Offspring Ch. 019byTalemaster©
Over breakfast I wondered what it all meant. Lithium is toxic to humans. Every mining engineer knows that. In the twentieth century it was used in small doses to control bipolar and other mental disorders. Overdoses were common. A number of people died each year from lithium poisoning. If all vegetation on Okton4 contained high levels of lithium, a diet of Oktonian produce would be lethal to humans. But what, if anything, does it do to Oktonians? Does that account for their mental dullness? Do the Oktonians feed Pumpernickel to their offspring during critical stages of their development to keep lithium levels down and to enhance intelligence?
Interesting questions. I would need a fair quantity of indigenous organic material for a decent evaluation. I wouldn't be able to carry enough of the stuff up my arse to give meaningful results, besides they would want to know how I came by the specimens. Then I remembered. There was a lot of Oktonian biological material available and I wouldn't need to explain anything.
I rang up my new boss and asked if I could see him for about half an hour this morning. He told me he would see me at ten o'clock. I turned up in uniform and saluted smartly when I entered Colonel Nakov's office.
I explained my theory about lithium in the diet and how I thought it might be responsible for the low IQ in Oktonians. I explained how I saw the role of the Pumpernickel in a breeding programme.
"This sounds all very plausible, Major Walters, but how could you possibly test it? Where would you get the indigenous biological material from to start with?"
"From Dr. Patel's cadavers."
That stopped him in his tracks.
"Very clever," he said after a pause. "What do you need from me?"
"I would like you to order a toxicology report on the first available Oktonian cadaver, specifically looking for lithium levels; internal organs, brain and stomach contents. I would also like it if the order empowers Dr. Patel to request any further tests he deems necessary or helpful."
"Yes Sir, I need to know how much lithium is in their dietary intake."
"Very well. I take it you want to move on this straight away?"
"Yes Sir, if possible."
"Yes Sir, if you could make out the order as an officer of the Federation Research Command. This is going to be expensive. Let them pay for it."
"Good idea," grinned Nakov, "my budget needs every break it can get. Come back in half an hour or so, the paperwork will be with Arden. I take it you want to take it to Dr. Patel yourself."
"Indeed, Sir. Thank you."
We shook hands and that was it. I went to the officers mess and had a beer. Half an hour later I called in to see Arden. He had the paperwork ready for me.
Dr. Patel was in his office when I went to see him.
I explained to him what I wanted and why.
"You have come at a good time, Major," he said. "I'll be performing an autopsy on an Oktonian body this afternoon, I'll get your samples then. Just to make sure we aren't looking at an anomalous condition I suggest we get samples from other cadavers tested for comparison. We store tissue samples in most cases. Shall we say a single specimen each from thirty bodies. That'll give us a fair idea what we are dealing with."
"Wonderful, Doctor. Seeing it is nearly lunch time, would you care to join me as my guest?"
"I would love to. There are a couple of things I need to take care of first. How about I meet you in the officer's mess in about thirty minutes."
"You got it. See you then."
I took the lift up and ordered a beer.
True to his word Dr. Patel turned up half an hour later. Lamb roast was on special. We settled for that.
"You are right about the human-oktonian hybrids," Dr. Patel said over coffee.
"How do you know?"
"I've been doing a bit of research on my own. This has to stay between us. I had to break a few rules to get it done and I would get into trouble if that gets out."
"You have my guarantee. What did you do?"
"You see, by law I am limited to what tests I can order. I can only order tests if they are required to determine the cause of death. I am expressly forbidden to go beyond that. It has something to do with the agreements that were made originally between us and the Oktonians. I could not even order the toxicology reports you requested, not on my own authority that is. Anyway, I had a DNA profile done, unofficially, by a friend in the labs. The upshot is that the paternal DNA is definitely human."
"No wonder they don't want us do do these sorts of tests. Just as well you told me, we will have to do all our testing unofficially, under a security clamp. This has just become a black op."
"Is that necessary?"
"Yes. If we do it officially and the Oktonians find out we are in breach of our agreement with them we will all be in trouble. We might even lose our concession here on Okton4. You realise, we'll have to discuss this with Colonel Nakov. I won't tell him about your DNA tests, but he must know of the problem."
"I can see that."
