Meet Dr. Jessica
A secret walk through the Nest
with Thaxson Patterson II
Thanks to the generosity of my fellow author, Thaxson Patterson II – and thanks, in no small part, to my security clearance – I was recently able to talk with a scientist at a top-secret research facility.
Mr. Patterson tells the story, “Life Under Research Conditions,” in the fantasy anthology, The Toll of Another Bell. In this story a created bioweapon known as Squid Panther discovers that he may not be a monster, after all. His creator is a bright, demure woman that Squid Panther calls “Dr. Jessica.” Or rather, this is one of the names that he calls her. His other name for her is “Mother.”
I was pleased to talk with Dr. Jessica, in an exclusive interview. I found her to be a brilliant neurosurgeon and generous, if careful, with her knowledge. To walk with her, I was brought to an underground test facility, code-named The Nest. I traveled there and back blind, and did not know my exact geographical location. Now that the story of the Nest is declassified, here is the transcript of my discussion with Dr. Jessica on our walk together.
You seem to be a bright and caring woman, Doctor. Can you tell me what kind of work you do here?
Dr. Jessica anxiously smiled. “Normally I’m not supposed to talk about this kind of work but if you’ve got clearance and it’s been approved by Director Geddes, I guess I can answer your questions. Part of getting the opportunity to work here is agreeing to a rather strict confidentially protocol where violations are punished severely. I’m a neural scientist and I’m responsible for building the artificial neural network, a class of algorithms inspired by our central nervous system, which is a series of interconnected “neurons” in our brains that compute values from various external and internal stimuli.” She defined then hesitated seeing my confusion.
“Basically, building a brain from the ground up. I’ve encoded everything from grammar induction, speech recognition, rules based programming, computational learning, vision association, learning trees, anomaly detection, hierarchical and factor analysis, essentially everything that allows us to understand the world. In layman terms I’ve developed a computer program to educate the biological weapons we’ve cultivated here at The Nest, specifically teaching them what we want them to learn.” She fully explained.
“We want our bioweapons to be able to not just follow orders but make smart decisions on how to best accomplish their directives. To do that they need to be highly intelligent beyond a simple smart bomb. We are biological machines capable of learning and adapting why not extend that process to our weapons?” Dr. Jessica frustratingly asked rhetorically. “Director Geddes wanted a different approach and didn’t want them to possess an intellect smarter than a chimpanzee which would be insufficient on the battlefield. He’s our supervisor but he has such a limited vision of what we can achieve here I sometimes wish he’d get a promotion and we’d be assigned a more…scientific director. He’s not going to see this interview correct?” She jokingly but worriedly asked to me, while I dryly smiled.
It sounds like you are working with some interesting creations in your labs. Tell me, do you have a favorite one?
Dr. Jessica sighed. “I was told to practice emotional disassociation from our specimens but it’s more difficult than I originally thought. Once you give something intelligence, you’re responsible for what it learns and more importantly, how it thinks. I’m their teacher, their educator and it’s getting more difficult with each new generation of clones to separate my feelings of . . . fondness toward the subjects. I guess I’m becoming more of a proud mother, every day. I think our latest Jx clone, 84730 is something really special. I don’t want to say anything more because this specimen will probably be scheduled for dissection and a biopsy soon but there is something unique about it.” She admitted to my intrigued eyes.
“Normally when we put them in stasis, their brain activity is minimal when they’re not engaged in a test or I’m uploading new data and information. But Jx84730, its brain activity is just as active as when it’s awake. I think….it maybe dreaming, though I admit I need more data and observation is required to confirm such a theory, but it’s fascinating! It’s actually asking questions and is more curious about The Nest and the world than the other subjects. And it’s making decisions I didn’t initially program into its neural network during its combat tests. Director Geddes isn’t happy of course but it’s amazing to observe.” She excitedly elaborated to my surprised eyes.
What is it like to see the birth of a new creation?
“It’s an indescribable feeling to know you’ve constructed a new life form. I know that clinically we would all be diagnosed as having God Complexes but I assume it’s no different than the same feeling an engineer has manufacturing a new machine. We are biological inventors here at The Nest, fabricating the DNA of not just human beings but life. I think it’s worth the risk and the…things we’ve done.” Dr. Jessica self-consciously scratched at the mole on her left cheek. “Simply look at our specimens and imagine what the future will be. Do you think I could get a glass of water?”
They look dangerous. How do you control them?
She scoffed at me. “Surely you are aware of how many redundant systems are in place to keep our specimens in order? We have installed everything from cardiac electrophysiology to an invisible infrared microwave weapon that can fry their cybernetic implants if they escape five feet beyond The Nest perimeter. Additionally Director Geddes has more than enough man power and automatic cannons at his disposal. This experiment is completely under control. Believe it or not, they’ve become quite docile to work with.”
