Martin didn't like to announce himself when he entered a room, but Mr. Humphreys insisted on such protocol ever since a stealthy underling had once startled him into his first stroke.
"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."