Actionette - Cutting Up Castillo
Who: Medibay Staff, Amber, Rufus
When: After Castillo's death
"I didn't sign up for this smeg!" Amber said, surprised at the level of authority that she could manage in her own voice. "I want volunteers to paint the JMC off every wall and sign on this ship, inside and out. I want you all to tear off your JMC insignia on your uniforms and burn them. We stand alone against the masses. We are great as one, we have achieved greatness in the past. We can do it again. Stand with me now and let's show them how great we are! That we won't be oppressed! That we fight for the freedom of what and who we love!"
Amber looked across at Kaje and gestured for him to cut the comms line. He did and all she could do was hope that it had worked and wait for Keto's report.
Down in the medibay, Keto raised an eyebrow as the captain's voice faded away.
"Interesting," he murmured, "I would suppose this makes us all ex-employees now. I presume that we will all be compensated for loss of pay and benefits."
Wildflower and the Tree glanced at each other. "Uh, Charlie," said Wildflower, "I think our salaries have been frozen."
"Well, yes, if you declare war on your employer then they tend to..."
"No, I mean...for ages. Actually, I can't remember a single payday since I signed up here."
*Rustle*, agreed the Tree. Keto snorted.
"That's ridiculous! I mean, who would sign on to a ship like this if they weren't...getting...paid..."
His voice trailed off as he looked up, expression going blank. Wildflower shrugged sympathetically.
"Well," said Keto after a long moment, "Now we're *officially* not getting paid. Wonderful."
"And we'll lose the free medical, too."
"Wildflower, we ARE the free medical," sighed Keto, "Now be silent and hand me that scalpel. I have to autopsy whatever this...thing...is."
Wildflower obliged, and Keto bent over to look closely at Castillo's corpse, which lay on one of the surgical tables at the back of the medibay. For the briefest of moments, Keto was lost for words.
Instead of looking down as he opened the black body bag into the sultry cold eyes of Castillo's corpse, he found himself staring at a creature that had two heads.
"Wildflower. What's the meaning of this?" He barked, waving the scalpel at her.
The girl shrugged.
"What do you.... Oh for goodness sake girl. I didn't mean be silent when I asked you questions!"
"It looks like Rufus...." She said, peering into the body bag. She prodded at him.
"That's hardly a proven medical test now is it? We don't know what it could be?"
Rufus rolled over in his sleep at this point, causing the medical staff to jump away in shock. Keto brandished his scalpel at the `creature'. The thump as he hit the hard metal floor of the medibay woke him up and he scrabbled away from Castillo and looked around.
"W...What..?" He stumbled, getting to his feet shakily.
"How...wha..." said Keto, blinking, non-plussed for a moment. Then his natural reactions kicked back in. "What are you doing in my medibay!? You could have contaminated our autopsy!"
"Bu...I...where..." managed Rufus, then seemed to get his bearings slightly, "The medibay?"
"Yes! In my medibay, disrupting my work!" growled Keto, "I assume your alleged exploded status was some kind of bizarre attempt at a practical joke. It never would have worked on me!"
"Uh, maybe you should sit down," said Wildflower, cutting in and motioning Rufus towards a chair, "You're looking a bit pale and, well, um, shocked."
"Of course he's shocked! I'm shouting at him! That's the desired effect!" yelled Keto, rounding on Wildflower. This time it did not have the desired effect.
"Take a seat and I'll get you a glass of water," said Wildflower to Rufus, smiling. Then she turned back towards Keto and the smile vanished instantly.
"He's obviously not well, and you're not helping," she hissed, "I'll deal with him, you deal with the autopsy."
"Charlie! The man had his head blown off! People don't just get better after that!"
"Oh t'ch. It was obviously a fake..."
"A fake what? A fake head? Several people saw him get blown up, Doc, including the captain. Do you really want to go and tell her that he was just messing around?"
Keto hesitated, and thought about what Amber's likely reaction would be to him telling her that her brother was really just a big joker and the whole exploding-collar thing had been a gag. Then he thought about how likely he would be to survive that reaction.
"I'll get on with the autopsy, then," he said, shooting a glance over Wildflower's shoulder at Rufus, who was looking bewildered, "You deal with this...fool."
Wildflower nodded and went to get a glass of water as Keto turned back to Castillo's corpse, pointedly ignoring Rufus.
"Making the first incision," he murmured, mostly to himself. The next few minutes passed with a mixture of intrigued "hmm"s and the occasional surprised, "ah".
After a while Rufus' voice came from over Keto's shoulder.
"What is she?"
Keto squeezed his eyes together and opened them again before looking around. No, he hadn't dreamt it, the boy was actually peering over his shoulder and the corpse and getting in his way again.
"I will be a lot more successful about finding that out if people stop bothering me," he growled. Rufus paid no attention, still frowning at the corpse.
"That doesn't look right."
"It's not right," muttered Keto, resigning himself to having an audience and turning back to the thing in front of him, "Whatever Castillo was, she wasn't human."
"Then what? Android? Hymenopterran? Mollopod?"
"Thank you for your carefully considered assistance, but I can recognise androids, hymenoptera and mollopods with my eyes closed!" said Keto, "And this thing here is none of them. This is...new."
"Hmm. Have you got a DNA scan?" asked Rufus, peering down at the corpse. Keto glanced round. He had to admit, for someone who had allegedly just had their brains scattered over a wide area of supply deck, the boy appeared to be relatively stable, physically and mentally. And, Keto thought, if he had been the one to have his brains scattered over a wide area, he'd want to make sure he knew all about the person who had done it. Or the creature who had done it, at least.
