Sunday, March 04, 2007
“Can I help you?” he asked. Martin reached for his ID, which dreadlock read carefully before presenting him with his VIP badge.
“Thank you, Mr. Dial. The Ripley Foundation has asked me to watch your back this evening and keep the press away, if you don’t mind.”
“Certainly not. It is their event after all. Would you be so kind as to help me find Mr. Ripley? It looks like quite a mob in there.”
The ballroom was packed indeed. Martin caught an elbow within a few steps of entering and he could barely hear the woman's apologies over the din of the crowd. The jazz combo on stage seemed content to render a slow beat rather than try to overwhelm the room full of conversation fed by the open bar.
With dreadlocked shadow in tow, Martin made his way towards the stage. A middle-aged woman with a diamond broach stopped him midstream.
"You're Martin Dial, aren't you?" she asked. "I need to talk to you about my husband. Or at least he was my husband. Jakob Waterman."
"Yes, I remember. He's one of the nine. Congratulations."
"That's what I need to talk to you about, Mr. Dial. He's not Jakob."
"I'm sorry. What do you mean?"
"He's different. He knows things--things that happened after he... after he died."
Martin felt a silence come over him. Her eyes were pleading and she was shaking like a leaf.
"Mr. Dial, I have to tell you something else. Jakob meets with them--the others you brought back. I don't know what it is, but they're planning something they call the Exodus!"
Sunday, November 26, 2006
The eight men successfully resurrected were all founding members of the Ripley Cryogenics, a small company in San Francisco with incredible financial assets. Each of the men had bet their fortunes on the notion that frozen remains could someday be re-animated. And while the means were not what they had expected, tonight they would gather at a grand reception at the St. Francis hotel.
The implications of these developments shook Martin to his core. The zealots, doctors, the skeptics, and the press would soon rush into his world like a tidal wave. Martin realized he would soon be the face of New Life, as the friends of Mr. Ito wished to remain silent partners.
The mystery of the ninth founder troubled Martin as well. When Ito called with the news some six days prior, he seemed to note the failure of the ninth resurrection only as an afterthought.
"Some will not come back," he said, offhandedly.
The man's name was Kulduri, a Pakistani who had died in a skiing accident. He had been one of the first to invest in Ripley Cryogenics, and was widely renowned for hisphilanthropy.
What made Kulduri different? Was it his diet, age, or mode of death perhaps?
He had asked his man Culper to do some research. Just as Culper called, Martin saw that the press release had just hit the wire. It had begun.
"Martin? I was getting nowhere so I ran background check on all nine. I think... I think I found something."
"What is it?"
"Kulduri was a Muslim. All the others, Martin, they're Jewish."
"That's remarkable. Remember that video that Ito showed us at the Jewish cemetery in Prague?"
"I do, I did. Martin, that's the freaky thing. I got into the Internet archives of Josefov--all eight of these guys have family there."
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Martin helped Ito arrange for the armored cars and security. Ito was reluctant to accept assistance at first. Apparently, even Martin wasn't to be trused with the origin of the process.
The Brinks driver entered Martin's office and closed the door. "Everything went smoothly, Mr. Dial. The place is very remote and Ito met us with tractor and a haywagon. Damndest thing I ever saw."
"Did Ito accept our offer?" Martin asked.
"No. He said security was covered. Not that there seemed to be another soul for miles, mind you. Then the son of a bitch just fired up his tractor and drove away like he was hauling pig manure. Took him four trips."
"What is the place like?"
"Used to be a dairy from I could see. There was a complex of metal buildings on the next hill: huge smokestack, silos, but not a cow in sight."
"I'd like you stay on call for a few days. If this doesn't work out, we'll need to pick up the gold."
"No worries, Mr. Dial. One thing though. I don't know quite how to say this."
"Well, I told you how there were no animals there, right? But the really strange thing was the corn. I mean, it's November and barely above freezing. I swear to god the cornfields there were green as July and nine feet tall."
Chamberlin poured three glasses and proposed a toast. "Gentleman, to our good fortune in finding each other. This day we will make history together."
