Chapter 5: Grenyo’s Favorite Patient
by Duo Radon
The 1st Quadrant Med Bay was an impressive facility, even by poleepkwan standards. The freighter boasted four well-equipped medical centers, but this was the largest and hosted all of the Colony’s non-emergency research projects. Head physician Grenyo ran his hospital with military precision and even though it was crammed with machinery, not a pill or tool was out of place.
Having just come from the slaughterhouse, Wikus should have been quite comfortable in the sanitary lab, laying on a heated exam table. Yet, even with his partner sitting quietly nearby, the human was tense from head to toe. It had little to do with the fact that he was stripped of all clothing; he’d given up on “modesty” years ago. The procedure itself was the problem....a lab, a table, scores of unfamiliar objects, strangers prodding at him, discussing his condition as though he couldn’t even hear them.....he’d endured it all before in the underground MNU facility. Wikus knew perfectly well that this time, the doctors were here to help, not hurt, but the trauma of his past was deeply set and terribly painful. The first time he’d visited the med bay while conscious for an examination, the event had been so devastating it wrought a full-blown panic attack. Grenyo had been forced to administer the scans while his patient labored under a heavy sedative. The nature of his condition meant Wikus needed to be seen frequently, however, and with each subsequent physical, he became less frantic. Today, the only evidence of the man’s post-traumatic stress was an elevated heart rate and a slightly twitching foot.
Wikus stared at the massive bank of equipment above him while Grenyo and his assistant swapped indiscernible medical jargon. The soldier stood by the head of the table, poking at a monitor above. His coloration was a bit different from the standard; instead of a gray or bluish hue, he was more of a whitish-green, with blurry pine-colored markings. He’d always reminded Wikus of something that should be spearmint flavored.
Just as his carapace deviated from the norm, so too did Grenyo’s personality. He lacked the hardened coldness of General Tarzier and his peers. Instead, the doctor approached his work with unbridled enthusiasm and an upbeat attitude. It had nothing to do with his bedside manner, the soldier was simply in love with medicine, and it was that passion that put him at the top of his field.
Needless to say, Wikus was the physician’s prized project. It was rare that a poleepkwan medical team would get the opportunity to examine a new species, much less one who’d undergone such a remarkable and undocumented phenomenon. Grenyo relished the human’s visits even if Wikus was slightly less keen.
Finally satisfied with the examination reports, Grenyo switched off the scanners and addressed his subject. “Well, everything looks very good! There’s no sign of instability, all of your systems are functioning normally.”
“That’s.....good, then, isn’t it?” Wikus asked, relieved to have reached the end of another checkup.
“Definitely. I’m also pleased to see that your weight is still increasing. The food must agree with you, I take it?”
“Sure, I can manage it.”
Yeen huffed noisily through the vents in his throat at this understatement and Wikus turned a dubious glance his way. The drone pretended not to notice and busied himself by straightening the folded clothes he held in his lap.
“Very good, then,” Grenyo smiled, “just one last thing before we’re finished. The Commander wants you to have a tracking chip.” The assistant worker had provided his supervisor with an injection pistol and Grenyo held it before him expectantly, clearly not anticipating any resistance from his patient.
“Waaait, what? What for?” Wikus eyed the small tool warily. Let it never be said that the human was ungrateful for everything poleepkwan technology had done for him. He wouldn’t be alive at all without it. But something about a piece of it implanted into his body didn’t set well with him, not in the least. It might have been the influence of Earth’s pop culture science fiction or just his own innate paranoia, but Wikus was going to need a decent reason for this invasion of his person.
Grenyo didn’t seem at all put out by the inquisition. “It is only a precaution. With your...unique situation and....oh, how should I say.....likelihood for disaster, the Commander feels it’s in your best interest.”
“Disaster? That’s not.....” Wikus groused as he turned his head back to Yeen, but his caretaker was nodding solemnly and it was clear he wasn’t about to strike up any resistance to this point of view. “I don’t know...”
“It won’t cause you any discomfort or affect your physiology in any way, I assure you. I’m sure you’ll forget you even have it,” Grenyo added soothingly.
“Do I have a choice?” Wikus sighed.
“No. Please roll onto your side,” Grenyo pressed, gesturing with the injector in hand.
Sighing again more loudly, Wikus obeyed and shifted onto his left side, tipping his chin down to his chest as his doctor instructed. He felt Grenyo dab at his nape with something cold and wet, then a faint poke and pressure at the base of his skull. With a click, the pistol shot the poppy-seed-sized microchip into the human’s neck and after a second dab of disinfectant, the procedure was done.
“You may dress now,” Grenyo said cheerfully, replacing the injector into its receptacle and plopping down at a nearby work station. As Wikus pulled on his clothes, the green soldier opened a schematic of the med bay on his monitor. There, in the foremost exam suite with a little label beside it, a white dot bobbed around, mimicking the man’s movements.
“There you are!” Grenyo clicked, “That’s working. Now, here is something you may find more interesting...” He’d closed the tracking program and opened a new display, one that showed a long, twisting genetic code with numerous notes and markers all about. Wikus sat on the edge of the table to put on his boots and get a better look at the monitor. “We’ve discovered the cause of your transformation!”
“Really?” Wikus replied brightly. The doctor did, indeed, have his patient’s interest now.
“Oh yes. Right there, that’s the bit we’ve been looking for,” Grenyo said as he pointed at a section of the complex strand. It was apparent from the expressions on both of his guests’ faces that a more detailed explanation was needed. He had a tendency to forget he was speaking to civilians when he was caught up in his work.
