The Crystal Bridge

Chapter 14 - Who is Penny?

These look encouraging. Vander flipped through the visuals while seated behind his desk, waving a finger to move to the next one. Bone remodeling at amazing pace, tissue regeneration, strong antibodies, scar disappearing rapidly. He rushed the pictures along in a blur similar to time lapse. Each picture was dated at the bottom revealing the most exciting news. Four days.

Vander grinned and rubbed his hands together. Real results, finallyA test subject showing accelerated healing properties and per­forming better than expected with the simulations. He’d been sharp before, but James Iverson’s intellect and ingenuity seemed to be growing rapidly along with his new healing powers.

“Give him another IQ test, Stephens. I want to see where he is. You can go now.” Dr. Stephens shrunk in on himself and bolted from the room.

Vander continued to skim through the pictures and files float­ing before him. Years of failure, incompetence, and very minor successes finally lead to something worthwhile. He was very happy with the progress the pretty Dr. Reed and her team had been making these past few months. The addition of James Iverson had pushed her work to the next level too. He flipped open a video file of a triceratops cropping at the grass. The video hovered above the desk.

“Visualize file 1171.” The triceratops filled the room in front of him, turning a sleepy eye on Vander before returning to its grazing. Marvelous.

“Visualize Penelope.”

A woman hummed to life out of nothing next to Vander, young and beautiful with glowing red hair up in wavy curls, a hairstyle that fit well in the fifties, but not now. She ran her hands down to straigh­ten her blue and white polka dotted dress. Her green eyes glinted with hidden smiles. She reached a hand out to touch the side of Vander’s face.

“Hello, Penny,” Vander whispered to the hologram. “We’re close, now. I’m so sorry you aren’t here to see it. Though I may be able to do something about that soon.”

The woman smiled and continued to stroke Vander’s cheek. “I’m here, Vander, always here when you need me. You know that.” She glanced at the triceratops. “That’s neat.”

Vander smiled. “It really is.” He rarely pulled her up any more. He pushed a button un­der his desk that bolted the door as tears swam before his eyes. “I’ve missed you, Penny.”

“I’ve missed you too.” She leaned forward and gave him a soft kiss on his cheek that Vander could only feel thanks to the chip in his own head.


Rho shifted its perceptions, altering the composition of its multitude of eyes to take in different wavelengths of light and energy, changing the nerves that carried this information, and even altering its brain to in­terpret and evaluate the new images. A simple task for a god.

Rho turned these eyes on the void and looked over its prized possessions, one dark, twisted ball of seething darkness and hundreds more shimmering blue lights.

Rho reached out to one of dots of light where it swam slowly in space. These portals were far more useful than anything Rho had found in his prison. Creation had scattered these holes throughout the void.

Rho caressed them, thread-like tentacles sliding along the perimeter, feeling for the weakness Rho knew did not exist. Rho had found no physical way into the reality beyond them, not since its last attempt a thousand years earlier. Anger boiled up in the god, seething as it looked over the ball of darkness that had once been its greatest hope of escape, now closed forever.

Rho had lost part of itself in that struggle. It had taken ages to recover. Even at full strength, hope for escape had been slim.

Rho turned its attention back to the points of light. The dark god did have a way to cheat the one-way nature of these portals.

Rho allowed its consciousness to flow out toward the holes, sending its mind out with millennia worth of practice and fine tuning. Rho became one with the energy streams, ladder climbing into reality. Cold icicles stabbed at Rho’s mind as it crawled farther and farther away from its physical self in hundreds of directions, but the journey was worth the pain.

Rho could sense tiny sparks of life all around him, disgusting things, flashing in and out of existence. The god of darkness hated them for their light. Rho’s life smoldered in the darkness, long lasting and as cold as the swirling gray around it. These flickers of life didn’t deserve the stars and endless matter they enjoyed. Rho squashed a grouping of them and laughed as they attempted to escape the dark god’s influence.


Beads of sweat poured down the monk’s face as he continued to push Rho back from Earth. He knew it wasn’t just this planet.

