Jennifer Alice Chandler

Cover image made with photos bought from Depositphotos. The authors of the photos are  dewald@dewaldkirsten, HighwayStarz, and kuban_girl.

Contagion Phase 1: Biosphere

Ebook ($2.99 US):


In order to please her father, sixteen-year-old Kenya Winters agrees to go to a summer internship at the biosphere. She thought her being claustrophobic made the situation enough of an ordeal, but the reality is far worse. For outside the biosphere horrible things are happening — an experiment has gone terribly wrong and the consequences from it may just destroy them all.

Chapter 1


The biosphere experiment is all over the world. The biospheres were placed in a variety of climates in order to discover the ideal conditions for them. The hope is that people will opt to live in these self-contained prisons, er … facilities. My dad works at one; his specialty is plants. We are stationed at a biosphere in Manhattan, Kansas. Most of the scientists and their families, including us, came here from larger cities, so it was quite the transition when we first arrived.

My father really wants me to follow in his footsteps. I’m not so interested. I’m more interested in art. Still, when he announced that he wanted me to sign up for the summer internship program, I reluctantly agreed. Truth is, I wanted to make him happy, and I would have felt guilty if I turned him down. It is only for the summer, after all, and I have no other plans. And perhaps if I give this a try, my father will finally accept my pursuit of art. Maybe he’ll even be willing to finance an art degree!

Meanwhile, I am dismayed when I find out that my father won’t be at the biosphere over the summer. He will be working in the field. Apparently, the researchers don’t think they’ll get as much done at the biosphere with us summer students there. We are seemingly considered less serious than those on-site the rest of the year. I don’t know; maybe they’re right. If the others in the summer program are anything like me … I certainly have other interests.

The rotation begins on a Monday morning promptly at 8 a.m. We meet at the park the biosphere donated to the city. I kiss my parents goodbye, hug my sister, and wave to my brother. I try to tell myself it is no big deal really; a lot of people are going. Only not everyone is as afraid as I am. I find I am terrified of that place. When I recently saw the uploaded footage of the facility, rather than awe I felt revulsion — the coldness and sterility of it. I find the place creepy and dark. I find the narrow halls ominous and the labs with their many empty cages disturbing. Even the man in charge strikes me the wrong way. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason that I feel this way … But then again, there was this look in his eyes as he was talking in the video that struck me as odd.

Plus, there is the isolation to consider. It turns out to be as bad as it could get. I know no one who’s going. If only I had taken more of an interest in my father’s work before! If only I had bothered to visit the facility before I agreed to go!

I tried breaching the subject of my dread with my parents. They consoled me. They know Dr. Hostler well. There is no reason for my dread, they assured me. Plus, I’d always been afraid of enclosed spaces. It is probably just that. If I face it down …

“Why does it have to be there?” I had sounded whiny, even to me.

“It’s an invaluable opportunity.” they had easefully responded.

After a few more heartfelt objections, I concluded it was of no use; I was going.

For some reason, they don’t allow you to bring many personal items into the biosphere. Apparently, it’s run a lot like a hospital; they have plenty of supplies for people of all shapes and sizes. I guess I should be glad I can bring anything of my own. I chose to bring mostly clothes, my pillow, and a couple of books. Still, the decision as to what to bring was stressful. I am scheduled to be stationed there for the entire summer, after all. There is also no guarantee, given the desire for an airtight seal at the biosphere, that I will be able to return for a visit. The fact is visits are frowned upon. Having to penetrate the seal at all is considered an almost unacceptable complication to the research.

Yet, I have to admit the interns who returned a month ago didn’t seem all that worse for wear. Then again, maybe they were just happy to be back. I wish I were one of them! I wish someone would volunteer to take my place. As I stand anxiously on the platform waiting for the transport, I spy out of the corner of my eye Dr. Hostler approaching the crowd on foot. I check my watch. I find it strange he’s running late. He seemed to be so exacting in his videos. For him to now be arriving at the last minute, out of breath, and his face flushed seems downright odd. Unfortunately, my staring at him draws his attention onto me. He actually glares at me! I turn away quickly — not wanting to make an enemy of the man in charge of my prison. Still, I can’t resist letting my eyes wander just enough to be able to catch a glimpse of him in my peripheral vision. I see him run up to another man. I look away again. I can hear some wild murmuring coming from that direction. When I finally dare to look back, both men are heading for the disembarking platform. Dr. Hostler seems to be hesitant to do so, however.

“Shoot.” I think to myself. I was really hoping that something had come up that would prevent us from going.

The disembarkment ceremony goes off the same way it has countless times before. There are waves, blown kisses, and the occasional sentimental tear. The same marching band plays the same anthem.

I carry my large duffel bag onto the transport. It is a pleasant vehicle. I bemoan the soft light that is streaming into the space. It seems almost cruel to me. Seeing such a beautiful light filter in will just highlight the contrast when it’s replaced with the artificial alternative. Still, I attempt to soak in the last rays of light.

It is a large complex — massive stone and steel walls — airtight. It reaches up tall into the sky and slinks across the seemingly endless landscape. Beyond the bolt-laden gate are vast plains. The goal is for an artificial atmosphere to contain us all. Now, I … we are trapped. And I wish I could be almost anywhere but here.

Then, the moment is upon me. And it is just as shocking as I had expected it to be. I try shutting my eyes as the transport bores through the opening to the facility — but to go from light to nothing is not something you can completely prepare for. It isn’t like turning off a light switch. There is a coolness, a silence, and an emptiness attached to it as well.

Large mechanical doors close behind us, and there it is — the blanket of nothingness. A cold chill goes up my spine, and I shake. In the months to come, I will not know anything but LED light. That thought sickens me. I try to resign myself to it, but I can’t help but feel frustration building up inside of me. If I were home, I’d probably bury my face in my pillow and scream. Who knows what people would think if I did that here? I sigh and lean back. As I wring my hands, I realize I have to get a grip over my emotions. I have to suppress the panic I feel due to my claustrophobia. Otherwise, I’m not going to make it all summer.

“What have I gotten myself into?” I wonder.

Well, it’s too late to back out now without making my father look bad.

I close my eyes, willing myself to steady my breathing. I am at home in bed, I imagine. I am warm, and the covers are tightly … no, loosely around me. I am safe, I keep repeating in my mind. Finally, I feel my jaw begin to unclench and my shoulders slacken. Finally, I can breathe again. I merely have to keep this up until we are let off the transport. Then, I’ll have to come up with some other way to cope.

You would think we are running a week late by the way they herd us off the transport after it is docked. I know that creepy Dr. Hostler, who stared blankly into space as the lights went out (which was quite the image to carry with you in your mind when you can no longer see I must say), arrived late to the disembarkment. But he wasn’t that late — not to account for this rush now. And yet, I suppose the whole ordeal of being rushed off the transport could be meant to send the message that we are on their schedule now. We are cogs in their wheel. Daydreams or even the occasional slowly released breath won’t be tolerated.

Nothing else springs to mind as to the explanation of what all the rush could be about to be honest. From what I have heard about accomplishments at the biosphere, progress is slow and not always steady. In recent years, I hadn’t heard of any major breakthroughs occurring from this place. Has that changed? I kind of hope that nothing dramatic is happening. I have enough on my plate just trying to stay sane. I don’t need unrealistic expectations of how I could help placed on my shoulders.

“You’ll be given your room assignments then given some time to settle in before dinner.” a woman, who seems to have some authority, tells us.

I wait until she passes by before I roll my eyes. And that’s when I notice that Dr. Hostler is lurking nearby. Did he see me? Honestly, what does it matter? If this regimentation lasts all day, every day for the entire summer, I will probably not make it through the program anyway.

