Doubts persist as to Joshua Gelle’s contribution to the terraforming of Venus, it was that project and its successful completion that led to the Academia Solaria. The effect this university and the technologies it developed had on Humanity is undeniable. -Prof. Duncan, “The Histories”
From the safety of the zeppelin Venus looked beautiful. Joshua thought it was akin to seeing a tiger or a leopard in the zoo. It was just majestic enough to make you forget about the thin veneer of technology that kept it from killing you. The rolling clouds of purple and yellow tinted by a faint red glow were alluring beyond description. These atmospheric vistas were some kind of visual sirens, singing beautiful songs that would draw intrepid explorers to their doom.
Subconciously Joshua reached out his hand hoping to touch the unimaginable beauty. But all his hand felt was the cold, sterile transparent aluminum of the observation window. The hard indifference of the glass contrasting with the soaring magnificence of his view shook Joshua from his daze. Often as he gazed out at the clouds of Venus he felt a certain sympathy for Ulysses as he was lashed to his mast and he saw a certain wisdom in the tragic hero’s actions.
Those beautiful clouds and their exotic colors were made possible by the unbelievably high amounts of Sulfuric and Nitric acid in the clouds. The red glow came from an atmosphere that was eighty-six percent carbon dioxide. All that unimaginable beauty would kill a man stone dead in moments. The CO2 would asphixiate him while the acidic vapors would peel the flesh from his bones before dissolving them as well. All in all, Joshua recokoned, should he fall from the zeppelin some small particle of him might make it about a third of the way to the ground before it was totally dissolved and scattered to the Venutian winds.
Ashes to ashes indeed.
Such a toxic brew. Joshua thought. Only the most tenacious and specialiazed microorganisms might stand the slightest chance of survival in Venus’s lethal atmosphere. So why aren’t they!? He shouted in his mind. This small ritual of frustration was becoming all to frequent for Joshua. He’d been here in Venutian orbit for nearly nine months. He was well past the projected deadline he had presented to the Colonial Exploratory Consortium. He was over budget on his bid submitted to the Research and Expansion Cooperative. And he was beginning to bleed staff. He’d arrived with seven subordinates nine months ago. Six months ago the one contract employee’s term ended and just two weeks ago two of the NGO aides were reassigned to experimental asteroid mining missions. Not to mention the near daily updates being requested by his supervisors back on Earth.
Joshua’s plan had been simple, easy, obvious, and practical. He would collect samples of the most acidophilic, anaerobic microorganisms on Earth. They would grow samples in conditions specially calibrated to simulate Venus’s atmosphere. Then they would alter the genes of these new Venus Bacterium so that they would become photosynthetic. These samples would then be released into Venus’s atmosphere where they would reproduce unchecked in the perfect global environment. These magic specimen would then eat up a huge amount of the carbon dioxide and acid vapor in the air and expell huge quantities of Oxygen as mostly breathable O2 and sufficient quantities of protective O3 ozone to prevent the Sun’s UV rays from microwaving anything living that was sent to the surface. All in all, Joshua had said, the bacteria would be reproducing and a noticeable shift in oxygen levels would be detectable within six months, seven tops. It would be a few years before the surface would be habitable and colonization would begin. But after the initial release and once survival and propogation was confirmed the only obstacle to human colonization would be time.
That had been nine months ago. These organizations, each one a whirring gear in the great machine called “The Entente”, were habituated to projects being over budget and over time. However not all projects were as expensive and expansive as his. Joshua had gone very far out on a limb to get his funding and the Entente wanted results. This was his greatest fear: not that it wouldn’t happen, but that he wouldn’t be the one to do it. The Entente got what the Entente wanted. That cowboy Barret Pilgrim aside, no one, truly no one bucked the Entente. Joshua knew he’d either succeed or be replaced and that failure would result in practical exile. Yon Lutz had become the Patron Saint of empty threats, perhaps, thought Joshua Gelle, his own name would similarly become synonymous with empty promises.
