Skin Deep Page 6

Ivy looked to me, and seemed encouraged that I’d noticed all of this. She gestured, indicating that I should go farther. What does it mean?

“The engineers know,” I said to Yol. “There has been a security breach, and they’re aware of it. They’re worried that the company is in danger.”

“Yeah,” Yol said. “Word should never have gotten to them.”

“How did it?”

“You know these IT types,” Yol said from behind his sparkling sunglasses. “Freedom of information, employee involvement, all of that nonsense. The higher-ups held a meeting to explain what had happened, and they invited everyone but the damn cleaning lady.”

“Language,” Ivy said.

“Ivy would like you not to swear,” I said.

“Did I swear?” Yol asked, genuinely confused.

“Ivy has a bit of puritan in her,” I said. “Yol, what is this technology? What do they develop here?”

Yol stopped beside a meeting room—a more secure one, its only glass a small, square window on its door. A handful of men and women waited inside. “I’ll let them tell you,” Yol said as one of his security guards held open the door.


“Every cell in your body contains seven hundred and fifty megs of data,” the engineer said. “For comparison, one of your fingers holds as much information as the entire internet. Of course, your information is repeated and redundant, but the fact remains that cells are capable of great storage.”

Garvas, the engineer, was an affable man in a button-down shirt with a pair of aviator sunglasses hanging from the pocket. He wasn’t particularly overweight, but had some of the round edges that came from a life working a desk job. He was building a dinosaur out of Legos on the table as he spoke, while Yol paced outside, taking a call.

“Do you have any idea of the potential there?” Garvas continued, snapping on the head. “As the years pass, technology shrinks, and people grow tired of carrying around bulky laptops, phones, tablets. Our goal is to find a way to do away with that by using the body itself.”

I glanced at my aspects. Ivy and Tobias sat at the table with us. J.C. stood by the door, yawning.

“The human body is an incredibly efficient machine,” said another engineer. A thin man with an eager attitude, Laramie had built his Legos into an ever-growing tower. “It has great storage, self-replicating cells, and comes with its own power generator. The body is also very long-lived, by current manufacturing standards.”

“So you were turning human bodies,” I said, “into computers.”

“They’re already computers,” Garvas said. “We were simply adding a few new features.”

“Imagine,” said the third engineer—a thin, arrow-faced woman named Loralee. “Instead of carrying a laptop, what if you made use of the organic computer already built into you? Your thumb becomes storage. Your eyes are the screen. Instead of a bulky battery, you eat an extra sandwich in the morning.”

“That,” J.C. said, “sounds freakish.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” I said.

“What?” Garvas asked.

“Figure of speech,” I said. “So, your thumb becomes storage. It looks like, what. A . . . um . . . USB drive?”

“He was going to say ‘thumb drive,’” Laramie said. “We really need to stop using thumbs as an example.”

“But it’s so neat!” Loralee said.

“Regardless,” Garvas said, “what we were doing didn’t change the look of the organ.” He held up his thumb.

“You’ve had the procedure done?” I asked. “You’re testing on yourselves?”

“Freaks,” J.C. said, shifting uncomfortably. “This is going to be about zombies. I’m calling it now.”

“We’ve done some very initial tests,” Garvas said. “Most of what we just told you is just a dream, a goal. Here, we’ve been working on the storage aspect exclusively, and have made good progress. We can embed information into cells, and it will stay there, reproduced by the body into new cells. My thumb doubles as backup for my laptop. As you can see, there are no adverse effects.”

“We keep it in the DNA of the muscles,” Laramie said, excited. “Your genetic material has tons of extraneous data anyway. We mimic that—all we have to do is add in a little extra string of information, with marks to tell the body to ignore it. Like commented-out sections of code.”

“I’m sorry,” J.C. said. “I don’t speak super-geek. What did he just say?”

“When you ‘comment out’ something in computer code,” Ivy explained, “you write lines, but tell the program to ignore them. That way, you can leave messages to other programmers about the code.”

“Yup,” J.C. said. “Gibberish. Ask him about the zombies.”

“Steve,” Ivy said to me, pointedly ignoring J.C., “these people are serious and excited. Their eyes light up when they talk, but there are reservations. They are being honest with you, but they are afraid.”

“You say this is perfectly safe?” I asked the three.

“Sure,” Garvas said. “People have been doing this with bacteria for years.”

“The trouble is not the storage,” Loralee said. “It’s access. Sure, we can store all of this in our cells—but writing and reading it is very difficult. We have to inject data to get it in, and have to remove cells to retrieve it.”

“One of our teammates, Panos Maheras, was working on a prototype delivery mechanism involving a virus,” Garvas said. “The virus infiltrates the cells carrying a payload of genetic data, which it then splices into the DNA.”

“Oh, lovely,” Ivy said.

I grimaced.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Garvas said, a little nervous. “Panos’s virus had failsafes to prevent it from over-reproducing. We have done only limited trials, and have been very careful. And note, the virus route was only one method we were researching.”

“The world will soon change,” Laramie said, excited. “Eventually, we will be able to write to the genetic hard disk of every human body, using its own hormones to—”

I held up a hand. “What can the virus you made do right now?”

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