The one person Henry least expected was standing outside his door when he opened it.
Simon was still wearing his lab coat from work and was carrying a large black case. “I double checked, Henry, and the pill wasn’t there. You lied to me!”
Henry was taken aback. He had never seen Simon so angry. “Listen, Simon, I can explain everything. I’ve been under stress--”
“Maybe you forgot, Henry, but we’ve all been under a lot of stress. This project is important to more people than just you.”
“But I’m trying to save the project.”
“By getting yourself killed? Don’t think I’m stupid. You’re using the pill on yourself. It’s a twofer when you give the presentation. Hell, maybe you won’t even need powerpoint slides. It’ll save time.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“Henry, you and I both know that the nanoprobes can be extremely unpredictable. That’s why we ran the studies inside the lab. Surrounded by doctors. As prepared as we are for anything--anything... we can’t even be prepared for every outcome. That’s how risky it is when we’re in the lab. Imagine how much riskier it would be inside your damn living room without any of that.” Simon paused, took a breath. “If you want to save the project, then you need to wait until tomorrow morning. I already scheduled a trial and staffed the lab. Even if you take the pill tonight, like this, and if it works, you’ll taint your own results, and doom the project.”
“What’s the bag for?” Henry asked.
“I was afraid I was too late, and might get here and find you alone on your bedroom floor.”
“That’s okay, because I’m not alone. Amber is over--” Henry stopped when he heard a crash coming from the kitchen and a dull thump. He ran into the kitchen, followed by Simon.
“Oh God,” Henry said.
“That’s your girlfriend?” Simon asked. Henry shot him a glance. “Sorry. I just figured that you’re an engineer, so...”
“Yeah, well you’re an egghead, but you’re married.”
“Good point,” Simon shot back. “Strange that she fainted.”
It was at this point that Henry realized that the pill was no longer sitting on the kitchen table. “She didn’t faint . . .The pill’s gone! She swallowed it!”
“Oh.” Simon said.
“I don’t understand, though,” Henry said. “She wouldn’t have had the chance to activate the nanoprobes. Why would she go unconscious?”
“It’s the sedative,” Simon said. “One of the improvements we made. Relaxes the subject and makes it easier for the nanoprobes to integrate themselves with their brain.”
“What can we do?” Henry asked.
“Not much we can do, except maybe move her somewhere more comfortable. And, we’re going to need to attach the sensors.” Simon glanced at Henry. “Okay, so I was wrong about you taking the nanoprobes yourself. I can’t believe you would convince your own girlfriend to do it instead.”
“Listen, she took them on her own! We were talking, and I was about to take the pill, then you knocked on the door.” Henry stopped to think. “That must have been when she took it.”
“That couldn’t have been more than six minutes ago. We’ve got four minutes before the nanoprobes can be activated.”
“Can you abort?”
“What do you mean?”
“We could just not activate them. Wouldn’t they just work their way out of her system?” Henry asked.
“No, if they stay in her bloodstream that long they’ll start to breakdown, and she would die from the chemicals. Now, grab her feet.”
A few minutes later, they had positioned Amber onto Henry’s bed, and Henry had positioned the sensors around her body. They had moved the laptop to his dresser where it was displaying her vitals and a large line graph that occasionally peaked and valleyed.
After the longest wait in Henry’s recent memory, the “engage” button turned green. He reached over to click on the button. Simon gripped his shoulder with a firm hand. “Whatever happens,” he said. “Remember that she made the choice.”
Henry silently clicked the green button.
* * *
Mark groaned as he groped around in the dark for the source of the ringing sound. Instead of his iPhone, however, he kept gripping the stems of wine glasses. His hand brushed against a bottle just before he scooped up his cell phone. He heard a thump and then the sound of shattering glass.
“Hello?” His throat was so dry the word came out as squeak.
“Mr. Rogers, I thought we had an understanding.” The other voice, who Mark recognized as belonging to an NSA agent named Robert Callaghan, uttered each word sharply. “You said that you would shut down your research on the new human interface system.”
“Yes, I did, I mean I have. It’s dead in the water.”
“Yes, I talked to everyone today. A meeting has been arranged for tomorrow. The smuck from R&D is going to give his song and dance, I’ll frown a little, and then shut the project down.”
“If the project is being shut down, then why have we detected an increase in your servers by one hundred and ten percent?”
“It’s probably nothing. O’Dell could be running a last minute system test before tomorrow.”
“A system test? Using a live human subject?”
Mark sat up suddenly. “What are you saying?”
“We’re also picking up transmissions on the frequency you reserved for the synaptic interface. Someone has created an uplink to your servers. The only reason they would do that is if the nanoprobes were active.”
“That’s completely against protocol!” Mark exclaimed. “Don’t worry, I’ll stick with our agreement. I’ll get my people on this right away and shut O’Dell down.”
“I hope so,” Callaghan said. “There could be huge consequences.” The call ended with a click.
Mark opened up his list of contacts, then tapped the name “Larry Struthers.” He was the technician on call in the evening. “This is Mark,” he said when Struthers answered. “Are you seeing any activity in the servers that were set up for the SI project?”
There was a pause. “Yes, holy cow, there’s a lot of data being transferred!!”
“I want you to throttle the bandwidth for those servers, just like the other tests.”
“I heard what happened when you asked for that before,” Struthers said. “People were injured.”
“I don’t care. We have to stop the transfer. Throttle down the bandwidth!”