James Preston shoved open the apartment building’s heavy oak door and stepped out into an icy wind that whipped the driving rain down the gloomy Boston street. His thin raincoat gave little protection from either the cold or the downpour. He huddled against the weather, thoroughly chilled… grinning like a total idiot.
After all, he’d just enjoyed about the most incredible first date ever!
It started with first meeting the incandescently beautiful Darlene, followed by their cozy dinner in which they discovered they had tons of stuff in common. They’d totally clicked. During intimate after-dinner drinks at her place, they even agreed to sync their Happy Chip data—an almost unheard-of practice on a first date. Even a date in which the very expensive dating service Happy Resonance had shown them to be a perfect match. And they’d discovered, to their delight, that each registered a stunningly high physiological reaction to the other. Their sex would be incredible!
It was awesome to feel so great after weeks of going through his crazy roller-coaster moods. He’d suffered the blackest funk one minute and a top-of-the-world elation the next. He’d guessed it was just all the crap at work, some run-ins with so-called friends, and worries over the date.
But now he almost skipped down the rain-slick steps, not even caring what the lean, dark-haired man standing at the curb with the umbrella thought. In fact, Preston decided maybe he’d ask the guy if he could borrow his umbrella and do the goofy, fun, Singin’-in-the-Rain dance from the old movie. He checked his watch. It was midnight, and the trains were still running. He decided he’d better just head for the entrance to the subway’s Green Line down the block. Maybe he would just do a little jig along the way.
He’d walked only a few hundred yards along the deserted block in the swirling deluge, when the pouring rain and the street were lit by headlights from a car approaching behind him. Maybe it was a taxi. Yeah, he should take a taxi. He was feeling too terrific to let the mood fade, getting soaked, waiting for a train, and coping with the drunks and rowdies and bums on subways at night.
A smile still on his face, he turned toward the headlights, and realized it was not a cab, but a van with a Parker Plumbing sign. The side door slid open, and he found himself staring at a muscular bald-shaven man crouched in the van and dressed in black.
Before he could say anything, a sound behind him—the whoosh of a closing umbrella—made him start to turn. But powerful hands gripped his head from behind, and a vicious, expert twist snapped his neck, killing him instantly. His mouth gaped open, his dead-glassy eyes wide with a remnant horror of his death, as the rain washed down his face in a final, tragic baptism.
Before his body could crumple to the ground, the killer grabbed him beneath his arms, and together with the man in black, they shoved him into the van.
The killer picked up the umbrella, quickly scanned the street, saw no witnesses who would also have to be dispatched, and climbed in.
“Go,” he said simply to the driver, and the van lurched away, winding through back streets for a dozen miles into an industrial area and to a warehouse where an overhead door slid up to admit it.
The driver, a muscular, sandy-haired mercenary with carefully groomed face stubble, slid out of the van and opened the back door.
Waiting for them with a gurney was Thomas Beale, a small, stooped man dressed in a blue plastic apron. He wore a surgical cap, a plastic face shield and blood-stained surgical gloves.
“Any problems?” Beale asked.
“Clean kill, clean extraction,” replied the driver cocking his head nonchalantly. The two other mercenaries in the back hefted Preston’s limp body onto the gurney and helped wheel the corpse into a large, clear, plastic tent awash in the glare of floodlights. They lifted the corpse onto a blood-encrusted stainless steel autopsy table. Nearby sat other smaller tables piled with scalpels, saws, and other surgical instruments, all clotted with dried blood.
The three mercenaries sat wearily down outside the tent on folding chairs, one lighting a cigarette.
“You need to do this fast,” the driver told Beale through the plastic wall. “By the time we get this one to the chopper, it will be three a.m. We have to finish the mission before dawn.”
“It’ll take whatever time it takes!” snapped Beale, quickly cutting away the corpse’s clothes, leaving Preston’s pale, fleshy body lying naked and inert under the light. “Besides, your mission’s not finished until you get all the subjects. That’s only nine. There’s one left… the Kelley woman.”
“Not our fuckin’ problem!” spat the driver. “That’s the recon team’s job, and you know goddamned well she’s disappeared. They say she hasn’t been to work in a week, hasn’t used credit cards, hasn’t seen any family, friends… fuckin’ gone. Somehow, she must have known some of the other subjects, and found out about the loony behaviors, the suicides.”
Beale made an annoyed face behind the blood-spattered plastic shield, but said nothing. He picked up a small box with a glowing screen and carefully began to scan Preston’s body, scrutinizing the display.
