Decontamination

Never leave the incubator unattended.

That’s the first lesson they teach you when you start at the lab. I wish I had listened.

Thankfully, the explosion was contained to the one room. The building has been evacuated as per safety protocol, and the cleanup crew is busy decontaminating the area while the head of the department has me fill out a statement for the report. I’ve never felt so guilty in my life. That’s saying something.

I have a bad history of putting living beings in danger. I squashed my sister’s hamster as a kid, ran over my neighbor’s cat as a teenager, and lost my friend’s dog on the street in my first year of college. And now I’ve endangered at least a dozen human beings by accidentally unleashing bacteria all over the laboratory. Unknown, unpredictable bacteria. There’s no telling what damage I could have caused if I hadn’t been alone when the incubator burst.

The cleanup crew has finished their work and is filing out of the lab. I’ve been told it’s safe to go back inside. While everyone else leaves, I throw on my cleanroom suit and head in to grab my notes. As I pass by the busted incubator, I feel a horrible sinking sensation in my stomach. Years’ worth of research has been lost tonight, and it’s all my fault.

I open my notebook and flip to the last filled pages. I want to figure out what went wrong. Could I have set the incubator temperature too high by mistake? Was there a malfunctioning piece in the machine? Or is this all just happening now because bad luck follows me wherever I go?

A tear splashes on the corner of the page. I wipe my eyes as I take a pen from the table and scribble a quick note about the explosion. After replacing the pen and skimming through my notes one last time, I close the notebook and glance up at the clock on the wall. It tells me I’ve been here over half an hour, much longer than I’d anticipated. Better start heading out.

Replacing the notebook on the table, I hurry back to the adjoining chamber to remove my suit before I head out, but I stop just inside the doorway when I hear voices in the hall. They must think everyone has already left. Standing still, just out of sight, I listen to them talk about the incident. I recognize two voices: the head of the department and the director of the lab. The director is saying it was lucky no one was injured by the explosion, otherwise the consequences could be catastrophic. The results from the last lab mice test came back this morning; they’ve just discovered that the bacteria we’ve been studying induce a lethal reaction in the subject.

My heart starts to race and I break into a sweat, but I dare not make a sound. The department head asks if we should quarantine everyone in the building, but the director reassures him that the bacteria are not airborne; infection only occurs from direct contact with the subject’s blood. Even if anyone had been contaminated, they wouldn’t last long enough to spread the disease beyond this isolated research facility, as the infection is fatal within hours. The head of the department mutters a curse against “that damn clumsy student”. He wishes I had never set foot in the lab in the first place.

I’ve heard enough. Moving away from the door, I turn and hurry back into the lab. This time I don’t bother with the suit, heading straight through the door toward the notebook and pen on the table before making a beeline for the room on the other side of the floor. Tears return to my eyes as I rush past the broken incubator.

All your faultAll your fault

I’m no stranger to being cursed. Most people who know me end up wishing they’d never met me, usually after my bad luck causes them some sort of injury. Nobody likes me. Nobody ever wants me around. I don’t blame them. I’m a jinx, a curse, a disease.

You’re the real infection

I rush into the freezer and slam the door behind me. I lean back against the wall, open the notebook, and start scribbling words on the blank pages in the back, important notes to all the people I’ve loved and wronged. By now the tears have blurred my vision so much that I can barely see the letters anymore. Tremblingly, I rip the last page from the notebook and clutch it close to my chest. Now all that’s left to do is wait.

A strange calm overtakes me as I flip through my notebook for the last time. This is best for everyone, I tell myself. Everything happens for a reason, right? Yes, they’ll all be better off this way. Shivering, I get to the last of my notes, the secret of how some loose shards of shattered glass and metal struck me in the explosion.

My strength begins to leave me and I stifle a cough. I close the notebook as well as my eyes and pull my sleeve down, covering the gash in my hand where the glass tore right through my glove. This is how they’ll find me in the morning, tears frozen on my cheeks and a piece of paper clutched tightly in my hand, containing a single word that says everything…

Contaminated.

What If? Writing Prompts: Fantasy/Science Fiction IV

Here’s another set of “What If?” Writing Prompts for you! Since I love these genres so much, this week’s post features more prompts themed to fantasy and science fiction. See what stories you can write based on these ideas! Have fun!

What If - Parchment and QuillWhat if… the human race were to colonize other planets?

