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|I decided to try my hand at some science fiction, rather than the fantasy that the rest of my library is composed of. This story is actually a modified story of my first day at my new job. No more spoilers!! Read! Critique!||
"Welcome!" The portly scientist grinned as he firmly grasped my hand. "My colleague and I are so pleased that you've taken an interest in our research. It's been so long since we've had anyone in the lab, they've all seemed to have gone away. But then again, the funding is all going away too." He chuckled.
"I'm happy to be here. My professors at my University gave me your name since I did express an interest in this area of bacterial research." I was nearly done with school. Graduation was a mere weeks away and the whole world seemed to be opening up for me. This opportunity, to work in a government lab with monetary support and a freedom to do my own research seemed like a dream come true. I had been hired on the spot, an awesome accomplishment, and today was my first day.
"We've been hoping to have more people working in the lab. Things seem empty and there's always a lot to do. In fact, I just received funding to discover how bacterial mutations arise under space conditions. We want to prevent contamination but first we have to find out if our earth bugs can survive in those conditions, and if so, how do they do it." The man puffed as he led me up a flight of stairs and I grinned at the prospect of working on actual space related projects. We walked into an office area, filled with cubicles. "This is your cubicle where you'll be working, number 22. Ah, here's my wife, she works with me in the lab. Eldora, this is Amelia, she's our new lab assistant."
"It is nice to meet you. Howard and I are so pleased to finally have more people in the lab." A mild Spanish accent graced her words and her heart shaped face was framed by black, curly hair. Eldora looked chidingly toward her husband, "Howard, you forgot to start the cycle on the autoclave, and now the steam's broken, we cannot sterilize. I need tubes and we have no more. Also, I have to pick up Christopher and Lizbeth from school, I must leave soon."
"Ella, go, there are other means of sterilizing those tubes. Chris and Liz will be waiting." Howard turned to me, "Don't ever have kids, they make your life so much more complicated than it needs to be." But he ended the advice with a loving smile directed towards his departing wife, softening the sting. "Don't ever become a scientist either, like me, you have to deal with too many bureaucrats." He laughed at his own joke. "Okay, let's walk down to the lab, here, put your things in the cubicle, and we'll get started."
I dropped my satchel off in what was now my cubicle, excited at the prospect of decorating the space. I followed Howard to his lab and he gave me a quick tour of the facility.
"Okay, well, here we have our sinks, distilled water and all that, drying racks, dish soap. Just regular dish soap, nothing fancy. These fancy little machines simulate a no gravity environment. We use that for some of our experiments." He pointed out a small, white, plastic object that had plexiglass discs mounted vertically on the plastic. "Fume hood, electrophoresis supplies. Have you done any electrophoresis?"
"Yes, in both high school and college. I took several genetics course where we used the technique." I was mildly distracted in answering him, as I was focused on soaking all the details of the lab in.
"Ahh, good. Here we have our two balances, stir plate, glassware as you can see. Around the bench on the other side here is a machine we use to replicate DNA. It's called a PCR machine. You know what PCR is, correct?"
"Yes, Polymerase Chain Reaction."
"Correct. Good. Oh, we'll have to get you your own laboratory notebook so you can keep track of the work you'll be doing. Here is our notebook with all the bacterial strains we've created. Some of these are spore-formers, which are similar to those bacteria that have been discovered to survive on the surface of spacecraft." I nodded absentmindedly. The lab was very new, and immaculate, as laboratories go. In other words, there was free counter space and no dirty dishes. The ceiling stretched 20 feet up and at the end of the room, wide windows stretched from one wall to another and I could see the clear blue sky from outside. The lab had excellent natural lighting. Beneath the high windows wall to wall shelving was filled with bottles of chemicals and two incubators stood one on top of the other on another wall.
"Well, we'll start you out with dish washing, there are tubes in the sink that need to be cleaned and I'll have to find out who does the autoclave certification course so you can sterilize glassware for us. And tomorrow we'll make some media and I'll show you how to pour plates for our experiments. Feel free to look around, I'm heading back to my office and if you have any questions, just ask." With that he left me alone in the laboratory.
I stood in one place for a while, soaking in all of the details even more. Something in me could not comprehend the fact that I had actually gotten the job. A visit to this building several weeks ago had saw me meet with both Howard and another scientist, a plant biologist by the name of Andy. They had allowed me to tour their labs and at the end of the day I had, out of the blue, asked Howard if there were any spaces in his lab for a lab assistant. As it turned out, there was, and he hired me. Normally I'm not that forward but that day, I was extremely glad I took the chance. That chance question led me to where I was standing today and I wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming before I got started. There were several refrigerators in the lab, one set to freezing, one set to chilled, and both filled with an odd assortment of chemicals again, some in bottles, some in tiny, plastic tubes. There was a large machine that was running and the glass cover let me see that it was shaking several glass tubes filled with a clear, golden liquid. A white metal cabinet was filled with glassware that had been sterilized. There were two computers in the room, both connected to machines that I couldn't determine the use of from simple observation.
