The God Machine
by Jon Athmann

A cloud of super-cooled rubidium gas was held inside of a twenty-foot cylinder. Laser pulses fired systematically into the vacuum. The light entered the cloud and slowed to a standstill at a temperature near absolute zero; liquid helium kept the core at four degrees Kalvin. When the light came to a stop, individual photons were isolated and encrypted with information-plus or minus spin states-by a high frequency magnetic field. Once the photons were coded, the magnetic field ejected them out of the cloud where they traveled at the speed of light to their destination. This was Spire Corporation’s biggest secret and most powerful instrument. Two scientists, Anthony and Nathan, were in control of the fastest computer ever built, the God Machine.

Nathan was Spire’s senior research director. He earned his tenure after receiving his doctorate in computational physics at MIT and a short post-doctoral stint researching biochemistry at Cal-Tech. For the last fifteen years he worked for Spire Corporation, using the God Machine for computational chemistry. He researched specific interactions of complex proteins-at the atomic level-something that would take the entire world’s computing force a lifetime to solve. With the God Machine, he could craft the perfect nucleotide arrangement, which displayed actions synonymous with in-vivo experiments, leading to remarkable discoveries.

“How is that last structure coming?” Anthony said between sips of his coffee. It was another late night on the 60th story of Spire’s research laboratory. Anthony had a similar educational background; Harvard Medical school, doctorate in genetics at Princeton, though he was renowned for his talent in synthetic chemistry.

“I changed the terminal ester with an amide. It looks stable now.” Nathan squinted at the screen. A few blinks sharpened the image. “But this doesn’t make sense.”

“What do you mean?” Anthony swallowed and came over to the flat-screen monitor. The God Machine ran dominantly behind them.

“I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now.” Nathan had a sort of gravel to his voice that could be caring or commanding, depending on the situation. “There is no way to make this sequence medicinal. Entire muscle fibers would have to be replaced. I don’t see how this would be helpful in pharmaceuticals.”

“Look.” Anthony pointed to the screen with his bony fingers. “The muscle twitch models show a five-fold increase over normal muscle tissue. The strength is unreal, almost double. Stop worrying about applications. We made a hell of a protein strand. I think it’s time to call it a night.” A nervous laugh of reassurance slipped between his lips.

Nathan rubbed his face and checked his watch. It was late. “It’s just everything we’ve done. The immune system receptors, the growth plates, and cardiovascular tissue, they can all be easily adapted into medicine to help a lot of people. But these muscle fibers can’t be used in patients. You’d have to build them from scratch…”

“Forget about it.” Anthony cut him off. A bead of sweat carved down his back. “They pay us the big bucks to do science. Let Spire figure out how to sell it.”

“This just doesn’t make sense.” Nathan was going over the last fifteen years of research in his mind. He thought about every discovery they made; increased blood oxygen saturation, high-pain resistance, rapid healing times, resilient muscle tissue, the works. But these fast-twitch fibers didn’t fit. They weren’t helpful. We’ve almost made the perfect cure. He looked at Anthony. His face was pale and sunken; his eyes eagerly awaiting a response. The perfect human.

“It’s complicated.” Anthony choked.

“What is Spire planning on doing with this?”

“…” Anthony couldn’t think of a lie.

“What do you know?” Nathan was getting louder. “They aren’t going to create a subject are they?”

“No.” Anthony said as if by reflex.

“Oh my God.” It all makes sense. The reasons were sorting out in Nathan’s mind. They weren’t making cures. He was crafting the perfect human genome. They can’t seriously think…

“No, no, we can’t let them do this.” Nathan spun back in his chair and started sifting through files on his computer.

“Wait, what are you doing?” Anthony stood up, spilling black coffee on his shirt.”

“Getting rid of the files. This was all a mistake.” He gathered the files and hit delete, but they were so large they would take weeks to erase. He stood up and walked over to the server, it would be faster to destroy the drives.

“Wait…” Anthony tried to protest. “Are you willing to throw away everything we’ve accomplished? Imagine the possibilities.”

