[Interior. Corridor on the way to the bathrooms. Paintings on walls too valuable, or too diplomatic a gift NOT to have on display, but are the ones nobody liked so much.]
Gneiss So do you see the point?
Tourmaline Which point?
Gneiss I can’t spell the whole thing out again…
Tourmaline Oh, that point!
Tourmaline Just so.
Tourmaline Well, I’m not a biologist, or a botanist.
Gneiss I’m not asking for the answer. We’re here to assess risks not answers.
Tourmaline Oh, do you think?
Gneiss Don’t you?
Tourmaline Well, I can’t give an answer on this one.
Gneiss But can you assess the risk?
Tourmaline Well, again, I can’t give you a statistical likelihood, but…
Tourmaline But if it did happen it would be an insurmountable catastrophe, likely irreversible, death to any expedition.
Gneiss Thank you! That’s all I was looking for!
Tourmaline Oh, well, my pleasure.
Gneiss I mean, we’re all agreed that it would be practically and theoretically impossible to pack enough food to last forever.
Tourmaline Oh, we are. I mean preservative techniques for space food are improving all the time, but even if you could make food that would keep forever, we’ll never have the resources on Earth to make a quantity in one batch that would last forever.
Gneiss Especially if you suppose that a colony population would expand.
Tourmaline Especially then.
Gneiss Which is surely the point.
Gneiss So there had to be a way of growing more food once on the new planet.
Tourmaline Or space station. Yes, there does. Which we still might discover is impossible and then you can relax about further concerns.
Gneiss But then the whole project will have failed.
Tourmaline Not at all! Success for us is finding out how we’d do it, finding we can’t is still an outcome.
Tourmaline There’s always a silver lining.
Gneiss But, if producing crops on another planet is possible, how will we be able to work out if what I’m worried will happen would happen, or if I’m worried about something that wouldn’t happen?
Tourmaline I don’t know if we can prove it would never happen.
Tourmaline I mean, growing plants in new conditions, how can we know they won’t evolve in any way?
Gneiss And that that evolution won’t make them toxic to human consumption.
Tourmaline I do see your point.
Gneiss Did you hear Permafrost say that plant-mutation is a risk on Earth anyway?
Tourmaline Yes, but here on Earth there would always be so many other things we could go on eating.
Gneiss So, to your mind, are you saying this is really a biodiversity problem? That we wouldn’t take enough different types of plants with us to another planet?
Tourmaline Sure, why not. Even if you took the seeds for everything, you’d have to prioritise. How could we pack enough kit to grow on as much of the new planet’s surface as we do here on Earth?
Gneiss We couldn’t, not at first.
Tourmaline Certainly not at first.
Gneiss Which allows time for my problem.
Tourmaline It does. With the added pressure that the new colony diet would have to be completely vegan.
Gneiss It would?
Tourmaline Well, apart from the space food stocks you took with you.
Gneiss Do you think?
Tourmaline My dear friend, do be sensible, how would you take a cow to Mars?