
Wolff quarantined the two ailing crew
members to the science lab. No one spoke of a possible breach of the bio
filters and bio contamination. If no one spoke of it, the possibility seemed
less. The two crew members, fearful of the strange illness, voluntarily agreed
to stay in the lab.
But 12 hours later, the two crewmembers,
glassy-eyed and armed with science lab rock hammers, charged to the control
room and tried to forcibly take command of the ship. One of the men hacked at
Wolff. The captain raised his arm and the blow grazed his skull. Wolff fell
backwards against the control panel, but managed to pull out his fully charged
“Freeze or I’ll blast you a new breathing hole in your
The two crazed mutineers stopped.
“It’s plants...my head...it’s not...,” one mumbled. They both
started speaking half sentences of gibberish. Wolff and Saunders took them back
to the science lab and safely handcuffed them to chairs. Even though the crazed
mutiny was quickly put down, seeing the unknown illness had progressed to a
kind of psychosis left a chill in the crew and no one was brave enough to go to
the lab and see how the two crazies were doing.
Several hours later, two more
crewmembers suddenly developed the coughing illness. Before they could go out
of control, Wolff handcuffed them in the science lab. Now there were only three
left—Wolff, Saunders and Carter, the science tech.
“Saunders, Carter, get up here to the bridge,” said Wolff
over the intercom.
“I've been monitoring the brown patches,” replied Saunders
from the Lab. “They have significantly...”
“Don't worry about that now. Get up here!”
Saunders rushed to the ship's bridge.
It was one of the few times he had been there.
“We’re the only non-psychos on board.” said Wolff. “I think
Carter is gone. I can’t reach him on the intercom anymore. We have to leave
this mad house planet before we all get the crazies and go bananas. You have to
help me with the preparations.”
Saunders and Wolff both went through
the calculations and the countdown checklist. Without a full crew, it was
“Ten minutes to leaving orbit,” Wolff said. “Someone has to
check on him and make sure the cargo bay doors and cargo area are secure. I’ll
control the ship and you go back and check on the cargo doors. While you are there
see if...see if we have any crew left.”
Saunders knew he was right. Before they
left orbit, someone had to check on the far side of the ship and Wolff was the
best qualified to stay on the bridge. Without answering the captain, Saunders
turned to leave, but delayed at the control room door. This was probably going
to be ugly. He picked up a plasma pistol, slipped on a bio mask and gingerly
walked to the far side of the wheeled ship.
The sound of his footsteps echoing off
the gray metal walls made him feel more alone. There was nothing odd in the
sleeping quarters. Walking slowly on, he reached the cargo bay doors. Carter
was missing, but the doors were secure. He nervously activated the intercom.
“This is Saunders. The cargo bay is secure. I’m about to
check the...the lab.”
“Hurry up. We leave in seven minutes.”
When he reached the lab, he nervously
hit the door release and surveyed the darkened room. In the back of the science
lab, in front of four chairs where Wolff had handcuffed the crewmembers, there
were four large piles of purple and green moss. The infected crewmembers were
in a state of metamorphosis—their bodies were in the process of turning into
alien plants. Under the back science tables were some creeping vines. The vines
started to move towards him making a scratching, rustling sound on the polished
floor. Saunders quickly slammed the door release sealing off the lab.
Then he ran. In a state of panic, he
ran in the direction of the control room. The plants were aboard the ship and
growing. He and Wolf were going to have to find some way to quarantine this
entire section of the ship. They would have to shut down the ventilation
immediately. The damned plants probably spread via spores. Once the spores got
into the ventilation they all would be breathing the plant spores and then...
As Saunders ran back past the shuttle
area, he almost tripped over the...the “thing.” The sight of the thing filled
him with a deep revulsion. But like a motorist seeing a dead animal by the side
of the road, he couldn’t stop staring. The man—it was impossible to identify
him—was completely covered by a purple-green fuzzy moss and was lying in the
middle of the walkway. The thing uttered a guttural animal moan and slowly
moved an arm toward him in a clumsy movement to grab him. It had to be what was
left of Carter. Saunders quickly stepped around the thing and ran in a blind
panic in the direction of the control room.
When he got to the control room, he was
stunned to find Wolff lying on the floor sobbing.