Martin sipped his champaign and watched Mr. Ito quaff down his entire glass with one smooth motion. "Easy does it, Mr. Ito. We haven't closed this deal quite yet."
"I am prepared to do so, Mr. Dial," said Chamberlin, but first I must know what happens to our funding should this effort fail."
"The gold used in the process will be returned to you," replied Mr. Ito. "It will be melted down, but it can be poured back into gold bars afterwards."
"Surely there is some risk involved."
"Only in that we have never attempted to use the process on this scale. Your nine founders will live again."
"In return, we will need to keep the gold for further work towards the IPO," said Martin. "With the uncontested validity of our process, the second round of financing should follow in record time."
The men raised their glasses once again and began the process of the bank transfer. Ito then shook Chamberlin's hand and promised results within a few days.
"Fantastic, Mr. Ito. My cryogenic engineers will be at the ready to assist you with the remains of our founders."
"That will not be necessary, Mr. Chamberlin. New life will not be forthcoming from your freezers."
Martin felt a chill as Ito left the room. As the secrets of resurrection were slowly coming to light, something unexplainable was going on here.
As he walked to his rental car, Martin stopped in his tracks. He swore he heard the cries of a wolf.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
"Quite remarkable, Mr. Chamberlin," Mr. Ito commented. "Strange how old wood reminds one of home."
"And where would that be, Mr. Ito?" Chamberlin asked.
"I was a boy of Old Prague, my good man."
"Ah, splendid place," Chamberlin smiled. "Backpacked through there myself, some thirty years ago I imagine. But, enough of that. I'm quite eager to hear more about your process, gentleman."
Ito stiffened in his chair. "The process itself is quite proprietary, Mr. Chamberlin. Though I will say that it is quite expensive in that it requires great amounts of gold to work properly."
"Gold you say? How interesting. And quite ironic given the heritage of our founder."
Martin was puzzled by this. "How do you mean?"
"Sorry, I forget such things are not common knowledge, really.Our founder John Ripley was a direct descendant of Sir George Ripley, a 15th century alchemist and author of the Ripley Scroll."
Ito looked like he wanted to say something, but Martin could see the man was holding his tongue."This Ripley Scroll, what is it?"
"It's really a work of emblematic symbolism. Properly decoded, it is said that the Ripley scroll holds the key to Philosopher's Stone."
"You mean the stone that can spin straw into gold and that sort of thing?"
"Oh, much more than that, Mr. Dial. The Philosopher's stone is the gateway to eternal life."
Sunday, November 19, 2006
"Yes, Mr. Ito. But how did you know I was here? I told no one of this visit."
Ito turned to the kiosk. "You may need help convincing these folks that our process is valid. I am here to help."
"Well we do have Jennifer. I mean, if you can fully revive her."
"That will require substantial resources, Mr. Dial. The path forward is a much shorter step."
Chamberlin entered and seemed quite taken aback that there were two people in the room. "Why, hello. I don't think I've had the pleasure."
"This is Mr. Ito," Martin offered. "He represents the party who seeks financing."
"Ah, I see. Well, I think the coffee is ready. Shall we move on to the conference room? I have many questions."
Ito followed Chamberlin out into the hall with Martin brining up the rear. As Ito walked by, each of the kiosks lit up and chimed their readiness to serve.
Martin paused for a moment. These things were touch screens.
He felt the hair on the back of begin to stand up.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Chamberlin went off to make some dinner arrangements, leaving Martin alone in the Founder's Room. He visited each kiosk, learning the stories of these frozen people, each one seemingly more rich and eccentric than the last.
It occurred to Martin that they all shared a common dream of something much more than just wanting to cheat death. No, this bunch seemed hell-bent on escorting the human race to some kind of god-like stage of evolution. Without a doubt, they were all mad.
But as Martin began to explore the final kiosk, that of Ripley himself, he began to see threads of something more than just a common madness. Ripley had not only recruited this bunch, he had converted them into eager time travelers.
