Domesticating Dragons – Snippet 06
The New Guy
I took the elevator up to seven, where no one was waiting. I suppose I could have lingered in the lobby, but I imagined I could feel Fulton watching me over the security cameras. If he saw me waiting, he might decide to fill my time with more invasive security questions.
I tiptoed through the hatchery, where the same pair of white-garbed staffers ignored me. I watched as they entered one of the hatching pods and team-lifted an egg, rotating it forty-five degrees. They lowered it back into the foam holder with exaggerated slowness. Like a mother with a newborn infant. Sunlight bathed the entire pod like a spotlight. Warm air spilled out the open door; it had to be almost a hundred degrees in there.
I might have remembered it wrong, but this seemed to be the same egg from my last visit. The skylights for the other pods remained closed, which cloaked their empty egg-beds in twilight. Maybe I’d caught a lull in the design-print-hatch process, but the stillness to the place worried me. No eggs meant no dragons, and as far as I knew, dragons were the company’s main source of revenue.
I hurried into the open door of Evelyn’s office. She sat behind no less than six holo-projector screens but had her eyes on one and was speaking into a headset. “Yes, Robert.”
The back of the screen was opaque, but I had a feeling she was on a video call with the big boss. I started to retreat, but she spotted me and beckoned me inside. When I tried to back out, she beckoned harder.
“We’ll get it done,” she said. “Okay. Bye.” She eased the headset out of her hair and smiled at me, showing white teeth. “Noah Parker.”
“Sorry I’m late. I didn’t know there would be a security interview.”
She waved off my apology. “It’s been a crazy morning all around.”
Tell me about it. I gestured at where the screen had been. “Was that Robert Greaves?”
She nodded. “He’s breathing down my neck about the wild dragons. Which is why I’m glad you could get started. Come on, I’ll introduce you to our team.”
We passed through a set of Plexiglas doors to an odd-shaped room. The walls formed a hexagon. No, a pentagon. Five walls and five cozy workstations encircled a lab instrument the size of a minivan. I caught glimpses of it as we walked around to the right. Robotic arms zoomed back and forth on titanium guide poles, like an oversized 3D printer.
“What’s with the robotic arms?” I asked.
“That’s our biological printer.”
I sucked in a sharp breath. “The God Machine.” I’d heard whispers of the instrument that turned genetic code into viable dragon eggs. I couldn’t wait to see it in action.
“Ha! You heard about the nickname.”
“It’s sort of public knowledge.” Then I saw the tall stacks of high-end grid servers behind them. Switchblades. A new class of high-end computers, and there were dozens of them. Completely secure, nearly limitless on-premise computing resources. After working so long and so hard to get here, being this close to them sent a chill down my spine.
We approached the first workstation, where a thirty-something engineer hunched over his keyboard. The engineer part was just a guess; he had the intense stare and terrible posture that usually came with a highly organized mind.
“This is Brian O’Connell,” Evelyn said.
The man went on typing, oblivious to fact that we stood right behind him and Evelyn had just said his name.
“Brian?” Evelyn touched his shoulder.
He flinched and tore his eyes from the screen with obvious reluctance. “Oh, hey.”
“This is Noah, the new design trainee.”
We shook hands. His wrapped mine like a warm blanket. He smiled in a friendly way beneath his dirty-blonde goatee, a spot-on match for the uncut hair. Between that and the comb-over, he looked almost like a monk. But his eyes burned with blue fire, even as they slid away from mine back to his screens.
“Brian wrote the code for our biological printer,” Evelyn said.
“The thing that built the dragon eggs? I’m impressed,” I said.
He mumbled something that might have been thanks. Evelyn ushered us out into the next workstation, where a dark-haired girl sat with excellent posture, typing no less than 120 words per minute. She turned to greet us with a big smile, perfect teeth and everything. Right then, Evelyn’s phone buzzed and she had to step away. Leaving me alone, to fumble out my own introduction.
“Hello. I’m Noah. The, uh, new guy.”
She shook my hand with delicate fingers. “Welcome! I’m pretty.”
“Oh.” Her self-awareness threw me for a loop. “I agree.”
She giggled. “No, I’m Priti. Priti Korrapati.”
Oh my God. I felt my face heating and wished I could melt into the floor. “Right. Sorry about that.”
“Happens all the time.”
“So, what do you do for Evelyn?”
“I’m a designer. Started out in plants, made the jump to reptiles.”
I gave her a side-look. “What kind of plants? Arabidopsis?” That was the one of the best-studied plants in the scientific community. The rest of the world knew it as mustard weed.
She smiled and shook her head. “Oryza sativa.”
“Rice? No way!” Rice was second only to corn in research dollars. The big agribiotechs put a lot of money into genetic engineering. “In the private sector, I’m guessing.”
“You guess correctly.”
God, I loved her accent. I wanted to keep her talking. “How does that compare to biotech startup world?”
“It’s quite similar, actually. Perhaps a bit more intense.”
“Perform or die.”
“Maybe not that drastic. But you have the idea.”
Evelyn reappeared; a stray hair hung across her face. “Sorry about that.” She gripped her tablet so hard I thought she might break it.
“Everything all right?” I asked.
“Yes, but we’ll have to cut this short. They want me upstairs.”
“No problem.” I turned back to Priti. “Nice to meet you.”
I rejoined Evelyn and moved on to the next workstation, which I thought might be mine. But a heavyset guy in a ball cap slumped in the chair, either deep in thought or totally asleep.
“Frogman?” Evelyn whispered.
Did she just say Frogman?
He woke like a hibernating bear. His eyes came into focus. “Evelyn. S’going on?”
“This is our new designer, Noah Parker.”
“Paul Myers.” He gave me a friendly nod. “Good to meet you.”
“Did she call you Frogman?”
“Everyone does. Did my graduate thesis on Xenopus.”
“I’ll bet that’s useful.” Frogs were a great model for developmental traits. Amphibians were about as close as you could get to dragons and still be in a valid genetics branch. I had to admit that my weak point in genetics might lie in the developmental realm. I’m going to need to talk to this guy.
He didn’t seem like much of a talker, though. He offered a noncommittal grunt and put on noise-canceling headphones. Evelyn quietly beckoned me out, into the second-to-last workstation. No one sat in the chair, but a half-circle of empty energy drink cans said the place was occupied. If I had to guess, I’d expect whoever sat there was probably in the nearest restroom.
“That’s Wong’s spot,” Evelyn said. “He had to fly home to get his visa renewed, but he should be back in a couple of weeks.”
“Where’s he from?”
That caught my attention because I’d been dabbling in Mandarin as a second language. “What part?”
She pursed her lips, as if reluctant to answer. “Shenzhen.”