W A R N I N G
rated  R  for
graphic biomedical descriptions,
lack of fungicides


refers to

The Adoption


Orders and Principles
or
Beauveria Tortunii

by
A Kniggendorf


Time: 2086-07-29

Prologue:

     A flash of bluish white light surrounded Ranger-1 as it flickered back into the standard continuum. The light was a fast dissipating reminder of the energetic shield that had protected them in the multidimensional chaos of hyperspace. The tactical screens buzzed to life. Sensors scanned the surrounding space, the onboard AI struggled to analyze them in real-time. The alarm sirens blared to life a few microseconds before Gooseman's flat hand fell onto the manual alarm button.
     Crown destroyer.
     "So the information is correct," Captain Fox commented, studying the unresponsive bulk through the cockpit window rather than via the display. "They are here."
     "And they don't respond," Niko added. "At least not to us being here."
     "But hey, isn't that a good thing?" Doc quipped. "I mean in comparison to attacking us."
     "They are within League space." A muscle in Zach's cheek twitched. "That makes them a problem. Niko, call them. Let's see if they answer. Doc, computer scan. Goose–"
     "Tactics check running, Cap."

~~~~~1. Order~~~~~

     "Anything yet?" Zach asked a few minutes later.
     "Nothing conclusive. Their computers are active, but aside from standardized procedures..." Doc shrugged. "Nothing."
     "I sense life but–" Niko made an uneasy gesture. "It doesn't... feel right. As if there are no thoughts."
     "What do you expect? They are crown troopers, the best of them run on a hacked '95."
     "They have commanders, officers, engineers, Doc," Niko protested. "Onboard these ships are people who think, who contemplate and make decision – mostly hoping the Queen approves of them later. But there's nothing of that. There is life, but that can be also a spongefish or moss."
     "Be afraid of the mossy destroyer." Doc snickered. "Should we bring in the mothmoose?"
     "People, please." Zach called them to order. "Goose, your comment?"
     "This sucks." The ST came to his feet, unfolding himself like a cat from the seat. "We going in?"
     Zach nodded slowly. "Yes, we go in. – And Goose: speak in whole sentences, ok?"

     Ranger-1 with it's gleaming white-and-blue hull was dwarfed by the enormous bulk of the crown destroyer. They had inched cautiously closer, but no captor field, no weapon of any kind flared to life to protect their host from the League intruder. Only a prerecorded message rasped out of the bridge speakers as they made contact with the russet colored hull: This is a ship of the Crown of Tortuna. Consider yourself psychocrystallized, drafted, and/or confiscated within ten minutes. After the third repetition, Zach had signalled to turn it off.
     A few moments later, four white ants crawled out of the miniature spaceship's belly and made their way towards a hull service lock. Back boosters flared propelling them further. Colorful sparkles trailed one of them. They didn't need long to open the service lock and disappear one after another into the destroyer.

     It had taken them about forty minutes to make their way from the service lock to the command center of the destroyer. Forty minutes during which their steps clanked loudly through surprisingly empty halls and corridors. The amount of empty space inside a Tortunian Crown destroyer seemed ridiculous if one didn't take into account the number of crownsoldiers and drones the Queen used to cramp into her destroyers when she sent them out on a foray. Nobody said it out loud. The destroyer was well within League space. And way too empty. And if the soldiers weren't onboard...
     The red cogwheel of Tripwire whizzed out of the door controls. Doc's CDU bathed his spacesuit into a ghostly green light. The strongly armored entrance lock to the command center opened slowly in front of them. The next moment, they had their first real contact. The substitute of a captain's seat standing on a dais in the middle was occupied.
     Or not.

