Elixium

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Chapter 7 – Fibonacci Fruitcake

The Primazine promotional poster hanging on the wall in Tom’s office posed a tricky question: Who are you going to be today? He’d been gazing at the poster all morning, his breath slow and steady. It showed a young female in running gear on an empty beach at sunrise, staring proudly at the gentle waves, the clouds suffused with an all-too-familiar salmon-pink hue. He pictured the advertising team discussing the best shade of pink for the tablet and how to promote this useless pill to the target market. Meanwhile Elixium concealed the ultimate cure from the world, a drug which might have saved his dad.

Tom grabbed his backpack, containing all the paraphernalia Isla gave him at the art studio.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Harry, his colleague.

“Lunch.” He tried not to act suspiciously, although his heart was hammering in his chest.

“You know it’s Tuesday—team curry day, or did you forget?”

Tom itched the back of his neck. “I forgot. And I’ve already planned to meet someone.”

“You look nervous, bro,” said Harry. “Have you got a date?”

Everybody in the open-planned office stopped working and stared at him. He flushed red.

“Yeah, a date. That’s it.”

“Who’s the lucky lady?”

“Um... The new girl from Biotech.”

“From Biotech? Wait, I think I met her at the Primazine launch evening. Chatty? More degrees than a compass? Big knockers?”

“Don’t be crude, Harry,” scolded Naomi.

“Yeah, she’s all that and a bag of crisps,” said Tom. “I best go, don’t want to be late.”

“Best of luck, buddy,” said Harry.

*

Tom marched along the corridor and left the Clinical Trials Department. His stomach fluttered as he took the lift to the ground floor. Scooting across the lobby, he pushed open the revolving doors and exited the big, black pyramid of doom. He headed to a nearby copse of trees. From his rucksack, he took out everything he needed for his assault on Elixium Pharmaceuticals: a fake parcel for Dr Michael Frost, Senior Medical Writer, a red USC delivery company polo shirt and a brown stick-on moustache. He quickly changed into the disguise. Now that he’d escaped the office, he realised it was lucky that the clinical trials team would eat curry together today; it reduced the chances of one of his co-workers seeing him dressed like a shoo-in for the Village People.

He hid his rucksack in the undergrowth and headed for the Maple Building, a mustard-yellow eyesore which housed Elixium’s laboratories and academic offices. As he drew closer, his nerves gave way to exhilaration; he pictured Reuben’s face when he realised the company’s secrets had been snatched from under his nose. If he and Isla could pull this off, they’d toss Elixium Pharmaceuticals into the dustbin of history.

Entering the foyer, he saw his first obstacle sitting behind the reception desk: Miss Danniella Gehrmann, PA for Elixium’s science division. He guessed she was in her early thirties with shiny, jet black hair cut precisely, lime green horn-rimmed spectacles and pouty lips. She was on the phone, holding the receiver against her ear with her shoulder while she wrote something down.

“No,” she snapped to the caller. “That’s the old reference. I need the new one.”

Miss Gehrmann glared at him with her dull green eyes, as if to say, “Hand the package over, dickhead.” To avoid her gaze, Tom looked away at the water feature—a steel replica of Elixium’s pyramid logo, over which water, illuminated by red LEDs, frothed and gushed like a fountain of blood.

When Miss Gehrmann finished her phone call, she made a huffing sound and glowered at him. “Can I help you?”

Tom stood up straight with his shoulders back. “I have a package for Dr Frost.”

“Let’s have it then.”

“I need to take it myself.”

“You can’t.”

“I must deliver it personally. Dr Frost was very insistent. There’re discs inside with extremely important—”

“He’s not here,” snapped Miss Gehrmann.

Tom’s eyes opened wide. “What?”

“Went home half an hour ago. Said he had a migraine.” She grabbed a nail file from her drawer and set to work on her nails, which she’d polished dark rouge with Chanel Vamp. The colour clashed with her glasses and made her eyes look even duller.

For fuck’s sake, thought Tom. “Will he be back later?”

Miss Gehrmann shrugged. Tom lingered by the desk, peering through the glass security door.

“Are you going to hand it over? I’m perfectly capable of keeping things safe, you know!” Miss Gehrmann scowled. On the desk, next to her Spice Girls mug (Posh Spice, of course), he could see a console. There was a green button which he assumed would open the security door.