An alarm in Joshua’s Net Box was going off. The net box was a small, wireless device that attached to a surgically inserted usb port just behind Joshua’s right ear. For a little under a decade people had been using this cybernetic alteration to plug directly into the net. While this so called upgrade was more or less standard for Entente beaurocrats and executives above a certain rank, it was not widespread amongst the general population. Only in the last year were wireless modules available and only to highly privileged Entente officials. Being the leader of the first manned mission to Venus gave Joshua that privilege. Or so he conceived it at first. With his recent frustrations, the ability for his superiors to interfere directly with his thoughts was becoming a source of serious strain and anxiety for Joshua.
Using only his thoughts he pulled up the message. A video call visible only to him then began playing as a semi-translucent overlay of his normal vision. Joshua paused it to increase the opacity to full. For some reason he just couldn’t pay attention to net-vids when he could see reality in the background.
“Joshua,” Began the man in the video. Joshua had about ten people he reported to who collectively represented six different organizations. There were two national governments, three international research universities, and one private, non-profit NGO. Such overly complex structures had become the norm in the Entente. The man continued in a friendly easy tone, “I’ve gone over your report from earlier this week and I’m struggling with the data. I’ve gone over the numbers with some of the data technicians from Standford and Tokyo, but they don’t quite reach the same conclusions you are. You see they agree that within the limited area of the sample releases there is a detectable increase in oxygen levels, but they assure me that these increases are all within the tolerable margins of error of your instruments’ calibration. So is the oxygen increasing or not? If it is, we just don’t see it.”
Joshua paused the recording. He knew it had been a desperate gambit to lean on the nearly non-existent results he’d acheived so far, but it was all he had. He knew this would be the counter argument from the data validation teams on Earth, but what choice did he have? Oddly they seem to have missed the most important part: all readings showed an increase in oxygen, at least for a limited period and within the area that the bacteria were released. But they were ALL POSITIVE VARIANCES. If it was down to just error in the measurements some were bound to be negative but they weren’t. Something was happening. He just didn’t know exactly what or why it wouldn’t keep happening.
Joshua played the recording again, “Anyway, I want you to know that I’m not disappointed. I know this is an incredibly complex project with scientific and technical intracies I can’t understand.”
You’re damn right, you mongoloid sack of shit! Johsua thought as he paused the message again. He knew what was coming. They were about to change the mission, they were going to do something that he wasn’t aware of and didn’t want. He tried to brace himself for the bad news, but he just couldn’t. These beaurocrats and officials had such an uncomfortably casual tone. They were far too comfortable with the idea of indifference. It was both haunting and disgusting in the same moment. Joshua scowled and continued the message.
“But at the end of the day we need results. Now we’re not blaming you. We all know how hard you work, I mean you really put your back into this one. However that is our cocern. We’re worried you’re a little too determined to do everything yourself that you won’t raise your hand and ask for help. So we did it for you. A few weeks ago we dispatched a new lead research aide. She comes highly reccomended and she is young and confident. I think you’ll find her to be a big help. We’ve attached her profile to this message so please familiarize yourself with her over the next few days. She’ll be arriving on Venus One later this week.
“And again, Josh, really, nothing personal. We have all the confidence in the world that this new org-structure will help you bring this project home.” The message ended. Upon hearing the message Joshua punched the window of the zeppelin in a fit of reflexive anger. He stood there despondent. He was leaning against the observation window held up by the clinched fist still slammed into the hard aluminum. His arm trembled with anger and pain.
Org-Structure! He bellowed in his mind, ORG STRUCTURE! YOU MEAN REPLACEMENT! After a few moments of seething fury Joshua collected himself. He had every reason in the world to be angry and frustrated, but such attitudes would only hasten his end. He had to collect himself and think. First things first. He thought, Who is this new woman?
Using his net box Joshua pulled up the personel files attached to his supervisor’s message. Her name was Zara Akwasi. She had been born and raised in Nigeria where she was enrolled in one of the many NGO charity education programs associated with the Entente. It was during primary school that her aptitude for Mathematics and Science especially as applied to Biology was noticed. After completing high school she was given a full ride to Cambridge in England. After double majoring in Statistics and Biochemistry she went on to Tokyo where she earned a PhD in Microbiology. Then she moved on to Standford where she was attached to a research group that worked specifically on Entente funded projects. This piqued Joshua’s interest. Among her research projects Zara had been the third author and lead data statistitian on a bacterial alternative to traditional chemical fertilizer. The idea was to combine several types of bacteria, some specially genetically designed, some natural, to ehance Nitrogen capture in the soil. The idea was to seed the soil in early spring with one type of specially modified bacteria, then a few weeks later after they had done their job, seed the soil again with a local variant of a naturally occuring amoeba. The Amoebas would eat most if not all of the modified bacteria, adding even more microscopic compost to the soil, while eliminating the possibility of an invasive microoganism that might destroy the local biome. With their own food source eliminated the Amoebas would then simply die off adding yet more compost.
