Exactly why the alien had died was unknown. Maybe it had already been dead before it got sucked through the Rift, or perhaps there was something about earth’s atmosphere that didn’t agree with it, or it could be that the shock of being violently hurled through the void was too much for it and it had suffered a heart attack. If it even had a heart, which wasn’t guaranteed, what with it being an alien; that was all up to Owen to determine later, when he carried out a full autopsy. All that was known at this point was that is was indeed dead, was unlike anything any of them had ever come across before, and was not exactly pretty to look at. Whether that was how its species normally looked or was due to damage sustained on arrival… Well, Owen could try to figure that out too. It was all part of his job. The most important thing right now was to transport the deceased alien back to the Hub, preferably before any civilians saw it.
Ianto spread thick plastic sheeting in the boot of the SUV, protection in case of any unfortunate leakages, then he, Jack, and Gwen donned heavy-duty rubber gloves and manhandled the body up and in, folding bits of it over in order to make it fit, and wrapping the edges of the plastic sheet up around it before slamming the boot shut. Amazingly, this wasn’t anywhere near the worst task any of them had been required to carry out in the line of duty. On a scale of ugh to gross, it rated somewhere around yuk.
Back at the Hub, the process was reversed. Opening the boot and unfolding the plastic and the dead alien, then using the sheet as a kind of litter, the three of them eased their burden out of the SUV and lugged it down to the autopsy bay.
“Present for you, Owen,” Ianto called out cheerfully if a bit breathlessly. “Give us a hand getting it up on the slab? It’s a bit heavy.”
“What is it?” Owen asked, taking a corner of the sheet and helping the other three to manoeuvre the creature up onto the table.
“No clue,” said Jack. “Call it a mystery gift; just the thing for you to get your teeth into on a dull afternoon. Not literally,” he added quickly. “Can’t imagine anyone wanting to take a bite out it.”
“No kidding. Not exactly a pin-up, is it?”
“Well, it’s probably not looking its best, what with it being dead and all, so I think it can be excused.” Ianto gave Owen a bland smile. “Have fun!” He strode away to make coffee, Gwen and Jack trailing after him, leaving Owen alone with his autopsy subject.
Owen stared at it. Shaped a bit like a cross between a starfish, an octopus, and a collection of deflated innertubes, with waxy, warty, greenish grey skin, it just lay there lumpily, peculiar appendages dangling off the edges of the table. As he watched, it went ‘blurp’ and sagged in the middle. Lovely. Looked like he’d better get to work on it quickly, before it could start decomposing, if it hadn’t already. Reaching for the tools of his trade, Owen photographed the thing, scanned it, measured it as best he could, and estimated its weight. The preliminaries finished with, he prepared to get on with the main event.
“Right, let’s see what you’re made of!” He picked up a scalpel and walked around the table twice, trying to decide on the best place to start. As far as he could tell, whatever the thing was, it didn’t have anything that was obviously a head; maybe it was upside down and the head was underneath. He could call the others back to help him flip it over, but there was no guarantee he’d find its head anyway so there didn’t seem much point. It might not even have one; not everything in the universe did. Shrugging, he picked a spot at random and jabbed his blade in, starting to cut. Immediately a greenish blue fluid bubbled up out of the incision and Owen’s eyes widened as his scalpel started to dissolve. He let go of it quickly; this was not good. The fluid drizzled down the side of the corpse, melting the plastic beneath it and starting to eat into the metal of the autopsy table. He backed away quickly as a drop hit the ground near his left foot and the floor tiles started to sizzle.
There was no way he was dealing with this on his own. “Help!”
His yell brought the rest of the team to the railings overlooking the autopsy bay, and they peered curiously down at him.
“What’s up?” Jack asked, then… “Oh dear. That doesn’t look too good.”
“You think?” Owen was going for sarcastic, but the words came out with a slight edge of hysteria. He took another step back.
“Why’s it doing that?” Gwen asked.
“At a guess, I’d say whatever that is, its blood is a bit on the acidic side,” Ianto replied.
“A bit?” Owen scowled; trust Teaboy to understate the situation. He glanced around at his colleagues. “Anyone got any brilliant ideas of what to do now?”
“I vote we get rid of it before it dissolves the whole Hub.” Jack was frowning down at the smoking hole in the tile floor. It was getting bigger. “Take whatever that thing is down to the incinerator and throw it in.”
“Not a good idea. Now there’s a hole in it, trying to move it will just make it leak more,” Owen explained. “We’d have acid dripping everywhere. We need to neutralise it.”
“I’ll get the bicarb.” Ianto strode away, managing to make it seem as if he was in no hurry despite the speed at which he was moving. Owen was sort of impressed; anyone else would have most likely have been running flat out.
Ianto was back just a few minutes later, wearing a gas mask and carrying two large buckets, each containing several large canisters of bicarbonate of soda. He put the buckets down on the floor at the bottom of the autopsy bay’s steps, plucked a canister out of one, and cautiously approached the smoking patch of floor, sprinkling bicarb around the rapidly expanding hole and waiting until it stopped bubbling before testing the edge with one of Owen’s probes. It didn’t melt.
“Right, looks like this should work.” Sprinkling bicarb into the hole, Ianto circled the autopsy table, spreading the powder over the floor as a precaution against more drips, then went to work on the dead alien. He looked like he was seasoning a peculiar roast, especially when he started poking more holes in the creature in order to neutralise the acidic fluids still inside it.
Fetching a gas mask of his own, Owen joined his colleague, determined to learn whatever he could about the creature as he and Ianto cut it up for easier disposal, doused the pieces in bicarb, and dropped them in the buckets once they stopped fizzing. Jack got roped in to ferry the buckets of bits to the incinerator, and half an hour later, all that was left was a plastic sheet covered in bicarb and smears of alien blood with a huge hole in the middle, and the lopsided, partially melted autopsy table. Oh, and am eighteen inch wide, foot deep crater in the floor. That would need to be filled in before someone put their foot in it and broke their ankle, but on the whole the damage wasn’t as extensive as it could’ve been.
“Well, that was the most useless attempt at an autopsy ever,” Owen grumbled. “All I can say for sure about that thing is that it was ugly, dead, and acidic. I still don’t even know what killed it.” That was what grated on Owen the most; he was the foremost expert in alien biology and medicine on the planet, always seeking to broaden his knowledge of extraterrestrial species, but this one had given him zilch aside from melting some of his equipment. Now he’d have to requisition a new autopsy table.
“At least we know what to do if another one of those ever comes through the Rift,” Jack said cheerfully.
“Yeah,” Owen huffed. “Season it with bicarb and burn it.”
Ianto removed his gas mask and gathered up his empty canisters. “I’d better re-stock, just in case. Never hurts to be prepared.”
Owen had to agree; if Ianto hadn’t had a stock of bicarb available, the situation would have been far more serious.
Hopefully the next alien to make a surprise visit via the Rift would be less of a problem.