Rise of the Prokaryotes

Standard

“The biofilm is encircling the planet now.  And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

“There’s nothing we should do.”

“We can’t just assume it’s all for the best.”

“We can’t just assume it’s all for the worst either.”

“We need more information.  And there’s only one way to get it.  We need to try to communicate somehow.”

“What if it’s just bacteria doing what bacteria do?”

“Bacteria doing what bacteria do is going to suffocate this planet.”

“Then we need to communicate and see if we can get them to…disperse on their own.  And if they don’t, we execute the plan to destroy the biofilm.”

“Oh, we have a plan now, do we?  Last time I checked, the so-called plan was to blow ourselves up along with the bacteria.”

“That’s overly dramatic, Doctor.”

“When it comes to nukes, Professor, overly dramatic is still not dramatic enough.”

“Why are we assuming that this change is something sinister?”

“Because if another species is becoming dominant, they threaten us.  We’re about to become last year’s prom queen.”

“Last year’s…really?  It does sound like someone peaked in high school, but it wasn’t the prom queen.”

“Once a queen always a queen, and nobody in this room peaked in high school—if there is a such a thing.”

That last voice, the Voice of Reason as we’d come to call her, was Flora Nova Greenfield.  People listened to her, because she listened to them.  And sure enough, when Doctor Greenfield spoke, everyone in the conference room went quiet.  That included the ever-bickering-and-bantering “twins,” Doctor Wylde and Professor Finch.

“Ladies, gentlemen, rogues, and sundry, I implore you to focus,” Greenfield said.

Doctor Greenfield, a microbiologist, was the northwestern region’s representative in the newly formed International Research Consortium on the Planetary Biofilm.

She asked a simple question, a prompt really.  “Do we know if the species that makes up this planetary biofilm is dangerous to humans?  Or even to animals or plants?  Is it infectious?”

She paused.

“Actually, it’s not just one species,” Doctor Greenfield said, clarifying for the non-microbiologists in the room.  “Biofilms in general can be made up of more than one.  The planetary biofilm is composed of several thousand different species of bacteria working together in unison.”

“Is that—does that happen in nature?” one of the non-biologists asked.

I sat back and watched as the room once again burst into a flurry of questions, speculations, observations, and the occasional smarmy barb.

“How many of those species are ones that inhabit or live on the human body?  Does there seem to be any dominant species?”

“Unknown at this time.  We thought we had an idea and then more data poured in from all parts of Asia and that changed the composition percentages drastically.  The compositions locally seem stable and we’re breaking up the data accordingly.  But the global numbers keep shifting.”

“Has anyone heard about that antibiotic ‘bomb’ that someone in the eastern region suggested?”

“That might be no better than the nuclear option.  What if this is a result of changes we’ve made to their populations?  With our overuse of antibiotics in particular.  I hear the groans in the room.  Sorry, but we have to put everything on the table here, don’t we?  Are we worried about politics or something?  Shouldn’t it at least be considered as a contributing factor?  I mean, we’ve spent years cultivating all these super-bacteria resistant to all the antibiotics.”

“Regardless of what part we’ve played in bringing about this…phenomenon, the fact is that it’s happened, and it might be a danger, not just to our species, but to all species on the planet.  We for our part have to solve the problem that is in front of us.  So if we look back to the past, it should only be to that end.  This isn’t the time to chastise ourselves or stand on our high horses.”

“So, can this be called a proper multicellular organism?  We’ve mentioned communicating with it.  But it doesn’t have any central…brain or organs or anything. Does it?”

“I don’t understand, without any kind of central command, how can the biofilm remain organized?  How is it doing what it’s doing?”

“You think there’s a…queen bacterium somewhere?”

“No, we’re thinking of the constructs in our macro world.  Human command structures.  The queens of social insects.  An alpha in a pack.  Maybe this is more like the way that birds fly in unison even though they’re not following a leader.”

“Whoa, they’re not?  I never knew that.”

I never knew that either, like I never knew a lot of things I’d learned over the past several months.  Greenfield got the group to focus again and asked the gathered experts to present their data or current observations in turn.  No one presented any conclusions.

Data was still pouring in from around the world, gathered by academic institutes, government research facilities, private companies, and even citizen scientists going into their backyards to collect and analyze samples with the field kits that the Consortium had started dispensing a few weeks prior.

