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Chapter 8: Calamari Soup

Willie here. I like to get a proper start in the morning. We stretch, do isometrics and bar work, eat breakfast of Chang seed mush (which Tiger cooks today, millet flavor), and brush our fangs. Like when I was a kid I enjoy imagining myself with lion fangs.

Wilma: Hey, Willie, look at the external view before we go past it. There are clouds over the eastern ocean!

Me: Clouds? You're right! Tiger, we should get a sample before they dissipate, and try to find out what's causing them. We haven't seen a cloud since we got here.

Tiger: Absolutely. Who's going to put the sample bottles on the lander?

Wilma: I will; I'm all ready and I can put the suit on quickest. Willie can review the video and plan altitudes.

It's hard to estimate altitudes off the external view, but the clouds cast shadows on the sea and even though they're not sharp-edged like a Terran cumulus cloud I'm able to get an approximate height from the offset: four kilometers. Not particularly high. There are also round dark spots in the water, like oil slicks. I check the history file. Both the spots and the clouds were first evident about three hours ago, shortly after local sunrise, and while the clouds drift away the spots persist from one orbit to the next. We'll have to get one or more water samples too. The same thing is going on in the western ocean, though the angle of our orbit precludes a clear view. Let's see: one water sample from a slick and two bottles of air from each ocean, and let's have one air sample right over the same slick and one within a cloud at about three kilometers. I'll do the western ocean first, since we're already past the eastern one.

Wilma: It's ready, Willie. Test the valves.

Me: Testing, pressure drops. The valves work. I'm going to want water samples, so can you take the dip tube off the sonar frame and attach it somewhere?

Wilma: Will do. OK, it's clipped on. You can take it away, and I'm coming in.

I use Tiger's autopilot program to optimize the lander's hop to the western ocean, which is almost half way around the planet from us. It takes about fifteen minutes to get there at two G.

Me: OK, coming up on the target. I'm heading for the larger of those two clouds. It's not very dense, is it? OK, got the first air sample.

Wilma: Holy shit, look at the X-ray sensor! And the APX too; that's radioactive! Better get out of the cloud, Willie. Xenon-133, lots of that, xenon-135, that's a halflife of nine hours; what happened down there? It looks like every reactor they have blew its stack.

Me: Look at that! I have a bad feeling about this.

Tiger: Back it up and be ready to run. Back up a kilometer. Better make it two.

Practically under the lander there's a froth of white water and around it the algae changes color from bright to dull yellow-green in a circular pattern, expanding quickly then slowing down. And I'm glad I pulled the lander back because a gas bubble bursts spectacularly in the center of the pattern, hurling water two kilometers in the air. Steam, it must be, and boiling water, almost to my altitude. The lander is buffeted by the wind. The upwelling hot water that follows the bubble is free of algae and appears dark.

Wilma: It can't be! 1173 MeV and 1332 MeV, that's cobalt-60. That's not a fission product!

Tiger: Get it out of there, back into space. Now! Those fucking bastards! They're using cobalt bombs. We're in the middle of a nuclear war!

Me, as I crank the joystick: What are they doing? Why? And how? How are they delivering the bombs?

Tiger: I have no idea, may they rot in hell.

Simba is grimly silent.

Tiger: Look, people back home won't be satisfied unless they know. It has to be either ballistic missiles or some kind of airplane. It was spread out over many hours, so it's not missiles. Willie, would you go down again and scan the eastern margin of the ocean? Look for something flying.

Indeed, fifteen minutes of hunting, during which we see two more detonations offshore, turns up a white speck at about a thousand meters altitude. I approach and trail it. It's actually not small, fifteen meters wingspan, some kind of membrane spread by a tube frame to form a Rogallo wing, like a Terran hang glider. But it doesn't just glide; there's a motor of some kind and a membranous propeller sticking out the back. A tube is slung underneath: a large version of the familiar heptapus torpedo. Suddenly the propeller stops and the aircraft begins to descend. I look at Tiger and she signals to keep following. Soon the torpedo hits the water and the wing pitches down, collapsing in a heap and slowly being dragged under by the weight of the motor. Tiger jerks her thumb skyward and I comply. Quick enough there's a new cloud and a dark spot in the ocean.

Tiger: That's plenty; that's more than enough. Bring the lander back. We won't take any more samples.

Wilma: I don't think that's a good idea. Bringing the lander back, I mean. Cobalt-60 got on the lander and we'd better figure out how to get it off so we don't expose ourselves to it.

Tiger: Shit. OK, Willie, park it in orbit. Circular, two kilometers under us; it should stay there and not hit us. So what now? I don't know what to do!

Me: We'll have to make a statement. What lesson do we have for the people back home?

Tiger: Of course. I'm not much of a commander, am I, getting rattled like that.

Simba: You're doing just what you should do. Let's settle ourselves down for five minutes; I'm going to breathe; and then start the statement.

I put the lander on autopilot and follow Simba's example. Wilma switches places with Tiger and fits her hand into mine.

In five minutes we're a little more steady.

Tiger: I think it's important to find out how bad it is in the eastern ocean. Willie, would you handle three jobs? First, drop down in the east and get into a cloud. Wilma, am I correct that we could tell if the cloud had cobalt-60 even though some is already on the lander? Then, make a pass up the middle of the ocean at about forty kilometers altitude, to document the extent of bombing. The orbiters, we should photograph the whole area again as soon as possible but they're not adapted to the kind of quick survey we need. Finally do the same thing over the western ocean. Let's finish up by looking for bomb craters on land, or possibly even a crashed unexploded glider, so we can maybe identify what nuclear fuel they used. I'm sorry to jerk you up and down so many times from not planning, but it was kind of unexpected.

Me: No sweat, Tiger. I'm on it.

Tiger: Now, the statement. Willie, you can participate while flying, right? I think we're not ready to make any kind of assessment or reaction or lesson; I don't know what to think and I imagine you three feel similarly, right? So just the facts. Quote: This early morning the heptapi in the two oceans of Njord fought a war with cobalt bombs. We'll hold it up until Willie confirms cobalt in the east, though I think it very likely. We are trying to determine if any heptapi survived. Not saying they're all dead, because we don't know, but implying it. We are thankful that Earth people voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons. We will have a further statement and assessment of the situation when we know what to say. How's that?

Simba: Could we be a little less raw on the last phrase? Maybe: when we know more facts.

Wilma: The whole situation is raw. I don't know what to say and Tiger's wording matches my feelings.

Me: I'm kind of in agreement, but I have another issue. I'd like to say: We're disturbed by having told the western leader about the need to shut down fluorocarbon production in both oceans and its going on to a final solution to the problem, which evidently backfired.

Simba: I'm disturbed by that too. As the speaker. And people back home won't miss the coincidence.

Tiger: Are we guilty? I don't feel guilty, at least of that. But we can't hold up the statement until we're sure. You're right, Simba, that we ought to say something, but I think it should be nonjudgmental. How's Willie's wording?

Simba: Good, particularly the reference to a ``final solution''. But change ``a final solution'' to ``its final solution''. Pin the blame firmly on the Nagus. It belongs there, I think.

Me: Just a sec; coming up on a cloud. Wilma, would you watch the sensors?

Wilma: I'm on it. Cobalt-60 just tripled, quadrupled; I think you should get out if we want to keep the lander useful. We can use the first sentence of the statement just as Tiger wrote it.

Me: I'm pulling it up. I'm going up and over for the mapping pass. Do we have any more improvements for the statement? I'm satisfied with it.

Tiger: Wilma? Simba? OK, spelling check, oops, my fumble fingers. And it's in the data stream. That sounds awfully cold, doesn't it? We can't exactly carry on like nothing happened, can we? Well, what are we going to do different, now that the heptapi are gone?

Wilma: Were those gliders guided, or did they just kind of come down when they ran out of fuel? If the two sides had specific targets, likely the heptapi were killed efficiently, but otherwise there could be a fair number still alive. Particularly at mines, which may escape fallout entirely, particularly those to the west of the western ocean.

Tiger: Good point, and when Willie has the maps I'd like someone to do a simulation of two killing mechanisms: shock waves and radiation. I'd like to be able to say, assuming all heptapi were distributed same as the bravos, that is, uniformly by area, so many percent were killed outright and the rest have so many days to live. I'm making the assumption that none can survive, outside the mines as you say, and that does need to be supported with facts. Wilma, you're the one who could do that best, right? But we're not going to, well, look, I'm not going to force a decision on this down your throats but I have some very good reasons, and we're going to have to put those down in a file pretty promptly and explain ourselves at home.

