The Director of Operations for Universal Biotech arrived two hours earlier than usual this morning. He couldn’t get the phrase, be careful what you wish for, out of his mind.
Walking from his car, he held the briefcase handle a little tighter than usual. The field tests were identical in result with what Jason had predicted. Schimmel now had in his possession, information which could turn the biotech world on its head. Hell, this could turn the entire world on its head. The ability to grow crops under almost any conditions, engineering their characteristics at will…the implications were mind boggling. He still could hardly believe it himself.
After the meeting with Jason two months ago, Schimmel had implemented several changes in the assignment of personal to the field tests. By tactically limiting their involvement he had kept the researchers in the dark. While they individually knew how successful their particular areas of the testing had been, for any one of them to understand the true scope of this thing would have been effectively impossible. The fact that these results were somewhat preliminary also helped. While the full results would not become available for another several months, Schimmel knew without doubt what they would show.
It was time for another talk. Jason LaCost was, I.Q. wise, the smartest man Schimmel had ever known. His knowledge of how the world worked, however, was limited. Walking through the doors to his office, the big man thought, Its time he went to school on that one.
Driving to the hospital was interminable. When Jason finally got there, he found Alison’s car already parked in the emergency parking lot. He pulled in a few spaces down from hers and ran to the door.
Part of the dread he felt was for her. These last few months had found them spending more and more time together, while working on Sarah’s affairs. They were becoming, he felt, more than simply colleagues. Although they had never expressed it to each other with a date, or a kiss, it seemed to Jason that Alison felt the same way. His intuitive powers, so far, didn’t extend to affairs of the heart. He was hopeful.
Without realizing it, the resident genius of Universal Biotech had been, for at least a portion of his time, thinking lately of things other than research. It had made him happier. Right now, it was killing him. He approached the desk with the finesse of an offensive lineman.
“I’m looking for a seven-year old girl they just brought in,” he said, concentrating and relaxing at the same time while staring directly into the eyes of the nurse behind the desk.
“Yes sir. Her name?”
Jason turned immediately to his left and started walking towards the double doors opposite him in the waiting area.
Through the doors, turn right at the first hallway, second door on the left, bed 12.
“Sir. Sir, if you could give me her name.”
The nurse calmly stopped talking when Jason went through the double doors. She was not unaccustomed to people being upset. Besides, she expected he’d be back after he got himself lost. The hospital was huge, and after all, she knew where the girl had been taken. He didn’t.
“What do you mean he left?”
For the first time since he’d been here, something had pulled Jason away from his lab. Perhaps that pretty young teacher he was seeing? Right now, the big guy was in a bad mood and wanted an answer. Janet didn’t have one. She shrugged her shoulders.
“Well sir, he just left. He walked out of the lab about an hour ago without saying anything to anybody.”
“Call him and tell him I need to see him today before the field report meeting. It’s important. And while you’re at it, find out why one of the highest paid employees in this place is just walking out in the middle of the day.”
Schimmel’s aggravation was very out of character. He was definitely upset.
“Will do boss,” Janet answered in a serious tone.
As soon as she turned to leave, the concerned look disappeared from Janet Riker’s face. In her professional capacity, she knew she should be concerned. In her human capacity, she was overjoyed. Jason was pretty easy to like, and her maternal instincts had long since kicked in with him. Something, someone, had finally gotten Jason’s attention, to the point of pulling him away from work! She so hoped it was that cute young teacher he’d been seeing. Their relationship was hardly a secret. It had been the topic of conversation among most of the young women in the research department for weeks now. Amazing, wonderful. OK. Back to reality. She had a call to make. The boss did not like to be kept waiting.
Jason pulled back the curtain in the emergency room cubicle, and found Alison sitting in a chair holding Sarah’s hand. Sarah had regained consciousness. He noticed the I.V. dripping sucrose into her left arm. Their eyes met. The nurse questioned him. He ignored her.
It all made sense now.
How could he have been so stupid?
