Tom was playing on his phone, passing the time while Gwen ran a test in the lab, when Mark Iraklis burst in. "Hey Mark. How did the shareholders' meeting go?" asked Tom, without looking up from his game.
Gwen immediately saw the wild look of terror in Iraklis' eyes and grew concerned. "Mark. What's wrong? What happened?"
Iraklis collapsed in a chair, weary from exhaustion and grief. "Connors is dead. They… they killed him."
"What?" Gwen looked like she was going to pass out.
"Who did? Somebody murdered him?" asked Tom.
"They all were in on it. All of them." Iraklis gestured to the empty lab, with it's vacant desks and study areas, referring to the absent occupiers. "These butchers who claim to believe in right and wrong, and preach that they worship at the altar of science for the good of humanity. Well this cruel deed comes from ignorance just like all other evil. If they felt that they had some virtuous motive, by acting on it they have perpetuated evil just as much or more than whatever it was they felt they were fighting."
Tom and Gwen just stood where they were in a state of shock. "What should we do?" asked Tom finally.
"They killed Julian because they don't agree with crossing humans with animal DNA," said Gwen slowly. Then she looked at Tom. "They'll come here next, to try and shut us down."
"Come here? Surely they'll be arrested for murder!" said Tom.
"No. Gwen's right," said Iraklis. "This was all very orchestrated. They have a plan, and I'm guessing they have a way to stay out of prison and influence the company."
"Billy Baker!" Tom blurted. Both Gwen and Iraklis looked at him quizzically. "The senator who was just voted onto the board of directors is a supporter of Toby and Guy and their beliefs. I'm sure he'll be campaigning for these traitors. And you're right. He'll be coming after us and our research programs next."
"You guys are onto something," said Iraklis. "But I'll be damned if I start taking orders from this group of self-righteous murderers. And I especially hate Billy Baker. That guy gives me a serious rash. I suggest to you that you start copying and backing up your data off campus. Don't worry if it's protected or classified. And try to protect any other projects that you're working on. I'm going to do my thing and securely control the Oscorp 'war chest.' I'd also better boost security around here."
"We're on it," said Gwen, sliding over to her computer. "Good luck on your end."
Soon all the conspirators, or as they started calling themselves, 'the Liberators,' were free on bail. Their lawyer, along with the impassioned support of Senator Baker, ensured their release, and things were looking positive for a complete acquittal for justifiable homicide. Their lawyer was arguing the necessity defence, that Connors and his unwieldy research posed an imminent threat to his fellow scientists and humanity at large. People were starting to believe it. But the Liberators were also scrambling to secure their position in Oscorp and their case, which would go to trial later that year. Iraklis, in a seemingly magnanimous gesture, had offered to maintain their positions in the company, if they agreed to maintain all of Connors' policies. It was an advantageous compromise for both sides, with the both of them scheming to starve out the other. For the time being, this protected Tom's project, with the conspirators not being in a position to negotiate any more influence for the time being.
But Mariah was feeling anxious about all the turmoil in the company, and the disturbing events that had taken place, directly relating to her procedure. Tom rushed over to her place to try and reassure her. But it wasn't easy. "Are you sure that we can still go through with this?" she kept asking. "You're positive? Because I heard a statement on the news from the lawyers of the scientists that killed your boss, and they're maintaining that they were justified in this murder because these procedures using animal DNA are wrong! That's what they said! They're saying that it is a crime against nature, and thus they were obligated to take the life of one man."
"They're just saying that because their necks are in the noose," Tom tried to stay calm, but Mariah was starting to get pretty upset. "These guys committed first degree murder, and should be facing the death penalty, so now they'll say anything to try to get off."
"Yeah but even if it were as simple as that. People are listening to them, Tom. They have some pretty well reasoned points. Now even I'm starting to doubt whether I should go through with it."
"But that would be a death sentence for you." Tom eyes started to well up. "You don't mean that."
"I don't want my life to end the future of the human race. How would I live with myself?" Mariah looked Tom in the eyes. "And even so, it seems to me that the government will get involved and shut down my treatment anyway."
"It hasn't come to that. We're still in control and I'll make sure that your procedure goes through." Tom went to touch her hand, but she pulled away.