Me: That wasn't too clear. We're talking about rescuing heptapi, right?

Tiger: Right. How about someone else starts brainstorming what we're going to do with them after we rescue them.

Me: Well, we... Yeah, where do we put them, if not in their stinking mines? How do we bring them water that isn't full of cobalt-60? How long do we have to build facilities? And some source of clean water. What are they going to eat while all this is happening?

Simba: What are they going to eat after all this has happened? Can we just set them up in small aquaria that we build for them, in separate cages so they don't kill each other, and feed them Chang seed mush? Hey, commander, here's what we can do for you; just swim over here! I can't say the expletives by voice but I just know its response.

Tiger: You're awfully quiet, Wilma. What do you think? Is rescuing them adding cruelty on top of cruelty?

Wilma: It just isn't right, if they're down there and we don't lift a finger. And a lot of people back home will think the same way. And it's so convenient: we don't want the heptapi around, so we find an excuse to let them die.

Tiger: I think you're entirely correct, and I think we, and specifically I, am going to go down in history on the honor roll with Ivan Gromkii and Adolf Hitler. This is called a double bind: if we rescue them we're violating them and condemning them to a fate which from their point of view, it doesn't matter what we think, is worse than death. Plus we expose ourselves to being attacked if we can't straighten them out, geld them and wimp them, as I said a couple days ago. If we don't rescue them our people condemn us as monsters, with possible bad consequences for the other lions. We lose either way. Damn the Nagus, damn it to Hell! Simba, it's the fate you cursed them with, an impossible situation. I think we have to be ruthless here. What's best for the heptapi; as rescuees they have to come first. What's best for Earth? What's not best for us heroes? I think the Prime Directive applies here: as you put it, Wilma, we don't lift a finger to help them.

Wilma rarely cries and hates to be seen doing it. She's getting awfully close. I find her hand and comfort her.

Tiger: Anyone have any comments? I'm going to start this out saying: I, Tiger 6-3512 Leones, commander of the epsilon Eridani mission, determine that we are going to do nothing to help any heptapi who may have survived the nuclear war. You don't have to deal with the message; I'm the commander and it's my job to shovel the shit out of the recycler when it gets blocked up.

Me: Don't get that way, Tiger! I think it's important that the humans be united with the lions in this, important politically. And also, expression and phrasing are going to be important and Simba is best at that. Wilma? I'm sorry it's gone so bad, but what, how do I say this? What are you going to do?

Wilma: Ruthless. Tiger's right; we have to do the wrong thing, because the right thing is even more wrong. Doesn't that sound stupid? Doesn't that sound really, really stupid? How are we going to explain... OK, I'm steady; I'll help us to explain it, as best we can. I hope der Führer likes company on his honor roll. Burn in hell!

Simba: I think maybe the most powerful way to put across the issues would be a nearly verbatim transcript of this discussion. Other ideas?

He's right, and I think we've expressed our positions pretty eloquently to each other. There are a number of editing issues, but the statement goes together pretty quick. And I'm thinking beyond our predicament: it isn't often that the kids on Earth, or the adults, get to see someone like Tiger make a really tough decision practically on camera. I hope they can have a little maturity like we've been forced into, and see, like Wilma said, that the ``right thing'' is sometimes very, very wrong.

Me: People, I've finished both map passes and I'm starting on the bomb crater search. Look, it's really depressing: we came here to find life, and now all we have is death. I wish we could plant some Chang bushes on the other side of the planet so it isn't a total writeoff. But it's too dry even for them, and getting dryer. Isn't that right, Simba?

Simba: I'm afraid so, and I think that emotion fits with the rest of our statement. Mind if I edit it in?

Me: Sure, put it in. Too bad it can't be real. I'm thinking of something else. We have to decide what research we want to do now on Njord. I didn't study, you know, nuclear fallout distribution patterns as a preparation for this mission, but I think it likely that the zonal winds would smear the cobalt-60 around the quadrant where the oceans are, but it would fall out fairly fast and the southern hemisphere would mostly be spared, and the radiation level in the North upwind of the western ocean would also be low. Heptapus archaeology would still be feasible in a lot of places. Also geology.

Simba: This is a little like robbing a corpse, but I really think we should search the oceans and know, not guess, that the heptapi are all dead. We'll build a deep submersible. Also, I'm very curious to see what they were really doing: their technological level. With the mix of high and low tech they used, it's hard to figure them out. Maybe they devolved from a golden age, hanging onto only some of the technology. Or maybe their style is just to use a couple of slaves to hand-crank a high-tech pump. I mean, tentacle-crank.

Me: Isn't it crazy? The heptapi wrecked their planet under our very noses, and we've never even seen one! Just vague ghosts on the sonar, and tentacles above the water on the first day.

Tiger: Definitely crazy. Wilma, what's your feeling about all this?

Wilma: Sorry, I was just thinking about something. We're going to have to be very careful with radiation. The submersible, for example: there'd be no problem for us to build it and operate it, but once it went in the water I think we should plan on never bringing it back. Similarly we can use the lander and its instruments, but on the planet, never here. We'll want to build a new lander and keep it carefully out of the contaminated areas.

Tiger: How fast will the radiation decline?

Wilma: Pretty fast. Think of it this way: different isotopes have a big range of halflives, seconds to millions of years. When the uranium atom explodes the pieces are random in size, sort of, and you get all different halflives. You lose most of them in seconds to days. If you survive that, you wait out the month-type isotopes. After a year your main threats are strontium-90 and cesium-137, with thirty year half-lives, because they imitate calcium and potassium and so are retained by the body. And in our case, cobalt-60, which has a five year halflife and packs a wallop. You mentioned cobalt bombs. What's the idea, put cobalt around the fuel to absorb neutrons? It sounds like a suicide weapon.

Tiger: Right, the doomsday weapon. The intent was to exterminate the enemy, and hope the fallout doesn't return to sender.

Me: But what I don't get is, you know, we splash through a bunch of bravos. We tell the commander about the cold trap. Two days later we meet the Nagus and tell it the cold trap is failing. Overnight it bets everything on a surprise strike at its rivals. We humans, we'd study the issues to death, with every stakeholder consulted, and nothing would happen. Look at the carbon dioxide level on Earth! We're too cautious and too unwilling to be ruthless, but the heptapi are insane.

Simba: Actually I'm not too surprised, in hindsight. The Nagus said something about old stories. I'll bet there's a legend or oral tradition or something that came down from when the ocean first started to evaporate, blaming it on the fluorocarbon. When we came in out of the blue and confirmed the story the Nagus said, step one is to force cooperation from the other ocean. By blowing them away. Then we'll figure out how to actually clean up the fluorocarbons.

Tiger: But the risk!

Simba: A heptapus that doesn't take risks doesn't survive. You have to swim up to the surface to get food, and be quick or tough enough to avoid being eaten. You have to take a chance on probably one big fight to get your first entourage member, or become one yourself, or a meal. You have to fight a senior heptapus, who can hit back and who's looking for galley slaves. And meals. Up and down the line, if you risk all and win, that's great, you advance. Anything else and your tentacle ends are tossed on the seabed. The Nagus is conditioned to take a risk like that. We just had no idea they had nukes and the means to deliver them. Who would have thought, hang gliders!

Tiger: It makes sense, in a perverted way. Look, we're going to have to reassess research priorities, and then that's going to affect the production schedule. And we have to say something to Earth about what just happened. I'm going to suggest a writing assignment: each of us write an essay about how we feel, plus how the death of the heptapi is going to affect research in our areas. No, not commingling; Earth gets the first part, and then we'll do the research changes separately and thrash them out among ourselves, and send a combined document back to Earth. Let's give ourselves three hours for the essays and then trade them around for editing. Jeez, take as long as you want; it's not like it matters to the heptapi.

Right, not that it matters. I do my essay on desolation, and on my ambivalence toward the heptapi: I'm outraged at the manner of their death; I'm outraged at them for the manner of their death; and I'm outraged and desolated that I'm forced to turn my back on them in their time of need. It's not a pretty essay, but it's not about anything pretty either.

I notice about halfway through that Tiger is bothering Simba. It's kind of funny: they're scrunched sort of overlapping like they often do, on adjacent consoles, and apparently they're arguing, but it's on NetBoard on the consoles, not face to face even though their shoulders are touching front to back and their faces are centimeters apart, looking at the screens. This kind of thing isn't rare because they don't shy away from conflict when it's real, with each other or with us, but they're both careful, as are we, to keep arguments strictly on topic, and to know exactly how much a particular topic is worth in irritation. This one must be pretty important, judging from the tail lashing. Finally Simba pokes Tiger in the ribs and saws it off with a few Tiger signs: I've got an essay to write. It's hard to see at this angle but I think Tiger looks somewhat sullen; then she shakes herself (literally) and gives him an ``I love you'' sign, which in my opinion is rather perfunctory, and goes back to the console. I finish my essay and kind of lounge around, reading over sections and making small improvements in the wording. Apparently Tiger is the last to finish.

