There’s a lab at Michigan State—it’s run by a Dr. Lina Texera. They play with a particular kind of these bacteria, Geobacter sulfurreducens. They were able to increase the strength of the pili and make them more efficient. Basically, they added armor to the bacteria, made them more resistant so that they can mineralize uranium a lot faster.
It sounded promising. Even with some superarmor, it would take forever for these things to colonize something as big as the alien robots, but I thought it was worth a shot. Anyway, I called her. Nice woman. She called me Rose, said we met at a conference before—must have been before I died. I had her send over a sample by helicopter.
It’s really disgusting, green, gooey stuff. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Anyway, I put on two pairs of gloves, one on top of the other, I took the little shard we had chipped off one of the panels and rubbed some of that goo on it with a Q-tip. The plan was to expose it to radiation and see if it would take longer to saturate and discharge, maybe release less energy, something. I let it rest on a block of plutonium for a good hour, I couldn’t get it to release anything at all. The last time I had tried that, it took only ten minutes to destroy half my lab.
I tried a few drops of the mixture on one of the panels. Nothing happened. I put some of it under the microscope and all the bacteria were dead. So I took the whole thing—about a cupful of it—and just poured it on the panel. It didn’t do anything at first, as I expected. I figured I’d come back later during the day. I turned off the light on my way out, then I noticed that the turquoise light in the symbols was wavering. Just a bit at first, then a little more. After about five minutes, the panel went completely dark. That was two hours ago and it hasn’t turned back on.
Whatever makes that metal do the things it does, it must be a very fragile equilibrium. I think the bacteria just throws it off balance, enough to make it stop functioning.
—So that’s your plan? Throw some green goo at the robot—
—At one of them, yes.
—When you got back from Washington, you told me you believe these aliens are waiting for us to demonstrate that we could be just as evolved if they hadn’t messed with our gene pool.
—Yes. I could be wrong, of course.
—So the idea is to beat them without using anything that didn’t exist before they showed up thousands of years ago.
—That’s what I’m running with.
—But you said these bacteria have some kind of body armor that makes them better at eating up metal. Isn’t that…cheating? I mean, I don’t know the first thing about any of this, but this sounds like cutting-edge shit. Seems to me you wouldn’t have these superbugs without modern science.
—I wouldn’t have the regular kind either. These things have been on Earth for millions of years, but we’ve only just discovered them. If the aliens want to be literal about this, then we’re screwed. I can’t unlearn everything I know either. I’m hoping they’re just looking for us to make a point. Like a…proof of concept.
—Sure. If you think it’ll work.
—I don’t know that it will. Even if it does, I can’t be sure they’ll get what we’re doing.
—That’s what I was gonna say. You wanna throw bugs at them. Aren’t you worried you’ll just piss them off?
—I don’t think we have much of a choice. If Mr. Burns is telling the truth, there might be about three million people left on this planet by this time tomorrow. Vincent and Eva will die first. Then everyone else who doesn’t have my crappy DNA.
—Lucky you. What do you need me for? I don’t know the first thing about bacteria.
—I need more. I need a lot more. Dr. Texera is sending me what she has, but it’s not much, and there’s no time to grow enough of them there. She said there’s a lab in Dalian, China, where they’ve been growing the same bacteria for about a year to run some experiments in a wastewater-treatment plant. I’d like you to send Themis to get it.
—Yes. They can be back in a couple hours. I don’t wanna waste a day having it flown here.
—I can order Vincent to go, but I can’t send a goddamn child against her will.
—Just ask. I think they’ll want to go. If Vincent doesn’t think she’s ready, he’ll tell you.
—I suppose if the world’s gonna end in the next twenty-four hours, she’s as ready as she’s ever gonna be. I’ll talk to her.
—Thank you. She was playing outside a few minutes ago.
—I have one more question about that half plan of yours.
—How are you gonna get the goo on the bad guys if you can’t touch them? You’ve shown me birds dropping down a good foot away from the robots. Kara and Vincent fired lightning bolts at one of them and they couldn’t hit anything either. Your superbugs are gonna get zapped by the robot’s energy field before they can do their thing.
—Yes, that’s…the other half of the plan, the one I don’t have. I have no idea how to get around their energy field. I thought about building something that could go through it. I don’t know what force could be used to build an energy field that stops solid objects, but if it’s anything like electromagnetism, something made of superconducting material might make the energy field flow around it. I don’t know. In any case, superconductors have to be kept insanely cold. We don’t have anything I could just carry around. And even if we did, I couldn’t test it. Besides, we don’t have that kind of time. I’m betting on something much simpler. I don’t believe their shield extends all the way to the ground. I think the bottoms of their feet are exposed, maybe the first few inches from the ground.
—Achilles’ heel? That’s your plan!? That sounds a little…convenient, don’t you think?
—It would be extremely convenient if I could figure out how to reach under their feet. I don’t think a few inches of bacterial culture around their feet will be enough to power down something that size. I’ll need more surface for the bacteria to survive. The whole bottom of a foot might be enough, but I doubt they’ll cooperate and stand on one leg.
—Maybe you can bring it a giant treat, teach it to give paw. Don’t take this the wrong way, Dr. Franklin, but that has to be the dumbest, most ill-conceived plan I have ever heard! And believe me, I’m in the military, I’ve heard a lot of dumb plans.