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I open my eyes and find myself lying on my stomach. As I try to push myself up, my entire body aches, as if it’s been crushed underneath something. My head throbs, and I slowly roll onto my side and into a sitting position, but the sudden lurch makes me nauseous. Clutching my stomach, I lean forward, my dark braided hair spilling over my face. I want to vomit, but all that escapes is an empty retch.

My right hand wanders up to my forehead. I don’t feel sweaty or feverish, just sore and stressed. Pushing away the braids, I get my first look at my strange surroundings. Where the hell am I?

The floor beneath me is metal, so I assume I’m indoors, but when I look up, I don’t see a ceiling, just diffuse light coming from far above. The sky is white instead of blue, and air flows around me too easily, so I guess I’m not indoors. It doesn’t make sense, and nothing looks familiar.

“Hello?” I call. “Is anyone there?”

There’s no reply, not even my echo. There’s nothing, only an expanse in all directions.

I stand, trying to retrace my steps. The last place I remember being was at the lab, though I don’t remember leaving. I’d been working long hours trying to complete the project. Maybe I passed out and I’m dreaming right now. It would explain the surreal nature of this place, unless…

No, it can’t be. All the safety protocols were in place. The controls are purposely on the other side of the lab, and they require a passcode. I was alone with the door locked, so there’s no way it could have happened to me. It’s got to be a dream.

But the ridges in the metal floor don’t lie. Their alternating criss-cross pattern matches the industrial metal plates underneath the emitter, only on a much greater scale. They’re a little longer than I am, and I swallow a lump in my throat as I calculate the proportions.

I can’t be more than half an inch tall.

“Wake up, Lakeisha,” I purposely speak out loud in a last ditch effort to convince myself I’m asleep, but I know I’m not. The terrain is far too vivid, and I’m far too lucid. I have first-hand proof the miniaturizer is stable now--in all our previous tests, objects returned to their original size as soon as the beam cut out--but how was it activated while I was double-checking the induction coils? Could a loose connection, short circuit, or some other kind of electrical surge have done this to me?

I can figure this out. I’m an electrical engineer, after all. But even if I figure out how this happened, it does no good because I can’t undo it on my own. I’m so small I’m barely noticeable.

“Why would you want to major in electrical engineering?” asked Mr. McCrae, my high school guidance counselor. “You’re a girl.”

I worked my backside off in my math and science courses, graduating in the top five percent of my class. I ran cross country and spring track, and I was on the student council to help pad my college applications. I had a part-time job and still found time to study--up late every night, on the bus back and forth from school, anywhere I could to achieve this goal. I could balance it all. Why would he try to talk me out of it? His job was to counsel me, to help me get there.

My doctorate--the actual sheet of parchment hanging with pride in my apartment--isn’t enough to help me at the moment. I’m tiny and alone. The system could be fried and there’s nothing I can do about it. Or maybe there isn’t anything wrong with the machinery and what happened to me was a fluke. Even though I have the skills to diagnose any potential problems, I can’t manipulate the necessary tools to fix them at the moment.

I need help. I don’t want to be stuck this size any longer than I have to be, but how do I get someone’s attention when I’m down on the floor and shorter than most people’s fingernails?

Craning my neck, I look up and try to get my bearings. The miniaturizer is in one corner of the lab, and I was working on its circuitry. I squint, but I can’t see the beam emitter embedded in the ceiling. It definitely activated while I was standing there, and then it shrunk me and, gratefully, the clothes I’m wearing. Before what happened to me, we hadn’t yet tested on living matter, so we wouldn’t have known that the process would knock me out. I have no idea how long I was unconscious; all I know is that I started making repairs about four in the afternoon, and I had been working a few hours on them.

Maybe I can go looking for someone. There’s no way I can reach the door handle, but I may be small enough to squeeze through the crack between the door and the floor. Determined, I take my first step, prepared for a trek across the lab that could feel like miles to me.

“What would you even do with an advanced degree?” asked Dr. Simpson, my undergrad adviser. “Don’t you want to take a break?”

He had a doctorate, so what was wrong with me striving to go that far? I’ve been a pioneer in my own education for years already, first in my family to even go to college. Though I chose a state school because it was more affordable, it was ranked in the top twenty for engineering nationwide. But I was accepted to Stanford for graduate school, so how could I turn down such an amazing opportunity? The tuition issues would work themselves out--I could take positions as a teaching or research assistant, even a dorm residence counselor--because nothing was going to stop me from my big career dreams.