"How trustworthy is your contact in the lab?"
"Absolutely. He has a level one security clearance, so have I."
"Good, I am assigning level one security. We proceed along these lines for now. I will inform Colonel Nakov of the changed conditions. No doubt he will get in touch with you and your friend. Order DNA tests on as many subjects as you see fit in addition to the toxicology reports."
We shook hands and Dr. Patel went back to his work. I rang Colonel Nakov and told him I had a security problem. He told me to come to his office straight away.
I explained the situation to Colonel Nakov, stressing that the tests were crucial and needed to be carried out regardless of any agreement with the Oktonians. He agreed with me.
"I am glad you caught this before it became a disaster," he said, "we need to proceed under a veil of secrecy. You mentioned that Dr. Patel had a trustworthy contact in the labs. Do you know who that contact is?"
"I didn't want to ask him. I thought it would be better if I left that part to you."
"That would be Dr. Schaeffer."
"Who is he?"
"He is the director of the pathology labs. The two are an item. They have been living together for years."
"How do we proceed from here, Sir?"
"We need to schedule a security briefing. Say at eight AM tomorrow. These gentlemen have a tight schedule, this way the briefing is finished before their daily work starts. We'll meet in the officers club and go to the conference room from there. I want you to attend."
"I'll be there. Anything else?"
"Yes. I want you to inform General Taubner of what you are doing. Mark it level one security, your eyes only. This gives him a chance to stop it if he thinks we should not proceed. I want you to do this now. Get Arden to make a secure terminal available for you. Send a copy to me please."
Nakov was being cagey here. If this blew up he could distance himself from any repercussions. I didn't care. I sent my report as requested. When I was finished I went with Arden to have a beer upstairs.
"This lithium has you really bothered," he said.
Evidently Nakov had filled him in on what I was doing. I told him why I thought it important. While I was explaining things to Arden I had an idea.
"This place would be getting its water from a desalination plant. Would they know what the lithium levels are in raw sea water?"
"Why don't you ask Gregory?"
"Who is Gregory?"
"He's the head engineer at the desal plant. He's a friend of mine. He'd know. I'll get him for you."
Arden rang Gregory on his mobile phone. He explained I wanted to talk to him. He handed me the phone.
"Frank Walters here, Gregory. Just a question, would you know what the lithium levels are in seawater?"
"Four parts per million."
"How does that compare to Earth?"
"Over twenty times the amount you find back home."
"Would you be so kind to confirm that in writing?"
"No problem, where do you want me to send it?"
I gave him my details and thanked him for his cooperation. I had a couple more beers with Arden and went back to my hotel.
I didn't do anything special that night. I retrieved the recordings and looked them over with Feng later that evening. The daytime recording showed a lot of women and kids in the park. All the kids were very young, preschoolers by the look of them. The older kids were presumably at school somewhere else.
All the Oktonians in the recording did menial tasks, cleaning, weeding, collecting garbage and so forth. There did not seem to be any social interaction between humans and natives.
At the security meeting next morning things went as expected. Colonel Nakov had been right. It was Dr. Schaeffer who was Dr. Patel's contact at the lab. To my surprise Arden was present at the meeting. More arse covering by Nakov I guessed.
Dr. Schaeffer was the only one who had reservations about the project. I asked him what was bothering him.
"We are talking about a lot of tests here, more than I can handle on my own. Do I brief my technicians? How do I justify the expenditure on manpower and materials if the whole project has to stay secret?"
"I have thought about this," I said. "In my report to headquarters I suggested that we simply call the samples human tissue. We will re-write the order to show this. Everything will go through official channels. Dr. Schaeffer can invoice headquarters in the normal manner. Only the five of us and headquarters will need to know that in reality the samples are Oktonian. That should cover every contingency. After all, we are only talking about small bits of tissue."
"Brilliant," said Dr. Schaeffer. "Even if someone comes across the paperwork later there will be nothing unusual. There is no rule that stops us testing human tissue."
Nakov was pleased with my solution and called the meeting at an end. I went down to his office and we created the amended order, which I took to Dr. Patel, where I retrieved and destroyed the original. All bases were covered.
There had been no communication from General Taubner so presumably we had the blessing of the top brass.