“And create monsters? It isn’t right.” Nathan ripped the plastic panel off the servers. “I can’t be a part of this.”

“Stop!” Anthony tore Nathan’s hands away. It was the first time he had ever been that physical. “I’m not going to let you ruin my work!”

Nathan resisted.

They began to struggle, knocking over quarter million dollar instruments and glassware. A jug of ether waste shattered on the ground. “What are you doing!” Nathan choked. He pushed Anthony into a workbench. The collision knocked a lit gas burner onto the floor.

Nathan moved back to the server and removed an exabyte silicon hard-drive. Anthony came from behind and tackled Nathan to the floor. They wrestled for the hard-drive while the ether spill leaked closer to the flame.

“I’ve almost created life! You won’t take that away from me!” Anthony found himself on top of Nathan with his hands around his neck. His fingers were tight and his eyes were dialed into daggers.

“Get off of me!” Nathan grumbled.

As they rolled over the tile floor, the ether vapors sifted into the air and caught the open flame. Immediately a flash of heat exploded the remaining chemicals. Counter tops and analytical balances were turned into shrapnel, which were lodged into the nearest conglomerate of flesh.

The ash from cabinets and chemicals covered Nathan’s face and blackened his eyes. The fire alarm immediately sounded as the sprinklers poured bitter water onto the lab.

Anthony’s shoulder was fractured against a work hood during the explosion, but he was strong enough to grab a metal rod from a reflux stand. He found Nathan underneath a sheet of flameproof countertop.

Despite the water, smoke still filled the air. Fire engines wailed in the night as the 60th story of Spire’s laboratory burned. Nathan opened his eyes to see his hands covered in blood. He saw Anthony’s gaunt face; he was clutching a metal ring-stand overhead.

“I’m sorry Nathan.”

He swung the iron rod and everything went black.

Warm pinpricks of oxycodone in Nathan’s fingertips let him know that he was alive. He looked around. The room was bright with fluorescent lights and a polished tile floor. Magazine racks containing paper pamphlets on healthy dieting rested on a table near a small vinyl couch. Where am I? His stomach dropped from waking in an unfamiliar room. A green line pulsed across a LCD screen, though the short beep was absent at the peak. He tried to move his arm but IV needles were already inserted into his veins; a bag of saline simultaneously administered electrolytes and painkillers into his system. Nathan’s head started to throb, seven stitches held his face together, though the rest of his body ached just the same.

I have to get out of here. Panic elevated his heart rate and the monitor documented the change. Nathan sat up and a wave of vertigo flushed over his head. He peeled the medical tape off his wrists and tactlessly yanked out the IV needles. He unfastened his gown and pulled off the sensors. The instrument flat-lined, and in chorus, the door opened. A man in a white coat stared intently at a clipboard as he passed through the frame.

“Hey there, you need to get back in bed.” The doctor seemed startled.

Nathan didn’t say a word and tried to push himself through the door.

“Settle down, you need to take it easy.” The doctor grabbed Nathan by the shoulders. At the time, he was stronger.

“Let me go!” Nathan slurred. When you know secrets more valuable than your existence, life slows down, it becomes simplified; survive. If Spire wanted to protect their research, they would have to silence Nathan, one way or another.

The doctor wrestled him back onto the bed. “It’s ok. Everything will be fine. You suffered a pretty severe concussion. You need to rest. We will take care of everything. Your family has already been notified.”

“My family?” Nathan stopped resisting.

The doctor straightened his coat. “Yes, your brother dropped off a box of your clothes just a minute ago while you were sleeping.”

Nathan eyed the package. “I don’t have a brother.”

A small cardboard box rested next to his bed. He pulled back the flaps to reveal unfamiliar collared shirts. He dug through socks and jeans until he found a series of blue and red wires fastened to a radio receiver on top of a brick of plastic.

“Get back!”

Nathan threw his body into the side of the bed, knocking it over. As he scrambled behind the frame, a radio wave passed through the sheetrock and struck the receiver in the package. An electric spark ignited a strip of magnesium, which surpassed the energy barrier of the plastic explosive. The sound of a small implosion gave a thud when the chemicals broke bonds and became critical. The rapidly expanding gas and heat exploded out of the package in a dark, ash-filled, fireball.

