Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present the next story in our Young Authors series, a collection of six pieces of short fiction written by pairs of American eighth-graders as part of a special English class devoted to laboratory literature. You can read all about this interesting project in the accompanying Editorial. Use the navigation bars at the top left to catch up with other stories in this series.
Dr. Kaspar Daclan Cohen
April 16th, 2042: My name is Dr. Cohen, and I am a scientist living just outside Munich, Germany. I grew up in California though, so I continue to use English regularly. I figured it might be interesting to start a journal. I never really got into all that feelings stuff but it’ll be nice to have some place to go when anything interesting happens.
It’s interesting to think about, this journal, because it can be anything really. A sketch pad, diary, a novel. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of someone else reading it, years from now, when I am no longer around. I suppose if that happens I should probably talk a little bit about myself.
I moved to the U.S. when I was only seven and don’t remember too much about my life before then. I suppose I could recall the town and the scenery. I remember the forest pretty vividly. The forest was where I went whenever I convinced my parents to let me go out on my own. Though it wasn’t huge and full of adventure, it was a very scenic and powerful place to be. Especially during the transition between Spring and Summer. The trees were tall and mighty, and overflowed with color and life. The ground around me was covered with fallen petals and light grass, still wet from the morning dew. I would walk to the creek and watch some frogs hop across. Once I tried to catch one, but it got away, and I got wet. I remember hearing the sounds of the birds whistling back at one another making a melody that just brightened your day, and I remembered all the smells of the forest mixing together into one scent that I could pick out anywhere. It was this odd, musty, pinecone smell, but it was actually quite pleasant. I do miss the forest. Out in my part of California everything is urbanized and it all smells of food, smoke, and something else I can’t quite place.
My school, Marie Curie’s school of science, was a smaller building close to my home. I attended it from 1st through 8th grade, and it was there where I found my love of science. All of it fascinated me, and I knew that I wanted a career in it, just not what field. And though I didn’t have many friends through high school or college either, my love of science kept me more than happy. I graduated from Berkeley in 2034 and have been in science ever since. Now I live in Germany and continue my studies to try to save biodiversity. You see, global warming is, amongst other things, making it significantly harder for some species to breathe, which means a large dip in biodiversity which will most likely lead to… well, the end of life as we know it. Unless someone like me can stop it.
April 17th, 2042: Entomon, the Greek word for insect, and part of the word entomology, which is the study of insects. There was a huge spark of interest in entomology in 2036. That’s how I got into it. I go out to specific locations every day and set up traps, to track the population. I have decided to record some of my findings here and use this as my work log as well as my personal journal.
April 22nd, 2042: I have collected samples from my spot in Eglhartinger Forst, a mile away from my home. I always use a malaise trap, set up in the same spots every time for accuracy.
It is a large trap, and difficult to set up. But it has been used for several decades, and to change it now would make all of the old data irrelevant. In this location, I calculated an average of 12 insects per bottle. It is not a good sign because many of my old averages were 16 or even 18 bugs per bottle. I keep some of what I catch to observe and study. They are all stored in an empty house out in the forest that appears to be abandoned. It was probably left to wither away with the forest. Out of my four locations, this has always been the one with the most bugs, so it is concerning that the numbers have gone down so much. And despite my optimism, the problem is only going to get worse.
August 18th, 2042: I have always loved the summer months in Germany. Especially here in Eglhartinger Forst. There is life everywhere, and the trees are exploding with vibrant shades of green. Now however, after my walk along some old trails, I have discovered much to my dismay, that a lot has changed since I last visited here. The mighty oak trees that used to symbolize power are drooping and the shades of green have turned pale and grey. There is almost no plant life and the air is musky and cloudy. But the thing that I noticed most is the sound. Or the lack of it. There are no birds singing, and no bugs buzzing in my ear. The pesky hum of a mosquito that isn’t there is more concerning than one that is. The forest that I once knew is weak and dying. My traps are also continuing to turn up short. My average is down to 10-11. The problem is continuing to grow. Something must be done. But what? How can we restore the planet to its former glory?
September 9th, 2042: After pondering my previous question, I am excited to finally have come to a conclusion. And although it is not much, it is a start. And the world needs a place to start. There are many causes leading to the deterioration of insects. Deforestation, less biodiversity, and pesticides. But the main cause has got to be the change in the weather. Almost all species of insects need a special range of temperature in order to survive and reproduce. When the temperature reaches above the normal amount, the general population becomes weaker and starts to die off. Throughout history, life has been able to adapt to some harsh conditions. I believe that it should be able to do it again. Unfortunately, the planet is warming at a rate faster than life can keep up with.