Has there ever been a jailbreak in this facility?
“What do you mean by jailbreak? These specimens aren’t prisoners they’re our property.” Dr. Jessica’s eyes narrowed as if this interview was another security test. “Sure we’ve had some bio-weapons get out of control, but they were quickly detained or sanctioned. This facility is the most secure location on Earth. Even more than the President’s bunker. I feel completely safe here, I really do and I’m not just saying that as a company woman. We’ve installed everything from bullet proof bio-chambers to surgically grafting into their hearts Taser machines, essentially military grade pacemakers, to quickly contain any disturbance. I’ve been assured repeatedly that there is no way this facility will suffer a containment issue.”
What do you do to keep them calm?
“The pacemaker installed in their hearts helps regulate the electrical bio-rhythms of their physiology. Basically, we can control their heart beats through electromagnetic pulses, inducing normal heart rates to calm them down. Though lately, Director Geddes thinks they’ve adapted to the cardiac pain and we may need to implant more Tasers into every organ in their body. But I find that notion to be just more of his militaristic dogma with excessive tactics. I think more knowledge and education will insure more obedience. The less educated they are the more violent their tendencies remain. The data is clear to me they need more intellect to combat their animalistic primitive instincts.” She stated hoping if this was a test they would find her answers satisfactory.
Why did you choose to work on this project?
“The easy answer would be to say that I’m here at The Nest to insure the future survival of our country. If we can prevent the loss of another soldier’s life and defeat our enemies no matter where they hide or what kind of weapon they use, then anything we do here will be worth it. But honestly I wanted to…create a new species of life, from us. I came here to find out the potential of what we can become, what we can make. DNA is genetic evolutionary clay, and we’ve reached the point we can be the sculptor instead of nature.” She truthfully answered knowing her psych evaluation could be compared to the answers she gave to this interviewer, who was no doubt a high ranking government official, probing her to see if the project was going off the rails.
“I know that what I’m doing….many would consider unethical, unmoral, and evil. I know that… but I try to treat them with kindness as the special specimens they are.” She apprehensively scratched at her mole. “The military gave me access to resources, technology, and the brilliant minds of Dr. Taksheel and Dr. Ae Joon to design bio-weapons but I look at it as more than just that. We’re doing something far more profound. Dr. Ae Joon has already created the most powerful living creature that has ever existed on this four billion year old planet. Achievements like that are worth everything we’ve done here. It will all be worth it…it will.” She tried to state with as much certainty as she could muster.
What would be the best outcome of your work?
“Director Geddes wants controllable bio-weapons and that’s what we’re going to give him.” She answered without hesitation but secretly thought. “There is so much more than just bio-weapons that we’re learning about here. The concept of life itself is a biological process involving chemical and molecular interactions as any scientist will tell you. Here at The Nest were examining the very foundation of those ideas. Imagine a future where no one ever gets sick again. Diseases like Cancer and Aids are nonexistent and our species Homo sapiens are cellularly immortal. And our latest project is…something that if we’re successful will have been worth all the lives that we sacrificed to manifest a form of life that can redefine everything we understand about existence.”
If you were running the lab, what would you do differently?
She nervously cleared her throat knowing they’d probably read all her reports and objections and there was no need to sugarcoat it. “I would definitely focus on implementing more neural network upgrades and understanding exactly what our specimens are thinking. Biologically there is little difference between our one hundred billion neurons and the nervous systems we’ve bio-engineered. I would also not be so fast to schedule dissections we can learn more about behavior from living specimens than dead ones. The potential of applying what we’ve learned here to our species future…is something that I think will justify our experimentation.” She reaffirmed while thinking, “If our government ever allows the research we’ve conducted here to be shared with the rest of the world that is. I wonder if they’ll ever let any of us leave The Nest alive.”
What is the worst thing that could happen here?
“The worst thing? They kill us all and escape.” Dr. Jessica nervously joked while I smiled at her wryly.
Thaxson Patterson II
Thaxson Patterson II is a 30-something, single, African-American writer, living in Denver, Colorado. He is the child of an Air Force retiree and loving mother who’s wild about superheroes and fantasy literature. He graduated from the University of Denver in 2003 with a degree in Electronic Media Art Design. His lifelong obsession with a variety of literary genres including Lovecraftian horror, Stephen King supernatural tales, and the heroic myths from antiquity and Jack Kirby fueled his passion for art design. His family has been a constant thorn of encouragement in his side. Writing has been an ongoing journey full of creativity, joy, and tears spanning several years.