Monday, December 19, 2005

Pashekata Problem

Abdulrahman Ghulam, First Citizen of the New Tajikistan colony, sat at his massive wooden desk looking at the large paper weight sitting in the middle of it. The paperweight was plastic with an adult Pashekata sealed inside it. The Pashekata are a 24-centimeter long, bright yellow and black insectoid eating machine and swarms of them had devoured the colony’s crops, they even burrowed into the ground and ate the potatos, three years running. So unless Jamila Pastun, the colony’s leading chemist and head of the task force trying to deal with the Pashekata problem, had a miracle with her today First Citizen Abdulrahman really did not see a need for today’s meeting with the task force. Every meeting with the task force seemed to be the same, “We are close”, “It’s a complicated problem”, “The problem is with the alien bio-chemistry”. Excuses yes, but it was true the Pashekata were tough and nasty, even the goats wouldn’t eat them. Of course as all the native plants they had analyzed contain usually several deadly toxins, there wasn’t anything native that they could eat.

He looked at the papers on his desk, with charts and figures, they all said the same thing; that they were nearly out of food. Earth was a 7 years away round trip away; they would all be sun-baked bones before help came for them. No, they had to solve this themselves.

“I sure hope she has a miracle in her pocket today.” said Abdulrahman softly to himself.

The meeting started out with what had appeared to be the miracle. Jamila and Khalid Abdullojanov, head of the xeno-biology group, came in both gushing with excitement and speaking to fast to be understood. .

Abdulrahman calmed them down and asked Jamila, “Please Dr. Pashtun you are the head of the task force, inform me where your groups research is?”

Jamila smiled at the First Citizen, stood up and addressing everyone in the room stated, “We have done it. We have a pesticide that kills the Pashekata in their tracks and does not affect our crops. We have field-tested it and our safety people are quite happy with it. In fact the problem of the Pashekata’s alien physiology worked in our favor on safety as the chemical is completely harmless to humans and other plants and animals we brought from Earth.”

A smile was slowly starting to creep across the First Citizen ‘s face, when he saw Dr. Muhammed Turajonzoda, head of the Agriculture department, looking at the figures and frowning. Pen in hand he seemed to be adding numbers in the margins of the papers he had in front of him.

“Dr. Turajonzoda, is there something wrong?” asked Abdulrahman with a worried look.

“Well sir, while I do believe that the new pesticide is a breakthrough. They state that they tested it at the experimental farm and sprayed 450 liters of the pesticide over 3 hectares, and that they can make 200 liters per day. Well sir we have over 240,000 hectares in production and therefore we need to spray 10.8 million liters of the new pesticide. Even with their projection of increased production once the larger plant comes online, by my estimates two thirds of our crops will have been consumed by the Pashekata before we get everything sprayed. We are going to have to go quarter rations, if that. People are going to die, lot of people. It would appear to be just to little to late.”
Everyone looked at the First Citizen who had a pained expression on his face.

“Try to see if you can’t get production ramped up faster. The task force has done what I requested, Now, Dr. Turajonzoda you and the rest of the Agricultural department have to figure out how to get everyone fed.”

“Yes sir.”
“Yes sir.”

Dr Hamza Khayrulloyev poured himself a glass of ice water and silently cursed the Pashekata for eating the tea bushes that he had planted. He had just sat down to look over the new lab reports on DNA stability in the experimental goats when there was a knock at his door.

“Come in.”

Aisha Samanid, one of his best lab techs, came in all out of breath and with her headscarf around her neck. She probably ran here directly from the women’s lounge thought Hamza.

“Dr. Khayrulloyev have you read the memo from the department of agriculture?”

“As our lab, like most genetic labs on this planet are under grant from the department of Agriculture, I get 2 or 3 memos a day from them. So you will have to be a bit more specific.”

“The one about proposals on food production”

“Yes, I read it this morning at what passes for breakfast in the cafeteria.”


“Well what, Aisha”

“Well what about the goats”, said Aisha gesturing to the meadow visible through Hamza’s office window.

Hamza looked out of his window, at the herd of green goats. To try and make up for the shortage of grass and hay that they had to feed the goats, the lab had bio-engineered them to have skin cells that contained chlorophyll and acted like the leaves on a plant. While the skin cells did not produce nearly enough energy alone, it did produce nearly 30 percent of the energy that the goats needed to survive.

