One woman has uncovered it.
...And it's a secret worth killing for.
When her company discovers a remarkable hidden message in the dreaming brains of her subjects, Dr. Amanda Meron unknowingly invites disaster unto her company.
The clues seem to be pointing her to one of the remote places on the planet:
The Amazon Rainforest.
When Harvey "Ben" Bennett gets a hint that the nefarious organization he's been searching for has turned up in Brazil, he and his new girlfriend Juliette Richardson race to the jungle to discover what they're after - and hopefully stop them.
From the myth of the lost city of El Dorado to emerging science technology, The Amazon Code has it all: action-packed adventure, an exotic setting, and characters you'll fall in love with.
Don't miss the next Harvey Bennett thriller - the new action/adventure, science-fiction series from bestselling author Nick Thacker!
Release date: June 13, 2016
Publisher: Turtleshell Press
Print pages: 430
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The Amazon Code
The world isn’t ready for a breakthrough like this. I’m not ready for a breakthrough like this.
Dr. Amanda Meron raced through the hallways of the small center, dodging metal carts full of trays of test equipment, computers and displays flashing and blinking. She lived for these moments, had dedicated her life to these moments, and she would not let them slip through her fingers.
For Amanda, it wasn’t even about the research. Sure, she was fascinated by it, but it was the sense of living that accompanied the moments of pure scientific breakthrough.
How they must have felt, she wondered, Einstein, Newton, Bohr. Her childhood heroes, whom she now considered her friendly competition.
“Dr. Meron, in here. Just in time,” she heard a voice call out from a room she almost ran past.
She knew this place better than anyone and yet her excitement caused her to momentarily lose her place. She slowed, turning into the glass-walled room, and took a look around. The faces of her peers, all smiling back at her, were assembled around the large computer monitor in the center of the room.
“We’re ready when you are, Dr. Meron,” the voice said. Dr. Henry Wu, the transplant from Stanford, stepped lightly to the side to allow room for their boss.
Amanda caught her breath and took her place next to Wu. She nodded. The screen flickered, and colors began to swirl around a central area of bursting light.
“We’ve transcribed over 10,000 more locations since our last neural bridge,” Dr. Wu explained. “The map is now nearing 40% relational accuracy.”
She almost couldn’t believe it. Almost.
For the last few years — not to mention the years of schooling before that — she had been working toward this moment. Many in her field thought it couldn’t be done, but the theoretical projections she’d used as a model in her doctoral thesis were more than just whims.
She knew it could be done.
She knew she could do it. If anyone could, she could.
“Data is now being transferred.” All eyes remained on the screen. “Subject is nearing REMS, electrical impulses from the stem are now appearing in irregular rapid succession.”
Amanda watched with confident delight. This is it. She reached out for something to hold on to, her hand finding the cold steel of a thick desk protruding out from beneath the computer monitor.
The subject, a Mr. Ricardo Herrera, was asleep in the room next door. A 67-year-old man from the nearby village, he had volunteered for a week of testing in the state-of-the-art facility Amanda had built. He and his family would be paid handsomely for his time, and with no expected side effects besides feeling wonderfully refreshed and well-rested, it would likely be the easiest money he would ever make.
“Are we recording?” she asked.
A younger technician answered. “Yes, of course. Digital and analog.” He pointed to a rectangular box sitting to the side of the computer.
She smiled. Haven’t seen one of those in years.
After a scare from a computer virus a few months ago, she’d decided to “go old school,” as the techs called it: use analog recording technology in addition to their digital setup. The analog devices were slower, a lot bulkier, and plenty annoying to use in everyday situations, but they were almost completely hacker-proof. Someone wanting to tamper with their data would need to be physically present to do so.
“Subject is entering REM sleep.” A dialog box on a separate, smaller monitor flashed a small message: REM-S POSITIVE.
The larger monitor flashed in the center of the screen again, and the colors began swirling the opposite direction. Tiny sparks of light, like miniature shooting stars, danced around the edges of the swirling vortex.