I think that I should be able to accommodate for this by breeding insects in a temperature higher than they are used to, but in a controlled situation, gradually increasing the temperature, but a lot more slowly than what’s happening in their real environment. This will give evaluation a chance to catch up. Then, they can be released into the world and slowly create a whole new gene pool with insects able to survive in hotter climates. I have located a place where I can make this happen. Dr. North Peterson is the owner of a laboratory with the necessary requirements just outside of New York City. He says that he likes my idea and is willing to help. I am flying out there in a few days to meet him.
September 12th, 2042: I am 30,000 feet above the ground as my plane begins its descent to the US. I do not know how long I will be staying, but I assume a while, so I packed heavily. My plane has just touched down, and now I must begin my experiment. One that I will most likely never live to see the end of.
Dr. Peterson is a very nice man, and he has let me settle in with him, for many of the hotels in the area in terrible condition or out of business. He says that he will take me on a tour of the lab in the morning. We did talk a bit about what I had in mind for his lab over dinner. It went something like this:
“So, Dr. Cohen,” he said, curiously, “You told me vaguely about this plan of yours to save the planet. Please, tell me more.”
“Well, life is so well able to adapt to ever-changing conditions,” I said. “What I am proposing would be that using some of your smaller chambers, we gradually raise the temperature but just to or above the limit at which they can breed, and keep ratcheting that up, so eventually we can release them back into the wild and fix the gene pool.”
“That sounds like a good idea, but how will it solve the underlying climate problem?”
“Unfortunately, it won’t. However, we have to start somewhere. And this experiment will give people hope. I think that people will figure out how to stop this. We just need to inspire them to join us.”
“I see,” he pressed on. “But what will we do if global warming is not stopped in time?”
“You see, here is where hope comes in again. If it comes time to release the insects and global warming is still a serious problem, the insects will boost biodiversity and give life one last chance before it is all gone. Dr. Peterson, I am asking you to be part of something huge. This could help save the world. We both know the incredibly vital role bugs play in our ecosystem. If we save them, we might just stand a chance.”
“I see your point. You are very persuasive, Dr. Cohen, I am willing to give it a shot.”
June 29th, 2043: The experiment is finally up and running – after several long months of cleaning, preparing, and catching insects, we can finally start collecting data. We have filled and adjusted the temperature in 109 different chambers. Most hold different species, but some hold the same insects at different temperatures. Also, I have found a nice place to live. A studio apartment on the third floor of a building near the lab. It’s not much but it is enough. Besides, I’m not home much anyway. Just so long as I find a job within the next couple of months I can stay. However, this is proving to be exceedingly difficult. With the growing depression in the US, jobs are becoming scarce. I may find something in labor but I don’t know how well that will fit me. I could always look online for jobs back in Germany but that would most likely require frequent traveling, which isn’t something I can do. I just have to keep searching.
July 11, 2043: Things are not looking as good as we hoped. Many species have died and were unable to reproduce. Those that did lost significant amounts in numbers and many offspring could not function properly. The experiment has been brought down to only 82 chambers. But we must keep going. That’s how evolution works. It has to get worse before it can get better.
April 3, 2044: The experiment is not going well. We started with 109 chambers filled with insects. Now, we only have 27. And one of the chambers only has three specimens left. What’s worse, the temperatures in which the bugs are kept in are at least 17 degrees lower than the ones outside. The climate is heating faster than I originally predicted.
August 16th, 2044: I don’t know where to begin. Only twenty chambers have held up. And many of them aren’t looking well. Even more, Dr. Peterson tells me that he is just barely scraping by, and that he has no choice but to sell the lab. I have a month to release my specimens. Apparently my experiment was not successful enough, and because of the recent economic depression, nobody is coming to him with other ideas. I can’t be mad at him. I know he would like to continue, but he has to support himself. It would seem as though people want the earth to collapse in a slow destruction of all biodiversity. But I must keep trying. I remain optimistic that my insects can make it in the outside world. There must be somewhere else I can go.