"We embark not to face a cold, dark eternity," an aged Ripley chimed to a ballroom of Society members. "But rather to a bright new awakening of mankind. Where as before, only our words and impressions could be preserved for future generations, the Society will be the vessel that carries our minds forward through untold generations."
"I salute you," he said raising a glass with his frail hand. "You are the ambassadors to the future."
As the camera pulled back, the crowd was on their feet in fervent applause. The video ended and the kiosk screen shut off abruptly. What Martin saw in it's place was the reflection of a man standing right behind him.
Startled, Martin whirled around. It was the imposing figure of Mr. Ito.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Chamberlin was going on and on about the redundant systems that kept the residents in their Kelvin slumber. Martin was not much for engineering talk, but he did find himself summarily impressed when Chamberlin boasted that the refrigeration system was built to stay online throughout power interruptions of up to thirty days.
"When your customers trust you with eternity, the idea of 'always on' takes on a whole new meaning," Chamberlin remarked. "We have an operating budget locked into a trust fund that goes on to the year 2410."
What Martin did gather was that every freeze chamber was set up with an independent set of mechanisms designed to keep its resident near absolute zero until such a time that medical technology was up to the task of curing the ailment that killed them. In theory, the technology to re-animate frozen flesh would also be commonplace by then.
The tour concluded in a small shrine-like area that Chamberlin called the Founder's Room. It's nine kiosk stations formed a semi-circle around a picture-window of the entire underground complex.
Martin tapped one of the touch-screens and was instantly immersed in a multimedia biography of Charlie Anakin, a notoriously drunken benefactor who had gone down on Korean flight 007, which had been shot down by the Russians in 1983. True to Mr. Anakin's wishes, Ripley Cryogenics had preserved the only identifiable part of Anakin's remains--his bulbous, red nose.
"This must have cost millions," Martin remarked.
"Indeed it did, Mr. Dial," Chamberin answered. "And it would seem that your venture will render all this intricacy unnecessary."
"And these founders, they put up the money?"
"That, and a whole lot more, Mr. Dial. And if you can bring them back, our founders have entrusted us with more money than you could possibly need."
Friday, August 25, 2006
Chamberlin entered the lobby and offered Martin his hand.
"Mr. Dial? It's a pleasure. Is there something troubling you about this painting?"
"Remarkable," said Martin. "Is this an original work?"
"Oh, quite. It's a portrait commissioned by an ancestor of our founder, a nobleman by the name of George Ripley. He was quite a man of note of his time, regarded as the premier alchemist of his generation, I'm told."
"Alchemy you say?" Martin asked. "And what about the woman?"
"Ah yes, not only was his consort a great beauty, she was also quite skilled in the dark science herself. In fact, some say their union foretold a great confluence of the two alchemic disciplines, as it were."
"There were two? I thought alchemists were all about turning things into gold."
"Truly. That cover story is how they gained both their sponsorship from the ruling class and their heretic immunity from the Church. While the gold alchemists tried to cook mercury into gold, the spiritual alchemists were primarily consumed with perfecting the human soul."
"And this woman, she was a spiritual alchemist?"
"Oh yes. In fact her writings were widely published in her husband Nicolas' name in order to boost his standing in the royal court. But when her affair with Ripley came to light, the resulting scandal exposed Nicolas as a Charlatan. He leaped off a cliff, I'm afraid."
Martin regard the painting for a moment. "And what became of her?"
"Well, Jennine Flamel reportedly vanished into her alchemic practice in search of redemption. In fact, her last writings claimed she had discovered the Philosopher's Stone."
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The offices of Ripley Cryogenics were quite modest on the outside, their brushed-aluminum sign not withstanding. As he entered, Martin could hardly help from checking out the goth receptionist. Black clothes, hair, and lipstick was something he was not accustomed to in the financial district.
"Hello." she said in a heavy English accent. "May I help you?"
"Martin Dial. I'm a here to see Mr. Chamberlin."
"Very good, sir. Please have a seat and I'll fetch him straight away."
Martin took a seat on one of the leather chairs in the corner. The room had a glowing fireplace and it occurred to Martin that one could settle in here and read a good book if necessary. He could detect a tinge of cigar smoke and the glass case on the wall was stocked with Scotch.