The project had somewhat worked. They had tried it in seven different localities. One had experience some negative environmental impact, one had experienced no impact and out produced chemically fertilized agriculture in the same area, and the other five had experienced the same or slightly less yeild than the the chemical fertilizer control groups while flirting with some ecological impact. All of the experimental harvests were vastly more expensive than their traditional chemically fertilized competitors.
While the project was basically a push and the idea abandoned afterwards, this project had been a reference and inspiration for Joshua’s own idea to terraform Venus. He at first felt a swell of confidence that this young lady might be able solve his problems and bring the project to a sucessful conclusion. And that is the real danger. He thought. If she cracks the problem before I do, and she gets the credit for it, I’ll be relegated to a desk somewhere on Earth. Or worse yet I’ll become a bureaucrat trapped here on Venus One. Forever processing the people sent to take the jobs, renown, and rewards I made possible while being stuck on this damn zeppelin. This was Joshua’s greatest fear. He had not wanted to terraform Venus because it would be a great scientific endeavor of discovery and engineering. It was because a new virgin planet would present a huge opportunity. On Earth he was a career functionary. Despite his education, credentials, and connections on the old world he was destined for a life as a rubber stamper. The best he could do was a safe, predictable desk job, just another whirring cog in the infinite machine that was the Entente. But as the conqueror of Venus he could be a king.
He scanned more of Zara’s personnel file looking for something, anything he could use. In the medical section he noticed that she took certain prescription medications. There were only two, but Joshua was entirely unfamiliar with them. They weren’t the typical anxiety, depression, weight control, or cholesterol medications most people were on. He got curious and looked them up. One was for Vertigo and Epilepsy. The other was to deal with the mild side effects caused by the first, included in these reports were lists of the potential drug interactions. Hmmm. Joshua thought, Vertigo on an orbiting zeppelin, this could get interesting. Joshua closed her files and sent an e-mail to his staff informing them of the new arrival. Then he returned to the lab to review his bacteria. No longer was he seized by a sense of anger brought on by betrayal and frustration. Now he was calm and focused. Far from being his kryptonite, he thought, this new girl may present a fantastic opportunity.
Joshua spent the rest of the week practically locked in his lab. He was going over every detail of the bacteria and the results of the failed atmospheric seedings. He was determined to divine some new insight before his potential usurper arrived. The rest of his staff was understandably curious about the new arrival and though Joshua only shared the most basic boilerplate new member information with them, he did do his best to spin this as a positive to raise morale. With a fresh set of eyes they would get new insights and before they all knew it the project would be complete and everyone would get the career bump (and bonuses) for which they had been hoping. Then they could all go home. Well, except Joshua. He was determined to stay no matter what. This would be his world, come Hell or Highwater.
After what felt like the longest week of his life Zara finally arrived at Venus One. The zeppelin was just barely touching Venuses amosphere and it’s eternal path orbiting the planet was somewhere between a high altitude cruise and actual orbit. This made docking and unloading personel and materials very time consuming and complex. The staff of the Venutian Amospheric Compatibility Study was so anticipatory of the new arrival that they waited by the air lock for the three hours it took for the interplanetary transporter to synchornize orbit, release the docking vessel, and unload its supplies and passenger. Throughout the waiting Joshua could barely conceal a devilish smile. Three hours in a cramped transit pod while your point of view is constantly changing. He thought, It must not be fun if you have vertigo and eppilepsey. Eventually the transfer process was complete and after all the confirmations and protocols issued over radio communication were finished the airlock hissed equilibribrium and the doors opened. Through this portal to the rest of humanity emerged a young woman. She was well dressed and carried the bearing of a true professional. Though under thirty she oboviously was destined for high position and seemed to carry herself with the utterly proper sense of concealed entitlement of those who had “made it”.
At least she did for a few seconds.