My muscle memory takes me as far as it usually does to cross the lab, and I haven’t made it to the edge of the metal plating on the floor directly below the beam emitter. I don’t even know if I’m going in the right direction, and I start having doubts about being spotted in the hallway. Since it’s likely after hours, the nighttime janitorial staff could step on me or mop me up. Maybe it’s safer to stay in one place, preferably closer to a wall if I can find one. Hopefully I won’t have to wait long for some of the other team members to get here.

I keep moving forward in the same direction. Either I’ll reach a wall or an edge of the square metal plate on the floor, and if it’s the latter, I can start walking along the perimeter until I get to a wall. If nothing else, the walk will help pass the time. At six feet per side, and with me under half an inch tall, that makes the total distance…

As knowledgeable as I am at engineering and mathematics, I can’t resolve the proportions in my head with my situation weighing on my mind. I reach into the pocket of my lab coat for my phone but come up empty. It’s miles away on my desk across the lab.

The calculations become moot when I finally see the wall in the distance, more like a vertical cliff face. Slowing my approach, I look up in a combination of awe and dread. In nature, such a sight might be amazing, yet when I remind myself that it’s only a wall, I fear that my problem is just as insurmountable.

“Do you know how difficult it will be to move up in that career?” my father asked me after I told him I wanted to major in electrical engineering.

“Because I’m a woman? Or because I’m Black?”

He sighed. “You know I’ll be proud no matter what you choose, Keish. I just want you to know some people out there might not give you a chance.”

“So I’ll work extra hard like I’ve always done.” I embraced my father, knowing that he only and always wanted what was best for his little girl. “Even if it means getting a Ph.D. for them to seriously consider me.”

I lean against the wall and slide down it until I’m sitting on the floor. I run my hands through my hair, pushing the braids to the back. My body’s still sore, presumably a side effect of the miniaturization process, and my legs even more strained. Fighting back tears, I look around at the place I’ve worked for over three years, and it’s been rendered unrecognizable. I’m terrified of what could happen to me if I’m not discovered--if I can’t make contact with anyone. Am I more noticeable keeping on my white lab coat or removing it to show the black blazer and slacks underneath? Does it really matter? I’m nothing but a speck on the floor either way.

Even if someone enters the lab, I doubt they’d hear my miniscule voice so far away from their ears. And if I move or wave my arms to attempt getting their attention, will I be mistaken for an insect? Would their instinct be to stomp on me rather than to relocate me? If they choose the latter, maybe I’ll have a chance to be seen and restored, but if not? There aren’t many hopeful options, I realize, clutching my knees to my chest.

So I stay where I am, and time passes. There’s a clock on one of the walls of the lab, but it’s too far away for me to locate it, let alone read it. For all I know, only a few minutes have passed, even though it has felt like hours.

Suddenly, there’s a high-pitched squeal in the distance, and I cover my ears, but not before it gives me a splitting headache. I can’t identify the sound, and I’m grateful it ends as abruptly as it began. Then, the floor vibrates, and I sit at full alert. The tremors occur at regular intervals and grow in intensity with each aftershock. I’d try to stand if I wasn’t certain I’d get knocked back down.

“She’s not here yet?” booms a deep voice from above. “Told you she was lazy.”

The voice is distorted, which doesn’t matter because the words and tone identify him. Brad Thompson, my primary co-worker on the miniaturization project, has entered the lab. I don’t know who he’s talking to, who he’s spewing lies to. He’s the one who usually arrives late, so I can only assume it’s the next morning. And he doesn’t know about all the times I had to repair or rewire the circuitry he was responsible for, along with completing my own work.

If only I could set the record straight. If only he wasn’t one step ahead in seeking the credit. If only someone else were my first--and perhaps only--chance of being restored.

“This says your name’s Lakeisha.” Brad glanced at my resume. “What do your friends call you?”

“I don’t see how that matters for this position,” I replied, sitting up as straight as I could. “We’re not friends. Our working relationship will be professional, so I would expect to be called Dr. Malcolm. I’ve earned that title.”

While Brad sat there with his mouth agape, Dr. Carter, the project supervisor, chuckled. “I like her. She’s got spunk. No, what’s the word I’m looking for? Sass, that’s it. You’re hired.”

My fingers clenched the arms of the chair, and I suppressed an eye roll with a deep breath. “I would hope I’d get the position because of my qualifications, not because of sass.”

“Of course,” said Dr. Carter, snatching the resume from his hands. “A doctorate in electrical engineering? You’re likely overqualified for the position. Thompson here only has a Master’s.”

