Intellectual Curiosity Uncovers an Amazing Truth, or Perhaps a Frightening One?

Submitted into Contest #174 in response to: Write a story about a brilliant scientist making a startling discovery.... view prompt


Science Fiction

The medical centre on Eden was as quiet as ever with little sound to muffle the humming and occasional bleep of a molecular scanner as it analysed the sample inserted a few hours before by the town’s senior doctor.

***                 ***                 ***

Dr Au Clair would have had to admit that her current work was really designed as a time filler. Two years on from Eden being found and the initial formation of Yablon completed, the general good health of the town’s inhabitants and few significant accidents meant that she and her team were far from overworked.

To counter her occasional boredom, she had decided to carry out some research, taking advantage of one of the pieces of advanced medical equipment landed in the early days after the planet was first settled but since when, she would have been glad to confirm, rarely used. Despite that freedom, she had had a little worry in the back of her mind that the research, which would be unlikely to be of any real worth, might simply be seen as diverting her from the day-to-day medical check-ups that all the occupants of Yablon were expected to undergo at least once a year. To avoid any such criticism, she had decided to discuss her plans with the town’s joint Mayors, Helga and Anton, before starting her work.

Anton, an engineer and systems developer by training, was a practical individual and had been quite blunt in his initial response. “I understand your intellectual drive to understand the creature’s biological makeup but is it likely that anything of value will come out of your work on it? Anything practical, I mean?”

Amelie had to shake her head, already feeling downcast, and agreed that her ideas amounted to pure research with little likelihood of anything other than a little knowledge as to how living beings might have developed in other parts of the galaxy.

“Have you considered carrying out this type of research using biopsies from our Zeder and Bedev guests?” Helga knew, instinctively, that Amelie would have considered that but wondered if there might be some reason for not going that way, she had not perceived.

The doctor’s grimace told all. “These are friends! I’m talking about gene level analysis of a being that is dead. I don’t believe that it would be appropriate to take samples from them, even if they volunteered. The Pindat being had clearly regressed, in some way, at some point in the past. I’m not even sure still qualified as being sentient. It might be possible to learn how its brain was before the regression occurred but I’m not sure if there is enough material left to work on it.”

“What you are saying, Amelie, is that you see an opportunity to increase our knowledge base but that you don’t see any short-term gain?” Helga suddenly grinned. “Anton, if I am honest, it’s not for us to tell our medical team what they can do and what they can’t. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t any likelihood of profitable gain.” Anton looked askance but she continued. “Anton, admit it. If NASA hadn’t funded Alcubierre’s work, we wouldn’t be here, and he never suggested that his ship design could work. That was until the Pipers came along, anyway.”

Anton was forced to smile. “I guess so. Pure research always comes up against us practical guys. We always want answers to the problems of the day now! Not following years of research. Amelie, Helga is right. It’s not for us to tell you how to use your spare time and skills. Just let us know if you find out anything useful.”

***                 ***                 ***

Time passed in the lab and every so often a different member of her team would stick their head around the door with an enquiring glance and each time Amelie had had to respond with a “Still waiting.”

As she had known, the level of detail required the machine to carry out thousands of actions as it analysed the sample down to a molecular level. Nevertheless, she had not expected it to take so long, her test run using a blood sample taken from her own body had only required an hour, yet now the process was already into its fourth hour and evening was approaching.

The next time a staff member looked in on her it was to simply ask if she needed them to stay. Two of the team would be on standby overnight but that duty, which was never onerous, was easily handled from their homes.

“No, you get on home, Jurgen. And the rest of the team. I’ll close up. Looks as if I’ll have to wait for the scanner to finish its analysis overnight. I don’t really know why it is taking so long.”

In the end even Amelie was forced to concede that it would be the next day before she would see the results and having hung around for another couple of hours finally headed back to her own rooms, where her partner made a poor show of hiding her irritation at their evening meal being delayed.

“Sorry, Kiana, the scan has still not stopped, and I really hoped to see the first results today.”

“And what if it’s still chuntering away in the morning? Has it occurred to you that it might be locked in a loop with something it can’t solve?” Kiana was something of a computer nerd, as well as a member of the astronomy team charged with researching the system’s other planets.

