Protagonist at Exoplanet

[StoryADay May Prompt: “Your Flawed Protagonist“]

The dismantling of a planet is a glorious process, the repurposing of its resources a testament to the human spirit. Most of what exists in space—the dead rock and ice planets and the gas giants, their satellites, and the wealth of smaller flotsam left over from the formation of the solar system—waits to be guided by human hands to greater purpose. Creation itself fashioned to meet the intelligent designs of our needs and desires. Here, though? On this disposable exoplanet? I was up to my chin in horseshit. Alien horseshit.

How long has it been since I dismantled Mars layer by layer? Outside the window on my platform on relocated Phobos, I only perceived an occasional glint in sunlight, but in my digital vision the march of progress and relentless activity was a landscape of data visualization, part gameboard, part music rave. One planet for the taking, right on schedule. I reallocated resources and adjusted logistics to the beat of manifest destiny. I directed the steady ant hive of mostly automated scoops and elevators, the shipyard torus, the refactoring stations, and the exodus of all those rich resources back to Earth. Where else did I have to be?

Venus. A planet slightly less massive than the Earth and as many resources hidden beneath its unbearable lead-melting surface under sulfuric acid rains spilling from the oppressive thick carbon dioxide atmosphere. My robot fleet vacuumed the atmospheric gasses up until the surface was laid bare. Then they stripped it, turning the metals and minerals there into more robots that peeled more riches from Venus for transported back to Earth. What good had Venus been doing for billions of years, except for inspiring lovelorn poets who had run out of things to say about the Evening and Morning Star centuries ago? Had anyone before me considered just what we could do with Mars and Venus and every other solar system body? They were not masterpieces unto themselves, but the raw materials from which to construct a new solar system in our own image. My vision.

While Venus shrank, the interstellar travel breakthroughs occurred one after the next. Small potatoes, then, these objects in our solar system. All the vastness of the Milky Way and beyond, and, what, not make use of such abundance? Who heard the calling louder than I? I was offered the Uran V opportunity: reconnaissance of an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting a distant star, and then its exploitation to craft a second Earth, humanity’s first interstellar outpost at the end of the first leg of our glorious new Age of Expansion.

Only to find there at journey’s end a thriving crucible of life, the long-awaited second chapter in the Book of Life. Flora and fauna not much more complex to me than the microorganisms we discovered on Mars and promptly classified, but so far away from Earth that word inexplicably traveled fast. Navel-gazing cowards exposed to the sudden expanse of our domain only to shrink from it were aroused then to halt my mission. All those resources locked away under a thin skim of biology that I could have irradiated to oblivion if only I hadn’t waited a moment too long. The man who conquered the solar system then at the dawn of conquering so much more space faltered: I cooperated and I listened. I watched helplessly as the project spilled through my fingers and when I realized that I had become powerless, those in power named me director of The Preserve, a glorified zoo, ground zero on Uran V for extant astrobiology research, and the end of the line for my conquest of the universe.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 12

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.