The Crystal Bridge

Chapter 26 - Making Connections

James popped out from behind a tree, nearly scaring Mike and Angie to death.

“Thanks for meeting me in the park, guys. Let’s take a walk.”

Angie stilled her beating heart and looked him up and down. He didn’t look any worse than the last time she’d seen him, just after he’d returned from the company-staged kidnapping. “I couldn’t make much sense of your message.”

James glanced around the park. “That’s the point, my dear. Have to be cryptic.”

Mike chimed in. “So, what’s going on this time? Any more di­nosaurs wandering the halls?”

“Nope. This time it was me.”

“What?” Angie and Mike spoke together.

“I had a dream only it wasn’t a dream. I walked into some of the other sections. Omegaphil’s got some crazy stuff going on. Clon­ing, human experiments, you name it.”

Mike stopped mid-step and Angela almost walked into him. “Are you sure you weren’t just dreaming? I mean, we all imagine some of the weird stuff Vander and this company must be into. It could all be in your head.”

James headed toward a bench. “Yeah. I would’ve thought so too… if it weren’t for the computer being stuck in my head and her confirming everything I saw.”

“Computer what?” Angie followed right on his heels.

They sat down on the bench together and James continued. “I saw the computer system itself, quantum, very cool. I touched one of the processors and—”

Angie interrupted. “You touched what? Why would you do that?”

“I was dreaming. It’s normally okay to touch a glowing electric ball in a dream. I didn’t know the computer would be annoying the crap out of me ever since. Shut up!”

Angie’s mouth opened in shock.

“Sorry, not you, Angie. Her.” He tapped his temple. “She doesn’t stop talking.”

Mike shook his head and kicked at a pebble on the ground in front of the bench. “Our friend’s lost it.”

“No. Watch.” James glanced up like he was thinking and the holographic roof flickered for a moment. He then glanced at a tree and birdsong erupted from a speaker hidden somewhere in the branches. “Computer, tell them.”

A tight beam of sound sent from a speaker above them shot down to the bench. Anyone more than a few feet away wouldn’t hear a thing.

“Angie, Mike, he is telling the truth. James and I share a con­nection. It is very strange. He has strong feelings for you, Angie.”

“That’s enough, computer!” James turned a bright shade of red.

Angie’s brow furrowed as she contemplated James and the blush that crept up his face. “Is that so, computer? Tell me more.”

James looked at her. “Do we really have time to torment me? We need to fix this.”

“Yes, we do have time. We’ll fix this after she answers my questions. Computer?”

“His emotions are hard to follow. He has fear, attraction, de­sire all rolled together. It is quite intriguing. When the fires started he couldn’t stop worrying about your safety.”

“Thank you, computer. Mike, give us a minute.”

“What? Oh.” He wandered off and pretended to be interested in a patch of flowers.

Angie pulled James to her and kissed him hard. His eyes widened in surprise, but then he closed them and slowly moved a hand up to her face. His body relaxed as she pulled away, leaving him holding empty space. Emotions boiled inside her.

“I can’t, James. I’m sorry.”

“But you’re the one who kissed me.”

“I know. I can’t right now. I’ll explain everything soon.” She put a hand on his and managed a sad smile. “We’ll figure this out though.”

The computer’s cheerful voice beamed down. “That was fasci­nating! Do it again.”


Vander waved an index finger in the air as he motioned through the controls for the security feed. After the dinosaur incident, Vander had raised the resolution and frame capture rate on all the cameras. They’d gotten very little out of them when the phantom dinosaurs had prowled the halls, flickers of movement, a few ghostly images of scaled skin. Vander expected better results this time.

The dragon appeared on one screen. The video took Vander’s breath away as it flew down a hall­way, fire belching from its mouth and nostrils. Iridescent scales flick­ered in the fluorescent light and the creature banked left and up, flying through solid concrete to the floor above.

Vander flicked his wrist and the image flickered. Another cam­era’s recording filled the screen. The dragon slid from the ground, bellowing at a security guard who walked the hall. Vander laughed as the man pulled at his weapon and fell to the floor. The great reptile slipped through a wall, leaving scorch marks on the pristine white paint.

As amazing as this is, it isn’t when it all began, is it?

Vander pulled up the camera watching the hallway directly out­side James Iverson’s quarters. He flicked his fingers, moving to an earlier recording and slowing down the playback. He watched, un­blinking for minutes, starting to give up hope, but then a flash of movement caught his eye.

He motioned a small jump back and then slowed down the playback even more. A ghostly image appeared for a fraction of second. He slowed it down again and replayed the moment. The image materialized in the middle of the hallway. James stood there, plain as day in his un­derwear, and then he vanished.

Hours later Vander had gone through the playback on twenty-seven different cameras and had seen James appear for fractions of a second on a dozen frames, most in sections he didn’t have access to.

“I think we need to have another chat with our Dr. Iverson.” He jabbed a button on his desk. A face appeared above the desk. “Susan, get me Dr. Stephens, please. Right now.”

The disembodied head nodded. “Yes sir.”

When her head had gone, Vander let out a short laugh. “So close, Penny. Visualize Penelope.”

The red-haired woman stepped from the far wall. “Hey there, Vanny. What are you up to?”

