The Depth of Darkness, Part 1

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Chapter 2

River walked into the laboratory where a crew of technicians were busy pulling a smaller container out of the shipping crate that had been brought in on Stuart’s ship. The container slid out on rails and once it was clear of the shipping crate, the technicians unfolded castor wheels from underneath it, detached it from the rails and wheeled it clear.

Edison was watching them perform their task without emotion, occasionally wiping at his nose with his handkerchief. It was his normal nervous trait, one that most people seldom noticed these days. River found it extraordinarily strange that in an environment such as the Saucer’s, Edison should always be ill with a cold.

Perhaps he’s just allergic to something in the climate control? he wondered idly.

Three of the technicians removed the shipping crate while the remaining one began to remove the protective padding from the smaller container. With the padding gone, River recognised the container to be a cryogenic stasis chamber, a smaller one for non-human biological matter. He glanced up at Edison as the last technician left.

Once the doors to the laboratory had closed and only authorised personnel were in attendance, Edison spoke. “Yes, Professor Goldstein, you have some biological matter to examine, alien in its supposed origin.”

“Alien.” River played out the word slowly, almost as if he had heard it for the first time.

He quickly rushed up the three steps to the cryo- chamber and knelt next to the controls. It was set to a temperature of minus one hundred degrees Celsius. At that temperature nothing could survive; or at least, to the knowledge of current scientific reasoning. He quickly checked the battery levels. They were at fifteen per cent.

“Sir, the batteries are running low. May I move the cryo-chamber into the main laboratory immediately, so that it can be connected to facility power?” he requested.

Edison nodded his assent, although strictly speaking this was River’s speciality and Edison would’ve been amiss to countermand his request.

River pushed the cryo-chamber towards the decontamination sluice that would, using ultraviolet radiation, destroy any micro-bacteria that might have settled on the outer shell. This was necessary before it was allowed into the inner section of the laboratory. River would have to enter the inner section through another entrance after having changed into overalls before stepping into a similar, though less hazardous, decontamination sluice. The process did not take long to complete and soon enough River had connected the cryo-chamber to a fixed power source. The other scientists had changed into their laboratory overalls while he had worked with the chamber and were now in the process of entering the inner section themselves.

Edison was the last to arrive and after taking his place at the head of the examination table he began directing a variety of commands to all those in attendance. “Professor Goldstein, if you would please remove the sample from the cryo-chamber and place it on the examination table.”

River knelt next to the cryo-chamber. It was no longer than a metre and only roughly fifty centimetres wide. The actual chamber in which matter could be stored at temperatures below two hundred Kelvin was relatively small in comparison with the rest of the unit, its height being primarily due to all the engineering required to power and facilitate the freezing process. River deftly punched in a sequence of command instructions on the lit cluster of buttons. They were industrially sized and hardened against the rough use of the typical space jocks and cargo handlers. With a loud hiss the three centimetre thick glass slid aside and cold gas billowed out of the opened chamber. Once the gas had cleared, River saw the sample of biological matter for the first time.

“Well, don’t just stand there gawking at it,” complained Edison from behind him.

River shook his head in an odd attempt at banishing his unprofessional behaviour and reached in to lift out the tiny little sample. It was roughly the size of a fully grown man’s little finger, no longer than six centimetres. Similar to how Terran centipedes had hundreds of tiny legs, this sample had similar appendages. Only whereas a centipede had distinct joints that indicated that the appendages were designed to provide propulsion, these looked more like barbs.

River placed the sample on the large examination table, feeling a little silly at the concept of seven scientists standing around such a small sample in a manner that suggested that they would be working on something significantly larger and more tangible. Edison, seemingly able to read River’s thought, mockingly announced, “Do not let the size of the sample detract from what it signifies.”

“What you see before you is a new, uncategorised life form that provides a very real danger to human interplanetary society. It is our job to understand what exactly this life form is, its strengths and weaknesses, as well as to define what exactly the parameters of this threat can and would be if left unchecked or unresearched. Now, I can only assume that this life form is already causing havoc out there, but the details thereof are strictly classified and I have not been told about those as yet.”

“What timeframe do we have?” asked River.

“We don’t have a timeframe, HEC HQ wants our results and evaluations as soon as possible. Professor Goldstein, I suggest you and your team get started.”

River nodded absentmindedly. He had been expecting the answer and was already off considering his next move. He reached behind his back, blindly feeling for the keyboard of the console, he traced his fingers along the keys and initiated the recording function in the laboratory. Numerous cameras and microphones strategically placed in the room would now record every little detail that occurred in the laboratory. It was impossible for the scientists to recall days later all the information as it had occurred. The recordings would ensure that only one version of the truth existed.

“First, let us confirm whether the subject has the ability to survive cryostasis. That will give us an idea of the hardiness of the life form. If the subject is dead, then we will begin with dissection to determine basic organism composition and in the process we can determine if the life form is carbon-based like ourselves and other earthly creatures,” suggested River rhetorically.

One of the scientists, Shiori Wu he thought her name was, moved to retrieve the scanner that would detect the typical signs of life that known organisms needed to show to be determinable as alive. She had recently arrived at the Saucer from Earth. The jury was still out on her abilities as a scientist, though to date she had performed the tasks he had set for her admirably.

She passed the scanner over the tiny frozen life form. The top of the scanner had a small display that pulsed with a red light as it scanned; the light would turn green if there was a part of an organic substance that contained life. Scanning a larger body could show that one part of a body was beyond saving and others were not. In the case of the small life form before them there was no sweeping of a large surface, merely holding the scanner over the tiny organism. The instrument continued pulsing red.

“Professor, I’m not sure this is a viable test,” suggested Shiori.

“How come?” asked Edison, interrupting the process from which he had originally excluded himself. Shiori looked cornered and unsure of herself. She stammered a reply. “The scanner is designed for use on a much larger organism. It may not be capable of accurately determining this subject’s vital statistics.”

“Nonsense, this scanner can be used on a bee and it will detect life or no life. If the scanner says it is dead, then it is dead.”

River spoke up to take the conversation and focus away from the accuracy of the scanner and, rather, to concentrate on the investigation of the little life form. “Let’s begin the thawing process, it won’t be necessary to consider the removal of cryostasis only to thaw without damaging any cell structure.”

A different scientist, another young arrival, brought a small metal pot with numerous electrical connection points. It was placed over the frozen sample. The pot was a type of microwave cooker, only it used a concentrated beam of low frequency microwaves that did not destroy or cook cells, but only focused on heating up the fibrous tissue in the cells. The agitation of the cells would cause the organism to shake off the cryostasis much more slowly than in a full strength microwave and therefore remain more intact.

The pot hummed steadily as the microwaves were being emitted. Through a small transparent section of the pot, the scientists could observe the subject within. It seemed to be stirring and a whitish light began to pulse in the centre of the little worm-like life form. It began to thrash about. The pot rattled above it and threatened to overturn.

“It isn’t dead!” shouted Shiori.

“Quickly, someone pin the microwave emitter down!” roared Edison, who was backing away.

River launched himself at the pot, just as it overturned and the life form seemed to catapult off the examination table. It scurried towards a cluster of stacked equipment and disappeared into a tiny grate that fed air into the laboratory.

“Damn it!” cursed River. “We have found and lost a new life form in the space of ten minutes.”

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