The shockwave broke the fluorescent light blubs, releasing toxic gases into the air. The tiles cracked and the ground gave-way to gravity. Nathan became weightless as the tiles separated from their mortar and smashed into sheet metal of the ventilation system below. Bed sheets, IV’s, and medical equipment cluttered the air. A coat rack struck Nathan across the face, but he didn’t feel a thing.

When the heat subsided Nathan was left with a high-pitch scream in his ears. The sound was a telltale sign that his epithelial cells were dying. He pressed his hand on a brick of concrete to push himself up. Jagged glass was imbedded into his wrist and palm. Thick flakes of ash and dust created a layer of gauzy, unbreathable air. He slipped while trying to stand and landed on his side. The pain cut straight through the medication. I have to get out of here.

With sirens soon to follow, Nathan grabbed some half-destroyed clothes and crawled over the debris. He managed to stumble into the hallway and out of an exit before nurses and paramedics found the doctor unconscious and blackened by the flames. Red and blue police sirens were already flickering between skyscrapers as Nathan limped across the street. He was surprised to see it was still dark.

The entrance to Spire’s corporate headquarters was laced with chrome and granite. Stainless steel pillars strongly held the face of the 70-story building from toppling onto the fountain in the foyer. Within the walls, Spire was decorated with the finest oak and stone. Leaflets of gold and silver tactfully aided the lighting with an extra bounce of sparkle. Marble tiles led the way to the reception desk, which was vacated hours ago.

Opiates and adrenaline were battling for control over Nathan’s synapses. The result left him disconnected, as if he were controlling his body from a few feet away. Nathan stumbled passed Spire’s glamorous front entrance towards the parking garage; away from external surveillance cameras. Nathan’s car was already removed, but he was banking on one particular vehicle still there.

Nathan walked down three ramps before he found a green hybrid parked in a reserved space. He cloaked himself in the darkness between concrete pillars. He bent over his knees to try and catch his breath. The anesthetic lapsed his sense of time and almost immediately a shadow passed underneath neon exit lights, though Nathan must have waited close to an hour.

Footsteps accompanied the jingle of keys as the figure reached into his pocket. When the automatic doors unlocked the headlights flashed to reveal Nathan, lunging his arms around the man; his strong hands sealing tight around the man’s mouth.

“Don’t scream. It’s me. I need you to be quiet.”

The man struggled and Nathan elbowed him in the side. “Quiet!” Nathan whispered in the man’s ear. “I’m going to let you go now.”

Nathan let go and the man spun around.

“What the hell are you doing?” The man recognized Nathan’s voice.

“Stay quiet Ethan.” Nathan pulled him into the shadows.

“What’s going on?”

Ethan was Spire’s youngest researcher. He wore a green baseball cap with a stitched clover over the front. Clumps of brown hair weaved around his glasses and were bleached blonde in streaks from being out in the sun. Two years ago he was on the dean’s list at Cal-Tech before the University asked him not to return due to an incident during a graduating class’s ceremony. Apparently he fed images of World of Warcraft onto projectors mid commencement speech. Despite his antics, Ethan was vastly talented in small electronics, and Spire, with Nathan’s help, quickly recruited him for his ability. Ever since then, Ethan had looked up to and respected Nathan as a father figure.

“Shouldn’t you still be in the hospital?” Ethan reached for Nathan’s stitches. “What happened up there?”

“I don’t have time to explain.” Nathan batted his hand away. “What do you know about Spire’s research?”

Ethan’s eyes were still wide open from the jolt. “All of it? There’s a lot of stuff going on man.”

“No. My research. What is Spire planning on doing with my research?”

Ethan took off his hat and ran his fingers through his clumpy hair. “You think they’d tell me. Pharmaceuticals right? Drug delivery, vaccines, that kind of stuff right?” He adjusted his glasses. “Why are you asking me anyway?”

“We need to go back to my lab.”

“Why?”

