The Crystal Bridge

Chapter 12 - Trikes and Fire

Vander Carlson ran his dry hands across the shiny, dark wood of his desk, letting his fingernail glide along where the stained timber met glass where the console inlay had been set. The tree had been old, much older than Vander, when it had been cut. His hands followed the designs embedded in the rich grain and he smiled to himself. The smile came out more sinister than he’d realized as it produced a small squeak from the man sitting across from him.

“Ah, Stephens, I forgot you were there.” He deepened his smile, knowing full well how dark and predatory it looked in the light of his office. “And how is our young Dr. Iverson?”

The man paled significantly, but managed to speak. “He’s even better than anticipated, sir. His wound was deep, to the bone, and has healed completely in four days. The bone remodeling is amazing, unlike anything we’ve seen.”

“I would say excellent work…”

“Thank you, sir.” The man sat taller, glowing under the praise.

“Do not interrupt me, Stephens.”

Dr. Stephens’ gulp was audible. “Sorry, sir, did not mean to.”

“As I was saying, I would say excellent work, except your little display has Dr. Reed asking too many questions and the simula­tions shut down. I need all my little minions working, Stephens. I thought you understood that.”

“Oh, yes, sir! I have everything taken care of. They’ve been running simulations from their rooms and using the BOCS without the simsuits. Not as effective, I know, but the full thing will be up and running by tomorrow. I had a young software engineer take the fall for the attack and Dr. Reed is satisfied.”

Vander raised an eyebrow. “Really? Who took the fall?”

“Uh…um, Fuller, sir. He’s wanted to work in Section Nine for some time and has been continually passed up for promotions. He’s become more and more vocal about his displeasure with you and me. We’ve spread the news that Fuller has been fired and the sys­tem purged of his virus. Dr. Reed and her team will begin work again in the morning.”

Vander leaned forward and grinned. “And was Fuller fired?”

Dr. Stephens curled in on himself and made a quick glance at the door. “Nn— nn…no sir,” he stammered. “I had him moved to Section Nine as he’s wanted and had his access to any other area revoked. He agreed to those terms. He’ll never have any contact with Dr. Reed or Dr. Iverson again. I assumed that would be okay.”

Vander sneered at the man. “You are pathetic and weak some­times, Stephens, but this one time I must say I’m a touch impressed. You managed to create a plausible reason for our little experiment. You cleaned up everything nicely, tied up all the loose ends, and you were creative. I didn’t know you had it in you. You also didn’t get rid of someone who could still be useful and you demonstrated a new application for the simsuit. Congratulations, Stephens, on a job fairly well done.”

Doctor Stephens uncurled from his defensive position in the chair. His reply came after a long pause. “Thank you, sir.”

Vander ignored the gratitude. “I want a full report on the heal­ing process from the cellular level on up by this afternoon. I want the BOCS running full steam tomorrow morning as promised. And I want a spec sheet with medical and military applications for the simulation suit by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Yes, sir.” Dr. Stephens had pulled open a mini holo-pad that hovered over his wrist as he scribbled down notes. His finger hovered over the page now, waiting for more instructions.

Vander smiled, pouring sweetness and patience into it, but ex­uding murder with his eyes. “Are you expecting more praise, Stephens?” His voice matched the sugary sweet smile, but there was a sharp edge to it. “Given your normal performance, it will most likely be a while before you hear such things again.”

“Understandable, sir.”

All sweetness disappeared. “What are you waiting for? Go.”

Dr. Stephens scrambled to get out of the office as Vander opened files from his desk console, dinosaurs hovering over the desk.


Rho had lost its prey, stretching its tentacles and threads out as far as it dared into the void, burning through resources that would take hundreds of years to restore. It had found nothing of what might have passed through its web and escaped.

The god pulled back and railed against the many portals that fed and taunted him. The portals continued spewing out air, dust, and the occasional larger object, but they had never allowed Rho access to the worlds beyond, except once, not physically at least.

Rho had been close to escaping only once and that had been with help from the other side. Rho ceased trying to pry into the worlds of matter and drew in on itself to conserve and recycle, like an almost endless network of oily black snakes curling slowly inward in intricate knots. Then the coils stopped moving as the dark god turned its attention back to the portals and decided maybe a little diversion would be better.


The herb crusted leg of the small bird tasted delicious. The monk licked his fingers and reached for the other leg that sat next to buttered tubers and a roll that still steamed. I’m glad I didn’t get stale droppings after all.

The pain started in the center of his forehead, and the leg fell to the reed mat on which he sat. “Rho is active!” He shouted it to the whole room, but didn’t have to. Several of his brethren had screamed out at the same time and someone had collapsed to his right. Feustis ignored the chaos in the room, slapped his hands together, and opened his conduit to Earth.


Dark and warm, the strange odor floated in the air around James, thick and musty with a tang of electricity. The smell wasn’t unpleasant. It felt familiar somehow and comforting. James breathed it in deep, allowing the warmth of the room to fill him, tingling as it passed through his sinuses and lungs. It reminded him of a sauna.