Then Martin noticed the portrait on the wall. It was an old oil painting of a handsome young couple in noble clothes. He took a step closer and felt his breath escape him. The brass plate beneath read "George Ripley, 1475" and the woman in the picture was the spitting image of the newly resurrected Jennifer Flamel.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
"And all so the stone to quicken the dead
All and some without fable."
-- The Ripley Scroll
Martin hung up the phone and put his head down on the desk. His suspicions had been correct; none of the angels were biting.
"I don't care if you can bring back woolly freakin' mammoths," one surly investor had told him. "Show me paying customers."
He looked at the calendar; There were only 25 days left and this company was little more than the laughable prospectus that was sitting on his desk. Sure, the twins' prospectus had come up with some astounding market data on longevity spending, but this was no wrinkle cream. All those dollars were about postponing the inevitable or just looking a little better on the way down.
Culper rapped on his door and Culper barely looked up as he entered the office.
"That bad, huh?"
"It would seem that way," Martin grumbled. "Ito tells me they depleted their resources with Jennifer. It's a true miracle, but sleeping beauty is not exactly the success story that we need right now."
"And without funding, you're in a bit of a code freeze, aren't you?"
"What's that you just said?"
"Only that your stuck without the money, you know?"
"No, not that. The code freeze. Like cryogenics cold freeze. Maybe I've been talking to the wrong people."
"You lost me, Martin. Where are you going with this?"
"VCs are the kinds of guys who would sell their mothers--not bring them back from the dead. No. If there is any pre-money out there for the New Life process, maybe it's the with people who froze themselves waiting for it to be possible!"
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The twins were uncharacteristically quiet as Martin told them about the remarkable resurrection of Jennifer Flamel. They looked at each other a few times but held their tongues.
"So tell us more about this 'new life' process you mentioned," said Reed.
Martin shifted in his chair. "Mr. Ito is very tight-lipped about the process. Apparently it involves the use of precious metals and rare compounds. The amounts can vary greatly depending on the individual, but that's all I know."
"This is just too much," Ryan remarked. "I mean, can they bring anybody back from the dead?"
"No. But apparently there is some kind of litmus test that they can perform once given a name."
"Can we talk to this Mr. Ito?" Reed asked "It may sound crazy, but I think we need to prepare an FAQ for potential investors. If an answer is proprietary, he can just say so."
Just then the receptionist poked her head in the door. "Mr. Dial, I'm sorry to interrupt, but you have an urgent call. It's Jennifer's mother on line one."
Martin excused himself and hurried down the hall to pick up the call in his office.
"Martin? Oh thank goodness you're there! It's Jennifer, what have they done with her?"
"Whoa, wait, wait, Esther. Slow down. What's going on?"
"I went to put flowers on her grave today, it's gone! Martin, her grave is gone!"
Martin's head was racing. Had Mr. Ito exhumed her grave, perhaps?
"Esther, are you saying someone dug up Jennifer's grave?"
"No! No! You don't understand! This is going to sound crazy but I went there today and everything is rearranged. Martin, there are no graves on that side of the hill anymore."
"Esther, you must have gotten disoriented. How could someone move all the graves on the hillside?"
"I'm telling you right now; Jennifer's graveyard is now a stand of trees. And Martin, they've got to be a hundred years old!"
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
"One hundred million?" Reed asked.
"AS IF I'd pay that for you!" they said to each other simultaneously.
"New Life customers will gladly pay that amount," Martin said indignantly. "We are talking about a miracle here, after all."
"And why are you here explaining this to us, anyway?" asked Ryan. "Where are the principles? Where is this Resurrection Ronco coming from?"
"They wish to remain anonymous, though their reasons for this are unclear." Martin replied. "The firm will be acting on behalf of the New Life Foundation in exchange for an outstanding number of shares."
"So you run the business then?"
"Yes. The NLF will actually render the service as subcontractors and we will run all the fundraising, day-to-day business, and finance. This will, of course, be masked behind a wall of secrecy to protect the New Life process."