Amelie’s face gave its own answer. “It can’t, can it? The programming on medical scanners is designed to abort a process if it isn’t able to complete any single task.”

Kiana looked thoughtful. “Look, let’s eat. The quiche is probably overdone and cold. I could stick it in the microwave. We might be able to come up with an answer once we have fed.”

In the end they were forced to give up trying to reach a viable solution and had to accept that only the morning could answer their bemusement.

***                 ***                 ***

The next morning Kiana decided that her own work could wait and walked over to the medical centre with Amelie. There they found that the scanner was silent having completed its programmed analysis sometime during the night.

“That’s a relief anyway. Now I need to start organising the data. Thanks for coming, K.”

“No problem, but let me know if you’re going to be late again, tonight, yes?” Giving Amelie a brief kiss, Kiana headed on over to science centre, leaving her partner to start delving into the reams of figures and chemical formulae dumped into her desktop.

The next few hours passed quickly as Amelie buried herself in her analysis. Then as the final results became clear she sat back in shock.

“I don’t believe it. I must have made a mistake. It’s impossible, it must be.” Her cries drew the rest of the medical team into her office.

“Doc, what is the matter?” Jurgen, her leading paramedic, asked the question first, but the others clearly had the same concern.

“My research, everything I’ve done over the past weeks, has been a complete waste of time. The results from the scan are wrong. They can’t be right unless I’ve completely misunderstood how to structure the data.”

“What have you actually been researching?” Jurgen questioned her, conscious that although the team knew Amelie had been deep in a personal research project, he and his colleagues hadn’t actually been told what.

“That creature, the Pindat, the one that was a part of that ship, that attacked the system. I was investigating the genetic makeup. I wanted to understand how it might have regressed to being nothing more than an integral but apparently non-functioning part of the control system.”

“Did we not learn anything from the post-mortem then?”

“Only basics such as that the blood, despite being almost black, contained a modified version of haemoglobin and that the brain appeared to be smaller than the skull cavity. The skin reflected a total, it seems, lack of exposure to UV.”

“So, you are looking at the molecular makeup of the individual. In other words, what form its DNA might take. I know that the scanner uses bioinformatic technology to carry out the analysis but the question, I suspect, is how might a creature from the other side of the galaxy differ in its genetic makeup?”

Amelie looked across at him. “I should have involved you at the start, Jurgen, sorry. You might have spotted my errors before they affected the whole process.”

“How do you know you made a mistake?”

“The results, they are impossible.” Amelie stopped, leaning back in total frustration.

“How do you know? Is there no DNA? Is the Pindat made up of a different structure entirely? I mean, all life, as we know it anyway, is built on the structure of the polymers that form DNA but that is limited by our knowledge of one planet, Earth.”

Amelie looked back at him and his team. “You’d better all sit down.”

After everyone found a seat, she continued. “The Pindat’s structure is based on DNA and the genetic sequencing is broadly similar. What is wrong is that the core DNA is human! The genetic sequencing, thankfully the Einstein was equipped with the most advanced kit, was what took so long. There are a similar number of genes to a human. That’s why its wrong. If you had told me the samples, I used, were from a human body the results would have been largely identical and of no surprise, but this is a six limbed being from another part of the universe. Even if DNA is the crucial basis of all life there should be bigger differences between the human genome and that of the Pindat. There are none, at least nothing material.”

“Doc. You are assuming you made a mistake in the process. Apart from rerunning the tests, what else can you do. Don’t forget that you have only brought the data into a more easily understood form. The scanner did the work, and, after all, the analysis is a straightforward sequencing format. Perhaps you should use the Zeder blood samples we have left from the work we did on the injured astronauts. After all they are another wholly unconnected species from humans. I mean, apart from having physical structure similar to our own there shouldn’t be any genetic link. After all our solar system and that of Zeder are more than a hundred light years apart.”

Amelie looked back miserably. “But the Zeder, and the Bedev, are actively sentient. I’m not sure we should be doing that.”

“Doing what to us, Doc Amelie?” The voice of the Ambassador’s daughter, Calri, intervened, speaking, to the amazement of the gathering, English without the aid of her translator.

Amelie briefly explained the outcome of her research and her concern about using genetic material from a Zeder source. Not surprisingly Calri was forced back into using the translator.

