Interstooler

The “oversight” committee was aptly named. It was possible that their oversight was going to cost our species dearly, as in extinction. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We had thought of everything, archived every snippet of our DNA and understood exactly how to modify, repair, and massage our genomes to perfection. We built our bodies to be strong and, well, perfect. We mastered the code, so we controlled everything.

Then we started getting sick.

The oversight committee convened to oversee our genetic peril and concluded that they had missed nothing. They were dead wrong, of course. They had missed the main thing, the fact that our genome alone was not the Holy Grail to immorality. It was our entire genetic landscape in the most holistic sense that was key to long-term survival. Our genes were perfect, but those of our gut microbiome, that was another story altogether. Yup, that darned oversight committee overlooked the critical genes that were chugging away in our bowels, creating the fuel that made us, well… us. As pedestrian as it seemed at the time, we had neglected to note that even most elegant starship could be compromised by one batch of bad fuel.

Fortunately, the committee’s oversight had not extended to interstellar travel, nor had they forgotten the location of our planet of origin, that radioactive ball of ideological speciation called Earth.

So, echoing too accurately the song of the ancient space mariner known by the cryptic moniker Bow-Ee, “Here am I floating in my tin can” toward a raging hell of a planet that is, as far as we know, devoid of life, but maybe not devoid of the miraculous polymer encoding it. The chances of success are redonkulously low but I have to try because if I don’t then my planet, too, will be devoid of the life, as least as far as Homo superians is concerned.

The radioactive decay is precisely on mark. Bathed in atomic isotopes with half-lives ranging from a few thousand Earth days to 700 million Earth years or more this place was laterally on fire and would be forever. Good thing some of the ancients managed to leave before joining the vast majority of the population whose legacy was billions of charcoal silhouettes.

But to the task at hand, I land my spacecraft and calculate that despite my protective gear my personal DNA would sustain irreparable damage in a little over one Earth hour. I set to work with my PhotoPlow™, the laser burrowing deep through the scolding strata and into the remnants of a sewer system where the last shred of hope for our survival may yet linger. I descend the smoldering hollow and begin my quest. Minutes tick by and… nothing, not one damned microbial genome to be found.

Wait! Jammed into the hot soil packed into a deep crack in the sewer pipe wall I detect the impossible. Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, organized into a polymer that could be the DNA I seek. I dig, scrap and finally, against all reason, use my bare fingers to pull out a gobbet of dripping black goo containing the organic remains of some ancient bug. This is fantastic! I don’t need the organism itself, just it’s DNA sequence, so I place the goober into the chamber of my Gnomiculator™ and attempt to determine the species based on the fragmented library of short sequence elements the oversight committee managed not to overlook. A stream of expletives escapes my maw as I determine that the little bastard is a mutant form of “Clostridium difficile“, a distant cousin to the microbial genome in the bugs that are killing my own species.

“Shit, ” I exclaim in the ancient mother tongue, blinded by despair to the irony of the statement.

I remove the black goo and pitch it into the knee high radioactive wastewater. At this point words cannot convey the wave of hopelessness I am feeling. I check my timer and realize that I have less than five Earth minutes to get back to the tin can I have called home for many Earth years of interstellar travel. Only there can I begin the gene regeneration process to repair all the damage the radiation has done to my perfect, and soon to be perfectly worthless genome. After a few heavy breathes I begin the assent out of the high-energy particle cauldron. In a moment of attention deficit, probably resulting from radiation poisoning, I bang my head hard on a stony outcropping in the nearly vertical ascent tube. The rebound forces my face directly into a conical protuberance sitting in a tiny alcove barely missed by the PhotoPlow™. I cuss for the third time in the last Earth hour and begin to climb again when I stop short, my heart pounding, and question my sanity (as I have done many times on this expedition).

“No way,” wheezes out of my ever more radiation ravaged lungs.

I look over my shoulder and spy the geological anomaly sitting there as if to say, “You sure you want to pass me by?”

Again I utter, “Noooo way,” and follow up with a closer inspection leading to a discovery that nearly ended my life right there as I lost all motor control and began to slip down the tube.

I catch myself eye-to-turd. Staring at the perfect little fecal pile I realize it was the Holy Grail of a mis-gutted species. An excretion miraculously perched on this most unlikely alter of hope in the rock where it sat hardening for thousands of years on the outside but, unless my LifeProbe™ was malfunctioning, containing the essence of microbial life in a tiny radiation resistant core.

I was shocked out of my reverie by a loud alarm and blinking red and orange lights on the inside of my sleeve.

“Crap!” I shouted, again missing the irony as I grabbed the pre-coprolitic icon of survival. I hustled to my spacecraft in triple time. Realizing that my immediate survival was a prerequisite for the perpetuation of the rest of my species, I set the artifact down and jumped into the Rejoovinator™. After the first genomic scan the news was not great, I would live but there was irreparable cellular damage and my lifespan was likely to be shortened by a few decades.

“Who cares”, I thought. A thousand Earth years plus or minus a few decades is a good long life as far as I was concerned. And any life is better than what lay ahead if I had not performed the most righteous poop-scoop of all time.

I felt great as I exited the Rejoovinator™ and began to analyze the recovered object d’feces. The genome for the entire original microbial ecosystem was present in this little dude, and it seemed “healthy” at least as far as I could tell from the limited information we had about what constituted a healthy gut microbiome back in the day. How it had survived the radiation was unimaginable. But it didn’t matter! I was on the way to the home world with the cure!

Now in my old age as I reflect back on that crazy expedition I have to laugh. I am an unworthy hero, nothing more than a soldier who got lucky on an impossible last resort quest. But here we are, a healthy and thriving, albeit more cautious and humble species. The now legendary DNA was used to regenerate a complete and hearty gut microbiome, transformed into SynthoCells™ and swallowed, post GI cleansing, of course, by everyone on the planet. As in most legends there is one remaining irony, you see it turned out that that particular fecal sample was… wait! I’ll have to get back to you on that, a female just passed by with the most enthralling scent emanating from her hindquarters.

 

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