“Hello, Doctor Akwasi.” Joshua said when she emerged, stepping forward and offering a friendly handshake, “I’m Docotr Gelle, director-secretary of the Venutian Amospheric Compatibility Study.”
“Oh, Dr. Gelle…” She Began, “Sorry…it’s been…Uhhh…” With that she stumbled forward, almost fainting. Joshua and one of the maintenance crewman instinctively rushed forward to catch her before she fell. After catching her, the two men helped to stand her up and move her out of the way of the air lock so that the transit crew could finish unloading supplies.
“Docotr Akwasi, are you all right?” Joshua asked, heaping on the sympathy to conceal his joy that his suspcisions about her condition were correct.
“Yes…yes.” She said weakly. “It’s just I have a slight…condition. The trip here, especially the last few hours, were very difficult.”
“That’s all right.” Joshua replied in a warm friendly tone, “Let’s get you to your quarters. After you rest for a bit I’m sure you’ll acclimate.”
“What about the staff?” She asked, “The project. We’re already behind.”
“I know.” Joshua said, “Everyone’s already waited long enough to get on with things. I think we have the patience for a few more hours. You won’t do us any good if you can’t stand after all.”
“Yes. Yes.” Zara answered, “You’re right. Maybe some rest is in order.” With that some of the other crew memebers shuffled Zara away to her quarters. Joshua himslef retired privately to his lab. There he pretended to review his latest data and proposals. All the while he wore a massive grin. He congratulated himself on correctly guessing that Zara’s eppilepsy would cause her problems. Now, he thought as he daydreamed, all I need is for her to be useful.
Zara ended up sleeping, or at least remaining in her quarters, for another nine hours. The staff of Venus One continued to do their work, though in a more distracted way than usual. When at last Dr. Akwasi emerged from her hibernation she was much improved. It seemed that the rest had acclimated her to life on the station and that her condition would no longer be a problem. While she insisted on getting to work to make up the time lost, the rest of the staff were more insistent on having a true welcome party. Joshua thought it best to have the gathering, talking Zara into it by saying it would be good for morale. Meanwhile he used the party to size her up. He studied her speech and behavior patterns like a hunter reading trail signs. He needed to know just how much of a threat this new Wunderkind was going to be to his position as the future master of Venus.
Joshua was pleasantly surprised. Zara was intelligent, poised, and perfectly respectable. He could see that she was ambitious, but only in that reserved quiet way one is when trying to climb the ladder in a buearocracy. She certainly had the raw ability to displace him, even if only by accident. But he could also see the sequestered nature of her life experiences. The next generation of Entente officials were altogether a different animal than Joshua and his genertion were. True he did not fight in the Uprising. And it was true he would have sided with whomever won. But like everyone else on Earth he survived a complete upheaval of all economic, political, and cultural systems. He had had to do out of necessity things that he would never have imagined himself doing before the uprising. Even in the early days when all the governments in control of the colonies said the Uprising was just a mob of disgruntled colonists that would soon run out of steam he would never have guessed what it would eventually take to survive.
These harsh and unforiving lessons about the reality of human nature seemed to be lost on, or entirely omitted from the eductation of, the next generation. Sure a few like Zara remember the war, but they didn’t know or understand what it took to win it. This, Joshua knew, was his one advantage.
After the official onboarding and unofficial welcome party Dr. Akwasi was finally able to get to work. Here too she surprised Joshua. She already knew the thesis and processes for seeding Venus’s atmosphere with oxygenating, anaerobic bacteria. She knew front to back his results so far as well as the specific bacteria and what alterations had been made to their genome. And finally she already had ideas on what was stalling the project and how to overcome them. Joshua was not only impressed and thankful, but also felt threatened in a way that completely nullified his previous optimism. At every step of their review of the project he found her briefing him. She already knew everything he did and had so accurately predicted the answers to her questions that she hardly had to ask any. Joshua was smarter than the average bear to be sure. And despite his own covetous, cruel nature he had a genuine work ethic. Yet in both regards he found himself outmatched by this young dynamo of microbiology. It was when she proposed the next steps that he was finally more curious about the science than he was worried about losing his job.
“Wait, you want to do another release of the old bacteria?” He asked as she walked him through her proposals.