Determined not to give up, he decided to ring Isla. “I better ring headquarters for further advice.” He stepped away, took out the mobile phone and pulled out the antenna.

“There’s no coverage for miles,” said Miss Gehrmann with a smile. “The mast is going up next month.”

He resisted the urge to hurl the mobile phone at the receptionist’s smug face. “Is there a phone I can use?”

She looked down at her own phone on the desk.

“A private one.”

Miss Gehrmann raised an eyebrow. “Maybe I should ring USC myself. You’re new, right? I’ve not seen you here before, Mr…” He took out his ID card and flashed it to her. “Vincent Vega,” she read, gazing at the picture and scrutinising him. “Are you going to take me dancing, Vincent?”

Fuck. She’s seen Pulp Fiction. I knew the name was a stupid idea. He frowned, trying his best to look confused.

She conjoined her hands then pressed each finger together one by one, her mouth curling into a smirk. “A person’s name is a very important part of their image. I dated a guy called Fred Westbrook a few years back. Thank god I turned down his marriage proposal! Anyway, there’s a phone in the waiting room. It’s supposed to be for staff, but if you really must.”

“Thanks,” said Tom, wiping sweat from his brow.

“And mind the installation.”

“Installation?”

“Yes, a radical feminist post-modern sculpture. Here at Elixium, we take the arts seriously. Try not to disturb it, okay?”

He scuttled across the foyer to the waiting room. Inside, he found a small room full of red chairs. He frowned when he saw the sculpture: a skull perched precariously on a pile of sex toys, splattered with what he hoped was red paint. A small plaque read Death and Double-Ended Dildos. He found a phone on a small table, beside an Egyptian papyrus plant and several out-of-date copies of The Lancet.

He dialled Isla’s pager number and got through to an operator. “Good afternoon, what number shall I send?”

“Can you pass on the number I’m calling from?”

“Of course. I’ll do that right now, sir.”

He hung up and waited, gazing through the window at the woodland towards the rear of the building. The adrenaline surging through his body was making him nauseous, so he unlocked and opened the window for some fresh air. Maybe I should make a run for it, he thought.

Don’t be a coward. Wait for Isla’s call.

He picked up a magazine from the table to calm his nerves. Flicking through the pages, he saw an article on neural implants: Breakthrough in Neural Micro-stimulation Offers New Hope to Parkinson’s Disease Sufferers. ‘The technology is embryonic, but we believe the brain-computer interface holds the key to curing many neurological disorders.’ Brain Co., a subsidiary of Elixium sponsored the article. A shiver ran down his spine. Was this what the Grandmaster meant by the ultimate cure?

The phone ringing broke his thoughts. He picked it up.

“It’s me,” said Isla. “What’s going on?”

“It’s all gone Pete Tong,” said Tom in a whisper. “The doctor is sick.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

“Maybe I should abort. We can try again another time.”

“It has to be today,” said Isla.

“Why?”

“Dr Beckett, the doc in Barbados. He’s back tomorrow. Besides, Humbert says the access code changes all the time.”

“I can’t get past the bitch receptionist. What am I supposed to do? Take her hostage?”

“That might work.”

“I was being sarcastic.”

“So you’re giving up? I thought you had moxie, Tom. I guess I was wrong about you.”

“If you’ve got any ideas that don’t involve taking people hostage, I’m all ears.”

“Why don’t you set the fire alarms off?”

“Are you serious?”

“Why not? Everyone will have to leave, even bitch receptionist. Once she’s gone, you can get through the door.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Please, Tom, do it for me.” Her voice quivered with desperation.

*

Tom took out his lighter, set fire to one of the old magazines and held it up to the smoke detector. After a few moments, a shrill alarm sounded in the waiting room. He dropped the burning magazine and stamped out the flames. An interconnected network of alarms blared throughout the Maple Building, which housed most of Elixium’s laboratories and chemical stores.

“Emergency,” said a female recorded voice through an intercom system. “All Elixium staff must leave the building immediately!”

Tom eavesdropped on Miss Gehrmann through a tiny gap between the door and its frame. Clutching her handbag, she hurried towards the exit. She halted and looked towards the waiting room. Tom quickly shut the door. When he looked again, she’d left the building.

