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Excerpt: The Soul of the Matter, Chapter 5

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Editor’s note: We have been delighted to offer three excerpts from Bruce Buff’s new novel, The Soul of the Matter, with the permission of Simon & Schuster/Howard Books. See David Klinghoffer’s review here. Find Chapter 3 here and Chapter 4 here.

A series of sharp tones jolted Stephen. The processing of the first set of information was complete. A more detailed image of a human body was displayed on the monitor.

Collecting himself, Stephen sat back down, entered a series of commands, and kicked off the processing of a second set of data. While the computers were busy completing their work, he clicked an option on the upper right of the image labeled Time Series.

Immediately, the monitor went blank, and then a small image of a newborn appeared in the center. Gradually, the image developed and aged as it progressed from newborn to toddler, child, teenager, young adult, through middle age and then old age: a lifetime of human development compressed into a few minutes. The mesmerizing visual results weren’t remarkable in and of themselves. What was incredible was the source of the information used to generate the images. They were based solely on DNA, not computer simulation. He had unlocked and translated all the information that directed human de­velopment!

Beaming, Stephen turned his attention to the horizontal slide bars on the bottom of the screen and the numbers associated with them. After changing a number connected to the figure’s torso, he watched the body elongate. When he increased a different number, the head grew larger and became misshapen . Clearly, important balances needed to be maintained.

After selecting Reset, the image reverted to its original version. Stephen gradually changed a slide bar and watched the image redisplay in different proportions . The bars were master controls for theentire image. Rotating a dial backward, a result resembling a Neanderthal was displayed. Rotating the same dial further backward, after several moments, what had once appeared human now looked like an unknown type of primate.

Astounded, he wondered if he was looking at actual evolutionary history. Was it possible that every prior version of humans was still in DNA? Or was a there a master set of genes that, when combined in different ways, could generate every creature in the human evolutionary branch? Could this information be used to re-create long-lost species?

More important, what would it mean for humanity’s future?