“It looks like something from a science-fiction movie,” one of the techs whispered.
“It is something from a sci-fi movie,” another responded.
The stars began to grow, then shrink, then grow again, before they died out, replaced by blackness, then a burst of color.
“Is this a dream?” someone asked.
“No,” Dr. Wu replied, “our subject has only just entered REM sleep, but is currently dreamless. He is sleeping soundly, though, and we should see something soon enough.”
“How will we know?”
Dr. Wu just smiled.
They all watched for another minute, then the swirling vortex of color shifted and faded. The blank screen stared back at them for a full thirty seconds. Amanda gripped the side of the desk until her knuckles were white, then released it.
Did they lose the connection?
She thought through the possibilities, trying to remember their hypothetical timeframes for these initial tests…
And the screen exploded to life again.
Blurry forms shifted around in front of her, some recognizable as people. They moved and interacted, melting into one another and changing shape.
Oh my God.
She swallowed, trying not to blink. Trying not to miss a moment.
“We’ve entered a dreamstate. Subject appears to be relatively lucid, attempting to focus on one of the bodies.”
Her excitement almost got the best of her. Amanda’s mind didn’t even need to flash back to her papers and research to know what that meant; the answer was already at the tip of her tongue. If every single person in the room around her hadn’t already been trained by her, she might have even begun a mini-lecture. Dreamstate was their term for mid-REM sleep during a subject’s dream, and bodies referred to any “physical” noun — a typical person, place, or thing — conjured up by the subject’s subconscious during a dreamstate.
It had taken two years to get here from their first attempt at viewing a subject’s dream.
And now it was working.
The subject, Mr. Herrera, was trying to focus on one of the bodies in the dream. It was smaller than the rest, but more sharply silhouetted against the backdrop of swirling colors.
“Subject appears to be focusing on the memory of a child-body.”
The narration confirmed what Amanda was watching onscreen. The image become a bit more focused still, and she could now see more of the “setting” body of this particular memory.
Herrera was in a “room” body, or at least it appeared so, as streaming rays of light glanced down diagonally from the top-right of the video. He was also moving, working around objects that were too blurry to make out.
Amanda forced her eyes out of focus, trying to break any of the involuntary paradigmatic functions they were attempting to use to make sense of the image. Forcing her eyes to make what she was seeing “blurry,” the image might make more sense.
And it did.
She could now better understand what it was Herrera was remembering. He was walking through a house; a living room, then a dining room, passed by. The colors and shadows on the walls in the background established where in the image they were, and she could tell Herrera was moving quickly.
Chasing the small shadow.
Herrera was chasing a laughing child through the house.
The child stopped and turned to Herrera, and Amanda’s eyes focused again on the image. Having now established a visual “baseline,” she could now interpret the smears and blurry lines of the images, and in the picture recreated in her mind, she could almost see the child’s face.
It was Herrera’s oldest son, now in his twenties, somewhere between the ages of three and eight in the video.
She held a hand up to her mouth. It’s really happening.
The blurriness could be fixed, as could the awkward lighting, through the use of more specific mapping techniques and — eventually — far more electrodes on the brain. After that, image manipulation and video effects rendering could sharpen it a bit more. She immediately considered the repercussions of this discovery, and tried to project how long her team might take to deliver a finished, test-worthy product.
“I — I can’t believe this,” Dr. Wu said from beside her. “The image is so… vivid. I never thought…” His voice trailed off as the first-person point-of-view Herrera again began following the child into another room.
“We’re… there. Inside his head,” one of the technicians said. “And we can improve the image quality by increasing the output of each of the electrodes, as well quadrupling the number of —“
Amanda looked over to Dr. Wu, frowning.
“Go back,” he repeated. “This is being recorded, yes?”
“Y — yes, but —“
“I don’t care about the current feed. Rewind the video back about three seconds.”
