Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Captain Alais Tonk contemplated the house sized asteroid floating a short distance beyond the forward viewport. Its surface was covered with long, slender green filaments that swayed gently in the weak electromagnetic field of the asteroid belt. Surely, Tonk thought, no one on Earth will believe this. They will say that the images were faked. They will say that it is impossible for life to exist in the vacuum of space. They will say that it’s fool’s life; inert mineral deposits only imitating life. They will say that he’s the naive twenty-fifth century equivalent of an old gold prospector clutching iron pyrite nuggets to his chest. There is no doubt, he concluded, this will require irrefutable proof. He turned toward his science officer, “Have you completed your analysis of the sensor data, lieutenant Orgueil?”
“Partially, sir. The asteroid appears to be a massive carbonaceous chondrite. Spectrographic data indicates that it contains significant quantities of organic compounds. I can identify the characteristic signatures of forty different extraterrestrial amino acids. In addition to the hydrocarbons, there are also silicates, nitrates, sulfides, and frozen water. And that’s just what’s on the surface. I won’t know what is on the inside until we take a core sample.”
“Give me your best guess, Mr. Orgueil. Is that green stuff grass, or not?”
“Not in the conventional sense, sir. Photosynthesis may be the metabolic pathway, but if it’s converting sunlight to chemical energy, it can’t be using carbon dioxide gas and liquid water. There’s no atmosphere, and the water is frozen solid. The chemicals may be there, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out a way to make it all work at minus 100 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, I can’t imagine any natural way for minerals to form flexible green filaments on the surface of an asteroid.”
“Well, lieutenant, it looks like you’re going on a field trip. Put on your EVA suit and collect some samples.”
As Tonk watched through the viewport, Orgueil carefully plucked a few dozen blades of “grass” from the surface of the asteroid. Each time he took a specimen, faint concentric waves appeared to ripple outward from the site. After stowing the samples, Orgueil removed the hollow coring tool and hammer from his utility belt. He placed the coring tool against the surface of the asteroid and gently tapped it with the hammer to set the sharpened end. The asteroid momentarily shuddered and began to drift away. “What the hell?” radioed Orgueil. “Unless I failed Newtonian Physics 101, there’s no way that tap could have cause this massive asteroid to react like that. Huh, it look’s like it stopped moving. I’ll try again.” Orgueil fired his control jets and pursued the asteroid. This time, rather than tapping the coring tool, he gave it a good whack. The asteroid lurched several meters from Orgueil and stopped. It rapidly rotated 180 degrees and remained motionless for a few seconds. Then, in the blink of an eye, like a challenged ram head-butting a rival male, the asteroid slammed into Orgueil, sending him flying, head over heels, in the opposite direction.
Captain Tonk could hear Orgueil cursing in his native language as he fought to regain control of his EVA suit. To Tonk’s utter surprise, the asteroid spun and began to move away from the ship at a speed that was unimaginable for an object that large. In less than a minute, it was just another dot of light, lost in the background of stars. Surely, Tonk thought, no one on Earth will believe this.