“Try to fix it! Try to pull up!” he was hysterical. “I didn’t
mean to do it! The plants got into my mind and made me put the ship into a
Realizing the captain was now infected,
Saunders ran to the navigation controls. Checking the altitude, he saw that the
ship was in a steep dive, entering the planet’s atmosphere and leaving a
spectacular stream of fire behind. Saunders figured he could work the
navigational controls, but the damn moss might be inside the computer. Looking
closer, he noticed a small amount of green and purple moss on the underside of
the control panel.
“The plants are inside my mind.” Wolf was whimpering and
coughing on the floor.
Without the computer and flying by the
seat of his pants, Saunders fired the maneuvering jets and slowed the ship’s
speed. That stopped the ship from burning up. Strapping himself into the
control seat, he activated the main drive. Without any qualified pilot
training, he nudged power from the main drive. The ship sluggishly responded
and slowed decent. Just as he thought he was going to pull the ship up and make
it, he saw the ground rise up on the monitor. The first hit tore the great ship
in two, and the jolt almost knocked Saunders out. The far side of the wheeled
ship rolled away and burst into a ball of fire. Bouncing away, the control
section flipped upside down and after several terrible bounces rolled to a
Saunders unsnapped the harness straps
and looked behind him. There was a gaping hole in the hull behind him. To his
horror, he saw a mist consisting of plant spores and poisonous atmosphere
slowly drift into the crippled ship. A few creeping vines crawled through the
hole. He thought he saw one of the deadly Cobra plants rise up just outside the
ship. The relentless plant monsters were coming to finish the job.
He knew they were on an illegal mission
and no one knew they were out here. The cavalry was not coming. Holding his
breath, he wondered if what awaited him was worse than death. He now realized
that the entire planet must be alive. All along, the sinister plant life had
countered all their moves. When the men first landed, the planet attempted to
absorb them via spores and purple-green moss. Then it tried to attack with the
man-eating plants. When the men retreated from the jungle and tried to alter
the atmosphere and the temperature, the planet had adjusted. Even after the
nuke attack, with an iron resiliency, the plant life had somehow adapted.
Finally one of the plant samples must have given off spores that infected and
assimilated the crew. Apparently, the alien intelligence logically reasoned
that the only way to maintain the planet’s homeostasis was bring the ship down
out of the sky. Therefore it ordered the infected crew to crash the ship.
In a flash, a Cobra plant reached
through the hole in the hull and grabbed Captain Wolff in its jaws. The
semi-conscious captain made a horrified whining, whimpering noise as the
nightmarish vegetation enveloped him and then recoiled back outside the ship.
Now Saunders was alone.
With no other options left, he sat
motionless holding his breath. If he breathed the Venus II air, the atmosphere
would ether poison him or the airborne plant spores would take control of his
mind. He wished he could go back to the joy filled childhood days on Earth near
the Amazon jungle. He wished he had never left Earth. He wished he had never
let his rationalizations let his business deals drift to the wrong side of the
law. He wished he had left in the shuttle with Collins.
Finally after two minutes, with his
lungs bursting and tears in his eyes, he couldn’t hold his breath any longer.
He drew the planet’s spores and poison atmosphere deep into his lungs.
Surprisingly, the air smelled very
sweet. It wasn’t so bad. It didn’t make him feel different—at first. Then he
felt the curious invasion of a separate new presence in his mind. Like a
carefree ride down a children’s slide, he felt his human consciousness drift
away. He knew his mind and body was being absorbed by the planet’s alien
vegetation and soon he would no longer be Ron Saunders.
A mass of green-purple moss began to
creep steadily over the crash site and the stricken ship. Soon the site was
covered by a thick layer of moss. Then the crawling vines slowly climbed and
covered the ship. Great broad leaf trees and jungle vegetation sprouted from
the ground 45 minutes later. After two hours, the alien world’s absorption
process was complete. It was indiscernible that a human being had ever set foot
on the planet.
2013-01-25 19:21:08 Space_Moose - Reasonable plot outline, however, the middle third of the story is more like the outline for a novel. It needs way more dialogue between the characters so we could see more details about them (quirks, secrets, passions etc.). This story is just too long to tell in the allotted number of words. Great idea for making a longer story though or even a two hour movie. 2012-06-09 09:12:25 ccubed98 - And here I thought the ship would head to occupied space and begin colonization. but then who is to say the life boat was not contaminated?
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