“I think they are planning something dangerous, we need to destroy my research.”

Ethan furrowed his brow. “Right. You sure those stitches aren’t holding in your crazy?”

Nathan kept a stern face and didn’t say a word.

“You can’t be serious.”

“Fifteen years ago Spire built a quantum computer. With it we created a scaffold that may lead to genetic modifications of human DNA.”

“No way.” A smile stitched across Ethan’s face. “You’re telling me Spire has a quantum computer and I’m stuck playing Doom III on my Compaq?”

Nathan didn’t have time for this. He grabbed Ethan’s arm and led him back to the entrance. “We need to hurry and destroy the hard-drives before Spire can copy the files.”

“Whoa, whoa, slow down.” Ethan protested, not fully believing Nathan and wanting to go home. “It’s probably too late. Spire keeps a backup of all their data off site.”

“No, they keep this backup underground, on site. They wanted to keep the research confined.” Nathan never fully understood why until now.

During the conversation they had reached the entrance; a steel-framed door with Spire’s corporate logo etched into the glass. A security console requested validation before releasing the magnetic lock. Nathan passed his access card in front of the sensor, but was acknowledged with a red light.

“Use yours.” Nathan commanded while throwing his card on the ground.

Ethan looked at Nathan with a little more belief. He swiped his card and the glass doors slid open.

Spire’s security system was fully automated, no cameras, no guards, just motion sensors and electronic locks. The system was devised to remove variables. Security cameras were a threat towards losing proprietary information, and giving restricted access to GED-equivalent security guards seemed like an unnecessary risk. Spire monitored who was inside their complex by an extensive wireless network that monitored security cards. Once a card was inside the complex, the system tracked its movement. As long as Nathan and Ethan were near his card, they wouldn’t set off the alarms, but Spire would know exactly where Ethan was at all times.

“Where is the server?” Ethan asked.

“B5 storage.” Nathan said while walking to the staircase.

“I don’t have access there.”

Nathan stopped dead. There has to be a way around it.

“Wait.” Ethan quickly sparked to life. “Follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

“My lab.” Ethan turned the corner and walked up a flight of stairs. “Last year I was working on a virtual cathode oscillator, called a vicator. It generates tunable, narrow-band microwaves at very high power levels. It was suppose to be developed in parallel with Spire’s project to beam solar power from photovoltaic cells in space, but the device had a problem. It kept frying itself. Turns out, the strong magnetic field generates an electromagnetic pulse.”

“An EMP? Like from a nuclear blast?” Nathan asked while looking over his shoulder; he could have sworn he heard footsteps.

“Yes, but much less nuclear, none actually.” They entered Ethan’s lab, workbenches and tables were scattered with small metal components and circuit boards. Ethan opened a cabinet in his office and started throwing out intricate metal devices until he reached the back. “But the magnetic radiation causes circuit boards to arch and fry themselves. There she is.” Ethan extracted a surprisingly small device the size of a wallet with an opening similar to a camera lens. “We could use it to knock out the security control. The system would revert back to maintenance clearance, which I do have.”

“Is that going to be strong enough?” Nathan sounded skeptical.

“Yeah. It pumps out some serious wattage. She’s powered by a lithium-fluorine battery.”

“Lithium-fluorine?” Nathan was shocked. Lithium-fluorine was the holy grail of battery development.

“Yeah, it’s Spire.” Ethan said matter-of-factly. “Seriously, where have you been?”

“Alright. Let’s go.” Nathan ushered Ethan out of the room. They needed to move faster.

“One second.” Ethan dug his heels into the ground. “I need to fix something really quick. It will only take a minute.”

Nathan checked his watch. They shouldn’t take this long. “Hurry up.” Nathan poked his head out of the room. Those had to be footsteps.

Black blocky letters labeled a large metal door, ‘B5.’ Steel pillars sealed the entrance closed, similar to a vault. It would take a head on collision with a freight train or a Harrier Jet to force their way through the steel. Next to the armored door was a security console, it’s LCD screen burned brightly with a 3D rendition of Spire’s corporate logo.