I was one of a few journalists who was invited to sit in on the actual meetings of the northwestern regional arm of the Consortium.  Doctor Greenfield had asked for me herself, to my mild surprise.  I wasn’t an up-and-comer.  I wasn’t a tried-and-true.  I wasn’t a star.  I was just a workaday beat reporter, trying to be a respectable journalist.  But I was one of the first ones to write about the planetary biofilm phenomenon.  Back when it was still considered hokum.  Way back then.  Seven months ago.

And Doctor Greenfield was the one who’d first told me about it.

***

Prior to doing the story, I’d never heard of bacterial biofilms.  I did know how resilient and omnipresent bacteria were.  They inhabit all kinds of environmental niches on this planet.  They are capable of withstanding extreme heat and cold, radiation exposure, low to no oxygen.

The most recent research I found counted as many bacterial cells in our bodies as the number of our own cells.  Thinking of it that way was strange.  Drawing that distinction. The bacteria weren’t just on and in and around our bodies.  They were our bodies.  They were part of us.  And they’d been exchanging genetic material with us for millennia.

Prokaryotes, they’re called.  From ancient Greek words that translate to “before nucleus.”  Unlike the cells of a multicellular organism like a human, bacterial cells didn’t have a nucleus, a membranous sac within it containing most of its genetic material.  A bacterial cell’s genetic material just floated around freely in the cell.  But to be fair, there wasn’t much of it by comparison.  Some have referred to a cell’s nucleus as its “brain,” which might imply that a cell without a nucleus doesn’t have a brain.  Though some might argue that there is no need for nuclei.  Bacteria had been kicking around the planet for a good long while before we came along.

I always thought they were lone wolves, prokaryotes.  Even though there are billions of them swarming in your blood when you get a bacterial infection, they’re like an army, a group working in unison, but made of discrete individuals.

Then I did a story about the challenges that hospitals have in cleaning all their equipment, and in making patients with implanted medical devices aware of the special dangers of not keeping those devices clean.  Even when they exercise the most valiant of efforts, it can happen.  A biofilm can form.

When bacteria landed on a surface—like the surface of a medical device—they could stick to it, and pretty firmly too.  A gentle rinse wouldn’t be enough to get them unstuck.  As they multiplied, they then formed a slime that connected them.  They released certain chemicals.  The more bacteria there were, the more chemicals were released.  The concentration of chemicals served as a indicator of how big or small the population of bacteria on that surface was.  The bacteria could sense it.  “Quorum sensing,” it was called.

And the weird or interesting or maybe even spooky thing was…there could be different species of bacteria growing in this slimy situation.  It was weird and interesting and spooky because bacterial species typically competed with each other when there were limited resources.  But in this situation, they started looking a lot like the tissues you’d find in a multicellular organism.  My heart, for example, is made up of all different kinds of cells working in unison to keep the heart—and ultimately me—functioning properly.  Muscle cells, blood vessel cells, fat cells, and so forth.

This growing blob of bacteria, when it sensed that it had reached a certain population number—a quorum, I’m guessing—they matured into a biofilm.  And this biofilm was able to make more biofilms by sending out scouts, like an ant colony, to find another surface to stick to and start colonizing.

So this was a problem if the biofilm was made of bacteria that were dangerous to humans.  But not so much if the bacteria were the harmless kind.

And that was why there was so much debate about what to do—if anything—about the biofilm that had started growing all around the planet.

***

Scientists first began to notice some strange activity in the atmosphere, starting with shifting weather patterns.  The density of the bacteria that normally floated around in the atmosphere increased and the composition changed.  There were signs of biofilm formation, which was strange since biofilms needed some kind of surface to anchor to.  That’s when people started doing some testing and seeing that there was a biofilm, and it was reaching seemingly impossible heights from earthen anchor points.

Health agencies in the vicinity of the first biofilms began noting an uptick in certain allergies— presumably from whatever stuff the bacteria were throwing off in the atmosphere.  There were no apparent increases in bacterial infections, but they feared it was only a matter of time.  Those who tried to warn the public and their respective governments were deemed alarmists.  But when similar reports and warnings popped up all over the world, it became harder to dismiss.  It became apparent that something was going on.

Groups of scientists and investigators—like the one that eventually became our regional research team—began sharing data and reaching out to diplomats to get an international consortium formed, with the purpose of putting all the local, regional, and global puzzle pieces together, and seeing what image emerged.  And proposing actions based on what they observed.

A few months in and the International Research Consortium on the Planetary Biofilm was formed with scientific and diplomatic representatives from designated regions.  A few weeks later, the first meeting was held.  Hundreds of representatives attended in person.  I was one of them, along with four members of the northwestern regional team.  Hundreds more attended virtually.

