She picked at the skin next to her thumbnail while the head of the zoology group droned on about the reproduction rates of apex predators and their prey. This was all stuff the previous generation had studied at length, but he “wanted to refresh their memories” as they began a new phase of breeding.
Val didn’t need her memory refreshed. It didn’t go stale like some people’s apparently did. What she needed was to get back to her research. She was days away from being able to present her finding about twin cells. It was going to change the whole way they looked at their world.
A sudden silence made Val look up. Was he finally finished?
Then Yun, annoying as always, raised his hand. “One quick question…”
Val wanted to cut his tendons, but she put her agression into making her thumb bleed, instead. The drops of red welling up calmed her a little.
“We won’t take you away from your individual projects,” zoology was saying, “but we do ask that you provide sustainability estimates for the fodder we’ll need for domestic herds and be on hand for other questions as they arise.”
He could have asked for that in a message. Why were they all in a meeting?
“So this breeding project isn’t displacing the others?” Yun really liked to have things spelled out for him.
“It will for the zoology department but for botany, that won’t be necessary. We do ask prompt replies, though. The governor has made this a top priority. Our presence has already lowered herd counts, and we need to learn all that we can about sustainability in order to make the decision of whether it’s time to open the ark and begin seeding Earth animals onto Una.”
Val’s head snapped up. He had to be kidding. She had to have heard him wrong. One of the two of them had clearly taken a blow to the head.
“That can’t seriously be an option,” she said loudly.
“Nothing is decided yet, of course.” Zoology put on his best diplomatic face. “But it has always been one option, and a few people have begun to suggest that this might be the time.”
The way he said it made Val sure that he was one of the people arguing to open Pandora’s box.
“Is there ever a good time for xenocide?” Val didn’t believe in hiding agression from her superiors. Either they could deal with opposition, or they should give authority to someone who could.
“That’s not exactly a fair characterization…”
“You’re going to release birds into an ecosystem with no flying predators, and you don’t think that will decimate the insect population? Or were you thinking goats to wipe out the vegetation?”
“We would start much smaller…”
“Oh good, yes, let’s start with single-celled organisms that can infect the existing flora and fauna. Mass extinction is always a laugh.”
“Ms. Garrigio, this is not the time or the place for this discussion. We’re working on this project to hopefully prevent the necessity of opening the ark.”
“The second we even consider this, it’s time for the discussion. The charter clearly stipulates that our guiding principle will be to care for the world we colonize, including its preexisting flora and fauna.”
“That is one of our guiding principles. Another, more fundamental one, is that we all work for the good of the colony first and foremost.”
“It’s not in the best interest of the colony to murder entire populations of living beings.”
“That word is overly dramatic. It’s not in the best interest of the colony to starve.”
“Well,” said Zen brightly, springing to her feet, “this meeting got way off track. I don’t know about zoology, but the botany group has a lot of work to do. Shall we get back to it?”
Val was staring down zoology. (She suddenly remembered that his name was Bron, which just proved that his mother was as stupid as he was.) She wasn’t willing to let him off the hook yet.
“Val,” Zen said, taking her arm. “We’ll take this up with the governor when we need to. It’s time to get back to work.”
Val liked Zen. She was a good group leader and a thoughtful scientist. A little too much of the politician, but if that motivated her to keep taking all the extra administrative work, that was fine by Val. Space knew, Val didn’t plan to do it.
She let herself be led away, ignoring Zen’s final assurances that they would get the necessary data over to zoology ASAP.
“Thanks for making my job so exciting,” Zen said when the door shut behind them. “What would I do without you?”
“I’m not going to apologize,” Val said, though the stress lines around Zen’s eyes did soften her a little. “They can’t be seriously thinking about this, and if they are, we need to be saying a lot harder things than what I just said.”
Zen sighed. “You know I agree with you. Of course I do. But calling people murderers isn’t going to convince anyone.”
“I’m not trying to convince them. I’m trying to call them out, so they’ll feel enough shame to do the right thing.”
“The right thing isn’t always quite that simple.”
“It is in this case. The original colonists brought along the ark because they were planning to land on a planet with little to no life already in existence. Instead, we found this.” Val gestured at the tough grass beneath their feet, the neatly planted gashi with their thick spines and their glorious blooms, crimson in the autumn air. As if on cue, a pennifin fluttered by, its translucent wings sparkling. “We don’t need animals from earth. We probably haven’t even discovered all the ones that are on Una.”
“Probably, but we haven’t discovered any new ones in the last decade. The planet is sparsely populated, and in spite of our best efforts, our presence is lowering the populations of nearly every species we’ve found.”
“Right. Because we introduced an alien species. Which is exactly why we can’t introduce any more. You’ve seen the preliminary outlines of my research, Zen. This entire world is built on different building blocks than ours, and we barely understand it at all. We almost killed ourselves once because we didn’t see the twin effect, and we were so relieved to have solved that one little problem that we never looked deeper, never saw how vital those twin pairs are to the survival of every living thing on this planet. And yet they’re easily disrupted. They won’t survive the introduction of the kind of ferociously fecund life that thrived on Earth.”
“I know.” Zen stopped outside the door of the botany lab. “And when the time comes, I’ll stand up and argue that right along with you. But for now, we need to finish our research and to cooperate with theirs. That’s the way to convince people.”
“I’ll finish the research, no problem. The cooperation is up to you.”
“Fine,” Zen said. “I’ll do all the communicating with zoology. Just promise me you will let me do ALL the communicating. No more arguments.”
Val shrugged. “Done.” She wasn’t planning to leave her lab for the next week anyway.
If finishing her research had been a minor obsession before, now she’d work on it like the whole world depended on it.
Most likely it did.