Home > Disclosure(10)

Author: Michael Crichton

He felt as if she was treating him like an invalid. "Cindy, I'm fine."

"I know. Just a reminder."

"Okay, I'll go now."

As he hurried down the stairs to the third floor, he felt relieved at the distraction. Cindy was right to get him out of the office. And he was curious to see what Cherry's team had done with the Corridor.

The Corridor was what everyone at DigiCom called VIE: the Virtual Information Environment. VIE was the companion piece to Twinkle, the second major element in the emerging future of digital information as envisioned by DigiCom. In the future, information was going to be stored on disks, or made available in large databases that users would dial into over telephone lines. At the moment, users saw information displayed on flat screenseither televisions or computer screens. That had been the traditional way of handling information for the last thirty years. But soon, there would be new ways to present information. The most radical, and the most exciting, was virtual environments. Users wore special glasses to see computer-generated, threedimensional environments which allowed them to feel as though they were literally moving through another world. Dozens of high-tech companies were racing to develop virtual environments. It was exciting, but very difficult, technology. At DigiCom, VIE was one of Garvin's pet projects; he had thrown a lot of money at it; he had had Don Cherry's programmers working on it around the clock for two years.

And so far, it had been nothing but trouble.

The sign on the door said "VIE" and underneath, "When Reality Is Not Enough." Sanders inserted his card in the slot, and the door clicked open. He passed through an anteroom, hearing a halfdozen voices shouting from the main equipment room beyond. Even in the anteroom, he noticed a distinctly nauseating odor in the air.

Entering the main room, he came upon a scene of utter chaos. The windows were thrown wide; there was the astringent smell of cleaning fluid. Most of the programmers were on the floor, working with disassembled equipment. The VIE units lay scattered in pieces, amid a tangle of multicolored cables. Even the black circular walker pads had been taken apart, the rubber bearings being cleaned one by one. Still more wires descended from the ceiling to the laser scanners which were broken open, their circuit boards exposed. Everyone seemed to be talking at once. And in the center of the room, looking like a teenage Buddha in an electric blue T-shirt that said "Reality Sucks," was Don Cherry, the head of Programming. Cherry was twenty-two years old, widely acknowledged to be indispensable, and famous for his impertinence.

When he saw Sanders he shouted: "Out! Out! Damned management! Out!"

"Why?" Sanders said. "I thought you wanted to see me."

"Too late! You had your chance!" Cherry said. "Now it's over!"

For a moment, Sanders thought Cherry was referring to the promotion he hadn't gotten. But Cherry was the most apolitical of the DigiCom division heads, and he was grinning cheerfully as he walked toward Sanders, stepping over his prostrate programmers. "Sorry, Tom. You're too late. We're fine-tuning now."

"Fine-tuning? It looks like ground zero here. And what's that terrible smell?"

"I know." Cherry threw up his hands. "I ask the boys to wash every day, but what can I say. They're programmers. No better than dogs."

"Cindy said you called me several times."

"I did," Cherry said. "We had the Corridor up and running, and I wanted you to see it. But maybe it's just as well you didn't."

Sanders looked at the complex equipment scattered all around him. "You had it up?"

"That was then. This is now. Now, we're fine-tuning." Cherry nodded to the programmers on the floor, working on the walker pads. "We finally got the bug out of the main loop, last night at midnight. The refresh rate doubled. The system really rips now. So we have to adjust the walkers and the servos to update responsiveness. It's a mechanical problem," he said disdainfully. "But we'll take care of it anyway."

The programmers were always annoyed when they had to deal with mechanical problems. Living almost entirely in an abstract world of computer code, they felt that physical machinery was beneath them.

Sanders said, "What is the problem, exactly?"

"Well, look," Cherry said. "Here's our latest implementation. The user wears this headset," he said, pointing to what looked like thick silver sunglasses. "And he gets on the walker pad, here."

The walker pad was one of Cherry's innovations. The size of a small round trampoline, its surface was composed of tightly packed rubber balls. It functioned like a multidirectional treadmill; walking on the balls, users could move in any direction. "Once he's on the walker," Cherry said, "the user dials into a database. Then the computer, over there-" Cherry pointed to a stack of boxes in the corner, "takes the information coming from the database and constructs a virtual environment which is projected inside the headset. When the user walks on the pad, the projection changes, so you feel like you're walking down a corridor lined with drawers of data on all sides. The user can stop anywhere, open any file drawer with his hand, and thumb through data. Completely realistic simulation."

"How many users?"

"At the moment, the system can handle five at one time."

"And the Corridor looks like what?" Sanders said. "Wire-frame?" In the earlier versions, the Corridor was outlined in skeletal black-and-white outlines. Fewer lines made it faster for the computer to draw.

"Wire-frame?" Cherry sniffed. "Please. We dumped that two weeks ago. Now we are talking 3-D surfaces fully modeled in z4-bit color, with anti-alias texture maps. We're rendering true curved surfaces-no polygons. Looks completely real."

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology