Detective Langton limped through the swinging double doors of the city morgue and found the medical examiner leaning over the stainless steel cadaver table, moving something around in one of three large red tubs with what appeared to be salad tongs. Dr. Rainier heard the detective come in and cast him a weary look over the top of his surgical mask.
“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s obviously human, but it’s all liquefied, like someone was thrown into a giant blender and the puree button was pressed. There’s nothing left but this.” He motioned to the first red tub, which was filled to the mid-point with a red sludge.
“It has the consistency of extremely thick baby food.”
Detective Langton pulled out his notepad, jotted a few lines and then turned his attention to the other two tubs, which were half filled with the same type of substance.
“You think someone might have puked all this up?” He asked.
“Oh this isn’t vomit,” Dr. Rainier said – “the best that I can tell is that it’s a person.”
Detective Langton frowned.
“Where’s the rest of them? It seems unlikely that a human being can be reduced to this. What is it, like three, maybe four gallons?”
The doctor produced a pencil and poked it into the center of the sludge. When he pulled his hand away, the pencil stayed where it was.
“You can’t really measure this in gallons,” he said. “It has mass. It’s heavy.”
Detective Langton jotted a couple more lines, slid his notebook back into his jacket pocket, and limped around to the other side of the table so he could face the doctor. That’s when he first noticed the man in the corner of the room, typing into a small tablet.
“Who is that?”
“Don’t worry about me, Mr. Langton,” the man said, not bothering to look up from. “I’m from the department of health, just here to observe and make my report to the guys upstairs. Is your first name Frank?”
“All my life,” Detective Langton said.
Detective Langton turned his attention back to Dr. Rainier.
“So, there’s nothing you can tell me about who these people were?”
“Oh I didn’t say that,” Dr. Rainier said. “These first two are a man and a woman, both under thirty. The last one’s gender is impossible to tell, but was definitely over thirty.”
Detective Langton gave the doctor a confused look.
“How can you tell all that from this?” He asked, waving his hand over the three tubs.
“There were, ummm…items in the sludge,” Doctor Rainier said. “I found metal tooth fillings in the third tub. Since metal fillings were outlawed thirty years ago, I can say that that person was over thirty. These other two tubs, no fillings, but there was a contraceptive implant in this one.”
“That’s how you know it was a woman,” Detective Langton said.
“Bingo. The weirdest part though is the nanodons.”
“As you know, the nanodons were released into the atmosphere nearly thirty years ago. They’ve self-replicated so much since then that we suck in thousands of them every time we take a breath.”
“Okay,” Detective Langton said, “what’s that got to do with…”
“Everything,” Dr. Rainier said.
Dr. Rainier looked at the detective with the humor of a man watching a monkey trying to push a square block through a round hole.
“Don’t be such a football bat, Frank,” he said. “With that titanium knee of yours, you of all people should know what the nanodons can and can’t do.”
“No,” Frank said, “I get it. They can’t manipulate anything that isn’t organic. What I don’t understand is how that fits into what I’m looking at here.
“I didn’t find any nanodons. None at all. Don’t you think that’s odd?”
Detective Langton shrugged.
“Maybe they flew away.”
“Can’t,” a voice from the corner said. The doctor and detective both turned to look at the man they had both forgotten was in the room.
“What’s that?” Detective Langton asked.
“No wings,” the man said. “They’re free floaters. You know, like dust particles.”
Detective Langton stared at the man for a few seconds, seeming to consider what he had said. What was really going through his mind though was how much he disliked him, his fancy grey suit, his pale complexion, that damn tablet. The tablet was the worst part. The man hadn’t stopped looking at the thing since the detective walked in.
“What are you typing into that thing?” Detective Langton asked.
The man smiled and continued typing as he spoke.
“Oh, just random data, really. Is your last four 2356?”
“Yeah,” Detective Langton said. “You need that for your report?”
“Yep – I’ll need more info later, but that’s all for now.”
“I’m at your service,” Detective Langton said. He turned back to the doctor. “We have three vics, cause of death unknown. They’ve all been rendered to paste and there’s no nanodons in their remains. Is that about the size of it?”
“That’s about right,” Dr. Rainier said.
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“Spontaneous combustion?” The man in the corner said.
“Ludacris,” Dr. Rainier said. “There’s no such thing.”
“You think that it’s possible that the nanodons did this?” Detective Langton asked. The doctor’s mouth hung open, visibly appalled at the idea. Detective Langton cleared his throat. “What I’m asking doctor is, do you think that the nanodons could have somehow malfunctioned.”
“Detective,” Dr. Rainier said, “there’s no evidence that these people even had nanodons in their systems when they died, and to speculate that the saviors of mankind had anything to do with this is not only short sighted, but obscene.”
“Yeah, okay, I got you – but hear me out. What if, and it’s a big what-if, for some reason, all of the nanodons in these people self-destructed at the same time? Could that give us what we have here?”
“You don’t want to go there, detective,” the man in the corner said. “You know how Uncle Sammy feels about his pets.”
Detective Langton threw the man a dead-pan glance and turned back to the doctor.
“Do you think it’s possible?”
“Well, I suppose anything is possible,” Dr. Rainier said, “but it’s highly unlikely. The nanodons are programmed to fix biological problems, not create them. The type of action you’re suggesting would require every single one of them to react in the same fashion at the same time – not to mention that it would all be contained to a single body. I just don’t see it. There has to be some other answer.”
Detective Langton looked down at the tubs one last time, then gave the doctor a curt nod before limping his way to the exit. For the first time since he came into the room, the man in the corner pried his eyes from the screen of his tablet and looked at him.
“You’re not going to put that crazy theory of yours in your report; are you detective?”
“I don’t know, buddy,” Detective Langton said. “I have to put something in there.”
“Is your address still 41652 Cherry?”
“Apartment B,” Detective Langton called over his shoulder. The double doors swung shut behind him after he walked out.
After the detective was gone, Dr. Rainier approached the man in the grey suit.
“Did you get everything you needed, sir?”
The man was looking at the screen of his tablet again. He typed in the final piece of information that the detective gave him and hit enter. The screen split into two parts, the left side showing a red dot moving slowly on a scaled-down map of the city; the right side a human outline, the internal parts swirling in various colors and pulsing. Above the human outline was the name, Frank Langton 2356 and just above that, 3:00:00 and a red button with the word EXECUTE on it. The man pressed the button with his finger and smiled as the timer began its backward count.
“Just about,” he said. “Just one more thing, Doctor.”
“Is your last four 8923?”