The object drifted in interstellar space for a good fraction of a million years, debris from a colossal war or stellar disaster or mistaken experiment. It suffered deterioration from interstellar radiation and hypervelocity micrometeoroids. Yet it protected its delicate cargo perfectly. Almost. Time inside it could be slowed but never stopped.
The many tides of the void sent it drifting on a complex path that sometimes neared stars and gas giants and microscopic black holes with the mass of planets and predatory space-traveling life forms and other dangers. Each time the object’s threat evaluator discreetly steered the object at a tangent away from the danger.
At long last the object sensed a nearby interstellar body that promised survival for the object’s cargo. The object steered toward this body.
For hundreds of years the object traveled through the neighborhood of the body: a sphere of icy planetesimals, then a disc of comets, then an asteroid belt. Finally the object drifted past a barren moon to approach a world sheathed in blue atmosphere.
The object fell in a blaze of excited air molecules. Antimissile radar detected the plasma but classified it as the wake of a small meteoroid like the several it detected every day. It never alerted a human.
For several hours the object floated a few miles about the surface until it found what it wanted. It wafted to earth and vanished like morning dew, leaving its cargo on the grass of a pre-dawn park.
The park’s grounds supervisor liked to get an early start on the several workers under him. He arrived at the park just as twilight gave way to daylight. He made a quick tour of the several acres on his bike, part of his plan to keep himself healthy as well as cover all his grounds quickly.
He loved this time of day. No one else was about, the air was cool and fresh and smelled of the many healthy plants that decorated the several acres of land. The greenery and the colors of the flower beds and the buildings shown bright as the sun rose and gilded them with light unimpeded by clouds.
He saw the body and his heart leaped into his throat. It was naked, on green lawn beside a flower bed beneath tall palm trees. He didn’t mind the drunkards and druggies who occasionally made beds of his grass. But dead bodies stripped of clothing and dumped–only once had that happened to him and he sometimes still had nightmares.
He leaped from the bike and grounded it and ran over to the body.
Oh, Dios! It was a little girl.
He fell to his knees beside her and stared, not daring to touch. Tears threatened to blind him.
Then he saw that she breathed.
He sat back on his bottom. Relief washed over him, leaving him weak.
Duty called. He returned to his knees and examined her carefully, still not touching.
She seemed unhurt, from this angle, at least.
He dared touch her. Her skin was cool, but not quite as cool as the chill morning air. He lightly touched her throat. A pulse answered his finger tips. He waited a minute, pressed just a bit harder to be sure he had found a steady beat.
He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Then he got busy. He draped his jacket over her and pressed it more securely around her. He called 911 and reported a young girl asleep at his park, seemingly unhurt but he was not sure. The dispatcher said that the med techs and the police would be there quickly.
She was still talking to him when he heard first one then a second siren awaken a mile away. The police and medical emergency dispatching lots were only a block apart.
Deep within the girl’s body a super scientific robot, much weakened by time but still functional, lapsed back into watchfulness.
The med techs arrived at the same time as the police but hurried before them with a stretcher board. A quick but careful look at the patient assured them there likely was no crime. The police agreed after they took several quick forensic photographs and surrendered the girl to the medics.
Quiet questions elicited no response from the girl. Gentle lifting to the stretcher board did disturb her slumber enough for her to turn back onto her side. A soft warm blanket led her to tuck in a corner around her neck.
At the hospital emergency room she was entered into a cubicle with one side open to a hallway and covered with a hospital sheet. A physician peeled back the sheet to examine the girl, which did wake her. She resisted being uncovered with a quiet noise of protest. The female doctor talked gently to her, which persuaded the girl to let the doctor examine her. Then the girl lapsed back into sleep.
Nothing wrong found, the girl was admitted to a hospital room under Distressed Persons protocol.
Dr. Natalie Sasuni sat down with her supervisor in midafternoon to discuss the girl’s case.
“It’s an interesting one, Arnie. Especially the physiological side. But let me first discuss the behavioral side.”
Dr. Arnav Patel nodded. He was past early retirement age but was in vigorous good health and seemed not ready to leave.
“There seems to be nothing wrong with her. She’s not suffering from assault or drugs or anything else. She’s not ill.