They started the first meeting by saying, “Do we have a quorum?”  I chuckled along with everyone else.  But there wouldn’t be much humor to come in that meeting.  I sat back, and just listened.

The first speaker jumped right in.

“There’s a bacterial biofilm condensing in the atmosphere,” she started.  “The point of attachment can be traced to the Earth, but the films are reaching up into the air through their extracellular matrix and past the troposphere, the stratosphere, and further still.  It’s so delicate that planes are flying right through it, but so resilient that those planes are causing little disruption and no dispersion.  The species composition changes to adapt to the specific environment that portion of the film is occupying.  And the biofilm has actually reached space.”

There was a solemn shuffling at her last point.

With the exception of a moderator and the absence of barbs—smarmy or otherwise—the discussion followed a similar pattern to ones that I was used to hearing in the conference room of the northwestern regional team.

It began with questions and answers about the composition of the biofilm, including the ratio of harmless to infectious bacteria.  Then it moved to the environmental effects that different regions were experiencing: public health impacts, changes in the soil or the water table, concerns about air quality, and so on.  Finally, different groups presented the results of their efforts to break up the biofilm in their particular region.  People had attempted to locally disrupt or destroy them, but they kept growing back.  The planetary biofilm kept restoring any locally destroyed portions of itself.  It seemed to be one whole thing by that point.

I didn’t hear anything I hadn’t already heard before, at that first Consortium meeting.  None of the other research teams had come up with a better option for disrupting the biofilm.  No one had yet figured out the origin point.  No one knew what the trigger was.  No one had yet seen any patterns in the various data streams. No one could extrapolate from the gathered data what the planetary biofilm and its resident bacteria would do next.

And no one knew, as one person put it, what “they” wanted.

***

“It’s not just a biofilm,” Doctor Greenfield said, a month after the first international meeting.  The various Consortium teams had made some leaps in their understanding of the planetary biofilm—or PB as some were calling it.  She pointed to the image on the computer screen.  “It’s layer upon layer of biofilm, adjacent to each other, but not quite touching.  But they are connected, see?  Through filaments.  If I had to guess, which I do, I’d say it was a rudimentary prokaryotic brain.”

I sat up.  It was nearing one in the morning, but I’d decided to stay that night and see what the midnight-oil-burners got themselves up to once the rest of us left for the day.  I’d been slouching in a chair buttressed against the wall while Doctor Greenfield showed Doctor Wylde and Professor Finch the latest images of the planetary biofilm.

“Is it a hive mind kind of thing?  I bet it’s a hive mind.”

“Stop saying ‘hive mind.’”

Doctor Greenfield crossed her arms, then she raised a hand to her face and cupped her chin between her thumb and forefinger.  “The assigned regional groups have tried various methods of communication.  Chemical signals.  Electrical pulses.  Sound.  Colors.  If we’re getting a response, we haven’t figured it out yet.”

“Why do you think it’s a brain, Doc?” I asked from behind them.  “What about the theory that they were just doing that thing that flocking birds do?”

“Where are the resources coming from to grow all that bacteria and keep the film stable?” she asked without turning.  “Do you know?”

I walked over to them.  “I understand there are some bacteria that can photosynthesize, like plants.  They are providing the refreshments.”

She smiled.  “In part, yes.  They also happen to produce oxygen—most bacteria produce carbon dioxide.  There are radiation-resistant species at the tops of the filaments or stalks.  Those help shield the rest of the species that are at the top-most layers.”  She paused.  “You know, we wondered about this kind of thing when we were contemplating trips out farther and farther in the solar system.”

“What, biofilms?”

“Yes, as part of our personal shielding or part of a ship’s shielding against cosmic radiation.  We were also thinking of bringing mushrooms…for their filtering properties.”

“Of course, filtering,” I said.  “It seems like everything this biofilm is doing really would be a boon for a long-term space mission.  The photosynthesizing, the radiation shielding, the oxygen production.”

“You’ve heard Earth referred to as a spaceship at some point, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, but if we could have chosen how to test our theories of the effectiveness of a biofilm shield, we would not have chosen to try putting one over the entire Earth.”