“Dr. Wu,” Amanda said, “we don’t want to lose the —“
“I understand, Amanda, but I saw something…”
Amanda nodded, and the technician closest to the monitor reached out and fiddled with the controls on the computer below it. The screen changed to a computer desktop for a moment, then he double-clicked a folder and then a video file inside of it.
“Just changing from the live feed to the recording…” he said as he worked.
The video started over again, from the swirling vortex of colors to the blank screen. He dragged the cursor over the scrubbing track, “fast-forwarding” the file to a few seconds before the end.
“What did you see, Henry?” Amanda’s voice was calm, but it hid concern. Dr. Wu was not the type of person to mess around or engage in hyperbole, especially not during a live testing period.
“I — I don’t know. I’m not quite sure yet,” he stammered, his eyes transfixed on the monitor display. “There! Stop it there, and go back a few frames at a time.”
The memory they were watching was the same one as before: Herrera chasing his oldest son through a house. But Wu seemed transfixed not on the object of Herrera’s active memory — his son — but on the background.
The video’s point-of-view swiveled to the left, trying to keep up with the child, and it seemed as though Herrera was running past a window. They watched the screen until Wu spoke again.
“Hold it. Right there, on the right, outside the window. That is a window, correct?”
Heads nodded. Amanda couldn’t see what it was that had Wu’s attention.
“Outside, just beyond the window.
She blurred her vision again, then released it. The image came into focus more, and she felt her throat constrict.
“Is that a person?”
It was indeed. Amanda was sure of it.
The image was small — difficult to see even when she leaned in to the monitor — but it was sharply focused.
It was a man, covered in what looked like gold paint.
“It looks like a statue to me.”
“But the detail…”
Amanda shook her head. “This is a joke, right, Dr. Wu?”
Dr. Wu just frowned at the screen.
“The man — or statue — is completely in focus.” The gold-covered man in the image, standing outside the fuzzy outline of the window, was defined perfectly in the frame. It was small, and therefore easy to miss, but Amanda knew without a doubt what she was staring at.
A man, perfectly focused, stared back at them.
“Dr. Wu,” she started again, “did you somehow layer this into the feed? Maybe there’s an artifact from a previous —“
“No, Dr. Meron,” he responded, his voice soft. “I did not interfere with this recording. What we are seeing here is part of the dreamstate created by Mr. Herrera’s subconscious. The man we are seeing is, in fact, part of Herrera’s memory.”
“But how can it be so clear? So perfectly in focus?”
Wu shook his head. “I don’t know yet. But let’s see what happens if we jump a few frames at a time, forward and backward.”
The technician nearest the monitor and computer assembly nodded and moved some controls. The frame jumped, skipping forward. Herrera’s memory moved to the left, turning away from the window as he searched for the child.
All eyes were on the gold-covered man in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
The technician pushed forward another frame, then another.
“There!” someone shouted.
Amanda jumped, startled by the sound of the person’s voice.
Or startled by what she saw.
The gold-covered man had moved. As Herrera’s memory of the scene changed and shifted, the man in the corner, standing outside the window in the distance, turned and followed Herrera.
Amanda stared back at the man. She could see his eyes, deep black and sunken into his head, and his gold face, outlined by a shimmering light surrounding his body.
The eyes were looking directly at her.
“But how can he be staring at me?”
Dr. Amanda Meron was following her coworker, Dr. Henry Wu, through the halls of the facility to the staff conference room.
“He wasn’t, Dr. Meron,” Wu answered. “He was staring at the camera.”
“Well, you know what I mean. Our subject’s projected memory. In this case, the memory of chasing his young son through his house, is remembered in first person, just like any dream you or I have.”
“So the man was looking at Herrera? Our subject?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Wu said. “But yes, I suppose that is the most logical conclusion — the memory of the gold man would likely not have appeared unless it was a significant, yet repressed, memory. We need to ask Mr. Herrera who the man is and why he was dreaming about him.”
“But why was he in focus? Once you pointed him out, it was as clear as looking at a photograph. I thought —“
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