“Well, the modifications I’m proposing will take a few generations to take hold in a population wide sample.” She replied, “In the meantime I need more data to confirm my hypothesis. Why not double up on our time and complete these milestones in tandem. Your next report in two weeks will look much, much better.”
“Yes, it may.” Joshua conceded, “So what modifications do you propose? You haven’t gone deep into specifics.”
“I want to see if I can tinker with the metabolism of the bacteria. Looking at all your data, I am nearly sure that the metabolic rate is the issue.”
“Why?” Joshua asked befuddled, “We’ve already cranked their metabolism up to the maximum. Any faster and they’ll die before they can even replicate a single generation.”
“Yes.” Zara answered. Her accent was a slightly posh British one. It had a charming musical quality to it, though all Joshua seemed to notice was the subtle undertone of condescention that all British accents seemd to have. “What made me suspsicious is that all the oxygen measurements have been positive. Granted they are within the error of the recording instruments, but they shouldn’t be all in one direction.”
“That’s what I reported last week.” Joshua said, “The data techs at Standford disagreed. They told my People Leaders that that didn’t matter.”
“I know.” Zara replied, “I strenuously disagreed with them. I was on the call discussing your last report. The data techs and I do NOT see eye to eye. It was after I wouldn’t let those variances go that I was told to come here myself.”
“Really.” Joshua asked a bit surprised. He didn’t think anyone back on Earth was listening to him or his reports.
“Yes.” Zara said in the midst of a chuckle, “Actually I can’t decide if this assignment was a vote of confidence in my convictions or punishment for hijacking a high-level call and making a fuss.”
“Why not both?” Joshua asked playfully as they exchanged smiles. Finally, finally Joshua had confidence that she was the solution he had been waiting for. The first part of his plan was going to be easy.
After this initial discussion work began in earnest. Zara had a specific amount of Venus’s highly casutic atmosphere pumped into a completely empty oxygen storage tank. Using this tank they took exact measurements as to the composition and physical characteristics of the atmosphere inside. She then added some of the original bacteria samples to a smaller also sealed air sample that perfectly matched the sample taken and then combined the two. She made very specific predictions as to the changes in composition and phsyical characteristics of the sample. She even included a time prediction. If her thesis was correct her predictions would perfectly match the composition of their sample at exactly the time she specified.
Meanwhile she gave Joshua new specifications as to which genes in which species of bacteria needed modification. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (at least not yet anyway) Joshua complied and began modifying genes and carefully cultivating enough of the new bacteria for a wider release.
This new “Can Do” energy revitalized Venus One. Before her arrival the staff and Joshua were like the crew of a sinking ship watching helplessly as the water lapped ever further up the hull, counting the moments util they were swallowed by the deep. Zara and her youthful optimism had convinced them all to grab buckets and start bailing. Suddenly the Titanic felt like it had stopped sinking. Joshua went along with everything and never once betrayed the worry that was consuming him. But while each new positive development alleviated the stress of possible failure, it heightened the fear he felt at possible replacement. Plainly there was no amount of office politicking or buearocratic maneuvering that would allow him to stay in charge. This young Entente phenom was destined for great things and high status. He simply didn’t have the personal qualities to keep her in a subordinate role or to move up the ranks with her. He watched day by day as his dream of being the first King of Venus grew dimmer and dimmer, out shone by youthful energy and generational talent. In those dark moments his jealousies and insecurities began to whisper to him. And he began to listen. These new terrible ideas that occurred to him were frightening and awful. Yet they were also so, so tempting. Most surprising to Joshua was that he did not embrace these new, terrible thoughts because they were wrong or evil, but because he was unsure if he could get away with it. As the day that they would take their final measurements and Zara would be vindicated approached, Joshua found his mind turning faster and faster. It was not working to cast off his dark and evil ideas, but to solve the one problem they presented.
The day quickly arrived when they would inspect the experimental container. There was a lot of anticipation amongst the staff. Today would be their moment of truth. While only Joshua and Zara were qualified to do the measurements, the rest waited with baited breath, constantly glancing at the nearest speaker expecting an announcement any moment. When the measurements of atmospheric composition and physical characteristics of the test container were taken Joshua felt a cold sweat accumulating on his brow and his palms became clamy. The machines whirred, the gaseous samples hissed as they were transferrred between containers, and the computer screens flashed with incoming data. Finally after what felt like an eternity of waiting all went silent and the final graphs and data tables appeared in Joshua’s net box. He quickly sorted through it all for the relevant, telling details. Then he saw it. Zara was right. Her predictions, while not exact, were well within the bounds of reasonable error. She had cracked the problem.