“Most likely not.  But that’s not all this biofilm is doing to support its existence.  The bacteria at the base, like the common decomposers are sending food up through the slime matrix that binds all the bacteria.  It takes longer to distribute, but it’s a more stable source of energy since the matrix—unlike the photosynthesizers—exists everywhere.  Certain species are releasing chemicals and proteins that are making the film stronger, even though it’s so delicate that we still can’t see it with the naked eye.  The imaging scans indicate a striating pattern within the filaments that remind me a lot of muscle tissue.

“Don’t tell me you found a throbbing heart somewhere?”

She grinned.  “Do they have to have hearts to be complex?  Plants don’t have hearts.”

“Don’t tell my mother.  She’s in love with that orchid I gave her last year.”

Doctor Greenfield gave a quiet chuckle.  “Division of labor.  Another characteristic of true multicellularity.  And another indication that there is a shot-caller somewhere in that sea of hazy extracellular matrix.”

“There’s one question, Doc, that I’ve been afraid to ask, or to look into until now.”

Doctor Greenfield turned her head to look at me then and cocked her brow in expectation.

“Why doesn’t the entire planet smell like rotten eggs?”

Her shoulders rose with an intake of breath, which she then sighed out.  “Why indeed?”

I felt a twinge of remorse at my teasing.  “What if they are answering us?” I said.  “What language would they use?  They’re not us.  They wouldn’t use our language.”

“Maybe they would.  They’ve been close to our bodies for age upon age.”  She put a hand on my shoulder.  “So close that some could argue against you that they are us.”

“A creepy thought.  Also creepy…do they know we’re planning to destroy them if we think their actions threaten to destroy us?”

***

“…the Near-Earth Object or NEO is scheduled to reach Earth over the next half year or so with a high probability of impact.  The world’s various space agencies have been conferring over the past few months and discussing the issue with world leaders, whose resources are already stretched thin trying to assure their people after the appearance of the still-mysterious planetary biofilm.  Still in the midst of grappling with one potential global catastrophe, we now have yet another to contend with.”

I stood, gaping at my television with the remote still held in my outstretched hand.  I pressed a button and the channel changed.  The newscasters on that channel were talking about the Near-Earth Object too.  I switched again.  And there too, they were showing computer-generated images of the object that was hurtling through space straight toward Earth.  No one had spotted it until now even though it was large enough to cause a global catastrophe, proving just how vast and dark space was, at least to those of us who didn’t spend our lives really thinking about it.

Though in recent months, most of us had been thinking about outer space on a daily basis.  Because of the planetary biofilm.  Because of the maybe-natural maybe-atypical biological phenomenon that might choke us to death.  Only, no one really thought that anymore.  It wouldn’t make sense for PB to kill the planet on which it lived, and all the organisms on which it relied upon to survive and thrive.  Dead plants and animals that provided the decomposing bacteria their feasts.  Living plants and animals that served as lifelong hosts for harmless bacteria.  And occasional unwitting hosts for infectious bacteria.

I rushed to the offices that morning, eager to know what the group thought about the new emergency.  What would the Near-Earth Object do to the planetary biofilm if it hit?

I walked in on an active argument between the twins.

“How can it be a coincidence?”

“How can it not be? You’re saying that the PB ‘knew’ somehow?”

“On some level that must be so.  The behavior makes sense now.  The PB is preparing.”

“You’re anthropomorphising a bacterial biofilm.”

“Greenfield agrees with me.  She was the first one to point out the brain.”

“It’s not a brain.  It’s a thickening.”

“You’ve got to start somewhere.”

“Wouldn’t it have had to possess the capacity to think before it started growing?”

“Doctor, Professor,” I said walking in and settling in a chair between them.  They were seated, as usual, one chair apart at the conference table.

I was early.  A few other members of the team were present, but their eyes were locked on the overhead monitor where a live newsfeed was streaming.

“They look scared,” someone said.

I tried not to glance at the monitor, because I had noticed the same thing.  All the newscasters, no matter what channel I turned to, no matter how reassuring their smiles and head nods were meant to be, had the same look in their eyes.  Some hid it better than others.  Some could not help but to show it.

Fear.

I saw Professor Finch’s eyes flick to the monitor.

“A more sophisticated form of ‘quorum sensing’ maybe,” Doctor Wylde said, a little too loud.  She was trying to draw her colleague’s attention away from the news.  “That could be how they started aggregating.”

“What?” Finch glanced back toward her.  He blinked a few times.  “You said words, but the words made no sense.”

Wylde grinned.  “Attaboy.”

Finch’s shoulders relaxed.  He sat back and said quietly, “How could they have known if we didn’t even know?”

