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D. A. Ratliff
There were moments when I regretted volunteering to monitor the experiments overnight. The bio-science building, bustling with techs during the day, became an eerie tomb at night. There might be a few people in the main building, but my lab was in the restricted area where government contracts fueled the research. Cue the men in black suits, lapel buttons, and sunglasses lurking in the dead of night. Not saying it was aliens—but it was aliens.
Maybe not aliens, but cutting-edge stem cell research, and if the tissues growing in the lab were any indication, definitely something out of a science fiction novel. I was a lowly post-doctorate hired to do research as further training. My job at night was to continue processing stem cells for the docs in the expensive lab coats (you know, the tailored, pressed, and unstained ones worn over a dress shirt and tie) to play with the next day. A gal has to start somewhere.
My shift, which lasted from eleven pm to five am when the early day shift arrived, suited me fine. I usually took a nap early evening, showered, grabbed dinner, and headed to the lab. Home by five-thirty, I ate breakfast and slept until nine. I lived next to the beach and would spend a couple of hours sunning and reading, then home or errands until I did it all over again. Boring, but hopefully worth it when I applied for a teaching position.
I arrived ten minutes early for my Thursday shift to find Dr. Elliot Rosenthal in the lab. He was the special projects director, and I admit he made me nervous. He pointed to a stool next to him, and I sat as ordered.
He began formally, as was his fashion. “Dr. Claire Winslow, we haven’t had a chance to chat lately. I was working late and decided to check in on you and to tell you that your work is exemplary.”
My hands trembled, and I stuck them in my lab coat pockets so he wouldn’t notice. “Thank you, Dr. Rosenthal. I appreciate that very much.”
He picked up my logbook, which contained the data collected from ongoing experiments and my notes. “Let’s take a look at these.”
We talked about the data for a while, and then he handed me a blank notebook and withdrew a small vial from his lab coat pocket. I recognized it as the vials we used to store stem cells. He handed it to me.
“Dr. Winslow, I have a very sensitive government project, and I need your assistance and cooperation. I would like you to process these cells as you do the others, but record your data in this notebook and on this program.” He handed me a flash drive, a blank notebook, and a ring binder procedure manual. “Label all specimens with the special code on this vial. You will be working out of room 457. A security officer will unlock the door when you arrive for your shift. You will press the red key to arm the lock and securely close the door when you leave. Answer no questions about this project—you will only discuss this with me. Understood?”
“Good. The security officer in the hall will escort you to the new lab. Please do not open the procedural manual until you are there. I will check on your progress in a few days.”
Without another word, he left, and the guard waited for me to gather my things and escorted me to the new lab, where I reviewed the project specs. A shiver of uneasiness crept up my spine as I read the unusual processes employed, offered as innovative approaches to developing stem cells into tissue for therapeutic application. Innovation was one thing, but some of these processes departed from proven scientific methods. Despite my concerns, I began to study the process thoroughly. After all, Rosenthal was the boss.
I closed the incubator door and leaned against it for a few seconds. I was tired. It had been five months since Dr. Rosenthal assigned me to this project, and I had taken only a few days off early on. Now for nearly seventy days straight, I had worked every evening, a schedule that taxed my energy and what little social life I had—past tense. My boyfriend of two years had bolted a month ago with a few choice words about my caring more about my work than him. In retrospect, I couldn’t argue with that. My best friend had taken a post-doc position on the east coast, and my nonexistent social life had become extinct with no family other than a cousin I had never met. In many ways, it was liberating, with no one to answer to but a very intimidating boss.
A ding from the coffee pot pulled me out of my funk, and I stopped leaning against the incubator and headed to pour a hot cup of coffee for support. I sat at my desk, my favorite spot in the lab because I could see the outside world. Not that there was much to see now. I had watched the construction of the university’s newest facility, a football stadium. Construction had become a twenty-four-hour effort as the fall semester loomed. Now only an empty stadium stood surrounded by a gigantic parking lot of fresh black asphalt. White-painted parking space stripes gleaming like neon under the full moon greeted me out the window.
I was about to sit down to record the night’s data when something caught my eye. A figure, appearing to be male, stood in the parking lot. He had not been there a second ago, and before I could register his presence, he was gone. I hesitated to say he ‘winked’ out but had no other explanation. Did I imagine that? I think so, but I found myself glancing at the parking lot for the remainder of the night.
Watching for the figure to reappear became an obsession, and he did three days later. This time long enough to turn toward the building. He lifted his arm, and a few seconds later, he was gone.
My breathing came in rapid and shallow bursts, and my knees bounced uncontrollably. He was there. I had to believe that. If I didn’t, I would have to admit I was hallucinating.
Over the next month, I saw the figure three more times. Each appearance brought him closer to the building. On the closest sighting, I could make out a large satchel hanging from his shoulder and, in his hand, a small device that he pointed toward the building. He was visible for no more than five seconds and then vanished.
