September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
22 March 2684
My life as a colonist on Gliese 581g just got a whole lot more interesting.
Today, as I walked along the rocky surface collecting sample of meteorites for testing back in the lab, I stepped on a relatively soft piece of ground. The first thin I noticed was the springiness with which my foot bounced back up. The second thing I noticed was the growling sound emanating from the place where I had just stepped.
It rose slowly, disjointedly, out of a hole in the ground, like a giant gray snake. I backed up a step as it completed its ascent and stared at me with four shiny, gray eyes. It was about six feet long, maybe a foot in diameter. Its powerful serpentine body twitched jerkily back and forth as it beheld me. A sharp appendage extended forth from what I figured had to be its mouth, and this is the object that, by vibrating, produced the gravelly, low, threatening sound. I noticed rhomboid scales coating the length of its body, scales without luster, the color of the ground upon which it lay. They clinked menacingly as the beast raised the tail end of its body, showing me a line of seven or eight razor-like spikes. The growling continued. My heart began thumping a double bass beat. Slowly, it coiled itself, using jerky movements to form an S-shape, its tail still high in the air. It reminded me of that one time I was doing my training in the Mojave, when a four foot diamondback stared me down from two yards away after I had stepped on its hole. That snake’s rattling was disturbing. This one’s growl was terrifying. I took another step back, fumbling for my camera. It advanced upon me, grating along the ground and sticking out its mouth appendage even more. Three feet away. Two feet. Eighteen inches.
Finally, I got my finger on the button and pressed down hard. The flash seemed to momentarily blind it, and more importantly gave me enough time to sprint in the opposite direction, back to camp.
As I put more distance between myself and the creature I began to slow down, and the thrill of having just discovered a new and menacing alien species began to wash over me like the bright light of the Sun I left behind so many years ago. I looked in the viewfinder of my camera, to make sure it hadn’t been a dream. Yes, there it was! I did a little jig of joy as I saw the rocklike snake staring back at me from behind the protective screen of the camera. Yet as I celebrated to myself, my natural scientific curiosity took over. How did it move so well despite looking so dense? How the hell did it feel and look just like rock on the outside and yet clearly have some elasticity on the inside? I had some mysteries to solve. Luckily, I knew there would be some molecules from the creature that my shoe had collected when I stepped on it. I hurried back to the lab to do some tests.
The results I found were amazing. The properties of Gliese 581 inhibit the formation of carbon, so a heavier atom is needed to be the building block of life. And in this case, that element was silicon. Silicon, with four binding spaces, can be used to from many different compounds, and although the properties of Earth made silicon too heavy to use as the basic material of life, here on Gliese 581g it was the only thing available. That explained the rocklike appearance of the snake…its outside was made of silicon dioxide, the basic material for much of Earth’s rock! As I performed extensive testing on the “DNA” I had collected, I saw that this creature did have a genetic code based on silicon. And from observing my photo, I saw that it likely breathed oxygen, much like us, in order to perform a reaction combining oxygen with silicon absorbed from the ground to create more silicon dioxide for its body.
What an interesting day! I could be content with observing this creature for centuries to come.