They had been arguing about how the planetary biofilm was a response to the coming of the Near-Earth Object.  The biofilm would be struck, and it would without a doubt be destroyed.  But it had reached a density and diversity that would ensure there would be survivors, and they would be scattered to the four winds and beyond.  It seemed a sound survival strategy at the species level.  The only problem was that starting the process of forming the PB would have required some trigger, some way for the bacteria around the world to sense the Near-Earth Object through the void of space.

But even the planetary biofilm as far out into space as it reached, had reached nowhere near as far as humanity had reached.

Some of the physicists and cosmologists in the group picked up on the argument and speculated on some means of detection or communication at a level that we could not fathom, the quantum level maybe, if we were going small, or some cosmic level, if we were going…cosmic.  They split off into their own conversation at the other end of the conference table.

I got some coffees for Wylde, Finch, and mys, and we asked Finch about the latest antics of his toddler, while all around us, others were talking about impending dooms and coming catastrophes.  And fears about the unrest that might happen even before those catastrophes fell.  For now, everyone was in a bracing mode, as the news media—my paper included—did its best to report calmly and assure everyone that the leaders of each country would be addressing their respective peoples later that day.

“Turn that off and gather ’round,” a familiar but stern voice said.  Doctor Greenfield came striding into the room, holding her laptop in one hand.  She signalled for someone to get the projector system running as she set her laptop down at the head of the table and flipped it open.

“I’ve just come from an emergency meeting with whatever members of the Consortium we could muster at this hour,” she said.  She projected a single image on the monitor where the news feed had been playing moments before.

It was a composite image of Earth, assembled from actual pictures taken by orbiting satellites.  I hadn’t seen anything like it in the months I’d been reporting on the planetary biofilm.

It was visible now, at least from space.  A gelatinous membrane floated above the Earth’s surface, encasing it, anchored to it by thousands upon thousands of invisible tendrils.

And it was very obvious from the pictures where Greenfield’s so-called “brain” was located.  She had noted that the biofilm was actually mulitiple biofilms acting in unison, layer upon layer.  And in one particular location, those layers were thicker by far than anywhere else.  The “brain” appeared to be floating above the southern part of the South American continent.  It was so thick that it obscured all but the haziest outline of the land mass beneath it.

“Can anyone tell me where they project this Near-Earth Object is going to strike?”

For the second time that morning, I gaped.

It had taken me a moment that morning to absorb what I was hearing in the news broadcasts.  To shake off the surreal feeling that I must still be sleeping, that I should be searching for hidden cameras or pranksters stifling giggles on the other side of my closet door.  And once I did, I was able to take in the details of the story.  The size of the object, large enough to cause global firestorms, acid rain, meteor fragments falling back down to Earth from the impact debris, seismic and volcanic activity.  And following that, a darkening of the sky for months or years that would kill survivors of the immediate impact.  The timeline of the object’s arrival was six to eight months.  And its projected impact site was somewhere in the southern part of South America.

Right about where the planetary biofilm was its thickest.

“This is not a coincidence,” Greenfield said.

I raised a hand, and she nodded to me.  “Does that mean someone has figured out how to communicate with the PB and ‘ask’ it what it’s doing and why?”

“No, I’m afraid we still haven’t gotten any callbacks.  If it is communicating, we haven’t figured out how to even find the signal much less decipher it.  No, this is based on observation, measurement, and testing of the biofilm in this region.”

“Oh, my god,” someone said, “they’re going to sacrifice themselves to protect us from that meteor.”

“Not us…the rest of them.  And their home.  We just happen to benefit collaterally.”

“Wait a minute.  Will that work?  It just looks so flimsy.”

“So does a spiderweb.”

“A spiderweb couldn’t stop a meteor.”

“Someone is doing projections—or has done them.  Right?  What have they found?  Will it work?”

I felt a strange straining sensation in my back just under my shoulder blades, like that feeling I got when I was working on a story too late in the night, having found a way to slouch even in my ergonomic chair.  That feeling of weariness, a weariness that was worth it because of the progress I’d made, and also not worth it because of the damage I was doing to my body.

“Yes, someone is doing projections,” Doctor Greenfield said.  “They’re still in progress.  I don’t know if it will work.  There are more active options being discussed.”

“Do we have time for that?  To shift it so it doesn’t hit us?”

“I don’t know.”

“How can this be?  How did they know if we didn’t know?”

