Starting Point: The Hydrocarbon Boom

Offplanet rig

Winston moved along the pumping platform’s superstructure, made more difficult by his environsuit. “Damn hose!” he cursed, as his air hose caught on another strut. He tongued the radio tab, “Harold! Why by God is it so important that I come down here!”

It was a platform wide broadcast, but Winston didn’t care. Harold winced and said “Winston, switch to private channel 5,” and then switched to it himself.

“This better be important!” groused Winston on the private channel. “I’m not busting my ass so see a broken hydropump!”

Harold stood up by the pump shaft. His bright orange environsuit standing out from the dark metal and ceramics of the shaft. He looked back down at the turgid hydrocarbon sea of Gaston’s Hold. “No, it’s not a busted pump.”

Cursing, Winston wormed his bulky neon-green environsuit through the struts and supports. “OK, what?”

Harold said not a word, but pointed down at the pump head. There in the water, long sinuous shapes frolicked in the froth created by the pump’s action. Fins were quite visible, flapping as the creatures dived into the soupy sea.

“Son of a bi…” started Winston. “Life?”

“Yup,” agreed Harold, “and I think the company is screwed…”

So, how is the unnamed company screwed? What are the implications for the operations on Gaston’s Hold? Will they try to hide this fact or will they let the authorities know? What will the company now have to do with native, complex life forms on a world previously thought to have at best pond scum?

Share your thoughts and comments below.


Written by John Reiher

Art by John Reiher

  • Leonardo Faria

    Screwed… really? You sure?
    I read the financial press and I remember pretty well that two years ago NOVA Mining Ltd bought 24% of shares of the Kanga Biotech Ltd, getting the control block. Kanga is known for developing a very economic method of genome extractions from alien life forms classified as Xenotype B. Incidentally NOVA Mining has spent the last five years acquiring concessions on planets with biosphere consistent with the Xenotype B. It’s allegedly extracting metals and isotopes but the ROI is low, and the shareholders aren’t happy, but what’s the real stake here? Well, try to guess what kind of biosphere Gaston Hold has…
    True, the McGuire Act prevents any form of financial exploitation of alien genome, and by it no mining activities are permitted where there’s alien life. But the sexual scandal (very suspicious in its circumstances) that crushed Karen McGuire’s career put the environmentalist movement on the defensive. And everybody in Estelandrya political high spheres know that NOVA is actively lobbying to get new legislation that will scatter the McGuire Act with loopholes of any type.
    NOVA PR folks will put on a grim face when they’ll openly disclose there’s alien life on one of the planets on which they have concessions, and the company will temporarily plunge in the stock market. But if you listen more attentively you’ll hear champagne corks popping in the back office.
    A new era in the biotech industry is going to start. Oh, remember to buy NOVA stocks as soon as they go in the minus 15%-35% price frame.

  • Christmas Snow

    From the starting narrative, I understand this planet or moon (you decide), is a carbon planet, i.e. has more carbon than oxygen and therefore features seas made-up of some hydrocarbons rather than water.

    Nice to add a side-story to it:

    Some hydrocarbon has already been pumped from the carbon-rich moon to the colonies on the planet. Reports on “corroded machinery”, clogged oil filters and failing jet engines point-out to a common problem emanating from the hydrocarbon products the company exports. Thorough examination reveals native algae and bacteria feeding off the oil products and releasing corrosive enzymes causing damage to machinery. Bacterial growth creates clumps of organic goo which clogs pipes and filters. The bacteria metabolizes oxygen it extracts from whatever local minerals it finds, and therefore does not feed on the machinery aboard the oil rig. When exported to the planet, it has available free oxygen from the atmosphere, which it metabolizes to generate water and other substances which prove corrosive to machinery.

    Harold does not know it yet, as the case is still pending investigation. His concern is the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) visit which is scheduled ahead of time. The oil “rig” is actually a floating processing unit which pumps hydrocarbons directly from the hydrocarbon sea and processes finished products to the planet. It has no need for drilling equipment, and floats on the “sea”, and as such, it can be relocated to places which appear “lifeless” so-to-speak. The EPA team is on the way, so Harold and Winston have to work it out and find a nearby location as soon as possible.

    Will they make it? Which argument can be raised against these findings? Is the idea of sterilizing the oil products going to be accepted?