Saturday, July 13, 2019

Bungula: Buffer State (Part III)

The team of scientists and engineers constructs gargantuan domes on Bungula’s fully coalesced moon, using material from the oblong second moon. They then turn the heat up all the way, and convert the ice caps to liquid water, where they test the dark algae they created in a lab. It fares just as Mirage hoped, rapidly reproducing itself using the energy it collects from the mysterious dark matter, and microbes as a catalyst. Brooke was right to make Mirage test it, though, because it proves to be harder to maintain in its large numbers than they originally thought. This experiment allows them to come up with a better way to make sure the dark algae doesn’t get out of hand, and remain on Bungula’s surface forever. Mirage’s scientists spend what remains of a year studying their creation before transplanting it to the planet.
It takes another good year for the algae to spread across the entire surface, but its impact started months earlier. It produces minimal oxygen as waste, but it’s too thin to breathe. It will remain this way until something is put in place to hold the atmosphere together. The planet already does have a magnetosphere, but it’s weak—though not as weak as the one on Mars—and insufficient for human life. In order to make it stronger, Mirage came up with Operation Buffer State. Her team has been working on it for years, and now that it’s ready, it will turn out to be one of the shortest endeavors.
“They’re giant electrodes,” Sharice points out, looking at the design Mirage’s team created years ago.
“Essentially, yes,” Mirage confirms. “Current flows in one direction, and is resisted by the core of the planet, which heats it up, and gets it moving faster.”
“You’re trying to produce a stronger dynamo effect,” Brooke says, though everyone in the room understands that this is the point.
“I thought we already made a magnetic field?” Sharice questions.
“We did,” Mirage agrees. “We placed an artificial field generator between Bungula and Rigil Kentaurus, but that is only a technological solution.”
Brooke laughs. “These are all technological solutions. What else would we use to terraform the planet? Magic?”
Mirage shakes her head. “No, I mean that it’s a permanent tech solution. If we use the generator we have up there—which isn’t entirely working at the moment, by the way, since the atmosphere isn’t holding—then we have to leave it up there forever.”
“What’s the problem with that?” Sharice asked.
“Wait,” Brooke stops, “we’ll circle back to that. It’s not working?”
“It’s deflecting the radiation from the sun, but the atmosphere is still dispersing in space,” Mirage explains. “Radiation stripping particles away is not the only problem an atmosphere has.”
“Well, the algae is lowering the surface’s albedo, but it’s not really designed to generate a full atmosphere. Once we do that, will the magnetosphere still not be strong enough?”
“It could, if we strengthen it, but that’s not what I want to do.” She tries to think of how she wants to word this. “The algae is man made, the domes are man made, and the field generator is man made. Well, they weren’t made by men, but you know what I mean.”
They laugh.
“If aliens were to come to this world, they would see these things, and say, hey, people are, or were, here.”
“The point of terraforming the world is to be able to remove those things, and the planet still be completely hospitable to life. We won’t need domes when we have a full atmosphere, and the dark algae is only here to warm it temporarily, before we can create a greenhouse gas effect. The plan was never to create an algae world, obviously. Once we’re done, all the vonearthans should be able to pack up every single artificial object—small and large—and then leave it to that hypothetical nineteenth century man we were talking about when this all started.”
Brooke turns her head. “Again, you’re not actually wanting to transplant people from the past, right?”
“And you’re not planning on people leaving, right? We’re building a world for the colonists who all already here; not for someone else.”
“Of course,” Mirage says. “You make me sound like a bond villain. The idea is to  make a world that can support itself, just like Earth is. It doesn’t need humans to survive, so I don’t want Bungula to need them either. That doesn’t mean they’re not sticking around; just that they shouldn’t have to do any work to keep it alive.”
“Have you done your studies?” Brooke asks, like she always has to.
Mirage nods. “This will not harm the planet in any way. It’s not going to cause the mantle to shatter, or set off a global EMP. It’ll happen quickly, too. We’ll know if it’s working or not pretty much right away.”
“I assume you’ve already built these things, haven’t you?”
“I’ve decided that I require your guidance on every dynamic-shifting action. Building them before using them was harmless, however. I won’t activate them if you can give me a reason not to.”
Brooke bites her lower lip in thought. “Welp, I can’t actually see a downside to this. I mean, sure, you could electrocute every conductive being on the planet, but what are the chances of that happening?”
“I could provide you with the chances,” Mirage notes.
“That’s quite all right. I’ll allow you to do this. I understand your logic. First of all, technology can fail, and then this planet is screwed. Even if it doesn’t fail, it makes sense that we wouldn’t want to be totally dependent on it.”
“Good,” Mirage says. “I’m glad we’re on board.”
“I kind of have to be,” Brooke realizes. “After all, this mission doesn’t require us to manipulate time and space in a way the vonearthans don’t understand. This is not true for Operation Icebreaker.”
Mirage was hoping she wouldn’t bring that up. “It would take centuries to bring all those icy planetesimals here if we do it the usual way. We have a solid cover story; I think we’re okay. Speaking of which, Sharice, how is that coming?”
“They’re all on their way. That, along with the factories you’re building, should be enough to produce greenhouse gases sufficient for a healthy, warm atmosphere. We are right on schedule.”
“It’s still strange that we’re causing global warming,” Brooke laments. “I lived on Earth when that was one of our biggest problems.”
“We’ll be able to control it this time,” Mirage assures her, “from the start.”
“I know, I know. It’s still the project that concerns me the most, though. Not only are we using time powers to move the ice closer to us much faster, and not only are we smashing them into a colonized planet, but we’re also hoping we can retain any level of control over it. How can I be confident in that?”
“Just have confidence in me,” Mirage offers, “and more importantly, in your daughter.”
“There is no going back with this one,” Brooke warns. “We could destroy the algae, or shut off the electrodes. But if we realize we made a mistake with those planetesimal impacts, we won’t be able to stop it.”
Mirage places what she hopes will be a comforting hand on Brooke’s shoulder. Brooke isn’t human anymore, and Mirage never was, so touch doesn’t have the same intrinsic utility, yet inorganics continue to do it instinctively. Experts can’t explain why. “We have taken all the necessary precautions, and then some. Nothing is going to go wrong.”
Something goes wrong.

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