The Monotony of Science

Sample SK-20.57.99: NOTHING FOUND.

A dark skinned woman in a white lab coat loaded a new slide into the machine next to her desk.

Sample SK-20.57.100: NOTHING FOUND. 

The woman, Dr. Suzie Kebede, removed the slide with the now analyzed liquid sample from the microscope and loaded in a new slide containing a different liquid sample. Once the glass slide was secured in place, she initiated the electronic scanning sequence of the multi-functional microscope. Of the three monitors on the desk, the leftmost one showed the execution statuses and results of the electronic scans. Suzie performed her visual inspection of the sample using the center monitor. After studying the sample in all available views and reading through the result of the electronic scans, she entered the overall result of the analysis into the computer program displayed on the far right monitor. 

Sample SK-20.57.101: NOTHING FOUND.

The entire process from the point the sample was loaded into the microscope to when the results were entered into the computer took no more than three minutes.

Sighing, Suzie leaned back into the office chair, took off her glasses, and rubbed tired eyes. Swirling herself around, she looked out the long, rectangular window that took up the majority of the outer facing wall of the lab. Jupiter currently took up a full third of the window. Suzie immediately spotted the Little Red Spot just north of the equator and east of the Big Red Spot. The LRS storm began forming a little over two hundred years ago and had been growing steadily ever since, outgrowing the BRS a few decades ago.

Staring thoughtfully out the window, Suzie’s mind slowly drifted towards her work. Twenty years, fifty seven days, and millions of samples analyzed over all that time by dozens of researchers. Unfortunately, even with all those samples analyzed, no lifeform, single-celled or otherwise, had been found. Suzie had been around for eighteen of those twenty years. She had long ago stopped keeping track of how many samples of Europa’s subsurface ocean water she had personally analyzed over the years. The software system they entered all of their findings into, or lack there off, kept track of that number. At some point, Suzie could not remember when exactly, she had stuck a piece of opaque tape to the leftmost monitor to cover the area where the computer program displayed that number. Not having to constantly look at the number made her days a little more bearable and it had eventually stopped invading her dreams. The only number she consciously kept track of was the daily tally of samples analyzed, and that was only because it determined when she could get off work.

Of course, after becoming the Principal Research Scientist for the Europa Life Discovery Project six years ago, Suzie did have to lookup how many samples she had analyzed at least once a year in order to put it in the annual report that got sent off to the Biology Department’s Research Review Board at Lunetta University back on Luna. She also had to lookup the total number of samples analyzed since the projects inception, which was a whole other level of groan inducing depression. She rarely slept well during the weeks following the creation of that report.

With very little to show after eighteen years of research, Suzie had been struggling with how she felt about her career searching for life in the liquid waters of Europa. Suzie had been filled with excitement when she first learned of the Europa project during graduate school. Back then the project was being lead by a group of scientists that were leaders in the field of astrobiology and it had a huge budget from a well respected university. Many people had talked about how within three years lifeforms would be discovered on the Jovian moon. Some had even believed the discovery would come sooner than that. As a young astrobiologist with a freshly minted PhD, the project was everything Suzie could have hoped for following the conclusion of her formal education. When she had been brought on as a postdoctoral research assistant, she had tackled her work with enthusiasm and what had seemed like endless wells of energy and optimism.

Fast forward eighteen years that had included half a dozen budget cuts, three new lab spaces, and no lifeforms found, and Suzie found those wells were nearly all dried up. Now, she felt as if she were running on fumes. Her work had become dull and routine. She came into work, got through her daily quota of two hundred analyzed samples, and then gladly went home. Rinse and repeat the next day. At this point Suzie basically functioned like a simple automaton. She had long ago stopped getting up in the morning optimistically thinking to herself, “Today is the day we find something!” Now, usually after staring up at the dark gray ceiling of her bedroom for ten minutes, she thought, “Okay, let’s get this day over with.”