The rooms are as I expected them to be — small and sterile. It seems that my identity as an individual is going to be under attack here. I quickly replace the facility-provided pillow with the pillow I brought from home, and I am instantly glad that I made the sacrifice of wrinkling my clothing in order to stuff my pillow in my suitcase. Their pillow is so stiff that I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been starched. I sigh in relief. A pillow that resembles a rock is the last thing I need. It is bad enough that my room doesn’t have a door. Oddly, the rooms are arranged in suite pods. Each suite has four rooms all facing a central gathering room. Only none of the rooms have a door. So, while I have more privacy than I would if I actually had to share a room, having three suitemates isn’t all that much better — not when there isn’t a door. I am half-tempted to try to affix a blanket or sheet over the threshold, but I’m afraid what message that would send to the others. Maybe I can convince the other three to do it, too. I decide to wait and see how it goes. I’m certainly going to hold on to it as an option just in case my relationships with any of my suitemates turn sour. Then again, a sheet as a boundary will only work if the other people choose to respect it. Chances are that if I need a barrier at all it would be against a person who doesn’t respect boundaries to begin with.

I was fortunate at home. My father had divided up the rooms and added lofts to give us all some semblance of privacy. He has always been, as long as I’ve been alive at least, a very private man. I wonder how he stands staying here when he does. I sigh. That is the one problem with private people, I guess: when you have to ask them something about themselves you can’t.

“Hello!” a cheery voice cries out from behind me.

I cringe instinctively.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.” she chirps.

I turn around to see a girl with chestnut brown curls falling to her shoulders. She is wearing a pink sweater and jeans. She is already standing inside the threshold of my room. My first impression isn’t good. I can envision her walking in whenever she pleases and the inevitable conflict that will ensue when I have to tell her I need some space. I hope I am proven wrong; it will certainly be a long summer if I’m not. I don’t need or want that kind of drama. So, I choose to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’s just being friendly. Perhaps, she’s even lonely. I decide to be friendly, too, even though at this moment I’m not feeling it.

“Hello.” I return, though my voice sounds guarded even to me.

“Do you think they’ll feed us soon?” she questions nervously. Her eyes dart to the side.

It is a strange question to ask. Yet, it hits home for me that we really are in a prison. I quickly shake that thought off. No, lots of places have set times of day where food is prepared. It simply isn’t practical to feed people whenever they want to eat. Perhaps, it was this girl’s tone that made my mind go to the worst possible scenario. No, it is more likely this place. I hate this place. I have lived in dread of it ever since I saw that video footage of it. I would like to be wrong about it — to have made a much bigger deal of it than is actually warranted. I decide I will make every effort to make my stay here as livable as possible. After all, every day that I complete will be one less day I have to be here, and the closer I will be to returning home.

I decide the first thing to do is try to establish a positive relationship with this girl since we’ll be living in the same suite; it only makes sense.

“My name is Kenya.” I offer her my hand. “Kenya Winters.”

I was named after the country where my mother was born.

The girl takes my hand.

“Cecily Brooks.” she returns with a curt smile — the emotion behind which I can’t quite read.

She then abruptly turns from me and leaves the room. I find this about-face perplexing.

I decide to go looking around the complex and get an idea of where everything is. Only I don’t like the idea of leaving my stuff behind. It seems insecure just lying there. Then again, my belongings are the only visible claim I have to this room. True, the other rooms probably look identical, but I can’t help but feel somewhat territorial over this space — even if that is irrational. I could put my things in the dresser and the closet and leave my bag on the bed to show I am there.

I consider.

“It would be embarrassing to lug my bag around the halls when nobody else has theirs.” I mutter to myself.

I sigh then set to work. I take care to fold everything neatly; my mother would be so proud. I didn’t tend to put this sort of effort in at home, I’m ashamed to say. But now being separated from her, it gives me a sense of consolation. It reminds me of her. This is as homey as this sterile environment is going to look, I eventually conclude. I leave the duffle bag in plain sight of the doorway, so there is no question that this room is occupied … for anyone who bothers to check.

Having succeeded in this endeavor, I retrieve my money purse. Maybe there is a gift shop here somewhere, and I can get something for my family. Or, perhaps, I’ll buy myself a special treat to cheer myself up.

As I head out, I almost walk straight into Cecily. She’s standing next to two other girls, who don’t appear to be thrilled to be here either.

“We thought we’d all go to the cafeteria together.” Cecily announces, speaking for the group.

It may be silly, but it feels as though the two others aren’t with Cecily of their own free will. But who is? Still, Cecily seems to like to bend people to her will.

“I was just going out.” I smile, not wanting to give Cecily the satisfaction of thinking she has cowed all three of us into submission. The effort works better than I thought it would as Cecily’s face instantly falls.

“Oh.” she utters.

“So, are you going to the cafeteria?” one of the other girls asks me with interest.

“Among other places.” I reply with satisfaction.

The other two girls look at each other, their interest suddenly piqued.

“Well, there’ll be plenty of time for that.” Cecily butts in, reasserting her bid for authority over the group.

I shrug then proceed past them towards the outer corridor. I can sense the other two girls are following me. Cecily drags behind. One of the two girls is tiny with pale blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. She has hazel eyes and a warm complexion. Her name is Constance Baker, which seems like a large name for such a small girl. She goes by Connie. The other suitemate has black hair like my own — only I have a much darker complexion than she has. Her eyes are curved ovals and her smile turns out to be infectious. Her name is Song Lee. I instantly like these two other girls. And yet, I know there will be trouble if I can’t incorporate Cecily into our merry band.

Then again, maybe she doesn’t want to be a part of our group if she can’t be in charge. I have a feeling, though, that neither I nor the other girls would particularly relish having to take orders from Cecily. After all, chances are good that we aren’t going to have a lot of autonomy during our working hours. Being micromanaged during our free time seems like an overwhelming burden. But will she back off? As I cast a look back at her and attempt to smile, I can tell she is sulking. Oh well, I conclude, what can I do?

Suddenly, I am distracted away from my thoughts. There is a large gathering of people around a bulletin board in an enclave near the center of the hallway. Cecily suddenly pushes forward. She starts talking to those around the board. She turns to us as we approach.

“They are our class schedules and work assignments.” she announces to our group decisively.

“Already?” I question.

“And without consulting us,” I think but don’t say. The throng around the board is too massive for me to get close enough to see it, so I decide to wait. Cecily manages to snake through to the front of the herd where she requisitions paper and a pen from a nearby intern. I notice it takes her a while to return. It isn’t until later that I find out that she not only got her own schedule but ours as well. Cecily is very satisfied with this; the other two girls seem impressed. When she gets to me, a slight smirk crosses her face.

“Congratulations, Kenya, you’re pulling night shift in the bio lab. Guess we won’t be seeing much of you after all.”

She is right. It isn’t going to take long at all for me to be segregated from my suitemates and relegated to the night-shift schedule. In fact, it will start mere hours from now when I am scheduled for an orientation meeting. There is an orientation meeting for the day shift and one for the night shift.

“Why even have a night shift?” is my first thought.

But someone has to be assigned to it I guess, I tell myself. Plus, this is my new reality for the summer. I might as well make the best of it. And given the artificial lighting, after the adjustment or “jet lag” my experience won’t be any different than the day shift … aside from the isolation. And yet, I can’t help but wonder how I’d gotten to be so fortunate! I shrug. Well, I had wanted my space from Cecily. It seems I have it. Now I just have to figure out what to do with it.

It is a bit awkward as we eat dinner. Cecily begins her efforts to be the leader of the group again. It seems that she figures with me out of the way, the other two will just allow her to be in charge of them. I’m not so sure it’s going to work out that way. It seems to me they are already growing wary of her. What is particularly puzzling to me is Cecily’s need to be in control of a group of strangers. Is insecurity behind it? Or fear? All I know is I find I’m beginning to grow surprisingly grateful to be on the night shift. It is swiftly becoming a blessing in disguise. I don’t think I could stand being harassed by Cecily for an entire summer! The only thing that troubles me is the thought of Cecily becoming bored and rummaging through my things while I’m gone.


