Mauricio kicked up his feet on the desk and leaned back. Using his cell phone, he turned up the volume on the new wireless speakers Orson Remington III had gifted him when FordTech and the Remington Center officially concluded H2F trials in Brazil, the final human trials for the novel drug. He closed his eyes and swam through myriad thoughts as soft rock music flooded the room. Pieces of his conversation with AJ, words of advice from Elisa, Charlie’s misgivings about Orson.
Stopping at this last thought, he recalled all the times Charlie had failed to conceal his dislike of Orson. Mauricio understood Charlie’s wariness about the man. Something about Orson rubbed him the wrong way as well. But he’d assumed that was just the stink of politics on Orson.
He’d been re-elected to parliament right before H2F trials commenced a year ago, mere weeks after the arrest of Agent Grobeck and the shutdown of SPI in the United States. Orson rode the wave of excitement around the mysterious new drug he claimed “could level the playing field between faders and regular people.” Mauricio was sure the energy around the development of H2F—which Orson missed no opportunity to emphasize his Center was partially funding and co-leading—factored into the MP’s popularity and successful reelection.
So it befuddled Mauricio that Charlie believed Orson lacked real interest in ensuring a successful rollout of H2F. Orson already had hinted he’d make a run for Prime Minister later this year if the incumbent resigned. Wouldn’t a disastrous rollout of a product connected to Orson harm his image and damage his chances of becoming Prime Minister? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to do as much as possible to make sure H2F was well-received?
Yet Mauricio knew Charlie’s concerns were not unfounded. After all, Orson hadn’t been seen in this office since the trials ended. The man seemed to be keeping a distance from the project now. This felt ominous to Mauricio.
He chewed on the pen cap and opened his eyes when the song ended. What does Orson know that Charlie and I don’t know?
A knock came at the door and, before he could respond, Charlie walked in wearing a frown that indicated his mood had worsened since yesterday’s news from Senator Abbott. Mauricio muted the music, capped the pen, dropped his feet to the floor, and sat up straight.
“That man is a fucking crook,” he exclaimed, his hands on his waist as though he’d run a mile. “He wants us to fail. I’m sure of it.”
“Orson you mean? You met with him?” Mauricio kept his voice low and monotone in an effort to calm Charlie.
“That’s exactly it. I can’t get a meeting with the asshole. Our whole project is exploding and he can’t take a minute out of his schedule to meet and game plan a strategy. Who publicly bankrolls a project, to the tune of over one hundred million dollars, and just decides to no longer give a shit about whether it succeeds or fails? Who does that?” He stared daggers at Mauricio. “My instincts told me not to trust that man from day one.”
“Charlie, why would he want us to fail? What could Orson possibly get out of that? It doesn’t make sense. Maybe he’s just busier than usual, given all the committees he’s taken on in the—”
“Fuck his committees and the parliament. He’s not too busy. I know how people in business operate, and when they pour this much money into something they don’t stand by and let it fail unless they want it to fail,” shouted Charlie. Pausing and rubbing his temples, he sat in the chair opposite Mauricio. “The fader kid in Chicago died, along with one of his remaining victims in ICU. We’re running out of time.”
The phone rang, and Mauricio saw Cornelius’ name on the caller id. Preparing for the worst, he pressed the speaker button and said, “Hello, Cornelius. Charlie is here with me.”
“Good. I won’t bore you with the unfortunate news from Chicago, as I’m sure you have already heard. However, I regret to inform you that the dominoes are falling fast. Chile and Peru have indicated they are going to cancel their agreement with us. Despite participating in the trials, South Africa plans to pull out of their agreement and, as you know, we were depending on them to convince other members of the African Union to consider a short-term agreement,” Cornelius said, not stopping to let them speak. “The good news is Orson believes he has a strong enough relationship with the business community in South Africa to potentially turn a corner there and keep them from pulling out.”
Charlie groaned. “Oh, so your dear brother does actually care about our little project? Good to know.”
“Charlie, I’m aware that you and my brother don’t see eye to eye on all matters related to the Harmony Project. You’re more interested in the origins of the faders than he is, for example. But do not mistake his lower level of engagement for disinterest. He has mounting obligations concerning other Remington Center projects as well as his role as a member of parliament.”
“Told you,” Mauricio whispered to Charlie.
Folding his arms across his chest, Charlie sneered and appeared unpersuaded.
“Is there any other update you have for us, Cornelius?” asked Mauricio.
“No. I simply want to emphasize that, although this is a difficult time, I believe we will get through this stronger.”
Charlie was on his feet now, his pale cheeks red and his eyes narrowed on the phone. “Do you know how this will spiral into chaos if we don’t find some solution fast? If we have to recall H2F for safety reasons, we’ll never be able to regain the trust of the general public. This is no time for flowery words. This is a time for action,” he said, gesticulating theatrically as though Cornelius could see him.
Silence filled the room, and Mauricio looked from Charlie to the phone. When neither spoke, Mauricio cleared his throat and said, “Cornelius, thanks for the update. Please keep us posted.”
Charlie pulled his phone from his pocket and frowned. “I have to take this. It’s Senator Abbott,” he said, groaning. Covering the phone’s receiver, he cast Mauricio a hard look. “It’s up to you to save this project, Mauricio. To help your people. Find someone. Fast.” He exited without another word.
Your people. So it’s all up to me to fix this mess and help faders? He wondered if Charlie could conceive of the weight of that burden. Charlie and Orson are the ones with all the power here anyway. Why is this all on me?
Shaking his head in exasperation, Mauricio turned the music on again and opened the drafts folder in his email. He stared at the resignation email he’d drafted a while back and wondered if it was time to hit send.