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  1. wesbruce

    Mother Hen

    Mother Hen. She'd left the ark many decades ago flying free. She had flown the coop. While the Ark decelerated, the mother hen did not. She needed to get there first, decades early, a century if possible. She needed to buy time for her eggs to hatch. To buy that time she doomed her self to eternal darkness. She could not decelerate early enough to make stellar orbit let alone planetary orbit. This was a flyby mission. She got only one shot at laying her eggs. She mapped the planet and planned her targets. The eastern hemisphere has a huge ice field on it. Could that be a frozen ocean? There were glaciers facing a huge flattish expanse. Good the eggs, if dropped there, could spread far without being lost in the ice field that she hoped and dreamed would become a sea. She checked the atmosphere again. Carbon dioxide, some nitrogen, Some water vapour at night. Just like Mars but thankfully much denser. A fallow world. Perfect. There were other stars, other worlds, other desperate fleeing Ark ships and yes other hopeful hens, but this was her world. Alioth. She saw traces of argon, radon, sulphur; the signs of hidden volcanism but where? She picked the most likely locations and targeted three pods near them. The pods were not her eggs, they held a million eggs each. There was 20 pods. She was a strange old chook. She fired each pod, carefully aimed at the planet. Each pod doomed. They plunged into the atmosphere; a trillion dollar shooting star. The atmosphere tore at them and boiled around them. They burned so brightly that it turned night into day on the world below. Their nest like shape and fins slowed them but they were going so very fast. They were doomed. They were armed. The eggs were ready. Then each pod fired 10 thousand rounds a minute for 10 minutes. Ten guns per pod firing backwards. The eggs were the ammunition. The eggs were in the plasma backwash of the falling stars for only a few seconds. Enough to defrost them; not enough to do much damage. The guns could fire backwards at almost the same speed of the falling star. The eggs still had a residual velocity of hundreds of metres per second but a survivable velocity. Drag slowed them down fast. Mother hens job was done. There was nothing more she could do or say. She was too far from the Ark ship to even report success or failure. She folded her self up and settled to sleep. She headed for her eternal retirement a happy hen. She would pass a hundred stars before finally her meagre magnetic sail would bring her to a halt. The pods then burned up lacing the sky with tendrils of metal and ceramic dusts. As a parting gift they each released 2 tonnes of fluorocarbon greenhouse gases. 40 tonnes was almost a point less amount, a worthless amount, a mere gesture but the voids and foams and coolants had to be filled with something. Perhaps the hint would be taken somehow? The eggs fell though 30 kilometres of sky. Each was a hollow ball 5 cm in diameter and as thin as paper. Each was as light as a feather but stronger than steel. Each was laced with a tiny mesh of kyrium protecting its precious lining of seeds, spores and bacterial gels. Each egg had a slight tint of solar cells, enough to generate a few milliwatts and protect their contents from UV. They fell at terminal velocity and bounced! They were designed to bounce, to roll, to scatter and skitter across the target area. Some were caught by the wind and rolled for kilometres; others fell into holes, cracks ad crevices and stopped. As the eerie glow of the pods dimmed the sun arose. Each egg pulled in CO2 and nitrogen. Some had landed on ice; tiny chemical pumps first melted the ice and then sucked in the water molecule by molecule. Each became a tiny greenhouse. A minute pond half filled with water embedded in the ice. A waking seed bank. An embryonic sea. The bacteria and algae proliferated first. The rest were kept dormant. As the population rose the excess were pumped outside to die. Fertiliser. Some survived. These were from the icebergs and glaciers of the earth’s Arctic and Antarctic. They now painted the ice many interesting tints. The darkened ice melted and they spread. Other algae and bacteria took to the new trickles of water to find crevices and ice covered ponds. All made oxygen, some made shells of clear ice, some made ozone and released it. They began making an ocean and an atmosphere. It would take decades even at the equator. On land the eggs were at work too but it was slower. Unless they landed on ice patches they had to tap night frosts milligram by milligram. They did not create greenhouse ponds but were damp enough for their inside to become an tiny Terrarium. A bowl shaped ecosystem pumping out oxygen, bacteria, and lichen. As the planet warmed ever so slightly the weight of melting ice was lifted from its mountains and continental plans. Mountains groaned and creaked, earth quakes shook the world. The landscape changed but there was none to see. Long plugged and chilled volcanoes exploded into deadly life. Thin layers of volcanic dust further fertilised the world and most importantly darkened the ice causing even faster melting. Some eggs were lost but not enough to matter. Where sulphur was found and could be sucked in, a special family of bacteria, engineered for the propose, made Dimethyl sulfide. On the now long gone earth this substance seeded 98 % of clouds and rain, 99% in the southern hemisphere. Without it there could be no rain only dew and frost. It was made by algae in the ocean in response to salt. The new born oceans of Alioth were too sweet. Some day many years form now the rains would wash salt into some sea or lake and the Phytoplankton that made Dimethyl sulfide would seed them. These plankton were so important that they are in every single egg awaiting this opportunity. Finally 30 years after the eggs first fell the rains came. The ground burned where it fell. Many compounds: Magnesium, phosphorus, sodium react badly to water. In some places the rock itself burned brightly. Some eggs were fried, a little. The rivers ran. Tearing away at centuries old regolith. Turning jiggered hills into rolling hillocks, filing precipitous canyons and gulleys with deep sands, clays and gravel beds. Strata made in a month that would have seemed a million years old to an uneducated eye. Some eggs were buried, forever lost. The oxygen level rose as carbonic acid in the rain liberated a trillion tons of oxygen from various unstable minerals. Other chemicals now liberated, trapped and bound kilotons of carbon dioxide. Instant limestone, dolomite's and carbonates filled some valleys. Crude soils, sandy, dusty or muddy, began to form. Now it was time for the seeds! The mother hen had now slowed to the point where she could enter stellar orbit but the sun was far behind her and she was gong the wrong way. The eggs now truly hatched, folding open seed sized hatches and ejecting the seed into the bacteria rich soil. There were no flowering plants; they were for the hands of man. Few pollinators would survive the circumstances but that left many plants: mosses, grasses, sedges, and some useful trees: small seeded conifers, poplars, aspens, and cycads. Only wind and water pollinated plants with very small seeds. Nuts and large seeded trees were on the Ark as was a full set of all the eggs treasures. In the first few years the patches of green were too small to see from even a nearby hill. Yet year after year they spread fast. The world greened. The Sea turned blue. The waves Cyan. There were still Snow and ice, deserts and barren mountains, dead rivers but the first pioneer plants had been sown and life giving oxygen liberated from rock and ice. There was wood and food to be found. When the Ark fall came the world awaited. Mother hen, silently cruising a quarter light year way, would be proud.
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