Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Down Below

Hey diary. You know how the last time I neglected to write in you it was because nothing much was happening? Well, yesterday was the complete opposite of that. I spent the day exploring The Basement, and its wealth of technology and knowledge. I learned so much. I was so productive. Among other things, I came up with an awesome new treatment for Parkinson's disease and a way to imbue a whale with near-human intelligence. I also began growing skin grafts infused with carbon nanotubes. They would be impenetrable to a knife or even a low caliber bullet (which would make operating on such a person a pain, of course).
Anyways, I went through like three lab notebooks, it doesn't seem necessary to write the details here too. Suffice to say that it was really, really fun.

Today, I met Alexander Dalton. He was an interesting man, but how do I describe him?
Serious. He was serious. He had a long face and graying hair, as if he had been aged by the serious tasks he carried out. He never made jokes, and I knew better to makes jokes around him. I don't think I ever saw him smile. He was too preoccupied with the serious business of doing whatever it was he did. He was serious.
He approached me while I ate in Tom's little underground cafeteria. It was manned by a few mechanized workers, and served The Basement's very small population.
"My name is Alexander Dalton." He offered his hand.
"I'm Allegra Complex," I said, shaking it.
"You are to report to me, in basement level forty-five. I expect you'll be there in twenty-two minutes."
A mental timer popped into my head automatically, counting down the seconds until my appointment with this slightly unnerving man. "Very well. I will see you then."
Dalton left. He had already eaten, and had no other business in that room. And he had serious matters to attend to.

My elevator passed through basement level forty-four. I began to worry. It took the elevator exactly three seconds to go down one floor. So why was this last floor taking two minutes. I began to panic. Finally, the doors opened, and I found myself face to face with a robot from my nightmares.
Literally. When I was seven years old, my dad showed me Terminator. And that robotic skeleton... it had haunted me for days. And now I was staring at it.
"Apologies," Dalton called from across the room. "It seems that Tom has a rather foolish streak. He enjoys watching old science fiction films, and, upon watching them, feels the need to create the machines depicted. I use his Terminators as security."
I wanted to ask if Tom had built a Death Star. But I knew better than to make that joke around Dalton. But I did start wondering if I could use those skin grafts to make the machine look more like Arnold Schwarzenegger and less like a killer robot.
"So, what are we doing down here," I asked.
"Do you where down here is," Dalton asked.
Was this a test? If so, he had picked the right subject. "We are forty-two miles from San Francisco. We are underground, basement level forty-five. Given how long that last stop on the elevator took, I would guess that we are some six hundred feet below basement level forty-four, which is itself approximately nine hundred feet below ground. Or do you want it in metric?"
"That will not be necessary. Do you know why we are so deep?"
I looked at the walls. It seemed that basement level forty-five was a large cylinder. The surfaces were airtight stainless steel. The elevator too was confined behind an airtight containment. "This is where we deal with infectious diseases," I said. "Where we can make new viruses and bacteria, without fear of global contamination."
"Indeed. Today's task is to study the influenza virus. As you know, there are many strains, too diverse to vaccinate against them all. I am working to change that." As I followed Dalton through the labyrinthine laboratory, I noticed several Terminators, as well as racks of chemicals, enough genetics equipment for a small university, and probably half a dozen freezers with biohazard signs. "The goal is to create a sufficiently generic flu virus that it will inoculate the body against all forms of influenza. I succeeded, synthesizing a virus that would mutate into millions of different strains within the body, while still retaining its essential qualities. Unfortunately, the virus has the negative side-effect of killing the host one hundred percent of the time."
An interesting definition of success. "What do you want me to do? See if I can improve upon your work?"
"A more specific task. In order to accomplish its goal, the synthetic pathogen must be able to survive in the body for some time. But we cannot have it multiplying out of control. I was thinking that your work in moderating viruses might be of use. Specifically, as the virus has the effect of raising blood salinity, a modification to keep the virus from breeding if salinity passes a certain level would serve to regulate the viruses proliferation."
It was an interesting idea. "I trust you have a detailed explanation of how this virus works."
Dalton handed me a flash drive. "This has everything from a complete transcript of the virus' DNA to an explanation of its physiological effects to data on its efficacy at different temperatures."
"I'll get to work."