Cries of pain and terror echoed through the hall. Attendants raced around with moistened towels, water, food, and anything else the devotees might need.

He gritted his teeth and managed to save millions, though he knew many hundreds would pay with their lives. Gods, please don’t let Rho touch the three souls I must protect the most.

In answer to his silent prayer, the twin gods appeared at his side. Renewed hope and strength burned through his veins as one rested a hand on his shoulder.

“You are doing very well, Feustis, and they are still safe.”


The colors danced around him as though to music. James caught himself humming as he worked, snatches of made up songs with strange chords and harmonies. Despite his misgivings about the simsuit, he loved working again.

Pretty easy to ignore that I’m wearing a skin-tight, death-suit when all I can feel and see are cargo pants and a t-shirt. His stab wound had healed quickly. He spun around to look at a new section of code without any hint of pain in his thigh. Not too surprising that a pharmaceutical company that delves into computer simulated dinosaurs should have access to the best doctors, medicine, and care.

James stretched his leg as he thought about the cut. The scar looked like something he might’ve done twenty years ago. The muscle moved smooth and strong under his skin. James wondered for the hundredth time if they’d given him experimental drugs amidst all those vitamins, shots, and pain pills. I’m not complaining. I feel amazing.

It had been only two days since he’d been released from the medical center and not only could he walk without pain, but he felt better than he ever remembered. All his muscles felt fit and firm, warming under the light of the holo-sun overhead.

Angie’s noticed too. The mental picture of her face when he’d bumped into her while leaving the sauna was priceless.

James smiled. He felt good, he had a beautiful woman showing interest in him, he felt the same interest in her, and he now worked on genetically recreating a creature that had lived in his fantasies forever.

That thought brought him back to the letters swirling around his head. The breath of life swims around me. Genetic codes pulled from over a thousand species, piecing themselves together at my will. That never gets old. The task exhilarated him despite the long hours of painstaking testing and retesting.

Genes clicked into place around him, and the computer gave him a rough estimate of size, shape, and color in an ever-changing holo-screen display. The image on the display vaguely resembled a dra­gon, though James knew there would probably be weeks, if not months, of tweaking and polishing before it came anywhere near the image in his head.


Mike and Angie watched James at work from one of the ob­servation rooms, his progress amazing them. Both looked on in awe at the ease with which he communicated his wishes to the computer.

Mike found himself jealous. With him, the computer always worked quickly and efficiently, did the equations, and gave him results. Nothing more, nothing less.

James brought out some desire to please him that no one else had expected from the programming. The computer spun the images around his head in a blur, but they froze instantly at the slightest move of his eyes. A twitch of his finger brought one section of code closer, larger, and into focus with speed and precision.

“Well, you were right. He was ready to get back in there.” Mike turned his head toward Angie, though his eyes stayed fixed on the dance of light around James.

Angie didn’t bother turning her head. She watched as the man she’d become fascinated with pulled two bonds out of the string of genetic coding and sent them spiraling into oblivion with a blink of his eyes.

She nodded. “He definitely has a way with the program. He can do what takes most of us a week in just a couple hours. I’m still not too comfortable with the suits’ software, but no one has had any other problems.” Her eyes tightened for a second. “If I ever see that weasel, Tim Fuller, again, I’ll strangle him.”

Mike sighed. They’d talked about nothing else for almost a week now, just repeating the same stuff back and forth. He couldn’t help it either. “Yeah, I would’ve never suspected the guy. And why tar­get James here, instead of taking it out on Stephens or Carlson? Just plain weird if you ask me. Some people just lose it I guess. Damaged in some way.”

Angie closed her eyes and saw a field of white fabric stained red. “Plain dirty, twisted mind that could come up with such a thing. They tell me the new suits won’t be capable of doing that again, even if the software tells them to. They’ve cut the strength of the fabric so it can’t break skin.”

Mike laughed. “Can’t believe they let us wear them all that time when they could. But I guess all companies have issues with new tech­nology. I’m just glad James wasn’t really hurt.”

“Me too, me too,” Angie whispered as she remembered the horrified look in James’ eyes, certain that it was reflected in her own now.


