At 9:10 PM, Dr. Gerald Martinez died. The hospital machinery around him, though the most technologically advanced in the tri-state area, could not have alerted anyone to his condition. His pulse became erratic but did not stop, his breathing halted temporarily after a sharp inhale but eventually resumed, his brain waves changed phenomenologically but were not interrupted. Dr. Martinez’s death was not a physical thing; the whispering, wind-whipped candle at his core had been quickly, cruelly snuffed, leaving only acrid smoke.
Martinez had always wanted more than surgery. He was a good surgeon with steady hands, intuitive skill, and a drive to attempt tricky procedures. In the operating room he saved one life at a time; a good high but one that had lost a considerable amount of potency since his first hit. Martinez craved more. More leadership, responsibility, excitement, and – though he’d never admit it to anyone but himself – power. He used his charm and reputation to pressure his superiors into creating a new research program.
Martinez considered pharmaceuticals the Great Satan, an unnatural interloper into human chemistry, but one necessitated by a lack of knowledge about human genes. Gene therapy, unlike drugs, was natural and permanent. A chronic condition could be reversed with gene therapy and free a patient from a lifetime of drug cocktails, discomfort, and poverty. He wanted to be the surgeon who pushed these treatments to the forefront.
Despite his disdain for Big Pharma and everything that breathed its tainted air, the man in Martinez’s office at 5:52 PM earlier that day – the one who promised to make Martinez’s dreams a reality through limitless funding – was a yuppie drug rep with a hipster haircut and a Target suit. How could someone so low on the totem pole have access to such funds? Connections, was all the rep said.
All Martinez had to do was sign an agreement stating he would attempt to enroll all his patients suffering from traumatic brain injury into trials of a new drug called CerebAll and the rep would get everything in place. Reviving the cortex after TBI was something Martinez’s miracle therapy could never do. It seemed like a sensible partnership. Martinez shook the rep’s hand and got back to work, though something about the conversation seemed off. Sinister. Like Martinez was tainted and dirty.
At 8:39 PM, Martinez received a call that his daughter had been in a bicycle accident. She had been struck by a van and dragged 18 feet. She was in surgery two states over.
At 9:07 PM, Sofia Martinez was medically induced into coma to prevent further cortical damage. Her father was notified.
At 9:10, Martinez saw the pamphlet on his cluttered desk: CerebAll, for treating TBI. CerebAll floods the cortex with healing neurotransmitters, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid. Clinical trials currently enrolling.
At 9:10 Martinez understood. The unfamiliar, handsome rep. His impossible connections. Martinez had made a deal.
Martinez’s mother told him the devil walked the earth. Martinez disagreed until 9:10 PM.