Vander smiled. “Vanny? No one’s called me that in ages.” He sat up and cocked an eyebrow. “Not even you, actually. Computer, is everything okay with the Penelope program.”

The female voice came from the system. “Yes, Vander. The program is running at optimum.”

Penny slid into the chair across from him and smirked in a way that was so much like who she had been. “I’m fine, Vanny. I’ve never felt more whole since I’ve been here, running through the hardware of this place, though I admit I’m a little disappointed in what you’ve been doing with some of your projects. This isn’t what we’re about, my love.”

Vander’s mouth fell open. “What? Computer, something is definitely wrong with the Penelope program. Have you added anything recently?”

Penny leaned forward, her eyes twinkling at him as the computer answered. “I have been following the set protocols to update this program with anything related to Penelope’s work and life before she died that I come across as I mine other networks for information.”

“See, the disembodied voice says I’m fine. I must be then, though I’m not much more than a disembodied voice either, am I? What am I to you, Vanny? A plaything? A memory? A ghost?” Penny toyed with her hair as she spoke, flashing him the most heartrending smile.

“Computer, I don’t like these latest additions.”

“I apologize, Vander. I accessed a new network that had code on simulated emotions and I have integrated them into the program in line with the emotional reactions observed throughout Penelope’s lifetime.”

Vander grimaced. “Remove them.”

Penny stood and leaned over the desk. “The computer just gave me back a little of my soul, that’s all. Let me keep it. I can’t promise I’ll behave, but you want the real me back, don’t you? Isn’t that what all of this is about?”

Vander blinked and cleared his throat slowly. “Computer, remove it, but save it all to a subfolder. I will need it later.”

He watched as the life and emotion seeped out of the woman who still leaned in toward him, the twinkle in her eyes diminished and then faded to nothing.

“It is complete.” The voice of the computer sounded wistful, but Vander felt certain he projected his own despair on the software.

“Thank you, computer, close the Penelope program.” Penny vanished and Vander shivered. That was too much like watching her die all over again.


A tiny orb exited the portal and drifted on the invisible tide of the void. Sound, light, and pulses of quantum particles leaked behind it like the tail of a comet. Rho knew this orb, despite its size, carried more power than anything Rho had ever found within its prison.

Rho curled its shell of tentacles that surrounded the newest portal inward as hunger rolled through the endless web and the dark smile returned somewhere near the center of the slithering labyrinth. A tentacle reached out from the shell and split into hundreds of inky threads. One thread wound itself around the orb and then touched the polished crystalline surface with the most delicate caress. The infinite darkness of the void exploded into brilliant crimson light.


Feustis grunted as he exerted all the love, hope, and empathy he had left through the lens between his clasped hands. He was sure he would never be able to feel anything again, if he survived this task.

I was willing to do what was necessary, which includes death. I have nothing to fear on the other side. The gods seem to like me.

The onslaught from Rho had been coming and going in waves since the dark god had woken. It felt like another trough and Feustis was certain he would not survive the next peak. A dozen monks had already fallen ill. Two had died.

He could feel another crest coming on, his hands shaking from the strain of holding them up for hours at a time. Feustis had also lost his lunch and his dinner to a small bucket that he now kept by his side so he could use it without moving his hands. Bile rose in his throat and Rho’s hatred flowed over him and then it was gone completely.

What? The twin gods appeared once more and sat down cross-legged in front of him. The one in white, Gathin, grinned.

“Good job, Feustis my man. We couldn’t have done it all without you.”

“What? It’s over? Rho has been defeated?”

The one in red, Erastin, spoke up. “No, not yet, but soon enough. Rho’s attention will be elsewhere until then though, so you and your brethren can get back to meditating, discovering the secrets of the universes, and giving the two of us a headache with your bowing and praying. We keep telling you it’s wholly unnecessary.”

Feustis smiled as he let his arms fall to his side and the image of Earth wavered and vanished. “I may just follow through this time and stop worshipping the two of you completely. You have made my life unbearable. You are both confusing and odd. I’m not sure if eternity has been kind to your sanity. And you,” He pointed an accusatory finger at Erastin, “keep threatening to destroy the civilization I love. I think I’m going to abandon religion altogether and make yinlack cheese in the mountains.”

Both gods laughed, and the positive emotions Feustis thought he would never feel again flowed back into his body and his soul. The fatigue bled away too.

Gathin stood. “You have done well. Pursue any hobby, career path, indulgence, or self-punishment you like. I do believe your world could use more yinlack cheese, if for nothing else than to help remove paint and kill parasites from across the room.” He popped out of their presence before Feustis could come up with a defense for his favorite snack.

Erastin put a hand on the monk’s knee. “He’s just jealous that I came up with that particular cheese. He secretly loves it.” The god stood and took two steps away before turning back. “I promise not to destroy your civilization until your great-great-great-great grandchildren see the sun rise over the silver mountains of Ydour, with deliciously fragrant cheese in hand or not. I owe you that much.”

Feustis nodded. “Thank you.”

Erastin smiled, winked at him, and disappeared in a flash of fire that curled in on itself and then ceased to exist with a small pop and a puff of sulfurous smoke.

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