This is the third part of a short story draft. Part I. Part II.
With such a breakthrough, there were tests and tests and tests to run. Rebecca treated it all as a game, at first, especially when David was testing. Whenever he was testing, she was positively lively, constantly laughing and joking. That should have been a warning sign to me immediately, but I was too caught up in my own work. There was so much to learn.
As for David, he was, as usual, the summit of professionalism. But I would catch him at odd moments in a strange fits of abstraction, staring at the wall, motionless except for the constant tapping of a foot or a finger, a bit of nervous, incessant activity that destroyed the usual David calm. I told him once, having come across him like this once, that he should be careful not to overwork himself.
He smiled weakly. "There is so much to do, though."
"True. But there is a lifetime to do it."
He looked away. "No doubt," he said in a curious tone. We were interrupted by a technician with new results, and I went away, thinking nothing more of it.
Becky became less responsive to tests over time. One day I had her performing some mundane task and had turned away from her to write some notes on the whiteboard.
"Charli," she said, in so Becky-like a tone that I turned in amazement. "I am sick of these tests, these rooms. When can we leave?"
Chills went up and down my spine as if I had seen a ghost. And she might as well have been. Her tone. Her stance. The slightly sulky downturn of her lip, prevented from quite being a pout by the resolution of a jaw pushed slightly forward and the intelligence of eyes obviously planning to fix the situation.
It was a moment before I could even speak. I am lucky I did not burst into tears. I suppose I had not realized until then how much I had missed her. Finally I said I would see if I could arrange something.
David and I went to Morgan Stimson, the Vice President of Research. He sat back in his padded chair, the blandness of his blue eyes outmatched only by the blandness of his face, as he listened to David talk about the need to get Rebecca out of the labs.
After David was done, Morgan leaned back and looked at the ceiling. He did that often. I think he thought that being diagonal to the horizontal plane made him look intelligent. Then, still looking at the ceiling, he said, "I don't think so, David. This thing is the company's single largest investment, and worth far too much to send it on field trips, or, worse, put it somewhere that our competitors could get a hold of it."
"She needs to get out," said David. "Human beings can't spend their lives in a lab."
Morgan tilted back into the plane. "It's not a human being, David," he said. "You should know that as well as anyone, because you made it yourself." He turned to me. "Help me out here, Charli. You're always the level-headed one."
"David's right," I said. "The matrix, the programming, is all based on a human model. We have to assume that she needs the same kind of stimuli any human being would need. Keeping her in the lab might cause developmental problems."
He simply looked at me, an unfathomable expression on his face. I spread my hands. "As you said, there is a lot of money invested in her. We need to keep her from going crazy."
He tilted back up out of the plane, stared a moment at the ceiling, then tilted back down, as fake a smile on his face as ever Morgan Stimson could fake a smile. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention," he said. "I will set the wheels in motion. Keep in mind, though, that there are lots of things to work out here. It will be a while."
David was furious after the meeting. It was a bit unsettling; I had never seen David furious.
"He doesn't intend to do anything at all," he told me.
"You have to be patient. He is an ass, but he is right that there are hoops to jump through first."
He stared at me, then nodded. "Hoops to jump through," he said, then turned on his heel and left.
I was somewhat surprised, that day long ago, to be called up to Morgan Stimson's office, and just as surprised to find Becky already there, and even more surprised to find David not there. After some pleasantries, Becky began talking about some ideas she and I had been throwing back and forth. Morgan listened, tilted up at an angle; I listened, puzzled about why were there.
When Becky was done, Morgan tilted down again, and said, "It sounds great. I'm thinking we can go ahead with it."
He turned to me. "It's the kind of project that needs clear direction. I'm thinking Becky can be primary supervisor, and you can be the second. I'm sure she wouldn't interfere much with your area of it, though."
"That is perfectly fine with me," I said. "Nobody can keep a project organized like Becky. Where will David be fitting into all of this?"
There was silence. Morgan looked over to Becky and Becky looked down at her hands.
"Becky," I said slowly, my mind starting to race through all the possible scenarios that might have led to this moment, "you are not seriously thinking of cutting David out of something like this?"
She opened her mouth, but closed it, and said nothing.
"It wouldn't be too bad," said Morgan Stimson with one of his fake encouraging smiles. "With both you and Becky working on it, all we'd need is the programming, and on a project like this, with so many potential medical implications, we could bring in an entire team of programmers."
I am afraid that I laughed out loud. "And that entire team of programmers would start out months, if not years, behind where David is now. Name me any single person who would be better suited than David for something like this."
"Well," said Morgan, "we don't need 'better suited', just 'very good'. And Joseph Harlinger can certainly handle a programming team...."
"No disrespect to Joe, but he does hindbrain programming, nothing on the level that you would need here. Nobody has made a significant advance in any of the relevant fields in the last five years -- except David." I spread my hands. "I don't understand this at all. Becky and I are certainly at the top of our game now, and there are projects where we might be irreplaceable and David just an added bonus. But this kind of project -- this kind of project is a David project. Matrix design and programming are interdependent; body design follows matrix design. If there's anyone you can't do without on a project like this, it's David.
"And Becky," I said, turning suddenly to her. She flinched. "You of all people should know this. 1, 2, 3, B, C, D. What we do we do together."
"Is that what this is, Charli?" said Morgan angrily. "Some misguided sense of loyalty?"
"I tried to talk to him," said Becky suddenly, still looking down. It was so very un-Becky-like, this shamefaced head-hanging. "He thinks it's a bad idea."
"Then it is a bad idea," I said, "and I will not do it."
Morgan, clearly exasperated, looked over to Becky. "If this is just a matter of Charli dragging her feet, I can give the project to you and give you the pick of teams, all the way across the board."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "She's right. Thinking we could do it without David was stupid. Any team we could bring in would take at least a year and a half to catch up to where David could be in three weeks. Even in the middle of arguing with him over it, he was coming up with things that would get us closer, just off the top of his head."
She raised her head and looked Morgan straight in the eye, her Becky-ness restored, "And I certainly cannot do this without Charli."
Morgan threw up his hands. "So where does that leave us?"
She thought, and suddenly seemed strangely un-Becky-like again. "I think I can convince David. It won't be easy. But I am sure I can do it."
Morgan turned to me. "If David's in, are you in?"
"Without a doubt," I said immediately. "It's a great project. We just can't do it without him."
"Well, then," said Morgan with one of his fake Morgan Stimson smiles, "that's what I like to hear. Just keep me informed."
Becky did manage to convince David. He just came in the next day and agreed to it all. He seemed distant for a while, less calm than usual. At the time I thought it was just that Becky and he had had a big fight. Looking back, I see that she must have told him that she was dying.
to be continued