Rapid footsteps echoed in the hall minutes later, along with shouts. I glanced at the door keypad and saw it blinking, meaning someone was accessing it. I hurried to a lab bench and pretended to work as two security personnel entered the lab.
Acting startled, I stood. “What are you doing in here? I have sensitive experiments underway. Please use the com to let me know you need access.”
The guard I knew as Jana, normally civil, only stared at me. Her voice was gruff. “Did you see anyone in the parking lot?”
I hoped she didn’t notice that adrenaline flushed through me. “No. Who was I supposed to see?”
“You saw no one in the parking lot?”
“I am working, and I’d like to continue.”
They left without another word. I trembled as I realized one thing—I wasn’t hallucinating.
The mystery of the man in the parking lot became secondary to me a few days later. He had not appeared for days, but aspects of the experimental processes I was being asked to perform continued to concern me.
The lab I worked out of was large, with a locked interior doorway along one wall. When I arrived, I was surprised to find the door slightly ajar. I assumed I wasn’t allowed in that room for a reason, but I knew work went on in my lab during the day. I pulled the door back ever so slightly and peeked into the room. It was dark, illuminated only by emergency exit lights and lights inside banks of enormous glass cases. I slipped into the room for a closer look. The cases contained many Petri dishes of varying sizes. My heart raced as I approached the larger of the dishes. They contained what appeared to be brain matter and a tiny beating heart, and a yolk sac.
I hurried back to my lab, carefully closing the door behind me, only relaxing when I heard the lock engage. I wandered to the window, wishing the man would appear. At the moment, despite the mystery surrounding the night visitor, he seemed more plausible than what I had just seen.
As I calmed a bit, I visualized the tissue in the dishes. Stem cells can develop into human tissue. I received my master’s in aspects of that process. That wasn’t what concerned me. The approach I was supposed to work on as a post-doc was to develop a more effective means of isolating stem cells from bone marrow. The new assignment Rosenthal gave me had nothing to do with separating cells but creating tissue. What concerned me was the nature of the tissue I saw in the other room. Human heart tissue wasn’t blue, and human brain matter wasn’t yellow. What were they growing?
Sleep didn’t come easy that morning. I catnapped and finally gave up, spending most of the morning researching the latest information on cloning and tissue. I found nothing regarding existing heart or brain tissue in the color I saw or anything that could cause tissue to turn those colors. What I saw stymied me.
Walking into the building that night, the increase in security was noticeable. Several uniformed security guards were in the lobby, highly visible where the suits with shades usually kept a low profile. I said good evening to the one stationed by the elevator. He acted as if I weren’t there.
I don’t think I took a breath until I closed my lab door behind me. My eyes immediately tracked to the doorway to the adjoining lab, and I shivered. I was either involved in innovative science or part of something—I simply didn’t know what.
Determined to stay focused, I dove into my work, aware of the open window at my back, wondering if the mysterious man would return. I was recording data a couple of hours later when the building’s alarm system activated—two short bursts of a claxon followed by a longer tone—signaling a warning to shelter in place. I wondered how anyone could get in with the security in the lobby.
Although my door locked automatically, my instinct was to check it anyway. As I neared the door, I heard yelling in the corridor. I unlocked the door and peeked through the crack to see the security guards with guns drawn, yelling at a man in the hallway—the man in the parking lot. As I started to shut the door, the man looked directly at me and vanished.
I pushed the door closed, but hairs stood up on my neck. I could hear breathing, but before I could react, a hand clamped over my mouth while an arm restrained me.
“Please, I’m not here to hurt you. You must believe me.” I nodded, and he let go of me and stepped away.
“Who are you?”
“I am Peter Damon. And you are Claire Winslow, doctor of bioengineering.”
“So, you know me, but I still don’t know who you are.”
“This will be tough to take in, but I’m from the future, one hundred and four years in the future. I came here to your time to save humanity in mine.”
My heart fluttered in my chest. Scared? Yes, I was, but I watched this man disappear several times. I needed to listen, but I could hear yelling in the hall.
“They’re searching for you. They’ll come in here. Can I meet you somewhere later?”
“Let me give you my address. Can you find it?”
He held up what looked like a transparent smartphone. “Downloaded your GPS.”
As soon as he had my address, he winked out none too soon. The guards were pounding on my door. I let them in, adopting my most innocent demeanor. The next couple of hours were nerve-racking as I waited to go home.
My fingers trembled as I unlocked my door. He was sitting on the couch. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked if he was hungry.
“I made pizza yesterday. I’ll warm the leftovers up. While I do that, you talk. First, who are you, and how do you know me?” I took a beer from the refrigerator, opened it, and handed it to him.
“I am a bioengineer, like you, and work for the Consortium Science Department.”