“My God.” he said quietly as he reviewed the data, “How…how did you know? What was wrong?”
“Simple.” Zara replied, “The positive variances. That meant that some oxygen was being produced, which meant that the bacteria was metabolising some of the atmosphere into Oxygen. It was only when I noticed that all the releases had been in temporary atmospheric eddies that I realized what was happening.”
“We used the eddies as semi-contained areas to keep the bacteria from dispering too far too fast.” Joshua replied.
“A capital idea.” Zara answered, “But the bacteria were reproducing too quickly. The small samples ate up too much too fast and effectively drowned themselves in oxygen before the eddies could collapse and disperse living samples to the rest of the amosphere. This experiment confirms it.” She said pointing at the data. “The new samples with a slower metabolism should be able to reproduce just fine and survive long enough to get spread throughout the atmosphere.”
Joshua stood dumfounded. He had had reservations at the beginning that a fast metabolism may not be advisable, but he could never have forseen this technical glitch. “I—I—” He stammered, “My People Leaders…they wanted speed. All the data techs predicted the need for an accelerated metabolic rate…”
“Uggghhh!” Zara exclaimed, “I had this bloody arguement with all of them for months! No one listened! I didn’t even bother to propose this as the solution when when they sent me. I just said I had some ideas. But now…” She said gesturing to the screen full of data, “I have my proof. They’ll have to believe me now.” On the screen Zara could see her vindication. She wore that kind of beaming smile that only daring youth could create. She had listened to her instincts and bucked conventional wisdom. The older generations would have to listen to her. This mission had transformed her youthful promise into real accomplishment.
Meanwhile to Joshua her data was a funeral pall. He had lacked the courage and coviction to follow his instincts. He was too concerned with pleasing overseers and filing smart reports about how great things were that he dared not imagine what could be. It was over. Once her sucesses became known and Venus set on the path to colonization Joshua would be reassigned. Perhaps even pensioned outright. Despite his early drive and tireless efforts to this point he would be forgotten. No one cares who starts a race, only who wins it.
After a moment of dread realization Joshua shook himself back to life. The shock of his failures had worn off and it was time to do that last thing that could be done.
“Dr. Gelle,” Zara said as she saw the sheer distress on Joshua’s face, “Are you alright?”
“Oh—Yes—Yes.” He replied, “It’s just—just a lot to take in all at once.” He quickly composed himself and smiled. “Well, I’d say this calls for a celebration. When are you transmitting your report?”
“As soon as we’re done here.” She replied.
“Good, Good.” Joshua answered. He activated the internal communications on his Net Box and addressed the staff of Venus One. “Everyone, I have a major announcement! It seems Doctor Akwasi was right! Once we get clearance from back home, probably tomorrow evening, we can do our next, and hopefully final, wide release. In no time Venus will be on the path to human habitation. That’s right everyone, thanks to our wonderful Zara we’ll be going home soon!” He then turned off his Net Box and smiled at Zara. “No doubt you’ll be in for another unofficial party thrown by the crew.”
“No doubt.” Zara replied.
“In the meantime, though,” Joshua began, “May I offer my private thanks.” He then opened a locked cabinet in the lab and produced a small bottle of champange and two plastic cups. “This project has been my life’s ambition.” He said as he poured two glasses, “To finally see a path to completion…it’s a feeling I can’t describe. I can’t thank you enough.” He handed a glass to Zara who smiled graciously as she accepted it.
“Thank you, Dr. Gelle.” She said holding up her glass in the gesture of a toast. “Now who should we drink too?”
Joshua smiled, “How about Venus, the Terrible Beauty.” he said.
“Perfect!” Zara exclaimed, “To Venus, the Terrible Beauty!” They clacked their plastic cups and drank. Joshua drinking just that little bit slower, watching to make sure Zara drank all of hers.