Tiger: Sorry to keep you guys waiting. Look, I'd like to change the plan slightly. I'd like Simba to make an edit pass over everyone's essay, since I think that's what it will come down to anyway, for the most part. Then we'll all read each essay and make comments, and do the final draft. But while Simba is doing that, I'd like something from you two. Wilma, suppose the objective is to make comets hit planets. We have a fairly large number of comet positions, though the orbits are poorly defined. Make the obvious extrapolation and estimate how much mass we can put on either Njord or Thor as a function of time and of available force.

Simba: Jeez, Tiger, I told you! It's backward and it's premature.

Tiger: I heard you the first time. I'm not going to sleep until I get an answer, and I think Willie deserves one too. You can edit essays if you want. Willie, your assignment is similar: the largest source of volatiles, specifically water, in this system is Wotan. What do we have to do to get that water off Wotan and onto either Thor or Njord, and how long will it take?

Me: You want to refill Njord's ocean!

Tiger: Exactly, or put one on Thor. But like Simba said, there are a lot of issues here. Like I said, without the volatiles, without the technological capability to obtain them, the hard parts are moot and we can just forget about life in the epsilon Eridani system. I want to know relatively quickly whether I should consider this star system to be a writeoff.

Simba glowers.

Tiger: Look, beloved mate, we'll do it step by step. Keep the file from the NetBoard session; all your objections have to be looked at, but this is the one I want to look at first, because we'll get a number and it's likely to tell us go or no-go. Think about it, OK? You don't have to stop thinking about the biology, or whether it's the right thing to do, but a rejection on orbital mechanics is absolute, and that would save us from an awful lot of mental hell.

Simba: OK, OK, if we're agreed that the technology could be within our reach but we can reject it on other grounds.

Tiger: Agreed, it has to pass every test. But I want a promise from you: we'll decide on the merits. You're not saying veto for a reason none of us know about.

Simba: Yes, yes, on the merits. Not on your reason you're not telling us.

Tiger: Agreed, promise. We're both honest as lions should be. Hug?

I'm a lot happier to see those two hugging rather than fighting. I'm very curious to see what else is in the file Tiger mentioned. Before I start on my assignment, let's see what problems there might be beyond water. Genetic suitability of the Chang bushes. Should there be just Chang bushes or a complete ecology, and if so, do we have the expertise to handle creating it, or are we irresponsible to make the attempt? Epsilon Eridani isn't Chang territory; is it hubris to put them here rather than leaving it dead? Is someone going to have to hold the bushes' hands for hundreds of years, and if so, can we commit Earth that way? Our license for the Chang bushes: filling a planet with the things outrageously exceeds our license, so who's going to pay Chang, how much, and how do we monitor it? And what penalty for not negotiating in advance, which is obviously impossible? I pride myself on seeing little details like that, and I hope I've gotten some that Simba missed, and I hope we can make a wise decision. I understand why Tiger wanted the technology analyzed first, and I'd better get on that.

Well, I've tried a lot of combinations, and what it comes down to is, water on Wotan costs about three quarters of a billion joules per kilogram if you take it to either Thor or Njord. If we used all the power available for our starship it would take us 2700 years to refill the oceans of Njord. Forget it. It's time for our reports, and I let Wilma go first.

Wilma: Actually, refilling Njord's ocean by pushing comets around isn't completely impractical. If our comet survey is representative, there's about one Earth mass of comet material out there. Its average orbit time is forty to fifty years, more or less; epsilon Eridani has a smaller Kuiper cloud than Sol, both in mass and in radius. That means an average comet could be near Njord in twenty years. That's a long time to push on it, and we only need a tiny fraction of the comets to be lined up generally in Njord's direction. With a million large pusher chips, if we could find the favorably aligned comets we'd be able to push enough of them, with a twenty year push time, onto a collision course to refill the oceans. I mean, what the heptapi have now, not to the original level. There's only one problem: the fluorocarbons are still in the air, and the radiation is in the water. And where are we going to get a million chips?

Tiger: Suppose the target were Thor, what then?

Wilma: The mass needed is almost identical, so the number of chips is the same, but on Thor there's no atmosphere. Ultraviolet would break up the water just like on Njord. Also the bushes need air.

Tiger: Are you saying that if the comet orbits were favorably aligned we could do it, or...

Wilma: No, the directions are random and we can expect a certain fraction to be pointed close enough towards Njord. Also, some comets that go near Wotan or Freyja can be thrown right at Njord if we steer them right. But we have to find the good comets out of thousands of comets that are too hard for us to handle.

Tiger: So where are we going to get a million chips? Willie, we'd need automated factories. You know generally how we make chips, right? Is this idea totally up a tree, or should we keep on it?

Willie: In theory we could make chip factories, particularly doing it in orbit to avoid contamination. I don't want to guarantee anything, but we should keep looking. Like at some of the ethical angles. We can't properly kill the plan on the first day on the factories issue.

Tiger: OK, so the project isn't technically impossible. Look, I'd like to get a framework on the table so we can think about this; otherwise we'll go round and round like a canine after its tail, like Simba and I already did. Simba, are you able to listen? Basically I'm repeating what you said to me in a different order. We aren't yet going to define precisely what ``it'' is that we're going to do, but it includes Chang bushes growing somewhere in the epsilon Eridani system like Willie said. First layer of questions and haranguing: are we obligated to do ``it''? Are we obligated not to; to leave this system dead? Is there a middle zone where there are other reasons to act or leave it alone? Let's use the phrase ``replanting''. Now the next layer of questions is, who replants? Us personally? Experts from Earth? Or of course it might be nobody. Once we get past those tests... Look, Simba, don't glower at me! I'm describing a route, not prejudging that we have to wiggle around to get onto it. What am I supposed to say: if we're unlucky enough to get tossed through those tests?

Me: I think the next phase would be to define precisely what the project would be, and that might raise more questions of obligation and personnel.

Tiger: Thank you, Willie. And crosscutting that is technical feasibility, and the first of many questions in that area was just answered affirmatively; I stopped myself from saying ``favorably''.

Wilma: I had some thoughts in all of those areas. I think it will help us to keep them organized, so we don't flip back and forth between areas before finishing one answer.

Me: Right, I have my own list. I want to talk about replanting but I also want to finish the essays. Simba, how are you coming?

Simba: I think I should put about fifteen minutes more into it. I'm sorry, Tiger, to be so bitchy, but can I say this now, what I'm feeling? The heptapi wrecked their planet and ripped the guts out of this system, and we were right there in the nexus, same guilt trip like when El Oso died and just as spurious, but I'm really touchy about our obligations here, and I think a really powerful obligation is to not screw this place up a second time. I'm not going to be railroaded into a decision that I think is wrong, as in evil wrong, or where we have a big risk of making Thor like Njord if we fail. I'm sorry, Tiger, to have to use such emotional words, but I do feel it and that's not going to change.

Tiger: I know, and I'll keep my temper. I'm going to do some paperwork, something boring, keep my mind off all this crap. Tell us when you've finished the essays.

Actually I have a feeling that I screwed something up on the assignment Tiger gave me, but fifteen minutes doesn't bring me any insights; Wotan's surface is too far down the hole and nothing can be done about that. So I turn to reading the other people's essays. Simba is working on mine now.

Wilma surprises me, which isn't all that rare. She's made the reader really understand what a heptapus would feel after being rescued, as far as a human can emphathize with a heptapus. She (and, I'm sure, Simba's improvements) bring me very close to feeling sorry for the poor things. Close, but I'm not qualified to be a saint.

Tiger's essay is strange, as she frequently is. Its theme is ruthlessness. She and Simba kept Coyote and Mariposa at their house when they figured, correctly, that the kids' mother, dying of cancer, was home committing suicide. She, Charlie and the SEC policy committee decided when and how to make CQMT public. I hadn't heard this one: her second kitten Bear climbed up their tree and panicked. She told Bear to cut it out and come down, then walked out on her, went in the house, and peeked through the window with Attila and Mariposa, shaking all the time until Bear was safely on the ground. It was really necessary for Bear to learn steadiness and courage even at that young age, but I'm not sure I could have been so rough on Wolf or Wooly.