~~~~~1. Principle~~~~~

     =How many bodies?= Zachary Fox asked, sounding rough even through his spacesuit's communicator.
     =None alive so far.= Doc looked pale behind the clear screen of his helmet. He had refused to forgo his spacesuit, as had all of them.
     =Then what did Niko sense?=
     "The fungus." Gooseman's voice wasn't coming over the radio. "Look closely. You can see green filaments all over them."
     =How–?= Zach began to ask then stopped dead. The ST had reentered the bridge with his helmet tugged under his arm.
     Goose tapped against the side of his nose. "Smells mouldy here." He kicked against the leg of one of the dead bridge officers whose body was blocking his path. "Guess their pull date had been some time ago."
     =Gooseman! You're endangering yourself and us!= The captain barked. =You can get infected–=
     "It's fungus. There's got to be a max heat it can't survive above. Bet I can easily exceed it by a thousand degrees more than they could." He shrugged. "And I wanted my nose to confirm my suspicion."
     =And if you are wrong?= Zach snapped. =If it is too fast for you to respond? We know nothing about it.=
     The ST shrugged. "It doesn't kill that fast or there wouldn't be bodies in air locks and isolation wards further down. They had time to react to the threat, they just failed to succeed because the infection had spread throughout the crew before they noticed."
     =How long do you think they had?= Niko whispered.
     Another shrug. "Likely some days, a week, maybe more."
     =Then why–?=
     =There's an engine block, Docco!= Pathfinder whizzed out of one of the consoles and pulsed bluish green in front of the hacker's face. =Looks like their comp wiz tried to break it.=
     =What kept him from doing it?=
     Lifeline beeped. =His death. A slaverlord destroyed him.=
     Zach's head turned at that. =The Queen kept her own ship from coming home?= he inquired.
     =She's a mean old witch,= the hacker replied. =But that doesn't make sense.=
     "It does," Gooseman said calmly. "If they can't treat it."

~~~~~2. Order~~~~~

     About three hours later – most of them had been spent in the decon process – Captain Zachary Fox pulled the helmet off his spacesuit and went to inform the Bureau of Extra-Terrestrial Affairs of their findings. His first report was to commander Walsh, then he was put 'on hold' so to speak: he was told not to leave the bridge while the information was processed along the lines of command.
     He heard the loud, uneasy bickering of his crew through the bridge lock while he settled for what could be a five minute or a five hour wait.
     "Argh, you caught it. Look at it. There's the first fiber–"
     "That's only a cat hair, Doc."
     "Are you sure?"
     "Yea, Poss sat on my shirts again." A locker door slammed shut and angry stomps faded down the aisle towards the rear cabin.
     A beep indicated the resume of the call. Zach turned to reactivate the screen.

     He didn't have to wait. Gooseman wasn't surprised when the small screen on the wall above the narrow table was already flickering with static snow when he came in. After a moment, the image cleared into the face of Commander Walsh. Heavy scrambling caused the image to lose some pixels once in a while, causing the commander to appear fragmented and his voice distorted.
     Unfortunately not distorted enough to allow for an 'I didn't hear that' later.
     =Your unit is ordered to detonate the destroyer. Captain Fox is receiving the necessary data right now, together with the order to send you for rigging up the destroyer for self destruction. Make sure that ship doesn't contaminate anything.=
     "Sir." The ST didn't make the effort to salute. He knew there was more to come.
     =And Gooseman. They want a sample of the contaminant.=
     The ST had expected as much, yet he opened his mouth to–
     =No arguments. Do it. Walsh end.=
     The static returned.

