Lisa Short’s story “Genesis” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 15 October 2021.
The crosstrainer (as opposed to the stationary bike or treadmill) has always been my cardio gym equipment of choice, and one day, as I was on it, I was thinking about cross-country skiing (which the crosstrainer somewhat mimics)—for whatever reason, I started imagining a woman, inside a vehicle that operated similarly to that, alone and traversing an icy plain at night. On an alien world? Definitely an alien world! But why? Because, I thought, there might be limits on the amount of charge such a vehicle could store, and it would need the operator to put in some effort because of that… if one had to travel long distances… but why the need to travel long distances? And why limitations on the fuel? Our current vehicles are primarily fueled by hydrocarbons… ah ha, I thought. No fossil fuels. A world that had never evolved life wouldn’t have fossil fuels in the first place. No hydrocarbons… wait—what if there wasn’t any carbon at all?
While I’m no kind of geologist, I do know that the primary sources of carbon on the Earth’s surface are either from outside Earth (via asteroids, meteors, etc.) or from within the Earth (from seismic shifts, volcanic eruptions, etc.). What if you had a planet with no seismic activity, one essentially alone in the depths of space—no asteroid belts in its system, as far from a galactic arm or the galactic center as you can realistically get, with no carbon dioxide in its atmosphere either? You’d have a world with no carbon, and therefore no ability at all to be life-bearing, neither of its own accord nor even artificially induced by humanity, not sustainably. How would a community of people survive under those conditions? Well, they would still have access to one reproductive source of carbon… still unsustainably over the long term, of course. But they could survive. For a while. With extreme changes in their social structuring to accommodate an existence built entirely around cannibalism…
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