“She’s probably dead, anyway,” he mumbled distractedly. He stopped his scan at Preston’s chest. “Shit!” he exclaimed to himself. “The chip lodged in the heart. Why couldn’t it be in a damned extremity!”
“What do you mean she’s probably dead?” The driver parted the plastic, taking care to stay clear of any blood spatter. “You mean she killed herself? What’s with the subjects committing suicide, anyway?”
“Above your pay grade,” said Beale, still scanning the chest.
“So, is there a fuckin’ suicide chip inside me? In them?” he demanded, pointing at the other two men.
“Not to worry, soldier. It’s not the same chip,” said Beale tersely.
“Why should I believe you?”
“Because I’m the goddamned director of research for NeoHappy, and I know what chips we’ve put in people!”
“And you know we mercenaries carry big damned guns and know how to use them, right?”
Beale straightened up and glared at the driver. “Okay, I’m impressed. I’ll need help. Suit up. I’ve got to crack his chest.”
“Oh, hell, no!” said the driver, looking over at the other two expectantly.
They both shrugged, and the mercenary who had murdered Preston said, “Dude, you’re team leader. We did the kill, the extraction. We moved the body.”
Their argument was interrupted by the whine of a surgical saw, which lowered in pitch as Beale forced the saw down to slice into Preston’s breast bone.
Beale looked up from his task, snapping, “Okay, you want out of here on schedule, you got to get a little messy.”
The driver muttered a curse, quickly donned the same garb as Beale, and pushed his way into the plastic tent. He smelled the cloying metallic-fleshy odor of blood, but he was used to that smell.
He took up a rib spreader and jammed it into the gaping incision in the corpse’s chest, ratcheting it open. With the dull snap of cracking ribs, the incision into the chest cavity widened to reveal Preston’s inert, pale yellow heart.
Beale scanned the small box over the heart and nodded his head. “Yeah, the chip’s there.”
Taking up a scalpel, he quickly sliced through the arteries feeding the heart and lifted the organ out of the corpse’s blood-filled chest, dropping it into a tray beside the table. Again, he used the scanner on the excised heart, now only a lump of dead muscle.
“Yup, got it.” He dropped the heart into a plastic bag. Marked it with Preston’s name and pitched it into a cooler, onto a pile of similar flesh-filled bags.
“Let’s get him wrapped,” said Beale, and he and the driver quickly slid a body bag under the corpse, enveloped it, and zipped up the bag.
The other mercenaries had rolled the gurney into place and they quickly loaded the body into the van.
• • •
The Black Hawk helicopter was already spinning up its rotors, whipping the icy rain into a furious gale, when the van rolled up to its open passenger bay door. The two mercenaries hauled Preston’s plastic-shrouded body out of the van and dumped it onto a pile of other body bags in the helicopter. They climbed in, followed by the driver, who’d parked the van near the helicopter’s hangar.
Its door slid shut, and the helicopter roared into the onyx-black sky, its landing lights flashing, and swooped out over the storm-roiled waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The three men donned headsets and settled in, lounging casually against the pile of body bags. One bag shifted slightly, and the nearest man shoved it back into place.
“How far?” asked one. “This ain’t exactly the most comfortable ride.”
“I want to get well into the offshore currents.”
“Hell, that’ll take an hour!” shouted the other man.”
“Yeah, well, the currents will keep the bodies from washing onshore, and we got hungry friends out there. Great Whites.”
The other two settled into a bored sulk, one folding his arms for a nap on the body bags, until the leader slipped into a harness, clipped its safety line to a ring in the ceiling, and directed the others to do the same.
They heaved open the hovering helicopter’s metal door, and rolled the nearest body to the edge. The leader raised a hand to stop their progress and hauled out a shotgun, waving the other two away. He leveled the gun at the body bag. A thunderous shotgun blast rang in their ears, even over the noise of the storm and the helicopter.
“Helps them sink. Attracts the sharks,” shouted the leader, motioning for the others to roll the shredded, bloody bag out the door, watching it flutter down the beam of the helicopter’s searchlight into the surging sea. Eight more times shotgun-blasted bags rolled out the door, until, despite the whipping wind, the helicopter bay was filled with the organic stench of dead flesh.
Finally, they hauled up buckets of seawater, sluicing down the floor to rinse away remnants of blood and tissue, and slammed the door shut.
“Bleach the shit out of this copter when we get back,” instructed the leader, giving another command to the pilot through the headset. The helicopter surged forward into a swooping turn in the pitch-dark toward the mainland.
Brad Davis nearly collided with a matronly woman, as he walked into the glass-domed atrium lobby of the NeoHappy, Inc. headquarters. He’d been staring up at the massive, transparent globe suspended high in the three-story space, the morning light shining through it from the skylights.
