The Crystal Bridge

Chapter 18 - Out of the Sandbox

Dr. Stephens imagined he sat before the grim reaper himself, a man who took lives without thought or mercy and gave life just as readily. Vander grinned up at the holo-screen. The light flickered off his face making it appear even more like a skinless skull. I work for a strange man.

“So, our little prodigy is still growing?” Vander glanced through the semi-transparent screen to look Dr. Stephens in the eyes.

Stephens nodded, feeling braver with the barrier between them even though he knew it consisted of nothing but photons. “Yes sir. He appears to be unconsciously reprogramming the system. Hacking in and confusing the AI. I have a team working on an antivirus program that should lock him out.”

“Lock him out? Why would we want that? Sometimes I wonder how you got that PhD, Dr. Stephens.”

Dr. Stephens had heard that sneering joke a thousand times. This time he’d prepared a reply. “The antivirus is only to prevent him from delving into areas besides the BOCS program. I thought we’d allow him to play in the sandbox, but not the beach. I’ve also added extra programs to monitor his development.” Stephens couldn’t keep the pride out of his voice even though he knew it might backfire on him.

Vander fixed an appraising eye on him and didn’t speak for several moments. “Hmm, I may have underestimated you, Dr. Stephens. Not something I do often. Keep an eye on young Dr. Iverson for me. Keep me informed on his progression and let me know if he ever makes it out of the sandbox, so to speak.”

Dr. Stephens slipped quietly out. The praise felt warm and light in his chest, but he wasn’t going to tempt fate by saying anything more. As Stephens turned to close the door, Vander paused on an image of Iverson’s brainwave activity. The evil grin returned. The greenish light cast by the file flickered across the man’s skeletal features and left him with an image that would fill his nightmares for the rest of his life.


Rho ran its mental influence through the worlds of reality and felt the welcome terror flow back as their dreams, their nightmares, molded to the dark god’s will. Rho snuffed a weak spark of light out, grinning as death followed. Rho extinguished another, then another, then a hundred at a time.

The god of darkness enjoyed these games. It had forgotten how much pleasure it could derive from them. It pushed again, hard, and felt millions of the sparks of life pulse with terror and despair, desperate to be free of him.

The dark god reached farther into the worlds around it, teaming with life, as it lapped up the terror. Rho licked hungrily at the pain, sorrow, and fear it caused, laughing at the victims, eating at their minds and souls. Bringing pain, death, and shadows to the realms of the living to remind them of its existence.

This allowed Rho momentary es­cape from the dark prison. But, as always, Rho grew bored with the miniscule sparks of life and their inability to challenge the god. Rho allowed the foothold to slip, extinguishing a few thousand more sparks with a quick slash of mental power as it returned to its twisting body in the murky void once more.


Feustis held back tears as he felt death roll over the planet he swore to protect. I am failing them.

“No, you are not. You are saving millions, including the three who will save countless more at another time in another place.”

Feustis couldn’t ever tell the two apart by their voice. He glanced up and was surprised to see red robes at his side. Erastin wasn’t usually the most encouraging of the twin gods.

The god smiled and Feustis felt warmth flow through his veins. “We are doing what we can to help you, but you do something far more important than you know.”


James listened to the hum of the BOCS warming up. He’d come to love the sound of the mysterious machinery. The hum built to a deafening crescendo as James filled his head with images, ideas, and genetic code.

The computer responded with enthusiasm. Instead of the slow creation of grass, trees, and animals like he’d seen with Mike, the room burst to life in a second, life sprouting from the walls and floor instantly.

A clearing appeared around him ringed by monstrous trees. The sky blazed a silvery blue, so crisp and clear he could easily see the dual moons even in the daylight. A red gash, almost a light purple, ran the length of the sky from east to west, disappearing behind the occa­sional fluffy white cloud. James stared at the sky, blinking up at the crimson nebula, light-years away but dominating the night sky.

He couldn’t remember adding that detail, but it felt right. Shrugging, he pulled open a file with a thought. His dragon appeared in the middle of the clearing, sleeping. The deep bass sound of its snores reverberated through the meadow as the huge chest rose and fell.

James grinned with pride at the perfect, or as close to it as he could manage, creature from myth and legend. The genetic code spiraled around him in beautiful streams of colors and letters. The dragon could fly, looked to be more intelligent than monkeys or dolphins, and James suspected it could even breathe fire. James didn’t know how he’d managed half the code, but here sat the finished product, resistant to illness and very long-lived, maybe up to a thousand years, if not longer.