Having satisfied my initial curiosity, I started cleaning the used glass tubes. The work was mindless and repetitive and I couldn't help but think of what equipment was in the drawers and cupboards in the lab. I finished quickly in anticipation of further exploration. After setting the dishes out to dry, I began to explore some more. Several drawers were filled with syringes, though what a microbiologist could use with syringes I couldn't fathom. Other drawers were filled with plastic tips that were used to draw up small amounts of liquid. Still more drawers had tiny, plastic tubes, like those I had seen in the refrigerator. Others held boxes of metal caps and one drawer even appeared to be a junk drawer with random odds and ends and some scissors. As I was exploring several announcements came over the intercom system, warning of high winds and the altitudes they were expected at. One announcement even warned that the fire alarm system was not working properly and that if you dialed the emergency number, you wouldn't really reach the emergency services of the area, but those outside the area.
Humming to myself I was surprised to hear a crash followed by a strong hissing noise coming from the lab next door to the one I was in. There was a door that connected the two so I didn't have to go out into the hallway. I opened the door a crack and peered through, not sure if I was allowed to go in.
The lab was dark and I nearly jumped when a disembodied voice called out to me.
"Could you come and help quickly. This Mars chamber is giving me trouble." I shook my head in surprise and went in. Around the corner I saw the plant biologist, Andy, with his arms inside of a metal cylinder. He had lab glasses on and was focused on whatever was inside of the chamber. "The UV light is on, make sure you've got glasses on." He didn't look up as he spoke, still focused on whatever was in the chamber. I grabbed a pair of lab glasses that were lying on the lab bench and went over to help.
"What do you need help with?" As I spoke I looked in the chamber and amazingly, a small creature was cowering in the far end of the inner chamber. I couldn't name what it was, it was completely alien to me. "What is that?!"
Andy quickly withdrew his arms and shut the chamber door. "You aren't Howard!"
"No, I'm his new lab assistant. Remember we met several weeks ago? What is that creature?" I was confused, it seemed very likely that I was not supposed to see the creature in the chamber.
"Well, yes, I do suppose that I remember you. But I don't think that you can be here. Come with me." With that he grabbed my upper arm and dragged me out into the hallway and down to Howard's office. All the while, I started getting very nervous. After all, it isn't every day that you see an alien on your first day of work. We reached Howard's office and Andy pushed me in, came in himself and shut the door. Howard looked up in surprise.
"She saw Spike." Andy didn't elaborate. I suppose that a creature as exotic as that doesn't really need elaboration if you are already intimately familiar with him.
"Hmmm." Howard didn't elaborate either. He merely sat in his chair, behind his desk, fingers steepled and smiled. I looked back and forth between Andy and Howard. Things were very strange. Finally Howard spoke.
"Describe what you saw Amelia." More confusion rained down, but if it would satisfy him, I'd do what he asked.
"Well, I saw a creature in the chamber that Andy was working on." In the back of my mind, I realized that Andy and I were still wearing the lab glasses. "It was cowering in the back of the chamber. It looked scaly, like a lizard. It also had slitted eyes and tufts near its head, maybe ears? Ummmm, the feet had little claws, there were six toes, I think. I didn't get a real good look at it to tell you for sure."
Howard gave me an approving nod and looked up at Andy, who by that time, had removed his lab glasses. "What do you think Andy?"
Andy was giving me a strange look and it wasn't long before I found out why. "Well, since she's been one of the only people who can actually see him, I'd say we keep her. It'll be nice to actually observe the creature when you know where he is."
Their words washed over me. Andy and Howard couldn't see him? That made no sense! "I don't understand. What's going on?"
Howard grinned at me. "Well, you said you wanted to work in Astrobiology and here's your chance, only not how you imagined it I'm sure. The rest of the world thinks that we're still focused on the search for life, and not only that, but bacterial life. Instead you've stumbled upon one of the greatest secrets of our government. Life is out there and it is much more complex than we ever imagined. Spike there came from Mars. We have some other specimens from Venus. Io and Europa missions have reported success in collecting specimens and will be returning to Earth in the next few days. Welcome to the best kept secret on this planet."
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