“Things have changed, Dr. Winslow. I have to be blunt. Ten years ago, in your timeline, Earth was visited by an alien race. A not-so-benevolent race of humanoids, part of a scouting party, or so it was thought. Earth’s leaders felt they were a threat and executed them, conducted autopsies, and preserved tissue and blood specimens. Their DNA is a ninety-nine-point-seven percent match to ours. Minor differences exist, like hemocyanin carrying oxygen, making their blood green. It seems the human form is not unique to Earth.”
“That’s amazing, but what does it have to do with me.” I had an inkling of what it had to do with me, but I was afraid to think about it.
“We spent many years investigating what came next and discovered a group of globalists and scientists felt executing the aliens was the wrong way to establish relations, especially if there were more of their kind who might follow. The program you now work for is the secret program to accomplish two goals. To not only produce clones of the aliens but to create human-alien hybrids. They thought that if the aliens returned, the hybrids would be Earth’s salvation, a connection to the visitors, and they would spare us.”
“The program was successful, producing clones that resulted in hybrids.”
“That’s amazing, quite a feat of bio-engineering.”
This man who claimed to be from the future locked eyes with me, and I shuddered from the intensity of his gaze. “You should know, Dr. Winslow. You made the breakthrough that allowed this to happen.”
“Yes, three years from now, you unlocked the genetic key that allowed the species to merge and reproduce.” He handed me the device I had seen him use earlier.
“What is this?” I held up the device.
I stifled a laugh while he spoke. “Dr. Winslow data.” The screen displayed my photo and a story. I read it while he ate pizza.
When I finished, I saw he had eaten half of the pizza I had made. “Enjoy that?”
“Yes, very much.”
I was still processing the information about me that I had just read, so I asked him about something he had said earlier. “Why did you say, ‘or so it was thought,’ when you mentioned that they were a scouting party?”
“Because they weren’t.” He finished his beer. “They were the last of their kind—a handful of warriors from a race defeated in battle in their solar system. What we did was hand them the keys to world dominance. The hybrids enslaved us, and they are building spaceships to take them back to their solar system and engage in war. They’re a merciless race, and we must stop them. A group of us decided to steal their time travel device and travel to this time.”
“To stop us before we’re successful.”
“I saw you appear in the parking lot.”
“It took us a few tries to figure out what we were doing and exactly where we were.” He reached into the bag he carried, withdrawing a round device. “We do have a plan. This is a quantum bomb. It will destroy the lab and, unfortunately, the building. I need your help.”
My career was about to be blown up, and I had to decide if I believed this man. I did.
“Let’s do this.”
To say that I was nervous was an understatement. I was petrified as I walked into the lab. I wasn’t expecting Dr. Rosenthal and another doctor on the project to be there. I fought to hide my emotions.
“Ah, Dr. Winslow. We stopped by to tell you how pleased we are with your work. Impeccable technique. Because of your exemplary work, I would like to ask you to attend a meeting with my senior staff tomorrow. We want to expand your role on the team.”
He shook my hand and walked toward the door, his aide following. I hurried after them and caught the door before it clicked shut. I was glad I did as Rosenthal stopped his companion.
“Someone is on to us. We need someone with Winslow’s skills if we have to move this project to our funder’s country. Checked her out—no family, no boyfriend. We can disappear with her with no questions asked, if necessary. Tell our contact we need those trucks ready if we must move out in a hurry.
I closed the door, my heart thudding in my chest. Peter was right. We had to destroy this project.
We decided to explode the bomb at four in the morning. The cleaning crews were gone by then, so there would be a limited number of souls in the building. We agreed to plant the bomb after I placed a phone call to security to tell them to evacuate and get far clear of the building.
At the prescribed time, Peter popped into the lab. “You ready?”
“Yes. I have all the data logs I have done in my bag. I’m going to tell security I’m leaving because I have to meet Rosenthal at noon, and I want to get some sleep first. They should believe that. Then I’ll make the call. Meet you in the parking lot?”
“I’ll be waiting where you first saw me.”
When I arrived at the deserted parking lot, for a moment, I feared Peter wasn’t going to show. Just as the security alarms in the building sounded, he popped in beside me.
“We have three minutes.”
“Are you sorry?”
“Losing all the advanced technology you have from the aliens.”
He smiled. “We hope we have that covered. Ever wonder why I have this huge bag with me?” I nodded. “Inside is the control unit for the time jump and crystal drives compatible with computers used before the aliens took over. The drives contain tech specs of the alien equipment. We think we should be able to access these drives. We hid several computers in public places and included the locations in the personal handwritten letters I also carry from the people involved in the rebellion to prove what happened. If we are lucky, we will come out of this with the alien tech, but no aliens.”
I watched people fleeing the building. “How about an eyewitness who can back your story up?”
Peter smiled. “I was going to ask if you wanted to come.”
“Good.” He placed an arm around me. “One condition, you remember how to make that pizza, right?”
As the building exploded, Peter pressed the display on his wristband. We disappeared, leaving a dark, deserted parking lot behind. I chuckled. It was aliens, after all.
Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/