"Fine. I could use another pair of hands, and you're at least marginally less incompetent than all my other options," he said.
"Hey!" protested Wildflower from across the room. *Rustle*, echoed the Tree. Keto ignored them both, instead pulling one of the medibay DNA scanners across from a nearby bunk and passing it to Rufus.
"I believe you know how to operate one of these. Run the scan and let me know what you find - I'm going to run some blood work on...well, whatever this blood-like fluid is," said Keto, holding up a small glass vial of the silvery liquid from inside Castillo's corpse.
The next couple of hours passed, with Rufus and Keto both working on their respective machines, Wildflower and the Tree occasionally popping back into the main medibay to check on other patients, but always returning to watch the investigation of the strange, unclassified body.
"Right, I've got the blood results," said Keto, walking back over to the autopsy table.
"And I've finished the DNA scan," said Rufus.
"I'm assuming we've found the same thing."
"I think so."
"This is extremely interesting - I'm not aware of it having been done before."
"Me either. Do you think it's natural?"
"I don't think so. I don't see how it could be - do you?"
"No - no, I don't."
Both men trailed off, glancing down at the corpse and shaking their heads in disbelief. Eventually, Wildflower couldn't take it any more.
"WHAT DID YOU FIND!?" she shouted, causing Keto and Rufus to jump. Even the Tree quivered slightly.
"Ah, yes, of course," said Keto, regaining his composure, "Well, the liquid I analysed isn't technically blood, but it does appear to act as a proxy for it - it carries oxygen and other gases around in a dissolved state, bringing them to other parts of the body. The blood cells are not cells as humans have, or even as hymenoptera or mollopods have - there are traces of some type of mechanical infrastructure, although exactly how that functions I have no idea. The liquid appears to be rapidly degrading after death - in a few hours, I'll be surprised if we've got anything left of it other than just various liquids and gases, let alone anything that can give us useful results."
"The DNA scan came up with similar results," said Rufus, nodding towards the screen of the machine in question, "Castillo's DNA, or rather, the thing that plays the role of DNA...isn't. For a start, it only contains a single helical strand."
"So...RNA?" asked Wildflower hesitantly. Keto raised his eyebrows, but Rufus carried on before he could speak.
"No, not quite," said Rufus, "There's no trace of uracil...or indeed of any of the other genetic bases we'd expect to find. But there IS twice as much single-strand material than we would expect to find if, indeed, the genetic structure was just made up of RNA rather than DNA."
"Implying, what, that the genetic structure unzipped itself? Entirely?" asked Keto, "That's a little far fetched."
"You found blood that's decomposing within hours of death, the creature looks entirely human, and there are multiple identical clones of it," said Rufus, "Is now the time to start objecting to far fetched ideas?"
"A good point. Please continue."
"My best guess is that this thing," said Rufus, poking the corpse with the blunt end of a scalpel, "DID have what we would consider to be DNA, or something similar. But when it died, all of that fake-DNA split, becoming the fake-RNA that the tests are now showing. In that state, it's almost impossible for us to analyse the real genetic structure of the creature."
"But you're talking about something decomposing an entire body's worth of DNA in a little over six hours!" said Keto, throwing his hands up in the air, "You'd need a massive production of helicase to do that, and we'd pick up traces of it without even trying these tests. Hell, even Wildflower would find it!"
"True," agreed Rufus, "It does seem impossible. But I haven't got another explanation."
They looked back at the corpse again.
"It's not human," said Keto.
"So we can't make the assumption that the fake-DNA needs helicase or indeed any kind of enzyme to break it down. It could be unstable. In fact, given the blood results...maybe artificial."
"The enzyme?" asked Rufus.
"No, the DNA itself. If the two strands weren't naturally chemically bound, but held in place mechanically, destroying the mechanism would cause it to decompose."
"Genetic-level nanotechnology? That's a bit advanced."
The corner of Keto's mouth quirked upwards. "Decomposing blood, entirely human, identical clones, et cetera - a bit advanced?"
"Point taken. So - artificial DNA, held together by some kind of nanotechnology, which powers down on death leading to decomposition of the DNA. Where do the nanomachines go?"
"Into the blood."
"Where they also decompose. Got it. Hmm."
"So...what is it?" asked Wildflower. Keto and Rufus looked at her, then back at each other.
"We have no idea," said Keto.
"We know exactly how it works," said Rufus.
"But no idea what it is, where it came from or why."
"That's great, boys," sighed Wildflower, "I'm sure that'll be really helpful."
"You'd be surprised," said Keto.
---- Later on the Command Deck ----
Keto and a nervous Rufus approached the bridge to deliver the report to Amber. Keto had said that Rufus should go, in light of his recent none death, but Rufus was too scared to face his sister and had dithered so much that Keto had grabbed him by the arm and was dragging him up there. When they entered the room there was the briefest moment of silence and the realisation dawned on Amber, then the traditional flash of anger at not being told sooner.
"You need to read this." He said, stammer gone as he ruefully smiled at his sister.
Amber sat down in the Captain's chair, her frown deepening as she read the medical report. She punched up the ship wide communications.
"I need anyone who gives a damn, and all department heads in the conference room now. That includes you Pancake." She barked. "Rufus, you should have come to me sooner, however, I'll let it slide. Rosette's the one you need to worry about." She hugged her brother and then marched over to the conference room, waiting for the others to arrive.
Yes, this is a JP between me and Becca - I have successfully been dragged back. Again. ;P