Chapter four — The DNA Traders
Dick Newman stepped out of the auto shuttle and looked up at the headquarters of his company, Iota. The solar skin of the building gleamed in the reddish, hazy morning light. Most of the blast panels protecting the building had been well integrated into the structure and weren’t ridiculously obvious like some of the older corporate buildings. Dick felt the building could survive a massive blast without critical structural damage. He had been on the design committee and wanted to ensure that if insurgents made a run at his company, the headquarters, and his company, would survive.
“Good morning Mr. Newman,” said one of the building guards from the portico as invited Dick to scan his retina at the first of three security checkpoints. In the second checkpoint, a gas analysis chamber blew a few puffs of air at him to screen for explosives, biologicals, and a nano agents. The year before an insurgent had made his way past two security doors in at competing company and been able to inject nano-agents into the air ventilation system. Everyone in the building had been killed as the agents were picked up and spread through the air supply. Even the filtration system had missed them. The third checkpoint scanned Dick’s body for rogue sub-cutaneous or fabric-printed devices and did a full DNA match. As he entered the lobby he saw the two-story model of his company’s signature product: the Invidium Sequence. This gene sequence was the only commercial one available that could combat the horrific rise of the fully drug-resistant strains of viruses now attacking most of the poor countries and spreading rapidly through the United States.
Dick took the express elevator to his executive office on the 201th floor overlooking New York Harbor. Most days all he could see was haze and clouds but today was a rare day and he could actually see ships and barges making their way slowly through the harbor and up the Hudson. He checked his messages, look at the wall display and saw that his competitors stock was falling as Iota stock rose significantly. His schedule showed a board meeting at nine, a meeting with the Senior Marketing Council at ten, and noon one of his researchers had requested a private lunch saying only that he had found something interesting while going through an old file of patent applications.
Newman looked in the mirror behind his desk and saw a trim, fit 50-year-old man who had risen quickly through the ranks to become CEO of the largest gene therapy company in the world. During his years in the research department he had quickly demonstrated a canny ability to envision new therapy products and discover new ways of modifying genes to combat human diseases. The Invidium Sequence was his idea but was developed by others. It had helped Iota become a multibillion-dollar product line by replacing inadequate genes with an engineered one, giving patients a chance to ward off many of the aggressive viruses now circling the globe and devastating large regions.
After the morning meetings he read the paper, had a cup of coffee, and waited for the researcher who had something special to show him.
“Mr. Newman — Mr. Marcos is here to see you,” called his assistant.
A thin, athletic looking man opened the door to his office and walked toward him. Dick vaguely recognized him, perhaps having met him at a company party.
“My name is Mike Marcos,” said the lanky researcher. “We’ve met but I don’t expect that you would remember, it was about a year ago at a stockholder meeting. I gave the presentation about to gene expression mapping.”
Dick remembered now. He had been so bored during the presentation that he tuned most of it out. Now he wished he had not taken the appointment but something in the urgency of the request had made him curious.
“So what he is it that you have found?”
“Part of my job is to review all of our intellectual property portfolio periodically for anything we may have missed. I came across a 15-year-old patent application that we acquired when we acquired ClearSequence. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to it except I saw something in the claims that caught my eye. One of the claims mentions a new gene that helps block specific receptors. These receptors are the ones most affected by the hyper-MRSA strains. I thought if there was any connection or usefulness that it should be explored.” The hyper -MRSA viruses were very deadly and the Invidium Sequence was ineffective against them. Hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent engineering and testing the sequence but hyper-MRSA viruses mutated too quickly for this therapy to be used against them.
“Have you done a preliminary analysis?”
“Only a very brief one, but there’s some information missing. The gene in question is only described at a very high-level and is only referred to by code name – the Tuva gene. There’s nothing in our databases about it, only this reference in a 15-year-old patent.”
Dick looked at his watch and realize that his next meeting started in five minutes. “Please stay on it and keep me posted, and thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’ll ask the patent attorneys to look through their databases and see if they can find any references to it.”
Mike had the feeling that his CEO knew something that he didn’t. It was only a suspicion, but usually his instincts were good. His wife told him he was an intuitive, someone who usually could tell if someone had a hidden agenda. He had gone as far as to take classes in facial expressions scanning, the science of micro – expressions that indicated the fleeting thoughts every one experienced while talking to someone. Often the micro – expressions were more indicative than anything the person was saying. In this case Dick Newman’s face told him that he knew more than he was letting on.
As Mike walked back to the lab he looked at the monitors in the hallways. It was the usual fare – stock prices, news of the climate refugees, the myriad regional wars, and the usual depressing litany that made up modern media news.
Suddenly an explosion outside the building rattled and nearly buckled the floor to ceiling windows in the long hallway. After some screams and then nervous laughter people ran to the windows to see if they could see where the explosion occurred. A building two blocks away was pouring black smoke from a bank of windows several floors below them. The explosion was not unusual. Insurgents were targeting buildings in New York. Every three or four days a truck bomb or suicide bomber attempted to bring down another piece of corporate America by targeting it’s headquarters. Soon the streets were filled with sirens and emergency vehicles, though the sound barely reached where Mike was standing.
The wall panel monitors in the hallways were soon lit up with the story: a suicide bomber had made it passed security at a large bio – agent company before they were stopped enroute to the CEO’s office. There were eleven people injured or killed. This was the third bombing this month and Mike remembered his route home would take him by the bombed building. He quickly called his wife to make sure she knew he was okay. This was an insane life, but until they could get their debt in hand they had little choice. Sheila worked to for Standard Insurance. Insurance rates were so high now that companies could not been to afford to ensure all of their operations or even all of their employees. They ensured the most critical parts but below a certain pay grade, you were on your own. Dick and Sheila were one their own, along with the majority of company employees at most major companies. Sheila reassured him that she was okay an asked him to come home in time to watch their son play basketball. Nicky was on the junior varsity squad and made it to state last year.
Back at the lab Mike tried to put the explosion out of his mind. He logged into his computer and studied the Tuva gene patent. He did not even know what Tuva meant. A Google search indicated Tuva was a small country near Mongolia that had long ago disappeared under Chinese suppression and assimilation. Tuvans had been nomadic traders and a wonderful horsemen. There were great old pictures of a celebration in the springtime, called the manly sports, where man played a variation of polo on horseback with the sheeps head for a ball. Dick had no idea what connection the gene might have with an old Asian country that didn’t even exist anymore.