They weren’t even really keeping it all that secure. The room was locked, but everyone on the biology teams had access. The ark itself was sealed with a passcode, but it was neither long nor complicated. It was the kind of security you used to keep people from accidentally stumbling onto something. Clearly, they didn’t think anyone would intentionally try to break in.
They were wrong.
Usually, Val despised people for being naive. Today, she was grateful. She took no pleasure in what she was about to do; it was a necessary evil, and the sooner it was over, the better.
The room had no outside windows, so as soon as the door shut behind her, Val activated the lights, blinking a little at the sudden brightness of the stark white room.
There were three enormous bio-storage units against the far wall. Human genetic material was contained in the largest one. Most people chose natural reproduction, but the danger of genetic stagnation was very real in a small population, so the original colonists had planned carefully when they left Earth. Val herself had never married, and she had always figured she’d be coming here one day to make a withdrawal.
Not that they would allow that after tonight.
The other two units were what interested her today. The one that the colonists had called “Eden” contained seeds and other genetic samples from nearly all of Earth’s species of flora. The other, the Ark, contained the animal embryos and tissue samples. The ability to preserve, transport, reanimate, and breed from these samples was one of the advancements that had finally made deep-space colonization possible.
Val was about to undo 200 years of work.
She stood in front of the giant metal cylinders, hating herself and hating the ones who had made her come here even more.
Their final study on domesticating the native animals had shown that there was no way for reproduction to keep up with current levels of consumption. Some had tried to present this as a crisis for the colony, but of course, it wasn’t. It only meant that they needed to reduce consumption of animal products. There was an abundance of plant products which could make up the caloric difference, and Val herself had been part of a team that had created new dietary models which provided all the necessary nutrition for a healthy populace to survive and grow. It was somewhat lacking in variety, but that was likely only a temporary problem. After all, they still had only explored a tiny fragment of their new planet.
You start taking the meat away, though, and people get angry. Some old man mentions eating chicken as a child on the original spaceship, and suddenly there’s talk of breeding Earth chickens on Una. Talk of chickens leads to talk of fish, of pigs, of cattle even.
They were all crazy.
Una had a fully-formed ecosystem with well-developed species of flora and fauna. It was a miracle to find such a place in the universe, and its relative proximity to Earth made it even more miraculous. Even with their best conservation efforts, the colonists’ presence on the planet had already disrupted the delicate balance of their new ecosystem. If they began introducing other alien species, they risked destroying everything that was here.
Humans had already decimated one planet; it was unthinkable to do that again. They had all promised that they wouldn’t. It was in their Charter. It was the reason Val’s grandmother had signed it.
Val had argued all of these things at the gathering. Some agreed with her, of course, but a surprising number of fools fought back. Finally, the governor had put an end to debates and set the vote for tomorrow. Lil had the right to override the vote, but she had given no indication of how she was leaning.
Val knew in that moment that she couldn’t leave it up to chance. If the animals were gone, so was the threat.
A surge of anger spurred her into action. With her tablet to help run calculations, she only needed two minutes to find the right pass code and open the Ark. Inside, the control panel was equally easy to decipher.
All in all, it took ten minutes to end half-a-million potential lives.
Val stood her ground, staring at the numbers until the thawing cycle was complete. She imagined each and every species she had studied, remembering them from the photos and videos in the archives. Giraffes with their awkward but oddly beautiful bodies. Hawks that soared through the sky and swooped low to catch their prey. The huge grey one-horned monsters they called rhinoceros. When she was ten, she hung a picture of one of those brutes on her wall, only barely believing that it was real. Something twisted in Val’s gut, and she forced herself to feel it. Of course the destruction made her sick. She had devoted her career to life, not death.
She told herself that these animals still existed in the universe, some still on Earth, but all also being packaged up like these and shipped off to barren planets across the galaxy. They would live on elsewhere. And now the pennifins and ipits of Una would also survive.
When she was certain the process couldn’t be reversed, Val closed the Ark. She hesitated for a moment before the container marked “Eden,” then turned away. No one had expressed any desire to seed Earth plants on Una, and one day they would fill this planet and take flight to colonize another. Better to have as many species of flora as possible for terraforming. Besides, there was only so much death Val could take in one night.
Instead, she turned off the lights and slipped out of the lab, not bothering to close the door behind her. She would go home, not because she wanted to escape being caught–she’d turn herself in tomorrow–but because she wanted to be surrounded by her plants. They always comforted her.
She had felt brave coming here tonight, the only person with the courage to make the hard choice. She didn’t feel like a savior now, though. She just felt the weariness of having done what needed to be done.
She would go home, find her bed, sleep until the sun came up; and tomorrow, everything would be changed.