He was about to make his move, when a man wearing a yellow fluorescent jacket, a fire marshal, bounded into the building. He was short and stocky and brandished a walkie talkie and a clipboard. This guy takes his job way too seriously, thought Tom with a sigh.

“This is not a drill!” the fire marshal shouted. “Everybody out!”

Swiping their ID cards one by one, scientists and writers filed through the security door, filling the foyer. The fire marshal corralled them out of the building and reminded them to assemble at the rendezvous point in alphabetical order.

Tom waited for everyone to leave, cowering behind the waiting room door. The noise from the sirens was deafening, and he covered his ears.

“Emergency,” repeated the automated voice. “All Elixium staff must leave the building immediately!”

After a few minutes, he opened the door slightly. The last employee opened the internal security door with her ID card, then exited the building. The security door slammed shut behind her.

Time to make a move!

Tom bolted out of the waiting room, scampered behind Miss Gehrmann’s desk, and pressed the green button on the console.

Nothing happened.

He pressed it again and again, but the security door stayed firmly shut. He noticed a lock and key mechanism by the button and slammed his fist on the desk. Miss Gehrmann had deactivated the console and taken the keys with her. He couldn’t open the door without an ID card. Could he smash the glass as Isla suggested? Impossible. It was reinforced.

“Oi!” A voice shouted—the fire marshal bursting through the entrance. “What are you doing back there?”

With nowhere to run or hide, Tom played dumb. “Um…Hello, Sir. I’ve got some discs for Dr Frost. There’s no one on reception, so I thought I’d leave the package here.” He showed the fire marshal the package and then set it down on the desk.

“Can’t you hear the alarms, pal?” He pointed up at the ceiling. “The FIRE alarms!” Tom read the name on the fire marshal’s badge: Tony Collins, Elixium Security.

Thankfully, a knock on the security door saved him from further questions. There was a curly-haired young man banging on the glass; he was trapped inside the offices. “What’s this?”

“Help!” mouthed the man through the glass.

Tony shook his head with disgust. “Christ almighty! Does nobody know the fire evacuation procedures? Who locked the bloody door?” He marched behind the receptionist’s desk, took out a key for the security console from his pocket and opened the security door, setting it to stay open.

Tom followed Tony outside, listening to him rant at the young man. “You’re supposed to have your ID card with you at all times!” Tony’s entire head burned bright red. “Where have you been, anyway? Did you go back for your bag? Smoke inhalation is no joke—it can kill you in two minutes, you know! And as for you, delivery boy, your firm is useless! Last month, I had three very expensive figurines for my wife’s anniversary shipped via you people and guess what? Two of them were broke, the other one I had to fish out of my next-door neighbour’s pond. His pond for Christ’s sake!”

*

Tom convinced Tony that he didn’t need to line up in the car park as he wasn’t a member of staff and had made his delivery. To smooth things over, Tom said he didn’t realise smoke was so dangerous and promised he’d be more careful in the future. Fortunately, Tony focused his ire on the worker who’d forgotten his ID badge, demanding to know who he was and why he had taken so long to leave, allowing Tom to sneak away.

He sprinted to the rear of the building, where the window he’d unlocked was still open. Tom climbed back in the waiting room, determined to succeed. He could hear the sirens of approaching fire engines. Firefighters would soon storm into the building. He needed to be fast.

Back in the foyer, he scrambled behind the reception desk and reclaimed the package Isla gave him. Panting for breath, he bolted through the security door and galloped down a flight of stairs. He gained entry into the mezzanine, which consisted of private offices, and sprinted through the narrow white corridors.

Stuck on a loop, the automated voice echoed through the empty corridors. “All Elixium Technology staff must leave the area immediately. Please follow the green signs to your nearest emergency exit.”

Tom’s heart was pounding, and sweat poured from his forehead. The floor was a labyrinth of corridors, but he’d studied the map Isla gave him and soon located the bathroom on the west side of the building.

Inside the bathroom, he found the cubicle, second from the left, with a ventilation shaft above. It was covered by a metal lattice, bolted to the ceiling. He stood on the toilet, and, fumbling, tried to work out which hex key from the set Isla provided would fit the screws. Finding the correct one, he undid all the screws and then winced as the cover fell off, whacking him on the head.

