Thoroughly exhausted, Jasmine hurled herself, still fully dressed, onto the bed sometime around 2 a.m. She had spent the entire day in the computer lab compiling data for her current research project. A minor (although significant) realization in the first few hours motivated her well past the point of being productive.
Even as she walked home across campus, her mind continued to compute, analyze, interpret, and sort through everything she had found. But now that she had finally reached her bed, she hoped the carnival sideshow inside her head would settle down long enough for her to pass out.
It was then her phone rang.
Jasmine snatched the receiver and yanked it toward the pile of hair now covering her face.
“Tom, do not start in with your Captain Blue Balls act—”
“Dr. Jones?” calmly interrupted a woman on the other end of the line. “This is Dr. Maria Goodwin of HEVIn—”
Jasmine leapt from the bed as though her mattress had turned into eels. I did not just say ‘Captain Blue Balls’ to this woman.
Maria continued, “I’m very sorry to call you so late, but it’s rather urgent. Professor Lakshmi Patel—I believe she’s a mutual acquaintance—she gave me your number. She used to work here with me.”
Jasmine giggled nervously. “I’m…um…flattered. How can I help?”
“There’s a car waiting for you downstairs.“
Jasmine turned to the window. Sure enough, a black town car idled on the street below. Nearby, its driver stood beneath a streetlamp and smoked a pipe.
“It will be easier to show you with my team present than try to tell you over the phone. Can I count on you to come?”
“Absolutely,” the young woman replied. “I just need a few minutes to—”
“Do hurry.” And, then Maria disconnected.
As Jasmine returned the receiver to its cradle, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Luckily she was still fully dressed, albeit in the Harvard sweatshirt and ripped jeans she had been wearing all day.
Should I throw on something nicer? Maria did say to hurry.
As a compromise, Jasmine gave herself a few good sprays of fabric refresher then headed to the closet to grab a jacket and the first clean outfit she found. She dabbed her lips with some gloss, ran a brush quickly through her hair, and threw the whole lot into a backpack that she slung over her shoulder.
Keys. Wallet. Cash. Anything else? Nope. Ok, good to go.
And so she did.
* * * * *
Holy shit. Maria fucking Godwin wants me, she thought. But, why?
Jasmine looked out the window from the back seat of the town car as the city passed by outside. A bleary-eyed undergrad ambled out of a convenience store clutching a coffee cup in one hand and a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew in the other.
Must be pulling an all-nighter.
Jasmine had been that girl not too long ago. Actually, who was she kidding? She was that girl now.
At 16, Jasmine Jones enrolled at Harvard; she graduated with honors three years later. By 22, Jasmine had received her doctorate and, having already published numerous papers, became and Associate Professor almost immediately. Now, at 26, she was well on her way to becoming the youngest person ever tenured in the math department.
Jasmine’s star had always shined brightly. Even at an early age her curiosity propelled her. She exceled at everything she studied, and with no real input from her family. Jasmine’s mother, of course, had wanted her daughter to succeed but barely held it together juggling two jobs after Jasmine’s father ran off to be with his first love, whisky. This left little time to review Jasmine’s school assignments or help out with projects. Truth be told, however, Jasmine had barely turned 10 by the time her homework had gotten to be more complex than anything her mother had taken in school.
Jasmine’s fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Marmalade, had recognized her student’s aptitude for the sciences and introduced the young girl to books about Dr. Maria Godwin and her work.
Dr. Godwin was a legend, drawing equal amounts of envy and admiration from her peers. She and her late husband had both eschewed academia decades ago to start their own well-funded research lab, HEVIn—
The Human-something-something-Institute. The Human-Earth? Evolution? Great, now I’m drawing a blank.
—In any event, the pair could be credited with some of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the century. For instance, the Godwins first proved that there aren’t just two types of people in the world; there are, in fact, 17. Then, they went on to determine exactly how many of each type were needed to screw in a light bulb. (A task that, until then, had been performed through trial and error.) In the 1980s, HEVIn researchers had created an entire mountain using the matter found in a single molehill. And, of course, the Godwin’s most famous invention: The Wheel 2.0.