Simba's own essay is an interesting analysis of how people, particularly heptapi, get into the mindset of gambling all on one roll of the dice. You hear about the winners, not the losers, and you learn from what you hear about. The heptapi are even worse that way: learning is by ingestion, or not being ingested, and the only ones to survive are those who gamble and win. But...

Me: Simba, you're done with my essay? May I make a comment on yours? I think it would be stronger if you could use yourself as an example, like Tiger did, and I had some of that too. What do you think?

Simba: Well, that's kind of hard because I had prudence pounded into my thick skull at the Lion Foundation. As did you. I don't gamble like that. Well, that's not completely true. I don't gamble like that, but I'll take a chance, even a big chance, when I think it's justified, and actually I can think of examples of what I've done that would make a good contrast in several sections of the essay. Like the lynching: I didn't have to go to the rally and defy them, but I didn't do like the Nagus either: I planned carefully what I would say to have the effect I wanted on the people around the edges, and particularly how I would get out of there in one piece when, not if, the nut cases attacked me. And the Xylogen stock: there's another example of a high risk choice, but again I knew, not guessed, that if Xylogen went down the drain I would have worked for a month and gotten room and board for it and worthless stock: big deal; I got what I mainly wanted: room and board. You're right, the reader can get into it better if I'm telling what I did, and I'm pretty proud of what I did, and it will make a better lesson to tell them to imitate me rather than just to not imitate the Nagus. Thanks, Willie.

Me: Of course Xylogen didn't go down the drain. And don't forget your little overnighter in the snow.

Simba: Right, that's a good example of a chance we shouldn't have taken. Which Dr. Franck made us very aware of, before we got to eat our breakfast.

We criticize each other's essays. Simba actually changed very little this time, because we want the essays to represent each of us individually in our reaction to the incredible events of this morning. But the changes in my case were important: two repeated words that he broke up, and he evened up the length of some paragraphs to keep the rhythm flowing, a particular bugaboo for Simba. And as Tiger predicted, we don't have much help to offer each other; my comments to Simba were the most substantive. They're good essays, and I wish I could have some feedback from Earth how the people at home react to them, but we'll only know that when we wake up from the return journey.

Tiger: OK, they're in the data stream. And I think it's time for dinner. I don't feel all that hungry, but I learned a long time ago not to let emotional upsets cut into food and sleep. Let's eat, and then do something non-threatening, like some music. OK? We have lots of time now.

Yes, Mozart soothes the nerves, and so does a midnight snack of maize flavored Chang seed mush with sugar and cloves.

Me: Hey, Simba, we could make more dishes if we had more sugar, like cookies. Aren't we supposed to be able to hydrolyse the starch in the Chang seeds?

Simba: Yes, but the enzyme comes from a bacterial strain that I haven't had time to get working. I really should set that up; I have a sweet tooth just like you, even if mine is made of opal.

Wilma: Right, you've started all these kinds of squash and we ought to make pies out of every one. I can help; geology is going to be kind of on hold until we can build another lander and another APX machine to put on it.

Tiger: Right on all of that, and I promise we'll get the production schedule realigned promptly, when we're sure what we'll have to produce. Anyone ready for bed? I know I am.

Me: (Yawn) I am too. Brush your fangs; I don't want to have to do any dental work on this trip.

Tiger: Tease, tease; I brushed already. But Simba, you didn't. Good night.

In the morning somehow the sky is blue and the birds are tweeting; it's all in my mind, but I feel like a weight is off us. The heptapi sure did us a favor by taking themselves out of the picture. It was really not fun dealing with them and I expect they would have become more of a pain rather than less as time went on. I'm a little guilty for that unkind thought. But not enough to spoil the mood of the morning.

Me: Good morning, Tiger! Working before breakfast?

Tiger: I had some thoughts I wanted to get into a NetBoard session. I think we're going to be using them today and I didn't want to slow the rest of us down. Now that everyone's waking up, while you're washing the sleep out of your eyes I'm going to take my turn on the exercise bar.

We wash ourselves in wakeup sequence and proceed on to stretching and then strength work, Tiger having done a double exercise including one-handed simulated chinups and pushups and handstand pushups. She has shoulders of iron and wrists of spring brass, and for many years the arm that grew back after the accident has been as strong as the original one. Finishing first, Tiger gets to eat first.

Tiger: Simba, did we eat all the maize last night? I have a craving for it.

Simba: I think we did, but there's some in reserves if you really want it. I got a lot of barley flavor in the last harvest; several plants were ready at once. Maybe you'd like that.

Tiger: Sure, that's OK. I'm going to eat it dry. I feel like exercising my teeth today, tearing and crushing something, and then I'm going to purée a tomato. Anyone want that; I can do two or three.

Wilma: Yes, make one for me, please.

I think Tiger may be taking out her frustrations on the Chang seeds. It's something both Tiger and Simba have done occasionally, though raw Chang seeds are too hard to be enjoyable for us humans. They can work their ten centimeter fangs together like shears and there's a notch or step to shred tough bits before they move it back to the molars. The shearing action also keeps the razor edges sharp.

After breakfast we get down to work: deciding whether we're going to replant this system.

Tiger: I know we've all been thinking about replanting, so I made up an outline similar to what we talked about yesterday. I suggest that everyone fit their thoughts into the right categories. Then we'll all read everything, then condense similar positions, negotiate dissimilar ones, and fill in gaps. Sound good?

It's fine by me. My contribution is mostly ecological. A garden of just Chang plants would be a futile gesture, a sterile symbol, because the plants would eventually die out. We ought to have three or four trophic levels. First, primary producers, plants. Then herbivores such as insects or mice or cows. Then carnivores such as spiders or hawks or Panthera leo, the kind of lion in the zoo. Simba took a course in this area and he'll have the final word, but I believe a second carnivore level helps stability. But a single species of plant isn't a good idea; there should be several, let's say four, with overlapping geographic ranges, and similarly at the higher levels, and each eater should be able to handle most or all of the foods at the next lower level. We also need a few scavengers, and detritivores in the soil to dispose of otherwise inedible wastes. There's also the ocean that has to be populated. In the personnel area of the outline I point out that I've estimated thirty to forty species, and Simba will have to identify which ones we can just copy off our discs with minor modifications and which will need radical redesign, but in any case we're talking about a long, long process of genetic engineering. Definitely longer than eight years, our maximum mission length. This conclusion is discouraging, but maybe one of the others will have a solution, or else we'll just have to give up the idea, but in any case I'm not going to waste the mood of the morning.

Wilma is finishing up an essay in her area, which is basic chemistry. The cosmic abundances of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen (by atoms) are one to three to six, approximately, and we found that the comet we mined has close to these proportions, and so does Wotan's atmosphere, except for oxygen since the water freezes out of the higher levels. As molecules we have two parts ammonia, three each of methane and carbon dioxide, and six of water. If we're replanting Thor we'll want, and will get, a lot of water and a lot of carbon dioxide, because oxides in Thor's soil will absorb the carbon dioxide (and also water) and compete with the plants for it. But on Njord the carbon dioxide would be an embarrassment. The big problem is, what do you do with the large amounts of methane and ammonia?

With the right bioengineered enzymes, the reaction of methane and carbon dioxide in equal amounts yields biomass. It also uses up all the carbon dioxide, and takes energy: solar energy at 100% efficiency, not likely for real plants, would use up the methane that would accompany an Earth ocean in a quarter million years. We can't wait that long.

But there's another reaction. If the endpoint is carbon, or coal, and if the bugs can go direct (also not likely) rather than building biomass first, the reaction releases a small amount of energy and water is left over, cutting the amount of material needed in half. So we end up with a vast layer of coal under our ocean, and it still uses up all the carbon dioxide, a plus if we're replanting Njord but a minus on Thor.

Finally, what about the ammonia? For a given mass of water we're left with about an eighth that much nitrogen and no place for it to go. That would mean about fifty times Earth atmospheric pressure, which won't do at all. Again it's a discouraging conclusion but I'm not going to give up hope yet.

Simba has a number of points to make. He didn't do any detailed analysis of the number of species needed, but he does have some quick but quantitative estimates for how much genetic engineering would be needed for four of them: the Chang bushes (to resist methane and ammonia), a Peromyscus (that's like a gerbil), a suricate... and a lion person. A quick scan back to the personnel section shows why that's on the list: he's independently come to the same conclusion I did, that the work will take quite a long time, and he's gone on to conclude, he says, that if we replant, then we're going to need a colony to finish it and take care of it beyond our lifetime. That conclusion has obvious implications for us.

