"Ready to begin scan." Doctor Plaksa checked the positioning of the adhesive-attached probes and of the restraints securing the body of the human female. She released a stray strap end that caught in her fur, brushed it flat and then stood clear. Gesturing to Lt. Chessec, she said, "Activate."
Chessec lifted the safety cover and toggled the switch. Designed for a much larger jaguar's clawtip, it took a concerted pull with the whole strength of the more diminutive fox's arm. Unlike other ship's instruments, the neural scanner was used infrequently enough that Diyim'yi engineers had not reconfigured the controls for ease of use with their musculature. Both vixens watched as the sensor arm slowly passed over the human. As the scanner excited each part of the nervous system, thick reels of magnetic tape spun on the recording units, each capturing a portion of the human's resulting brain activity.
Fifteen minutes later, a soft buzzing tone announced completion of the scan. The doctor, who had meanwhile begun to prepare the body of the male on the next stretcher, asked Chessec, "Check the readout. If we didn't get a complete scan, I'd just as soon do her again before we try to move this monster.
"It says we got a good scan. Brain functions, latent memory, everything. Can I start unplugging the probes?"
"No. I'll pull them after we shift her to the other stretcher. She won't feel a thing for at least another six hours. Help me roll over the male here."
Chessec turned away from the female and stepped over next to the doctor. As they reached for the human, a sharp, loud crack like a rifle shot echoed through the lab. Chessec experienced three things nearly simultaneously: the lights went out, the artificial gravity failed, and the pressure alarm siren sounded. She grabbed for a handhold, overreached, and banged against a table. The force of the impact slowly launched her into the air. After fifteen seconds, the siren went silent.
"Doctor, are you all right?"
"Yes. I have some kind of scratch on my leg, but it doesn't feel serious. How do you feel?" Chessec took a quick personal inventory. She moved all her limbs and twitched her tail.
"OK, but I'm free-floating. Can you get to the intercom and tell the bridge not to restore gravity too quickly?" She noticed a hissing sound. "Also, I'm somewhere near a leak. See if you can reach the emergency patch kit. Suddenly a small flashlight came on.
"It's my examination light. Better than that worn out old glow-strip over the door." The doctor pulled herself across the furniture to the intercom box. Below it was the lime yellow panel of the emergency supply compartment. She opened it and pulled out a larger flashlight and a patch. "How big a hole do you have up there?"
"Small, plus we're not in an external compartment. There's still some atmosphere in the outer hull section, from the sound. Just a small patch, please."
Plaksa tossed the patch to Chessec, who ripped one end off and jammed it against the leak. The adhesive flowed into the hole, sealing the foil wrapper against the wall. The doctor activated the intercom. "Bridge, this is the lab. We're both OK, but please don't restore gravity yet. Chessec's on the ceiling!"
"Chopka here," the executive officer answered. "No problem. It will take about ten minutes to reset the power circuit breakers. That micro-meteor smashed an electrical junction box between the hull sections, and Mitzep will have to manually cut it out of the circuit. He'll put a patch on the outer hull while he's in there. We don't have a pressure drop in any other inside compartments, so it must not have exited the lab. You might look around for other damage. Bridge, out."
Having patched the leak, Chessec gently pushed off from the ceiling, grabbing the edge of a desk and reversing her orientation to "right-side-up". Plaksa mounted the large emergency lamp in it's wall bracket and diffused the beam to light the whole compartment. She looked across the dim-lit room at the two examination subjects. The male was floating free, tethered by a single wrist strap. She looked at the female.
"Oh, no!" She rushed to examine the alien body. The micro-meteor's stopping point was immediately apparent. The arm of the neural scanner was bent firmly against the female's forehead, which was horribly crushed. Plaksa checked the vital signs of her patient, mostly for form's sake. "She's dead."
Two hours later, the crew was gathered around a table in the wardroom. After a favorable update from engineering and navigation, Doctor Plaksa began her report. "There's no hope of reviving the human's body, even if we freeze it and transport it back to Diyim'yi. The brain was too badly crushed, and the spine is snapped at the neck. There is another possibility, though. We could thaw one of the mission crew's clones and implant the scanned brain patterns into it. I think there is a real chance that we can at least revive her that way."
"But that won't give us a second human, just a sixth Diyim'yi!" Lossp, the navigator exclaimed. "They'll probably notice something isn't right. Can't you clone some tissue from one of them instead?"
"It takes almost four years in a perfectly controlled environment to force-mature one of our existing clones. That's why they aren't used for ordinary injuries. This is the only alternative."
Chopka, the executive officer interjected, "Why can't we just present the corpse with our sincere apologies and an offer of reparations? Accidents happen, after all."
Captain Amkro decided the conference had gone on long enough. "Doctor, I've listened to your proposal and all the discussion. I'm going to make a decision. I agree. This is the best solution to a bad situation. Proceed with your plan." Several crewmembers started to speak, and she cut then off with a gesture. "No. This is the best alternative. If we just leave this alien, this human, dead, then we may ruin any chance for a successful first contact with this race. Her mate would never remain silent. And I will not condone a second 'accident' to silence him. If we did that, we would be no better than the jaguars." She looked at each of them. "We will attempt to transfer her personality into the cloned body." She fell silent.
"How will her mate react to this?" Lossp inquired. "She will no longer be human. What if he does not accept her?"
"Then we will return her to Diyim'yi and care for her ourselves. We have an obligation, now."