Chapter 3 - Plotting
Forty minutes later, behind the closed door of the Edwards room, the discussion was quiet but determined, this time with Felix leading the way. He sat at the head of a polished, if somewhat nicked, conference table.
“I’ve been thinking about this,” Felix said. “Corporate is eager to get this seen through. Ideally, in their view, they’d be getting updates every hour, but they know realistically that can’t happen. They don’t want to dampen our creative process with countless reports. But they do want to be updated, and you know what’s going to happen when something new and exciting comes through.”
“Sure,” Jerry said. “They’re going to want to evaluate, establish goals, establish a timeline, and guide us there.”
“Right,” Felix replied. “And I’ll suggest that’s exactly what we don’t want to have done at this stage. It’s just too important and too complex to rush it. We have to see it through in the right way.”
Conor shook his head. “You’re calling me the genius, and I don’t have a clue of what you’re talking about here. So fill me in. We report that we have fully functioning cellular matrices for everything we’re looking at, and what can they do? They’re not going to tell us to stop. Yeah, I’ve been frustrated with the bureaucracy, too, but overall, I’m doing my thing. And when we announce our breakthrough, they’re going to be our biggest cheerleaders at that point.” He looked around the room. “I mean, isn’t that right?”
“Yes and no,” Jerry replied, his voice flat.
“Indeed,” Felix said. “They’ll see that we’re on the brink of production of the first models. They’ll get together with their intellectual property lawyers and rush to patent. They’ll set out testing scenarios and schedules. We’ll have new NDAs to sign. They don’t have the technical ability to see through the realities of this like we do. They’ll be immersed in the administration and what now looks to be the marketing and profit side of it.”
“Well,” Conor said, “a patent application would seem to be advisable at the moment. Get our work designs in, just in case another lab in another company or country somewhere is working on the same thing.”
“So it would seem,” Felix said. “But once we’re down that rabbit hole, then we lose whatever control we have. Everything will be directed to hasten the process to production. And while the designs are brilliant, and the modeling works out perfectly, and the virtual mockups are as refined as we can make them, we still need some real-life tests and observations before a corporate gun is put to our head to keep us working.”
Herman’s brows were knit. “Felix, I enjoy working with you, but for a corporate type, you sure are subversive. I’ve been thinking you’re the company rep here, and you’re talking like they need to be kept out of the loop.”
“A fair criticism,” Felix responded. “Part of success in the corporation comes from being able to play the game, to skip around the problems that they create for themselves. I’ve got a good track record with Hobart, and they’ll never realize how much of that success came from doing an end run around their rules.” He smiled. “And you can keep that to yourselves, if you don’t mind.”
“Works for me,” Tom responded. “So what do you propose?”
“I’m frankly hoping to get some proposals from all the bright minds here,” Felix replied, and grinned.
“How about this,” Ceely ventured. “Yeah, so we have a working design but not a working model. What we also don’t want to do is get too far along where we finally tell corporate what’s going on, and they get all pissed and asked why they haven’t been updated. Let’s get some mice in and do some implanting and see how that runs. If we get questioned about it, it’s part of what we needed to do in order to secure the modeling of it all.”
“You want alpha testers,” Conor said.
“Exactly,” Ceely replied. “And get some real-life results. If chemical or signal transfer issues come up, or membrane integrity, or rejection responses, or a million other things, it’s something we need to know anyway to fine-tune what we’re doing on the modeling end.”
The team looked at Felix.
“A reasonable approach,” he said. “Does anyone else have any other ideas?”
Silence accompanied the back-and-forth glances around the table. They all looked back to Felix. While the team’s deliberative process was egalitarian, Conor was the technical lead. But at this meeting, with a higher level of knowledge and experience with their corporate commanders, authority for the discussion had fallen quite naturally to Felix.
“All right,” Felix finally said. “Conor, then, with your permission, we’ll work on constructing working cells and bring the mice in. No one submits a report without talking to me first.” He looked around the table. “This is especially important now. No one can talk about this. If you get asked about our progress, and we all will be asked, we can say, what? It looks like we’re closing in on a final design, and we’re all terribly excited, but we don’t have the results yet. We need to feed them enough to keep them on the line.”
“Of course,” Conor said. “Sounds like a plan. If we can all keep our mouths shut about the results that we just saw on the computer, we can move on this. Let’s move fast without rushing. That way, we won’t need to keep our confidences for too long.” He smiled. “No offense to my wonderful team, but six people is a lot to keep a secret for very long. And I’m including myself in that particular little numerical vulnerability.”
Heads nodded around the table. “Agreed.” “Agreed.”
“All right,” Felix said. “Enthusiasm without solid results yet. And that’s close to the truth anyway, is it not? Then let’s hope that in several weeks, we’ll have news for corporate that will be stunning and, even though they’ll press us for things, the purse strings will open up to make the working models real ones and get them tested and to market.”
“And then,” Conor said, “we change the world.”
Herman replied, “Just that simple, and just that complex.”
Felix leaned back. “The simple paths that lie in front of us, we can see now. We’ve talked about them ad finitum. The complex, who knows? Will the change be only for the privileged? What are the furthest reachings of the change? As close to immortality as humans can get? Will our invention be used to not just heal people but to change them, enhance them? Subjugate them to economics or rogue programming?” He shook his head. “It’s not the benefits that are terrifying. It’s the power that provides them. When one company holds the key to this kind of change, how far can that power reach? If its intent becomes malicious, what stops it?”
“We can’t look at it that way,” Conor replied. “We’re scientists.” He scanned the team and grinned. “Or engineers. Or surgeons. We have a task to ease suffering. We’re on the verge of the biggest breakthrough since,” and he stopped. “Well, hell, I don’t know since what. Pasteur and vaccines, maybe? Pasteur didn’t think about some biomed company making a windfall. He went ahead with his work, and millions or billions of people are walking around who might not be otherwise.”
Ceely spoke up. “Theoretically, you’re right. Well, you’re right from a practical standpoint. It’s not like we’re going to say, hey, Hobart Cromwell, stop paying us now. We’re stopping work on synthetic brain tissue because you might make a profit.” She chuckled but, hearing no one joining in, looked around at the other five. “Are we?”
Smiles finally greeted her. “Not me,” replied Tom. “My mortgage and 401(k) say otherwise. That’s the path to my loyalty, ultimately.”
“Of course,” Felix cut in smoothly. “And besides, even if we all were taken out by a bus tomorrow, the company would simply find others to take up our work. We are all replaceable.” He nodded to the titular head of the team. “Except Conor.”
Conor smiled back. “Okay, enough of that. It seems to me that here’s what we have to do. Ceely and Tom, we need to take the CADs and firmware to the fab phase and produce actual, physical working units in the 200-micron aggregates we’ve modeled. Herman, we’ll need a room prepped for microsurgery, and you and Jerry need to have the mice brought up and the units dialed in. Jerry, ride herd on the IT side. We can’t get going until we actually have physical units available, so Ceely and Tom are setting that schedule. Keep us all apprised, and let’s see how soon we can get this into gear.”
Felix said, “And me?”
Conor smiled once again, this time a little grimly. “Felix, you get to ride herd on the science and medical and make sure we’re clicking on all cylinders.” Conor met his friend’s eyes. “Synthesizing the science, engineering, software, medical, and wrapping it up for corporate. You should get a Nobel just for that.”
Chuckles around the table. Felix’s eyes were crinkling. “It’s as complex and as simple as that,” he said.
But the complexities – and simplicities - would arise in ways that none of them could yet envision.