William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Six

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Hammermill continued the tour where the human resources girl left off.  He drove Adam in a golf cart from one end of the complex to the other, stopping finally at a large concrete and glass building with Snack Happy written in simple block letters over the door.

“Your offices are upstairs,” he said, using his ID badge to open the door.  “The badges have chips inside them which will open any areas you’re coded for.  In your case that’s all of this facility and most of the other buildings.  You had your picture taken?”

“Yes.” Adam nodded.

“Then they’ll probably have your badge here in an hour or so.”  He led him down a wide corridor to another door.  Inside were workstations arranged in a pod surrounded by lab tables where about a dozen technicians were at work.  “Let’s do the rest of the tour and the niceties later so we can get to it.”

“Who’s the team leader?” Adam asked.

“You are.” Hammermill led him to a smaller room in the back.  “This is Dr. Westlake,” he said, as a young Asian man rose from the desk.

Westlake introduced himself.  “I’ve read your papers; I look forward to working with you.”

“Let’s get to it,” said Hammermill.  “Show him, Pete.”

Westlake moved to the keyboard and a moment later a large molecule appeared on a wide screen monitor on the wall before them.  Adam moved closer.  “Can you rotate it?”

Westlake hit a single key and the molecule began to spin slowly on its vertical axis.  “Let’s bring Denise in here,” he said.  Hammermill nodded and Westlake spoke quietly into a phone.

“It’s synthetic fat,” Adam noted, admiring the molecule.  “Human bodies can’t metabolize it.  Last summer in San Francisco, I ate three big bags of chips made with that stuff.  Next day I’m riding the cable car and the stuff is dripping out of my anus.”

Westlake looked up at Hammermill who said nothing.  “It’s FDA approved and many of the side effects have been dealt with.  But three bags of chips is excessive.  The salt alone could have stopped your heart.”

Adam stared at the molecule.

The door opened and a thin woman in her mid-forties came in, carrying a folder.

“This is Denise Rosen,” Westlake announced.  “She directs our animal testing department.”

Adam shuffled over to shake her hand.

“Show him the spike,” Hammermill said.

“OK.”  Westlake began keying in a series of commands.  “What I’m doing, Adam, is focusing in on a segment of the molecule near the center.  We’re 3-D here; it’s not apparent when you look at the surface of the molecule but if you move in a bit, now look just below the horizontal axis.”  He enlarged the segment of the molecule until it filled the screen. “We’ve bonded this to the macromolecule but it’s only stable for about seventeen minutes and only below forty degrees.”

“That’s where you come in,” Hammermill added.

Adam stared at the purple mass.  “Can you tag the structural components?”

Westlake nodded and the atomic symbols for the individual molecules were displayed on the screen.

Adam read quietly.  He had seen something like this before.  “Is it synthetic?”

Westlake stared at him.  “If it was natural, it wouldn’t have a shelf-life of seventeen minutes and degrade at forty degrees.”

Adam ignored the rebuke and searched his memory, realizing where he had seen something like this.  “The base is psychoactive,” he said.  “It’s Ascomycota, right, a natural fungus.  It’s a kind of ergot.  And then you have a hydrogen cyanide cap.  The French used something like this in the 70’s to treat schizophrenia, but it was discontinued because it caused gangrene and the gangrene made it impossible for the patients to truly appreciate the auditory hallucinations that the ergot provided.”  He moved closer to the screen.  “Stop the rotation, invert it, please, and flatten it.”

Westlake keyed in his request.  “The ergot is deactivated.  We modified it to remove the psychoactive properties.”

“Then you have some sort of synthetic nicotine here near the tail.”  Adam pointed to the bottom of the screen.  “And you want this in a cookie?”

Denise Rosen opened her folder.  “If we can stabilize the molecule, and,” she paused, “deal with the remaining issues, we’ll have a powerful flavoring agent that will produce a lingering appeal.”

“Yes,” Adam laughed.  “I’m guessing lingering appeal is our little Snack Happy way of saying addictive.  This will be addictive and mildly psychoactive, right?”

“As is chocolate,” she shot back.

“Chocolate doesn’t make you hear voices in your head,”Adam said, “and it doesn’t interfere with blood circulation.”

“And neither will this,” Hammermill interrupted, “when you are through with it.  Most synthetic flavoring is mildly addictive, Adam, you know that.”

“Not this addictive.”

“Come on.  You have a Happy Meal when you’re a kid and thirty years later you’re still coming back for more fries.”

Adam nodded. “So you want kids addicted to snack cakes?  You’re going to have a lot of fat kids.”

“Synthetic fat,” Westlake reminded him.  “It won’t absorb.  Don’t forget your cable car ride.”

“You said you were doing live trials,” Adam said to Denise Rosen.

“Yes,” she answered, leafing through her folder.  “I brought you a full summary.  We’ve done nineteen generations of Drosophila testing with no mutations or significant side effects.”

“The molecule is too big for fruit flies,” Adam told her.  “They don’t have enough surface area in their stomachs.  You know that so you moved to mice trials.”



“And we had some complications.”

“They miscarried,” he said softly, almost a whisper.

She nodded again.

“So you have your work cut out for you,” Hammermill said.


Written by williamdoonan

October 27, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

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