Hamza smiled and said, “I hope that you are not suggesting that eating the goats is going to solve the problem. We have 300 goats and over half a million colonists. And even milk production being as high as we want it is not enough to sustain the colony. No what we need to figure out is how to produce some of these aliens enzymes and how to filter out the toxins that are in all the native plants. But we keep hitting roadblocks. I am sure if we just had more time we could figure it out, alas it does not appear that we do.”

“Sorry doctor for wasting your time.”

“You didn’t waste my time my time Aisha. In fact I am glad to see that a brilliant mind like yours is working on this problem,” he said with just a touch of sadness in his voice.

Aisha stood up and left softly closing the office door. Hamza looked at the door, he had taped up pictures that his kids had drawn and wondered how he could make sure they had their next birthdays, when he suddenly stood up and gasped, “The goats”

First Citizen Abdulrahman looked at the scientists who were unable to sit still with excitement.

Barely able to contain his own excitement Abdulrahman Asked, “You said you had a solution to our problem, so what is it?”

“Well sir “answered Hamza, whom the group had chosen as their spokesman, We believe that we can, by using retroviral engineering, make it so that the people can create their own carbohydrates by just sitting out in the sun for a few hours a day. They would not produce enough to supply all of their dietary needs. But enough would be produced to that they could survive even with the ration cuts.”

“That’s fantastic, but your expression is telling me that there is something else your not telling me. Also wouldn’t this take months even years to develop?”

“Oh no sir, the time isn’t really a problem. We already have the virus developed that we need. However there is the fact that the virus works very well and will in fact alter the germ line and ummm.”

“And what?”

“There is one side effect which is you will turn green.”

“Green you say” replied Abdulrahman with a chuckle, “well better green than bleached white bones. Of course you will probably get resistance from the grand sheik. We will have to convince him that this is all halal.”

“The grand sheik” groaned Hamza, “I hadn’t thought about him”

“Here, contact Sheik Atif before going to see the Grand Sheik. I think that he will be sympathetic to us.”

Sheik Atif assured the scientists that he could convince the Grand Sheik to issue an announcement that the procedure was halal. He did so as he was quite convinced that he knew where any objection would come from.

The next day after Asr prayers sheik Atif found himself being ushered into the grand sheiks office, which looked more like a small library than anything else. After exchanging salams and the pouring of tea, Atif wondered where the grand sheik got tea from; he began explaining what the scientists wanted to do.

“I realize that we are facing hardship, but we must remember that the Quran tell us in surah 4 Ayat 119 Walaodillannahum walaomanniyannahum walaamurannahum falayubattikunna athana al-anAAami walaamurannahum falayughayyirunna khalqa Allahi waman yattakhithi alshshaytana waliyyan min dooni Allahi faqad khasira khusranan mubeenan.
I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the fair nature created by Allah. Whoever, forsaking Allah, takes Satan for a friend, hath of a surety suffered a loss that is manifest. And therefore I do not see how this can be halal”, said the Grand Sheik.

“With all due respect Grand Sheik we are not facing hardships we are facing death by starvation. “

“We should pray then, for Allah is compassionate and merciful.”

“Grand Sheik your words bring to mind a favorite hadith of mine, which I am sure you learned as well. A Bedouin went to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and left his camel in front of the Prophet’s Mosque. Then he asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) which would be more correct: to tie the camel to a post, or to leave it untied, depending on that since he had trust that Almighty Allah would guard it for him? The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) answered him: “Tie it, placing all confidence in Almighty Allah”

With a smile the Grand Sheik replied, “You are correct, something must be done, but I think not this.”

“If I interpret the Surah as you do it would seem logical that the piercing of ears and noses is haram, an that even surgery could be seen has haram. Are we to close down the colony’s operating rooms? I also put to you that the majority of the ulema tell us that it is preferable to eat pork than to die.”

“Aaah now you have made your point. I will indeed issue a fatwa that the procedure is halal.”

3 weeks later sitting in a brightly lit office in the Science One building First Citizen Ghulam and Dr. Khayrulloyev discussed how project little green men was proceeding

“It is a huge success sir. Over 400 thousand people have been treated with no ill effects. And other than 3 families in Kalagi Town who declared the treatments a satanic plot and fled into the Siyoh wilderness, we should have the rest of the population treated by the end of the week.” Said Hamza.

“It is sad the fatwa was very clear in it’s reasoning on why the treatment was halal. Poor fools they will be dead in a few months.”

“We should be proud sir, we have saved the colony. A few misguided people have refused and yes they will perish in the wilderness, but hundreds of thousands saved. Pretty good I think.”

“You are right, it’s just you want to save them all.”

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