After they finished the champagne and Zara had transmitted her report, she and Joshua joined the crew in the mess where the celebration began. The alcohol that each of the crew had squirreled away for a special occaision was brought out and a truly good time was had. The crew was happy to finally see a way off their floating prison with a nice bonus maybe thrown in to boot. For the first time since she had arrived Zara seemed to fully relax and greatly enjoyed her time with the crew. Joshua took it all in. Enjoying the evening as the respectable old statesman of the group. One last hurrah before the old warhorse is put out to pasture. The celebration lasted a few hours and although the total amount of alcolohol the crew had been able to produce was not large, it was enough to have everyone feeling good. The revelries finally ended when realizing the booze was depleted, Zara got up to leave. She stood up from her seat in the mess a little too quickly and almost lost her balance.
“Dr. Akwasi!” Joshua said as he got up to help her, “Are you alright?”
“Yes—Yes—” She stammered. “…just a touch of my vertigo. I think maybe I had a little too much. I just need to go to my quarters and take my medicine. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” Joshua replied, “Here why don’t I walk you to your room.”
“No—No–” She said holding a hand to her head, “I’m fine. I’ll be fine.” Zara then left the mess while the rest of the crew began to tidy up ever so reluctantly. After a few minutes a warning siren blasted over the ship’s speaker system. “WARNING! AIR LOCK ACTIVE!” It blared. It was the warning that comes when ships would dock with Venus One or air samples were being collected. The whole crew froze in fear and looked at each other in confusion. Then all at once they raced out of the mess and towards the air lock to see what was happening. The Zeppelin was not large and from the end of the hall the entire crew could see an obviously drunk and disoriented Zara stumbling into the open air lock door. Several members raced at top speed trying to reach the controls in time, but it was to no avail. As soon as the inner doors shut a subtle hiss could be heard and the fastest of the crew arrived just in time to see the outer doors open. Zara was sucked out into the deadly atmosphere of Venus to be dissolved by its terrible beauty.
Five years later Joshua was unpacking his belongings in his temporary habitation unit. Surface samples and atmospheric measurements had finally reached levels tolerable to humans the previous week. Small pop up units had been sent to the surface and the first three dozen or so people to inhabit Venus long term were sent to begin surveying and construction missions. Zara’s plan had worked, of course. Joshua refelcted on that first difficult year as he unpacked his few possessions. It had taken some wrangling on his part since terraforming began, especially once the full potential of Venus was recognized by his supervisors in the Entente, but he had fended off all challengers. Now, finally, he was coming to the surface as the first Colonial Governor of Venus.
As he unpacked his things he came across an empty champagne bottle. It was the bottle he and Zara had shared that day in the lab when her predictions were confirmed. Not often, but more than once he had had to use the tragedy of her memory to guilt others away from taking his position. He knew not to lean on such things too hard or too often, but one cannot discount such a memory’s power when utilized judicioiusly.
He lingered on the bottle for a moment. Most thought he kept it as a memento of a great scientist, a reminder of a great collaboration. Sometimes he thought it was a touch imprudent to have kept it. No matter how many times he washed and sterilized it he feared that some minute molecule of the drug he had tainted her drink with might be discovered. Then his plot would be unraveled. The chemical was harmless enough, a common over the counter anti-inflamatory, so someone detecting its presence may not become suspicious. Unless of course they thought to check its interactions with Zara’s prescriptions. In which case they would come across medical studies showing that this otherwise benign headache medicine severely weakened the efficacy of Zara’s anti-vertigo prescription. If someone was drunk, say, and their medicine was wearing off because a drink had been spiked with this other drug…well such a person just might accidentally walk through the wrong door, or fall down stairs, or any other number of harmful or fatal accidents that could be attributed to alcohol. However a simple toxicology screen would easily reveal the drug interaction. That is if the body wasn’t dissolved by an atmosphere full of nitric and sulfulic acid.
Joshua smiled. He was right to keep the bottle. To everyone else he was a sympathetic man with a touch of melancholy felt for the bright light extinguished too soon. Privately Joshua felt differently. He had achieved his goals. Joshua Gelle was the highest ranking Entente official on a virgin planet. Venus was his. The champagne bottle in his hand was more than a emotional prop, symbolic memento, or possibly criminal evidence. This was a trophy commemorating his greatest and most personal success.