I made some progress. It's all explained in my notes to a frankly intimate level of detail, so I won't talk about it here. I definitely felt like I made strides towards solving the problem, but I there is absolutely still work to do tomorrow. No, honestly, it will probably take me at least three days. Permanently ending the flu is hard work.
At six nineteen, Dalton paid me a visit. He asked me to explain some of what I had done. He made some suggestions. Some of them were good. Some were strange, but he asked me to work through them regardless. Even after doing so, I still had no idea where he was going. Eventually, at eight sixteen, my day was done. I took a very thorough shower, then took an elevator ride to basement level forty, where I took another shower. On the plus side, this facility has very warm showers. A benefit of the owner having more fusion power plants than he knows what to do with.
After that, I got to eat dinner with my friends. Gabe, Daniel, and Joanne were all there. So was another MAD named Camille Liu. She seemed to be about my age.
"So, Camille," I said. "What have you been working on?"
"I've been studying the Lightning in a Bottle."
Curse Tom for stealing my awesome name! Just because his underground thunderstorm was somewhat larger than my creation, and just because he had been using the name several years longer didn't give him a right to it!
Camille continued. "I'm studying the formation and growth of eddies. It actually obeys a lot of the same laws as the formation of hurricanes."
"What is there to play an analogous role to the Coriolis force," I asked.
"Well, it isn't exactly analogous," she said. The then proceeded to spout equation for twenty minutes straight.
"Oh," I said. "That makes sense. Surprised I didn't see it."
"Don't be hard on yourself," Daniel said. "Plenty of people might have missed it."
Gabe and Joanne shot each other confused looks.
"So what did you do today, Gabe?"
My brother laughed. "I followed Daniel around, and asked him dumb questions."
"Many of your questions were not dumb," Daniel said.
"And what was Daniel doing?"
"You are aware, of course, that Tom is buying the German pharmaceutical company Medizi."
"I wasn't," I admitted. "Is that allowed? Isn't Medizi another MAD company?"
"It is," Daniel said. "And such a merger would usually be under a prohibitive amount of scrutiny. In order to secure the right to acquire the company, Tom had to promise the Germans a high-speed rail and a superconducting power grid. I just designed that power grid."
"Cool," I said. I turned to Camille. "Where are you from?"
"Wuhan," she said. "It's a city in China."
"Oh," Gabe said. "Anybody want to take a bet as to whether or not Allegra knows where that is?"
Nobody did.
"Thirty degrees north, one-fourteen degrees east," I said.
Camille was impressed.
"She can do time, too," Gabe said. "What time is it, to the nearest second?"
"It was 9:01:22 when you finished asking the question. I could probably have done it more precisely if I'd known you were going to ask that."
Gabe grinned.
"I have an eidetic memory," Camille said.
"Both Allegra and myself have that ability," Daniel countered.
"Not like I do." She covered her bowl of noodles. "Could you draw it? Every noodle in the right place?"
"No," we admitted.
We swapped talents for a while. We mentioned the interesting problems we had encountered. Eventually, Tom walked in. "Hey," he said. "Glad to see the five of you are getting along. Is there anything that you need? Any equipment you want that we don't have? I'd be happy to get it for you." Tom leaned in an whispered conspiratorially. "I happen to have quite a lot of money."
"I may have depleted our store of thallium," Daniel admitted. "Although I suspect you have a machine that logs that sort of things automatically."
"We do," Tom said.
"I was thinking it would be useful if I had a high-speed microwave-radio imager," Camille said. "I could probably whip one up myself, if I need to."
"No, no," Tom said. "Three years ago I made just the thing. A single device capable of everything from radar to x-ray imaging. I have a few dozen of them lying around. I'll have one sent down to the bottle. Or would you like more than one?"
"I could probably use three or four," Camille said.
"And you, Allegra? I assume Alexander has already gotten you everything you could possibly need."
"You are right."
Tom laughed. "I checked in with Alexander earlier today. You two are doing some excellent work. I have to say, the influenza thing is a bit of a priority to me. I think it could really help the whole MAD situation the world over, as well as saving millions of lives." Tom's pupils began to dilate. "Hold on,, I just that this incredible idea. Yes. Yesyesyesyes. YES!!!" He turned to us. "If you'll excuse me, I have a quantum computer to build."
That's the sort of place this is. One where people invent quantum computers over dinner. This place may be called The Basement, but to me it is more like heaven.           

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