“Her affect is calm, almost serene. She speaks no language that we’ve tried on her, and we’ve tried…maybe a dozen. We do have a pretty diverse medical and other staff. I even tried my Armenian as limited as it is. My parents were Armenian but we didn’t speak it much.
“She does speak but I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s closer to some Romance language, but we’ve tried Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and we even had one Romanian doctor drop by.
“She’s curious, and about the most curious things, everyday things like ballpoint pens. When we served her lunch she examined each type of food visually, then sniffed it, then touched it with a fingertip, then finally took a small bite. Then she ate and drank everything and licked the plates clean.
“She watches TV with great seriousness, the soap operas and game shows and talk shows as much as anything else despite not have the language to understand them. She showed most affect at a black and white TV show I Love Lucy, and a movie with Fred Astaire. The dancing scenes were her favorites. The nurses say she actually laughed and clapped her hands at them.”
Patel smiled. “Then she and I are kindred souls. Maybe we should show her some Bollywood movies.”
Natalie nodded, smiling. She had seen several such movies with lots of colorful costumes and singing and dancing.
“Now the physio side. Hold onto your hat, Arnie.
“We–I in this case–took her temp first with the usual ear probe. It showed 100.4 degrees. That immediately alarmed me and I examined her carefully. Touching her temple and cheeks detected no high temp; they were as cool as mine. She showed no signs of perspiration or discomfort.
“When I’d calmed down from that I took her BP. It showed a third less than the normal pressures of a healthy child her age. Her pulse rate was half as fast as average though she was not obviously sluggish. This alarmed me again. I listened to her heart. No signs of illness.
“Early on I’d tried to take a bit of blood but looking at those thin arms and lack of obvious veins I decided on a finger stick. I did it to myself first to show her it was nothing to worry about. She looked on with great interest, even leaning over to watch and to observe the speck of blood which came out.
“But when I took her hand to repeat the process she jerked it away and shook her head No, a habit she’d already picked up. She said something emphatically and, get this, actually GROWLED at me. As much as a slight girl like that can growl.”
Her boss smiled. “Maybe we’ve a werewolf on our hands.”
Natalie just looked at him.
“There was nothing else I could think to do but to smile at her and tell her it was OK. Then I patted her hand and left. You know how busy it gets and she seemed fine despite the anomalies. I just had to triage her for the time being.”
She took a sip of her mostly ignored coffee and made a face. It was cold. She got up and refreshed her cup from his always-on and everyone’s-welcome coffee pot.
“An hour ago I got a report that put the icing on the cake. We’d done a cheek swab and I got the report back from our lab.
“With the craze for DNA testing of the last few years and so many people getting gene mapped we have a pretty good global database. We can even tell how much Italian blood we have, and even which region. My paternal aunt is proud to announce that her family came from the Abruzzo province. Arnie, Jane has no identifiable geographic marker. No evidence of any susceptibility to disease. No traits markers, such as, I am not joking, it’s an actual marker, Asparagus Odor Detection.
“Arnie, she’s an alien.”
Dr. Patel sat slowly full upright and looked closely at her. He spoke slowly.
“You’re not joking…. Are you?”
She shook her head.
He sat back, tented his hands under his chin.
“I LOVED Superman when I was a boy. He was an alien sent to Earth and had super powers but he was basically a good old country boy. Safe.
“Do you think any of that comic-book craziness might be true of our Jane Doe?”
He didn’t seem to be talking to her. More talking to himself.
“Hardly. The DNA test shows she does have DNA, and that it does define things like finger length and hair color and blood type.
“Hers, incidentally, is O-negative.
“So she IS human. Just not from here.”
They spent nearly an hour discussing possibilities, even some of the more outlandish comic-book and sci-fi possibilities. They discussed telling others of their findings and eventually decided against it.
Patel’s reasons were more political, as the hospital was in its most recent fund-raising efforts. Publicity would interfere greatly with that. Besides, they had no evidence than some mild deviations from the norm.
Natalie’s reasons were more maternal: she did not want the girl to go through the bad effects of having her origin, or NON-origin, known.
With Patel’s approval Natalie signed documents making her the personal physician of Jane Doe. This would shield the records of Jane’s exams and lab results from public release.
