by Sheryl Tuttle
Chris A. Venger picked up his electro-active diffractive eyeglasses. They had fallen out of his breast pocket, again, but upon inspection appeared undamaged. He put them on his face, and the laboratory instantly came into focus, all 800 square feet of shiny steel surfaces, stark white walls, sterile benches and shelving with scientific apparatus and pharmaceutical experiments at various stages. The place Chris felt most at home.
Searching for his eLabBook, Chris knocked a beaker off a bench and pungent fumes circled upward off the floor where the liquid landed. "Oh dear," he said to no one in particular as he turned to get the chemical spill kit and RoboChem. His pant leg caught on the lab bench chair, tripping Chris and setting the chair in a twirling spin that launched various lab reports into the air like paper airplanes.
Just then, his Ubik mobile device buzzed. With his pant leg still caught on the chair, Chris wobbled over to the desk, dragging the chair along. He bumped his funny bone on the edge of the desk as he reached for the device and flipped it open.
"Augh," he said, rubbing his elbow. "Hello, Chris here."
"Chris? Hello, it's Laura. Are you OK?"
"Yea, sort of. Just had a bit of an accident in the lab and I need to get it cleaned up." Chris glanced at the time. He had an analysis to complete on some living brain tissue. "What's up, girlfriend?"
"Would you please quit calling me your girlfriend? Someone's going to hear you one of these days, and what if it got back to Michael?"
"Ah, well, you know I've called you that since childhood and old habits are hard to break. Besides, you are my friend and you're a girl…"
"Yea, yea, yea. Listen, I got your sticky note on my rejection letter. I don't know how you keep getting inside Murphison Enterprises or how you got that silly sticky note on my letter. But you have to stop. You're gonna get caught and then they'll think I put you up to it."
Snooty Laura, Chris thought, afraid I'll steal your limelight?
"Anyway," she continued, "can you believe they rejected my proposal? Have they forgotten the half-dozen best sellers I've given them?"
"Calm down, and don't take it so personally," Chris said. He couldn't believe how selfish she had become now that she was famous. "They can't remember."
"What do you mean, they can't remember?" she asked with a shriek in her voice.
"I mean they can't remember. They have BD."
There was silence on the phone, and Chris understood. Laura's parents had succumbed to BD when she was just beginning her writing career. Within days they didn't even know their own daughter, yet they continued to function masterfully as Professors at World University for a short while before their demise. Bastian-Dohmen disease, a.k.a. BD, was an odd brain degeneration disease. No one knew fully which areas of the brain would be degenerated, and which areas enhanced. All anyone knew was that it was quick and eventually fatal.
Laura finally spoke. "I thought you were working on an antidote."
"I am. That's what I'm testing today," Chris said, "and that's why I need to get busy now. Listen, just try again. Rework the proposal, they won't remember rejecting it before, and resubmit. Remember how you did it before you were famous, and put a little more effort into it. They'll accept it, I'm sure. Chin up, girlfriend, OK?"
"I told you not to call me that!" The phone clicked off. Chris chuckled as he imagined her fuming through clenched teeth, and then went back to cleaning up his messy lab. He organized the displaced papers, rechecked his calculations, and after confirming the time, examined a slide under a microscope.
"Woo hoo!" Chris shouted. He removed his eyeglasses and rubbed his eyes, then looked again. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" He filled a vial and put it in his lab jacket, along with a syringe, and left the building through the portal.
Chris ran from the parking lot, down the hall to the executive offices of Murphison Enterprises. "Wait! Don't lock up." A quirky little man, short and round, was locking up his office when Chris arrived.
"Mr. Venger. To what do I owe this visit?" the man asked, but he did not remove his keys from the lock.
"Hello, Mr. Lamson." Chris was panting from his sprint and he leaned over to catch his breath. "I did it."
"Did it?" Mr. Lamson asked, "Did what?"
"Let's cut with the formalities. May I call you Ken?" Chris stood upright and Ken nodded his head. ""I did it" means I found the antidote. The antidote for BD."