James tossed in his bed, his brain filled with smoke and fire. Smooth, blue-green scales glistening in the dim light. Characters, symbols, and genetic code spun dizzily around him in the dark cavern.

He’d been obsessed for days now, but had been frustrated in his attempts to finalize his project. No matter how hard he tried, his dragon defied solidifying into a viable organism, flashing red at him with every adjustment.

Yes, he had an approximation of a dragon, but the weak wing structure made flight impossible. Breathing fire eluded him as well. Angela had been impressed, Mike had been astonished, Dr. Stephens had scribbled out detailed reports, but it all left James unsatis­fied and unhappy.

His dreams continued to inspire him to do more. He pushed the limits of the BOCS’ capabilities, asking the poor com­puter to do things well outside of its current programming. James broke down the lungs to nothing and rebuilt them seven times, needing them to function at high altitudes even if the wings didn’t yet. Those lungs also needed to be able to handle some smoke even if his creation couldn’t light a candle at the moment. The heart needed to be stronger. He toyed with the idea of two hearts.

The blood cells needed to resist infection and disease while car­rying more oxygen but not allowing free radicals to migrate through the system. All other cells needed to be able to reproduce consistently, but not break down so quickly with age. He lengthened telomeres to extend chromosomal life and allow for more cellular renewal, but that increased the potential for cancer.

James introduced new cell types that focused on cancer, free radicals, and radiation. Many of these caused even more problems as they consumed perfectly healthy cells. He had to continually tweak and refine every single gene he introduced.

James’ head had turned into a perpetual motion machine of dragon genes. So many ideas buzzed around his head at once that he felt in­capable of containing them all. He chose as many as he could and hammered them into the dragon, bit by bit.

He barely ate, much to Angie’s frustration. He did little outside the BOCS other than sleep, and that he did fitfully. Fire, symbols, and DNA still surrounded him every time he closed his eyes. There would be no real rest until this project was complete. James knew that from years of experience, deadlines, and papers. His book had nearly killed him before it killed his career.

As he dreamed, tossing in his sleek, silvery bed, the computer whirled to life somewhere down the maze of corridors. An empty white room hummed as it filled with dark smoke, fire, and reptilian features. Symbols swung through the air and strings of genetic code shot in and out of the dense smoke like lighting.


Dr. Stephens stood tall as he strode down the hall toward the office of Vander Carlson. Despite his fear at being in the same room with the man, he had nothing but good news to share today.

James had shown marked improvement in his latest IQ test. His healing abilities also continued to develop at astonishing rates, his cells showing little sign of aging.

A sharp beep brought Stephens’ attention away from his daydream of Vander’s face filled with pride and astonishment. He tapped his wrist. Cell phones wouldn’t work in this building.

“Yes? This is Dr. Stephens.” He chimed happily into the air, hoping that Vander’s voice wouldn’t come from the implant by his eardrum, even though he headed that way now. Being called to the man’s office turned out to be much more troublesome than arriving with a preplanned ap­pointment.

Stephens had learned that Vander Carlson’s patience lasted longer with news he didn’t already know. When Vander had to call someone to discuss something the man had been stewing over, the full force of his anger could be unleashed with one ill-chosen word.

“Ah, yes. What do you need?” Dr. Stephens breathed out a sigh of relief as the voice of his assistant came through the tiny speaker inside his skull. What she had to say stopped him dead in his tracks.

“What? You’re not making sense. No, I understand you fine, but that’s just not possible. Someone has to be inside the BOCS for that to work. We have no sensors anywhere outside…no…no. No! I will tell him myself. Don’t send him anything yet. We have to find out what went wrong first. I’ll be right there.”

Even though Vander Carlson’s office sat a few steps away, the good news would have to wait. Dr. Stephens glanced toward the dark mahogany door that stood out from the sea of metallic gray doors down every hall. He could almost feel the cold malice that flowed out from beyond the warm wood. He turned slowly, for some reason he disliked having that door at his back, and walked back toward Sec­tion Six.

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