“Let me just....there,” he continued as he focused in on the highlighted segment of DNA. “This is a piece of your genetic code that switches on after conception, when the body first starts to become a fetus. Its job is to make sure you develop the correct parts.....that you don’t grow, say, fins or....a bunch of extra eyes, something like that....”
“Okay,” Wikus replied to indicate that he understood thus far.
“And after it’s done its job, this piece switches off, and stays off for the rest of your life. Or, at least, it’s supposed to.”
“I’m guessing it didn’t.”
“Correct. It flipped back on and said, ‘These aren’t the right parts!’ and set to work putting you back the way you are now,” Grenyo waved a hand at the puzzled alien. “It’s really quite extraordinary!”
“Wait,” Wikus interrupted, “why...now? Why did it wait all this time to turn me back?” Even though he didn’t regret his choice to leave Earth, Wikus couldn’t dismiss the annoying inkling that crept into his consciousness....how might things have turned out if he’d become human again right away? It was an entirely inconsequential point now, but “what-ifs” rarely take that into account.
“It’s a good question, but I’m afraid we may not be able to learn that,” Grenyo confessed. “My suspicion is that the introduction of our medical treatment might have triggered it. Of course, it’s also possible that you did this yourself, unintentionally....”
“Perhaps. Stress has very real effects on the physical body, in both our species. When you felt you were no longer in danger, your brain may have sent cues to your body that it was safe to switch the code back on. Of course, it’s entirely possible that it was a completely random event. We’re still looking into this; the fact is, there’s enough data here to research for years!”
Wikus was convinced the big poleepkwa would have giggled like a schoolgirl if his people had that ability. Beside him, Yeen leaned on the table, silent, likely running the same hypotheticals through his mind as was his partner. Wikus rubbed at his temples as if shooing the thoughts away.
Grenyo seemed ignorant of the pair’s internal turmoil and continued picking through his data. “And here is something else you’ll want to see,” he continued.
“Oh good. There’s more,” Wikus mumbled.
The doctor had pulled up another display of Wikus’s DNA; this view allowed a magnified examination of the genes. In the foreground was a clear, complete set but just behind it there appeared to be a shadow of some kind.
“You see, here are your human genes,” Grenyo indicated the bold set, “and behind, attached to them, are your poleepkwan genes.”
“I.....have....both? At the same time?”
“Isn’t that something? The poleepkwan code never dispersed, it’s attached itself to your original DNA, like a dormant, ghosted copy. I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Yeen straightened himself and uttered a surprised gurgle. “That explains why he can still use our technology...”
“Right! A fortunate anomaly indeed, considering that you’re coming home with us, yes?”
“I...guess...” Wikus replied, looking rather lost. He had been expecting something like this, but the real life implications it held were still worrying. As it happened, it was Yeen who voiced the question they’d both been pondering all month.
“Does this mean he’s going to keep changing back and forth, indefinitely?” the drone asked, deeply concerned. His human friend had been remarkably lucky to have survived the transformation once, let alone twice. How many times could he dodge that bullet?
The tension on both faces was not lost on the doctor and Grenyo hurried to reassure them. “I would say that’s very unlikely. His vital systems stabilized quickly after the incident and I haven’t seen any indication yet that they should become spasmodic. Of course,” he mused, sitting back on his stool and running his long fingers through his tendrils, “if you’d asked me last month if he’d ever spontaneously turn human again, I’d have said no. This is our first encounter with human physiology, and with this phenomenon. Anything is possible.”
Wikus turned his gaze from the monitor to his hands clasped in his lap. He knew it was foolish to expect an “everything’s fine now” diagnosis, but he desperately wanted to put this experience behind him. He remembered all too clearly the agony he’d endured as his human body fell apart, and then, to go through it again in one concentrated burst as he lost his poleepkwan form.....the last thing he wanted to hear was that it might be possible to face that again.
Grenyo frowned at the dejected creature slumped on his exam table. It saddened him to think that he might not be able to provide the proper aid to one who had so valiantly served his kind. He flipped off the monitor and stood, placing a steady hand on Wikus’s shoulder. “I don’t want you to worry about it. We’ll keep checking you over regularly. And even if something does change, you won’t have to suffer through it like you did before. You’ll have a hospital nearby to take care of you.”
“Yeah,” Wikus conceded, “thanks, Doc.”
“It’s our pleasure. Keep getting plenty of rest and eat well, let someone know right away if you feel any change in your health.....is that the time?” Grenyo exclaimed, glancing at the digital readout at the rear of the room. “I’ve kept you too long! The Commander will be expecting you.”
Wikus hopped off the table but he wasn’t about to leave until he’d received his usual compensation. “Aren’t we forgetting something, Doc?” he prompted, pointing at a jar of colorful spheres on a nearby shelf.
“Oh! Of course, yes,” Grenyo smiled, offering the candy jar to his patient. They were normally kept as a reward for youngsters just as on Earth, but Wikus was a special exception. Poleepkwan candy was not quite as sweet as the human-made stuff, but it came in an array of interesting flavors.
Wikus chose a green one this time, waved a “thank you” to his physician, and hurried after Yeen. As he pulled his vest on in the chilly corridor, the simple treat seemed to offer him a small sense of encouragement. Even during the difficult phases of life, a person could find some element of happiness if he kept the right company.