"And what is it that you need from us?" asked Ryan.
Martin looked down at the binder in front of him. "I need a prospectus that will get us some angel funds. The prototype did not go quite as planned."
"Prototype? You mean, they've already brought somebody back?"
"Not precisely. But unless I can raise $100 Million of my own in the next 30 days, they won't be able to give her a second try."
Monday, August 14, 2006
Sighing as he entered the office tower, Martin checked his watch with the dread of having to meet with the Beldar twins. Humphreys had insisted on bringing them in to work on Ito's business plan, and he had no doubt they would be a huge pain in the ass for the entire process.
The lobby was forgivingly empty when he stepped off the elevator. Too early for the receptionist he thought. The twins always insisted on starting their meetings at 7:00 in the morning.
He found his mug and grumbled to himself about the task at hand. The least they could do was make the freaking coffee for what we're paying them.
The twins were of course at their places already. Coffee in hand, Martin entered the conference room and sat down at the head of the table without a word. Here it comes.
"You look a little droopy, old boy."
"I hope you're ready, because..."
"...We honestly have a lot of questions for you on this one."
"Look," said Martin. "We're going to do this debriefing in sequence. I'm going to talk and you two are going to shut up and take notes, alright?"
"We have names you know," replied the Baldar on his left. "I'm Reed and he's Ryan."
"Bullshit!" Martin countered. "You're Ryan and he's Reed."
"And you're no fun anymore."
"Whatever. Just keep in mind we need a draft of this prospectus by Tuesday at the latest."
"In that case, how about you let us start with our Q&A?"
Martin relented. He knew they'd never let him get through his first slide otherwise.
"OK, what are we calling this startup?" Reed asked.
"NLF: New Life Foundation."
"Oh that's cute. And who is your target market?"
"All dead people?" Reed asked.
"Certainly not," replied Martin. "In this case, the dead fall into two categories."
"Of course!" said Ryan. "Either you want them to stay dead or you want them back, right?"
"Not precisely, guys," Martin said. "The number we can bring back is small and the cost is correspondingly high." He paused for effect. "We all could think of people we would want to bring back, but how many would be worth the price tag of $100 million dollars?"
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Jennifer looked at Martin with a bit of panic in her eyes. He nodded at her slowly with a look that said he knew what he was doing. Comb-over and his associates just sat there stunned.
"I won't deny that it's great fun to talk about the possibilities of a program that brings all things to all people. However innovative your code might be, you still don't have anything that even resembles a fundable company at this point.
"If we go public we could attract the talent and experience to do just that, could we not?" Comb-over asked incredulously.
"Ah, that's the rub. You can't just do an initial public offering and fill in the details later." Martin stood and walked over to the whiteboard. "Jennifer, if I may?"
"Lead the way, Mr. Dial."
"Right. Well, guys, here are the typical funding stages that a startup moves through over the course of its life. First we have seed financing. At this point, the venture is still in the idea formation stage and its product or service is not fully developed. That would be you guys, I'm thinking. The founder is given a small amount of capital to come up with a working prototype. Do you have a working prototype, by the way?"
"We have several modules of code built." said Comb-over. "So you're saying that we could get venture capital at this point?"
"No, VCs don't generally fund this stage. In most cases, the money has to come from the founder's own pocket or from family and friends. On rare occasions, you might get an angel investor to pony up.
"So if I can scrape up enough to get the prototype built, then what?"
"Then comes startup financing and first-stage financing. When the company is in business for a couple of years, VCs tend to get involved and you move on to second and third-stage financing, then on to bridge financing on finally on to the IPO. Very few companies reach the bridge and IPO stages. It all depends."
"I know this all seems very discouraging," said Jennifer. "But we're in the business of helping the right ventures get through it. If you'd like, my man Culper could take a look at your code and offer up his analysis."
"That would be good," said comb-over. "But without the VC funding, it sounds like we're dead before we even begin."
"VCs are like vampires," Martin replied. "They don't feed on the dead."
