Jun 5, 2015

Living Air

Drawing by Qinni

Urvadi stepped outside the landing capsule. The moon's surface was spongy, but the ship's readings had led her to suspect that anyway.

The ship told her a lot of things about the moon, namely that it showed promise of being able to go through a successful terraforming, but what really mattered to Urvadi was today.  It was the first xenoplanet test of her symbiont.

Dome, ships, and other machine systems had never been able to match Earth's ecosystem as far as recycling resources went. And so the UNofE had inserted plants into an astronaut's body. The plants had been altered to increase the rate of photosynthesis, decreasing the time it took to reverse the balance of carbon dioxide to oxygen in a closed system. It wasn't perfect, they still had to use machines, but they were smaller now that they had less of a workload.

It had taken Urvadi time to get used to the ring of leaves around her ankles, wrists, and neck while she had undergone training on Earth. Until she had spent a training mission in the pool practicing for a space walk. The air in her suit had never felt so fresh, nor had she been able to make a tank of air last so long.

What had really surprised her had been feeling the plant. It didn't just live in her body, it fed on her blood and it's rudimentary sensory system was connected to hers. Urvadi had felt the feel of the suit on leaves and skin, had a phantom sensation of a million tiny shallow breathes, and found she could categorize the air. During that underwater session she hadn't had to watch her air gauge at all. Based on the sensations of the symbiont she found herself able to judge the quality of the air around her for breathing purposes.

After that first time, her senses had become attuned to the symbiont even when she wasn't encased in a space suit. She could feel and judge the air on Earth, categorize differences between the inside of her car and the air in her house, understand how polluted city air was.  And when she had moved from Earth to Mars to prepare for her mission, the dome air had been different too. Urvadi had felt the plant working on Mars just as it did in her suit and found herself loosing breath more slowly compared to those around her. Even in open air, the symbiont helped her.

In the ship, she had gotten loose with regulations. She let the vines grow into thick bands of green and new tendrils had sprouted from her head to live amongst her hair. As the plant grew, Urvadi had felt healthier. She knew it had to do with the air she was breathing and not any diet or exercise on her behalf, but that was alright with her.

This moon was a test for both of them. The first time the symbiont would taste air no human had walked through, the first time humans had even ventured into this quadrant of space in an effort to find someplace more hospitable than Mars. But the thing Urvadi was most excited for was the taste of this foreign air.

She stuck out the small orb that held a tendril of the symbiont. It was separated from the rest of her suit, allowing just a few leaves on the vine to taste the air, to categorize it. Urvadi fantasized about discovering the air to be moderately breathable, or at least allow her to let some of the moon's air into her suit. To be the first to taste it with leaves and lungs, oh the idea was attractive!

But first, the sample. Slowly, Urvadi open the small crystal hatch and breathed.

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