Locked In

 

A short story by Brigitte Doss-Johnson

     Rain is pouring in sheets, similar to the half inch pane of tempered glass I’m peering through.

 

     I am locked in.

 

     The laboratory is prohibiting all scientists from leaving, though the humidity control system would maintain zero percent when the doors open. Twelve percent of the geo-site occupants have contracted an infection that dries the body slowly, from the inside out, as if set on mummification mode. Their desiccation is screaming for a cure, making compassion second to research. I couldn’t watch them. My husband works up on the lunar city.

 

     I haven’t seen our toddler for four months. I ache to hold him. My mother watches over him and we video communicate every day, but I don’t need to tell anyone that that isn’t the same.

 

 

    My eyes balk after hours of staring at fine particles of elements. The ground samples from the moon cities change color depending on humidity, a factor controllable in the containment boxes. I scour the bright blue dust of the beryllium-sulfite mix, willing the element that is escaping detection to reveal itself. Whoever discovers it will probably have their last name added to the periodic chart.

 

 

 

 

 

     The color reminds me of the radiant royal blue of the Indigo Bunting, the small seed eating birds that flounce around the fence of my Texas home. My lab partners are trying to determine if the color in the powder comes from pigment or refracting light, similar to how the human eye perceives bird feathers. Are the colors from an innate source or an undiscovered microscopic organism? We tested for mica with no results. If what we pulverize from the geographic samples were safe, it would make a nice addition into some beauty company’s eye shadow line. But, somehow, this blue dirt is making people sick.

 

 

     To qualify to live in the space community, applicants undergo rigorous testing for allergies, especially silicon, a sneaky element not as inert as humans once thought. This disease is affecting the strongest humans. Until we manufacture a cure or antidote, travel restrictions will remain. Samples from the affected cadavers aren’t helping us detect the process, either.

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

     My neck aches for break time and to relax and finish the article about Doc Holliday. I relate to him, gambling – he with money, me with time. External forces have corralled both of us, locking us into our respective situations. Who knows how many people he helped or tortured with his archaic dental practices? Doc died of tuberculosis. Would I end up contracting this illness? Humidity has a correlation with both conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

  Fed up and at my wits ends, I put yet another sample into the artificial lung module for inhalation testing. Experimenting with live beings was outlawed decades ago. I turn the machine on and head towards the break room.

I sit on the cold vinyl sofa with my tray of essential nourishment. I can’t find the magazine I was reading, so pick up the latest edition of my lab mate’s sci-fi addiction: The Non-fiction of Science Fiction. I flip through and find a short story I think I can connect with.

 

     Rain is pouring in sheets, similar to the half inch pane of tempered glass I’m peering through.

 

     I am …

 

 

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