Part 1: The Anomalous Subject
“I am sorry to wake you Dr. Carter, but urgent matters require your attention.”
Blinking the sleep out of his eyes, Randolph Carter glared at the projection floating over his cot, robed like an official of imperial China. “What’s so important that you wake me at 1300 hours Shang Chi?”
“You instructed me to inform you of any changes during the operation.”
Grunting, Carter flipped a switch near his bedside. Instantly the room was filled with more projections, digital images of the planet far below them. They all showed a surface of pristine blue, not a single landmass could be seen.
“The first stage should have begun by now. Have the ‘formers malfunctioned?”
Shang Chi shook his head. “The planoformers are functioning correctly. We have encountered an…anomaly at the insertion point.
“An anomaly? Show me.”
The hologram on the far right, showing the planets northern hemisphere, was replaced by a wall of solid blue. Carter didn’t expect to see much else. This planet was a rare find indeed, a primordial water world with no life more advanced then bacteria. Carter was understandably surprised when something swam into view.
It was a bizarre thing, a ball of fuzz with ganglia like a hydra. As he watched, the creature decayed before his eyes, melting into formless ooze.
“The surveyor was still broadcasting when phase 1 began.” Said Shang Chi.
Carter nodded, engrossed in the footage. Gradually the insertion point came into view, the spot on the sea floor where terraforming would begin. The planoformers sat motionless at the bottom of a crater, in the center which was a…rock? No, it was fluid, it moved. A moment and something budded from it, growing from a ball of protoplasm into something like a trilobite with hands.
“Why didn’t initial scans detect this thing?”
“Unknown. The object defies all standard methods of computer analysis, though its behavior suggests it is organic. Dr. West has expressed interest in getting a closer look at it.”
“This is the most suitable out of hundreds of worlds we’ve yet found. I want to make sure it’s safe for our people. Tell Dr. West he has my go-ahead, but take every possible precaution, and keep Captain Noah informed.”
Shang Chi bowed. “May the Emperor guide and protect you.” Then he was gone.
“He’s just as annoying as the real Shang Chi.” Randolph thought.
Sleep was pretty much impossible now, so it was as good a time as any to make his rounds. Carter shrugged on a new work suit and boots mechanically, and then made his way out into the hall, to the elevator. As usual the lift took forever to arrive. He punched the button marked with the symbol for Dreaming, and leaned back as the lift descended.
After ten minutes, the lift came to a stop. As always, Carter was greeted by thousands upon thousands of stasis cells, silent and frosted over. Abby was at her station, as expected.
“Your early today Doctor.” She said.
“I got a wake-up call from the most honorable bootlick.”
“Shang Chi would hate to hear you say that.”
Carter smiled. “What’s he gonna do? He’s a computer, he and the rest of the Ministry.”
“A computer programmed with the memories of our glorious emperors chancellor.”
“Our glorious emperor can kiss my ass. I didn’t join the project for him. Speaking of which, how is our precious cargo?”
Abby shrugged, flipping idly through the personnel files, data and ID photos flashing by in rapid succession. “Same as always, frozen in time, sleeping like babies.”
“And the others?”
Abby typed a command into her console. “See for yourself.” She replied as a door to a second chamber slid open.
In here were the non-human passengers, thousands of species from Earths Golden Age preserved two-by-two, with the lowest tiers going to supplementary ovum and sperm samples, thus ensuring future diversity.
This entire deck, these two chambers were the heart and soul of Emperor Sun Chen’s greatest endeavor. For a few moments Carter wandered among the sleeping specimens. The emperor’s zoologists had been through, but one thing nagged at him, ever since the day he had first stepped on board. Lions and tigers and bears there were aplenty, but no apes. No primates at all, unless you counted the sleepers who were to make a new world.
Carter was brought out of his thoughts by the beeping of his communicator. “Carter here.”
“Randy, its Herbert.” Replied the voice of Dr. West. “I’ve got ‘Subject X’ up here in the lab. I thought you’d want to see it.”
“I’ll be up in a few.” Carter said, and signed off.
When Carter made it up to West’s lab, he found not only Herbert West, but Captain Noah waiting for him. The captain greeted him with a salute, which he retuned. “What have me got here?” He asked, indicating the pulsing mass inside the pressure chamber. It shared the space with what looked like a walking mushroom and a centipede with shoots.
West straightened his glasses. “What have we got here? The most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in all my years as a biologist. It’s bioactive on a level that shouldn’t even be possible. I’m sure you’ve noticed the *ahem* offspring?”
“That’s the first thing I noticed.” Carter replied.
West entered a command on his console, bringing up an image of a rotating DNA helix. Different segments were color coded.
“This ‘blob’ I guess you could call it, spawns new entities from its own mass, like a bacteria undergoing fission. What’s strange is that the offspring combine two or more biological types.”
“What, like plant and animal?” asked the Captain.
“Kingdom, phylum, order, there’s no end to the variations.”
“How is that possible? Provost Zakarov makes it clear you can’t introduce the gene for an elephant’s trunk to a giraffe and get a giraffe with a trunk.” Carter said.
“But that’s exactly what we’re seeing here isn’t it?” West countered.
“We have to think of the sleepers first and foremost on this mission.” said Captain Noah. “I want you to perform more tests on it. If there is any danger to our cargo, find a way to dispose of it. Also, keep surveying the ocean floor. If it is dangerous we want to make sure there aren’t more of these things.”
“Aye sir.” Both doctors replied.