No ext/int HDD or network connect. Laptop still booting?

Hey guys I have a quick question for you.

I recently bought a laptop for a friend of mine. It was a steal! $30 for a-not-so-ancient toshiba satellite (dual core, 2 GB RAM). Before purchasing I was made aware that the laptop had no HDD. No problem! Already planned to buy a replacement. To ensure that I wasn't getting burned I hooked up an external that had Ubuntu 12.04 saved on it, ran OS from USB, normal protocol ya know?

Well, after making sure everything was in order I powered down the laptop, removed the external, and then promptly left the room. I come back in 10 minutes later and my friend is surfing the web on the laptop!? Apparently he turned it on and moments later Ubuntu loaded itself and is now running without a hitch?

Just wondering how is this possible? I was never prompted about saving ubuntu onto any devices on the laptop? I know a motherboard can hold enough data for the BIOS and what not but how could it just save Ubuntu, no questions asked, with no previously existing (as far as I can tell) storage devices? Powering down through Ubuntu, holding the power button for 5 secs, and removing the battery (left it out for 10 minutes) Ubuntu still manages to run!!?!?!? How!?
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