Chapter 2


It is strange getting ready for the day while the others are getting ready for bed. I know this first night will be the hardest. It starts to make sense to me, however, that they decided to have us just jump into the night shift. I suddenly remember that it’s best to stay awake and realign yourself with the light rather than to sleep when you normally did. But then, it also occurs to me that there is no sunlight here. So, then I become bewildered again. Eventually, I get to thinking again about how I came to be selected for the night shift. I’m a little resentful about it honestly. And yet, I conclude I’d rather be permanently relegated to the night shift than have to take turns in rotating shifts with the others. Though, I find it would be easy to want Cecily to suffer that inconvenience just a little bit given the smug look of satisfaction that has been on her face since she found out about my schedule. I wish I had read the schedule first. I could have been over the shock of it before she even found out. Still, it will be nice to get away from her for a while, I think. I almost pity the other two girls I am leaving behind. Still, as I head out, I can tell all three think I am the one to be pitied, and I hate that.

I head toward the elevators. Apparently, the orientation meeting is being held within the depths of the complex; not that it matters — this whole place feels like a tomb. No one is in the elevator when I step inside of it. It is sort of eerie descending into the depths of the complex alone; and yet, it would be worse, I suppose, to be with someone who was creepy.

Suddenly, a hand is inserted into the shutting doors of the cylindrical capsule. I exhale as a tall male with dark skin and eyes and short black hair enters the elevator. He looks at me apathetically then steps inside. He seems intense, but I’m not afraid of him. Maybe it is because he seems more interested in the papers he is holding than he is in me. He stands to my right. After scanning the elevator buttons with his eyes, he does nothing. I conclude he is going where I am going. But unlike me, he seems to have an air of surety about him as though he’s done this before. Or, perhaps he is just self-confident by nature. I keep from looking directly at him. For some reason, I find him a bit intimidating. He seems too young to be an instructor, so that’s not it. I do have the feeling if you said something to him he didn’t like he’d let you know it. As much as small talk would have eased the tension in this tiny space, I dare not venture to try it.

Still, it is tempting. The stranger seems interesting. Certainly, he is good-looking. At least that’s the impression I got in the brief moments I looked at him before I lost my nerve. But what would I say to him? It’s not as though I can talk about the weather. My mind seems incapable of coming up with a topic; then suddenly, the elevator lands at its destination, and the stranger steps off without even a parting glance.

I am rather unnerved by his indifference. Certainly, I rate at least a look, I think. It takes me a moment to regain my composure. Fortunately, I become aware that the elevator doors are sliding shut before they actually do.

The area surrounding me as I head off the elevator is actually pretty stark. It reminds me of an old hospital basement. There is a string of fluorescent lights lining the ceiling; some of the lights are flickering. Room after room I pass by is filled with nothing but research laboratories.

“What could they possibly do with all these research laboratories?” I mutter to myself.

Eventually, I can see a bunch of people lingering outside of a locked door. I am assuming that’s the room we are meeting in. I catch sight of the stranger amongst the others. He appears to be unlocking the door.

Once the door is unlocked, the whole group of loiterers files inside after the young man. I arrive at the entrance in time to find that most of the seats inside are now occupied. In fact, there is only one seat that has remained empty. It is the one that is located squarely in the front and center of the room. I groan inside. To think that what had seemed like such a small thing — arriving last to the room — could potentially make such an impact on my day. Then again, even if I had made it to the door with the others before the door had been unlocked, I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to jostle for a better seat.

Then someone asks the young man in a skeptical tone, “Are you our teacher?”

The man lifts his eyes, but they meet mine rather than the boy behind me.

“No, my mother is.” he states stiffly. “She’s in a meeting that’s gone long.”

He abruptly stops speaking. He then goes and sits in a corner of the room at the front of the class. He sits there silently but appears quite at ease anyway. He doesn’t even fidget. I know if it were me up there in front of everyone without a clue as to how long I would be stuck sitting there I would feel incredibly uncomfortable. Not him; he never loses his poise.

My mind begins to wander after a while. I find my thoughts drifting to home. It doesn’t help that I am tired. Nothing sounds better to me right now than slipping underneath my own covers at home, feeling the tension finally release from my shoulders, and falling asleep. But I can’t relax — not here. Though I have managed to put on a brave front, I can feel the walls, these vacuum-sealed walls, closing in on me.

My chest tightens, and I worry if I keep thinking along these lines I might have trouble taking a breath. I think instead of home. The grass and trees create a rich oxygen-filled atmosphere. You never have to worry there where your next breath will come from.

I look up and notice that the teacher’s son is looking at me. It is only a glance, however. It lasts until his mother suddenly enters the room, frazzled. She is struggling to carry multiple briefcases and folders. Her son leaps up to assist her shortly thereafter.

“I’m sorry I’m late.” she breathes. “Thank you, honey.” she tells her son.

They exchange a look. At first, I wonder if he finds being called “honey” embarrassing. But the look appears to be one more of questioning, more of concern. She averts her eyes.

“I realize it must be hard on all of you to be up this late, but there has just been so much interest in the program that we had to extend the hours into the night in order to have enough lab space. But let’s see if I can help a little with the transition.” she adds sympathetically.

The woman reaches for something under her desk. Apparently, she has some sort of switch under there. I hear a click. Then moments later, floor-to-ceiling blinds begin to part. They seem to be revealing dark glass windows, which is hardly noteworthy. But then slowly the glass begins to lighten. It takes me a moment to figure out what is going on. The glass is some sort of projection screen. It is simulating the look of an actual window. The view is of the dawn. I have to admit it is actually quite impressive. I can see the rays of light begin to stream into the room. It looks natural. My heart actually flutters for a moment. Some of the oppressive tension leaves me momentarily.

I look at the professor’s son. He yawns. Clearly he is no longer impressed by this sleight of hand — if he ever was. But it does mean something to me, I decide. It means that this claustrophobic fishbowl has gotten just a bit bigger and less confining. That is something to be grateful for.

“Well, that’s better.” The teacher smiles with satisfaction. “Now let’s get started. I know … introductions first!”

I frown. My mood shifts downward. I hate introducing myself to a room full of strangers. Unfortunately, I’m given some time to think about how I want to present myself, what impression I want to make. Most of the girls seem to opt for cheery and confident. I am feeling neither. I wish the others didn’t feel compelled to appear the same as everyone else; it would certainly make it easier on me if they were honest. After all, who could be cheery about being stuck up all night in this place? We have been divided from the majority of the other interns and are leading a parallel yet separate life. Surely that doesn’t make anyone as happy as these people are making themselves out to be. At first, I hold out hope that someone will acknowledge how hard this whole situation truly is, but it soon becomes clear that they are all taking cues from each other and are, therefore, “thrilled” to be here.

Now it’s my turn. I’m pretty sure I cannot muster their enthusiasm. Even if I tried, I’m afraid it would just sound sarcastic. Instead, I just give my name and a brief description of where I’m from. Then, I stop. I hope the focus will pass by me, but there is silence instead. I don’t look at the teacher or the other students, but I can feel their eyes bore into me. My face flushes. Maybe I am wrong, but I feel I have drawn undesirable attention onto myself.

“Okay, and you are?”

I am relieved when the teacher finally moves on. I breathe. Finally, I look back up. Her son is looking at me. Far from being reassuring, however, it gives me a sense of unease.

“Well, now that I know all of you.” the professor announces cheerfully. “It’s time for me to introduce myself. My name is Dr. Trisha Kauffman, and you’ve already met my son Marcus.”