Ethan connected blue wires to the power supply of his vicator. Electrons hummed through copper coils as the device warmed up. “Here goes nothing.” Ethan securely fastened the gadget to the console with a small piece of metallic adhesive. It almost looked like a bomb.

“You have a cell-phone on you?” Ethan asked while calibrating the magnetic field; the vicator began buzzing loudly.

“Yeah.”

“I hope it wasn’t expensive.”

“Why?”

“It’s broke now, circuits are fried.”

Nathan didn’t say a word.

“Sorry.”

The instrument started to shake as the electric whine grew louder. Then suddenly a loud clap echoed through the staircase, which was followed closely by sparks and an explosion. Tiny soldering bits scattered into the air as chemicals charred the console. Despite the burnt plastic smell, they had succeeded. A green light signified that the system was reverted and Ethan’s card was registered.

Ethan dusted fragments of silicon off his shirt. “Oh yeah.” He coughed, trying to remember. “It did that from time to time.”

Nathan took the first step into the cold, dark room. Motion sensors sparked fluorescent lights to life. They lit row after row of cylindrical towers covered in thick white sheets. Nathan moved over the tile floor. His footsteps echoed in the seemingly endless room; vaulted ceilings created its very own atmosphere, just shy of fitting a star inside. Nathan wrapped his fingers around the tarp. With one ruffling pull the sheet fell off the case to reveal the face of a man.

They were incubators, each ten feet tall, made of stainless steel and a polycarbonate translucent case. Inside each was a beast of a man. Their arms and legs shackled to the back of the device. Striated muscles crossed the man’s chest and stomach in massive slabs. He hung suspended in perfluorocarbons. The fluorinated chains were extremely polar and could dissolve high concentrations of oxygen. This breathable solution mimicked the womb; a fertile environment for these creatures to develop and mature. These shells of men were unconscious, pale and hairless, missing the spark of life.

“Oh my God.” Nathan breathed.

“Holy…” Ethan’s jaw dropped. “You weren’t joking.”

“Let’s hurry.” Nathan whispered without taking his eyes off the monster’s face. “We need to destroy the drives.”

They started running, passing hundreds of incubators down the length of the room. “What about these guys?” Ethan breathed heavily.

“They must be experiments for growing tissue.” Nathan doubted Spire had discovered how to fully construct consciousness and life. Though, it was hard to say what exactly Spire was capable of through their research.

“What’s that?” Ethan motion toward a twenty-foot cylinder pressed against the far wall.

“That’s the God Machine.” Nathan was curious of his own answer. “They must have moved it after the fire.”

Nathan looked at the God Machine. It was beautiful, sleek, and powerful. “This is it. The tool used to craft those mistakes.”

“Wow.” Ethan was wide-eyed. “Can I touch it?”

Nathan suddenly became humbled by the machine. “You know, if you distilled all the information of the planet; were able to equate all facts, figures, memories, dimensions; the fine details of all the elements of the world, this machine could process the information in less than a week.”

“Wow.” Ethan traced his eyes down the machine.

“The servers are over there.” Nathan motioned to the corner. “Go find my lab and destroy the hard-drives.”

Nathan stayed behind, looking over the God Machine, wondering what amazing, revolutionary discoveries they could make if they only knew how to really use it. He had spent a significant portion of his life working with the instrument, but his petty goals came in the way of the machine’s true potential.

A moment later Ethan yelled from the corner. “Found it.” He released small metal pins on a hard-drive and extracted the silicon blade.

“You’re too late.” A voice echoed through the cavernous basement. Anthony emerged through a doorway with a gun in hand. “You’d only be destroying a copy of a copy.

“Anthony.” Nathan announced. Suddenly his stitches hurt, remembering Anthony’s sunken face as the iron rod came crashing down on him. “This is too dangerous. You can’t do this.”

“No. I have to.” Anthony took steps towards them. “Technology has evolved faster than mankind. It’s only right that we use technology to speed our natural progression.” He passed between incubators, keeping the gun pointed at Nathan. “These men will be the genesis of a new generation. They will be stronger and faster than the best athletes in the world. You should be happy Nathan. We accelerated evolution.”