Jason turned to Alison. She was so glad to see him. They hugged each other tightly, Alison’s eyes tearing up with relief. Sarah looked at them and smiled. As they released each other, Alison began to explain that the doctor wanted to run some tests. He suspected diabetes.
“She’ll be fine now,” Jason replied calmly. “No need to worry. When they run their tests, they won’t find diabetes, or anything else.”
He was smiling, smiling at Sarah, smiling at the nurse, smiling at Alison.
Sarah was also smiling, mostly at Jason.
Alison knew, somehow, that he was right. She had a lot of questions but was just too exhausted to ask them. She fell back in her chair, looked at them both, and began smiling herself. The only one not smiling at this point was the nurse. The poor woman was now entirely confused.
Jason waved hello to the security guard at the front desk, as he hurried past on his way to Schimmel’s office. Again, he heard the theme from the Flintstones. Pulling his phone from his pocket he answered impatiently.
“Hello darling. Stupid meeting at 1:00 P.M.”
He looked at his phone. It was exactly 12:30.
“You’re welcome lover.”
He doubled his pace. When Janet had phoned him, she was very clear about the importance of this pre-meeting meeting. She had also agreed to explain things to the boss and lobby, (as best as she could), on his behalf. He found the big man standing, not sitting, when he entered the twelve hundred square foot office. The mood was humorless to say the least. Jason figured the best approach would be straight ahead.
“Boss, I got here as fast as I could. I apologize for not leaving us the proper amount of time for this meeting. It simply…was unavoidable.”
Schimmel returned to the chair behind his desk and sat down. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. When he spoke, there was genuine concern in his voice.
“How is Sarah doing?”
In the two and a half years Jason had been at Universal, he had learned to respect Bob Schimmel for a variety of reasons. His opinion of the man just shot up several notches.
“She’s doing well. They’re going to keep her in the hospital overnight to run some tests, but she’s OK. Uh, Boss, Bob, thanks.”
Schimmel smiled for the first time that day.
“You’re welcome. Now, let’s get down to business. We’re a little short on time here, so I’ll get right to basics. Tell me, what you think about this project of ours.”
“What I think about it?”
“What I think about it. Well, I…”
It wasn’t often that Jason drew a blank mentally. His motivation was, of course, the research itself. Similar to how a mathematician’s real joy is in finding the most elegant theory. The practical applications aren’t the concern. Jason rarely, if ever, looked past the lab.
Thinking it through, he concluded that discovering more efficient ways of growing food had to be a good thing. How could it not? Not to mention, the huge profits Universal would seem to be in line for with something like this. Seemed like a win-win. He continued.
“I guess I see a more efficient way to feed the human race. Considering more than a third of the people of this planet go to bed hungry, that’s a good thing. Also, this should be very profitable for us as well. Sounds like we have the keys to a winning situation all around.”
“Could be the keys to Pandora’s Box,” Schimmel said dryly.
“How many species of plants are there on this planet?” Schimmel asked.
“The whole planet?”
“Yes, the whole planet.”
“Give or take a few, at last count, about four hundred thousand.”
“O.K. Let’s start with wheat. Do you have any idea how much wheat is exported from the United States every year, and to whom?”
“Would have to be millions of tons,” Jason responded. “I would assume some of it goes into humanitarian causes, but the bulk of it probably would go to whoever pays for it.”
“Well, it is a crop which is heavily subsidized, but for the purposes of this conversation that’s a pretty good start,” the big man explained. “When you add in all the other agricultural exports, we’re talking about huge sums of money, hundreds of billions of dollars. Now, forgetting for the moment what we ourselves import, why do you think these other countries pay the United States all this money for our crops?”
Jason saw where this was going.
“Because, they can’t produce these things on their own?”
Schimmel sat back in his chair, “And, just off the top of your head, why is that?”
“Could be any number of reasons,” Jason answered. “Crop failures, poor soil, harsh climates, uh underdeveloped technology, maybe something like limited access to proper fertilizers. Maybe even the reluctance to use crops that have been modified by gene splicing. These are all problems we’ve just solved. I see your point here boss. This could lead to quite a bit of economic reshuffling.”