No, not really, though Marcus does nod in agreement as though he knows what she is talking about. This is, however, the first time I recall hearing his name.

“Marcus will be my teaching assistant this summer.”

I think it’s odd to act as though we are all at some sort of university. Will we really be learning something beyond just what we need to know to do the tasks they’re going to assign to us? I suppose it’s possible.

I am aware that some people do later have careers here. Though frankly, I can’t imagine opting to stay on in this tin can. It does happen, but how it happens I have no idea. Do the interns ask to stay on? I shudder to think that they are pressured to do so. It certainly makes standing out while here seem less than desirable. I’ll have to make a note of that.

Mostly though, I’ve heard that interns get assigned jobs here with little compensation. The paltry amount is deposited into an account. I didn’t even bother to find out what the going rate is these days. Whatever it is, it isn’t enough. I would rather have my freedom. No, the most I can hope for now is that the work will be interesting. But even on that front any payoff seems unlikely. Rumor has it that what we will be doing is routine grunt work. Like I said, we will be cogs in the wheel, keeping the installation running at minimum expense. I sigh. I guess I can look at it as volunteer work …

I realize the room is suddenly quiet. Something inside of me gets a jolt. It reminds me of the moments back in school when the teacher realized I wasn’t paying attention and called me out on it. But today it is a false alarm. Instead, Dr. Kauffman is merely having her son hand out our first work assignments. They certainly don’t waste time here, I think. They must need the work done badly. Marcus begins to call off names; the papers have the interns’ names already written on them. I am hopeful we will be dismissed after he is done. Unfortunately, that is when Dr. Kauffman says, “We’re going to be starting the first lab shifts tonight.”

There are groans.

“I know. I know, but you’ll thank me later. The last thing you want to do tonight is sleep, believe me! We have plenty of food, drinks, and entertainment for you when you’re not on your shift. During your shift tonight, we will be giving you instructions on the job you’ll be doing in the next few months.”

I’m not sure if I consider myself fortunate or not, but I am one of the first ones to be oriented tonight. I decide this is better than having to wait for my shift to begin. I wait in my chair while most of the class files out of the room and heads toward whatever “entertainment” they’ve set up for us forced night owls. One of the other three students who remains behind with me yawns. This yawning quickly becomes contagious. It seems there’s something about being forced to stay up that makes you more tired than you otherwise would have been. If it had been my choice to stay awake, I figure it would have been easier to stay up. Now I have to wonder if I’ll be able to make it through the night without nodding off.

“All right. You four must be the first rotation. You’ll be working in Lab A1. I’ll take you there now.”

Dr. Kauffman reaches into a drawer of her desk and pulls out a large ring of keys. With a wave of her hand, she directs us to follow her. The hall is empty as we exit the lecture room. It is still as barren as it was before. I realize the flickering fluorescent lighting makes the hall appear even starker. Dr. Kauffman heads toward the right.

“The four of you will be working in this lab during the night shift. You’ll have the same three-hour shift every night for the duration of the term.”

Once again I wonder how they went about giving us this assignment. Was it random? Does it matter? Maybe we’re all doing the same thing.

Something starts to happen to your mind when your body begins to realize it’s not going to be given the sleep that it needs. When you refuse to take the hint, it begins to let you know it isn’t pleased. The signs it sends out begin to become more and more obvious. Or, at least, that’s how it seems. Maybe the problem is I just don’t have anything to distract myself with. Either way, my vision starts to get a bit hazier and my thoughts cloudier. I also feel rather flushed, as though the area has gotten hotter. I hope suddenly that the job I am set to do doesn’t require much thinking because I’m not sure I’ll be up for that tonight. Then again, what will they do to me if I don’t perform well … send me home? I grin to myself at that thought.

It takes us a while to make it to the designated lab. Arriving there turns out to be rather anticlimactic. It looks like every other lab we passed by on the way here only more isolated. So, what is the point? Couldn’t we just use any of the labs?

Then suddenly, a side door opens and in walks Dr. Hostler. Strangely, I am startled by his sudden appearance. I say strangely because I have no idea why I react this way to him. There’s nothing I can see about him that would make me frightened of him. He isn’t a big man, nor is he particularly menacing. Yet, when I get eye contact with him, an icy chill goes through me. I can tell I make him uncomfortable, too, as his eyes quickly shift away. But then again, it might just be my imagination. Or, perhaps, he thinks I’m odd. I’m sure I do look at him funny.

“Oh, Dr. Hostler!” Dr. Kauffman exclaims in a surprised tone. “What perfect timing! I was just showing Group A the lab. Group A, in case you don’t realize, this is Dr. Hostler, the head of the biosphere.”

Dr. Hostler smiles when Dr. Kauffman mentions his position.

“What you all don’t know is that Dr. Hostler is going to be your group supervisor! One of the major perks of the night shift is that this is the shift that Dr. Hostler prefers.” Dr. Kauffman informs us excitedly.

My brow furrows. The other three in my group seem pleased. Marcus doesn’t appear to be surprised or impressed; I find that interesting. And yet, it’s the realization that I’ll have to work in this isolated lab with a man I find inexplicably creepy that is foremost on my mind. That will be unnerving, I think. I wonder if there’s any chance that Dr. Hostler will move me to another section seeing as how he doesn’t seem to like me either. No, he probably doesn’t dislike me enough to do that. Just like my feelings toward him, there’s nothing tangible to base the uneasiness on.

“You will be helping me in a small way. Your efforts will be helping us improve our curriculum here.” Dr. Hostler suddenly speaks up. “You’ll have to start learning the basics first, of course. But I’m sure the four of you will be quite capable of moving forward at a good speed. I look forward to our work together.”

The whole speech seems prepared to me. It makes me wonder if Dr. Hostler’s appearance here is really unplanned.

“If you need to know just how exhilarating my research can be, just ask Marcus Kauffman here. He is one of our apprentices and a teaching assistant. But now I’m glad to say he’s going to be working for me in my lab as an assistant as well.”

I look toward Marcus — as does everyone else. His face remains blank. I find that odd and rather disturbing. But I tell myself that I don’t know Marcus at all. Maybe this is just his way. His reaction or lack thereof to Dr. Hostler probably means nothing.

I reach my hand out and touch a lab table. Then, I lean my weight against it. It occurs to me how much stress I’ve been under. My whole life has been uprooted. Now they expect me to stay awake all night long and work with a man who gives me the creeps. When will I be given a chance to feel normal again — to have some say in my decisions? Is that really so much to ask for? Why does everyone around here have to be so controlling?

Dr. Hostler seems animated all of a sudden and begins to show us around the lab. Dr. Kauffman and her son linger in the corner of the room and appear to be deep in conversation. Marcus has his back toward me. Dr. Kauffman smiles a smile that a beauty contestant might give when she catches me looking at them.

“Excuse me, miss. Excuse me.”

My attention is directed back behind me. To my horror, Dr. Hostler has singled me out. His face is red with frustration. Apparently, he is angry with me for ignoring his walkthrough of the lab’s instruments and equipment. While I admit I was being rude, his reaction is over-the-top in my mind.

“I’m sorry.” I stammer.

Dr. Hostler glares at me. Eventually, his complexion seems to grow more natural. He waits a few minutes and then begins to speak again as though nothing has occurred. The other three students appear a bit unnerved by his outburst — but only momentarily. Soon they are back to laughing and smiling the way they had been before. I begin to wonder if I am the only one who resents being here. Maybe the others truly feel this experience is some sort of honor. Perhaps, if I were invested in the type of work here I would find the experience to be a great opportunity rather than an ordeal. But I’d much rather be home painting pictures of landscapes than working in a sterile lab.