“Maybe we did know,” Doctor Greenfield said.  “That’s my crazy theory of the day.  We knew.  That is, someone knew something, maybe even subconsciously.  Bacteria are all around us and in us.  They know us intimately—too intimately for our comfort sometimes.  They respond to us as we respond to them.”

“Or…maybe they’re smart in ways that we’re not smart.  They are older than all the rest of us.”

Doctor Greenfield nodded.  “Or that.”

“I’m normally comfortable with not having all the answers,” Doctor Wylde said.  “But this is one of those times when I would love a solid answer, even if that answer means I’m wrong about everything.”  She turned to Professor Finch.

He glanced at her and said, “Agreed.”

***

Over the coming months, the planetary biofilm research consortium watched and studied and tried again and again to communicate with the biofilm, which gained slowly but subtly in complexity.  Structures like “fingers” seemed to form over the thickened portion that Doctor Greenfield had now ceased calling a “brain.”  If the PB had a brain, it was elsewhere, she thought.  The thickened portion over South America was a shield.

“Once the cataclysm is over, do you think the film will disintegrate?” I asked Doctor Greenfield one day.  “Or will it remain there?”

We were both standing in the back of the conference room, gazing over the silenced monitor where news reports showed animations of the Near-Earth Object’s approach.

“I’ve been saying this a lot lately,” she said.  “I don’t know.  And I don’t know if they know.  I don’t even know if I want it to remain.”

“Really?”

“Well, we still haven’t determined if they’re friendly.”

“I’d say we’re about to find out the answer to that soon enough.”

“Maybe.”

***

People in the area of the projected impact site had evacuated, or gone to hide in shielded underground bunkers.  One of the unexpected measures that people had taken to protect themselves was their attempt to “feed” the PB.

Whether or not it worked would be an assessment we would make somewhere down the line, if we survived, and if our data survived.

The day came, the hours came.  They came with a strange calm that surprised most people.  Because there was no unrest, no nihilistic riots.

The object arced toward the very spot where we predicted it would strike.

We set every eye we could possibly set on its approach.  Satellites, telescopes, magnifying glasses.

In local time, it was the dead of night when the Near-Earth Object—now a meteor that some had named Reckoning—entered Earth’s atmosphere.

The planetary biofilm’s fingers, visible from space, reached out toward Reckoning and wrapped around it as the meteor pressed into the thickened wall of the biofilm.  The friction of its dive toward Earth scorched the biofilm, searing off layers as it fell.  But Reckoning was slowing every minute, dragged by the fingers of biofilm wrapped around it and trailing it, braking as it pressed against the stretchy but unyielding film.

The meteor was losing so much momentum, that commentators speculated on whether the biofilm would spring back and launch the Reckoning meteor back into space.

But the planetary biofilm started tearing, portions of it whipping away from the meteor while it was still in the stratosphere.

By then, Reckoning was still going about as fast as a supersonic jet.  The biofilm stretched even as it tightened and tore, as if straining with a last bit of strength.  Reckoning entered the lower part of the stratosphere going an astonishingly slow hundred kilometers per hour.

By the time the meteor struck the earth, still entangled in biofilm, it had lost so much momentum that it glided just above the ground, then plowed into the earth, skidding like a plane in an emergency landing, until it stopped.

It had landed in a field of sugar cane.

***

And now the space scientists had something to study for a while.  The meteorite was almost a kilometer long, large enough to share with astronomers around the world.

The planetary biofilm, Earth’s hero, endured for the time being.  Some observations indicated that it might be losing integrity.  The film over South America had a huge tear in in it from its struggle with Reckoning.

The tear never healed.

In the days following our survival of Reckoning, there was a global contest to name the unnamed planetary biofilm.  There were parties celebrating its triumph against our mutual “enemy.”  Many an Earth-shaped cake was baked and nestled within a sugary “biofilm,” a hazy glaze of glittering cotton candy.

We had one such cake in the conference room with us as Doctor Greenfield raised a glass of champagne in praise of the planetary biofilm.

“I still think it has a brain,” she said with a weary grin, “and I still want to talk to it.”

I glanced at the walls of the conference room, plastered as they were with various imaging printouts and photographs of the planetary biofilm.  Then I shifted my gaze to Greenfield.  She caught my eye and understood.

“But first,” she said.  “We should let it be for a bit.  After all, the hero usually gets a few nights off after saving the world.”

There were cheers and clinking of glasses and eating of cake, as above our heads, floating in the space between the planet and the cosmos, our planetary biofilm slumbered.

 

Copyright © 2018  Nila L. Patel

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