Suzie could not recall exactly when she began losing her passion for her research, and, if she was honest with herself, science in general. It just kind of happened as time went by. Like water slowly carving away earth to form a river, the day to day grind of her job eroded away the childhood born passion Suzie once held for scientific inquiry and discovery. As she gazed out at Jupiter and the vast cosmos that stretched on beyond it, Suzie could not help but feel sad for that loss. She longed for the days when the search for alien life had been filled with wonder and intrigue. The bright stars and planets had never appeared so lifeless to her before.

Letting out another tired sigh, Suzie buried her head in her hands. Staring out a window at the stars pondering her career had become a problematic habit over the last year. She was doing it more and more frequently, both at the lab and at home. It had been negatively affecting her productivity at work, forcing her to work extra hours a few days of the week. The more Suzie gazed out at the nearly infinite cosmos, the more apathetic she became. The few people she interacted with on a regular basis had noticed the change in her demeanor, but none of them had yet to comment on it.

Jin Lo, Suzie’s loving partner of sixteen years, had been the first to notice Suzie’s change in behavior a few months after the stargazing habit had formed. Jin knew from past experience that Suzie preferred to have some space while she organized her thoughts on whatever issue was bothering her. Once Suzie felt as if she had a decent enough grasp on the situation, she would then speak with Jin about it, and together they would work out solutions. In the past, the time needed for Suzie to organize her thoughts usually took a few days to a few weeks. Nearly ten months was a new extreme.

Jin would occasionally sneak in worried glances at Suzie whenever the two of them were together. Even when Suzie caught Jin doing this, she never acknowledged it. Suzie knew Jin was struggling with Suzie’s continued silence and not being able to help Suzie deal with what was bothering her. Suzie felt guilty about making her partner worry, but she still did not feel ready to talk things over with Jin yet. While it was subtle, Suzie could tell the lack of communication had caused a small rift to grow between herself and Jin. A rift Suzie feared would grow wider if she could not get a handle on the apathy she felt towards her work.

Suzie sighed again as she slowly pulled her palms down her cheeks. “I need more coffee,” she said, standing from her chair.

* * *

Suzie turned away from the window and grabbed the empty coffee mug from her desk. She made a fresh pot of coffee from the coffee maker that rested in the corner of the lab near the entrance. Like always, she ignored the small variety of creamers and sugars that sat in a basket next to the coffee maker. Suzie preferred her coffee simple, strong, and black. If she wanted something sweet and sugary she would have a donut or one of those awful energy drinks Sean was so fond of.

Sitting back down at her workstation, Suzie loaded up the next sample and was about to dig into the sandwich that had been sitting neglected on her desk for the past thirty minutes when Sean Flanagan walked into the lab. Sean was the research assistant currently assigned to the Europa Life Discovery Project. The two of them were the entire research staff for the project. It was a far cry from the dozens of researches that had initially made up the staff twenty years ago. Sean had been with the project for a little over eight months, which was about twice as long as the previous few research assistants had made it. Doing little more than staring at an endless supply of microscope slides for months on end tended to wear down the eager, young scientists that were expecting a bit more excitement to occur when looking for life on other worlds.

Sean however, seemed to be taking the monotony of the work in stride by keeping an upbeat attitude and having a never ending collection of eclectic music to listen to while he worked. Suzie was grateful that the young Martian had been sticking around as it gave her the opportunity to get to know her fellow researcher a little better than she had been able to with the previous few research assistants. 

“I made fresh coffee,” Suzie said, gesturing to the coffee maker as Sean walked by her workstation.

“I’m good. I had an Armageddon at lunch. Thanks though,” Sean said while donning his lab coat and sitting at his workstation. 

Suzie scrunched her face in disgust. “I don’t understand how you can drink those. It’s basically liquid sugar in a can.”

“You’re not wrong,” Sean said with a laugh. Noticing her barely eaten sandwich, he asked, “Working through lunch or just taking it late?”

“Working through it,” Suzie said after swallowing a bite of her sandwich. “Need to make up for the time I spent stargazing.”

