The Last Mission to Mars






      “Geoff … you’re safe,” he whispered to himself. Since yesterday’s accident he’d recalibrated all of the instruments twice and run half a dozen tests. There was no sign of any contamination whatsoever. Since yesterday he’d feared his career was in ruins. Responsibility for the handling and analysis of the sample returned by Beagle 4 was massive, a career milestone, and he was finally certain that no one need ever know that he’d had to scrape the Martian dust up from the laboratory floor.

No one except Martin, of course. It was Martin who had tripped over his own stupid feet and knocked the flask off the bench. Martin’s accident but the flask was in Geoff’s care. Geoff had the honour, Geoff had done the TV and magazine interviews, and it was Geoff who the press would turn against and whose career prospects would turn to dust if the sample had been ruined.
“Did you forget to water them again?“ asked Martin. He was across the lab examining the leaves of a tomato plant.  For years now, the lab staff had produced a steady stream of home grown tomatoes from compost bags placed on the broad ledge under the high lab windows. “How’s the analysis going?”
“Fine. No sign of contamination.” Geoff said gruffly.
Martin paused before replying. “When you say no sign of contamination, you mean no important contamination don’t you? I mean there must have been some contamination?”
“Nope. None at all. Silicates, metal oxides, traces of methane … the samples were all chemically identical to the ones we ran last week.”
“But it went everywhere! I know we were careful but it must have at least picked up some dust.  Surely there must be some contamination?”
---
The following morning, Geoff was still pawing over the printouts when Martin popped his head round the corner.
“How about a particle size analysis?” He checked the corridor behind him and continued in a lower voice. “Perhaps some contamination occurred but it has the same chemical makeup as the sample.  See if there are any atypically shaped particulates?”
“Ridiculous. There’s no way dust particles would fail to show up in the spectrometer, the levels of carbon would have rocketed.”
Martin shrugged, “OK, just an idea. I’m out for the rest of the day so you’re on watering duty again. Please try and remember this time.”
Geoff grunted his assent and returned to the printouts.  Frustratingly, Martin was right. There should have been some contamination so perhaps he should run a particle size analysis. After all, if there was any evidence of the accident he’d rather find it now than let some bloody undergraduate expose him when the samples were released to the wider academic community.
A few hours later the results were in but they were impossible to believe.  This particular gadget used gentle vibration and centrifugal force to sift the particles into different sizes which were then measured using lasers. Compared to the Martian dirt, any terrestrial dust should have shown up as huge particles but there was no sign of anything remotely that big.  However the results still didn’t make sense.  The sample was mainly composed of incredibly fine sand, tiny silica and metal oxide crystals and, in particular, the iron oxide that made the red planet red.  In a previous analysis, these naturally occurring particles had shown an approximately normal distribution of particle sizes, with some small, some large and most spread out between.  The bell shaped curve was there on the screen but near the top end was a spike, and what a spike.  Fully half the particles that had been randomly distributed sizes last week now appeared to be exactly the same size.
He extracted a sample onto a slide and ten minutes later it was under the high-magnitude microscope. Not only were the particles the same size, they were the same regular, complex shapes. Was that movement? Geoff held his breath and waited for a few moments but all was still. Clearly the stress was getting to him.  He sighed at his own stupidity but as he exhaled he saw an unmistakeable flurry of activity on the slide. A couple more breaths and he knew that the dust was being disturbed by his breathing. This was strange, while the slide was not in a sealed container, the baffle plates should deflect any air currents.  And the movement was strange too.  Each time he breathed out, it was less like stray particles were being blown about and more like the dust went slightly fluid. In fact it almost appeared to writhe.
---
It was nearly five o’clock when Professor Parker dropped by the lab. He frowned at the wilting tomato plants then noticed Geoff at the end of the row with his elbows on the window, apparently staring into the middle distance.
“Afternoon Geoff, thought it would be a good time to discuss your next project now the Martian Dust has…” The pallor on Geoff’s face stopped Parker in his tracks. “Geoff, you look awful. What’s wrong?  Problems at home again?”
“No. Worse than that.”  He knew there was no escaping it, so Geoff began to explain everything that had happened.  The spillage, cleaning up, the tests and results, the bizarre changes in the sample and the conclusions he had spent the afternoon trying to avoid.
Parker looked up from the microscope and exclaimed “but this is fantastic! You’ve proven there really is life on Mars”

“No. There was. There isn’t any more. These nano-machines are clearly artificial in nature. They were definitely created, so Mars must have had a highly developed technological civilization at some point. It looks like these were specifically designed to break down organic matter. My guess is that the carbon and hydrogen is released, probably as methane gas, and the remaining chemicals seem to be deposited or reused in some way. That’s why …”
Parker interrupted, “… the dust disappeared.  Dust, of course, is mainly shed human skin so the machines have basically eaten it all.”  His description was unscientific but essentially accurate. “But why would someone create such a thing, what’s its purpose?”
Geoff had already come up with a few ideas. “Perhaps they were designed as a weapon or as a research experiment that went wrong?  All I know is that they are incredibly good at destroying carbon compounds.  Since they appear to be self-replicating, I guess all life on Mars was wiped out within weeks of their initial creation and release into the atmosphere.”
At this sobering thought, Parker stood up and took charge. “OK. Clearly this stuff is hazardous so, artificial or not, we need to implement biological incident protocols.  First we seal the vents, then we …”
Geoff ignored him and turned back to the window as a light breeze disturbed the lawn outside the lab.  It was hard to tell in this early evening light but he was now sure of what he thought he’d seen earlier – the wilting grass had definitely taken on the same orange-red tinge as the dying foliage beside him.






Article Source : http://www.abcarticledirectory.com

While he loves his job at Zero D Ltd. , Richard Atkins occasionally experiences the need to take a break from writing content for sites such as Find Experience Days and to write something without worrying about keywords and search engines. This is the product of one of those breaks.


Posted on 2009-08-07, By: *

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