The Crystal Bridge

Chapter 8 - Build Your Own Terrible Lizard

James held the soft simsuit in his hands as Mike walked beside him on their way to the BOCS prep room.

“You sure you’re ready for this, James? You did have a bit of an ordeal yesterday. Straight from the medical section; don’t you want to see your quarters first?” Mike turned left down a hallway that looked just like the one they’d been in a moment earlier.

“No. I’m good. Still can’t believe I have to live in this crazy, underground maze for a year. My family’s going to think I’m dead.” James looked down another hallway that went on forever. “And I’ll probably get lost and die of starvation down here somewhere.”

Mike smiled at the joke. “It’s not so bad. The lodging is great and you can write, email, and phone plenty. You can’t beat the pay either. Consider it a sabbatical of sorts.” Mike pulled on his white hood as they entered the locker room, transforming himself into an odd bandit. “It’s not like your family saw much of you the last few years anyway. They won’t notice a difference.”

They each stepped into a changing stall and slipped on the bodysuit part of the outfit, finishing about the same time. Mike pulled on his gloves as they made their way out of the locker room. “That sister of yours was nice though. I’ve been here over a year now and have some leeway. What is she up t— ouch, James!”

James had punched him in the arm. That felt good. “You stay away from my sister. She’s happily married and has completely forgot­ten about you, as I should have a long time ago.”

Mike grinned. “I’m not so sure about either of those. Really? You think you’re up for the BOCS just yet?”

James slipped on his own gloves and hood, comfortable and lightweight as they stretched and molded to his skin. He rubbed at his temples through the soft white cloth, but his headache had dissipated hours ago. “I’ve actually never felt better. Don’t worry so much. You’re getting too sentimental in your old age.”

“Old age? Since when is thirty-three old? And you’re just a few years younger than me.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re thirty-seven.” James led the way down the narrow hall this time. He squinted until the lasers stopped scanning even though, once again, they didn’t come close to his eyes. The white portal seemed to call out to him, drawing him nearer and nearer. “I figure I need to get started. I have a lot to learn, don’t I?”

“Yes, yes you do.” Mike nodded as the door slid open.

James’ second trip to the BOCS amazed him no less than his first. The massive door sealed again without any detectable seams. The hum started up as before, but this time commands sounded in his head, as a gentle female voice spoke to him through the neural interface.

Mike led James through the first few steps, but then, with more practice, he designed the world around him alone. A mound of rocks popped into existence with a thought and he pushed them to the horizon. Clouds appeared and he summoned trees, made leaves grow, created flower blossoms, and then he banished them all to nothingness.

It’s exhilarating. He began building back up his holographic world, layering life on top of minerals to test the limits of complexity the computer could handle.

Mike stood beside him, motioning his own commands as animals he’d been working on swirled around him. James thought he still looked like a sorcerer.

“Why do you wave your hands around so much? You look like a magician or something.” James waved his arm. “Abracadabra!” A bunny appeared with a puff of smoke.

“Funny. It has to do with will. The BOCS responds to thoughts, but humans have a dozen thoughts running through their head at once: coffee, work, the girl down the street, someone’s married sister, the color of the sky today. You name it, we have it flowing through syn­apses millions of times a day. You have to give one thought more will behind it, and those little machines in your brain are more likely to know what you want.”

“Amazing.” James tapped his skull. “Still scary, but amazing.” The room had filled with every complex detail he’d imagined. So much for my test. A rock next to him felt gritty with the silica imbedded in its surface. A breeze carried toward him the scent of pine mixed with sweet wild flowers. He could even taste the moisture that rolled off the river in a fine mist. “Truly amazing, but the gesturing helps that how?”

“Simply a tool for focusing will. For some reason thinking one thought while waving your arm…well…does the trick. Get it? I’ll have to use that one when I sneak a date in here later. I suppose you don’t have to do it. I just find it easier.”

Mike looked around as though embarrassed and then grinned. “It’s like training wheels for your mind. I got used to riding with them. You do as you like, but it’s easier this way. Anyway, that’s enough of the boring stuff, now for some real training!”