In the first section of the outline Simba has put a paragraph about what would happen if we recommended to Earth a planetwide initiative to replant the epsilon Eridani system, assuming the job is too big for us to handle. His conclusion is that the wrangling attending the start of this expedition would just be repeated on a grander scale, and unless a charismatic leader with deep pockets or rich backers materialized to crystallize the process, abstract values of environmental protection would not be sufficient to get any help to a star 10.8 light years away. That charismatic leader is already in the epsilon Eridani system and already has as much resources as Earth probably could provide given the difficulty of moving mass so far. Thus if the job gets done, it will be done by us right now; if we decline to replant, nobody else will do it for us.

Tiger doesn't have a lot of material yet. She does have a short assessment of political reactions on Earth and the lessons, good and bad, that the people we represent might draw from what we do. She also has what I take to be preliminary notes for an orbit simulation, that she's not going to finish, concerning various ways to land a comet on a planet, and the resulting seismic and blast effects. Her conclusion for that is that there's no way to slow the comet down. It could be useful, she says, to drop the comet on the planet's pole in a grazing impact, spreading out the damage to the planet's crust as well as diffusing the seismic source. For that, since comets will arrive from all directions, we'll have to throw them past Wotan or Freyja to turn them to the orbital plane of the planets. Complicated, but having two targets takes about thirty percent off the amount of pushing we have to do, to get the same mass of comet juice. Tiger's reason for targeting one pole is to avoid messing up the rest of the planet with craters. Also, the pole can be hit at any time of day whereas a lower latitude target will be facing the right direction only once a day, greatly complicating aiming the comet.

Tiger: Did you all get a chance to read the whole file? I'm afraid my stuff isn't very helpful, but the rest of you, I'm real pleased with this information, maybe not the way it's pointing but the fact that it's pointing somewhere. Would you mind if we made a few simplifying decisions at this point? Everyone carefully says ``Njord or Thor'', but Njord is going to be radioactive for quite some time, and full of Freon-11 for a lot longer. Let's forget about replanting Njord and only consider Thor. In a thousand or two thousand years when the fluorocarbons are gone, someone else can think about replanting Njord. What do you think?

Me: Good idea; Njord is really a write-off, and we should stay focused on the planet that has a chance, Thor.

Simba: I don't like to write off a whole planet.

Wilma: So you want to keep it on our list? But we'd have to start by getting rid of the fluorocarbons, and I don't see how to do that. Just like we told the heptapi.

Simba: I don't like it, but I guess I have to go along. We aren't actually going to be able to get and keep enough water on Njord to replant anything.

Tiger: Good, that's settled. Now my next item is, Simba is absolutely right with a number of the objections he raised yesterday, and I think we need to be honest with ourselves, and we need to not distract ourselves with stuff that isn't going to happen. For example, help from Earth. Does anyone seriously want to keep on the list any consideration of returning to Earth and bringing back a supposedly better equipped or more expert team to replant? Or of asking Earth to send another ship?

Me: Better equipped? Who came up with that? We didn't know what we'd find here so we equipped ourselves with the best we could, which is information and a few key tools. They couldn't do anything different. More expert? I'm sure lots of people know more about lots of stuff than I do, but nobody has ever terraformed a world before. And like Mr. Silverman said, think of the mood in Congress. Oh, please, Senator Gorf, can you spare a billion dollars or two to plant weeds on epsilon Eridani II-a? By now the Burmese might be able to make a bigger contribution, but they're the only ones I feel sure would cough up. Simba's right: forget help from Earth.

Wilma: An Earth tie-in was never on my list to begin with. If we go back to Earth, Thor won't be replanted. Period.

Tiger: Sensible. Now the last one may be the make or break item, but I think the case for it is so clear that we ought to make the decision now. Proposed: if we replant, we can't do it alone. We're committing to, let's say this minimally judgmentally, the presence of intelligent Earth life in this system for the indefinite future. Replanting means colonization.

Simba: Let me make sure I understand you: we're deciding if the implication is true, not whether to colonize, right?

Tiger: Right. We could reject the colony idea, but it would mean death for epsilon Eridani.

Simba: OK, second, the helpers have to stay here until the job is done. Why did you say ``indefinite future''?

Tiger: I have a vision of indefinite elaboration of the ecosystem until it's as complex as Earth's. And realistically, if someone grew up on Thor and her whole life were given to building that world, where's her home? Would she ``go home'' to Earth, do you think?

Simba: No. I'm supporting your implication, however unpalatable it is.

Wilma: Simba says it like I would.

Me: Me too. This morning I couldn't see how the four of us could do enough genetic engineering to replant Thor, and I hoped you people would come up with a solution. And you have, but it's even more scary. Let's stop here and get some ideas about colonization, OK? And it's also time for lunch.

Tiger: Right, lunch. But I wanted to ask you for some technical feasibility issues. First, Wilma: Would you do an analysis in which we drop comets on Thor until there's enough nitrogen to make an Earth-normal atmosphere? My main concern is, will the regolith suck the carbon dioxide and water right out of the atmosphere so we're planting concrete, not plants? What's the rate of water loss; how much do we have to keep pumping in so the plants don't dry out? Now Simba, we're going to need bugs or lichens or some life form that can combine ammonia into nitrogen and hydrogen, and somehow get rid of the methane. We need all the carbon dioxide to make oxygen out of, and to feed the plants and the rocks. Can we gas off hydrogen, that's what I want to know, and how many years will it be until the atmosphere is safe to breathe? And Willie, I think your assignment is hardest. The goal is a fleet of vehicles that can drop down to Wotan and sweep up water or carbon dioxide from the clouds, minus ammonia or methane. Then we're just going to have to spend the billion joules per kilo to haul it up to Thor. So the step before that is a fleet of sundippers, a big fleet. And we need all this stuff fast, without a lot of hands-on attention from our colonists and particularly not from us. That means more automatic factories, like we were talking about earlier. Sound fun? Simba's starting to glower again: a detailed design is premature, but my main concern is, is it totally up a tree to expect a fleet of millions of these vehicles in a hundred years or so, because I'm afraid that's what it's going to take to keep ahead of the rocks' appetite for carbon dioxide and water. I'd like to go to the next level in assessing if the factory idea is technically feasible. So let's munch on some Chang seed curry with our teeth, and some hairy stuff with our brains. I'll make the curry.

Tiger is right: my assignment is hard. So is Simba's. Wilma has a result before dinner, estimating that the regolith will eat about 5e12 kilos per year of carbonic acid, that is, carbon dioxide plus water. This is one comet 3200 meters in diameter once a year. But Wilma has some further analysis. The total mass of Earth's atmosphere, which we're planning to duplicate, is 5e18 kilos. The nitrogen component will come in as ammonia, and if gotten from comets it will be accompanied by 1.9e19 kilos of carbon dioxide and 7e18 kilos of methane, plus a lot of needed water. There's probably enough rock to absorb that much carbon dioxide, but it will take a minimum of four million years. Tiger doesn't have to worry about the plants not having enough. Or does she, four million years from now?

But immediately we're going to have to do two things: first, get the methane and carbon dioxide to react producing coal or petroleum or something like that, with water left over. It turns out that this yields a small amount of energy if coal is produced, or if you include reducing the ammonia to nitrogen, with a highly aromatic petroleum as the product, then a small amount of energy is taken up. Second, as the rocks absorb the carbon dioxide left in the atmosphere we'll need a way for the fixed carbon to react back with the water (plus energy from somewhere) to produce carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

What we'd really like is to let the fixed carbon be buried, and to bring in preformed carbon dioxide. But we're talking about shifting a planet from bare rock to having an atmosphere, a hydrosphere and a biosphere, and Wilma points out that it will take the planet millions if not billions of years to adjust. Assuming I can provide factories for the vast numbers of vehicles and pusher chips and so on to fling comets at Thor and bring in water and carbon dioxide, we could set up an atmosphere, and Simba's bugs could in theory use solar energy to make an ocean of slime covered over by water, with oxygen in the atmosphere as a byproduct. (Make a note: coal sinks; petroleum doesn't. Forget the petroleum idea.) We could grow our garden, but as the regolith absorbed carbon dioxide and water the planet would look more and more like Njord: a barren desert, except with a cement surface. I'm not in favor of temporary replanting, nor of committing our colonists to survive and care for the world for millions of years, and if this problem can't be worked through, I'm going to vote against replanting. Nonetheless, we've been solving problems today and I'm not going to give up yet.

Tiger: I read your paper, Wilma, and it's just what we need to know. Simba and Willie, how are you coming? Any progress? Any showstoppers?