Looking contemplative, Sean nodded his head slowly. “You’ve been doing that more recently the last few months,” he said.

Suzie paused halfway through taking another bite. This was the first time Sean had mentioned Suzie’s stargazing habit. Feeling a little bit of panich, she quickly tried to think of a way to deflect Sean’s observation without being rude. After a few seconds, Suzie finished taking her bite of the sandwich and gave Sean what she hoped was a nonchalant shrug. Sean frowned, appearing to struggle with if he should say more or not. Deciding to let it go, he shrugged as well and turned towards his monitor. He donned a pair of earbuds, started up his music, and began visually inspecting a sample. Suzie suppressed a sigh of relief as she focused back on her own sample.

Four hours passed as the two astrobiologists worked in silence. The only noise in the lab was the background hum of the two active microscopes, the light clinking of the glass slides as they were loaded into and out of the microscopes, and the occasional beating of a pen against Sean’s desk as he tapped it in rhythm to the music he was listening to. Suzie never listened to music while working. She was too paranoid about not hearing alarms that signalled some emergency on the station. A common paranoia for those who had grown up on space stations.

Suzie and Sean each finished analyzing their two hundredth sample at around the same time. Glancing at the clock, Suzie became elated that she was actually going to be able to go home at normal time instead of working late. She still would not be getting home before Jin, but maybe she would be early enough to make dinner tonight. It was something Suzie had not done for Jin in quite some time.

While Suzie was stretching out the stiff muscles in her shoulders and neck, Sean cleared his throat to get her attention. As she turned to face him, the young man peared down at his shoes and fidgeted a little under her gaze. Internally, Suzie deflated at seeing this uncharacteristically apprehensive demeanor of his. She could already guess where this was headed.

Still staring down at his shoes, Sean said, “So, I uh, had an interesting conversation at lunch today.”

“Yeah? What about?” Suzie asked, hoping she sounded relaxed.

“Uh, it was about the Enceladus Exploratory Mission.”

Suzie was proud of herself for not visibly wincing. The Europa project had already lost its fair share of researchers to the Enceladus mission. “I’ve been hearing good things about that project recently,” she said.

“So have I!” he said, finally looking at Suzie. “Even though the mission is based off Juno, I’ve only ever really heard background conversation about it before, but people have been talking about it more now that the first set of landers are only a few weeks away from Enceladus. I talked to this guy Barry about it at lunch. He’s a, uh, recruiter for the mission. He was telling me all sorts of stuff about it. Did you know their phase two set of landers and launch vehicles are almost ready? Two months ahead of schedule no less! We even talked a little bit about the habitability team and what they think it might be like to live there. He also mentioned that they are looking to ramp up their astrobiology staff in preparation for analyzing the data of the samples collected by the rovers. It sounds like the life discovery team has high hopes about . . .”

With a tiny smile, Suzie listened in silence as the young man went on and on about his lunchtime conversation, occasionally nodding in response to something he said. His brown eyes lit up as he spoke and his body become animated, the energy of his excitement needing an outlet. Sean, like most young scientists, was eager and hungry to make new discoveries and leave his mark on the galaxy. Suzie could see that Sean had finally come to suspect he would not be able to make those discoveries on the Europa project. It was the same conclusion most of the former staff members of the project had made, the majority of which had found their way to other research opportunities that held more promise, such as the Enceladus Exploratory Mission.

Eventually, Sean realized he had been rambling on for quite some time and came to a awkward halt. “So, uh, yeah, that is what we talked about. Everything about the mission sounded, you know, pretty awesome and exciting.”

Doing her best to sound sincere, Suzie said, “It is an exciting mission. I know a number of people that are part of it, and whenever I hear from them they have nothing but fascinating things to say about it. Are you thinking about joining?”

Looking very much like an ashamed little kid who just got caught doing something he knew he should not have been, Sean again looked down at his shoes. “I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s all pretty awesome, but what we do here is pretty awesome too you know. I don’t even know if I am qualified or experienced enough to apply. I haven’t even finished my first year here yet.”