Mike waved at the wind and a holo-screen appeared, floating above an outcropping of rocks. “You can pull up one of these at any time. It will respond to voice commands and thoughts.” He waved again and the screen filled with lists. He pointed. “Species that have been fully mapped are blue. There are thousands of them. Partially mapped genomes are in green. Thousands of those too. An asterisk next to a green one means it’s currently being worked on by someone. See, all these are being worked on by yours truly.”

“Wow.” James shook his head. “How’s all this possible, Mike?”

“I’m sure you noticed Omegaphil works a bit off the map. There are things here that have only been dreamed of elsewhere. I haven’t seen most of this stuff published anywhere either. They aren’t sharing everything, that’s for sure. Heck, they don’t even share between departments. I’m sure they have a whole section apart from ours devoted to gene sequencing. Another for gene pur­posing, splicing what we find here into bacteria, rats, lizards, whatever to find out exactly what a gene sequence does and how.”

“But if you’re coming up with new genetic codes in here, ones that don’t exist in nature, how do they manage to recreate them in physical DNA?”

Mike gave James an incredulous look. “I remember you being a smart man. Isn’t that obvious? What’s in your head right now?”

James’ eyes opened wide in awe. “Of course, nano-tech. But we’re talking about inside cells, at the molecular level or smaller. Nanotube sequencing. Most of that stuff is all theoretical, right? And there are more factors to consider, proper protein and enzyme mixes. They’d have to have so much more than we see here.”

“Right. If anyone has the resources, the money, the backing, and the skill sets to do it, Omegaphil does. I’m guessing a lot here. No one’s announcing what the other sections are up to at staff meetings or anything. We stick pretty close to our own. You are free to socialize, but the sharing of info is a big no-no.”

Mike waved again and his Daytha appeared before him, this time immobile. “Watch this, my friend. This is the great stuff.” Mike pulled up a screen showing a spiral of DNA. “This is Daytha, her entire makeup.”

The DNA unspiraled with another wave of his hand. Dots and lines became familiar letters as the sequence lined up in front of him. He waved and the flowing letters pulled away from the screen and wound around him, cocooning him in bits of light. The floor disappeared and the letters continued to swirl around him. Mike was left floating, hovering as the DNA swam up and down around him. Several feet of letters spiraled up and Mike pointed toward it. One section brightened.

“This gene controls hair color. Let’s go black, shall we?” He waved again, the sequence changed, and the simulated Daytha turned a bluish black color, like a panther, dark, sleek, and deadly. Mike pointed at another section, again highlighting at his silent command. “This has to do with a growth hormone.” A couple of waves and muscles rippled, horns grew longer. “And if I mess up,” the Daytha flashed red and turned translucent, “the computer lets me know…most of the time. It isn’t perfect, but it gets closer every day.”

James’ mind reeled and he tried to sit down on a rock to think. The rock held him for a second and then the resistance gave way and he fell through to the floor as the rock shattered into shards of light. James found himself on a patch of glittering white floor where the large stone had been.

Mike looked up and laughed hysterically. “Did you really think you could sit on a simulated rock?”

James laughed as well. “It felt real…for a second.”

“Yeah, that’s just the simsuit giving you some resistance and texture. It’s not designed to hold you up.”

“Yeah, thanks for the heads up before I sat on it.” James grinned as he stood. He dusted off his clothing before realizing that the shards of light wouldn’t have left any dust behind and his clothes weren’t real anyway.

He laughed again. “Not a word, Mike, not a word.” The Daytha continued flashing red between them. “How does the computer know when you’ve done something that renders the subject unviable?”

“The computer is faster than any I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you, Mike.” The soft voice sounded in their heads.

“Shut it, computer. It wasn’t meant as a compliment, just a fact.”

“Sorry, Mike.”

“You two don’t get along, do you?”

“There are still bugs in the system, fast or not. It has some quirks, like jumping into conversations at weird times and repeating things it doesn’t need to. I’ve heard ru­mors that it takes up a couple floors of the complex, deep below us. The more we input, the more it knows. They’ve fed it every gene sequence we can and mapped them out for it. It can then compare what you do here with similar sequences throughout the database, extrapolating the results.”