As much as their first impressions disappointed me, I accepted the offer. The pay was just above the minimum I desired, but I didn’t have other options. Most companies that I applied to didn’t grant me an interview or even email me back.

The overhead lighting normally leaves diffuse shadows on the floor, but they loom over me nonetheless. The shaking of the ground grows erratic as the two colossal figures pace the room. I can make out their legs when they pass, never close enough for me to worry about being squashed underfoot, but everything above their waists are distant blurs of white lab coats that blend with the ceiling sky. They obviously don’t notice me because they continue speaking as if I’m not here.

“I don’t have all day, Thompson,” says the other voice, which must be Dr. Carter. “Show me something without her.”

The tremors of his footsteps abate as he walks away, and I realize this is my best chance. I stand and cup my hands around my mouth. “Brad! Doctor Carter! I’m down here!” I yell, jogging away from the wall and repeating the words until my throat is hoarse.

They don’t react in any way to indicate they hear or see me. I’m too small.

The ground starts shaking again, and I throw my arms outward to keep my balance. Along with the rumbling, there’s a squeaking that grows louder and louder, like something large rolling toward me.

I turn as it suddenly grows dark around me. A long metal beam hovers several feet above my head. I follow one end of it to a black disk, about the height of a large house, stopping on the floor not too far from me before almost running me over.

“Her desk chair will do just fine,” says Brad. “Ready to see it get smaller?”

Oh shit. He’s put my chair under the beam to shrink it. We’ve never had an object remain miniaturized without the beam being on, so we’ve never tested what a second exposure would do. I don’t know if the chair above me will shield me or if I’ll shrink further, but I don’t want to risk it. If they don’t notice me at this size, they certainly won’t if I’m microscopic.

I start running in the opposite direction from the wall.

“Building up primary charge.” Brad’s announcement is a welcome audio clue for the shortest path off the expansive metal plate.

The generators built into the walls behind me start humming, and the floor shimmies as I run out of the shadow, grateful for my high school and college track days and the decision to wear flats instead of heels. Jumping over the criss-crossed bumps like hurdles, I finally glimpse the boundary between the plate and the lab’s tile floor. With the noise of the machinery reverberating and the ground quaking below me, I stumble.

“Put your goggles on, Dr. Carter,” says Brad. “Three… Two…”

The finish line isn’t far ahead, but even sprinting, I doubt I’ll make it. All I can is do is take a running leap, my legs kicking the air, and will myself forward.

“One… Activate!”

The lightning in the sky flashes and crackles as I brace myself for a crash landing.

Brad pounded on the control console. “We’ve got to get this goddamn thing running, or Carter’s gonna have our asses.”

“Maybe if you’d whine less and work more,” I muttered while I unscrewed and opened the next panel.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing.” I peered inside the space and found several disconnected leads. “Looks like it’s going to take a few hours.”

“A few hours? I can’t stay tonight.”

I groaned as I grabbed my soldering iron, already hot to the touch. If I had located the only places that needed repair, an extra body with me--especially Brad’s--would have only gotten in my way. “Just go.”

“Thanks, Keish. You’re a doll,” he said on his way out of the lab.

Once the door clicked shut, I shuddered, disgusted by his arrogance, poor work ethic, and general inconsiderate nature. He may have been responsible for all the software coding, but I spent the previous two years building the device from scratch, following Dr. Carter’s design. Without the physical equipment, we’d have nothing, yet I was the one treated like a lower class worker and likely paid less. If it wasn’t for my desire to finish jobs I started and my curiosity to see if the project would work, I’d have left long ago. But what job could I get when other engineers didn’t look at me as an equal? Or barely looked at me at all?

I toiled away after the usual closing time, dwelling on these thoughts until the work was done. A test could wait until morning. I just wanted to leave, take a nice hot bath, and sleep it off. I put my tools away and went back to replace the panel. While tightening the final screw, there was a spark, and the ensuing electrical shock knocked me back, and I fell to the floor.

My hands and arms absorb most of the impact, and I roll over until I’m on my back. Though any nicks in the floor are grooves to me, I can tell I’m on the relatively smoother tile floor of the lab.

My chest heaving, I gaze up at the dazzling light show before me. The distant mountain of my desk chair gets smaller and recedes away from me. Its exact height is difficult to judge from my vantage point, but it appears to shrink to half size, then quarter size, and smaller until the process stops and the lights disappear. I gulp, wondering how small I’d be if I hadn’t gotten out of the way in time.

