It’s funny to think that it all began in the comfort of his own apartment. A chemical lab True had designed and produced for the very purpose of this project would be the thing to change everything about his life, and the world around him. He would never have foreseen it, but now he couldn’t imagine his life going in any other direction. It’s strange to think it ever could.
His dedication to the eighth wonder of the world – making water expand and grow, had been all he’d thought about for months. He knew if he could just get it right, it would entirely change the face of the planet. Deserts and barren areas would now be habitable. Farmers would be able to grow food easier and breed livestock without abandon. Nobody would ever have to go thirsty again. Civilization would prosper, and he’d be a hero. He would have changed the world. But first, he had to figure out how.
True reached into his backpack, pulling out a test tube that contained a bright blue substance, before placing it on the tube rack. He knew that he shouldn’t have taken it home from the lab with him, the United States government had decided it would be confidential for a reason and was never supposed to be snuck into his backpack and taken across the subway back to his apartment. But he knew he’d never again get the opportunity to work with such an unusual sample. Since it had just been sent from Washington D.C. to the UAB research department to be studied, he didn’t have long to work with it until someone realized it would be missing. It was a risk, the biggest risk he’d ever taken.
Oh well, True thought. This is for the greater good.
As a chemistry major working as an intern three evenings a week, True worked in the private research lab, cleaning and sterilizing the equipment. It was honest work, and it was great to be working in the industry, but it wasn’t enough for him. He knew he was destined for greater things. But at least it got his foot in the door. It turned out he was a better actor than he thought too – playing the unassuming intern came scarily naturally. He had truly perfected the talent of eavesdropping on world-renowned scientists and chemists. Top-secret meetings? Not so top-secret anymore. Over time, he had managed to observe enough to figure out the access codes to the lab computers. Then, after everyone else had gone home for the night, he had started to take it upon himself to log into the secure computers to read the confidential notes and data the scientists had been collecting. Recently he had read about a study of a substance taken from Mars—a classified project that the likes of him weren’t supposed to know about at all. Just like the rest of the world, he was supposed to believe that nothing sent to Mars in the hope of finding signs of extraterrestrial life or a potential new habitat for mankind had ever returned home. But now he knew differently.
The more he read, the more he discovered. Two private agencies—one in the U.S. and another in Germany— had launched a probe to the Martian orbit dock and had promptly landed a rover on the red planet. This rover had collected samples from the area of the planet known as the Jezero Crater, which was believed to be the location of an ancient lake. Then, with the samples successfully extracted, the rover had made its way back to the orbiter and home to Earth, its mission secretly and quietly complete.
A year prior, True had taken a small sample of a mineral found on a mountain in Antarctica. Initially, he had been attracted to the rock he had taken the sample on purely because it didn’t have snow on it. It was unusual for the area, but it was only when he conducted closer inspection and analysis that he found it was neither hot nor cold. Out from its side, he had been surprised to see it had a little green flower growing, bursting its way through the solid grey. He didn’t understand it yet, but he knew one day he would, determined to break open yet another secret the science world was keeping from the public.
Over the next six months, True spent every spare moment studying the substance from Mars, both in the lab at work and in the secret hideaway of his home. He began by mixing small samples of the essence with rare and powerful chemicals to see how they would react. But each time, he had been disappointed to find that they had broken down – a complete failure. But then, one day, the mineral from mars finally bonded with a chemical extract. Was this the moment he had been waiting for
He put the mixture into a measuring cup, filled it halfway with water and waited…but nothing happened.
“Damn!” he hissed angrily to himself. “What the hell?”
He looked down at his cell phone to check the time and realized that it had been two whole days since he had slept. Immediately he felt more tired than he had in hours and stood up slowly, gently stretching the muscles of his stiff arms and legs. He then picked up the measuring cup once more, looking around at the vials scattered around his room, surrounded by failures. He decided that he would take them all back to work to test them again with more advanced research equipment. But then he realized every scientist’s greatest annoyance – he’d run out of test tubes.
Shit, just when I was onto something. His eyes darted around the room, frantically searching for an empty vial he’d missed, but it was no good. Then he spied an empty water bottle on his side table. It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do. He unscrewed the lid, poured the sample in and sealed it shut, deciding to come back to it after having a shower and getting some sleep. If he wasn’t careful, people at work would soon notice how tired he was and start asking questions.
Once he was finished with his shower, he pulled up some shorts and shrugged on a t-shirt, ignoring his grumbling stomach, more interested in sleeping than eating. As he dragged himself out of the bathroom, he absentmindedly grabbed one of the water bottles from his desk, unscrewed the lid and took a sip. He wasn’t usually a fan of water, preferring something a bit tastier, but for some reason, this water was more refreshing than usual, so he downed the rest of it in one too. I must be thirsty today, he thought to himself as he fell into his bed and closed his eyes, giving himself to the sleep he so desperately wanted.
Before long, True woke up in a sweat, tossing and turning as his body began to ache more and more. How can I be getting sick? It’s not even flu season. Despite being a scientist, he had willfully ignored the consequences of overworking for too long, and he knew that this was probably just the consequences of the past few months catching up to him. But the more the aches worsened, the more he realized that this was different. The sweat was dripping off him and soaking into his mattress, but the shivers that wracked him were enough to nearly throw him off the bed, his skin ice old to the touch. He could hear his teeth chattering as he shivered, only worsening as he rolled from side to side to try and get comfortable. At last, his body temperature soared so high that he passed out, falling deep into a dream-filled sleep.
The following day, True awoke to the bland beige of his studio apartment. Slowly, he turned to the side, looking around the room to try to work out what had happened. Eventually, when he was sure he wouldn’t pass out again, he raised himself up and sat on the edge of his bed. As he had slept, his subconscious had been more active than he’d ever known it to be before, and the dream had been more vivid than he’d ever experienced.
How can I feel like I got no sleep, but I feel better than ever this morning? He asked himself, unable to process the last twelve hours. Slowly, he got up and ventured into the bathroom, undressing in preparation for his morning shower. Still, as he opened the shower door, he turned and caught sight of himself in the mirror on the front of the medicine cabinet above the sink. His heart was suddenly turning cold inside his chest.
“What the fuck?!”
Gazing at his reflection in the dirty mirror, he found that he couldn’t see his physical body at all —only a hazy silhouette of himself, seemingly made of water. He stepped out of the shower and inched closer to the mirror, wet footprints trailing behind him. He stopped in front of the mirror, staring into it in disbelief at what he saw looking back at him and touched the surface, only water visible in front of him rather than the comforting pink flesh of his fingertip.
What has happened to me?
He slowly brought a hand up to touch his face, immediately recoiling as he felt the cool touch of water. He recoiled, wanting to bring his hands up to his face to hide from his reflection, but afraid to touch himself again.
Where is… my skin?
Moments later, his body started to come back, right before his eyes. His face, skin, and hair gradually returned to normal, dissolving back into view until eventually, he looked like his usual self. He stood there for several minutes, blinking dumbfounded as he tried to process everything he had just seen, wanting to make sure his eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on him. He touched his face again, his hand sliding down the side of his neck and onto his chest, everything feeling and looking normal again. Quickly, he threw on his robe and exited the bathroom, rushing over to his desk, brushing aside the papers, books, dirty test tubes and partially filled water bottles in his ways. Eventually he stilled, his eyes falling on the water bottle had drunk before, the last few drops at the bottom of the bottle tinted a bright blue.
And the penny dropped.