* * * * *
“Miss, we’re approaching the gates of HEVIn. If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to get out your identification.”
Jasmine drew her backpack close and fished around for her driver’s license, then handed it up to the driver.
“Here you go.”
The car slowed to a stop. The driver rolled down his window and spoke to a young man dressed in a long, white coat, black trousers and shiny black boots, as he emerged from a nearby guard post. He was. Jasmine thought the young man could have been handsome were it not for the unsettling lack of emotion in his expression.
Maybe he’s a robot. I wouldn’t be surprised.
The guard leaned into the driver’s window and aimed a flashlight directly at Jasmine’s face. Satisfied that she matched her ID, he motioned for the car to proceed.
A wrought iron gate, painted pearlescent white, opened inward, allowing passage to a serpentine road that headed up a small hill and out of view.
Jasmine sat up and began to gnaw on a fingernail. Adrenaline flooded her system: She was certainly awake now.
As they rounded the hill’s crest, the HEVIn research campus came into view. A glowing, gloss white tower stood in the center of a dozen smaller buildings that had been arranged along a circular path around it. Each of these had an additional walkway that pointed back toward the main structure, like the spokes on a Wheel 2.0.
“We’re here, Miss, at Zero Tower. Head into the lobby and check in with security. They will direct you where to go next.”
Jasmine thanked him as she clambered out of the vehicle onto a marble promenade that circled the tower. The building itself had no discernible texture and looked as though it were carved from a single piece of seamless material.
And, that glow. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought it to be midday; it felt so warm and inviting.
Come into the light, the building beckoned.
She definitely didn’t need to be asked twice.
* * * * *
The remarkable exterior had done little to prepare Jasmine for just how spectacular the inside would be.
“Holy shit,“ she muttered aloud to no one in particular. The marble from the promenade was used again here for the floor and stretched all the way to the opposite end of the football field-sized room. As far as she could tell they had created it using one unbroken slab.
The room teemed with people, most of them dressed either in white lab coats or in uniforms similar to what the guard at the gate had been wearing. A set of double doors swung open to her left unleashing a few hundred more into the space.
Maybe a lecture of some sort? Except it must be 3:30 in the morning.
“May I help you?” It was a young man’s voice.
Jasmine spun around trying to find its source, but no one seemed to be paying her any sort of attention let alone addressing her.
“Over here,” he said. “On the wall.”
A young man had, indeed, appeared projected on the wall a few feet from her.
“I noticed you are new here. My name is CRIS. Perhaps I can direct you to where ever it is you need to be.”
Jasmine now noticed that quite a few other people were addressing similar projections on the wall throughout the room. No two projections were the same. Is this an actual person or just a computer talking to me?
“Yes, thank you,” she replied. “I’m here to see Dr. Godwin.”
The young man looked off into the middle distance and considered this information for a few seconds. He’s definitely a computer simulation. When he had the information he needed he reinitiated eye contact.
“You must be Dr. Jasmine Jones. Welcome to HEVIn,” he said. “Walk with me.”
CRIS turned and began walking along the wall toward the far end of the lobby. Jasmine kept up beside him until they reached the security desk.
“This is Dr. Jasmine Jones here to see Dr. Godwin. She is expected and should be sent straight up,” CRIS relayed to a security guard.
The guard gave her a once over and then produced a stylus pen. A non-disclosure agreement appeared on the surface of the desk.
“It has been a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Jones,” CRIS said. “Just ask for me if you need anything.” And then he vanished.
She barely skimmed through the 23-page form before signing it at which point the security guard handed her an identification card dangling from a lanyard.
“Go to the last elevator on the left which you can access using your key card,” stated the guard. “It will take you directly to Dr. Godwin’s lab on the 145th floor. I will alert her that you are here so she can have someone meet you.”