Mariah stared out the window. "That's just it. That's your problem, Tom. You have to accept that there are things beyond your control. I did." She looked at him with tears rolling down her face. "Why did I let you convince me that there was hope? I had already prepared myself for my death. I figured, it won't be that bad, you know?" She sniffed and wiped her face. "Death is coming for all of us, no matter what. So he'll pick me up a trifle bit sooner than some others, so what? We're all going to spend eternity like that anyway. At least death brings an end to the pain. To the suffering."
Tom's heart was growing heavy and he struggled to find the words he wanted to say. "But death is not a friend, Mariah. It's an enemy."
"An enemy that always wins. I'm guessing that it's not that bad, like I said. Death brings peace. And as God gives us this life, with all of it's problems, he eventually allows us to die. That's my right, the liberty that God ultimately bestows on all of his creatures, rich or poor, believer or unbeliever, we're all the same in the end. We all end up forgotten."
"I don't believe you," said Tom, starting to cry. "You talk like you think that death is this kind gentleman, and that you welcome him. But you can't believe that!"
"Why not?" Mariah screamed.
"Because it can't be true, and you know it! Death is a traitor, to all of us. A cruel seducer who would like to take us even before we are ready to let go. Before we've grown weary of this life."
"Well, I am ready. Or at least I was…" Mariah broke down in sobs.
"Well I'm not!" said Tom fervently. "I can't let you go, Mariah. Not yet." They sat for a while, exhausted and in a mournful silence.
Finally Mariah spoke. "Well you're going to have to let me go, eventually whether you want to or not." Mariah turned her back to Tom, like she couldn't bear to look at him. "Please leave me alone now. If I'm going to prepare to face the sunset, I need time to myself." Tom opened his mouth to protest, but she held up her hand. "Please, I'm weary and I can't do this anymore. If you have affection for me, as you claim to, then you must go."
"I'll go, but I won't rest unless I've done all I can do for you. I would rather die myself than give up on you."
Mariah turned around. "And I believe you would, too. But death will not bring us together, Tom. If you were to die, I could not go on living. And when I die, I don't want you to be there because you would need to shut down my gaze. But you can't let me go, and I can't bear to think about that. So please, let me say good-bye."
Tom swallowed hard. "I'll go, if it should please you, but first let me hug you with all my strength." Tom embraced her and kissed her on the top of her head as she hugged him back.
"Okay. Go. Go," Mariah whispered, gently touching his chest with an outstretched hand. Tom had to fight against every fibre of his body to let her go, but finally he left her house with great sorrow.
Mark Iraklis was really starting to feel the pressure from both the board of directors and the remaining shareholders to keep Oscorp's stock from further plunging in a free fall. In an attempt to bring some stability to the company, he conceded that one of his oldest rivals, Nicholas Powell, be instated to work with him while Iraklis basically served as interim CEO. Connors had promised Powell an executive position, but because this was met by vehement opposition from Iraklis, Connors had postponed giving him a clear position. Now Iraklis needed to make compromises, which included being benevolent with his former opponents in order to strengthen his position. He rewarded the shareholders who didn't sell out by convincing the board to give out cash dividends based on the considerable profits of the previous year. He made another public relations concession that rankled the ire of many tried and true Connors supporters, the foremost being Tom.
Tom came barging into his office. "What the hell, Mark? After all you said about protecting our research and our projects, you go and put a freeze on anything related to cross species genetics. Is this how you honour Connors' legacy? I won't allow it!" Iraklis wasn't able to get a word in, but he just kept moving out his hands in a placatory motion.
"Look, Tom. I'm sorry I couldn't run this past you before the memo went out, but you have to understand that this is better in the long run. The controversy surrounding animal-human hybrids is the principal part in the conspirators defence. By taking that off the table," he held up is finger, "momentarily, we've basically taken away most of their bargaining chips. We had to prevent them from tearing apart the company, which would lead to the federal government coming in and then shutting it all down anyway, or worse," his voice took on a hushed tone, "expropriating the technology for their own military use."
"But how long will this 'momentary' halt on my project be?"
"I'd say no longer than, um, six months."
"Six months? My patient has one month at best. I'm already playing with borrowed time here, Mark. Come on, you have to just make this one exception. This is someone's life we're talking about here!"
Iraklis pursed his lips and slowly shook his head. "I'm sorry, Tom, but exceptions become the rule. And if we lose the technology now, think of all the people that will die in the coming years. We can't take that risk."
"You mean, you can't! Or you just won't!" Tom spat, and he stormed out.