Who knows how long it will take me to get over my frustration with this forced confinement … if I ever do? I know my attitude isn’t helping, but I can’t seem to overcome it all the same. I feel like a prisoner here. Still, in order to avoid another scene, I decide to pay close attention to the rest of Dr. Hostler’s tour. I don’t want to have to ask any questions about what he covered later. If I have to work with him, I’d rather he didn’t completely hate me. Yet, I still wish I’d been assigned a different mentor.

Dr. Hostler appears pleased with himself as he wraps up his “spontaneous” tour.

“Well, this group is done.” he announces to Dr. Kauffman, who smiles back at him pleasantly. “Overall, I’d say I’m quite pleased.”

He seems to shoot me a look of consternation when he says these words. It occurs to me that Dr. Hostler may just be reacting to my attitude towards him. Nothing else really makes sense. All the others seem enamored of him, and he’s constantly getting positive reinforcement, but not from me. It must be unnerving for him that I of all people am stuck in his group. Still, it does mean that maybe if I try to be nicer to him that some of this awkwardness might subside. It could be worth the effort; an entire summer seems like a long time.

Unfortunately, I then get to thinking about Marcus. His attitude towards Dr. Hostler is certainly not glowing, and he’s known Dr. Hostler a lot longer than I have. Certainly, it would seem logical that Dr. Hostler would be more offended by him. Yet, he isn’t. Dr. Hostler doesn’t even seem to notice that Marcus is unimpressed by him. It could just be Marcus’s personality, but for all Dr. Hostler knows my responses might be a result of my personality, too.

I decide the best thing to do is to lie low. There’s no point in changing my behavior, going out of my way to be friendlier, in the meantime. It may just make things worse. Better to just keep things as impersonal and professional as possible.

It seems strange to me after we are released from the “tour” that we are escorted to the entertainment room. I had assumed that the entertainment was for those who had to wait for their orientation time. At the very least, I thought it would be optional for those of us fortunate enough to be allowed to go early. However, it soon becomes clear that the people in charge here have no intention of allowing any of the night-shift workers to get any sleep until they’ve decided we should be able to. In fact, there is even a woman tasked with monitoring us and waking up anyone who nods off during the movie.

But the more they focus on trying to prevent us from sleeping, the more I think of it and the more I crave it. On nights when I didn’t have school, I would occasionally stay up late. That didn’t bother me. But this bothers me; it grates on me. I determine it wouldn’t be so bad if I had something positive to think about — something to look forward to. So, I decide to write a letter and send it to my parents, my siblings, and one of my friends. Looking forward to getting at least one reply may just be the boost I need to get through this experience. Perhaps, they can even send me pictures of what’s going on at home. I retrieve my tablet and set to work. The first problem, of course, is to find something to say that isn’t a blatant misrepresentation of the truth.

Then again, maybe it isn’t necessary for me to expound on my unhappiness at being here. It isn’t as though I have ever acted as though I was thrilled at the prospect. My parents know me well enough to know that I wasn’t happy about it. And they know the main reason I wasn’t happy — my claustrophobia. Surely, they wouldn’t think that would have changed overnight. No, I don’t need to remind them of every little problem I have here. I can, however, reassure them that I am not, at this point, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Rather, I’m holding in there … which I am. My quad is pretty nice. The food is decent. My professor seems friendly. I’m not sure what to say about my roommates. I don’t know them well enough to make a call there. Though, I have my doubts that Cecily and I will ever be friends. I don’t write that last part down.

I then start asking a bunch of questions of them. That’s what I really want from them — so much information that it will be as though I never left. I want to live there vicariously through their letters. I get a thrill at that thought. I end my letter requesting a bunch of pictures. I then send the mail on its way. I feel a sense of happiness having accomplished this. Then, I hear a beeping noise.

“What? This soon?”

At first I am elated. But then, when I remember what time it is, I frown.

Looking at the inbox, I see the message is from the biosphere server. It informs me that due to security reasons my letter is being processed through the administrators before being sent on. My mail is being screened? Though I am glad I didn’t write anything negative, I am nevertheless horrified to know that someone is actually going to be reading and censoring my mail.

I’m glad I didn’t realize this when I had started writing the letter; I may have become too discouraged to write it. On the one hand, maybe it makes sense that they have security protocols in place. They wouldn’t want their research being sent off all around the world. But still, the whole thing strikes me as being odd anyway. Why inform me after the fact that communication is being monitored? Why inform me at all? It does have a chilling effect, I have to admit. What else is being monitored? Is there such a thing as privacy here at all? Certainly none that can be counted on. And yet, I know instinctively that most of the people here won’t be bothered by it. After all, they have nothing to hide. What’s wrong with me?

I sigh. I am more isolated here than even I could have imagined. Still, truth be told, in my letter I had been censoring myself before I even knew I had to. My family doesn’t understand my feelings about this place, nor could they get me out of my stint here even if they did understand without repercussions. If I had written down all of my negative thoughts, it would only have grieved them unnecessarily, and I would have been even more upset having yet again not been understood. Putting on a brave front in the letter, on the other hand, made me feel better. I could almost believe when I wrote it that things might not be as bad as I feared. And the thought even occurred to me that perhaps believing it isn’t so bad might change the reality. But then I concluded that just wanting reality to be different doesn’t make it so — it doesn’t change the truth.

Time ticks slowly by. It is hard to gauge what time it is. There is a clock on the wall, but the significance of the numbers it shows is hard to relate to. Morning … night … they won’t have the same meaning for me in the next few months. I think about how hard it will be to readjust once I do go home. Will it just be a simple matter of jet lag by then, or will my body grow accustomed to having my day and night switched?

Just as I am thinking these thoughts, I get some welcome news. We are being dismissed back to our rooms. My heart leaps for joy. I can sleep again! It’s amazing how important things like sleep become when you’re deprived of them. I leap to my feet. I can’t wait to get back to my room. There is hope that things will seem better once I get some rest. Maybe I can get a fresh start once I regain the energy that I have lost.

It is also exhilarating to get out into the hall and realize I have recaptured some of my autonomy. I needed that. I get on the first lift of the elevator, and I make it back to my room in record time. My suitemates are just getting up. Not surprisingly, they are moving slowly and appear surprised to find me so energetic. They seem a bit put off by it. Yet, the fact is, I am still filled with adrenaline over having been released; let them see how they feel at the end of the day. Then again, even then they’ll still have had a regular night’s sleep behind them. I have a feeling it will take me longer than one day to become accustomed to my new schedule.

I do feel a bit lonely, too. I now find I wish one of the other two girls were also on the night shift with me. As selfish as it is, I don’t like being the only one. It will be too easy for the other girls to become annoyed with me as my schedule will be consistently out of sync with theirs. Actually, their irritation seems to have already started. Then again, maybe they’re just not morning people. I can relate to that.

“Kenya.” Song suddenly speaks. “We’re heading to the cafeteria for breakfast. Do you want to come with us?”

I take a moment to consider. Sleep had been my one driving thought for hours. But I have to consider the next few months. I could routinely eat breakfast with my suitemates and keep in good stead with them. If I don’t go today, however, they might never ask me again, and I would remain isolated from them. I look between all three girls. When I see the look on Cecily’s face — one that suggests she’d rather I didn’t go — I am decided.

“Sure.” I say. “Thank you for asking.”

I am pretty happy with my decision to go to breakfast. I still don’t feel relaxed enough to sleep. I also feel that spending time with my suitemates will turn out to be important. Two of them at least seem happy to have me with them. If I had tried to go to sleep knowing that I should have gone to breakfast, it would have made it even more difficult for me to sleep anyway. Having already eaten something during the course of the night, I opt for just some cereal and milk. I get some orange juice as well. It will probably take me some time to get used to both the sleeping and eating schedule.

I sit back in the booth, trying to make myself as comfortable as I can. I figure I’ll probably stay about fifteen minutes or so before I head back to my room.

