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Pink Terra

Tue 27 Nov 2001 by mskala Tags used: ,

After Contact, all our petty global economic concerns became irrelevant. Large-scale hyperspace transport made imports cheap; almost anything that humans would want could be grown or manufactured more cheaply on some other planet. Like all new frontier worlds, Terra was forced to concentrate on its few unique local industries, the things we invented that no other planet had ever seen before.

Pornography was the big seller for the first few years, but the fad quickly went stale. There are only so many things you can do with a tentacle, and the human desire for fresh iterations of the same basic scenarios is unusual. Across the galaxy, most people are quite content to watch the same video one hundred times and will enjoy it equally well every time. After they buy one, they have no need to buy a sequel. The market was quickly saturated.

Fortunately, about that time bubblegum started catching on in a big way. I think the turning point was when the Galactic President gave his periodic state of the spiral address for 2037 with a wad of Big Red clearly visible in each of his mouths. After that we just couldn't load up the freighters fast enough.

There were a lot of faxes written and arguments in Parliament and even a small civil war when we wanted to convert the Terran oceans into nanotech gum farms, but sane heads prevailed. The computer models (boosted with post-Contact algorithms) were pretty cut and dried: we'd be facing an ice age and ecological cataclysm in the next century anyway, and a five-meter layer of softly undulating gum on top of all the world's salt water would, at worst, buy us a few extra years and, by providing thermal insulation, probably save more species than it killed.

It took five years to deploy the filterwalls, radiating like the spokes of a spider's web from the floating spaceport in the South Pacific; then they released the nanobots and the world watched the pink waves roll out. I was a little boy at the time; I watched it on television in my family's basement. We were all crowded tight around the screen, huddled, trying to keep warm. It was a very cold Winter in the Northern Hemisphere that year.

When I got older I got a job as a sailor on a gumboat, and I moved through the ranks and eventually made Second Officer on the _Brown Sugar_. We patrolled the second ring, third sector, dealing with all the usual things - methane bubbles, disemulsification, all that kind of stuff. We carried barrels of twenty different kinds of nanobots in our hold, and most problems we'd deal with by opening the appropriate barrel and spraying the little buggers out on the gum surface to do their jobs. That wasn't always as easy as it sounds. I remember one time I got caught in the spray and my sweat started turning into pink goop. I had a couple centimeters of it all over my body, and I couldn't see or hear and was having to breathe through a tube, before they got me evac'ed to a hospital where they had the appropriate counterbots. By then I was having some mean hallucinations from the sensory deprivation, and even though they had the gum off my in seconds once they got the right override code, it took me a day and a half to get back in touch with reality. The doctors said that normally the bots would have shut down on contact with human skin, but there was just something in my immune system, like an allergy, that rubbed these ones the wrong way.

At the Southern tip of our route we were so close to the Anarctic that the gum would set in huge wind-driven wrinkles. All the plants and animals from miles to the North would be swept into the wrinkles, and we could send small boats into the valleys to pick up dinner. I usually got assigned to ride shotgun in a boat - literally that is, I'd sit at the prow with a shotgun and take shots at any predators that decided to debate territory with us.

Near the North end of our run we were much closer to the Equator, and the gum was smooth and warm to the touch, almost liquid, even at night. You couldn't walk out in gumboots on the surface there even if you'd be crazy enough to do it down South, and you couldn't dig for test holes or pressure relief because the gum would just fill in the excavations faster than you could remove it. Sometimes the pontoons would get stuck in the gum and we'd have to stay there a week or more, breathing the sickly pineapple-strawberry fumes, waiting for a favorable rain to lift us out.

I had a lot of good times and I could tell you a lot of stories, but enough is enough. After twenty-six years I simply got tired of it, and I asked to be transferred to this desk job. Yeah, I've still got this picture on my wall, but I don't really miss the oceans - I'm happy to stay on shore now. It's a man's life on the old gum, but the gum's no life for an old man.

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