Gwen was waiting just outside the door. She came running after Tom, who was seriously charged up. He walked at top speed until he was outside the building, and she had to run to keep up with him, not being able to get him to stop until they were by the fountain near the street. "Tom! Tom, I'm so sorry."
Tom's hands were shaking. "I promised her this wouldn't happen. She foresaw this as a possibility, and I promised her." Tom rubbed his eyes with his palms.
"Hey, listen to me." Gwen lightly patted his back. "We'll figure something out. We always do." Her phone buzzed. Reading the text message, she said, "Well this is an interesting development. Let's go see your friend Harold Augustus."
"Why? What can he do?"
"Connors' succession plan was just announced, which as you know, was binding. He didn't name Iraklis. Instead, he selected Augustus to be his successor as CEO." Gwen stared in wonder. "Why don't we try and talk to him?"
They found Harold Augustus at his desk in the offices of the New York branch of CosmoNav, a company that Harold ran that produced space tech. Tom and Gwen congratulated him on his recommendation from Connors himself, and Harold received them very graciously. He seemed, at least to Tom, particularly taken with having Gwen there. But after indulgently listening to their concerns, he got to the nub of the problem. "Well technically I am Connors' chosen successor, but Mark Iraklis keeps producing legal cause to postpone my actual inauguration as CEO, or at least as co-chair. I would welcome guidance from some of the long-timers there at Oscorp, although of course I am no stranger to running a company. Oscorp is just a little bigger, that's all. You know that Mark Iraklis was a Judge Advocate General in the US navy before he became a businessman? He thinks like a lawyer, and always tries to cover all the angles. But I have a sense that he's losing ground with the board. Many of the board members, especially that Senator Baker, don't trust him. If he keeps holding out from giving me what's legally mine, I'll have no choice but to sue him."
"He thinks, because he is lawyer, he'll ween eef we go to court. He weel try force us to accept settlement, but we weel not," said Mischa Vitaly.
"When we go to court, I have one more trick up my sleeve that will firmly establish my status as heir to this company," said Harold. "So don't panic. My lawyers will be meeting with his later this week."
"Well, I think that gave us some more hope," Gwen said, after they had left CosmoNav's offices.
"I don't know. It seems like a lot of people could die before all these lawyers get their stuff together."
"You know, I was really hoping that Connors would appoint you his successor," said Gwen quietly.
"Me? Really?" Tom laughed, for what seemed like the first time in ages. "That's hilarious. Why would you even think that was a possibility?"
"Why not? Sometimes you don't give yourself enough credit, Tom Jones. You were the one who figured out the decay rate algorithm. You were also pursuing with more passion the innovations that Julian felt so strongly about. You were helping him regrow his arm, for heaven's sake! I thought out of gratitude and after seeing your potential, he would have named you." Gwen looked down.
"That's all true," said Tom. "But I'm sure Dr. Connors recognized that I'm not cut out for all the business decisions and the political intrigue. I just love the science, and I wanted to help people."
"Yeah, I guess you always had me to help you negotiate the intrigue up until now," laughed Gwen.
Tom smiled, but then his face took on a more serious aspect. "So then, what do you think is this big trick that Harold has up his sleeve? It sounds ominous. I mean, I like the guy, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to get on his bad side. He gives me that feeling like he knows how to manipulate things to always get what he wants." Gwen nodded.
They went back to their Oscorp dorm rooms and flipped on the TV. Mark Iraklis was holding a press conference to discuss this new development of Augustus being named successor. Senator Baker and Guy Kasady had opposed the announcement be made by Iraklis, but Toby had convinced them to allow it as a sign of good faith. He and the rest of the conspirators were still trying to solidify their positions in the company. The board acquiesced, but warned Mark Iraklis that under no circumstance would he use the press conference for grandstanding. So his press conference started off uneventful enough. In the beginning, he simply announced Connors' plan of succession.
