So let's say that an alien civilization that we have made enemies with decides to use an advanced non-lethal biological weapon on the Earth as a warning.

The aliens, while not infamous for any technology, have unfathomable knowledge pertaining to chemistry and biology. Alien engineers create an organic crystalline compound (Organism X) that consumes atmospheric nitrogen N2 and duplicates its cells in an asexual fashion. It is fictitiously hive-minded, like the Necromorphs of Dead Space.

The catch: X's defense mechanism is to disperse nearby crystals into airborne microscopic clusters if LARGE numbers of cells are physically destroyed or disrupted. This includes burning, shattering, and collapsing if a certain crystal cannot support itself. These spread quickly, like a plague of sorts. After a time, the cells will consume enough nitrogen to fall to the ground again. They will starve if deprived from atmospheric nitrogen, including underwater and in a human's body. Cells in the center of a crystal receive nutrients from the outside, as long as they are adjacent to another cell.

Organism X enters Earth's atmosphere via a metal capsule that opens. Assuming it has dispersed due to the shock of reentry, it starts to spread quickly through, let's say, France.

How would a early-future society, say about 2040, eradicate Organism X? I imagine that time period to have technology similar to ours, with more VR, space travel, smarter AIs, much more efficient energy production, but not anywhere near an AI takeover. Like, Iron Man with Jarvis, not Ultron. So how would we kill off Organism X? Or does the "non-lethal" weapon turn into a metaphorical apocalypse that eventually wipes Europe off the face of the planet?

Edit: Perhaps it would be more appropriate to impede X's progress rather than obliterate it.

  • $\begingroup$ You say "infinitely spread" in your title. There are information theoretical limits unless you play some games. What is the smallest volume of dispersed cells which contains sufficient information to reconstitute a X? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ Also, do we have to eradicate X? Can we try to coexist, with some tools that limit X'sability to compete with us? You would be surprised at how hard it is to eradicate something like what you described. If you think the FOAB answer is a bit rude, wait until you see what we have to do if a first strike fails. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Duly noted. Maybe I should nerf X, give it a more obvious weakness than "lack of nitrogen". $\endgroup$
    – user10933
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ I was tempted to answer "shake it up." There's only so many nitrogen based bond structures you can make, and many of them appear in some of our less stable explosives ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Now that would be an interesting plot twist... Thank you. +1 The challenge would therein lie in removing X without blowing some random city off the face of the Earth. Although dispersion wouldn't work well in that scenario. $\endgroup$
    – user10933
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:12

3 Answers 3


If they're going to play with strange biological weapons like this, I'd say the kid gloves are off. Whether you believe in GMOs or not, we're going to harness the most powerful force we have: biology.

Their system has a powerful hive mind, and extreme resilience by abusing jetstreams to travel all over the world. However, they have a weakness... nitrogen isn't all that hot of a material to build with. There's only so many ways you can configure its bonds. Meanwhile, we have the entire periodic table to play with, and a large repertoire of amino-acid based products at our disposal.

Worse for them, if you're trying to make a supervillian ooze out of nitrogen, you're going to have to use a lot of the more exotic nitrogen bonds. This means energy. Lots of energy. Exactly what biology loves to grab a hold of. So bio-engineer up something whose sole purpose is finding those lovely, tasty high energy nitrogen bonds, and turn them into fuel for our biorganism. Yum yum yum! Turnabout is fair play.

I would expect this hive mind to develop an immune system rather rapidly, but it's not going to be very effective for the crystals falling from the sky. They haven't had time to build up to an immune system before they hit ground. Only the large objects will have immune systems. All the little crystals will become lunchmeat, and it will get worse for X all the time, because our little bugger evolves!

As for the big crystals? Those are a macroscopic problem. A sufficiently liberal application of C4 should turn them into biobug chow when the time comes.

  • $\begingroup$ Fight fire with fire. Why didn't I think of that? Thank you! $\endgroup$
    – user10933
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:33

Throw some FOABs at the area where the capsule opened up.

The FOAB, or Father of All Bombs is a Russian thermobaric weapon. The largest of its kind, the FOAB has a blast radius of 300 m (1,000 ft). As for the effects inside that blast radius, the Russian deputy chief of the general staff Alexander Rukshin was quoted as saying, "all that is alive merely evaporates."

Basically, kill it all before it can spread.

Full disclosure, I got this idea (not specifically the FOAB, but using thermobaric weapons) from Fear the Sky by Stephen Moss.

  • $\begingroup$ So, "nuke" the city that it landed in? Real helpful if that happens to be Paris or something. Plus, if my city was about to get destroyed, I would want to get the **** out. Which is how plague spreads. $\endgroup$
    – user10933
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ @avuong2962 when you create really really really nasty bad guys, and ask WorldBuilding for solutions, you will see very creative solutions. You will also see excellent applications of brute force. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 2:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @avuong2962 It's not a nuke. That's why I selected it. It'll burn the sky, but not make the area radioactive. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel So kill everything in the immediate area but then come back the next week? Clever! $\endgroup$
    – user10933
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:23

If it is biological in nature then sufficient radiation will break the cellular bonds and destroy whatever functions as DNA in the organism. Since this solution is also pretty hard on Earthly organisms, there will be quite the interesting targeting conferences when the alien organism is infecting Tokyo or New York City.

Neutron bombs detonated at high enough altitude will be able to irradiate a fairly large area without a huge blast effect. There will be some issues with the thermal pulse (so you will have to be prepared to deal with a firestorm if the conditions are right), and of course the civilian population will be killed unless they are in shelters like down in the subways or deep basements in high rise buildings.

High energy particle beams will also deliver lethal doses of radiation. IF they are beamed upwards into the atmosphere, they will rapidly degrade as the similarly charged particles repel each other, and dump the energy into the molecules of the air (which is actually what we want), so spores floating up to perhaps a kilometre in the air will be destroyed by the beam. Since the beam itself is of very limited diameter, you will essentially be able to create a narrow cone shaped shield over the beam projector. Once again, backscattered radiation will make things pretty unhealthy for Earthly organisms as well.

Somewhat less lethal would be high energy microwaves, which should also be able to disrupt the molecules which make up the alien organisms. HPM weapons are not as well developed as some other classes of weaponry, but small version have been experimented with as crowd control systems. Being caught in the beam is described as feeling like the victim was set on fire, but no permanent damage resulted as the person was impelled to rapidly get away from the beam. Portable projectors mounted on HMMVW's exist already, so areas can be quarantined and zapped with HPM beams. Presumably much larger beam generators can be made and mounted on ships or airplanes to ensure wide area coverage, while smaller backpack versions can be issued to soldiers to "beam out" nooks and crannies that might be otherwise missed.

One possible side effect of all this is very pissed off Earthlings now have experience with high energy particle beam accelerators, which can be adapted to create Free Electron Lasers of unimaginable power. On the Rocketpunk Manifesto site, discussion on super laser weaponry has resulted in these being deemed Ravening Beams of Death (RBoD's), and the Atomic Rockets website discusses how to create x ray lasers powerful enough to engage and destroy targets at one light second (evaporating or boiling materials in microseconds!) Scroll down to the laser section on this page :http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacegunconvent.php

One light second is most of the way to the Earth's Moon, so Aliens who want to mess with us might consider something that works a bit quicker, like relativistic missiles cracking the planet open.....


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