James let his muscles relax as he sat on the smooth stone floor and listened to the darkness. The air pulsed around him with a deep thrum, creating a soft drumbeat as though the room expanded and contracted. James’ breathing soon followed the same pattern. In, hold, out, hold.

James closed his eyes as he let go of all thoughts as he’d been taught to in the yoga class he’d begun attending at Omegaphil’s park each Saturday. Clear, empty, let go of all negativity. James became one with the room, his heartbeat thrumming to the same rhythm as his breathing, as the breath of the room. The darkness buoyed him up and he floated content on the waves of warm air.

A scraping noise brought James back to center. He opened his eyes but could see nothing but a distant glow that may have been imagined. The electrical smell grew as the scraping noise came closer. He saw flashes of movement as some­thing circled him in an ever tightening spiral. It would be on top of him very soon.

Despite the predatory movement, James remained calm. I am not afraid. James felt that this scraping, unknown entity danced toward him rather than stalked. Ever closer the scraping sounds came, louder and faster. James beat time on his thighs with the movement, faster and faster.

The scraping stopped, replaced by a heavy, rhythmic flow of air back and forth over James’ head. James reached out, his hand steady as it touched something warm and smooth, like glazed pottery. His eyes strained against the darkness, trying to pierce the shadows and discern what he touched. He ran his hand along the object, feeling the slick texture, as though covered in oil, but his fingers remained dry. He felt a ridge and followed the curve of it down and back up.

The flow of air shifted, breaking the rhythm. James pulled his hand away and folded his arms, expectant, though he did not know what he expected.

The dark one came for you, but you repelled him. You are as strong as we hoped, but we have grown impatient. Why do you not come to us?

James’ calm slipped somewhat as confusion took its place. Dark one? Come to you? Who are you?

You know me. You have always known me. You are my creator, my father, my friend.


The room exploded in dazzling light as fire exploded from the dark and billowed along stone walls, lighting torches set there. He could feel the heat, and afterimages clung to his sight when the fire dissipated.

The voice filled James’ mind once more. Ah, of course you do not recognize me. I apologize, master. My mind has grown feeble. I once understood all you asked of me, but ages have passed and I have lost my way. This I remember. I must show you some of what must be done.

The last words echoed in James’ skull and with them came images, strange shapes covered with letters. The shapes twisted and morphed and then were gone.

The colored afterimages blocking James’ vision cleared, and he stared into large green eyes that blinked back at him. The air shifted and once more the room filled with fire.

James awoke and rubbed his eyes, removing grit with his fingernail. He’d been having the same dream for several days now, ever since Angie had told him to get started on his special project. He slid open a holo-notebook with barely a thought, created a stylus, and scribbled down the patterns and letters he remembered.

The dreams weren’t too unusual for him. Any time he fixated on one idea for too long he’d always had strange dreams. They helped him tap into insights he never found while awake. His book had filled his nights with genetic code, but even those had not been this vivid.

I need to get back in the BOCS and get to work right away, deadly simsuits or not.

Angie said he could take all the time he needed, but he wasn’t going to be able to keep himself away much longer. His dreams would only get more insistent.


The thorough report carried an undertone of sniveling whine, everything Angie had come to expect from Dr. Stephens. She pushed it away, satisfied with the soft hiss of real paper on her desk. She’d read it and pushed it away half a dozen times already, but kept coming back to it.

She had a hard time believing that Tim Fuller would hurt anyone, especially while in the BOCS. He loved the programming be­hind it too much. Yes, he’d been upset about not being pulled to work in Section Nine where the servers were rumored to be. Yes, he’d been passed up for promotion several times. Yes, the virus leads straight back to Fuller. Yes, Stephens had immediately fired the guy. But something still felt wrong. She just couldn’t place it.

Fuller had the access and knowhow to pull it off. No one knows the BOCS’ programming like him. Angie shuddered as the image of the suit stabbing James went through her mind for the millionth time since the accident.

The other programmers had neutralized the virus and taught the AI system to detect and avoid any such problems in the future. New safe­guards had been initialized, tested, and retested, yet Angie didn’t feel safe and couldn’t get the visions of James sur­rounded by blood out of her head.

What if it’d been his heart? Or a thousand stab wounds at once? James wouldn’t be joking his way out of that one. And he’s so eager to get back in there. Angie glanced at the report again. All clear, all safe. What am I holding out for? Am I worried about myself or James? I guess it doesn’t really matter.

She knew better than to defy Vander’s will when it had been voiced so clearly. Omegaphil wasn’t exactly the open-door come to us with any complaint and we’ll do our best type of company. She had no choice.

She would open the BOCS in the morning. The request forms stacked neatly next to the report served only as polite commands, not suggestions, her signature just a formality. And I know it. You gotta love Omegaphil. Angela picked up her pen, flipping off the cap in the same motion, and signed. Well, here we go. Back to work, ready or not.

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