He began, "This is our moment when we conclude a somewhat controversial chapter in Oscorp, but auspiciously that signifies the beginning of a brighter one. I'm not here to glorify Dr. Julian Connors, just to explain his legally binding wishes that will guide this company for the next quarter. We recognize that now that he is gone, in reality Dr. Connors' vision will be laid to rest, for there is no reality except in action. His was a legacy that binds us together, but now we must move on. The honourable Dr. Auchmann, or Doc Ock as he is affectionately known, has shown us the light. So while we will respect Dr. Connors' wishes in the running of this company, we have had to make some very difficult self-examinations of the morality of some of our research. Dr. Auchmann has maintained that it was the height of arrogance to change the human genome and to create animal-human hybrids, and it's true, business people need to avoid any appearance of arrogance these days, in these economically uncertain times. Those of us in the medical community strive to embrace our humanity, and that is the quality that should stop one from being arrogant, as Dr. Connors was stopped so acrimoniously. I speak to you of the legacy and future of Oscorp under permission from Dr. Auchmann and his associates, as well as the Board of Directors, for all of them are ethical and highly principled individuals. That's why they chose this profession of biological medicine. But I first disclose that Dr. Julian Connors was a friend. He always treated me fairly. And Dr. Auchmann maintains that he arrogantly overstepped the ethical guidelines for human dignity, and surely we can trust the righteous, moral authority of Dr. Auchmann. Perhaps you were aware that Dr. Connors served his country in Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Royal Red Cross and the George Cross for bravery. On one occasion, he succeeded in dragging out four of his comrades under enemy fire, and he paid for this courage with the loss of his arm. That loss inspired him to seek a solution to help all who are missing limbs, or who suffer from defective organs. Is that arrogance? Yet Dr. Auchmann accuses him of immodesty, of not recognizing his limitations, for Dr. Auchmann is a highly principled man. I bring this up these things, not to raise disputes against what Dr. Auchmann and his associates have said, to air our dirty laundry as it were. But rather, I say these things to explain how I remember the man. They say you die once when you breathe your last, and then again when your name is spoken for the last time. I could not bear the grave injustice of allowing the final expressions of Dr. Connors name to be spoken with such malignant contempt, which would conceal his exceptional humanity behind a cold-blooded veneer. He was greatly admired and dare I say loved, and not without reason. So what reason could there be to vilify him so and not mourn his passing? I understand that human reason has its boundaries, and I dare not call other people cold, when in reality they are just sad, as I am."
"Wow, he's really laying it on thick," said Tom. "What's his angle?"
"I suppose it's possible that he is grieving," said Gwen, as Tom looked at her incredulously.
"Here at Oscorp, Dr. Julian Connors promoted a dream. He envisioned a world with superior medical care that would be available, not only to the rich and privileged, but to all the world's citizens. He led the way in building a company that promoted innovation and positive action, and I am not here to pass judgement on this act that was committed, for they were very principled men who carried it out, only to remark on how they repaid his vision. Visionaries are invariably misunderstood in their own time, but future generations give thanks and pass judgement on their contemporaries. So I ask you, friends, how will history judge us? Will we go down in history to be counted among the witch trials, book burnings and inquisitions that so often have sought to stifle great progress? Will we be judged as heartless ingrates who lived in the shadow of a prescient genius? Indeed, I speak of ingratitude and jealousy, for what else would motivate the delivery of death in the form of twenty-three stab wounds? Surely ingratitude is the essence of vileness, so that when the gentle doctor saw those he counted to be his friends were actually amongst his haters, the shock of ingratitude defeated him, so that he did not fight back. He fell broken-hearted, blinded by blood and regret, and left a scathing indictment on our society that could not tolerate his brilliance.
"Now don't let me stir up controversy with this statement, I only seek to explain the direction that our company and our country will be going. As I have mentioned, the people responsible for this deed acted out of ethical convictions. What private motivations moved each individual, is for God alone to know. But we know that these are going to be the intellectual leaders of tomorrow. And I would not pretend to be the deliverer of impassioned speeches, as our friend Dr. Auchmann is. I was but a humble soldier who speaks plainly. I am not even a scientist, like these learned men. But I ask you this: Do you want to live in a world where our brightest lights are forced to dim themselves or risk being extinguished all together?"
Mark Iralkis' speech served its purpose. The group of conspirators started receiving death threats that culminated in someone at Oscorp smearing their desks with animal blood and organs. In response to this incident, Iraklis secured permission from the DA's office to transfer them to branch offices in other countries, ostensibly 'for their own safety.' Toby and Guy were originally assigned the task of overseeing the implementation of Oscorp's charity causes in Africa, but they rejected it, citing both dangerous working conditions and potential isolation from headquarters in New York. Instead, they went to oversee the lab offices in Australia.