“No, you played God.”

“I played God?” Anthony snickered. “You think I’m the only one who wanted this? Spire wouldn’t be able to fund this project without outside help from the government. Think, we won’t have to send our best men off to war. We can synthesize a soldier; we can synthesize strength, power, and ruthlessness.”

“What happens when you can’t control them?” Nathan put his hand on the God Machine. “We were supposed to save lives!”

“Save lives? We are. These new creations are impervious to disease, fatigue, and injuries. This species will usher in a new era. A whole new beginning.” Anthony motioned towards the God Machine. The gun was shaking; his frail arm couldn’t firmly support the weight. “Chemistry and genetics are just the beginning. String theory, dark matter, time-travel; the God Machine gives us limitless power to discover the complexities of the universe. We are entering an age where we can defy what we know about science; where all the rules change. Hell, within decades stem cells will be synthesized by the kilotons and injected into tissue to halt death; we will become God-like.”

“Listen to yourself. Biological weapons, time-travel, immortality? How do you think the world is going to react?”

“The world will adapt as it always has.” Anthony yelled. “There will be opposition, non-believers, war. Millions will die during this transition. But you have to understand, we will become the fathers of a new renaissance, and out of the ashes of ignorance and reluctance, the world will learn to accept our progress.”

Anthony became pale. “My only regret is that you had to find out before our research was complete. It will take longer, but Spire won’t allow you to resist us. It’s a shame.” Anthony fixed his gun on Nathan. “You were always the smarter one.”

Nathan looked at the God Machine. “We were never meant for a power like this. We were never ready.” He wrapped his fist around wires connecting the God Machine to the automated system. A powerful yank severed the wires from their connection. Sparks singed his knuckles as he increased the laser power and destroyed the control panel.

“What are you doing!” Anthony screeched.

Nathan took a step back as a wave of sparks sprayed from the instrument.

“No!” Anthony dropped the gun and made his way to the God Machine. “What did you do!”

The laser was kicking out kilojoules of energy. Trillions of photons entered the rubidium cloud and came to a halt. A near infinite number of photons began to aggregate and establish a density. This small spec of energy was gathering mass and a gravitational pull. Tiny bolts of electricity arced across the room as electrons congregated on objects closest to the machine.

Nathan and Ethan instinctively ran towards the exit as the God Machine began to shake, but Anthony stayed behind.

“Get out of there Anthony!” Nathan yelled as another wave of sparks were emitted from the destroyed control panel. “The core is unstable!”

“I can fix this!” Anthony screamed back.

The frozen light fluctuated between crystalline and plasma states, increasing in energy with every phase change. Liquid helium evaporated in waves, trying to maintain the rising temperature of the core.

“It’s too late!” Nathan protested.

“No!”

Ethan and Nathan darted through the armored security door. “Seal it!” Nathan yelled. The steel pillars locked into place as they ran up the staircase and into the lobby.

Soon the light became too great for the cloud to contain. In one intense burst all of the photons were released from the matrix. A blinding white-light saturated every shadow before the opposing gravitational force collapsed the room upon itself. Moments before Anthony’s death he saw millions of soft blue pulsing lights; polarized oxygen molecules reflected a chilling sapphire color. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

The light enveloped the building, creating a light brighter than day that blasted through the windows. Nathan and Ethan ran across Spire’s marble lobby. Their eyelids failed to keep out the pupil crushing intensity. They blindly broke through the front entrance, foolishly trying to outrun the light.

“Is it over?” Ethan looked over his shoulder as the light slowly subsided.

Nathan looked back at Spire. Suddenly the ground cracked and the floor to ceiling windows shattered on command. Dust spewed out of the frames from the foundation collapsing around the basement. Though, Spire’s ivory tower still maintained its dominance among the skyline. “No.” Nathan breathed heavily. “Technology will continue to advance; each day faster than the last.”

Ethan rubbed his eyes to adjust to the night. “What happens when they try again?”

Nathan walked out of Spire’s corporate lights. “We will have to evolve.”