Sunday, August 06, 2006
The three men in the conference room looked uncomfortable in their white shirts and ties. The big one with the comb-over was obviously the leader.
"Miss Flamel, thank you for seeing us today."
"My pleasure," Jennifer said, nodding to the others. "I've brought in an analyst from New York to look at your prospectus. This is Martin Dial."
Martin felt his chest tighten as he decided to play along. "I'm afraid I don't have a hard copy with me."
Comb-over slid him a copy and started his pitch. "If I may, I'd like you all to take a breath and think for a moment: What is it, exactly, that people are looking for on the Net?"
Jennifer piped up first. "Information, products, communication, and interaction."
"Yes, of course," replied comb-over, smiling. "All these are new things that people seek. But what about the things we've lost--possessions, pets, or loved ones that can not be replaced? Until now, the Net has only offered us a means to acquire distractions from what we truly miss."
"So you're offering a virtual pet?" Martin asked.
"Not just any pet, Mr. Dial, your pet, complete with it's own unique personality just as you remember it. The Memento software that we've devised can replicate the "posessional" experiences of a lifetime."
"And how is this knowledge acquired?"
"It builds on shared knowledge. That's the beauty of Memento. Say you were fond of your first dog. By answering interview questions, you help the system create a custom animal from our database of common breed characteristics. The more people who subscribe, the more complete and varied our models become."
"We're getting a little ahead of ourselves here, I'm afraid," Jennifer injected. "I mean, why would anyone subscribe just to bring back their dog? It sounds like a one-time transaction to me."
"Oh no," Comb-over smiled. "One's personal possessions or pets are just the bait where we bring back your memories to a much more vivid state. For our subscription business model, we're counting on people wanting to experience the memories of others."
Friday, August 04, 2006
He arrived ten minutes early at the firm, his suit crisp and his shoes shined for the interview. The reception area was modest, but it had some nice touches like marble floors and stunning piece of art signed by someone named Brett Whiteley. What struck Martin about this particular piece was the quote inscribed on the brass plate beneath it: "Art is the thrilling spark that beats death - that's all."
Martin rubbed his chin and felt a chill as the door opened behind him. Maybe it was the room or the painting or just the subtle anxiety of interviewing, but he felt like this moment was a replay of a dream.
When Jennifer walked into a room, men stopped what they doing just to look. But when she spoke with that gravelly voice of hers, men pretty much forgot what they'd been doing.
"Martin Dial? I'm Jennifer Flamel." She offered her hand and gestured towards a glass conference room door. "Please. This way."
Jennifer walked hurriedly down the hall and Martin lengthened his stride to keep up with her. She had to be pushing five foot eleven, he thought. Very nice.
"Follow my lead," she said over her shoulder. "These guys have some hot code, but they don't even know what pre-money is."
She grabbed the door handle and spun to meet his eyes. "Are you ready?"
"What about the interview?"
"This is the interview, Mr. Dial."
Monday, July 31, 2006
"Why?" he heard himself ask. "Why is she sleeping?"
"She's fine," said Mr. Ito. "But I'm afraid she may not be waking up for a while. There's still some hitches in our process."
"Hitches?" Martin asked, rising slowly. "You mean, she's in some kind of coma or something?"
"Not precisely, Mr. Dial. It's more like a suspended state of being somewhere... somewhere in between."
"What are you saying, Mr. Ito?"
"I'm saying that it's going to require extensive resources to bring Jennifer all the way back, Mr. Dial, more resources than we have at the moment."
"Look, Ito, does this process work or doesn't it?"
"In most cases, it works quite well Mr. Dial. We have successfully brought back three others as of this time. But your wife has presented us with an unexpected challenge."
"How do you mean?"
Ito cupped his hands and raised them to his mouth. "I don't know how to tell you this," he said. "But it seems that Jennifer does not want to come back."
Thursday, July 27, 2006
"Are you going to sleep all day?" asked the computer. The voice was soft and feminine.
Martin rolled over and signaled his intent to do just that. He must have had a dozen beers the night before and his body cried out for immobilization.