What I hadn’t counted on — the one drawback I hadn’t anticipated — was how curious the other two girls would be about my experience the night before. If I had thought it through — if my mind weren’t too hazy to think straight — it would have been obvious to me that they would be curious. However, it is as though I forgot that they hadn’t been there to experience the night for themselves. Cecily even seems interested in what I have to say, though she feigns being uninterested. It dawns on me that this questioning might be a regular or at least a semi-regular occurrence. After all, I will experience most, if not all, events before they do. That could end up making me the center of attention most mornings. I’m sure that won’t please Cecily much. And yet really she has no cause for complaint. She will get the lion’s share of the attention she craves most of the time. And I can’t see Cecily being able to stand being on the night shift like I am, but I doubt she’s considered that. Instead she seems focused on any irritation she is experiencing, and at the moment that irritation is being caused by me.

I try to fill my suitemates in on all the details presented at the lab. I tell them about the sunlight simulator in the classroom. I don’t tell them about the e-mail censorship. I assume that most people won’t have a problem with it, and they will think me odd that I do. If I get any inkling that one of the other girls values her privacy as much as I do, then I’ll mention it to her. But I don’t feel like bringing it up to the group. I have the feeling that I am much more negative about this place than anyone else here. The only other person I’ve seen with a negative attitude is Marcus. Maybe it’s just because of the reaction I got from home to my concerns, but I’d rather not broadcast my doubts to people. For one thing, I don’t want them trying to change my mind. I also don’t want to be hemmed in to a position right away. I am open to the possibility of changing my mind. I want things to improve, and I fear if I talk badly about this place people won’t let me live it down.

Suddenly a tone sounds above us. It has a distinctive ring to it and reminds me of a school passing period signal.

“That’s us.” Cecily announces with glee.

The other two girls smile at me as they gather their things. The three girls and the rest of the cafeteria full of interns file out ready to start their day. It really hits me how most everyone is in this group, and I, for no apparent reason, have been isolated from them. But at this point, I have grown too tired to care. While the rest look forward to a comparatively normal day, I decide to make the best out of the reality I find myself in. Sleep … must sleep.

I head down the mostly deserted hallway toward the elevator that will take me back to my room. As I am walking, I realize that the sunlight simulator isn’t just in the classrooms. It is apparently everywhere in the biosphere, and it has been activated for the day. I am struck by how bright the artificial sunlight is as it’s streaming through the large glass panes lining the hall. The sunlight may be fake, but it looks real, and it reminds me of home.

“I thought you’d be asleep with the others by now.” I hear a male voice say.

I look up and off to my side. There is Marcus coming toward me from the opposite direction. He doesn’t look particularly friendly — any more than he had before. It makes me wonder why he just spoke to me at all.

“I ate breakfast with my suitemates.” I tell him.

“The night shift is rough, but you’ll get used to it.” he states matter-of-factly as he passes by me.

My room is how I left it, which is a relief. There are no signs that anyone snooped around. I’m still a bit anxious, but I’m mostly tired. I hope that sleep will come pretty easily. There is always a chance that it won’t. Having to start the next “day” with little sleep will make it all the more difficult — much harder than the past twenty-four hours even was. But I try not to think about that; thinking about that will just make it harder to sleep.

The truth is I really don’t want to start the next day. I don’t want to go back to the depths of the complex and attend courses in its dank recesses. Part of me wants to stay up in order to delay the inevitable — or at least make it feel as though I’ve postponed it as long as I possibly can. Oh well, I’ll have to go back one way or another. I can’t just hide under the bed — as tempting as that thought is.

I prepare for bed, changing into my most comfortable and comforting pajama set. It is pink and has a rosebud motif. As I climb into bed, I fluff my pillow. I curl up in a ball, deciding not to care what the others will say should they see me.

I can’t say that it surprises me when I find I can’t sleep well. I am tired, but I’m not tired enough to be able to sleep at this time of day. I am filled with dread. This is what I was afraid would happen. Given time, I am sure I will become so exhausted that I won’t be able to stay awake even if I wanted to, but that could be days away. What will I do in the meantime? My adrenaline had had to rise so high, so that my body could stay awake. Now I can’t relax.

After a while, I determine that if I give it enough time I should be able to drift off. It probably won’t be the best sleep I’ve ever had, but it will be something. I know I will regret it if I don’t at least try. After all, when the other three girls get back from their orientation who knows how quiet they will be — particularly Cecily? This is the best time for me to try to sleep …


Chapter 3


“I’m assuming you all got enough to eat and got enough sleep.” Dr. Kauffman smiles.

I wonder how long she’s been stuck on the night shift. Has it been years? When she took it up did she know it would be that way forever? I know I have no intention of remaining on it forever. I don’t want to live the rest of my life off-cycle with everyone else. Well, I guess not everyone; the three other interns in slot one of the night shift are here. Then, there’s Dr. Kauffman and Dr. Hostler. Oh, and Marcus. I wonder if it’s a comfort to Dr. Kauffman that Marcus is up at the same time she is. I question if he adopted the schedule when he began to study here or whether he has lived this way since childhood in order to keep her company. That would seem to me to be a lonely sort of existence. Even I can’t really imagine how that would be. Yes, a whole summer still feels like an unbearably long amount of time, but at least there’s a moment of finality to it. In theory, it will eventually end. But what if this situation went on indefinitely? Who could fathom that? And yet, that seems to be the position that Marcus and his mother are in.

I doubt it’s quite the same for Dr. Hostler, however. Supposedly he actually prefers the night hours. I guess it’s the difference between choosing to do something and having that choice foisted upon you.

Most of what we do this second night is lay claim to our workstations. It ends up coming across as a rather pointless exercise. Aside from the numbers on the stations, each station is identical. Even the lab equipment, which usually has some imperfections to give it a distinction of some sort, appears uniform. It doesn’t quite look new, but it does all look the same. Apparently, we will be running tests on … something and are expected to take a lot of notes on tablets they have provided for us. These tablets aren’t to be removed from the lab. In fact, all work is to be completed within the confines of the lab. This level of secrecy really shouldn’t surprise me. After what I learned about the e-mail, it stands to reason. Then again, if they are already monitoring all conversations between the biosphere and the outside world, what difference could it make if we bring information back to our rooms? I suppose we could destroy it or alter it somehow. Surely, they aren’t concerned about us discussing things between each other. No one has suggested that that is a problem. I decide to brush off the ban on tablet removal as yet another weird thing about this place.

Actually, I’ve just come up with an idea that may help me cope with living here. I want to journal some of my experiences — in a humorous way. Then, when my stint is over, I can present the journal to my little sister, Candace. That way, should her time to come here arrive, she will feel less lonely than I do. She can read the entries day by day, and it will be like I’m here with her.

Not to mention, it will give me something to do in my free time. I also like the idea of turning negatives into positives. Every weird experience will be great fodder for my journal. Of course, I will have to safeguard the journal from prying eyes. I’ll have to carry it with me wherever I go and even sleep with it in my bed. I don’t trust Cecily as far as I can throw her! Still, it’s not like I plan to write anything scandalous in my journal’s pages.

Even though my equipment is fairly clean already, we are told to go ahead and do a formal cleaning anyway. It seems to be so that Dr. Kauffman and Dr. Hostler can supervise the cleaning of the utensils and the drawers and offer us suggestions. We need to be able to do things the “correct” way every day from here on out. On one level, I can understand where they’re coming from. Equipment that is unclean could throw off the results of the experiments. And yet, I don’t enjoy being micromanaged. Dr. Hostler’s looming presence, in particular, sets me on edge.

I can see him out of the corner of my eye peering over each student’s workstation in turn. It makes it worse for me having to anticipate his approach. My frustration and dread begin to build. What is it about this man’s presence that unnerves me so? I question why I am the only student who seems bothered by him. I wonder if there’s just something wrong with me. Wondering about that does make me tense a bit less when he does finally come around since it suggests it’s my issue not his, but I can feel my face flush all the same.

