Tuesday, February 6, 2024

“The First Seed on Mars” • by Logan Thrasher Collins

In a revolutionary act, Lulwa Hariri planted the first Seed on Mars. 

She flew over the planet’s surface in a white glider with albatross wings and fired the silvery Seed into the red regolith. By doing this Lulwa broke interplanetary law, as the Martian Settlement Alliance strictly prohibited contamination. But Lulwa’s people were starving on Earth: heat waves and desertification had destroyed most of the farmland that supported the Middle East and Northern Africa. Lulwa had seen the faces of the hungry people, huddling in dusty shantytowns. Fist fights breaking out over scraps. Sad people. Broken people. Lulwa Hariri could not save these people, but she knew how to save their children.

Lulwa Hariri was born in Damascus. When she was a young girl, she had stood on the rooftop of her family’s apartment, accompanied by her grandfather, Kaazhim Hariri. Lulwa had wondered at the daytime moon in the vast cornflower-blue sky wrapped over the Earth. Her gaze had swept over the city’s painted domes and ancient minarets and orange tents and lavender tents, and streets packed with honking trucks. Even at that age, she had felt a haunting sense of harmony in the imperfect glory of the tapestry spread out before her.

“This is our world. Civilization,” Kaazhim had stated. He turned to look at Lulwa. “Even though some people do bad things, the world we’ve built is a miracle. We are here for a reason.” He smiled fondly at Lulwa. “I love you, granddaughter,” he stated softly.

As Lulwa grew older and attended university, extreme temperatures and food shortages began to affect the people of Damascus. Her beloved grandfather passed away from heat stroke. A few years after that, she watched on the news as a bombing destroyed the Umayyad Mosque, a crime perpetrated by extremists who believed climate change signified the end of times. As farms dried up across the Middle East and its trading partners, mass starvation followed.

Trying to find her way, Lulwa emigrated to Tokyo, where she felt very much alone even among throngs of people. Periodically she traveled back to her homeland to volunteer, providing medical aid to people in need. She went to Gaza and Mecca and Jeddah and Tehran and Cairo, and her home, Damascus. Everywhere she went, she saw violence and hunger and pain. But Lulwa Hariri remembered her grandfather’s words. In the midst of all that sadness, a steely determination took hold of her.

Lulwa worked in secret with synthetic biologists in Doha’s communal biohacker laboratories to create the Seed. She boarded a rocket, flew to Mars, and rented a glider at a tourist center. Not much had been built on Mars: just a few small tourist centers like this one, a handful of research stations, and some vacation estates. Though the Martian Preservation Alliance claimed that their laws existed to preserve the natural state of the planet, it was clear that the organization’s ultra-wealthy autocrats wanted to keep Mars for themselves. Lulwa Hariri pulled the trigger, launching the seed and changing the course of history.

Days later, a tendril of green burst from the regolith and began drinking the light of the faraway sun. The tendril grew higher. It endured brutal cold during nighttime. It blossomed into a flower with cornflower-blue petals. This flower had been engineered from the bottom up to survive and thrive in the strangeness of the Martian environment. By parthenogenesis, the flower produced its own seedpod, laden with copies of the original Seed. When the seedpod opened, newborn Seeds flew into the wind on waiflike gossamer wings.

By the time the Martian Preservation Alliance’s satellites found out about the contamination, the flowers had already spread far and wide. Litigious debates ricocheted through the administrative bodies of the Alliance and the governments of Earth. The autocrats knew their dominion over the red planet would end if these plants were allowed to flourish. The flowers were a resource they could not control. Earth’s officials recognized the opportunity to finally gain ground over the Martian Preservation Alliance. Proposals to eradicate the flowers were blocked.

Thirty years after the first Seed, meadows carpeted much of the surface of what was once the red planet. Even from space, continent-sized patches of green were clearly visible. Green leaves crowded triumphantly on the surface. Pale roots spread into the ferruginous soil. After the debates had died away, scientists modified some of the plants so that they grew nutritious fruits. Genetic recombination gave flower petals all over Mars hues of violet, lavender, scarlet, azure, tangerine, yellow, and delicate pink.

Fifty years after the first Seed, the fruits of Mars were exported back to Earth on freighter ships. Through the power of genetic engineering, the fruits now came in every variety of shape, color, flavor, and nutritive content. As Lulwa Hariri had planned, the people of the Middle East emerged from the age of famines with hope in their eyes. The very old remembered the darkness of the past and smiled at their children, who had never known the crushing weight of profound poverty. Grandparents pointed to Mars, a speck of glinting green in the starry sky, and told their children how Allah had blessed a woman named Lulwa Hariri with the courage necessary to take action when action was needed.

Sadly, Lulwa did not live to see the future she had helped create. After the Martian Preservation Alliance discovered her as the person behind the Seed, Lulwa Hariri was assassinated. Despite this tragedy, people said that Lulwa had found satisfaction prior to her demise. She knew what she had set in motion. She knew that the abundance of Mars would save her people in time. She knew the children of tomorrow would live in a world full of hope and possibility.


Logan Thrasher Collins
is an author, futurist, synthetic biologist, and biomedical engineering PhD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. His fiction and poetry have been published in Mithila Review, Zooscape, Silver Blade, and elsewhere. Logan works towards interdisciplinary solutions to global challenges, leveraging both art and science to build a bright future. Website: https://logancollinsblog.com/.

In response to my follow-up question Logan explained that synthetic biology is a field that employs biological parts and chassis to engineer living systems in a modular fashion, which can facilitate programmability in complex biological systems towards a variety of biomedical, manufacturing, and agricultural applications. His PhD research is on developing new virus-based vehicles for gene therapy, and as if that’s not enough, he’s also working on another project in connectomics. Which, frankly, sounded like first-rate sci-fi bafflegab to me, but actually is a real field. E.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectomics

Wow. And somehow Logan still finds time to write science fiction.