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Freitas responded to Joy because he considers Joy's concerns to be legitimate. "That's exactly what we're doing here," he says, referring to Zyvex's bunker like pavilion near Dallas. Zyvex, which likes to describe itself as the first private molecular nanotechnology development company in the United States, doesn't build nanorobots as yet. According to Freitas, however, that's only a matter of time. "We can move single atoms around with our tweezers," he says, "but we can't yet put them down exactly where we want them." Once this becomes possible, he tells us, it should, in theory, be possible to create completely new materials. At present, however, Zyvex is still working on the tools required for such a job, including tweezers just 0.5 mm (0.02 inches) long which can open and close 1,000 times per second.

The visitor leaves the story on the possibilities and hazards of nanotechnology to his better informed colleagues. What interests him, apart from the rather spooky dialogue between Joy and Freitas, is the imagination which provides the raw material for this new reality.

"I was a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie," says Freitas. And those who want to get an idea of what is currently going on in the twilight zone between science, fantasy and politics must take such confessions seriously. Just as the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann's generation was obsessed with Homer, so all the great sci-fi epics, especially those on celluloid, have left their mark on these 40-something scientists. And they now have the education and — thanks to the new economy — the enormous financial resources they need to pursue their version of reality. Schliemann wanted to find Troy, while these pioneers are on a quest for their own childhood utopias. It is not just the child's desire to fly through interstellar space or even the prospect of scientific prestige — such as was recently reaped in by Craig Venter — which motivates them. Death is also a driving force, as is the fear of death. Jim van Ehr, whose complex software developments have earned him billions of dollars, is the man now bankrolling Zyvex. And he is getting impatient. Having just turned 50, he knows he doesn't have so many years ahead of him. He, too, carries a lot of Hollywood baggage around with him.

He, too, wants to know what the future will be like, even if that means having himself deep-frozen after death — an idea which not just Freitas, but nearly everyone in the lab is deeply committed to.

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