"Still dreaming, huh?" the computer prodded. "Tell me where you are."
"I'm in the dream place," Martin answered. Even as he spoke the dream was changing to make sense of this intrusion of consciousness.
"And who is there with you now?"
"Familiar faces." Martin heard himself say. His cell started going off. He took a deep breath and reached for it.
"Martin? Humphreys here. Sorry to wake you, old man, but I need you to come in."
"What? I mean, it's Saturday. What's going on?"
"It's that Ito fellow. I sent him the fax last night with the name and... Martin, he's here... they're here."
Since it was Saturday, there was no guard at the main door of the office tower. Martin slipped his javacard through the reader slot and the door latch snapped open with a heavy electrical buzz.
His head was pounding as he pulled on the door and entered. It was like something dull and grating was after his attention and all it could think to do was send waves of discomfort to his defenseless brain. Inside, his shoes squeaked noisily on the empty expanse of marble leading up to the elevator door.
"He's here." he kept hearing Humphreys say. "They're here."
The elevator door closed and Martin leaned against the wall. The stainless steel felt cool against his cheek as he pressed the button for the 34th floor. It seemed like the ping of arrival came as soon as he closed his eyes.
They were in the lobby. Humphreys and Ito turned slowly as the elevator door opened. Martin took a step and froze.
He never heard the buzzers or felt the elevator doors trying to close on him as he stood there. On the couch at the far wall was a sleeping woman. It was Jennifer, his dead wife.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
"Good morning, all." Martin chimed as he pulled open the padded leather door. Had the door been wood, he surmised that a secret knock would have probably been in order, for this executive conference room was rarely used but for the purpose of impressing wealthy clients.
For some reason, the lights were dimmed. Humphreys looked over his reading glasses and waived him in. "Martin. Good. We have a quorum."
Martin waited for a moment for his eyes to adjust. In the room was a tall, thin man he didn't recognize. On the other side of the table there was Culper from the IT department and Laxton, their brooding corporate attorney.
Humphreys stood and gestured towards the stranger. "Martin, this is our new client, Mr. Ito."
The man offered his hand and Martin gripped it firmly. There was something like an inside joke in the man's eyes as he turned back to Humphreys. "I'm afraid I'm rather short on time. May we begin?"
They all settled into their chairs as Ito hooked up his laptop to the tiny data projector on the table. He seemed to move slowly, but screen came to life within a few seconds with what looked like some kind of 8 mm film leader.
"Gentleman," Ito began. "Your firm has been selected to take part in a great undertaking. I represent a development consortium that prepared this film as means to break the ice, as it were."
The screen flickered with what looked like a hand-held shot at an old european cemetery. Four men in dark suits and fedoras were walking through the place with flowers in their hands.
"The Consortium formed at this place called Josefov, the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Europe. While the Nazis made it a policy to destroy Jewish cemeteries, Hitler had ordered that this cemetery be left intact."
As the video continued, it panned over gravestones stacked up and leaning against each other like in some kind of morbid, abandoned warehouse. "There are more than 100,000 Jews buried in this small plot, the graves being layered 12 deep in some places," Mr. Ito continued. "This is not unusual for European cemeteries where space is at a premium."
Martin shifted in his chair. Where is he going with this? Doesn't he know we do technology startups?
The video changed to what looked like a coffee house where the men in black sat around a small table covered with documents.
"These four scientists, Holocaust survivors and possibly the most brilliant men of their age, gathered at Josefov," Mr. Ito continued. "They were consumed with one driving passion; How do we stop this from happening again?"
The video went to black and Mr. Ito brought up a slide. It just had one bullet:
"55 million people die in this world every year."
Ito motioned for Humphreys to bring up the lights. "As you can see, there is a plague on mankind, a plague brought to you by your own biology and evolution. All humans share one common failing--their mortality. I come to you today to seek your help to bring a new dawn to the age of man."
Ito stopped and looked at each man in the room, one at a time. His face was weathered, lined, and serious as a stone. Martin felt a chill as their eyes met. He watched Ito blink slowly and take a deep breath before he spoke.
