On the cusp of discovery, a scientist has to start over or else.
My coffee was cold, the last of an old brew from earlier that day. It was late and I was exhausted, though unable to shake an inescapable sense of impending discovery. Waiting anxiously, I digested the day’s news on my phone, skimming through an article about another researcher missing – this time a professor named Fulton from Georgia Tech. I met him once. Brilliant guy. Thought maybe he’d beat me to the cure.
A beep from the centrifuge and I rubbed the fatigue from my eyes, setting my smartphone aside. My focus returned to my work and, micropipette clenched in a trembling hand, I transferred the sample over, peering into the oculars.
“Impossible,” my spine tingled, the chill of unexpected realization. Scanning the slide again to be sure, I compared it to the control. Nearly seventy different genotypes, I referenced every one. It was too incredible to be true, but there it was. “That’s it!” I announced to a darkened, lonely lab.
Groping desperately for my phone, my hands almost didn’t work. Fat thumbs stumbled over miniature letters and I mistyped, ‘Eureja!’ to my assistant. ‘Call me when u get this.’
The phone rang almost immediately and I blurted out, “Sophie! Get down here right away! We did it!” Then, I hung up without so much as a ‘good-bye.’
Fifteen minutes later, the intercom chirped. “You’re quick!” I exclaimed over the speaker and hit the security button. Within exactly the time it takes to stroll from the security checkpoint to my desk, I was surprised to be met by a half dozen suited agents.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “You’re not my assistant.”
“Dr. Martin Nelfman?” one of them asked plainly.
“Yeah, that’s me. Listen, this is a secured facility. You’re not supposed to be here.”
The same man, his gaze hidden behind smudged glasses brushed by dark greasy hair, said, “We’d like to see your research, please.”
“What? Why?” It was a peculiar request, to be sure. Then I realized, “Why now?”
“Because you did it,” the agent explained. “You solved the puzzle.”
“You mean cancer,” I confirmed.
“Does it work?”
“Yes. A universal treatment. Every form, in any stage.”
“Excellent.” He motioned his men ahead. “We’ll be taking your research material immediately, all discoveries and potential breakthroughs.
“What?! By whose authority?” I struggled against them as agents began collecting my equipment.
“That’s classified.” The man flashed an identification, though I hardly had a glimpse, maybe FBI or CDC. I couldn’t tell. “We’ll need everything – computers, lab equipment, samples, any and all printed materials, of course.”
“But you can’t! You’ve no right!” I was outraged. “Do you know what this discovery means?”
His grin was almost arrogant. “We know.”
“This is the cure for cancer! We can eradicate it!”
“We’ve been able to cure human cancer for over a century,” the man revealed. “A fairly simple disease for humans, really. A remedial pathogen introduced into the genome to screen for potential solutions.”
“I’m sorry, what?” I was confused.
“We’ve had many cures,” he clarified.
“Why hasn’t it been eliminated? They always ask that.”
“The other scientists whose work we’ve confiscated.” He sighed heavily, “Imagine a world without disease.”
“It would be a miracle.”
“Would it?” he corrected. “Surging populations, mass starvation, political upheaval, dwindling resources, environmental devastation. World leaders would never allow it.”
“A pretty cynical view,” I noted.
“But realistic. Research is the opiate of the masses, and disease, the limiter. You’ve already seen what antibiotics have done. Logarithmic population growth, famine, world war, climate change, despotism. Antibacterials slipped by us. Without disease, you humans would destroy yourselves.”
He stepped from the shadows. “At least, your research won’t go to waste, Doctor.” The man tipped his glasses forward, staring back at me with strange reptilian eyes. “The Thelxan Imperium has been nearly decimate by a pathogen almost identical to your cancer. All the other treatments have failed. Perhaps yours will save them.”
“And what about me? My work?”
“Well, cancer’s not going to cure itself,” he winked. “I’m sure there’s more to discover. You’ll receive a full grant for all your future research, of course, as long as we have your assurances that this never happened, and we were never here.”
“And my assistant?”
The man chuckled. “She works for us.”
“I could go public.”
“They always say that, too” he grinned devilishly, easing my phone forward, the article I’d been reading popping up. “Dr. Fulton would painfully advise you differently, I’m sure.”