Simba: There are Terran bacteria and fungi that do all the transformations we need. The trick, I think, is going to be to get the bugs into some kind of symbiotic relation like a lichen, mutually supporting. One bug can't stay alive by itself. On Earth they can do step one here and step two there, but that's because there's a mature ecology and all the performers are ready to go all the time. Here it's the opposite, and the performers have to stick together in a little package in order that any of them can survive. It's doable; I'm sure it's doable; but it's not going to just happen. Top of my head, I'd estimate a solid year working on nothing but the atmosphere conversion bugs.

Tiger: Are there multiple pathways? If one bug fails is there a substitution likely to work around what messed up the first one?

Simba: In other words, is there only one chance for our hypothetical colonists to breathe? There's redundancy. Looking only at this aspect, we're not irresponsible to go ahead. Look, there are lots of complications, connections, alternative pathways and species to consider. I'd really like to get the information properly organized and written up, and then make a better estimate of the development time, but I'm certain that by the time someone would need to breathe the atmosphere there would be something to breathe.

Tiger: That's great! Considering only that aspect, of course. Now, Willie, how are you coming?

Me: Not so well, I'm afraid. I'd like to think long term. A breathable atmosphere would last long enough for us to get a nice colony and plant cover, but then the rocks would slowly absorb the carbon dioxide and water. The atmosphere would have to be replenished slowly for millions of years until the planet finds a new equilibrium chemistry. That's a whole lot more than an automatic factory could handle. I haven't made a lot of progress on the factory idea because I've been trying to figure some way to do the replanting that won't just dry up in thousands or millions of years, when I really doubt that we or our colonists will be around to do anything about it.

Tiger: Well, that's not so great, but that's the kind of information I really want us to find out about now, rather than twenty years down the road.

Me: I didn't say it was impossible; only that I haven't found a way to deal with it. I hope I can add ``yet'' to that sentence.

Tiger: Right. And by the way, I confirm your numbers; I was thinking along the same lines. Come on, let's break for dinner, and not beat our heads together afterward. Now I did the lunch; who's going to take the lead for dinner?

Me: I will, Tiger. I'm in the mood to do something useful.

So I wasted the afternoon not doing my assignment and duplicating what Tiger was working on. Not your usual steady, prudent, focused lion person. I may not have the fangs but I do have the training, and I didn't follow it today. Well, I'm not perfect and I know that real well, and while I'm going to do better tomorrow I'm not going to let this lapse spoil my attitude.

We have to conserve sugar, but Simba's tomato vines are just exploding and the fruit gives a good flavor, not sweet as honey but a kind of mild sweet and sour combination. Tomatoes and rolled Chang seeds will really hit the spot, I think. I wedge my butt against the opposite wall and start slicing.

Tonight is art night. Using the computer's paint program, Tiger draws an abstract splash in reds and yellows, and I think I can recognize the curl of a tentacle several places in it: opposite sides, as if the heptapus had been blown to bits. Simba's picture shows the jittery terrain, the forest of dead trees, as it must have looked before Njord dried out. Wilma and I aren't so accomplished in art, but Wilma draws a quilt or weaving pattern, not that we have cloth to make it, with surprisingly attractive heptapi. I'm at a loss for a topic, but that's often the case, so I let my mind drift and what comes out is flowers. I put in several big fat bumblebees; I like bumblebees and I enjoy drawing them on the flowered background. Too bad I can't smell the scene.

In the morning I wake up stiff, and it takes a lot of stretching to get my legs to bend the way I want them to. Last night I had this bizarre dream: thousands of bumblebees (they're never that numerous, unlike honeybees) with drawers in their abdomens like that picture by Salvador Dali, but bees, not a person. The bees were going back and forth to the flowers and putting nectar in their drawers, and another group went to a mud puddle and put water in their drawers. And back at the hive, a honeybee type of hive, not a hole in the ground, there was this enormous mama bee who took little baby bees, not larvae but small adult-type bumblebees, out of her drawers and gave them laptop computers and Lion Discs to learn from.

Wilma, over tomato juice: It's obviously a subconscious message, but of what? Do the bees symbolize colonists?

Me: That's logical. Too logical for a dream. Let's just enjoy it. Maybe tonight I'll make a picture of it. You know Gaia? I wish Gaia on Thor had a bunch of little bees that could fly out and gather water and carbon dioxide for her atmosphere.

Tiger: Is that what the dream means? Interplanetary bees; that's cute. Put that in your picture.

Simba: Actually I think the Gaia thing is more kook science than reality. Feedback loops are nice but it doesn't mean the biosphere as a unit is alive, and particularly it doesn't say anything about intelligence.

Wilma: But it's a warm, fuzzy concept. It's nice if not looked at too closely. Wolf and particularly Wooly got a real good lesson in what kind of work you can and can't get out of that particular warm, fuzzy meme. Willie, you remember the argument we had with Wooly? Willie?

Me: I'm thinking... Would someone please wash my bowl and bottle for me? I really want to get this into a file. Interplanetary bees!

The brainstorm goes like this; oh, it's in multiple threads! I'll just throw it all in a NetBoard session and figure out what to do with it afterward. A pusher chip with paint or sprayed on glass as a cover. It has a CPU on it and an AATS with communication; it knows where the comet is. Millions of these things flit out and start pushing; you don't need a chassis if that's all you want to do! And it's cooled so it doesn't melt through the comet. And you can take them into Wotan's atmosphere... Idiot, that's what was wrong with the previous assignment: you put one in Freyja's atmosphere, turn on the cooling, freeze a ball of water or carbon dioxide frost depending on the altitude, and coast down to Thor, and it would probably yield net energy.

Me: You don't have to look over my shoulder; it's on NetBoard. But I'm on a roll: don't bother me until I run down, OK?

Now, control. Gaia watches infrared absorption lines from orbit and when the weather looks dry or when the carbon dioxide gets too low she mobilizes her bees. It's going to take multiple redundant cooperative orbital stations; hell, Gaia's brain and eyes would probably fit in a one liter can; let's say ten redundant units. Now the automatic factories. Type B makes only bees. Probably the water carriers should be optimized differently from the pushers but the same factory could make both. Type A makes factories, both A and B. It's self-reproducing. Takes over the universe! Not if the brain cuts off its ore supply. We'll want a type C factory which is basically a smelter. Regolith on Thor would be covered over with plants, but the interplanetary bees won't take that much mass; we could just sweep it up from Loki. And the smelter would separate everything and save it for the colonists to collect, or if they died out there would be this glittering trove in high orbit. Factory type A would make brain cans, smelters and miners. And they would be kept in orbit, or dumped out of orbit, by pusher bees under the brain's command. Forbidden to take over the universe.

Me: This next part, Tiger, is really your field, but just go along for a few minutes, OK, and we can use it as a base for discussion.

Tiger: Run with it, Willie! I want to see where you're taking it next.

Next? Next is, what's the input to factory B? Not wafers, rolls of single crystal silicon tape. We'll have a continuous Czochralski process, N sticks end to end of hot silicon, slowly spinning in opposite directions and slowly moving past heater rings. Electromagnetic positioning of the sticks; nothing material touches them and contaminates them. Maybe we can use an electromagnetic positioner to make the liquid fan out at the end so the tape can be grown in an integrated process. Maybe we want the silicon processing unit separate from the smelter so it stays clean, and each of these things can supply a lot of chip makers.

Well, what is a chip maker anyway? Most of it is a vacuum chamber and a very fancy vacuum pump, to keep our breath and fart gas off the chips. Giggle. We'll put an ion accelerator, nothing fancy, fifty thousand volts I guess, we'll put that in space behind a wake shield and just unroll the tape past it. Probably a certain amount of batch processing would be wise: implant and roll up the tape. Then unroll it quickly past a heater to anneal the ion damage, re-rolling it on the original side. Then implant the gates at a lower voltage, because you want the ions just below the surface. Anneal again. Oxide growth; how do you do that without contaminating the whole system? Maybe a completely separate facility. Then beam ion stripping of the oxide, and multi-layer metalization. And the final encapsulation: spraying with low melting glass, or maybe bonding, epoxy glue in ceramic tape, or whatever; there's lots of time to finish the details. And the final step is to test the unit and get it trans-spatially bonded to its partner chip.

