I had no idea what I was going to write after my first novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot. I flirted with a number of ideas, including this one, which ended up being a full novel. The first piece of writing that I did for this book is below. I wrote it out to get a feel for the world and decided that I liked where the idea was going. After writing it, I started to outline the novel. This, which was initially going to be chapter one, was reshuffled into chapter twenty-five. I kept the bulk of the text but added the characters in. This could be considered a descriptive exercise in writing — one that I enjoyed very much.
A ding wavered in the air, high above the quiet hum. Thick condensation gathered into tiny droplets, sliding down the stainless steel façade. A digital display, some ancient relic that was neither seen nor used anymore, flashed: 37 Centigrade, 98% Humidity.
A series of mechanical needles whirred to life in a synchronized ballet. Precise latex-tipped tweezers shot straight up to delicately pinch at strands that remained suspended in place by a gel. The pinchers slowly pulled at the thread until only a millimeter was revealed. A laser cut across the surface in one quick, meticulous swoop.
As the strands were lowered, a sharp squeak cut the hum and the surface began to move from right to left. Petri dishes shot forward in single file like a unit of marching soldiers, halting on command, awaiting orders. The pinchers set the delicate payload on the dish then backed off ever so slightly. The arms rotated a few degrees, a syringe pushed forward until it nearly touched the fiber. A slick, orange liquid coated the strand. The arm moved back to its original position. Except for the hum, the room went dead.
Lights cut out. Darkness enveloped the room unit it was exchanged with an eerie red glow that hovered over the work area. A ding rang through the humidity, giving notice to a set of hoses that took over the dance, extruding from a pipe that ran over the conveyor. Four hypodermic needles shot out of the hoses and hovered over the dishes. The first shot a miniscule amount of clear, thin liquid while the second was thicker and off white. The third syringe filled the dish half way with a cloudy, pale yellow fluid. Finally, the fourth spat a dab of light blue cream which promptly dissolved in the mixture. Once finished, the hoses retracted and the room, once again, was silent. The red glow intensified, bleeding out any visible detail. Halted by a buzzer. A woman’s voice called to the vacant room, “Discard seven.”
An arm mounted on the forefront of the counter swung around like a miniature back hoe. The metallic fingers picked up the seventh dish and swung back to its original position to pour the slurry into a bin. After discarding the goop, the machine promptly tilted the dish upright. It stacked the petri dish neatly on top of the colony. With that, the conveyor belt powered up, rushing the single filed soldiers forward through a tunnel.
The rank of petri dishes sat in darkness for twenty-four hours. When the row emerged from the cavern, a translucent speck was attached to the tiny thread much like the antenna on a walkie-talkie. Whisked away, the round glass plates met up with several others in a dim warehouse. Buzzers and dings went off in different areas, giving the impression that this building was teaming with life; a sharp contrast to the lack of presence in the floor. Each sound echoed and echoed until the noise became a din, a mournful cacophony of mechanical imperfection and unnecessary warning signals.
Each dish was shuffled together as the smaller belts met with a large one. The dishes were arranged in groups of ten, then continued on their way. The belt advanced exactly six inches then stopped until a swarm of bumblebee shaped drones landed on the dishes in unison. Suction-cupped to the bottom of the drones, each petri was carried off to either a four or six foot metallic jade-colored cocoons, each filled with the pale yellow liquid.
Each cocoon had an opening at the top where the drone hovered, as if contemplating what to do with its delicate pay load. When satisfied with its height, the drone released the suction, dropping the speck and the dish into the murky pond, letting the dish slowly sink. Half way, the speck separated from the dish, suspended. The dish sank to the bottom.
The top hatch snapped shut, creating a vacuumed seal. A quiet ding-ding indicated that the process was done. Text lit up across the window that read, “73 75 62 6a 65 63 74 3a 20 63 61 72 6c 6f 73 20 64 65 6c 67 61 64 6f.” Barely audible over the din, a song played into the jade cocoon, “My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf, so it stood ninety years on the floor…”