The keys turned and the office door sprang open. "Do come in. Chris, isn't it? Have a seat while I call the executive team."
"Not so fast," Chris said. "Some of them don't even realize they are afflicted with BD. I wondered if I could give you the antidote first. Since you are aware and that part of your brain hasn't been affected."
"I don't know. Tell me, are there side effects? Is it an immediate cure or will I need more than one dose, and how is it administered? There are so many questions."
"I gotta be honest with you, Ken. I've only done lab testing, some virtual projections. It hasn't been tested on animals or humans yet. But time is of the essence. If you and your executive team don't take this treatment now, you're all doomed to die. It's a onetime shot, and there could be side effects, I'm not sure. But you know how it will end if I don't give you this injection."
"You're right. Here." Ken stuck out his arm, turned his head, and closed his eyes. Chris pricked him with the needle containing the antidote, and watched as Ken's color drained from his face. Chris caught Ken just as his knees buckled, and he pulled him over to the leather couch. He checked the time.
"Goodnight, Ken, sleep tight. I'll see you bright and early in the morning." He took Ken's keys and locked the door as he left. Turning, he stepped into a mop bucket and nearly bumped into the cleaning crew. "Sorry," he said, and he walked down the hallway one soggy footstep at a time, whistling as he squished.
Back at his lab, he ran over all his experiments and results again. Chris had never tested anything on a human before, at least not before receiving Federation approval. In this case though, he wouldn't have had time to get approval before the whole corporation collapsed under dead management. Literally.
Finally, Chris' soggy foot dried with all the pacing he did overnight, and early in the morning, Chris tapped Ken's office door with trepidation. Silence. He tapped again, this time heavier. Still nothing, so Chris fished out the keys and unlocked the door.
Chris entered the dark office and made his way over to the couch. Ken Lamson was not there.
"Ken?" Chris called out to the dark. "Mr. Lamson?"
"Over here," a shrill voice answered and Chris tried to focus. It didn't sound like Mr. Lamson.
"Over where," Chris said, "and… who are you?"
"It's me, and I'm cured!" The lights flicked on. Ken Lamson was standing by the door, hair disheveled, eyes wild and quick like an animal in a cage. He walked over to the leather couch, sat down, then stood back up. He walked behind his desk and took out some papers.
"This," Ken said, "this is your side effect." He shook the papers in the air, laid them back down and walked back over to the couch. "I feel like there is an electric current running through me. I can't stop moving, or thinking. Now that you're here, I don't even want to stop talking."
Ken moved back to his desk and flipped open his Ubik. He began entering notes.
"But it's not a bad thing," he continued. "I feel so alive, more alive than I've ever felt, like I can feel every neutron and atom in my body. The BD is gone, I remember everything now. But the good news is that the part of the brain that had been enhanced, you know, how I was able to do unbelievable scientific calculations in my head? Well, that part is still here." Ken started rattling off some complex computations and he jumped up onto his desk and started spinning in circles.
"Whoa. Take it easy man," Chris said, but Ken continued dancing around while reciting calculations.
Chris checked his watch. This action would explain the cell activity he saw under the microscope initially, and he knew that within minutes, Ken's activity level should return to normal, as well as his enhanced brain capabilities. "OK, five, four, three, two, one."
Ken did a final spin, then stopped. He looked exhausted now, and he sat down in his chair with a sigh. "Ah, a temporary side effect I see. But it was quite enjoyable. Thank you. Mr. Venger, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You've found the cure for BD and actually saved our company. Shall I call the rest of the executives in?"
"Yes, but not so fast. First, there's the business with Laura Phillips."
"Ahh, yes, I remember," Ken said in deep contemplation. "We sent our number one author a rejection slip on her proposal to write your story and how you found the cure for BD. We thought she was overly optimistic in your abilities. Hmm, that wasn't a very wise action on our part, was it?"
"She's furious," Chris said. "I don't think I would approach her for some time. You'd be wise to advise all the executives not to mention that rejection, to anyone, and to lay low for awhile, especially when it comes to Laura. Maybe in time she'll forgive you and come around. For now, mum's the word." Chris put his pointer finger up to his mouth.