Dr. Hostler points out things that still don’t seem clean to him. He picks up certain instruments and eyes them critically. Not once in this process does he look me in the eye.

The inspection seems to go on forever. Eventually, even Dr. Kauffman seems to be waiting for Dr. Hostler to finish. Maybe it’s just me, but she also seems surprised by how long it’s taking.

I try to pay attention. After all, there will most likely be consequences if I let my mind wander again as I did the other day.

“Well, I think that about covers it.” Dr. Hostler finally announces. “Carry on with the cleanup.” he advises the group.

There is a trace of irritation in his voice as he notices that the others are looking at him with curiosity.

I look back at my station with dismay. It looks spotless to me. What more can I possibly do? I sigh. I’ll just go over everything one more time, and then I’ll stop. I hope he won’t come back and point out more invisible spots I need to remove. I try not to roll my eyes. After all, he may be watching. And I need to fly under his radar as much as I can from this point on.

As I scrub, I am painfully aware that I am not on the night shift by choice. This unwelcome attention just reinforces this feeling. It’s like I’m being punished for some unknown crime. It dawns on me that all of these other people seem to want to be here. Why couldn’t they just have volunteers then? I can feel my anxiety about being trapped here build within me. I make the concerted effort to quash it. I don’t know how I will regain control of my nerves if I lose it now. With some effort, I’m able to slow my breathing back down.

“Everything is okay.” I tell myself.

I hope that it’s true.

“All right. Please turn in your drawer keys. Tomorrow will be the day we start you off on your first assignment. Remember that you will be required to be back at the lecture hall at 5:00 a.m. from now on.”

Nobody groans, but I can feel tension in the room. We had been informed earlier that we will continue to receive lectures at the end of every day for the duration … Well, every day but Saturday, which we have off. But why at the end of our day? Maybe they feel we can’t be trusted not to slink back off to sleep — ruining our chances of conforming to our new routine? Still, do those with later lab shifts have to report in at the beginning of the day, too? It would be worse to have rotating shifts, I remind myself. Still, I am stuck doing lab work at the first time slot and attending a lecture at the very end of the day. I have a huge gulf of time in between my two obligations. Then again, I guess someone has to be stuck in this position; that would be true for someone even if they moved the lecture to the beginning of the day.

Maybe in the future I’ll find I have plenty to do to pass the time. Now, however, I can find little to occupy myself with. And of course, I still haven’t adjusted to the sleep schedule. Right now, frankly, it feels as though I may never adjust.

There are only two things I can think of to do in my free time. Neither includes going back to my room. The consequences of waking up my roommates would be dire as would, undoubtedly, the fallout if I slept through the lecture. Fortunately, neither of the two things I’m thinking of doing require me to go back to my room. One of the things I plan to do is work on the journal that I’m intending to give to my sister after this experience is over.

I am putting a lot of pressure on myself already in regards to this journal. I really want it to be witty and insightful, which is a tall order on little sleep. I also want it to be honest. It won’t be helpful if it isn’t honest. It would just make Candace feel even more alone and isolated. That’s how I feel anyway. And yet, I want there to be hope that things will turn around — that the summer could turn into a mostly positive experience. But that I really don’t have ultimate control over. I decide I will work on my attitude (the journal will hopefully help with that), but I’m not going to slip into denial either. There will be no pretending things are better than they actually are with me.

The other thing I think to do is to check my inbox for mail. I hadn’t had time to check it before heading to the lab, and I figured it would be better to give my family and friends time to respond to my outgoing message anyway … once it cleared the censors that is. I have high hopes that I will receive a bunch of positive responses and that that will give me the enthusiasm I need to start my journal on the best possible note.

I sort of hold my breath as I log into my account and connect. I don’t know why I’m so nervous, but my heart is pounding in my chest. For some reason, it feels as though there’s not going to be any response. Perhaps, it’s just because everyone seems so far away to me at this moment that it doesn’t seem as though they are there anymore at all. To my horror, in the first few moments there doesn’t, in fact, appear to be any messages in my inbox. But finally the messages begin to load. I breathe. I have four messages: one from my parents, one from my brother, one from my sister, and one from my close school friend.

I begin to click on the messages. They are all happy to hear from me and happy that I am doing so well. I feel a twinge of guilt that I left them with that all-too-rosy impression. They tell me they will all be glad to send me photos. In fact, some digital photos taken by my brother and sister are enclosed. They want to hear all about my experience at the biosphere. Part of me appreciates their enthusiasm, but part of me feels the pressure to feel what I can’t feel at this point. I still don’t like it here. I try to shake that distress off.

I think of my journal. I long to tell my sister about my plans for it. But then, I remember that my mail is being monitored — would someone view my journal as a breach of the security of the biosphere and its research?

That thought leaves me feeling somewhat deflated.

My fingers hesitate over the keys. Part of me is tempted to just go ahead and type the message. I realize that I’m hoping nothing bad will come of it. I don’t want my concerns to be valid; I don’t want to live in fear. Yet, what if I’m right? Do I really want my journal to be confiscated, to have all my private thoughts exposed? No, I decide.

I tell myself that there’s nothing wrong with surprises. Though, I’ve always been one who hates to wait to reveal a surprise. I’ve been known to give birthday presents early because I couldn’t bear the anticipation. But this time I will have to wait, I tell myself. There simply isn’t any good reason to broadcast information about my journal to the censors. I sigh.

Instead of writing what I originally wanted to, I write to my friend and my family about the past day. I also answer any questions they had asked about the sights and sounds at the facility. I briefly mention my lack of sleep and the burden of this new schedule. I don’t dwell on the negatives. I know that will only bring about well-intentioned but ultimately unappreciated comments informing me that it really isn’t so bad, after all. I’m not up for that.

I close my letters and send them. It does feel good to make contact with home again — to regain that sense of normalcy. It’s comforting, actually. And yet, I am now at a loss as to what to write in my journal. Thinking on the bright side in the letters has left me out of touch with the feelings I have hidden inside.

I sit there staring into space for a long time. I allow my pen to tap upon the pages. Suddenly, it strikes me that I should do some sketches. I can draw my impressions of the things I’ve seen. That idea appeals to me emotionally. It doesn’t seem quite so daunting to me as writing. I think to draw a silhouette of myself in shadow observing the scene as I entered the biosphere. I hope to silently convey the emotions I was feeling at the time that way. Then, my sister might experience what I was feeling without my needing to say it. And if I don’t say it, nobody can talk me out of feeling it. Still, I can always jot down some notes in the margins of the sketches, if need be.

After I am satisfied with that sketch, I try to think of what to draw next. Should I draw events in chronological order? I decide not to. After all, what if I decide to add something later that I forgot. No, it is better to just go with whatever comes to mind. I can always make a notation describing the timing later. I decide to sketch out my workstation setup next; that event is still fresh in my mind. I feel good about my new strategy. The journal manages to take up my time. Plus, it’s an emotional release for me.

“Looks good.” a male voice states from behind me.

I shake a bit from surprise. I turn around and look up at him. A guy around my age, who I have never seen before, is peering over my shoulder.

“Thanks.” I state with an air of uncertainty in my voice.

“Devon Walters.” he says, sticking his hand out to me.

“Kenya Winters.” I respond, shaking his hand.

I am still taken aback by his sudden appearance.

He walks around to the front of the sofa I am sitting on. Then, he hesitates.

“Can I sit here a moment?”

“Uh, sure.”

I barely look at him, but he seems pleasant enough. He is an above-average height with short black hair, dark skin, and light brown eyes. Tall, dark, and handsome, I guess. I don’t know what to make of him. I look at him again as he sits beside me. He is casually dressed and has an air about him that suggests that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. But the question is, where did he come from? And what’s his sudden interest in me about?

