Lucas Hewitt awoke to his tablet buzzing, and light shining through the window. He blinked slowly, feeling extremely tired. He looked to the tablet, and realized that it was making his "important call" vibration pattern.
"Hello?" he picked it up quickly.
"Finally, there you are Lucas," Tessa responded. "I've been trying to get a hold of you for an hour now."
"What's going on?" Lucas asked, feeling anxious, but maintaining a steady voice. He jumped out of bed and dashed over to the closet as he spoke.
"Nothing is wrong - well nothing is more wrong than it is already, so you don't need to be in too much of a rush to get over here -"
"The kids are fine?"
"Yes, they're alright. Lexy's kid Jackie is pretty moody though from what I hear. Matt seems to be fine."
"Okay, then what's the news?"
"News? Oh there's no news, I just wanted you to get up and get back to work."
"Tessa, I -"
"Jeez," she laughed, "you are so easy to -"
"I don't have time for this Tessa," Lucas said while clasping his belt. "We are in a very dire situation. I appreciate a bit of levity to improve morale, but please don't act like it's an emergency. I had been planning on sleeping for at least another hour."
"Oh I'm just kidding around. I do have some news. News that you might find important."
".... what kind of important?"
"Since we had to start dividing processing power on the computer to run only a few modules per problem, things have been going slower for everyone. Our specific problem has borne some fruit. The computer has eliminated a bunch of areas of the canine genome as the center for the cancer cure."
"That is -" Lucas finished pulling a shirt over his head - "fantastic. What kind of elimination are we looking at?"
"That... is not what I was hoping for when you said there was a big reduction in candidates."
"Seriously, even if if our potential area of search was 2%, that's still an incredible number of combinations of genes that are responsible for fighting the cancer."
"I know.... Lucas... you think that maybe we should just give up on this?"
"Let me rephrase that. Give up on this line of attack. We're acting like the only potential cure for this cancer is found in the canine genome. We could try other avenues, like nano-treatments."
"Do you know a whole lot about this cancer Tessa?"
"When it first arose, it was like nothing we'd ever seen before. It was this bizarre pulsing - tons of mutations would appear all over the body, then appear to go into remission. Then it would surface again later, and come back stronger. It would continue in this ratcheting up fashion until the tumors took the patient's life."
"That is... horrific."
"It was... very. Nanotech has become invaluable for treating a lot of cancers - but those are more traditional cancers, ones that arise in only a single part of the body. Ones that when defeated do not usually come back. To treat someone with this new cancer using nanotech, you'd require a much, much larger amount of bots. It is already a dicey business getting small groups of nano machines into more delicate parts of the body, but a whole massive swarm flooding all of it? It would be as bad, if not worse than old fashioned chemotherapy - something we tried back in the day on the cancer."
"Did it work?"
Lucas began putting on his shoes. "Yes and no. For once, the buckshot approach to treating cancer that chemotherapy used actually worked, as the cancer was spread throughout a patient's body. However, that's where that awful behavior of the cancer came in - it would be intermittent, sometimes appearing and then fading quickly, other times staying for months in its first phase. Chemotherapy would slow the progression of the phases - but they would still come, and in greater force. Quite often the cancer would come back soon after chemotherapy ended."
"And this was all being done... on small children?"
"I'm sorry Lucas."
"It is alright. Hopefully this is in the past."
"But there could be something much, much worse coming our way. Are you certain that you want to keep pursuing the dog DNA as the cancer treatment?"
"I'm sure. It is the only thing that has suppressed the cancer."
"Some here have been theorizing that the treatment virus went rogue and hijacked the cancer or something, and that's what started the changes."
Lucas sighed. "I don't know. We'll have to keep on studying it all we can. At very least, even back in the day, Clive, Seth, and myself did a risk analysis - albeit a very not-thorough one - and determined that any side effects wouldn't get too serious - but I'll confess that we were wrong. We thought that at worst it would be some fur growth, the nose getting slightly wet... not this."
"Well this is some other good news then I suppose," Tessa said. "One of the other projects running on the computer determined that while the virus has been able to protect the brain from the cancer, every simulation run, the canine changes were not ever able to affect the brain."
Lucas bent down, resting his head on his knees, and let out a long sigh of relief. His son, at very least, would hopefully be able to maintain his mind.
"Please Tessa, tell me it won't get any worse than it's gotten."