Suzie took in a calming breath as she turned away from Sean to gather her things. She was going to miss him. “Don’t sell yourself short. I believe you are more than qualified. You have been doing excellent work here and you picked up the aspects of this job quickly. You are an insightful and articulate researcher who knows their stuff. More importantly, you are excited to learn about the stuff you don’t know. The Enceladus mission would be lucky to have a promising young scientist such as yourself working for it.”

“Th-thanks Dr. Kebede,” Sean stammered, his ears turning red.

“If you are interested in applying, I would be more than happy to write you a letter of recommendation,” she said, staring back at Sean.

“Really?” he said, looking back up at her with a hopeful smile.

Suzie felt a stab of jealousy at the hope and excitement she saw in Sean’s eyes. “Of course. I’ll begin writing it first thing tomorrow morning,” Suzie said, trying to match his excitement with a facade of her own. She marginally succeeded.

“That’s so awesome. Thank you Dr. Kebede. Thank you!” Sean quickly powered down his equipment and gathered up his things. Swiftly making is way towards the exit of the lab, he said, “I am going to go find Barry to tell him I am interested in applying to join. See if he can help me jumpstart the process.”

“Sounds like a plan. Have a wonderful evening!” Suzie said with a wave as Sean passed by her workstation.

“You too. See you tomorrow!” he said without look back at her, his mind already on an exciting new future.

Suzie turned to look out the window of the lab. Jupiter was no longer visible, the station having rotated away from the planet. The window was now filled with the bright stars and planets of the Milky Way Galaxy. Suzie once again lost herself in thought. So long was she lost in her own mind that she missed the opportunity to cook dinner for Jin that night.

* * *

Suzie reluctantly walked into the lab, the LED lights automatically turning on as she stepped into the space. After getting the coffee maker going, she took a slow look around the room. Five individual workstations were bathed in blue-white light. Three of them had been empty for many years now, and the fourth one had been empty for two months. Only her workspace showed signs of use. An empty coffee mug, a personal work tablet, and a fresh stack of microscope slides ready to be analyzed rested atop the desk. Begrudgingly, Suzie made her way over to her workstation where she deposited her bag and powered on the microscope and computer. While waiting for the machines to come to artificial life, Suzie grabbed the empty mug and made her way back over to the coffee maker. 

It was now the start of the fifth week since Sean had departed for the Enceladus Exploratory Mission, his application having been quickly accepted. Suzie had requested a new research assistant the day after his departure. However, she had yet to hear back from Dr. Maria Jacobowitz, an old friend and Juno Station’s Director of Research, whom she had sent the request through. Normally, a new research assistant was assigned to the project within a week, two at most, after sending a request. As Suzie sat at her desk taking the first tentative sip of her coffee, she wondered if she should reach out to Maria to ask for an update. Opening up the email application on her computer, she was surprised to see there was already an email from Maria waiting in the inbox.

RE: Research Assistant Requested (Astrobiology/Biology/Chemistry) – Europa Life Discovery Project – Juno Station

Hey Suzie,

I have some bad news. Unfortunately, the board has rejected the request for a new research assistant. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but they have decided to end the Europa project at the end of the year. They want to funnel the funds towards other projects that are believed to have more promise.

I’m so sorry Suzie. I know how much this project means to you and how dedicated you have been to it. While it didn’t turn out the way we hoped, you can still be proud of the work you did.

Do you by chance know what you might want to work on next? There are multiple opportunities on Juno at the moment. What about the Enceladus mission? I know you turned them down when they tried to recruit you for phase one, but perhaps now that phase two has begun to kick into high gear you might reconsider?

Something to think about. We can talk more once I am back aboard the station next month. Perhaps at the Astros Lounge over a few cocktails?  ^_^ You, Jin, and I haven’t gone out for drinks in ages!

I’ve attached the official response from the board if you are curious about the details. 