At this Schimmel sat straight up in his chair.
“Economic reshuffling! My god son. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg! Think for a minute!”
Schimmel took a deep breath and lowered his voice to normal.
“Think what would happen to Brazil, or Columbia, or Costa Rica, if no one needed to import their coffee beans anymore. We’re not talking reshuffling here. We’re talking economic collapse. Taken to its logical conclusion, the entire civilized world could find the importing and exporting of agricultural products in disarray. Not to mention, the almost endless list of other things derived from plants. Clothing, medicines, building materials...”
“Wait a minute, building materials?”
“Wood doesn’t come from factories son.”
“Oh right, of course.”
“Factoring everything in, and I’m sure we haven’t touched on everything, this is so far reaching it’s incredible.”
“What you really mean to say is dangerous.”
The big man looked Jason right in the eyes.
“Wars have started over less.”
Jason really didn’t know what to say. He just sat there. Schimmel looked at his watch, got up from his desk, and poured them both a cup of coffee.
“Just cream, right?”
“Uh, yes. Thank you.”
Schimmel put a cup down in front of the company genius.
“Jason, like it or not, the world moves at a snail’s pace. Some feel this is a curse. I’ve learned to see it as a blessing. When we humans move too fast, we tend to trip and fall. We can’t help it, it’s just our nature. What you’ve accomplished here is extraordinary. It has the power to accelerate things exponentially. It must be handled very carefully. Bottle it up, and no one benefits. Turn it loose all at once, and you’re crushed from the acceleration. This is going to take an enormous amount of finesse.”
Jason’s head was spinning.
“Well, boss, where do we go from here?”
“In five minutes, we go into our meeting. So far, only the two of us know just how successful this is. I would just as soon keep it that way, for now.”
“Yes, of course.”
The big man continued.
“I plan to focus on the preliminary nature of the test results with the board, for now. That will buy some time for me to set some things in motion. The board will, of course, have to be informed, when it’s appropriate to do so.”
Jason was beginning to accept the gravity of all this. He had never seen the implications. They were unsettling as hell. He was learning that life lessons can be that way. He took comfort knowing that Schimmel would be handling things.
“We will, uh, then begin to exercise enormous amounts of finesse,” Jason said, forcing a smile.
“Yes, yes we will,” the big man replied, smiling back. He was pleased. He felt the meeting had gone well.
“Look, I get paid to do a specific job, OK? The people I work for keep tabs on high profile companies and try to stay abreast of everything they do. If something of value comes along, it gives them several options. It could be used for insider trading, or maybe just sold to rival companies, you know, to the highest bidder. Quite possibly, the stuff gets sold right back to the original company. Keeping information out of the hands of a competitor sometimes brings the highest offer. Usually though, they end up paying for stuff that finds its way into the garbage can. They feel it’s worth going through it all, so as not to end up missing something that might be important.
“Bottom line, I’ve got three kids and a mortgage to worry about. They want to pay for crap, not my problem. I’m getting paid for the same thing you are, to pass it along. Besides, like I said, there’s a good chance this stuff will end up right back where it started.”
“We didn’t create the game, we’re just trying to get by in it right?”
“Well, that’s pretty much how I see it. And let’s not forget our agreement. If at any time you feel you are being asked to do something you can’t, or don’t want to do, no problem. I will always respect your decision. You know that.”
“I know that.”
“Then we’re OK. here, right?”
“Great, I’ll be in touch.”
The two men parted, both having gotten what they wanted. The intermediary feeling good about a job well done. He had played this one perfectly.
The best kind of informant was one with a clear conscience. The lies about the kids and mortgage had been effective. Most regular guys identified with such nonsense. It made for a kind of camaraderie which would no doubt prove useful.
He couldn’t help but be amused. The poor fool had no idea who he was becoming involved with. And the bullshit about respecting your decision, how naïve could you get?
His employer would be pleased.