"Mum's the word." Ken repeated, then said, "And now I'm calling the rest of the team. We are so indebted to you for finding this cure."
Within twenty-four hours, all the executives of Murphison Enterprises were cured of BD. Short of some temporary erratic behavior, business resumed as usual. In the meantime, however, Chris made plans to work with Laura on her manuscript. He wanted to share with her all the details of the BD antidote, plus Laura had reworked her proposal and she wanted him to look at it before she resubmitted.
Chris arrived at Laura's apartment exactly as scheduled. He brought along a bottle of wine, a vintage red, aged nearly 100 years and believed to be one of the best in the Universe. Expensive indeed, it had set him back a whole month's pay, but it would be worth every penny. He planted a smile upon his face, then knocked at the door.
"Come in." Laura's voice carried through the door. "I'm in the office."
Chris let himself in. He stopped in the kitchen, opened the wine, and began searching the cabinets for appropriate stemware. When he retrieved the wine glasses, his sleeve caught on the handle of a coffee cup and he pulled the cup, along with a stack of saucers, out of the cabinet and onto the countertop, shattering them into tiny bits and pieces. "Oh no," he said, looking over his shoulder towards the office.
"What was that?" Laura called.
"Uh, sorry Laura, accident. I'll clean it up, you keep working."
"You need my help?"
"No!" he replied. "Keep working, I'll be right there."
He cleaned up the mess and poured the wine. After a quick glance towards the office to make sure Laura wasn't coming, Chris uncorked his hidden vial and poured the pink powder into Laura's glass. He swirled it a few times to make sure it all dissolved, then carried the glasses into the office.
"Hello, girlfriend," he said with a smile. He handed her the glass of wine.
"Quit calling me that!" she said, but then she smiled and accepted the glass.
"Is that your proposal?" Chris asked, pointing to some papers neatly stacked in the corner of Laura's desk.
"Do you mind?" He picked up the papers and began reading. "Uh-huh, hmm, that's good, oh they'll like that." He finished reading and sat the papers back on the corner. Then he retrieved his paperwork from the inside breast pocket of his jacket, and tossed it gently to Laura.
"What's this?" she asked.
Laura unfolded the papers and began reading. "It's too scientific," she said. "Can you just summarize for me?"
"Certainly," Chris said. "It's the details to the experiment and formula for the BD antidote. I found it! Now you have the end to your manuscript!"
Laura jumped up and hugged Chris; she planted a big kiss on his cheek. "That's wonderful! Now those idiots at Murphison will have to accept my proposal, and with a big, really big, advance. Or do you think I'm better off taking it to the other guys?"
"You mean Scientific Research and Publication? The ones that told you years ago that you would never amount to anything? You would go back to those guys?"
"Well, I wouldn't want to. But if those nitwits at Murphison don't wake up and smell the roses…"
"I see," Chris said. "I don't think that will be necessary though since we have an antidote for BD now. Once cured, they'll remember you and the success you've brought them. No worries."
Chris raised his eyebrows, along with his wine glass, and offered up a big smile. "Now, how about we celebrate?" They toasted her success, then drank. Chris looked at his watch. He refilled their wine.
"Girlfriend," he said reminiscing and with a smile. "Do you remember when I started calling you that?"
Creases gathered at the bridge of Laura's nose as she squinted her eyes and said, "Are you my boyfriend?"
"No," he said, and chuckled. The effects of BD were beginning to show. "We were just kids, remember, and the teacher accused you of copying my work. Of course, you had, it was the first of many such incidents, but to save you I told the teacher you were my girlfriend and that we had worked together. "
Laura stared at him with a blank expression.
"Well all right girlfriend, time for me to take my papers and get on home now," Chris said as he started gathering Laura's proposal and manuscript. "I've got a little modifying to do, but it shouldn't take long. Then I'll get these turned into the good folks of Murphison Enterprises, who are truly indebted to me."
"Well good luck to you," Laura said. "I really like your story."