“She did it,” says Brad, and I crack a proud smile until he changes his words. “I mean, we did it.”

The floor shakes as someone approaches. Before I can react, there’s a shadow above me, which grows darker and darker until a giant foot is falling from the sky on top of me. Even if I had the energy to get up and run, I doubt I’ll escape in time, so I curl into a ball and scream as it crashes down.

“Its size seems stable,” says Dr. Carter from directly above me.

I’m still alive, in some kind of rubber-scented cave. Light seeps in through the openings on either side of me, so I start crawling toward one.

“This is amazing,” he says as I emerge between his feet. He’s crouched, holding my chair in his massive hands like it’s a piece of doll furniture.

I jump to my feet and shout, “Doctor Carter! I’m down here!”

Instead of looking down, he glances over his shoulder. “Can you grow it back?” he asks.

Brad replies, “I should be able to. Give me a moment to reverse the polarity.”

Dr. Carter leans forward and sets the chair on the floor, and I wait for him to pivot one foot and swing the other above me before dashing toward the metal plate. The chair may only be about a tenth of its normal size, but if I can grow ten times taller, I’m more likely to be spotted. It’s the only chance I’ve got.

“Activating now,” says Brad.

I’m nowhere near the chair, but I’m under the beam when it flashes brightly. I keep my head down and my eyes closed, but I can still sense the light through my eyelids. Without any frame of reference, I don’t know if it’s working. Am I getting bigger, or will I be stuck so tiny?

“What the hell is that?” asks Brad.

“Looks like we’ve got a speck of dust or something along for the ride.” Dr. Carter must be referring to me.

I must be growing!

Keeping my eyes closed, I start waving my arms.

“I think it’s Dr. Malcolm,” says Dr. Carter. “Keep the machine running.”

Brad stammers, “What about the chair? It could outgrow the room.”

Figuring that as the chair and I are enlarged, the space between us grows shorter, I swing my arms outward until one slams into it. It’s clearly larger than me, but it’s on wheels, so I give it a push.

“Brilliant thinking!” commends Dr. Carter.

Now all I have to do is wait until they’ve gotten me back to my normal size, or close enough to it. We can make the fine adjustments later. I’m just happy I won’t be small forever.

Something crackles in the distance, and I catch a whiff of smoke. The men frantically talk over each other, drowning out each other’s words. I need to know what’s going on so I lean forward and open my eyes. The lab is bright, but my back shields the most intense of the beam’s light. Black smoke billows from behind the panel I had opened last night, and I wonder if whatever electrical malfunction shrunk me has occurred again but in the opposite direction. The panel sinks below eye level, then lower and lower still as I get larger than I should be.

I try to step out of the way, but my head bumps into the reflecting dome surrounding the beam emitter. Before I can hit the ceiling, I drop to my hands and knees and start crawling, trying to get out of the direct path of the beam, but I’ve grown too large to get completely off the metal plate without knocking over a lab table or two. As everything seems to shrink around me and my escape routes are limited, I feel trapped in an undersized maze.

Dr. Carter commands, “Cut the power before she breaks through the lab!”

After all my hard work, the last thing I want is to destroy the device I helped create. I keep my head and back low as I expand to fill the space. As I feel my backside press against the dome, I see and hear the men sigh in relief. The machinery stops humming, the smoke has dissipated, and everything stops glowing.

I figure I’m somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet tall, and there’s no way I’m getting out of the cramped lab at this size.

Brad struts toward me, dodging some of the lab stools I must have knocked over. “Don’t worry. We’ll fix this and get you back to normal.”

I look down my nose at Brad’s puny, sniveling body. “Who’ll fix this?”

“What do you mean?” he asks in a squeaky voice. Sweat beads on his brow as he cowers. “You and me, Keish. We’re a team.”

I reach for him, and though I’m not big enough to circle my hand completely around his chest, I have a firm grip on him. “Exactly which of us is more capable of fixing this?”

“You,” he says, gasping for air. “Definitely you, Doctor Malcolm.”

“That’s right.” Then I turn to my supervisor and smirk. “And while we’re talking, I think the situation requires an increase in pay.”

Prior to SizeCon[micro] of August 2020, the size writers panel was issued a challenge to compose a size-themed story from the point of view of a person of color. Late in July, I came up with this idea, combining the prompt with an issue meaningful to me--the lack of racial and gender diversity in STEM fields. Needless to say, I didn't complete the story in time, but I eventually did and shared it with a few trusted readers first. Made some revisions from their notes, and I finally share it here.
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