Give my best to Jin.

– Maria

Struggling to comprehend what she was reading, Suzie reread the email three times. Having been with the Europa project her entire career, the idea that it would be ending soon, just like that, did not seem real to her. As the seconds passed by, Suzie felt her stomach slowly begin to clench and drop. Her breathing quickened and her body began to tingle with rising heat. 

“Slides,” she blurted out loud, voice briefly echoing off the walls, “I need, I need to analyze slides.” She fumbled awkwardly for a slide in the tray and shakily placed it into the microscope. She quickly activated the electronic scans and then focused intensely on her center monitor. She finished the analysis five minute later.

Sample SK-20.113.1: NOTHING FOUND.

She loaded the next slide and analyzed it.

Sample SK-20.113.2: NOTHING FOUND.

Then the next. 

Sample SK-20.113.3: NOTHING FOUND.

And the next

Sample SK-20.113.4: NOTHING FOUND.

Sample SK-20.113.5: NOTHING FOUND.

Sample SK-20.113.6: NOTHING FOUND.

Working on autopilot, Suzie kept analyzing sample after sample, her mind becoming devoid of thought and her anxiety suppressed by the routine work. She was only able to keep it up for a few hours, however, before her mind began to reassert itself, bored with the familiar work. She went to load the thirty seventh slide, but paused, hand hovering over the slide rack. As she began thinking again about the implications of the Europa project ending, her hand began to shake.

“I need to get out of here,” she said.

Acting quickly, Suzie turned off the machines, grabbed her bag, sprang from the chair, and speedily walked out of the lab. Hoping it would help burn of her anxiety and calm her mind, Suzie took the long way home. It only sorta worked. 

Twenty minutes later Suzie entered the apartment she shared with Jin and beelined it straight to their bedroom, not bothering to turn on any of the lights. She snatched up the pillow on Jin’s side of the bed, hugging it to her chest, and burying her face in the soft object. She inhaled deeply, the calming scent of her partner filling her nose and overpowering the chaos of her mind. Lost in the scent of her partner, Suzie slowly began to relax.

Suzie was not sure how long she stood there like that, breathing into Jin’s pillow, but eventually she heard a soft, familiar voice from the doorway say, “Suzie.”

* * *

Turning towards the voice, Suzie saw Jin standing in the doorway of the bedroom. She was backlit by the light being reflected off of Jupiter into the living room. A thin rim of white light surrounded Jin’s lithe body, highlighting her long black hair and making her look almost ethereal. 

Jin slowly walked over to Suzie, concern etched into her face. She gently guided Suzie to the bed. “Galileo, bedroom lights, warm, low,” Jin said, speaking to the apartment’s Artificial Intelligence program. A soft, butter-brown light illuminated the room. Jin then sank down to sit next to Suzie.

“You should be at work,” Suzie said, still hugging Jin’s pillow to her chest.

“Dr. Singh called. Said he saw you walking through the station looking like you were in a panic. I got worried,” Jin said, her soft blue eyes searching Suzie’s brown ones.

“I’m sorry.”

Shaking her head, Jin tenderly grasped one of Suzie’s hands. “I just want to know what is bothering you. What’s been bothering you,” she said.

Squeezing Jin’s hand in return, Suzie took a few moments to gather her thoughts and courage. “I finally heard back from Maria this morning. The board is shutting down the Europa project at the end of the year. Done, just like that. With nothing to show for it. We didn’t find anything. I didn’t find anything. It was all a waste of time.” Jin looked like she was about to say something, but held back. Suzie continued, “I feel like part of me should be thrilled about this. I haven’t enjoyed my work for so long now. I should be excited, thrilled, at the prospect about doing something else. Something new. Instead I’m terrified of it.”

“Why?” Jin asked, her eyebrows scrunching together in concern.

“Because I don’t know what to do next. My entire career has been the Europa project. I haven’t really done anything else. I don’t know where I go from here.”

“You’ve been worried about finding a new job?” Jin asked, sounding skeptical, believing there was more to the situation.

