Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer and J. S. Kachelries

“Command and Control says that we will not be permitted to land,” stated Taylor O’Leary, the pilot of the return module.

Despite knowing that O’Leary wasn’t responsible for the decision, Jonathan Hartwell argued, “They can’t do that. The alien spores are dead. They can only live on Mercury.”

“Look Jon, maybe you’re right, but it’s not going to change their minds. After what those spores did to our base, they can’t risk letting us contaminate the Earth. There are over eight billion people down there, versus just two of us. Face it, we’re expendable.”

“The spores didn’t kill us. They don’t kill people.”

“It’s the universal acid they secrete. It destroys everything.”

“They haven’t damaged the module. It’s taken us three months to get back to Earth. Those damn things are everywhere. There are probably billions of then in our clothes. They’re harmless. If they were still dangerous, we’d be dead.”

“Jon, you’re a scientist. Use your head. Maybe they’re just dormant. If it turns out that they can live on Earth…” O’Leary was interrupted by an emergency alarm. He drifted over to the master panel and punched up the codes. “Damn. The reactor is overheating. Maybe those bastards are still alive. We need to move the ship away from Earth before she blows.” As the primary thrusters fired, the reactor’s coolant line ruptured and the ship began to spin out of control. Despite their best efforts, the ship tumbled toward the Earth. Moments later, it exploded.

Most of the debris burned up during reentry, but much of it, including trillions of spores, slowly drifted through the upper atmosphere and eventually into the troposphere. NASA was able to collect a few hundred of the microscopic spores using a Lockheed ER-5 high-altitude research aircraft. Testing at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta concluded that the spores had the ability to reproduce, but they were not active. After months of experiments, the scientists could not get the spores to feed, reproduce, or secrete acid. Apparently, Earth had dodged a bullet. However, the United Nations passed numerous resolutions prohibiting exploration of any extraterrestrial body until adequate safeguards were established. Eventually, the fervor died down, and most people forgot about the incident and went on with their lives.

But the spores continued to drift around the globe hoping to settle in environments that were suitable for them. No one at the CDC thought that the key factor keeping the spores dormant was the low flux density of neutrinos on Earth. On Mercury, because of its proximity to the sun, they were bathed to ten times the number of neutrinos, and they could grow and multiply. On Earth, however, there were only a few sources where the flux density of neutrinos was high enough to revive them. And, eventually, the spores found them all, one by one. They thrived in their new environments, and their populations grew exponentially. Of course, they also began secreting their corrosive fluids. At first, it was assumed that terrorists somehow managed to destroy the Aircraft Carrier CVN 76 Ronald Reagan. No one thought it was the spores, even as nuclear power plants around the world began exploding one after another.

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