It was well after midnight when Barsala had her breakthrough.
She was in the temporary laboratory structure built for her by Iratha Incorporated deep in the swamps of Zulypsindo, a Near Space world known for its extensive marshlands and the site of the latest episode of “Dr. B’s Science Jubilee.” The windowless, prefabricated walls provided ample protection from nearly any environment outside, and the overhead lighting within dispelled the shadows, providing for a clean and efficient work space.
It had been a difficult, but ultimately rewarding, day of shooting. This particular program focused on the breed of caypin native to Zulypsindo, a large amphibious beast with a mass of detachable appendages that function as both eyestalks and chewing mouths. One had been captured for Barsala to show her viewers its fascinating anatomy, and everything had gone according to the script… until the caypin broke free from its enclosure and nearly ate one of the crew. The poor creature had to be put down, but the vidcameras caught every last minute of it. Edson Frost, her producer, had spent most of the dinner afterward exclaiming about the number of clicks the episode would get. Barsala was similarly excited, though she was more interested in getting her hands on the caypin’s corpse.
The exact way the caypin’s appendages functioned independently from its body were still a mystery to the scientific community, and Barsala surmised that if she could solve even a fraction of that mystery, she could help craft an entirely new category of biotech augmentations. When the meal was over, she rushed back to the lab, eager to begin experimentation. Hours later, as she inserted a small vial filled with a dissolved piece of an appendage into a mass spectrometer with one hand and typed frantically on a datapad with another, she reached for her comm unit with a third and started a transmission.
A groggy voice answered. “B? Do you know what time it is?”
“Not precisely, Edson, I’ve been a bit too busy to pay attention to the clock.”
“Well, it’s late and I was sleeping… trying to sleep. Is there something the matter?”
“The quantum measurement paradox!” Barsala blurted.
“It’s not really my area of expertise, but there is a theory in quantum mechanics that if you could measure the state of a particle frequently—we’re talking thousands of measurements a microsecond or more—you could essentially arrest the decay of that particle. Like they say, ‘an observed cooking receptacle on a heating unit never reaches its boiling point.’”
“B, no one ever says that. But I think I know what you mean.” Edson yawned. “Riveting. Is that why you dragged me out of a peaceful slumber?”
“Yes! No. I mean, sort of. I’ve been in the lab, analyzing one of that caypin’s detachable tentacles.” She poked the grisly blood-red tube with a scalpel she held in her fourth, cybernetic hand. “It has no internal organs to speak of and should be no more animate than a clipped fingernail.”
Barsala continued. “I wondered: how can these appendages survive apart from the host body for days at a time? How does the caypin know where they are and how does it call them back? I tested a few hypotheses, and I hit on the idea of quantum entanglement. Somehow, the caypin is constantly monitoring the state of its removed appendages on a quantum level, preventing them from rotting like dead meat!”
“Riveting once again. And also gross. But really, you could have just written this down for one of your scientific journals.”
“Right, right, sorry. I also had an idea for the show. I’d love to explain the basics of quantum theory to our viewers, maybe start with the wave-particle duality of light, do a practical double-slit experiment. We’d have to bring in an expert on the subject, of course, and…” Barsala trailed off as she looked down at the dissection tray. The appendage she had removed from the caypin’s body was nowhere to be seen, only a trail of blood and slime that led to the edge of the table.
“Barsala, is everything ok?” Edson asked, though Barsala didn’t hear him. She had placed her comm unit down and was already walking tentatively to the other side of the lab table. The detached appendage lay on the floor, squirming ever so slightly.
“Fascinating.” Barsala’s mind raced with possibilities. How was this thing moving? Delayed muscle death spasms? An internal parasite eating its way free? Necromantic energy? Or…
Barsala hissed in pain as she felt a sudden sting in her ankle. She turned to see several more of the caypin’s appendages wriggling at her feet, their tiny lamprey-like mouths lunging toward her. Surprised, she stepped backward, slipped on the half-dissected tentacle and fell onto her posterior. The mass of appendages slithered toward her.
Barsala fumbled for the custom microlab in her lab coat pocket, pointed it at the tentacles, and scanned them. Seconds later, she had her answer: they weren’t undead. In fact, they were quite normal as far as a handful of ambulatory feeding appendages went. She exhaled in relief. Living creatures she could handle.
Before their sharp little teeth could shred her boots, Barsala grabbed the edge of the table, pulled herself up to standing, and grabbed a syringe and a handful of test tubes. She mixed together several reagents, along with a fast-acting catalyst, inserting the resulting mixture into the syringe as Edson’s voice continued to call out from the comm unit. With a grunt, she jabbed the syringe down into the tentacles. A high-pitched squeal of pain emitted from the mass, and Barsala brought back a hand covered in several small bites.
“Let’s test this hypothesis,” she muttered to no one in particular as she stepped backward to a supply cabinet. “If I’m right, the gene-altering chemicals I’ve just injected into one of you should affect you all, thanks to your quantum entanglement. Making you particularly susceptible to this!” Barsala picked up a container of hydrochloric acid from the shelf behind her and hurled it at the throng of tentacles. The glass jar shattered, covering the feeding appendages in highly caustic acid. They writhed in agony as they dissolved into a disgusting puddle of acrid-smelling goo.
Barsala pressed her damaged hand into an armpit as she gathered up her comm unit. “Edson. Edson! I’m fine. Don’t worry. Just a minor accident.” She paused for a second. “The caypin. You’re sure it was dead, right?”
“We hit it with the electric prods until it stopped moving and then put the body in the lab’s freezer unit like you asked. Why?”
Barsala turned to see the freezer’s door wide open. A streak of bloody bile was smeared down the outside.
“I’m going to have to call you back.”
About the Author
Jason Keeley is a Developer at Paizo, working primarily on the Starfinder Adventure Path line. His work has appeared in all sorts of products, from adventures to supplements to short stories written for Paizo and many other RPG companies. You can find him (and pictures of his dog) on Twitter at @herzwesten, and also watch him as Professor Nikodemus Thorne on the Oblivion Oath stream every Thursday!
About Iconic Encounters
Iconic Encounters is a series of web-based flash fiction set in the worlds of Pathfinder and Starfinder. Each short story provides a glimpse into the life and personality of one of the games’ iconic characters, showing the myriad stories of adventure and excitement players can tell with the Pathfinder and Starfinder roleplaying games.
Iconic Encounter: The Scientific Method
Thursday, September 26, 2019