Chapter One: The Meeting
If only the monkeys had died, then we wouldn’t be here now, thought Dr. Bryson. Marketing wouldn’t have gotten a hold of it, and there’d be no shebang in the auditorium, no state involvement. She had made her last stand alone, in committees, and now she would be honored as the leader of a team, inventor of a drug everyone thought was sure to put Monozone back on top.
Bryson, a cantankerous, 67 year old woman, had been studying the brain her whole life, the last several decades at Monozone, developing a class of drugs known as Euphorics, to treat everything from suicidal depression to ennui.
Transcryptasine, marketed as Paregane, was the latest and most powerful of these. For ten years she had lived in her lab, through dead ends, delays, long depressions when no ideas came and she lost most of her staff. Those that stayed were sometimes drunk for weeks on end. Finally, they made the breakthrough and produced a cure for depression and ennui, proving that by manipulating fields in the brain you could reset consciousness. People took a pill before bed and dreamed of paradise. They awoke feeling at home in the world. They liked their jobs and their spouses again; had realistic expectations about life. They didn’t feel like they had been ground down to nothing by meaningless work and twisted relationships.
There were no side effects, no loss of sleep or sexual function, no weird feeling of otherness, no bloating or anorexia, no let down or crash. She had discovered the key to a signal produced by a cluster of stars in the brain, a little universe of mood and expectation, of time perception and being.
There was only one drawback. In the trials it killed ten percent of everyone who took it, and for no apparent reason.
The little wind up dolls were clapping now, for Martin Bruce, Head of Marketing, the corporate boss of her unit. Morons, let them have their day, she thought. Her throat was dry but the glass of ice water on the table looked insipid. As insipid as her colleagues, human resources, weirdly dry beneath the sun lights, as if suffering powdery mildew.
Martin Bruce was an unlikely but true ally in the recent battle, adamant about not going ahead with a drug that dangerous. He saw nothing but lawsuits, two months out. No one had ever successfully marketed death. Contempt for the lunacy of the notion strained every word he spoke till, after a while, Martin Bruce became shrill. Martin Bruce had gone hoarse for her cause. She would remember that.
People answered his objections. It was pointed out, by one of her own people, that there would never be any way to prove that transcryptasine was the culprit if someone did die. There would only be anecdotal evidence, a statistical correlation that could easily be accounted for in other ways.
An accountant explained that 10 percent really wasn’t too bad, if you considered that ninety percent survived. It was less dangerous than war.
Well, that did it. Bruce capitulated and they applied for a patent. It should have ended there–state would never approve transcryptasine-but this afternoon she learned that it had been approved, and that they were sending a man over to take charge of the project.
Everyone was there, raked at a steep grade toward the orange and blue bulbs, seated on grey composite bucket chairs with stiff white side tables. Veal stalls for humans. Walls, floor and ceiling were carpeted in a beige substance that both contained and breathed. Seated at a table, behind the mike, were a half a dozen men and women in grey and white linen suits, with Mondrian ties of one sort or another.
Bruce’s face was permanently worried and dour. He waited for the applause to die. “It is my pleasure then to introduce to you an old friend, a man who first rose to prominence working for our company, and who has in one way or another represented our interest at state for over ten years. We old timers are certainly glad to have him back, and I’m sure members of the team who don’t know him, will come to love and respect him as much as I do. Mr. Owen Bradlee, the new Monozone/state liaison officer in charge of Paregane.”
Bryson stared at her ice cubes. Owen Bradlee. That was no surprise either. Who else fit the job description so well? No one even really knew whom he worked for, just that he was always there, on the winning side.
Owen Bradlee had a slightly stuffy English accent, one of those upper class mumbles, and he made affectation look natural somehow. She liked to drink with him in the old days; he could booze and eat, but he was a little tight. And, despite his saturnine appearance, he was a good fuck too. Big dick. Monstrous appetite at forty. She reached for the water and wanted to retch. There was no substitute for a martini. Bradlee cleared his throat.
“I want to congratulate everyone on this team. Paregane,”–he exaggerated each vowel so the word came out like a short, ironic pop song–“or, as the insiders still affectionately call it, transcryptasine,” this he made crisp and dignified, “is a triumph. Not only will it eliminate severe depression and reduce the rate of suicide, it will prove to be the ultimate Euphoric, a cure for people’s lives. We at state are particularly sanguine about it becoming the major weapon in the war on negative attitudes, which are, frankly, undermining production in many key, human resource based industries.”
He looked around the room and took in some more wind.
“Although of course no single individual can ever claim to be the sole author of such an important innovation, there is one person, an old friend of mine, a great woman, who in mid-career stands at the very pinnacle of professional achievement, to whom I think we all owe a special nod of recognition. Dr. Ruth Bryson.”
A sea of dough turned upon her and the clapping erupted. Bryson swallowed a teaspoon of bile and stood slightly, acknowledging them with a nod.
“And now, before I step back into the shadows,” he chuckled, “I want to tell you all how happy I am to be back in the old Monozone bosom.”
Crap you can’t cut, she thought. A dry lifeless stool produced by a lifeless asshole in a lifeless head. The shit of the damned. Bruce returned to the podium.
“Reynolds, would you like to make a few brief remarks about the marketing campaign?”
Reynolds stood. He was a tall, thin, stooped man with black hair and a bald spot. In a mincing voice he addressed the assembly. “At first, we only market it to doctors, in this country, as a prescription drug for the severest forms of depression. At the same time we release it in China as an over-the-counter drug, with a heavy saturation ad campaign on billboards and television. It spreads here through fashion circles, an illicit drug. That gives us that little oomph we look for at the beginning. People think they’re getting something cool. When demand gets high, we go over-the-counter here.”
Someone yelled, “What’s the slogan?”
“Yeah, give us the slogan.”
“The slogan.” Reynolds had to raise his voice a little above the buzz. “We start out with a tease. Black billboards with the words, Is this your lucky day? Later, we hit them with, Paregane…Everyone who takes it goes to paradise. Is this your lucky day?”
Someone in the back, twenty rows up, yelled out, “Ha! How about, Paregane! Everyone who takes it goes to paradise. Ten Percent stay. Is this your lucky day?”
Dr. Bryson stared into her water glass past the facets, into a mountainous abyss of frigid cliffs and blue chasms pierced with light. Form obliterated form and her eyes erupted with crystals.
From the other side, two rows down, “Ideally, the 90 percent who live envy the 10 who die.”
Bryson shook herself awake and stood. No one paid her any mind as she left the room. She needed a drink.