"You're the man. You own this. You own THEM."
Harp sighed, his whispered mantra complete, squinting at his reflection in the black-tinted glass of the conference room. The suit, immaculate. You could cut bread with the creases. The tie, perfect. Fashionably narrow black silk with a muted embroidery in subtle shades of blue and red, just the right splash of color to sell the image he always projected: the good company man, but always thinking out of the box.
He was The Guy Who Knows.
He crushed the truth within him back into its box: the mounting debt, the unsuccessful product launch six years ago. Endless self-affirmations cascading into his head.
Do or die.
It's go time.
Who dares wins.
He pushed open the door and quickly took his rightful place at the front of the room. The eyes of the executives tracked him, silently, like a pack of wolves slowly circling a campfire. Hungry. Calculating.
Harp wanted to clear his throat but thought better of it, knowing the payload that would deliver: sickly, weak, nervous. Prey.
He took a moment to collect himself as he jacked his sleek, fresh-out-of-the-box palmtop into their conference display system. It hummed to life, and the company logo faded into life on the screens lining the walls.
"Ladies, Gentlemen," he said, "Let's begin."
He clicked the single button on the glossy, painfully delicate remote control, and gentle music streamed from the speakers, calculated with ruthless precision to elicit melancholy in the listener.
Images of kindly elderly men and women, overlapping in Ken Burns-style cascades, smiled wistfully from the screen as the basso voice of the famous African-American movie star eased into the moment, reassuring and familiar.
"They're a part of your life. Since childhood, they've been there.
"Your family. Mom's smile when you won the spelling bee. Your father's proud handshake after you received your diploma. Grandmother's Christmas cookies, and that extra helping of dessert at Thanksgiving."
Harp glanced around, into the sea of poker faces. As he expected, they were playing close to the vest, except Dilworth, the senior man. He looked genuinely curious. Perfect.
Dilworth's file showed an unusual trend toward curiosity over snap judgments. Harp had done his homework well.
The voiceover continued, as the key of the music shifted ever so slightly. The mood slowly darkened, the images of happy families desaturating, becoming grainier. The elderly people on screen seemed gaunt and depressed. The digital alterations cost a fortune, but Lord was the effect on point.
"But nothing is forever, is it? Age and illness are unbeatable foes. You love them, but you can never escape the truth: They all go away eventually."
The timing was laser-precise, the image pausing on the weatherbeaten face of a frail woman in her eighties, her eyes vacant, her mouth slightly agape. The face, superimposed over a still frame of a quiet cemetery.
Dilworth sat up, his eyes wide in shock. "Stop. Stop the video. Right now."
Gotcha, Harp thought.
Dilworth stood, jabbing his finger at Harp. Dilworth was a large man, solidly built, not known for emotional outbursts. Now, however, he seemed on the verge of violence.
"That was my MOTHER," Dilworth said.
"Indeed it was, Mr. Dilworth--can I call you Joe?"
Harp stalked the conference room like a showman, gesturing expansively. "You know me, Joe. You know my reputation. It's why you took this meeting, after all. You need a killer app, something with serious consumer potential. Last quarter, you took a beating, and you need something big. A game changer.
"So you called me. Because you know I ALWAYS do my homework."
Harp smiled his best shark smile. "Eleanor Hobson Dilworth, your mother. Currently a resident of Stillwater Glades in Santa Monica. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis, compounded by diabetes and heart disease, I believe."
Dilworth nodded dumbly, still in shock, still furious, but that curiosity held him in check, dancing on the edge of kicking Harp the hell out of the conference room. Just…not yet.
Harp continued, "It's a little earlier than I intended, but let me give you the product specs."
He hit the remote button again, and the screen transitioned to the Brit actor, the one from all the Shakespeare adaptations that kept winning Oscars. He cost a bundle, but he sure as hell looked the part, dressed in a lab coat, radiating genius and empathy. Worth every goddamn penny.
The background was stark white, almost featureless, as the Brit walked on through.
"Welcome to the Family Album," the Brit said. "An innovative new use of proven technologies."
As he strode on, behind him were seas of white coated lab technicians, working at clear glass tables, with clear glass equipment. "Our labs have developed proprietary nanotechnology, able to reproduce by rearranging available matter into desired configurations. In short, they can build themselves, over and over."
The Brit smiled, kindly and paternal. "But there's more. Our nanos,"—he chuckled, a wry smile on his face—"we call them Assistants, construct miniaturized RFID systems, which can be deployed in a tight matrix..."
Dilworth slammed his fist on the table. "Enough technobabble. What do your … Assistants and radio emitters have to do with—"
"—your mother?" Harp said, pausing the display again. "Bear with me a moment.
"You want to skip the 'technobabble,' fine." Harp was all business now. He'd spent three days watching GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and was ready for battle. "I'll lay it out for you, Joe, you bet.
"The Assistants come in pill form. Take the pill, ingest the nanos and they march right on up to the brain, building more of themselves out of all the broken, nonfunctional bits. They build a network of RFID emitters and trackers that can map every goddamn electrical impulse in the brain. Creates a waveform. We can read the waveform. Duplicate it. Repair it.
Dilworth gaped. "You… you could cure Alzheimer's…"
Harp shrugged, warming up to the good stuff.
"Yeah, yeah, we sure could. But why WOULD we? The system UNDERNEATH is broken. We can fix up the neural connectivity, but the meat and tissue it all rides is eventually going to break down. It's patching the hull of a sunken ship. Inefficient. And inefficiency costs the company money. That isn't good business, is it?
"So we just build a NEW body. Durable materials, with long-term viability, and an optimized neural network custom generated from the source template."
Harp felt like God. He was almost there. Just one more push.
"And the profit model is astonishing: the market just keeps making its own demand, because if there's one thing people do well, it's make more people. The new body is a loss leader, but you get rich off the service contracts and upgrade packages. Grandma 2.0 might even be improved upon, right? Make her a wi-fi hotspot if you want or home media server, I dunno. That's for the engineers to figure out.
"It's not a medical device, it's a LIFESTYLE item. There were cheap MP3 players long before the iPod, but Jobs made everybody need the same thing at five times the price.
"So that's what we do. We've got all we need. Send us a picture of Grandma, we can 3D print her face, map it to the skeletal robotics, clone and print the meat, switch on the new brain, and boom: she's ready to go. It's all out there already, we just repackage it and feed it to the market. Then we sit back and count the money.
"It's a killer app."
Dilworth sat down, his breathing heavy. Time for the big finish.
"Hey, but don't take my word for it, Joe. Like I said, I do my homework, and I knew you'd need to see the prototype."
He called out in a loud voice, "Come on in, please."
The door swung open and a woman in her thirties, dressed in a floral print housedress a couple decades out of style, entered, nervously.
Dilworth made a choking noise. "M… mother?"
"Eleanor 2.0, actually," Harp said. He put one hand in his pocket, confident and relaxed.
The R&D boys considered sending her in with some homemade cookies or pie, but Harp said no. Too hackneyed, too Hallmark Channel. The damn thing sold itself, after all.
The woman smiled broadly, and rushed over, leaning down to give Dilworth a hug. She muttered something Harp couldn't quite catch, something like "my sweet boy" or some such. Didn't matter. A tear streamed down Dilworth's cheek.
Harp pulled out his pen—handcrafted from exotic wood by a local artisan—and laid the contract packet on the table.
Just a matter of time, Harp knew, already mentally furnishing the villa in Spain he was going to buy. He knew Dilworth would do the right thing.
Sometimes all a boy needs is to see his mother.
>>SHORT FICTION: "Killer App"
© 2013 Eric S. Trautmann/Fedora Monkey Studio