He struggled to haul himself up inside the shaft. Get in there, Tom. You may be a scrawny statistician, but this is important! Eventually he clambered inside the dusty shaft. It was tight, with barely enough room to crawl and manoeuvre around the bends.

With his ears ringing and his head thumping, he scrambled through the shaft. After a sharp left turn, he looked down through another covering into Dr Beckett’s office. Once again, he found Isla had equipped him with the tools he needed—a small spanner with which he loosened the nuts from inside the shaft. The opening was above Dr Beckett’s desk, but it was still quite a distance. He lowered himself through the hole, his legs dangling. Suddenly his sweaty fingers slipped on the metal shaft and he fell, landed badly on the desk, then slipped off, twisting his ankle.

“Fuck!” he yelled in agony.

It was dark inside, but he did not dare turn the light on. His ankle was swelling. He rose and hopped around the office, trying to find the keys he needed. He eventually found them behind a spider tree in the office’s corner. He unlocked the desk drawer and found Dr Beckett’s security pass.

A lab coat hung on a stand by the door. He tried it on. It was two sizes too big, but it covered the delivery firm polo shirt and featured the Elixium logo, which would help him blend in with other staff for the return journey. He ran his hand through his sweaty hair and prepared for the next stage in his mission.

After unlocking the door and leaving the office, he limped along a few more corridors and eventually found himself in front of a large inner security gate which resembled the airlock of a sci-fi spaceship. He swiped Dr Beckett’s security card, crossed his fingers, and to his relief, the door opened, admitting him into a long, straight tunnel.

Another security gate loomed in the distance. His ankle throbbed as he hobbled along, but he forced himself to go on.

Once he reached the second security gate, he entered the access code Isla gave him:

00-21-91-28.

“Invalid code,” said a robotic voice. “Please try again.”

Tom examined the scrap of paper on which he’d scribbled the code down. “Wait, that’s a seven not a two.”

00-21-91-78.

“Invalid code,” repeated the robot. “Please try again.”

That must be the right code! He entered the numbers in again.

00-21-91-78.

“Invalid code. Security warning! You have two more attempts before automatic notification of Elixium security.” Red flashing lights and an ear-piercing siren assaulted his senses.

Tom kicked the door with his good foot. Had they changed the code? Had Humbert Fuckface deceived Isla?

He read aloud the digits on the scrap of paper. Each number tasted sweet. Mmm, yes, the numbers tasted of cherry, chocolate and sponge cake. When he concentrated on the entire sequence, the numbers combined to form a single taste impression: fruitcake with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It was a unified structure—which meant relationships between the digits. Adding a stray fifty-seven or twenty-three would ruin everything; it’d be like pouring gravy or tomato soup over the cake. These numbers were special, he realised, but special in what way?

Put them together, Tom, figure it out!

First, let’s combine them and split that double zero. 0.0219178. Yes, that added a dash of icing sugar—a taste sensation!

Isla told him the code changes all the time. Maybe nobody changes this gate at all… Maybe it’s a sequence, like a clock, cycling round and round. There weren’t that many numbers associated with time: sixty seconds in a minute, twenty-four hours a day, seven days in a week, three hundred and sixty-five days in a year. One of them has to combine with the access code somehow. He ran through all kinds of permutations in his mind and soon found a solution. The earth travels 1/365 of the distance around the sun each day. Divide that by 0.0219178 and what do you get? The number eight!

He looked at his watch. It was now two minutes past two. He performed the calculation in his head in seconds: (1/365) * 14 = 0.0383562

He keyed in the digits 00-38-35-62, but the red lights and sirens told him he’d got it wrong again.

“INVALID CODE!” yelled the robotic voice. “YOU HAVE ONE MORE ATTEMPT!”

Let’s go back a step.

The number eight. What’s so special about the number eight? Two cubed? The eightfold path? The eight Chinese immortals? The second magic number in nuclear physics? The atomic number of Oxygen? No, nothing like that.

He checked the messages on the phone: Isla had texted him the code at 6 a.m. Hmm, the number eight is the sixth Fibonacci number. The fourteenth Fibonacci number is three hundred and seventy-seven. Multiply by 1/365 and you get… 1.0328767 to seven decimal places. He entered 10-32-87-67 and voilà: the gate opened slowly, revealing the vault.