~~~~~2. Principle~~~~~

     For a few seconds the system known solely by it's set of coordinates sported a second sun, then it returned to ordinary darkness. Four sets of eyes and the sensor banks of a single League ship witnessed the fiery demise of the Crown destroyer.
     Later, after Ranger-1 had entered hyperspace and was speeding back towards Earth and other duties, they gathered around the crew table. The screen displayed in fast forward the events on the destroyed destroyer that Doc had downloaded from their main computer together with the ship's specifications.
     They saw how a soldier discovered the first symptoms: an unsuspicious green shine on a usually covered piece of skin. They followed how he desperately tried to hide it, and failed, and was disintegrated while still banging in panic against the walls of the waste burner. Other cases were soon discovered in other parts of the ship. Panic followed. They tried to hide it from the Queen's direct eyes, the slaverlords, and again failed. The spread of the– Doc's StarTalk finally came up with a translation of the most often used name in the recordings – Green Death was finally reported to the Queen. They didn't joke about Goose's eyes being green.
     The ship was programmed to head for the next star, to dive into the sun and cease to exist. The slaverlords set the course and placed the engine block that Doc had found earlier. But they made a mistake. Instead of materializing in the sun's corona, they materialized in the outer area of the system.
     The crew was dying. Crownsoldiers – in an attempt to save themselves – covered the ship in bodies, or body parts, when they cut off the limbs showing the first signs of infection. But by the time the filaments became visible, the mycelium had spread through their whole bodies.
     It was their captain who ordered the bridge computer technician to bypass the Queen's block of the engine. Something like green moss was growing in his eyes and even onto his cheeks. He struggled to enter the codes for the engines to rev up. The course he tried to set was...
     ...into the sun.
     "He wanted to fulfill what the Queen did to them," Doc whispered.
     "No," Gooseman shook his head. "He didn't want us to get our hands on their death."

Epilogue:

~~~~~Fulfilling Order~~~~~

     Gooseman never saw anybody in the high security lab. He was ordered to bring the sample, place it in a clean bench, close it, and then the whole room including him was irradiated with intensive hard UV-C radiation – just in case. If he had been a normal, the high energy irradiation would have caused severe DNA damage resulting in blindness and cancer. Since he was an ST, all it caused was bleaching the blue out of his uniform and making him sneeze from the ozone it involuntarily produced in air.
     As he strode from the room, the sample container filled with a slightly green liquid and plastered with numerous biohazard stickers, basked under the bluish light of the clean bench. It was late in the evening. The lab crew wouldn't risk making mistakes with an organism that dangerous. And important.

~~~~~Fulfilling Principle~~~~~

     "It is one thing to have an ST collect the samples!" somebody in a white lab coat snarled. "But they ought to teach him at least some basics!" A sample container filled with a slightly murky liquid was tossed onto the table.
     "Is it a complete loss?" her colleague asked.
     "I was able to classify it. But aside from that–" The woman shrugged. "As long as we don't get a fresh sample of Beauveria Tortunii..." [1]
     One of the biohazard stickers covering the container was hanging loose. Beneath it, the letters PET were stamped into the material of the test tube. [2]

End

Thanks to David McMillan for pointing out mistakes -hopefully- corrected now.


Glossary


[1] The fungus beauveria bassiana is used against termites and other insectan vermin. A team of the university of Edinborough found recently, that mosquitoes die, too, when coming into contact with the fungus. It penetrates the chitin of their exoskeletons and grows inside their bodies. Since humans and other warm-blooded animals are immune because their higher body temperature destroys the fungus, the scientists propose to use beauveria bassiana against mosquitoes in malaria ridden countries.
Their results can be read in: Science No. 308, pp 1638-1641. [www.sciencemag.org]

[2] PET is – other than glass and special laboratory plastics – highly transparent for UV-A-radiation. That is why the SoDis (Solar Disinfection) project recommends PET bottles of a particular form and size for disinfection of drinking water by sunlight. [http://www.sodis.ch/]
For those of you interested in how SoDis works:
A large number of substances in cells absorb within the UV-A region (that's between 320 to 400 nanometers and is the "part" of the UV that tans you). Often mono-atomic oxygen, the strongest possible oxidant, is formed in the process. This causes severe phototoxic effects which often lead to cell death.
The effects of UV-A on a complex active system such as the human skin isn't understood yet, but simple organisms, such as bacteria, primitive fungi, germs, etc. can be destroyed by extensive UV-A radiation.


Fanfic

BETA