Which is where? Someplace massive; someplace: Loki. It has enough atmosphere to spread heat around. No, the chips on Freyja, being in dense gas, would be best for disposing of heat, though useless for disposing of momentum. We need a power nexus; look, we should be building mass collecting bees, not sundippers, and using those to power the comet pushers. OK, any one bee will constantly swap roles: it descends to Freyja, yielding energy. It hangs around accepting everyone's heat and dissipating it in the thick atmosphere; I hope the packaging can withstand that. It changes to sending heat out, and freezes a ball of frost. It could even do ammonia if we need it. Now someone feeds in power and the bee rises, still pumping away heat. Free of Freyja's gravity, it speeds up a certain amount for the journey; we can't wait a year because we have to use power to keep the snowball cold. Approaching Thor it's going to speed up more from the gravity of Wotan as well as epsilon Eridani, and we extract its energy at that point, powering all the other chips. It alights in Thor's atmosphere, warms up, and allows the payload to drop off. Then it returns to Freyja and begins again.

Now the point is, a population of these things has to work together so several bees are in each phase: dissipating heat, collecting payload, rising against gravity, or descending and liberating power. But the power nexus can't be too big because the metalization can only handle so much current; high current takes little copper cutouts that you solder to the chip, and we have to keep this simple. Hmm, if the nexus sits on Loki the momentum vector has to be near vertical; how can that be arranged, since Loki rotates? Or here's a thought: suppose we can dynamically switch partner chips? We shunt the momentum to whichever partner on Loki is facing the right way. Can you reprogram the chips with such agility, particularly since Loki is so far away? I'm drifting into evaluation mode; I think I'm running out of ideas.

Me: Tiger, is this just my dream unrolling, or can we actually do anything with it?

Wilma grabs me and gives me a big squeeze hug.

Tiger: It's great, Willie, it's great! It's a dream; you humans created us, and now you, Willie, made a mechanical Gaia! What can't we do! Wilma, make some room so I can hug him too!

Simba: It's great, Willie. I'm not jumping up and down because it's putting pressure on some ethical concerns I have, but one certainly could do a lot with what you've been putting in that file.

Tiger (breaking from her hug): Look, Willie, I want to change plans here. There's so much in your proposal; we need time to all read it, you included, and get our minds around what it implies. But I'd like to tentatively conclude that the technical issues for replanting Thor are satisfied: if we can get through the ethics of it, we probably can get past any technical rocks too. So let's do it this way: now until lunch we'll review the Gaia plan and identify the areas that will be hardest, and it's obvious, at least to me, that factory type A heads the list. Simba, you don't have to glower for this; I'll say it nonjudgmentally: if we replant, and if we believe that factory A is feasible, solid judgment, not wishful thinking, we don't have to actually take the time to build one before beginning. If we spend person-years building chip factories by hand, we get a quadratic, not exponential, expansion of the interplanetary bee population. I have to calculate, but I think that will be sufficient. Then we and our helpers can build the first factory A, after the big push to initialize the atmosphere. Any objections, pending the calculation? But Simba has had his tail in a knot for two days, and I think it's time to seriously think about the ethical implications of replanting, starting after lunch. OK, people?

Simba: I'll be happy to get that particular knot out of my tail.

Wilma: Right, I have some worries about the colonists that I'd like a chance to talk about.

Me: Jeez, I'm drained! I think I need some time for my brain to recharge. Do you mind if I take a short nap now?

Tiger: Of course. We'll wake you if you sleep until lunch.

Which I do. Tiger is being liberal with the spices; she makes for us another of her sweet Chang seed concoctions, this time with millet flavor seeds and coriander. And when that's finished, and I've finished washing the bowls, Tiger puts up a blank NetBoard session and calls the meeting to order. As is our custom, we type or Tiger-sign our comments on the session rather than debating orally, so the watchers on Earth will have a complete record of our ideas and decisions. But we orient our heads to the center of the ship and we swing the consoles out from the wall so we can look at each other, not to be side by side or back to back facing the wall. All of us can type fluently, both English and Tiger signs, without looking at the keyboard.

Tiger: I'd like to make a couple of things clear at the outset. First is what we're deciding today. Proposed: we'll actually replant Thor, or we won't, provided details of technical feasibility don't turn up that show it's impossible. There's a certain point where we commit to succeed or die trying; that's not today. However, a rejection today is permanent. No second thoughts please. Is everyone clear on that point?

Simba: If we find out later that it's not going to work, we stop, right?

Tiger: Right, and if we find out soon enough we go home and regret that it didn't work out.

Wilma: And if we've burned our bridges...

Me: Then we don't go home, and we have no home here either.

Simba: Agreed. Details to be negotiated at necessity.

Tiger: Now who's going to decide? I'll decide. You people will advise me. We don't have to decide today. We can't drag on forever, but if there's something we have to study or analyze, or if you're just not ready, we'll take the time to get it right. This part I'm not asking; I'm telling you. Got that? Good, and thank you, Simba, for not challenging me. Now if I make a decision and one or more of you disagrees, I'm not going to stuff it down your throats. Some of the people will go back to Earth; we'll negotiate just when; and the rest will stay and do the job. I'm not prejudging which group I'll be in. But I want to make two points. Jeez, I hope it doesn't come down to this. First, it's going to be tough for four people to handle replanting, and I really doubt that we could manage it with one or more people lost, if only due to the skills. Second, I'm going to try my very best to do what I think is right, but Simba, if we end up on opposite sides, I'm not confident in my discipline. I don't want you to make a decision you think is evil. Look, keep discipline, please, everyone! Say what's right. If we have to look evil in the face and embrace it, let's at least do that separately, with the right thing in cold print. We owe that much to the people back on Earth who are watching.

Simba: Jeez, I love you, Tiger.

Tiger: And I love you, and we're on duty now. I'd like Wilma to start, on the next page, by listing your ethical concerns and giving a starting point for discussion both on the pro and the con side.

Me: Can I get a word in, for the introduction? OK? I expect to see strong reasons on both sides of all the issues. I don't expect to hear Tiger say, this is clearly right, and Simba says the same thing is clearly wrong. I expect a large number minus a large number, and the difference seems to stick out a little one way for Tiger and the other way for Simba. And the same for Wilma and me, of course. And then, which goal is most important? Not the same for everyone. I can think of ethical issues too, and I can feel myself shaving a little off an objection to get the answer I want. We're going to do a lot of that today. I hope what we decide turns out to be for the best, because I surely am not sure of myself right now. That's all I wanted to say. Wilma's turn?

Tiger nods for Wilma to begin.

Wilma: When there's a disaster, Earth people help. Earth people need to be reminded of that. There's a disaster here and we can help, so we should. But we aren't experts; we might make a planet-scale mess of it; people who try to help often have that effect. Should I give counter-arguments?

Tiger: Second level only, I think. We'll fill in the outlines quick enough. What's next at the first level?

Wilma: This place is dangerous. If we bring children into it, do I have to list all the ways they could get killed? The worst is, suppose we mess it up totally? We and they would have to quietly die together. Can you face that? Something on the opposite side: if we succeed, they're going to get something maybe worth all the danger: a new world all their own. I can't decide the subtraction.

Tiger: Noted.

Wilma: There's another item. Did you read about that couple: their first child had some kind of malf so her immune system was shot. They had a second child whose purpose was to provide a bone marrow transplant for the first one. I wanted to strangle both of them! You don't do that to people, use them like an ass-wipe and throw them away! That's what we'll be doing to the children we make, whose purpose is to care for Thor for millions of years. It's not right. But I have to say something on the opposite side: we don't have to cram it down their throats, force them all to do our purpose, and some people would welcome a pre-given purpose like that. Those are my items.

Me: Simba, who's next? Me now? OK, Wilma got several of mine, but here's another. We're setting ourselves up as tin gods. Look at the legend: the gods swoop down from heaven and call forth lightnings and floods and make the ocean and the sky and The People, and then make the necessities for them: maize, sheep, whatever. And teach them and give them laws. This is hubris, clear and simple, and we're going to get nailed for it, and you can't deny what the reaction's going to be like on Earth too. On the opposite side: it's our duty to replant this system, and it's our duty to stand up there and laugh in the real gods' faces as they take our heads off, and at our Earth sponsors when they pull our plug.

Tiger: This is a tough system, and you're right, fate can hit back. The heptapi know this from experience. Any other points?

Me: Yes, one more. I'm not sure how expert we are. Nor anyone back at Earth. I'm not sure what the argument is here: we should keep our hands off, or we should act because there's nobody better qualified. Simba?

Simba: I'm happy to see you two making my points for me. I'd like to slip in a technical footnote: we have one uterus here, and no reliable germline because of the heavy radiation dose we all took. All of the proposed kittens are going to be made not begotten, and I'm thinking of four groups of four. Tiger to gestate litters of four. Now what's going to be the effect on Earth, and what's the ethical implication, of Earth people putting lions, giving their only neighboring life-bearing system totally to lion people who are made not begotten? Pro: that's speciesist crap. Con: speciesist crap carries a lot of weight on Earth, and there could be a backlash to the lions. And ethically, I would be really disturbed not to have humans on this planet.