“That’s some system.”

“Yeah, and, like I said, I’m sure someone’s testing this stuff out for us. The results of those tests get plugged in and the computer can make better extrapolations each time. I can’t even imagine how slow the process must have been in the beginning, but now it practically flies. Daytha only took me a few months to construct from the ground up. She’s my special project.” The pride was unmistakable in his voice.

“I’m not sure I’m ready for all this.”

“I’m almost positive none of us are, but you’ve got good reason to be here. Take a look at this.” Mike waved his hands, Daytha disappeared, a screen flashed open, the list sped by, and Mike chose something.

James didn’t get a chance to read it before the screen disinte­grated.

A roar filled the valley, vibrating the ground beneath them, deep and raspy. The trees rocked back and forth, and a full grown tyrannosaurus stepped into the clearing. The massive head swung around and eyed them as though for a meal.

James’ instincts told him to run. He stood his ground though as he looked the giant, extinct animal directly in the eyes and felt the car­nivore’s hot breathe flow over him. Both man and hologram smiled from ear to ear.


James looked around his quarters, peeking in cupboards and drawers. The room felt naggingly familiar, sparse and sterile, but functional and convenient. His bed­room had a queen size bed on a platform in the middle of the room, covered in a shiny gray blanket tightly tucked into the edges. He had a small desk in a corner with a computer display above it that could create miniature holograms that seemed sad and pathetic after being inside the BOCS. The room’s designer had tucked a small bathroom around the corner with a sink that folded away into the wall.

No tub, but the shower did the job well, several jets massaging and steaming the stress of the last two days away, the hot water working wonders. He also planned to use the gym and the running track at the park down the hall to his advantage, especially since he felt more energized than he had in months. Crazy place, Omegaphil, with grass, frisbees, fountains, and rollerblades several hundred feet below a desert. Guess it’s home for now.

James laughed as the nagging familiarity of the room came into focus in his head. Honestly, my quarters look like they were designed by a trekkie. We even have a holodeck. Can you say rip off? I just need big windows that look out on space and the whole thing would be perfect.

James had always found that funny. The windows on space­ships in tv shows never had blinds. You could get some major alien peeping toms, especially with those cloaking devices floating around.

Blinds covered James’ windows though, covering rectangular cutouts that leaked light into the room. Simulated views for my sanity probably. Any real view would be dirt, rocks, and darkness.

“Computer, raise blinds.”

“Yes, Dr. Iverson.”

The blinds rose silently. He looked out on a beach. Light re­flected off the translucent blue water as it flowed in and out over the white sand. James had to admit the view felt convincing. He could even faintly hear the roar of the waves through the glass. Except deep down he knew it wasn’t real and wouldn’t be for some time. I’m stuck in this strange place for the next year. Might as well have some fun with it.

“Computer, change view. Can you do some space video, stars and such?”

“Yes, Dr. Iverson. Will this do?”

James nodded as the view froze, flickered, and shifted to slow moving stars, a hazy blue nebula floating in the distance. He smiled, but lowered the blinds after a moment of star-gazing.

He sat on the bed and looked around his small space-age studio apartment. I’ll have to get used to all this. No vacations, no trips to the grocery store, no chance to see any real beaches, or any real stars for a while. The things we do for money…and the opportunity to work in this crazy place.

Despite being built to take advantage of all available space, the room felt small and cold as he sat there alone. Mike had invited him to dinner with some friends, but James had declined, wanting to see his new home and rest a bit. Now he wanted the company.

The complex had about twenty restaurants instead of the one large cafeteria you’d expect from a corporate office building. A few of the restaurants even required reservations. Mike’s reservation was at seven. James glanced at his watch. I’ll be right on time…if I don’t get lost.

James stood, grabbed a jacket from a chair, and walked toward the door. It slid open with a swish of electronics and hydraulics. Wow. Rip off again. “Computer, don’t wait up for me.”

“Yes, Dr. Iverson,” Came the soft feminine voice.

“And please call me James!”

“Yes, James.” The door slid shut.

“I can’t believe I just said that.”

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