The glimmering sphere was studded with long, winding filaments and pierced with apertures connecting to a maze of glass pipes and chambers. Electronic circuitry jammed the globe’s interior, surrounding the chambers. A profusion of twinkling lights traced what were probably the pathways of electrons through the circuitry. The effect was of a massive, high-tech Christmas tree ornament.
So that’s what a Happy Chip looks like enormously magnified, he thought. Millions and millions of people had the actual chips, each the size of a cell, injected into them. He’d studied photomicrographs of the chip when he’d explored the NeoHappy web site, but this sculpture really revealed what an amazing technical achievement the nanochip was.
And just maybe he’d get a chance to write the biography of the scientific virtuoso who invented it! He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, tired from a day reading up on the company, cramming for the interview. Unfortunately, contacts irritated his eyes, so he wore rimless glasses, which made him look like more of a geek than he really was, even given his sallow complexion, skinny frame, and somewhat out-of-control mop of reddish hair.
He announced himself to the stocky, rather intimidating receptionist sitting beneath the giant sculpture. She actually looked like a female wrestler, he thought. He wondered whether even this hulking woman ever got nervous, with the massive structure looming overhead. Seemingly at ease, though, she checked the schedule and peered at him with slightly narrowed eyes, saying with some mild reproof, “I have you down for half an hour from now. Is that correct?”
“Uh… well… I am a little early. I’ll just sit and wait.” His premature arrival made him look overeager, but he was eager. He noticed that the woman glanced with some unspoken signal at a hulking blue-blazered guard, who regarded him with a stern, perhaps even suspicious, stare. The atrium contained a cadre of such guards, who patrolled the long gallery.
This company employed some serious security, unlike the many other high-tech firms Brad had visited in researching his articles. He wondered why. After about twenty-five minutes, the guard approached him.
“Sir, you can go up now. You can sign in at the desk.” The security man escorted him to the elevator, using a key card to access the top-floor executive offices.
As he rode up with Brad, the man stood feet-apart, hands folded in front of him, staring impassively and silently straight ahead. A bulge in his jacket told Brad the guard wore a shoulder holster.
The doors opened into a thickly carpeted foyer, where a trim, middle-aged woman sat behind a chrome-and-glass desk. Her desk sign read Irene Crawford, and lettered on the cherry paneling above her was the NeoHappy slogan, “Knowledge for the Best Life You Can Live.”
The guard disappeared back into the elevator, and the woman said cheerily, “Mr. Davis, if you don’t mind, Marty is running a little behind. Can you wait a moment? Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Soft drink?”
Brad declined, fearing he would manage to spill something, he was so jittery about the meeting. He settled into one of the foyer’s leather armchairs and tried to calm himself by taking the time to check his bank account on his smartphone. But that act was far from calming. The corporate PR guy still hadn’t deposited the damned payment for the CEO’s speech he’d ghosted. He needed the money. Annie wouldn’t get her paycheck until next week, and there were overdue bills.
“Hi, I’m Marty,” said a voice startling him. He jammed the phone into his coat pocket, looking up to see that famous, smiling, boyish face that had become nearly ubiquitous on TV and the web. He struggled to his feet and shook the hand that was offered.
“Brad Davis,” he answered back, realizing that his coat and tie made him embarrassingly overdressed compared to the khakis, polo shirt, and sneakers that Fallon wore.
“C’mon in. I’m sure Jenny offered you something to drink. You sure you don’t want anything? I’m having a vitamin water.”
Again Brad declined, following the slightly built, multi-billionaire techno-genius into a huge office strewn with papers, computer stations, and electronic parts. One wall held massive display screens, and another was covered by a shelf full of models of the company’s products. He recognized some, particularly the implantable clinical blood analyzer that had launched the company.
But what surprised Brad, and slightly intimidated him, was that the office also held three other people, all holding tablet computers in front of them, sitting around a large conference table.
This interview would be something of a grilling, he realized with trepidation. The three stood and introduced themselves: Mindy Carroll, a perky, animated young woman who headed corporate communications; John McClellan, the towering, balding company lawyer; and Clair Roberson, a bright-eyed, long-haired, twenty-something, who was Mindy’s assistant. He only knew Carroll through the emails they had exchanged when she’d queried him about writing the biography.
“I’ve read your books, your articles. Really liked them,” said Fallon, gesturing for Brad to sit at the head of the table and settling into one of the chairs, leaning back and propping his feet on the chair beside him. He took up a tablet computer, sliding his finger across the screen, flipping through what Brad recognized as a collection of his magazine and web pieces.
