Why I Wrote: Lab Zero

Edit 9/8/16: The promotional period for Lab Zero has ended. Please consider reading the story before this post as there will be major spoilers ahead.

If spoilers don’t bother you, feel free to read on.

A dent slammed into one of the doors, rattling the frames. A screw fell from a hinge clanking on the floor. Something was on the other side trying to get out. It screamed and howled. I was leaving. Fuck it. Fuck Lindsay. My curiosity about Lab Zero was completely gone now. I sprinted up the spiraling stairway to the first floor. Skipping four steps at a time. Each step a leap of faith. This is the part where I trip. I’m stuck on the stairs. The doors open slowly and something slithers out. The doors hinges cry and mourn for me. It wraps a tentacle around my ankle and pulls me into the basement. Never to be seen again. Feed another intern to Lab Zero.

-An excerpt from Lab Zero

Lab Zero is an interesting story to me considering I came up with the idea while interning at a National Laboratory. I had been interning there for nearly two years (which is much longer than most interns) before I started writing it. Interns were generally around for two or three months before they were done with their program/project.

Needless to say I saw a lot of faces come and go, which became a major theme for the story.

I won’t go into too much detail about my project but here’s a few pictures of things I worked on at the lab:

The left photo is a 90-liter glass reactor that mixes our chemicals together. The various solid chemicals mixed with liquid causes a mushroom cloud effect after it has been mixed for a short amount of time (I threw that in there because I think it’s neat). After it is completely mixed it will be as clear as water, which is shown on the top right. The final picture is a picture of myself holding a UV light up to the same clear liquid which causes it to glow a neon blue.

If you have questions about my research, feel free to ask. I just won’t go into the details in this blog post.

In my time at the lab I had explored the building quite a bit. It was a three story building. My lab was the third floor. The lab numbers went as follows: First floor was the 100’s, second floor was the 200’s and third floor was the 300’s. So naturally the basement would be “0”, right?

When I had first started my project there I had never been to the basement, so one day I decided to go down and have a look. When I went down the spiraling stairs to the basement there was no “0” painted on the wall. Just large steel double doors with a notice that only personnel with certain credentials were allowed to enter and a plaque over-viewing the necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) to enter.

Safety shoes were required.

Now at this point I was fairly new as an intern so I really didn’t want to get in trouble for going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what was behind those doors. Also, if you have read my blog “How Fiction Found Me: Why I Started Reading and Writing” you know how my imagination can run wild with these ideas. I thought about the basement a lot while I was doing my research.

I imagined a monster down there. I imagined all those faces of interns who were long forgotten. How they really were food for it to grow stronger. Or maybe they were the monster. It was a story I had to write.

I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted the monster to be at first but as I ran through the story in my mind a Chimera of some kind was what fit the best. I loved the idea of the missing interns being made into a terrifying creature and that the protagonist may just be the last piece of it.

Although I thought about the plot for this story a lot before I started writing it I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going with it. I didn’t know how to start or end it. When I finally found the inspiration to start writing I just wrote and let the story tell itself. It was really interesting because ideas I really liked seemed to not fit at all with the theme and never found a place in my story.

For example, I wanted Lindsay to be more of a main character but when I started to write it really didn’t seem to fit. Also, I didn’t want to make the story too long or feel like I was going too far in one direction just to turn it around and go another direction. I also feel I should say that Lindsay is a completely made up character.

In the story I purposely never gave description to the protagonist or expanded on what the relationship between Lindsay and the protagonist was like. I left that open ended so the reader can make their own image of whether or not they were friends or lovers (straight or otherwise) etc. The protagonist’s gender, name and features are never said for this reason.

This wasn’t an idea I originally had for the story, it just ended up finding its way in there.

One thing I knew that had to be in the story was some form of chemical reaction helping defeat the Chimera. I always worked with highly flammable chemicals that had to be stored in flammables cabinets like this:

Picture of two large flammable cabinets placed in the corner of a laboratory room.

Ethanol and methanol were used a lot on a daily basis and it seemed like a good fit for the story. When I originally wrote the methanol fire scene I wrote it as if it were a completely regular fire. After reading the first draft of the story I realized my mistake. Methanol fires are essentially invisible if there’s light. This was something that I had to do a lot of research on to make sure I was writing up the scene as accurately as possible to what would happen in a real life methanol fire.

The rest of the story panned out much quicker than I initially imagined it would. Everything that happens after the fire starts are things that I imagine I would do if I had to defend myself from this beast. The machine shop is the place i’d imagine there would be a decent weapon to use. The on-site fire department would arrive within minutes of the fire alarm sounding.

We actually had a day where the fire alarm was malfunctioning and went off 5 or 6 times when there weren’t any fires. The fire department had to show up every time and their response time really impressed me, so this part of the story isn’t exaggerated at all with how quickly they arrive.

To answer what was in the real basement, i’m sorry to say it’s pretty boring. It turns out my mentor had some chemicals stored down there. He asked if I could go find them and so I embarked on my first adventure to the basement. I was actually pretty excited and was really hoping it would give me more ideas for my story.

It was pretty much the same as the rest of the building, the only difference being it was underground. There were some parts that reminded me of the ending scene of Terminator 2. There were stairs going up to electrical boxes and whatnot that looked almost identical to the metal-grated stairs from Terminator 2’s steel mill, the ones the T-1000 kind of melts into.

Terminator 2's T-1000 terminator's feet melting into grated metal floor
T-1000 melting into grated metal for reference

As a final note, the stories main character holds a lot of resentment towards the people he works for and I would like to take a minute to let it to be known that I don’t actually feel that way about the lab I worked in. My mentor was wonderful to work with and I will always appreciate everything he has done for me. With that said, I did find that science was not for me and chose a different route in my life.

A picture of my standing in-front of a large distillator.
Bonus picture of me with our lab’s distillation apparatus. I had worked with this machine for months. I took this picture on my last day at the lab as a goodbye.
This picture is a bit of a joke and I have an actual picture of me standing in-front of it not being a goof.

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