Drawing of plants in a glasshouse, with two moons visible in the dark sky above. Caption reads: Only Greenhouse One was unaffected."

Bacteria short story by Iris Carden

In the late twentieth century, 1996, if you want to be exact, scientists discovered extinct, fossilised bacteria on Mars.

It turns out, it wasn’t so extinct as we’d been led to believe.

When Sarah and the other scientists and engineers worked out how to clean the regolith of toxic chemicals for our greenhouses, no-one worried about a few microscopic fossils. They weren’t considered dangerous.

They weren’t extinct. “Fossilised” was just their dormant state. They were dangerous.

We’ve come to call it “the blight”. It affected everything. It killed off all our plants and even the chickens. We’d been growing food for a couple of years, when the bacteria left its dormant state and attacked everything.

Plants turned to black ooze overnight. The chickens keeled over, and turned to black ooze as well. The risk to humans is still unknown, but since both plants and birds were blighted, no-one’s taking any risks.

Only Greenhouse One was unaffected. That was the one we built before we solved the problem of growing in Martian regolith, the one with soil imported from Earth.

We had been so careful. Howard had been very strict about the control of any diseases in any plant material, or the chickens, we brought from Earth. He wanted us to grow in a disease-free environment.

Now we have a disaster. There’s no way to import food from Earth. Earth’s having enough trouble feeding itself. Kim’s farm on the Moon is able to supply us a little, and we have what Greenhouse One can produce. It’s not enough.

Mars Corp just took over. Instead of continuing to subsidise us, it bought our business from us, for less than half what it was worth a month ago, before the blight.

We’re still working in Greenhouse One, but only scientists are going into the other greenhouses, and they’re having to decontaminate going in and out. They’re working as fast as they can to find a solution to the blight.

Food’s in short supply, and rationed, now. Everyone’s hungry. My miniature fruit trees growing in my quarters are a godsend. Personal plants in our personal quarters weren’t a part of the Mars Corp takeover.

Of course, I’m sharing my fruit with Howard and Sarah. Their little daughter Gabrielle is growing so fast! Even before the blight, they were having trouble keeping up with her appetite. Now there’s food rationing, I know they’re both missing meals so she can have enough.

I didn’t come here to be a farmer. Farming became far more important to me than the admin I was hired to do. Now it’s all falling apart. Of course everyone here is blaming the three of us for the food shortage now. It’s definitely a hostile workplace.

More and more, I find myself searching the night sky for that little tiny dot which is the Earth I left behind years ago.

Kim has made me an offer. With her farm as well as the colonists’ outfitters business, she’s overwhelmed with work but also making a good profit. She suggested I move to the Moon and join her in her business there.

Now I can’t decide. Do I run away from all this mess? Run to Kim, and to the Moon? Do I abandon the friends here who I have done so much, achieved so much, and lost so much, with?

Mars Corp scientists will eventually solve the blight. But when they do, it won’t be our project any more, it will be their’s. The massive megacorp will have everything we worked so hard for.

Back to the Moon, not for just a stopover, but to live? Do I or don’t I?

The Mars Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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