"Gentleman, we have discovered a way to bring people back from the dead."
The room was quiet. Ito's claim was processed in stunned silence.
Martin checked for his colleague's reactions, but the place looked like someone had just hit the "pause" button. Time to jump back a few frames:
"Back from the...dead?"
"Yes, Mr. Dial."
"You bring... dead people... back?"
The silence returned as Mr. Ito nodded. Humphreys' reading glasses looked like they were going to fall off the tip of his nose. Culper let out a snicker.
Martin felt his chuckle escape as he tried to maintain composure. "Mr. Ito, surely you don't expect us to believe you."
Ito waved his left hand ever so slightly. "I know. I know. You must think me mad. But I assure you, we have the technology and we are prepared to prove it."
"And who do you intend to bring back?" Martin asked.
"That I will leave up to you." Ito replied, reaching into his breast pocket. "Here is my card. Call me with a name and I will do exactly as I have said."
Humphreys stood with a nod that said that the meeting was over and shook Ito's hand with an enthusiastic double pump. "Thank you, sir, for bringing us this opportunity. We will contact you shortly."
Culper and Laxton stood dumbfounded and did their obligatory handshakes. Then it was Martin's turn. He had a million questions, but he knew Humphreys wanted to take the discussion offline.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dial." Ito said with a firm, confident grip. "Once I have dispelled your doubts, I'm hoping we can engage and bring this startup to life, as it were."
Martin was taken aback. The S.O.B has a sense of humor he thought as he watched the man leave.
Humphreys closed the big leather door with a smile. "OK, let me have it. What did you guys thinK?"
"Did you know I missed a round of golf to meet with your Dr. Frankenstein today?" Culper asked.
"Yes. Yes. I know this is quite unusual, Mr. Culper." Humphreys replied. "But let me assure you, this Ito fellow is no Charlatan."
"So you know him quite well, do you?" Laxton choffed. "Honestly Humphreys, I can't imagine why you wanted me here in the first place. You want us to bring Zombies Incorporated to the SEC? They'll have me disbarred!"
Humphreys was unphased. "And what about you, Martin? You're the dot-com skeptic that kept us out of trouble during the bubble. Do we walk away from this one, or do we reach for the brass ring?"
Martin looked around the room and lowered his head just a tiny bit. "All right, all right, let's just relax a second. There's a SCI-FI guy I used to read by the name of Arthur C. Clark. And his line used to be that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
"Well, what if? What if the friends of Mr. Ito have somehow stumbled on some technology like that? We could be walking away from the wealth of Solomon, my friends."
Culper scoffed, "So you want to take him up on it?"
"He wants a name, Culper. I say we give him one. And if the guy can't deliver, we write him off just like any other startup that doesn't cut the mustard."
"That settles it!" Humphreys brightened up. "Now, gentleman, who exactly do we want to bring back to life?"
Martin was the first to pipe up. "Ok, I'll bite. How about Abraham Lincoln? That would be a hat trick."
"They could hire an actor be the guy and we'd end up looking like dopes." said Culper. "Why don't we bring back a ballplayer? One of the great ones like Mickey Mantle. He's only been dead, what, 10 years maybe?"
"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Laxton groaned. "I mean, some nutcase comes in here claiming he can do the resurrection polka and you guys start tapping your feet!"
"So you don't care who we tell him to bring back then?" Humphreys asked.
"Certainly not! The dead should be left to rest."
"So you don't believe in life after death?"
"I believe good souls go to heaven, yes."
"So that essence of a person goes on, you say?"
"Yes, I believe that. Humphreys, what are you getting at?"
"Only that many people of different faiths have held the same beliefs as you since the dawn of man." Humphreys countered.
"We all want to believe in eternal life, even though we have little or no evidence that it is possible. And to that end, we'll really never really know if it is possible unless we have Mr. Ito bring back someone we know. Someone who died before their time. Someone... to whom we all owe a great deal of gratitude."
"Who are you talking about, Humphreys?"
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it, Martin? We should bring back the founder of this firm-- your late wife, Jennifer."