“Geoff … you’re safe,” he whispered to himself: since yesterday’s accident he had recalibrated all the instruments twice and done half a dozen tests, but there was no sign of contamination. it was in ruins. The responsibility for the manipulation and analysis of the sample returned by Beagle 4 was massive, a milestone in his career, and it was finally certain that no one should ever know he had to scrape the Martian dust off the lab floor.
Nobody except Martin, of course. It was Martin who tripped over his stupid feet and toppled the flask from the bench. Martin’s accident, but the flask was in Geoff’s hands. Geoff had the honor, Geoff had done interviews with the TV and the magazine, and it was Geoff that the press would have turned against and whose career prospects would have been reduced to dust if the sample had been ruined.
“Did you forget to water them again,” Martin Churches. He was on the other side of the laboratory to examine the leaves of a tomato plant. For years, the lab staff had produced a steady stream of home-grown tomatoes from composting bags positioned on the wide ledge under the high windows of the laboratory. “How is the analysis proceeding,”
“Good. No sign of contamination. “Said Geoff gruffly.
Martin stopped before answering. “When you say no sign of contamination, you mean no major contamination, do you mean that there must have been some contamination,”
“No. Nobody.” Silicates, metal oxides, traces of methane … the samples were all chemically identical to those we ran last week. ”
“But it went everywhere! I know we have been careful, but it must have collected at least some dust, surely there must be some contamination,”
The next morning, Geoff was still feeling the prints when Martin peeked around the corner.
“What about a particle size analysis,” He checked the corridor behind him and went on in a lower voice. “Maybe some contamination has occurred but it has the same chemical composition as the sample, do you see if there are atypical particles,”
“Ridiculous: There’s no way the dust particles will not show up in the spectrometer, the carbon levels would have skyrocketed.”
Martin shrugged, “OK, just an idea, I’m out for the rest of the day, so you’re watering again, please try to remember this time.”
Geoff grunted his agreement and returned to the press. Frustrating, Martin was right. There should have been some contamination, so maybe you should do a particle size analysis. After all, if there were any evidence of the incident, he would rather find it now than let any accursed university student expose it when the samples were released to the wider academic community.
A few hours later the results were in, but they were impossible to believe. This particular gadget used delicate vibrations and centrifugal force to sift the particles into different sizes that were then measured using lasers. Compared to the Martian dirt, any earthly dust would have looked like huge particles, but there was no sign of anything remotely so great. However, the results still did not make sense. The sample consisted mainly of incredibly fine sand, tiny silica and metal oxide crystals and, in particular, iron oxide which made the red planet red. In a previous analysis, these naturally occurring particles showed an approximately normal distribution of particle size, with some small, some large and the most distant from each other. The bell-shaped curve was there on the screen but near the top there was a peak, and that peak. Completely half of the particles that had been randomly distributed the size last week now seemed to be exactly the same size.
He took a sample on a slide and ten minutes later he was under the high-magnification microscope. Not only were the particles the same size, they were the same regular and complex shapes. Was that movement, Geoff held his breath and waited a few moments, but everything was still. Of course stress was coming to him. He sighed at his stupidity but, as he exhaled, he saw an unmistakable burst of activity on the slide. A few more breaths and he knew the dust was disturbed by his breathing. This was strange, while the slide was not in a sealed container, the baffles had to deflect the drafts. And even the movement was strange. Every time he exhaled, it was less as if the stray particles were blown and more like dust becoming slightly fluid. In fact, he seemed to almost wriggle.
It was almost five o’clock when Professor Parker left the lab. He frowned with the faded tomato plants, then he noticed Geoff at the end of the row with his elbows on the window, apparently staring at the middle distance.
“Afternoon Geoff, I thought it would be a good time to discuss your next project now that the Martian dust has …” The pallor on Geoff’s face stopped Parker on his trail. “Geoff, you look horrible, what’s wrong,
“No. Worse yet.” He knew there was no way to escape him, so Geoff began to explain everything that had happened: the spill, the cleanliness, the tests and the results, the bizarre changes in the sample and the conclusions he had in the afternoon trying to avoid.
Parker looked up from the microscope and exclaimed “but it’s great! You’ve shown that there’s really life on Mars”
“No. There was … There are not any more.” These nano-machines are clearly of an artificial nature, they were certainly created, so Mars must have had a highly developed technological civilization at some point. to break down organic matter My hypothesis is that carbon and hydrogen are released, probably as methane gas, and the remaining chemicals seem to be deposited or reused in some way, that’s why … ”
Parker interrupted: “… the dust disappeared, of course, dust is mainly human skin, so the machines practically ate everything.” His description was not scientific but essentially accurate. “But why would someone create a thing from the kind, what is its purpose, ”
Geoff had already found some ideas. “Maybe they were designed as a weapon or a research experiment that went wrong, All I know is that they are incredibly good at destroying the carbon compounds.As they seem to be self-replicating, I imagine that all of life on Mars it was wiped out within a few weeks of their initial creation and released into the atmosphere. ”
At this shocking thought, Parker stood up and took the lead. “OK, clearly this stuff is dangerous so, artificial or not, we need to implement protocols of biological accidents First we seal the air intakes, then we …”
Geoff ignored him and turned to the window while a light breeze disturbed the lawn outside the laboratory. It was hard to say in that early evening light, but now he was sure of what he thought he had seen before – the withered grass had definitely assumed the same orange-red tinge of the dying foliage beside him.