December 29th, 2044: Christmas came and went with little excitement. My apartment was dark and dusty, because I can no longer afford the electric bill, and I feel I have no reason to clean the apartment anymore. Though Dr. Peterson did his best to help me, he had to support his family, and that meant leaving me helpless. My bugs, should they have survived for whatever reason, will most likely never make it through the winter. Fortunately, Christmas sales meant I was able to have a proper meal for the first time in a while. The depression here is so bad, I cannot even find a simple labor job. I fear that if I cannot support myself, I won’t live past January.
January 6th, 2044: Snow comes down heavily outside, and my apartment is matching the outdoor temperature – currently -23oC. With little protection from the stinging cold air, I have to curl up in my bed for hours just so I don’t freeze.
July 17th, 2094: Hello. My name is Luis. I found this journal in a building in the “bad” room. Nobody ever goes in there, but all the good rooms were full and I needed to find food for my family. Normally the food in buildings is not very good but there is a little bit of food in the bad room. Also there is a body which does not smell good but that’s okay.
I have seen bodies before. I saw my Mommy struggling to carry my Daddy’s body a couple years ago after the war. There was a big war over who could control the food. We lost though. Now we are poor and hungry. I have to scavenge for food on the streets. But I stay happy. I like to explore with the other kids and look through buildings. It’s always fun to find things. Like this journal!
I was very happy to find this book because now I can write in it. I like to write. I am very good at it and I practice a lot. My Mommy says that I am also very excitable, but that it is normal for a 7-year old. I like to go outside and do whatever I can to have fun. Like exploring, playing with other kids, kicking around a ball. I have lots of fun. But sometimes I am very hungry and I do not feel good so then I don’t play. But I was feeling good today so I went out to find food. It is a good thing that I did because I found this journal. I want to write more, but my Mommy says that I would want to wait until I am older.
February 13th, 2113: It’s been nineteen years since I last saw this journal. I thought my mother had sold it but just this morning I found it in a thought-to-be-empty drawer. I read through it and I think I understand what Dr. Cohen was getting at. I believe that with a few tweaks to his plan, it could work correctly. Of course, the temperature has risen significantly since then. But my sister will help me, because Olivia went to college, and is smarter than anyone I know. I am just uncertain as to how we will set up a temperature-regulated chamber when I still cannot find a job and have to scavenge for food. I will have to ask Olivia.
February 18th, 2113: I talked to Olivia today. The conversation went like this:
“Olivia, can you take a look at something for me?”
“I suppose,” she said. “Let me see.”
“It’s in this journal I found years ago. I want to try to continue this project.”
“Interesting,” she said, after a few minutes. “What exactly is it that you want to continue?”
“Well, I would like to build a temperature-regulated enclosure, to see if Dr. Cohen was onto something. I’m just not quite sure how.”
“Well, I’d like to help but I don’t have the resources. Plus, where would you find any insects?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Do you know of anyone who could help me?”
“No… But surely you can’t be the only one who wants this done.”
“I know. I just don’t know what to do.”
“Well, maybe you’d find someone with a similar interests in a place where there are lots of bugs.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Well, you could always go down to a rainforest. It’s still teeming with life.”
“In Brazil. Go look online.”
March 2nd, 2113: I managed to find someone who wanted to help. His name is Phil Santos, but he lives in Brazil. When I emailed him he said he would help me, but I don’t know how to get down there. Planes are expensive, and Phil said I’d have to pay for it myself. It looks like I’ll just have to get a job.
July 13th, 2113: I just touched down in Brazil after having to work extremely hard as a street cleaner to afford a ticket. It feels good to be here after waiting so long! This Dr. Santos better know what he’s doing. I get to l meet him tomorrow, but first I have to take a canoe down the river to where he is staying.
August 20th, 2113: There is life everywhere here, and it is so amazing. Unfortunately Dr. Santos is keeping me pretty busy so there’s not much time to write. We are currently setting traps at specific locations and collecting samples just to see how the bugs here are doing compared to the rest of the world. So far they are doing okay. In the rainforest it really is survival of the fittest, so species have had to adapt fast to outlive competition. There are many species that keep filling up our traps completely with no dips in numbers over time, which is a good sign.
September 30th, 2113: We are so close to the equator that the normal change in temperature doesn’t affect us much here. It’s still rainy and humid, and the bugs are still alive. But as it starts to get warmer, we start to see a difference in the number of insects that are coming into our traps. It seems that the insects we thought might survive are actually just barely hanging on. Phil says it’s likely going to be the worst dip in the population he’s ever seen.