“Well, thanks,” said Brad.
“I like your biography of the Harvard biologist… Melville. And the book on gene therapy. And the pieces for Scientific American and the New York Times Magazine. And I see from your resume you’ve done corporate writing.”
“Speeches and so forth. Freelancers need to take all kinds of jobs to stay solvent.”
“And I see you’re born and bred in Boston.”
“My mom calls me a Green Line baby,” said Brad, referring to the Boston trolley lines that extend westward from downtown. “Born at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Grew up in Brookline. My folks lived there until they moved to California. Went to college and learned science writing at Boston University. Heck, I first met my future wife at a performance of the Newton Community Theater. She was in the cast and I met her at the cast party. And our two daughters were born at Brigham. Now we live in Newton.” And willed himself to shut the hell up. He was rattling… and rattled.
“Yeah, one of my kids was born at Brigham,” said Fallon. He continued flipping through documents screens on the tablet. “Wow! Two tours in Afghanistan,” he said.
Now Brad became less loquacious. “Yes, out of high school.” A silence settled on the room. Brad didn’t talk about the experience, other than to acknowledge it. He could only share details with Annie. She’d done two tours as an Army ER nurse in a forward surgical team in Afghanistan. So, only she could fully understand the soul-shaking experience. It was one of many bonds between them.
Fallon seemed to sense his reluctance to talk. “Well, thank you for your service,” he said.
Brad nodded, saying nothing.
Fallon set down the tablet, took his feet off the chair and leaned forward. “So, what do you think about the project?” He gave Brad a disarmingly intense look.
Brad had read about Fallon’s signature style—seemingly offhanded, but then zeroing in on a target to try to rattle them. He knew the tactic because he used a version of it in hostile interviews, to poke the interviewee to see what new facts would spill out.
“Well, it sounds really exciting, from what Mindy has told me,” he said, recovering from the mention of his service.
Fallon leaned forward even more. “So, why should you write my biography?”
“Because I’m good.” Now they were on a topic Brad was confident about. He was a good writer.
Fallon laughed at Brad’s boast, thankfully not thinking it arrogant. “Okay, well, what if I said it’s too early for me to write my memoir?”
Now Brad clicked into his freelancer’s sell-the-assignment mode, another comfortable place for a writer/pitchman.
“I’d say it should be the first of several memoirs—not the memoir.” Brad leaned forward, grinning. In addition to persuading this famous billionaire that the book should be written, he wanted to show him that this writer had done his research. “Y’know, the whole world wants to know your story. How you started grad work at MIT in nanofluidics, nanoelectronics, and molecular engineering. How you founded your company to build nanomachines at twenty-five. Then built your first nanofluidic analyzer. And how you then bet everything you had on the Happy Chip. And how you went round and round with the FDA about approval. I read the transcripts of the review hearings. And finally, how the chip just went viral. Y’know, by the time the book comes out, most everybody will be chipped.”
Mindy chimed in. “Marty did have his doubts about the project,” she said to Brad. “He’s modest. But our Executive Vice President, Lawrence Lundgren, convinced him it’s critical to the company. And to getting his position out there, given the critics of the chip and the controversy it caused before it was finally accepted.”
“Are you chipped?” Asked Fallon abruptly. Brad took it as a sign that he’d passed whatever initial test Fallon had been giving him.
“Well… no… haven’t had the money or time to—”
“If you decide to take on the project, we’ll chip you as part of the deal. And we’ll pay for the app and Happy Ratings subscription, of course. We’re all chipped here. Then you’ll be able to see for yourself how… well… happy everybody is with their chips.”
One phrase riveted Brad’s attention: “If you decide to take on the project…” It triggered his internal assignment detector! Every poverty-stricken freelancer had one, and it pretty reliably detected whether an editor was about to hand out a paying assignment. Until Fallon had uttered that phrase, Brad thought he was just one of many being interviewed for the gig!
“Well, sure, that would be terrific,” he replied, trying to stay cool. Now Fallon had managed to rattle him, even beyond his initial jitters.
“Okay, then,” said Fallon. “Let’s just spend a little time making sure we’re compatible. Then if we are, Mindy and John can work out contractual details.”
Brad tried to tamp down his growing excitement. He took a deep breath to settle himself. He needed to ask a key question, without seeming too money-grubbing.
“Well, I do need to ask about one detail that’s kind of important. The writing fee.”
