Betty sat in her office working on the evaluation report for prospective client BaryNucular Pharmaceuticals when she heard a strange chirping noise. After a few chirps, she realized it was the rarely used landline. “Who would be calling me on that old relic? Good thing I have a SilenTouch keyboard,” she thought. “I need to get this report done.” Her fingers danced on the keyboard as she answered with the hands-free set. “Betty Batter Buxholme and Bucolix,” she said. “This is Betty.”
The high-pitched whiny voice of Beekman Byrdkowski replied, “Hi, Betty, how are you?”
“Beeky Byrd,” Betty chirped. “How are you these days? Any new schemes for success?” Her fingers paused, then continued to dab and poke at the keyboard.
“Doubtless you heard about the Chinese lab that turns urine into brain cells?” Beeky said. “It was in Scientific American so you know it must be true. First, they isolate kidney cells out of urine. In less than two weeks, they can grow stem cells. In four weeks, they can turn these into neurons.”
Betty stopped typing. “That’s amazing. Are you thinking of gearing up a program to study neurogenetic diseases or autism spectrum disorders? Beeky, that could be huge.” She briefly thought about all of Beeky’s previous schemes as he sought her help in raising capital. “For once, I think you have a medically valid concept,” she said.
Beeky’s chuckle clucked in her ear. “Oh, I can’t be that ambitious all at once,” he said. “I have a plan for generating food for zombies.”
Betty laughed. “Zombies, indeed. Yes, I see, grow and harvest brain cells to keep your army of zombies fed.”
“Well, actually, you poison the cells and leave them outside to kill rampaging zombie mobs,” Beeky said.
“Ha ha,” said Betty. “Very witty. Now seriously, what can I do for you today?”
Beeky inhaled deeply and sighed. “Raise about twenty million for development, sterile bottle and filling, and marketing under the name ‘Zombie Zapper.’ There are ten zombie movies slated for release in 2013. We need to get ready.”
“Ten movies?” asked Betty. “Says who?”
Beeky sniffed. “Surely you keep tabs on the Zombie Zone News? IMDb lists twelve for 2013 release in the US, plus two more in 2014.” Beeky’s voice began to climb in pitch and urgency. “This will be huge, much bigger than global warming or the economy. This is about life as we know it.”
Betty rolled her eyes, glad that it was not a video conferencing call. “Beeky, we invest in biotech. You are talking entertainment, not our field at all.”
“Entertainment? You call rampaging hordes of zombies entertainment?” Beeky choked as he gasped for breath.
“It’s movie tie-ins, it’s entertainment,” Betty said. “None of this is real.”
“Then why is the CDC issuing videos to train medical personnel what to do during a zombie attack?”
“What?” asked Betty. “Oh, for heaven’s – that’s not true.”
“Is so. Look it up, it’s called Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic. I’ll wait.”
Betty spoke the title and her computer brought up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She stared at the site offering the government-sponsored training to prepare for a zombie apocalypse and thought, ‘My tax money!’ “Beeky, that’s not real. It’s a joke.”
“Your government spies on and renders its own citizens with impunity. It does not joke,” Beeky said. “And neither do I. You know what this means. It’s fact wrapped up to look like fiction to avoid panic. Yet when the panic comes, they can claim they gave us all fair warning.”
Betty moaned. “Okay, we have gotten far off the topic of isolating cells from urine and turning them into neurons. Are you collaborating with the Chinese group?”
“Not yet, I need to develop a serious proposal and line up some serious funding commitments. Think about it. All those neurodegenerative diseases together are a small patient population. Zombies affect us all, the whole seven billion people’s worth.”
“What will you use as the poison?” Betty asked. “Since zombies are already dead, what harm could poison do to them? How will you conduct the trials to demonstrate efficacy? Do zombies need to sign informed consent forms?”
There was silence from Beeky. Followed by more silence. Then he uttered something more fowl than birdlike. “Okay, okay,” he said finally. “I’ll focus on feeding your very own zombie army. Keeps the bad guys out of your yard.”
“Stick to those neurons and their medical uses,” Betty said. “Diseases like Parkinson’s need better options. Leave the zombies to Hollywood.” She pulled a kitchen timer off her desk and set it to one second. When the alarm went off, she said, “Oh, sorry, I need to go now. Good luck, Beeky.” She broke the connection quickly to avoid any awkward pleadings and goodbyes.
After a pause, Betty called another number. A voice said, “Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals, this is Rupert Madasheck.”
“Really? Are you mad as all that?”
“Betty, good to hear from you,” Rupert said. “How are things going at BBB and B?”
“Stranger than you think,” Betty said. She briefly described her conversation with Beekman and said, “I don’t think we will spend time trying to raise capital for him on this one.”
“Good plan,” said Rupert. “Those urine cells were transplanted into rat brains. Make sure you know those rats actually exist.”
“Of course they exist,” Betty said as she glanced at her monitor. “I see at least one other paper published a year ago from the same group.”
“Well, not to be overly cautious or anything,” Rupert said, “but there was already a recent report of misconduct. Apparently someone published work on cardiovascular disease in diabetic patients. Important stuff, and there were about ten papers over the last decade, all using a strain of mouse that never existed.”
Betty gasped. “Oh, Rupert! That’s terrible. It’s not anyone at Cappuccino, is it?”
“No, of course not. It was some university guy. Just not a smart thing to do.” Rupert tapped on a keyboard, then said, “Oh, yes, opera night tonight. Shall we meet at the Met? According to the calendar, they are doing a special fundraising performance of Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera.”
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