“I’ve been transferred to the night shift.” he tells me. My pod mate couldn’t hack it, so in a moment of stupidity on my part I volunteered to take his place. I was hoping you could fill me in on how things are done this time of day.”

That answers that.

I try to think of a clever way to fulfill his request. What can I say? I am just trying to adjust to this new routine myself.

“Here. You can read my notes.” I offer, retrieving my tablet.

“Thanks. I knew you were the one to ask.”

He takes the tablet from me.

“I’m not used to it.” I stammer after a few moments pass in silence. “The lack of sleep …”

He sighs audibly. Then, he eyes me from the side.

“I was afraid of that.” he groans.

“It was nice of you to volunteer.” I point out.

“Stupid … like I said. My father will kill me when he finds out. He really wants me to make a go of it here.”

“Really?” I am incredulous. My father wants to spark an interest in science in me, but he’s never mentioned my making a career of this place.

“Yes, he wants me to have a future here. There aren’t too many good job opportunities anymore.”

I frown. I for one would much rather live modestly than have “opportunities” here. I begin to wonder if Devon and I have anything in common after all. I had thought I might have someone to talk to in him. But he’s probably like the others — happy to be here and impressed with Dr. Hostler.

“Dr. Hostler?” Devon mentions.

I look at him skeptically. Had I just spoken out loud?

Devon looks a bit unnerved.

“I was hoping to avoid that guy.” Devon mutters. “I guess it’s not a big deal … at least it shouldn’t be. I just backed into him by accident the other day, and he reamed me out in front of everyone. Now he’s my lab supervisor? Great! Could it get any worse? If I didn’t know better, I’d bet my roommate set me up!”

I smile despite myself. I guess we do have that in common: Dr. Hostler.

I feel the desire to reassure him that Dr. Hostler isn’t so bad. That surprises me actually since that is not how I feel. And honestly I would resent it if someone said that to me. But maybe it’s what I would like to believe — if only it could be true! I get the distinct impression, however, that Dr. Hostler is more than capable of holding on to a grudge when he’s crossed. If he’s so weird with me, and I can’t think of anything I’ve actually done to him, then how will it be for Devon? Though technically, bumping into someone by accident really shouldn’t be a huge issue; it wouldn’t be for most people anyway.

“So, we just sit around here until the lecture?” Devon asks while looking around the room.

“Well, I got my lab workstation assignment first thing.” I say. It occurs to me that Devon isn’t in my group and group B’s time is in progress now. And since Devon is here … it would seem he hasn’t gone yet.

“Lab?” he asks.

I guess I assumed correctly.

“Yeah, didn’t you get a tour yet?”

“I think part of the class did.”

“Yeah well, you are probably going to need to talk to Dr. Kauffman and tell her your situation. Your roommate must have had a lab assignment. You aren’t going to want to miss your workstation assignment if you can avoid it.”

“Oh, great!” Devon groans. “Just great!”

He leaps from the sofa.

“Thanks … uh, Kenya.”

He manages a half-smile before quickly exiting the room.

I don’t see Devon again until the lecture. I smile as he enters. He seems more tired than he had when I first saw him. Still, he seems pleased to see me, and it’s nice just to have someone feel that way. Immediately, he comes over and takes the chair next to me.

“How did it go?” I ask with sincere interest.

“I’m on the third lab shift.” he explains. “So, I didn’t miss my time. Dr. Hostler was there. But apparently he’s not the main lab supervisor for shift three. Thank goodness!”

I nod, though inside I feel a tightening in my chest. I wish I were that fortunate. Devon seems to sense my dismay, for he quickly adds, “I’m sorry for you, but I’m just not sure I’d be able to make it through the summer with him. I’m not sure he’d let me make it through the summer. You wouldn’t believe how angry he was when I bumped into him.”

“It’s good for you.” I manage. “But you’re right. I wish I were out of it.”

Devon does appear to feel some compassion for me. I find that comforting.

“So, are you the only one from your suite on the night shift?” I decide to ask him.

“Yes.” he replies.

“Does it make you feel kind of alone?”

“Well … not really. Not yet. No one really knows anyone yet. We weren’t really hanging out. And frankly, this whole switch in schedule happened so fast.”


“So, you’re having a rough go of it with your roommates, huh?” he asks me.

“Well …” I pause. “It’s not bad. It’s just one girl really. She wants to be the queen bee, I guess. And now I’m on the outside.”

He laughs.

“I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that kind of stuff. We all just lie around grumbling about being bored and how bad the food is here compared to at home.”

“That must be nice.”

“Yeah, I hate drama. Obviously. This whole thing with … Hostler.” he whispers the last part.

Before I have a chance to respond, Dr. Kauffman and her son enter the room.

“Good afternoon, class.” Dr. Kauffman begins with a smile.

At first, I figure she is confused. After all, it’s clearly morning. But then, I figure it’s purposeful. For us, it is afternoon for all intents and purposes. At least, I have a feeling that’s the way we’re supposed to view it now.

“I’ve been informed we have a new student.” she chirps.

She picks up a piece of paper from her desk. She scans it with her eyes.

“Devon Walters.” she reads out loud slowly.

I can see Devon cringe slightly, and his face grows a bit ashen.

“Devon?” the teacher repeats.

Devon stands.

“Devon, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself.” she advises.

“Again?” I hear him mutter to himself.

But then I hear him take a deliberate breath in.

“As you heard, my name is Devon Walters.” he begins bravely. “I’m here now because my roommate couldn’t hack the night shift. I hope I can. Right now, though, I could really go for some sleep. Anyway, that’s pretty much all my mind can come up with at this hour … unless you want to know my favorite color.” He grins.

“Oh no, that’s okay.” the teacher responds, taken aback.

Devon sits back down. I smile without looking at him directly. That is the kind of thing I wish I had said. Though, I doubt I could have pulled it off. Devon has a way about him that would make it hard, I think, for the others to hold what he said against him for long. He comes across as merely standing up for himself. If I had said that, I would have come across as angry … and maybe there would be some truth to that.

“Basically, what I will be doing today is providing you with background information on the types of research we do here. One of our main areas of study, of course, is the atmosphere. We are very interested in learning how to maintain it, and how to interact with it without causing it further damage. Each professor also has his or her own specialty areas. Some students will be selected to work in these fields by the professors. Of course, that will come later when we get to know all of you better.” She smiles. “It’s important, therefore, for everyone to put their best foot forward as you go about your work — not only because the work on the atmosphere is of vital importance to the world but also because we will be assessing your strengths and weaknesses in order to see which of you will make good candidates for our research programs. I know that for most of you a career in research is your life’s goal.”

I look around the room. Am I the only one for which that statement doesn’t apply? Where have I been my whole life? I have never aspired to work here. Maybe it’s just my claustrophobia, I think. Though, I can’t say scientific research has ever held any interest for me. Truthfully, I’d rather have a different job here … perhaps on the service staff. But then, they’d have to pay me a real wage, I think wistfully.

I try to pay attention to the lecture. I am scared enough of Dr. Hostler that I don’t want to draw his wrath. The man is tightly wound enough that it seems to me he could lose his temper at a moment’s notice. It might set him off if he should happen to question me about something I should have learned here today but didn’t.

However, the fact is I don’t desire to learn about the atmosphere anymore. I’ve been taught about all of its problems practically since I was born. It scares me, actually. For all they’ve learned about the atmosphere, there still doesn’t appear to be a straightforward solution on how to maintain it. The unspoken fear is that there will be no solution — that eventually it will disintegrate, and the world will become uninhabitable as a result. Then, everyone will have to find some other way to live … or die. I shudder to think of living long term at the biosphere. And are there enough biospheres for everyone?