Picture it and Write: Snot

by joetwo

Hi there this my offering for this week’s picture it and write for Ermilia’s blog here. Once again; the picture is not mine, this one is by Corrie White I only use it for inspiration. Anyway; Enjoy!

Snot

Balthazar was the planet’s real name; the one they used on the star-charts, survey reports and everything official about the place. But everyone who had been there, from the star-ship jockeys up in orbit to the grunt technicians on the ground called it by another name. Snot.

Graham Owen certainly could see why that unofficial title had caught on. Every view showed the same thing; a slimy mess of mucilage that bared a striking resemblance to the planets unofficial namesake. Graham had only been planet-side for less than an hour and he was already sick of the sight of it.

He was being given a short tour of the planet’s main research facility by Doctor Calvin Mori, the Japanese-American head of the expedition. There wasn’t that much to see really. Most of the investigations were being conducted by robots via telepresence. But the twelve scientists working away all showed the skilled professionalism that Graham was proud of in the survey. It was always a joy to see it.

The tour ended in a conference room that appeared to double as a dining hall and social hub for the small community. Three other people were crowded around an AV set-up.

“Ah! Are we set up?” Mori asked. One of the three nodded absentmindedly, Mori continued “Excellent! Professor Owen! Doctors Wang, Indira and Matambe would like to present their latest findings. I’m sure when you see what we have discovered you will recommend our request to the council.”

Graham had been cooped up in a cramped starship far too long to be as civil as he usually was “Dr Mori! I am here because you sent a high-priority request to the council and the rules demand a response. There have not been any publications or complete reports yet but but if you think this planet is any different to the fifty others with a similar ecosystem we have charted and that we should divert resources to the search for complex life then by all means try and convince me. But be warned. The supply ship leaves within four hours. I intend to be on it and I will not tolerate delays.”

Thr left Mori on the defensive. “Professor! We wouldn’t have sent the request if we didn’t think it was important. Listen to the presentation first and then aim to judge us.”

Dr Wang started. Years in the international environment of space exploration had not tempered his strong accent but if Graham concentrated he could understand the description of the robotic exploration of the planet. “The Balthazar Biofilm or “Snot” as it is known dominates the surface and possibly the subsurface of the planet, it is practically everywhere.”

The slideshow went through a number of images of the snotty slime. Some were taken in daylight others under artificial illumination. “As you can see, it can be found on the surface of the oceans where it can be several meters thick down to the tops of otherwise barren mountains where it may only extend to a fraction of a milimeter. We have seen it in the deepest oceans and hottest deserts and several core samples from deep in the crust have shown presence of it too. It appears to be all connected and we’ve estimated it’s mass at close to 1 Trillion tonnes.That is more than the sum total of the whole terrestrial biosphere combined.”

Dr Matambe, the Angolan Microbiologist, took over the slides showed micrographs, both optical and taken with an electron micrograph. “Samples of the Snot have been taken from all over the planet. Analysis shows that it is composed of approximately forty percent living cells with the rest consisting of a matrix of complex sugars and extra cellular proteins.

“We have observed that over ninety-nine percent of the cells observed in each sample is made up to the one species. Suprisingly; which species it was depended on the location the sample came from. If it was from surface films the dominant species was a photosynthetic organism, analogous to a cyanobacteria. Samples from the deep ocean or subsurface showed one of a number of chemosynthetic organisms.We have surmised that these are the primary producers for the Snot in any given region.”

The images showed changed; a number of strange shapes showed themselves. “The remainder of the cells observed in each samples stayed remarkably consistant showing a limited number of each of twelve different species. There are rod-like structures and spirals that appear bound together, we have observed them moving sections of the mucilage they were bound to. We have also seen a range of species with cillia which sit at the edge of channels and aid the movement of liquids through the film. An amoeboid that destroys damaged or invading cells. Most enigmatic however, are these guys”

The picture changed to a ovoid with what looked like long thin hairs extending out of it. “The central core is the primary cell body which is on the micron-scale.The hairs or pili, can extend anywere up to a centimeter for a single specimen. With all of the other cells, matrix, and the density of this particular species, it all forms a very tangled web.”

Dr Indira concluded. “We looked at the genetics of each of these species and while we found that each had their own distinct lineage, in the relatively recent past there was a great deal of hortizontal gene transfer between them. A lot of this appears to be in the form of plasmids or insertions into the genome. They all have a strong regulatory function controlling everything from cell division to excretion of the matrix. What we really found interesting was that each of these insertions could be activated be a factor compound that was released only by one species, namely our hairy friend.”

Graham stopped them to ask a question. “Fascinating! You mean that these piliated cells can influence and control all the other cells in the film?”

“That was our theory” Dr Indira answered “We thought it was a form of self regulation for the whole film, a primitive superorganism. But we noticed something else. These pili, like those found on Earth can conduct electrical signals, We found that these signals can, in some cases control what factors are released by the cell. In other cases we found that the electrical pulse was transmitted on, across many cells, We have confirmed that they can travel up to three kilometers, it may even go as far as across the whole planet. They appear to be constantly in contact.”

“You don’t mean!” Butted in Graham

“We had to find out. We started with timed pulses. In the end we used the ‘Welcome’ program that was meant for talking to aliens and we got this….”

A video started on the screen. It showed a part of the Snot, as featureless and any other, dark except for a single beam of light shining on it. Suddenly there was a ripple in the surface, A bulge appeared and started to grow into the air. It was eerie, like an ice sculpture melting in reverse. It developed features, a head, legs, it took on the shape of a woman.

Graham was mystified “My God! When was this recorded?”

“It isn’t a recording” Dr Mori answered “This is live. It has been listening to our meeting.” At that a text box appeared on the screen.

Good day Professor It said, I/We look forward to speaking with more humans.

“Smart slime” gasped Graham “This changes everything. We never thought it would be like this. I’ll tell the council to double, triple the allocation. This is big, this is the most important discovery in the history of mankind”

In three hours, far less time than he wanted, Graham boarded the small transport and waited for the engines to take him up to the stars and home. He was excited, the news he brought was game changing. From out his window he could see six human figures, distinctive in their coloured environment suits, standing on a gantry waving him farewell.

Further off, in the yellow green sea of the Snot was another figure, the same woman as before, also waving farewell. He had spent his entire life searching the cosmos for intelligence life, imagining something, someplace, glorious. That he would find it in the mucus of Snot was irony indeed.

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