It would also let her monitor the girl’s relations with Child Protective Services and with any foster parents.
She briefly considered becoming one of those foster parents. But the loss of her daughter two years ago had made her wary of ever becoming a parent again.
Natalie got off late as usual and had a frozen dinner to make up for the snacks she’d had instead of dinner. Then with a glass of chilled white wine she took her notebook computer to her couch to do research.
First she found that Child Protective Services was mostly for abused and other at-risk children. Clearly the only risk Jane faced was abandonment. Still, close reading of qualifications for at-risk handling could be stretched to cover Jane.
Links on the CPS site lead her to one organization within a few miles in Glendale, the city to the east of the city where her hospital, Saint Josephs, was located. It had been founded over a century ago by the Catholic Church and still had strong ties to that church even though it had become secular some time ago. They had a residential treatment center for girls 13-18 who were recovering from trauma. Reading of the web pages for the center made it sound good. Of course, sounding good didn’t mean it would be good.
Lots of Googling gave her images of the center, a three-story former residence in an upscale part of western Glendale not far from an elementary school and public library.
Natalie called one of her friends from the hospital and traded days off with her.
She arrived at a little after 9:00 at the Marymount center and parked in front with several other cars. On all sides were similar residences and there were plenty of available parking spaces on the street.
Just inside the double doors was a long hallway. An open doorway to one side showed a young woman manning a desk with a computer on it. She was on a phone but looked up and smiled at Natalie and gestured at a chair nearby where Natalie sat till she finished her call.
“Hello. How can I help you?”
“I’m Dr. Natalie Sasuni on the staff at St. Joe’s. We’ve got a young girl who was abandoned some time late two nights before. She’s healthy physically and apparently mentally, though there may be emotional trauma. She only speaks a possibly made-up language and doesn’t respond to any of several we’ve exposed her to except to smile and nod. She’s generally cooperative and can handle personal functions.”
“We’ve seen some cases like that and had considerable success.”
“Yes, I know. We’ve checked you out.” Though “We” was just a group of one.
“What’s your interest in this? Why not just phone us?”
“It’s my day off and I’m cooped up and busy so often that it’s a nice change of physical and psychic space to come here. I take any excuse to get outside. Besides, frankly, I don’t fully trust the internet.”
The young woman laughed. “Amen to that. Let’s set your mind at rest. Let’s see.”
She consulted something on her computer and made a phone call. Shortly a young black woman dressed nicely came through the door.
“This is Dr. Sasuni here on behalf of a possible resident. Would you give her a tour?”
“Sure thing, Jo. Come this way, Dr.”
Natalie found little fault for the next two hours as she followed Beverly at her duties. She met several other staff members, young women for the most part. There was a handy man and an older woman who cooked for the residence.
The lunch that day was hamburger and fries, with lots of different sides and breads which residents took from a buffet line. Drinks were carbonated soft drinks if you wanted and fruit drinks. The burgers were veggie burgers but tasted real to Natalie.
Astrid, a friend of Beverly, ate with them.
“We have a dietician we’ve contracted to for advice. She believes variety is important. She considers popular fast foods an important part of enjoying food, as long as they are healthy versions. That’s why the burgers are veggies, not real meat. Lunch tomorrow is pizza day. It’s low-fat and low-calorie. Not NO-fat and NO-calorie. Some fat and carbs are good for you.”
Natalie, a physician for almost twenty years, knew that probably better than these women did. She nodded.
There were some three dozen girls in residence. The younger girls each roomed with an older one, except for the three seventeen year old girls and one eighteen year old girl who bunked alone.
“They get a solitary room because they have to be able to deal with an individual not a communal life after they leave here.”
Natalie observed the girls at lunch carefully but discreetly. These would be Jane’s house mates for some time. All seemed to be reasonably normal and friendly, but she knew how cleverly mean girls could hide their nature. Still, Jane would have to deal with those no matter where she went. Natalie could only do her best to find a good home for Jane and hope.
After lunch she called her boss.
“Arnie. I think I found a place for Jane Doe. Think tomorrow would be a good day to transfer her?”
He asked her if she’d be back at work then.
“Yes. But I’ve traded the morning so I can personally handle Jane’s leaving.”