*

Tom staggered through a subterranean hall with an arched ceiling, a labyrinth of shelves extending far into the distance. Each shelf brimmed with folders, papers, floppy discs and microfiche tapes. The scale took his breath away. The obelisks lining the vault reminded him of an old documentary he’d watched about the lost Library of Alexandria. The pungent smell of old, fusty books lingered in the air.

He glimpsed a reading room at the far end of the hall. He limped slowly through the vault, his determination waning with every painful step.

Inside the reading room, he found a large red leather-bound book resting on an ornate stone lectern. There was a wooden chair next to the lectern. An apple rested on top of the chair, black with rot. He opened the book and found in thin, spidery writing, row after row of chemical equations and formulas, what looked like procedures involving multiple catalysts, diagrams of lab equipment—centrifuges, boiling flasks, symbols and numbers, a language he did not understand. He flicked through. Writing filled every page. This must be it.

He found the camera, opened the shutter, and was about to take the first photograph when his fingers froze.

“What are you doing?” asked a voice in his mind: his dad’s. Furious. Disappointed. Admonishing him from beyond the grave. “I sweated for twelve hours a day to fund your degree. All those night shifts I did for you, driving drunkards around in my taxi. And I got you your big break with Elixium. Five years on and you still haven’t progressed from your entry level position. And now you’re stealing from the company?!”

He had to admit he felt ridiculous—covered in dust from crawling through ventilation shafts, wearing someone else’s lab coat and a stupid stick-on moustache. He gripped his temples. Yes, his dad would be spinning in his grave right now, but he was doing the right thing. Elixium is a corrupt, evil corporation. The Grandmaster was right: they’re vultures feasting off human misery.

The camera trembled in his hands. He needed a few moments to compose himself. Turning away from the book, he noticed a little cupboard on the wall. Opening it, he discovered row after row of small bottles, each one contained around 30ml of clear liquid and were labelled Metanox.

His lips parted. Metanox was pure bliss. He swallowed, remembering the intensity of the hit and the dirty beats tickling his ears. He longed to ascend into that holy realm again; a place without pain, sorrow or grief. His stomach churned. He yearned for a taste of ecstasy. Right here, right now.

No, Tom. You need to get the pictures. But his heart was pounding, his hands were clammy and the searing pain from his ankle made him nauseous. Maybe I should take a little drop of Metanox to steady my nerves. It’ll help me focus and I’ll be out of here in no time.

He snatched a bottle from the cupboard, unscrewed the cap. The metallic dropper mechanism was as thin as a syringe, which would allow a user to micro-dose the drug. Tom estimated each bottle would allow several years of casual use.

He removed his glasses, held open his eye with his fingers and pressed a release button on the edge of the bottle. A single droplet of Metanox hit his cornea. Immediately it anaesthetised the pain in his ankle, soothed his grief and took him away from the reading room.

A heavenly vista unfolded before him, a trillion stars and orbiting planets, pulsars, quasars and super-massive black holes. He ascended faster than the speed of light, galaxies swirling around him as he reached the edge of the universe.

More. There has to be more than this. And there was.

He ripped through the fabric of space and time and crawled into another universe. The gravity was stronger there, and the mathematical constants tasted like honey and marmalade cake.

A shrieking, trans-dimensional demon attacked him—a furry, blue, two-headed thing. With a clawed paw, it knocked him back, and he descended. The stars faded as he fell back to earth, back to the reading room.

He came around on the icy floor. Looking at his watch, it shocked him to discover he’d been out for nearly an hour.

Woozy, he hauled himself to his feet with a groan.

I need more.

He ignored the large red book and snatched bottle after bottle of Metanox from the cupboard, filling his pockets. He wanted to be sitting in the sunshine, listening to transcendental basslines and fractured beats, Metanox dripping from his eyes. When he could carry no more bottles, he left the reading room. His vision was blurry, and he staggered with intoxication and the gnawing pain from his twisted ankle.

Outside the reading room, leaning against a bookcase, he found Reuben Fenwick accompanied by two burly security guards.

“Thomas,” said Reuben angrily. “You better come with me.”

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