"Sorry Lucas, I'm getting this through the grapevine, these guys are too busy to have a chat about it. It does sound like the changes will hopefully remain on the surface for the most part - that it won't cause too many changes to the major organs or their bones."
"Okay," Lucas breathed slowly - both to calm his nervousness and excitement. "What's the status on reversal?"
"That project on the computer," Tessa sighed, "Is currently set as lower priority."
"Makes sense... I suppose."
"The other project on halting the changes is a bit spotty. They think that the virus may simply stop its activity. The reversal project however... well... it's only just started running this morning, and it isn't looking good."
Lucas was silent.
"I know that's not what you would've liked to hear."
"It's what I feared," Lucas said. He stood up and glanced out the window. The low winter sun made last night's newly fallen snow sparkle. If all of this hadn't been going on, he might've suggested to the family that they go sledding.
"At least they'll be alive," Tessa said, "That much we're sure of."
"I'm just afraid of how all these people suffering with this... how the rest of the world will take it."
"Not well," Tessa said, "I'm certain of that. When I went into see one of the other patients for the first time... gosh. You just have this gut reaction of 'is that really a human being?' "
"No," Lucas said, "I appreciate your honesty. We just... we just need to make sure that we do something to help these people if we can't reverse the change."
"I don't think much can be done about it Lucas. It's the nature of things that human beings are afraid of the new and different. They feel unnerved by the uncanny valley. If the patients are stuck with canine features... they'll just have to bear it. They'll just have to learn to live with the intolerance of the wider world."
Lucas swallowed, and checked his watch. 2:41.
"I just wish that the suits at Generation would do something," Lucas said.
"Oh they aren't," Tessa said, her tone become as sour as a shipping container full of lemons. "From what I hear they're preparing to wash their hands clean of the whole thing, blame it all on us."
"Yeah I hear they're going to shift all the blame they can on us and other companies - that is if they can't diminish the role of their involvement beforehand. Most of the suits aren't even sticking around, they're trying to get out of the company and to a private island as fast as they can."
Lucas silently leaned against the dresser for a moment as he processed this new information. He could be called to court. The company's legal team would have all the power. He'd been a major team member on the original treatment. Sure the treatment had been developed by many companies and universities around the world, but Generation's strain had been one of the most widely used. He could go to jail for a long long time.
"I need to get out."
"I think that would be wise. When?"
"I don't know. Has the news broken yet?"
"Not yet," Tessa said, "but I'm not following it super closely. Leaving the company isn't going to save you though."
"I know," Lucas said. "Generation however is simply going to look for a scapegoat, and that'll be anyone who's still in the building when the government comes to break down Generation's door."
"Well I think that if you're going to jump ship," Tessa said, "you had better do it before next week. I might also start preparing a case, and try to stay consistent with it."
"It will be hard," Lucas said. "I need to keep working on this. I'll go mad if I can't."
Tessa was quiet for a bit.
"Are you there?" Lucas asked.
"Yes," Tessa said, "I just needed to adjust some settings on my tablet. Look - I've heard from Clive and the others what you're planning. I'm open to offering some assistance if you're willing. Notably I'm one of the few who can get through to Patrick in security."
"Where are you Tessa?"
"I'm in my car," she reassured, "everything is turned off but my tablet, and everything on there is secured. I'm off company property."
"This is dangerous," Lucas said. "Very dangerous. If they don't get us for negligence with our work on the treatment, they'll for sure get us locked up if we get caught for this."
"I know. But I'd rather go to prison than let these kids - well, everyone with the virus, go it alone with no hope."
"Wait... what did you mean by that?"
"Are there people older than teenagers contracting the virus?"
Tessa let out a long breath. "They've found out that the virus can transmit via saliva. These secondhand cases don't appear to be as fast acting, as potent as those who natively have it... but gosh it's starting. It won't be long now."
Lucas ran his hand through his hair. It felt gross. He needed a shower. Tomorrow.
"Okay," he said, "I'll be there in about fifteen minutes."
"No need to rush Lucas," she said, "remember that most of the important work is being done by the computer."
"I can't stand idly by. I made a promise to my son. Until we get through this, I'm not going to rest until we find a solution."
He said goodbye, and rushed to finish getting ready. He didn't know if they would find a solution - but whatever the case, he wanted to be near Matt all he could. Lucas knew however that Tessa was right - most of what he was doing didn't make anything go faster - but if he stopped he would begin to despair.
He would begin to realize that maybe he didn't have the power to save his son.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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