Nevermore

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By Jesse McKinnell

Dr. Alexander shuffles the paper sitting in front of him. Picking through the pack, he briefly looks at each page's contents before casting it aside. With every disposal, his open palm forcefully slaps the polished table, adding emphasis to his misery.

Undisturbed, Jordan remains anchored at the head of the conference room, in the seat of power, and smiles. Dr. Alexander sits to his left, surrounded by minions gleaming in their scrubbed white lab coats and studious horn-rimmed glasses. To his right is the operations team, all young and delightfully multicultural, dressed sharply in form fitting suits and tight black dresses purchased from Nordstrom after their quarterly bonus checks direct deposited. Matching Gucci shoes, a present to the team after the last successful launch, gleam under the table. Feet tap nervously while Dr. Alexander critiques their work in real time. 

The Doctor does nothing to hide his disdain. Grumbling to himself, he pauses occasionally to wave a paper in front of the face of one of the lab coats. Frustration renders all of his entreaties unintelligible. 

Jordan watches and smiles. This is the process, the push and pull between science and marketing. His ability to coordinate this complicated dance is the reason he was installed by the board to oversee GoodLife Pharmaceuticals. Under his leadership GoodLife's stock was up 20% in less than two years. Jordan tugs on his cuffs, pulling them past the sleeves of his $5,000 suit coat. One fourteen karat gold cufflink catches the light and twinkles brilliantly. 

Dr. Alexander lets out a particularly loud guffaw and hammers the table with two closed fists. A man of science with a wall full of diplomas from the world's most prestigious universities and institutions, yet anger has devolved him into an inarticulate primate. A slur or something resembling "GALOSHES" passes between his gnashing teeth and lips. The marketing team winces in unison. Jordan nods towards them and winks. 

Dr. Alexander finishes with the last page and pushes the clutter away from him into the middle of the table. "This is an outrage," he manages to sputter. "You people," he spits, "have no concept of...no appreciation for what we have accomplished. This is a breakthrough that will benefit millions of people. We're trying to change the course of humanity. What you are proposing is... it is... it's... an outrage." 

His tight little face has turned dark red. His weak chin shakes while striations stand out across his neck like an angry turtle as he struggles to articulate the rage of righteous convictions. Across the table, the marketing team stares at their hands waiting for the fury to dissipate. Dr. Alexander's gaze washes over them, coating their slick clothes in a meaty layer of greasy hate. 

With a deep breath, the Doctor tries to compose himself, clinging desperately to the last thread of professional restraint buried deep within the meat of his impressive brain. Moderating his tone, he continues, "We have put this to you quite simply in the memos, but it seems like you're still having trouble understanding. Perhaps we should prepare a full presentation." 

Jordan smiles. His thick white capped teeth glisten under the expensive LED lighting he had installed in all of the conference rooms. Meant to mimic sunlight, he swallowed the extra costs as one less excuse for people to leave the productive cocoon of the office. "The team has poured over your memos and we're all astounded by your invention. I think everyone has a good understanding of what you and your team have accomplished, but if you would like to summarize it again, that might be a good way to make sure we're all on the same page and kick off the back and forth."

A fire lights behind Dr. Alexander's eyes, pouring toxic smoke out of his nostrils in thick poisonous tendrils. The hate carried along by the centralized air-conditioning, wraps around the heads of his younger colleagues, probing all of the open orifices in their wrinkle-less faces, nestling over their hearts in tarry-black fear. 

"Fine then." Dr. Alexander stands up and moves to the head of the room, in front of the electronic whiteboard. Jordan cedes the floor to him, moving to the other end of the room. The Doctor hits the switch on the wall as the projector hums to life. With a sigh he picks up the stylus and moves in front of the glowing wall. In scratchy, jagged handwriting he scrawls NEVERMORE across the top and turns back to the crowd.

"Nevermore is the culmination of a life's work. My life's work. I conceived of this as a student back in my twenties, but it is only with the recent advancements made in mapping the human brain we have been able to break through the walls that have hindered me for decades." Dr. Alexander turns towards the audience, tracking how well he is holding their attention. He finds eyes on the ceiling, in laps, on cells phones, everywhere except on the board in the front of the room. Arteries fly wide open as blood flows up from his heart, pumped through his neck and into his cheeks. His turtle face - a mask of deep crimson violence.

