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Author's note: This is much like before but not...
Life is strange.
Innumerable forms of life exist on Earth in environments seemingly deadly to life as we once thought we knew it, where the existence of life was previously thought to be impossible.
Sunlight was once thought to be the ultimate source of energy for all terrestrial life. Exploration of Earth’s oceans provided surprising proof that life was capable of exploiting other sources of energy, and existing in environments formerly presumed to be utterly inhospitable to life. Tubeworms and several species of shrimp are but a portion of life discovered thriving at deep undersea volcanic sites in a chemical stew of seawater and poisonous chemicals, at near boiling temperatures. A diverse food chain has been discovered, beginning with bacteria thriving on the chemical and thermal energy of volcanic action, independent of solar support.
Closer to home in a more benign environment we have the changelings; tadpoles seemingly evolving themselves into frogs, and even more dramatic- metamorphosis: eggs becoming larvae, or caterpillars- in turn changing into pupae, or chrysalis- which finally change into moths or butterflies. It’s a truly amazing process.
Fungi, while considered a simple primitive life form, lead an incredibly complex life cycle- seemingly alien.
Perhaps the strangest fungi are the slime moulds, likely thriving in your own neighborhood. They live as individual amoebae-like organisms in compost piles or other rotting stuff, happy as a bacterium, until things go sour. When food gets scarce, hundreds of thousands of these odd microscopic creatures coalesce to form a slug-like “animal”, which migrates to a more hospitable location- and grows into a plant-like fungus, which releases spores to replicate in newly found piles of rot, repeating the cycle.
Bryophytes, a type of plant, are found in harsh environments from desert to polar. Some have been known to survive droughts of twenty years.
Wood frogs freeze during the winter and thaw during the spring, none the worse for it. Their blood sugar forms a kind of natural antifreeze, which protects their brains and other vital organs. The rest of the frog freezes solid!
The shield shrimp thrives briefly in temporary puddles formed by drenching rains. After eggs are hatched, the ponds evaporate and the adults die. The eggs lie dormant and dry until the rains come again, even years later. The desert shrimp also lives a similarly interesting life- seemingly reversing its own extinction once water is again available.
Yaminals likewise appear to defy Man’s attempt to classify- animal, vegetable, mineral, or… none of the above? The seemingly impossible has proven to be probable and persistent.
It’s life, Jim- but not as we know it.
Sgt. Amy L. Cole; MD, PhD was a sergeant in the Aerospace Guard Reserve. Amy’s official function for the mission was navigator. Amy was more than qualified as navigator for this mission, but rumor and logic seemed to indicate that Sgt. Amy Cole was recruited for her PhD level education in exobiology.
Sgt. Cole was eager, to say the least, to be the first exobiologist in history to have (perhaps?) an opportunity to study actual exobiology, although her hopes were based upon mere rumor- and hope.
Two weekends per month plus two weeks per year of service had largely financed her higher education. Apparently the Aerospace Force had, presciently or seemingly wastefully, perceived an urgent need or at least the outside chance of some use for top-grade exobiologists.
As the outer space aspects of the Second Cold War came to the fore, Amy had found refuge in her studies- until she was quietly activated for this “maintenance mission”.
It’s difficult to train as an exobiologist- no exobiology had been discovered- until just now- and said discovery was classified, as was everything regarding this mission- unless cleared at the highest levels for public consumption.
Much of the training consisted of developing an encyclopedic mastering of the life sciences combined with intense study of the more unusual varieties of earth life, those subject to unusually harsh conditions similar to those that might be found elsewhere in our solar system, and eventually beyond.
Dr. Cole had dealt with the ridicule and skepticism inherent in a specialty with no proven reason to exist, as well as the vestigial sexism still extant yet in our so-called “enlightened age”. It seemed that some remained more equal than others. Sometimes she wished she had been named something more dramatic or serious or military or butch or something- Margaret or Hazel or Cleopatra or something…
And, having just arrived on Mars, left clueless to her mission until some beet-like freak emerged from the ground and bit (or something like bit) her hand, now that life on Mars had quite evidently been discovered, she was to be sent packing!
Dr. Cole did not plan to go quietly.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do."
- Ralph 'Where's Waldo' Emerson
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like. And I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
- Bilbo Baggins