What if… what you thought was a normal vehicle turned out to be a transporter into an alternate dimension?

What if… you discovered that changing the time on your watch changed the time in the real world?

What if… you trained dragons for a living?

What if… you woke up one morning to find your stuffed animals/action figures had come to life?

Enjoy writing some more fantasy and science fiction stories!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

Five Reasons I Love Science Fiction

After starting a set of posts on the comparison between artistic and scientific writing, today I’d like to take a break to discuss a related topic that’s been on my mind for a while: science fiction. With all the brainstorming I’ve been doing regarding science and art, I figured now would be the best time to talk about why I love the intersection between the two so much. So on that note, here is a brief list of reasons why I love science fiction. Enjoy!

1) It reconciles my two great passions: science and art.

Science Fiction SpaceAs I’ve made all too clear by now, both science and art fascinate me immensely. I’m incredibly proud to be able to call myself a scientist and an artist, so their crossover area is basically my playground. It stands to reason, therefore, that science fiction is right up my alley. Combining elements of both worlds, sci-fi stories appeal to my artist side for the creative reimagining of our universe and to my scientist side for the exploration of the potential in real scientific theories. For someone like me who practically lives in this intersection, it doesn’t get much better than that.

2) It stimulates real scientific thinking.

One thing I notice whenever a major sci-fi movie comes out is a surge in discussions – both online and off – about how realistic it is. With films like Gravity and Interstellar comes a rise in articles and social media posts by actual scientists explaining the real workings of physics in outer space and pointing out the common inaccuracies in these movies. The same thing happens (albeit to a lesser degree) with stories about other scientific themes such as time travel, dystopian futures, robot uprisings and zombie apocalypses. And I, for one, love having those discussions with my friends and fellow academics. As a writer, I have nothing against a little artistic license, but as a biologist, I encourage the clarification of facts to make sure the truth isn’t buried too far beneath the fiction. As I like to think of it, ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power.

3) It’s the ultimate “What if?”

I’m sure by now it’s only too obvious that “What if?” is my favorite type of writing-related question. I love imagining what sorts of stories could play out around a single major condition, and no genre can pique that curiosity like science fiction, because changing one detail means altering the entire universe as we know it. What if there’s intelligent life on other planets? What if computers had the intellectual capacity of humans? What if there were a virus that could turn people into zombies? Writing science fiction is like creating infinite parallel worlds with incredible possibilities, all with the power of our minds! How cool is that?

4) It unites people like no other genre can.

Some may not necessarily see this as a good thing, but I’ve always found it interesting how sci-fi has this indomitable power to bring people with similar interests together in a way that no other genre of fiction can. I make no secret of being a so-called nerd and proud of it, so knowing there are tons of people out there who also embrace that eccentric side of themselves is heartwarming. Science fiction offers a unique common ground for those of us who choose to occasionally forget this world and explore the possibilities contained within alternate realities. And if we can share that passion with each other, that makes our love of sci-fi all the more enjoyable.

5) It’s fun to indulge in!

For all the above reasons and more, science fiction is fun, as much to read and watch as to write. I love getting lost in alternate worlds, and sci-fi offers that escape in so many different flavors that I sometimes wonder how I manage to tear myself away from it long enough to face reality again. I could spend hours indulging in these fascinating stories, so if you appreciate science and art like I do, science fiction is definitely the genre for you! Enjoy!

What about you? Why do (or don’t) you like science fiction?

What If? Writing Prompts: Fantasy/Science Fiction III

I hope you’re in the mood for some more “What If?” Writing Prompts! This week’s batch features some new fantasy and science fiction prompts for you to enjoy. See what sorts of fantastic tales you can spin around these ideas! Have fun!

What If - Parchment and QuillWhat if… magic were a subject taught in school?

What if… mirrors functioned as portals into a backwards universe?

What if… computers could read human thoughts?

What if… you discovered you had the ability to bend time and space?

What if… you had supernatural powers that you couldn’t control?

Good luck creating your own fantasy and science fiction stories!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

Abducted

(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)

I thought that spot in the sky was a star.

It didn’t occur to me that stars don’t waver.

We screamed as the bright lights blinded us.

I tried to run with everyone else.

But they had come for me.

The ground beneath me vanished.

No way out now.

Only one way.

Their way.

Up.


This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

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