Price found Dr. James sitting in the brightly lit morgue sipping coffee from a beaker in the time honored tradition of all pathologists and lab workers. James was leaning back in his chair, his feet propped on his desk, looking as if he was fighting a losing battle with sleep.
"The Colonel said that he would contact you so that you would answer all my questions on the autopsy of the alien creature," Price said.
James let his feet drop to the floor and set the beaker on his desk. "I've have been informed by the Colonel to provide you with all information that you require."
"Good." said Price. Without waiting for an invitation, he dropped into the visitor's chair. "First, I want to know the cause of death."
James shrugged. "It didn't die."
"It's still alive?"
"No, it's dead, it just didn't die of natural causes or anything else."
Price shook his head and said, "I don't think I understand." And then suddenly he did. They had killed it. He felt his stomach turn over and his anger flare. There was a long standing rule in intelligence and that was that a dead man could tell you nothing of value. They'd had an invaluable intelligence resource and then had subjected it to medical experimentation that had killed it.
"Whose brilliant idea was that?"
James shrugged again. "No one's really. We were trying to learn as much as we could and were subjecting it to medical examination. It just didn't have the physical resources to survive."
"You assholes should have known that."
James raised his eyebrows but said reasonably. "Now why would we have known that. We had used ultra sound and MRI to examine the internal structure of the being. I will say that it was much simpler than I would have suspected."
Price almost didn't hear what was being said. He was still thinking about the timid creature that had revealed itself on the asteroid reluctantly. It hadn't wanted to leave its home until forced to do so by Price and his people.
"I would have thought," said Price, "that none of those things would kill it."
"It shouldn't have. We just wanted to know exactly how the creature had been put together and if its internal structure matched ours. It was not constructed to withstand any sort of rigorous examination surgery."
"Why yes," said James. "I thought you understood that. This being was not... a natural creature. It had been genetically engineered for the task that it had."
"You mean it wasn't sentient?"
"Strictly speaking it was. But it wasn't human... or sentient in the sense that we humans are. It was a biological being with a small brain that had been programmed for a specific task. It was an artificial creature. It was not natural. It was apparently programming to fulfill its task and then it expired."
"How did you figure that out?" asked Price.
"Studies on a cellular level," said James. "We were able to deduce this because of the lack of complexity of the internal structures and by examining the cellular material."
Price could think of several flaws in that thinking. Comparing an alien to a human to make such determinations didn't seem quite right to him, but he said nothing. Instead, he asked, "Then I take it the being was as vulnerable to our weapons as we are."
"Absolutely. Maybe more so simply because they don't have the internal mechanisms for healing that we have," said James suddenly sounding like a professor lecturing a bunch of first year medical students.
"I don't know, Doctor. I don't think we should have been experimenting on a creature from another world. Somehow it doesn't seem quite ethical."
"Well, I confess that I don't care what you think, Captain. I was told to answer your questions as completely as I could, but I don't have to listen to your moral philosophy. If you have another question, let's have it. If not, I've work to do." James stared at Price for thirty seconds and then turned his attention to his computer screen.
Price stood up knowing that he'd scored a point with his criticism. James had gotten too angry too quickly. But he couldn't figure out why it had been important. Maybe it was just to show up the scientists. They had experimented on a unique sample and destroyed it. That proved that they weren't infallible.
Holding out a hand, Price said, "Thank you, Doctor. Sorry about the judgmental comments."
James looked at Price's hand for a moment and then took it. "Yeah...I'm a little embarrassed by what happened. If you need anything else, please call."
"Sure. Thanks." Price couldn't think of anything else that he was going to need. He'd already gotten the answer. The Colonel had arranged it for some unknown reason.