“Humans can analyse the very makeup of living things at a molecular level? That is amazing. I don’t think we have ever managed that. We are good healing our bodies and fighting illness but not on that level. Gosh, that might provide an answer as to why our males are so restricted in some, well, physical matters.”

Amelie smiled at the young Zeder’s circumspect approach to the issue of her male counterparts not being able to perform sexually other than once every three months. Then she paused, remembering what Molly had told her about Calri being young in Zeder terms when she was, in fact, almost a hundred Terran years old.

“Amelie, you should use those samples for your analysis. That you can do this is something I am sure our scientists back on Zent, and Zeder for that matter, would give anything for. For the moment until my father and the Einstein return, please, accept my approval if you feel that you need it. Don’t forget you saved the lives of many of our people. Having those samples, I would say, is because of that. If you learn from them anything useful, well that would be a bonus.”

The doctor looked back at Calri, clearly touched by the Zeder’s compassionate response. “Thank you, Calri. I hope I can return your generosity by proving it worthwhile.”

The meeting broke with one of the nurses heading to the cold store to obtain a blood sample while Amelie started the planning process before setting the scanner in motion again.

***                 ***                 ***

Three hours later, to Amelie’s amazement, the scanner pinged with a completion note. “How on Eden? That’s almost as fast as when I did the test run.” Her thoughts were once again in chaos.

"Jurgen,” she called, continuing as he entered, “please, please would you check that the sample I have just been using was Zeder not human.”

“Doc, there’s no doubt. The rest of the sample is still here, and you can see it’s the lighter pink/blue of the Zeder, not the bright red of us. Why?”

“The scan has already completed; that means there must be a large number of matching records. Surely, they can’t be the same as the Pindat?”

“Or the same as us? Is that what concerns you?”

Amelie looked at him. “If that proves to be the case it would be remarkable, but how? That’s a question to which I don’t know the answer and I’m not sure if I am ready to face it.”

“Doc?” Nandita, another of the medical team, interrupted. “Shouldn’t we get the bio-scientists involved? Perhaps they have data from the animal life here on Eden? Even if they haven’t, their past experience may help.”

“Why didn’t I think of them?” Amelie groaned. “Look I will finish this piece of work. Nandita, see if you can get anyone from the bio side to come here for a briefing.”

“OK, Doc.”

***                 ***                 ***

Her analysis took just over an hour but at the end of it, Amelie sat at her desk stunned. A few minutes later, there was a tap at the door and Akio Bushida came in. “Doc, you have a problem?”

It took some time for Amelie to brief her opposite number but at the end Akio, himself, was left speechless. Finally, he spoke, slowly. “We have always wondered how life, back on Earth, first developed. One theory was that the building blocks were brought on meteorites across interstellar space. Personally, that seemed far too unlikely, but it seems even less likely that identical strands of DNA could survive and reach more than one planetary system by accident.”

“Sorry, Aki. Are you suggesting that Earth and at least two other planets were deliberately seeded?” Amelie struggled even more with the, to her, almost outlandish idea being expressed.

“Why only three? We have seven other sapient species in a small part, in astronomical terms at least, of the cluster. From what I learned, talking to a couple of the Zeder officers and the Bedev deputy commander, there are also a large number of Earth like planets which were found through the wormholes without any or very little animal life forms including Eden itself. That’s odd, if not impossible.”

“We need to check the results again. Aki, one thought though. How could the Zeder have the same core DNA as humans? The only similarity is that they are humanoid?”

“DNA evolves to take account of local conditions, but the core must survive, otherwise the being/creature will, in time, fail and become extinct. Zeder is, we are told, larger than Earth was and closer to its star which is cooler than Sol. Hence the Zeder are built to cope with more gravity and less UV but that is simply evolution adapting elements of their DNA.”

***                 ***                 ***

With the two having agreed to bring together others in the research community to discuss the findings further, Akio left Amelie to her thoughts.

“Just what have sort of barrel of worms have I unearthed? Is this proof that there is a god? That all life was made by a supreme being after all? If not, how else?”

Sleep did not come easily that night.

***                 ***                 ***

December 02, 2022 16:11

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.