Harriet tore the label from the printer roll and carefully peeled off the backing. Her hands hovered over the surface for a moment, aligning the label just right, before she pressed the centre into place and smoothed the sides around the curve of the jar.
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She lifted the jar with gloved hands – it was freezing to the touch – and carried it into the vast walk-in freezer compartment, placing it on the shelving rack along with all the others. The jar was larger than most, but then it did contain a partly-formed giraffe.
* * *
‘Two of everything?’
‘At least two.’
‘But I mean… literally everything?’
‘Well, everything that crawls, swims, flies, slithers or shuffles. Everything that breathes.’
Harriet sipped her Chardonnay and looked around the crowded bar. She always found it difficult having to explain her work, and Tom wasn’t making it any easier.
‘I mean, two crocodiles? Two hyenas? Two mosquitoes?’
Harriet sighed. ‘Two of everything, Tom.’
‘The old man must be crazy.’
It was a thought that had occurred to Harriet more than once. But the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been perfectly clear when he hired her.
Global warming was far more than just a scare story, he explained. Rising sea levels meant that even inland regions were in increasing danger of becoming overwhelmed by the incoming tide. His analysis of all the available data showed the world’s habitable surface on course to be entirely submerged within fifty years.
‘It’s a perfectly predictable scenario, Miss Myles,’ he told her. ‘Life on this planet is on schedule to become entirely extinct. It’s up to visionaries like us to save our ecosystem in whatever way we can.’
And that way involved Blue Team collecting two foetuses, male and female, of every known species of mammal on the planet. Each would be pickled in a jar of appropriate amniotic fluid and frozen for its long journey. While this was going on, Green Team would gather eggs from every bird, fish and insect, and Red Team would collect samples of as many plant seeds as they could amass.
Meanwhile, NASA was constructing the rocket that would transport the collection to planet T4, the distant lump of orbiting rock which had been discovered to have not only plentiful supplies of water, but an atmosphere comprising the required 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen.
‘It’s madness,’ said Tom. ‘I mean – why not miss out the mosquitoes? The tsetse flies? The rats? The killer whales? The pitbull terriers?’
‘Any other animals you don’t have much fondness for?’ enquired Harriet disingenuously. She gestured at his half-eaten steak. ‘You don’t like fish,’ she pointed out. ‘Should we miss out the cod? The haddock? The tuna?’
‘Whoa,’ said Tom, ‘you’re missing the point. It’s not a question of whether I prefer salmon or chicken. But why go to the trouble of taking animals that are simply pests? That the world would be better off without?’
‘We can’t play god, Tom,’ she replied.
Tom continued to chomp his steak, stabbing a mushroom with his fork.
‘And what,’ he said in a challenging tone, ‘are these animals going to eat?’
‘Textured biomass concentrate,’ replied Harriet. ‘Space gunk, to you. High protein dietary substitute, customised precisely by species. Designed to last until the prey animals have grown past reproductive age.’
‘Cows, chickens, deer, the usual. Whatever the carnivores like to eat. That’s why I said ‘at least two’. Obviously, we’re sending many more of those.’
Tom push the remaining peas around his plate, thinking over what Harriet had told him. There must be some flaws. If only he could…
‘Got it!’ he exclaimed, dropping his fork onto his plate and sending a dozen peas flying into the air. ‘What about people?’
‘People. Humans. Homo Erectus, and all that. You know, people.’
‘Ah. Well, that’s the real genius.’
Tom looked on encouragingly. ‘Go on.’
‘Well, you see, the old man thinks that all the global warming problems, all the atmospheric change issues, were caused by people. You talk about tsetse flies and mosquitoes, but people are the real pests. So here’s the solution. We aren’t going to send any.’
Tom looked at her blankly.
‘Seriously? You’re building this new world, and there won’t be any people?’
‘Moral issues aside, think of the logistics, Tom. Okay, we can get seeds, we can get fish and bird eggs, we can get animal foetuses without anyone raising an objection. But… human foetuses? You really think NOAA would get away with sending real live frozen human foetuses into space without causing an uproar? Think of the politics, Tom. Think of the politicians who have to be persuaded to commit to the budget.’
Tom chewed his final mouthful and took a swig from his glass.
‘So… this will be a paradise without any people at all?’
‘What do you mean, ‘at first’?’
Harriet shrugged. ‘We’re sending a whole load of apes. I guess they’ll evolve eventually.’
* * *
The rest of the meal passed in near silence, as Tom tried to come to terms with the idea of building a replica ecosystem without the human element. There was a logic to it. We’ve trashed this world, he thought, so let’s move onto another and start again. See if we can get it right this time.
‘So where is it, this planet T4?’
Harriet dabbed at her lips with her napkin. ‘Step outside. I’ll show you.’
She led Tom out into the clear, crisp night, and pointed to a distant star.
‘Look there. You see the constellation of Tigris? There’s the East Star, on the left. Follow that out a short distance and that bright point is the star T4 orbits. They call it Sol.’
Tom peered into the dark sky, trying to make out the star in question. ‘And does T4 have any moons?’
‘Just the one,’ Harriet said.
‘Really? Just the one?’
‘Just the one.’