She headed to the elevator as directed and stepped aboard. Light music filled the air and, since she was alone, she decided to hum along to it.
She jumped. It was CRIS again, on the wall behind her.
“Dr. Godwin wanted me to ask you what you would like to drink. A coffee perhaps?”
Damn! He needs to wear a bell.
“Yes, that would be great,” she said. “I take it black. Thank you.”
After a few minutes she felt the elevator glide to a stop; then the door opened.
As she stepped out into the hallway, a man in his early thirties offered Jasmine a cup of black coffee. His glowing olive skin and thick black hair falling down to his shoulders made him quite a sight to behold. He wore one of the ubiquitous white lab coats, but unlike most of the people downstairs, underneath he donned a gauzy white caftan tucked into a pair of jeans and brown rope sandals. Jasmine’s sister would call his look “hippie chic.”
“Welcome, I’m Jesús,” he said with a smile that could melt gold. He motioned for her to accompany him. “We are very excited you agreed to come. My mother has been following your research in predictive probability for some time now. She says it is very intriguing stuff.”
“Thank you,” Jasmine blushed.
Did he just say his mother?
“And, to answer your question, yes. Maria Godwin is my mother.” His full name was Dr. Luis Jesús Sanchez-Godwin, but everyone just called him Jesús. He headed up HEVIn’s astrophysics department.
Just as they were almost about to run out of doors, they stop at small conference room. As they enter, the four people waiting inside stop mid-conversation and turn their attention to the newcomer.
“I want you all to meet Dr. Jasmine Jones,” Jesús announced before he introduced his colleagues one by one.
Immediately to their left, Dr. Budd Ha hunched over a projection system and jostled something inside it. He appeared to be having difficulty, though, as his thick fingers were not suited to accomplishing whatever he was attempting to do with the projector. Jesús explained that Dr. Ha managed the collection, dissemination, and analysis of all the project data. He shook her hand warmly and welcomed her aboard and, if such a thing were possible, Jasmine thought she could feel kindness emanating from him.
A tall, trim man around Jasmine’s age stood next to Budd, frantically trying to untangle a bunch of electrical cords. A patch covered his left eye, but when he looked up at Jasmine to shake her hand, she noticed the other sparkled a brilliant gold. An expert in biochemistry, Horus Nazari had joined the team as part of his doctorate research.
She recognized Dr. Thor Rasmussen. His groundbreaking work in geodesy had really helped solve a few key mysteries of their world. He had been a visiting scholar at Harvard during her junior year and Jasmine had taken one of his classes.
Computer systems expert Athena Papadakis sat opposite and gave Jasmine a thorough once over with her piercing grey eyes. When she was satisfied, she turned her attention to the tote bag on the floor from which she removed knitting needles and some navy yarn. She nodded slightly to Jasmine as an acknowledgment and then immediately set to knitting.
Jasmine felt a change in the room, as if she—they all—had suddenly become much smaller. When she turned back to the door, she saw why: Maria Godwin has just entered and everything about her demanded to be noticed.
First, Maria was tall, not just for a woman, but for anyone, and had the same flawless olive skin as her son. Her hair, ivory white, fell straight down from the part in the middle of her head past her shoulders.
With an extended hand, Maria glided over to her son and new recruit.
“Dr. Jones, thank you for coming at this hour and on such short notice,” she said. “Normally I would have taken you to the lab first to show you what we’re doing, but there isn’t time.”
The projector came to life and Budd jumped gleefully in response. He gave Horus some papers to hand out while he dimmed the lights.
“If everyone will take a seat, we can begin,” stated Budd, clicking to the first image. A live feed of a single Earth, designated 0233, lit up the screen. “At the time I created the document there were three specimens left. But, as you can see, in the hour or so since, we are down to one. The last Earth.”
“I’m sorry,” Jasmine interrupted, turning to Budd. “That Earth on the screen there is us? Or an simulated computer Earth?”
“Neither, it’s in our lab,” answered Maria. “Let me explain—”