“I’ve been worried about if I even want to a scientist anymore,” Suzie said, and Jin’s eyebrows rows in response. “I don’t know when exactly, but I stopped enjoying my work a while ago. At some point the excitement of looking for alien life just . . . fizzled out, and the work became boring.”

“So why have you continued doing it?”

Suzie looked up at the ceiling, trying her best to coalesce her thoughts into something coherent. “I think . . . I think I wanted someone to be there that still cared. Someone who still believed that maybe, just maybe, we would find something on Europa. Everyone who once believe in that had left.”

“Except you.”

“Yeah,” Suzie said, letting out a sign and looking back to Jin.

“So you stayed. Even though it made you miserable.”

Suzie nodded. After a few seconds, she said, “I think I made a mistake. I don’t enjoy what I do anymore. Even though I know the work is not pointless, it feels that way. I don’t know if I can continue doing it. I don’t know if I can make myself be a scientist anymore, but I don’t know what else I can do.” Suzie closed her eyes in an attempt to stop the tears that had begun to well up. Seeing this, Jin gently removed the pillow from Suzie’s grasp and pulled her into a hug.

“I’m scared Jin. I’ve never felt this lost before,” Suzie said, her body going limp. Jin hugged Suzie even tighter. “Will you help me figure this out?”

“Of course I will.”

Suzie let out a long, slow breath, and relaxed into Jin’s comfortable embrace.

* * *

Suzie groaned in pleasure as she stretched her arms up towards the ceiling. Leaning back in her chair, she looked around her lab. It was much smaller than the previous lab, just large enough to contain a single desk, the multi-functional microscope, a spare chair, and some shelves that were already filled with books, scientific journals, and knickknacks she and Jin had picked out. The room was really just a personal office that just happened to contain her lab equipment in it. The day after she and Jin had their heart-to-heart in their apartment, Suzie had requested a smaller lab space to work in. Thanks to Maria, the request had quickly been granted. Suzie had been here for a few months, and she found herself happier working in this cozier space. The smaller room helped her not feel quite as alone while she worked. No longer having a window looking out on the seemingly never ending universe also helped. Instead, her window looked out into one of the station’s primary botanical gardens where various crops and herbs were grown.

Her move to a new workspace was only one of multiple changes in Suzie’s life recently. After confiding in Jin about the uncertainties of her career, the two brainstormed ways to help Suzie find a new path forward and to see if she could rediscover her passion for science. After a few weeks, the two of of them had worked out a list of possibilities. 

In order to have the time to start exploring these possibilities, the first thing Suzie did was request to work part-time on the Europa project for the remainder of the year. The Research Review Board had granted her request without issue. Suzie figured that because nothing of significance had come from the Europa project after almost twenty years of research, the board was not expecting anything to be found during the final few months of the project.

The next things Suzie did was start reconnecting with old friends and colleagues on Juno Station whom she had fallen out of touch with over the years. Most of these people were scientists or engineers themselves, and Suzie was enjoying catching up with them. In addition to catching up on eachothers lives, Suzie spoke with them about their work and other scientific endeavors there were taking place around the solar system. Initially, it had been hard for Suzie to really enjoy the conversations given that she rarely felt she had anything worthwhile to contribute to them given that for eighteen years she had not done anything but study samples from Europa.

However, with continual encouragement from Jin, Suzie had begun to feel more at ease in these discussions after a few months. Instead of focusing on finding something of value or interesting to contribute, she instead focused on formulating questions to ask and absorbing as much information as possible. There was a lot of fascinating research being done on Juno Station, and Suzie was slowly starting to feel a modicum of excitement about science again. A possibility that six months ago she feared was impossible.