“Too bad you’re just a nerdy dream.” James patted the neck of his sleeping dragon. “I don’t know if it would be a good thing to un­leash you on the world even if it were possible.” He ran a hand along the shimmering scales between the beast’s eyes. The dragon made a deep rumbling sound that wasn’t even vaguely similar to a cat’s purr, but somehow conveyed the same contentment.

James laughed. “Computer, that was a little over the top.”

“I’ve been practicing several different sound combinations, James.”

“Very nice of you…and a little stalkerish.”

The computer answered him back with a technical rundown of the different animal sounds that had been combined and how they’d been altered. It then told him very softly in a tightened beam of sound that he had a visitor.

James smiled, turned on his heels, and yelled, “Hiya Angie!”

Angie squealed in terror. She’d been just a couple of steps be­hind James and was about to pounce. “How did you know I was there?”

James grinned and plucked a leaf off his cargo pants. “For one thing, I can smell that lavender or lilac lotion you use miles away. I may have also asked the computer to let me know when you sneak in on me.”

Angie frowned. “Well that just ruins our game now doesn’t it?” She tilted her head to the side and looked at him in a way that re­minded James of a cat eyeing its food. “We’ll have to come up with another one.”

“What kind of game are you going for?” James asked playfully.

Angie smiled wide, but then her eyes fixed on the glistening figure that overwhelmed the small clearing. “Wow, James, that is…that is…amazing. My tree took me two years to finish. I…” She trailed off as she ran a hand over a crystalline wing. The thin skin between bones was as clear as blue-green glass. “What’s this?”

James laughed. “Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t even remember writing the code. Seems to be some lightweight organic polymer. The computer thinks this is what it should look like. Who am I to argue?”

“Correct.” The sweet voice came from above, and James and Angie both ignored the computer’s interruption.

Angie continued to walk around the giant reptile. “Is it finished then?”

“I think so. I have a few minor tweaks left, but, yes, it’s pretty much done.” He felt a twinge of pride and sadness, like a father realiz­ing his son had grown up. “I guess I have to get back to my other projects now?”

Angie looked at him and furrowed her brow. “I would imagine so. I never would’ve guessed that you’d have gotten this far in a few weeks, even with being the biggest workaholic I know.” She smiled at the dragon and rubbed the creature between the eyes. She whispered to the purring reptile, “Seems my James will surpass us all.”


The velociraptor annoyed him, so much junk genetic code he had to cut away. The creature had been completed by another geneticist before James had arrived at Omegaphil, but he hadn’t liked the end product and insisted on redoing it.

The raptor had just looked too much like an emu for his taste. Admittedly, it had been patterned on an emu, but to James that was no excuse. The code swirled around him as he spoke silently to the computer. The image shifted in front of him as the vestiges of living bird were cut away, replaced with James’ best guess.

James wondered how many more prehistoric beasts were half completed, lying abandoned somewhere in the heart of the computer system. He did a quick search and found plenty. “Should keep me busy for a few weeks at least.”

“Yes, James. It should.” The computer agreed cheerfully.

“You really do like to answer rhetorical questions, don’t you?”

The silence that followed made James laugh. “You’re develop­ing a sense of humor, computer. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. I think I’m done for tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, James. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, not creepy at all…”


As James slept, the BOCS whirred to life. Code swirled around dozens of prehistoric animals. Velociraptors snarled at their larger cousins while herbivores attempted to hide amongst the trees. And in several labs, both below and above section six, images of di­nosaurs prowled.

A lab technician in Section Seven screamed as a pack of raptors ran past her. Glass shattered to the floor as she dropped precious vials. A giant T-Rex stomped up to a couple kissing on a park bench, startling them. They froze, feeling the warm breath on their faces. When it roared, the walls vibrated, disrupting the display of stars. When the flickering lights stopped, the monster had vanished.

Mike glanced at Cindy. She’d convinced him to try another date. She sat still, eyes wide in shock and her mouth open. Mike shook his head. “I knew I should’ve stayed out of the park.”

He looked at the spot where the dinosaur had stood moments before. He could still smell the rank carnivore’s breathe hanging in the air. “What’s James up to now?”

Dr. Stephens awoke to flashing lights and a buzzing in his quarters as silent alarms went off all over the complex. He pulled open a holo screen and sighed. “Someone’s out of their sandbox.”

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