Jordan squirms, his thick smile struggling and twitching like a freshly road-squished squirrel, as he watches the biggest brain in the room and the company's most valuable asset struggle to maintain composure. He runs his tongue across the expensive dentistry. The advice of thousands of business leaders flicker behind his eyes like an enormous pinwheel. A catalogue culled from endless podcasts, seminars and books with titles like, "Be The Best You: A Guide to Inspiring and Leading," and "Sales, Sales, Sales," and "Fuck It, You're the Boss Now: How to Relate to People," and "There is Good in the World and Other Lies: 12 Tried and True Methods to Convince Idiots of Anything." 

Jordan mentally thumbs through the rolodex, formulating a plan to flex his managerial muscles. Rapping one meticulously moisturized knuckle on the table, he pushes his chair back to stand and join Dr. Alexander at the front of the room. A show of solidarity and by-in any imaginary management guru would be proud of. He points towards the doctor's pixelated chicken scratch and pivots towards the rest of the room. "Guys, this is a big deal. A really big deal. We're on the verge of a breakthrough bigger than any cancer drug with a bigger commission multiple than Viagra." All the eyes had switched back to him when he knocked on the table, now he sees the lights flicker back on behind the pupils. 

Alexander nods approvingly and opens his mouth to continue his lecture about synapses and lobes and glands. Jordan cuts him off at the pass, "Doctor, let's not get bogged down in the science and other things most of us aren't smart enough to understand. Let's talk about how we bring your remarkable invention to the world. Let's talk about the market possibilities. I understand you have some thoughts?"

"Indeed I do," Alexander stammers. "I think, in fact, the commercial possibilities here are quite obvious."

Jordan's eyes widen and he nods with his chin forward. "Go on."

"Well, there is an epidemic in this country, in the world really. One that feeds on itself, rolling into a snowball of hatred and misery. Searching for a solution  has driven my research for these many years." Dr. Alexander pauses, searching the faces of his young colleagues for a sign of recognition or encouragement. Finding instead only his glassy image reflected back at him. "I'm speaking, of course, of sexual predation. Research has proven the awful compulsion to harm others or ourselves can almost always be traced backwards to some traumatic experience during childhood. Seeded deep inside, it festers in people for years before manifesting itself as the emulation of the very same behavior from which it was borne. Creating a vicious cycle humanity has never been able to break free from." 

Dr. Alexander traces a circle with his index fingers, starting together at the top and coming back together at the bottom. 

"Through precise and custom formulation, Nevermore, when taken orally as a pill, can target and eliminate specific memories or compulsions that result in anti-social behavior. Imagine, if you will, a world full of people free from the prisons their minds have created for them. With Nevermore, we finally break the cycle." Dr. Alexander's voice quivers on the last word, his eyes are soft and watery. 

"What we are talking about here, is the end of child molestation, sexual assault, murder, rage. We free people to just live. For humanity to move forward. To heal. To forget."

Jordan watches the performance with one palm tucked securely under his chin, his other hand supporting the opposite elbow. He nods thoughtfully. "What you and your team have accomplished, Dr. Alexander, cannot be understated. Without a doubt, you have changed the world. Stephen here has been working in parallel with your team for the past few months, in anticipation of this breakthrough, and I think he has some really exciting ideas on how to initially bring Nevermore to market. I know you've read the concept, but I think we should allow Stephen some time to explain his vision. Stephen, can you ..."

Stephen jumps up from his seat, straightens his tie and ambles eagerly towards the front of the room. The buttons from his designer, pin-striped suit twinkle under the lights as the soft soles on his Gucci shoes glide his thin frame in front of the projector. His lips peel back in a manufactured smile, revealing the same dental proclivities as Jordan. He runs one hand through the side of his beautiful salt and pepper hair and takes the stylus from Alexander's hand. "Thank you Doctor. This has been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I feel truly blessed to be part of the team."

"Stephen is the best marketing mind in this industry," Jordan interjects. "We pried him away from Pfizer, just to work on this."

"It's been an honor," Stephen continues, stepping in front of Dr. Alexander, forcing him to abdicate his space in control of the room. "It's been a tremendous team effort, but I think we have an idea, a big idea, on how to introduce the public to Nevermore. We're really excited." He steps further to the side, pushing Alexander to the fringes of the room and depresses a well-manicured thumb twice quickly on the button at the center of the stylus. The screen flickers then changes. A powerpoint with Goodlife Pharmaceutical's playfully colored logo splashes across the screen. 

"Imagine," Stephen starts, waving his hands in front of his face, chin tilted upwards, eyes fixed in faux-wonder on the spot where the wall meets the ceiling at the back of the room. "If you could see your favorite movie and TV shows, again, for the first time." His thumb works the stylus, flipping the slide. "Nevermore."