Another avenue Suzie had been pursuing was teaching. Jin had the idea that maybe Suzie could teach astrobiology as an advanced course for Juno Station’s local school system. The idea had initially surprise Suzie. She had never considered teaching before. In college she had lectured a few times for introductory biology and chemistry classes while pursuing her PhD, but the experience had not stuck with her as something she wanted to continue doing. Probably because, at the time, she had found the lectures to be an annoying distraction from her doctoral research. Thinking back on it, Suzie now felt kind of bad for the students who had to suffer through those lectures.

After muling the idea over for a few weeks, Suzie decided she wanted to give teaching astrobiology a try. The director of Juno Station’s Board of Education had been thrilled to hear from Suzie. With the Enceladus mission picking up steam, the director thought it would be a marvelous idea to have an astrobiology course offered locally on Juno Station. The class was to be offered in next semester’s curriculum. So far, Suzie had been having a great time coming up with lectures and thinking of ideas for the labs. Jin was even joking about taking the class, figuring she would be in for an easy A.

Outside of all this, Suzie and Jin had begun addressing the small rift in their relationship that had grown steadily over the year as Suzie stayed silent about her existential crisis regarding the lack of enjoyment she felt for her job. While their relationship was not in danger of imploding, both of them agreed that there was concern for worry. For the last six months the frequency with which the two of them would spend time together doing something fun had decreased significantly. Their physical intimacy had followed a similar trend. The moment the two shared in their apartment the day Suzie learned the Europa project was ending had been the first time in months had affectionately embraced one another.

Now, every Friday evening, the two of them would go out and do something fun together. They would have romantic dinners, go to the movies or the arcade, hang out with friends, or watch teenagers fumbled around on their own dates. During the work week, the two of them would usually have lunch together a few times. Sex also become a more regular activity they would engaged it which, Suzie had learned, the lack of had really started getting to Jin. Their first night being intimate after an almost five month dry spell had been, memorable.

At around six o’clock, Jin casually strolled into the lab with two steaming cups of decaf coffee. After a quick greeting and a small show of affection, Jin handed Suzie one of the cups. Jin then sat in the spare chair next to the desk, pulled out her tablet, and continued reading an article she had begun that morning detailing the construction specifications for a theoretical deep space research station. A younger engineer who Jin had mentored years ago was part of the team that created the design of the station, and she was interested in talking about it with her former mentee.

Jin joining Suzie for the last hour of her day had become another new addition to couple’s daily routine. Sometimes the two of them chit-chatted about their day as Suzie worked, other times they simply enjoyed each other’s comforting presence, and a few times they had taken advantage of that fact that Suzie now worked alone, in a private office, where they would not be disturbed.

While Jin sat reading from her tablet, Suzie continued analyzing the Europa samples for alien life. At a few minutes to seven, Jin set down her tablet and raised her arms up in a stretch. Looking over to Suzie, she asked, “You about done for the day?”

Looking away from her monitor, Suzie answered, “Just about. Let me finish up these last few samples.” Jin nodded in response and picked her tablet back up.

Suzie turned back to her monitor and finished looking over the current sample. Like all the samples before, nothing was found from the visual scans nor the electronic scans. She marked the sample as NOTHING FOUND. 

Suzie loaded a new slide into the microscope. She noted that this sample came from the most recent batch brought in from Europa earlier this week. A few minutes later Suzie marked the sample as NOTHING FOUND. 

Suzie loaded up the next sample, and again, she marked the results of the analysis as NOTHING FOUND. 

She loaded up one last sample to analyze and froze as soon as she glanced at her center monitor. She sucked in a sharp breath as her mind went blank. There was something in the lower right quadrant of the slide. The anomaly was tiny, circular, and had small tendrils surrounding it. It was also moving.

Suzie found herself unable to breath or move. Her peripheral vision grew dark as her unblinking eyes focused more and more on the microscopic entity moving ever so slowly across the slide.

Jin, unconsciously sensing the tension from Suzie, looked over at her partner. She became alarmed upon seeing that the usually dark face of Suzie had become multiple shades lighter. “Suzie. . .” Jin said, reaching out to touch Suzie’s arm.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Suzie turned to Jin and said, “I found something.”

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