Author: Bill Cox
‘Welcome to HAVOC. Chaos is just next door.’
It’s a great line and Jacob uses it every time a new research team shows up. The newcomers all smile with polite amusement. They have arrived onboard the High-Altitude Venus Operational Concept; a massive airship traversing the clouds of Venus, fifty kilometres above its surface, where the pressure and temperature are similar to those on Earth.
Jacob thought back to his own arrival, two years ago, as part of the original mission crew. With the earth-bound discovery of Phosphine and other potential bio-signatures in the atmosphere of the second world from the Sun, the scene was set for a scientific mission to confirm whether life really did exist on this turbulent world.
The media liked to say it was a race between explorers on Venus and on Mars, to find the first traces of extra-terrestrial life. Venus won. A number of uniquely Venusian bacterial life-forms had been identified, lofted into the upper atmosphere by the violent storms that wracked the planet.
Jacob played a role in that startling confirmation, in his position as lead of the biological sciences team. His name would go down in history and fame and awards awaited him back home. Once, that fact would have brought him immense satisfaction. Now, other concerns took precedence.
The new researchers would be keen, following their induction in station protocols, to examine the bacterial samples. Jacob didn’t blame them. The life-forms were startling in their efficiency and purity. And why wouldn’t they be? Venus was indeed a hell-world, with crushing surface pressures, sulphuric acid rain and temperatures that could melt lead. Here, natural selection had favoured only the ultimate in survivors, the fittest of organisms.
Not for the first time, Jacob considered the lot of Venusian life, habituated to hellish conditions, constrained by a hostile environment. What might happen to such organisms if they found themselves in a more benign setting? What Jacob knew and what the new crew members didn’t yet realise, was that through human complacency and carelessness, the bacteria that saturated the clouds around them had already found its way into the atmosphere of the airship.
Jacob remembered waking one night, several months ago, realising that he was no longer just himself. He didn’t feel afraid, indeed, he was quite calm about it all. Out of curiosity he did an MRI scan on himself (they had a decent medical facility on board – they were anything up to one hundred and sixty million miles from Earth, after all). The growth at the base of his spine was clear. It was a place that made sense, being a confluence for the body’s nerve clusters. An ideal spot to influence and control the human animal.
He still retained his identity but there was no doubt that his priorities had shifted. He had an overwhelming desire to protect whatever was growing inside of him. It quickly became clear that he wasn’t the only one. Eventually, by dosing the ship’s food and drink with the bacteria, the rest of the crew joined them in their new state.
As the new crew members settled in, Jacob watched the shuttle leave for Earth, carrying those who had completed their tour on HAVOC. Like him, they carried within themselves the seeds of life from another world. Life that would seek out new opportunities in the more benign environments of its neighbour.
Jacob knew that the organisms from Venus would create their own, unique brand of havoc and chaos in the unsuspecting biospheres of Earth.
He found himself quite comfortable with that thought.
I cannot say enough about this story. I love it! I was thinking “What might happen to such organisms if they found themselves in a more benign setting?” right when you wrote it. Fantastic blend of science fiction and scientific probability. What makes this so scary, and perhaps the source of our salvation is how possible that anything that survives in Venus’ cruel atmosphere would be superior as a collective, parasite, but in a seemingly symbiotic way. Like it’s okay, to be one with this life form.
The real question you present is what happens when they return home? How do these recent graduates of the Tour of Havoc acclimate back into their daily lives, and how does the invasion begin?
So many what ifs, and possibilities. I love how you end it here, but I would love to see where it develops. The way you paint Venus as habitable, the genius idea of a floating science vessel working in the safety of the clouds is mesmerizing! My comments are almost as long as the story. If you ever need help developing the story, I would be honored to help you in whatever way I can. You have a cool idea here, no doubt!
Thanks, I appreciate the feedback. I can’t take credit for the HAVOC concept though, as it is a serious NASA proposal for exploring Venus – it even has it’s own Wikipedia page. It was reading about this fascinating mission that gave me the inspiration for the story. Glad you liked it.
That’s amazing. I am going to check it out now. I love ideas like this. They have a concept of a space elevator that I like to use as a base for one of my stories. The idea of the bacteria is still very plausible in its own right!
Very good & nicely transitions from the warm welcome feel at the beginning to the horror at the end!
Some nice hard sf here, and a good, cautionary tale!