December 14th, 2113: It’s currently right at the beginning of Summer, and that usually means more bugs. Not now though. Now it means scalding temperatures of up to 120℉. There are days where we catch nothing. Things were looking up here, but now it seems as though it’s just the same as everywhere else. The population is rising and falling heavily, and I believe that within the next few years it will fall and not be able to recover.
April 20th, 2116: My previous prediction was right. It has been three years and Phil and I are noticing that the population has yet to make a significant comeback. The numbers dropped as usual during the Summer and they haven’t started climbing again. It’s been a couple months and we are starting to worry. We cannot protect the whole rainforest. And we cannot protect the bugs if we cannot study them. I just don’t know what to do.
August 17th, 2116: I was out checking the traps when something bit me this morning. It was such an odd feeling. I haven’t been bit by an insect for so long I had forgotten what it felt like. I also don’t remember there being any effects after the bite. I feel all woozy and nauseous. I am hoping that’s it’s just minor and won’t last for too long though. I’ve had food poisoning before, and it feels fairly similar.
August 18th, 2116: Phil says that I am definitely sick. I must have caught it from the bug that bit me. He wants to head back up the river to try to get to the nearest city, but I convinced him to stay and check the traps. I’m not feeling so good though. My head is throbbing and I puke up everything that goes in me. Even water. It’s becoming increasingly harder to survive down here. I’m going to put down the journal and try not to pass out.
2182-08-25.57 UMT: I wasn’t comfortable with writing on physical paper for this journal, so I keyed in the previous entries into my computer so I could add my own. I left the entries in the style of their authors, only using this simple font, printing out the pages as I go and putting them within the original cover, battered after having seen over 140 years.
My name is Emerald, and my Dad passed this journal on to me when I was twenty-five. He wanted me to continue the same line of research as what the other journal authors had been doing. He said that if anyone could do it, it would be me. I’m sure that if I wanted to, I could pull it off, but I would never work with bugs. They bite and sting and crawl all over you. To be honest I’m pretty terrified of them, and I don’t think I would mind if they were gone. It would make my Dad so disappointed though if he ever found out. Processing all the information from this journal is going to take a while, so I’ll add more when I can.
2182-08-30.25 UMT: I just finished reading through everything, and understanding it. I see that the main experiment in this journal has failed twice, and I intend to succeed, even if it’s not what I want. If it was my father’s dying wish then I guess I owe it to him to at least try. The Battlefield, as we call it, still has a ton of leftover tech, even after almost 70 years. I can easily build a dome out of the scrap metal alone, and integrating cooling should be a simple feat. I only worry that I will fall prey to the same troubles that Dr. Cohen and Luis went through.
2182-09-05.37 UMT: I have already built the dome using simple gravitational mines (though “mine” isn’t the best word to describe it), and am now duct taping cold water pipes to the inside of the dome. I will then use another gravity mine to build a slightly smaller dome, covering up the pipes. Hopefully the cold water will form a “reverse igloo” to cool off the creatures, even if the temperature outside rises. This dome will also serve as shelter for me if the temperatures outside reach apocalyptic. I hope this works.
2182-09-12.75 UMT: The dome seems to be going great. It has been up and running for several weeks now. I have a scarce amount of bugs, and some plants. Hopefully the plants and bugs will breed to become more plentiful, because if not, our last hope for survival is screwed. I’m sure that they will, if given more time. Still, it’s difficult for me to go in there. I don’t want to have to face something so small yet so terrifying. But when I step into the outside world, I see what has happened with the absence of creepy creatures. I am starting to realize that the life of one tiny insect symbolizes life as a whole. It is a fragile thing, and we need to take care of it, not destroy it.
Filler entries removed to prevent redundancy
2182-12-13.32 UMT: The dome collapsed. A strong dust storm blew in and tore it open, causing the structural integrity to fail. I would try again but I’m just about out of ideas. What was once a luscious, green forest with a wild river running through it and thousands of species that called it home is now just a wasteland of dried-up dirt and wilted plant remains. Not even a seed to begin with. It seems that life on Earth is coming to an end. I am sorry. I should have realized sooner what great an impact something so tiny could have on something so big.
And so, Emerald Santos died in solitude, having isolated herself from the rest of the world to save it. Earth ran out of plants. All the plant-eating animals quickly died, pulling the legs out from underneath the food chain. Humans quickly finished off all the remaining animals, and quickly turned on each other. Finally, humanity ended where it began. The last colonies fought many bloody battles until only one remained. She died soon after, having no food, and this journal is one of the last remaining human artifacts, up in the Cloud.