Tiger: I could possibly gestate a human child, but that's a technical issue. Let's have the next first-level item.

Simba: It's hypocritical as hell for an artificial creature to say this, but it bothers me that the ecology is entirely artificial, from bacteria to sentient lions. And mechanical Gaia! Willie, I'm not dumping on you; it's a splendid achievement to think of it, but nature is supposed to be natural. On the other side, the choice is artificial or dead. Now that leads into the next point: think of a stretch of coastline with just bushes and wildflowers and you. Or desert: Death Valley. The land developer wants to put condos on it so more (rich) people can enjoy it. Are we ethical to put life on Thor just because we think it needs some life? Some places ought to be left alone. I'm bothered by that but I can't be sure Thor is, or isn't, one of them.

Tiger: I know what you mean. You had another point, I think.

Simba: Two points. Humans, and lions by extension, are really poor at long range planning. If we make a commitment to this planet, make a commitment for other people, and if failure in that commitment means the planet turns into another Njord as the water is slurped up by the rocks, I'm not sure I trust our colonists to fulfill the responsibility we lay on them without their permission. That's two issues in one sentence, tying in closely with a point Wilma made. Now the other point, which also ties in: we can presumably trust the mechanical Gaia to fulfill its responsibility, but hell, we've all read stories about the monster machines from outer space. I've done enough computer work and artificial intelligence to know that it's all gimmickry, not saying the stories aren't fun but they're purely fiction, not how AI really works. Even so, we're putting an engine of monstrous power up there, and look, this gets a little complicated. We're going to die, right? In a certain not particularly large number of years. Our colonists are going to be on their own, with neither the proximity nor, at their tender age, the inclination to consult with Earth for guidance. What do you want to bet that they'll tinker with Gaia? And where might they send a Gaia next? Procyon? Sol, a gift? What will get into the Earth people's heads; where will they want to send the next ship? Are we letting loose a scourge on the Galaxy, not self-propelled but propelled by well-meaning colonists, that will cover the place with condos in twenty thousand years? Or has the crap already hit the fan, with us and CQMT, and our best move is to set a good example in this system and hope our colonists and the people on Earth will colonize responsibly? Jeez, I have a carrick bend tied in my tail!

Tiger: I picked you people to be my crew because you're sharp and careful. All my points are on the board already. Thanks for that. Now we have to organize them and start balancing one against the other: using Willie's metaphor, to do the subtraction of large numbers minus large numbers, giving one answer: replant or don't. Remember, we don't have to finish today, but let's make what progress we can until dinner, after which we should give it a rest. OK?

We sashay back and forth, pointing out this or that counterargument. Simba does his best to be flexible, but his ethical sense just doesn't accept the uncertainty in most of the positions. It's obvious that Tiger wants to replant, but she is a model of fairness and refuses to be an advocate, merely pointing out connections and facts, favorable or not. I'm torn in half: half is thrilled with the creation myth and half is horrified. Wilma flips back and forth, sometimes seeing lush forests hosting harmonious (idealized) citizens, and sometimes seeing disaster and blame in the eyes of a dying child. An hour and a half of this ends us up with clearer positions but no closer to an answer. Input to the board has become infrequent.

Tiger: We're running down; let's take a break. OK, session saved and backup copy. Let's do some foot tag. Simba, you're it.

It's a good game for taking out frustrations. We invert, feet to center, and start kicking. The rules are medium simple. No claws or toenail slashing, of course, or heel slams; the idea is to hit the other person with the ball of your foot, knocking his leg aside, and if you can touch his or her thigh you get a point, and touching the crotch, gently of course, counts double, but there's more risk of getting hit yourself. ``It'' has to win three points for a turnover, and then whoever's score is third highest (since the last turnover) becomes ``it'', and they exchange places, since endwise teamwork is significant. Fast action: nobody stays ``it'' for more than thirty seconds; and the rush of fur and skin against my calves and occasionally thighs is exciting; and we've learned how to do it vigorously with a minimum of bruises, banged knees or shins, heads bumped against the end walls, and squished balls. We built our ship ruggedly, knowing that it had to withstand up to eight years of human error, and so it can withstand the games too. Ten minutes has us gasping, and as usual, nobody can remember the total scores, except that Wilma just got two points.

Me (holding my balls): Jeez, that game is dangerous! But it's so much fun. I think I feel a metaphor coming on.

Simba: Message received. Let's get quieted down and reload the session. We haven't been analyzing it right, but I can't see where we've gone wrong.

Tiger: Maybe it would help to give an importance rating to each factor, and rate, you know, having a natural ecosystem has an importance of 3.5, and if we replant with artificial life we score zero, while if we don't replant we score one out of ten because it's natural but there isn't any life in it. Let's try making that kind of judgment.

We're not unanimous in anything, but we do get the issues sort of organized by importance, and we agree that to make progress we're willing to compromise on a consensus ranking. The winner turns out to be Simba's last point: the overriding issue is how will our decisions here shape Earth's (and potentially our colonists') attitudes about future colonization elsewhere?

Simba: OK, suppose we don't colonize. What do you think Earth will do?

Tiger: Send somebody who will.

Wilma: Remember the Chinese at your seminar, how badly they wanted their person on the crew? And remember, they've sent their own ship but it went silent, so they say. But they have sundippers, enough to run a ship, and we'll see someday in the news feed that they have a ship that works. Other groups might try it too.

Simba: And if we leave a power vacuum... If we're here we can insist on things, to some degree, like leaving certain areas wild or like not overpopulating the planet. And particularly, keeping Gaia dumb, docile and at home. I feel like I'm being backed into a corner I don't want to be in, like my other issues are being ignored.

Me: Ignored by us?

Simba: Ignored by me! And by the Chinese.

Wilma: By coming here we call down consequences we had no idea of. Tiger Leones' great adventure: I thought the biggest worry was that I'd get mummified.

Tiger: I was naïve too. But I thought we decided that if we went home nobody would replant Thor for us.

Me: That's still true. Specifically the Chinese, they're not going to do it for us; they'll do it for themselves. And I think they're not going to replant in the sense we have in mind either. Our motivation is to have life here, and to provide a lineage to care for that life. You read their statements and various peoples' analyses; they came right out and said that the planet, they have their own name for Njord and they obviously were thinking of landing in the middle of a working ecosystem, but the planet should undergo revolution to serve the needs of the people. Not the people serving the needs of the planet.

Simba: How long will our colonists stay high-minded like we are?

Me: Don't laugh; ecologism, how's that for a neologism? It's a meme, and a powerful one. Look at the Lion Disc: it's not propaganda, but a rational kid ought to see that his self-interest requires keeping the natural infrastructure running well, and most of them do see it that way. The election results just after we left: remember the correlation that was published between a congressman making ecologistic campaign promises and winning election? People are looking for that, and the Congress knows that now, and it's similar in the European Union, has been for a long time, and in Japan too, and even the Chinese are coming round, however slowly. Earth could even set a good example for our colonists.

Wilma: Warm and fuzzy, but I hate like hell deciding this issue on what the Chinese are going to do. I'm worried about the kids.

Tiger: So am I; I'm ruthless but my heart isn't exactly made of opal like my teeth are. You want an exercise in ruthless? Suppose there's a conflict with the Chinese; think about sending the little darlings off to the army to get blown up. I'm getting a strong feeling about abandoning this system to the Chinese, who are coming, you can be sure of that, versus covering it with a blanket of lion kittens with claws sharp enough to get the Chinese to stick with the program: take care of the planet. That's a message Earth really needs.

Simba: I agree with you, Tiger. And Wilma and Willie too. And I move the previous question, a tentative vote. My advice, of course with the possibility of further discussion, is to replant.

Wilma: Hate like hell: replant.

Me: Scared as hell: replant. We haven't discussed my issues any further but they're subsumed by influencing Earth to colonize responsibly.

Tiger: Honor roll with oak leaf cluster: replant. How did you put it, Willie? I'm thrilled at what we're about to do, and horrified at the same time. I propose at this point that we freeze the session, have an early dinner, relax, sleep on it, and make a final decision tomorrow morning. All agreed? Good. I'm proud of us, and I'm going to do this with joy, and the first step of that policy is, I'm going to make us a squash pie. And Simba, the way we're going through sugar we'd better make sure the starch hydrolysis bug has a high priority.

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