Brad determined not to let the lure of the project and Fallon’s charisma divert him from his prime objective of thickening the thin financial ice he and his wife Annie were skating on. For too long Annie had been the chief breadwinner, with her nurse’s salary and benefits. She had been more than tolerant of his love of the journalistic juggling act of freelancing—pitching editors, investigating and writing fascinating science stories; and unfortunately of waiting and waiting for payment. She understood his excitement at watching geneticists pinpoint a lethal cancer gene, or tracking jaguars with conservationists in Central America. But it was a financially precarious profession and brought no benefits.
“Ah, yes, the financial consideration,” said Fallon, leaning back in his chair.
“Writing a book will take at least a year, probably more,” declared Brad. “It’s a time I almost certainly won’t be doing any other projects.”
Mindy tapped on her tablet screen, consulted the result and gave an answer. “I did research on the standard fees for a book like this. I talked to Lawrence…”
Brad steeled himself for the news that he would have to spend at least a year with little income.
Mindy continued. “… Fees run a max of two dollars a word. But Lawrence insisted that we make it really worth your while. And, he pointed out we would expect your complete commitment. So, we’ll give four dollars a word. Plus expenses, of course.”
Awesome! thought Brad. He struggled to keep himself from leaping up and dancing around the room. “And what length do you think?” He switched on his mental freelance income calculator.
“Oh, we’re thinking a hundred thousand words…”
Brad’s mental calculator melted! He tried to focus on the rest of what she was saying, but Four hundred thousand dollars! His shock meant that at first he didn’t grasp the import of Carroll’s recitation of the payment schedule.
“… a hundred thousand on signing, another two hundred when you deliver a satisfactory manuscript, and the last hundred when it’s published…”
A hundred thousand dollars up front! Brad wondered whether hugging the woman would be out of line. He wondered whether he should try to hug this Lundgren guy when he met him.
“… and the fee’s a guarantee against half the royalties.”
The last word boosted his excitement even more. Royalties! This wouldn’t be just a work-for-hire project! He’d also be a co-author on the book contract, and the book would likely be a bestseller! And a movie!
“So, you okay with that?” asked Fallon.
“Uh… well… sure… that would be fine,” Brad choked out.
McClellan the lawyer chimed in. “I’ll have a contract drawn up. You’ll want your agent or lawyer to check it over, of course. And there will be a standard non-disclosure agreement. You’ll also be party to the contract with the publisher, when the bidding is over. I should mention that Marty’s giving his share of the advance and his royalties to charity.”
Brad restrained himself from declaring that his favorite charity would be the Brad Davis Family Trust for Solvency-at-Last!
“So, let’s take a walk, show you the place, have some lunch,” said Fallon, standing and heading toward the door. Brad barely had time to shoo the dollar signs from his mind and follow.
• • •
As Fallon led Brad through the main corridor of the sprawling chip fabrication plant, Fallon recited the mouth-filling technical term with a prideful smile: “Nanofluidic electrodynamic opto-biosensor.” No doubt he had said it countless times before, but it was his shining technical achievement. He explained the term. “That’s what the ‘neo’ in NeoHappy stands for. It’s initials. But you knew that, right?”
He stopped so they could peer through the corridor’s windows into fluorescent-lit, ultraclean rooms bustling with workers shrouded in pristine white suits, masks, and caps. Some technicians stood over the beige consoles of complex nanofabrication machines, intently manipulating the controls. Others peered through microscopes examining the nanofluidic chips.
“Sure, I knew that,” said Brad. “I spent quite a bit of time on your web site. But I find it’s always good to hear information from the original source.” His voice was slightly muffled, because he and Fallon both wore masks and the other clean-room garb, even though they wouldn’t be entering the labs.
“Okay, so, then you know that ‘nanofluidic’ means the chip contains infinitesimal pumps and chambers for circulating blood plasma into the sensors. ‘Electrodynamic’ means that the whole chip is powered by electricity generated by the flexing of a crystal as the blood flows past it. It’s called the piezoelectric effect. And ‘opto-biosensor’ means the chip has sensors made of tiny lasers and biological circuits to detect and measure the blood hormones.”
He continued down the corridor to the next clean room. “Here’s where we fabricate the brains of the chip… synthetic biological analyzers made of self-assembling proteins that process those measurements and sends them to a smartphone. The chip has a very cool graphene nano-antenna for transmitting, since the signals otherwise wouldn’t penetrate to the surface. Once the chip is injected into somebody, the nano-antenna unfurls and self-directs itself toward the skin surface.”
“Tell me about the idea for the Happy Chip,” said Brad, as they strolled to the next labs. “Where did you get it? Why do you think it’s important? How did it make you feel?”
These questions were a subtle test of Fallon’s willingness to open up. He and Fallon were already an hour into the tour, and so far Fallon’s talk had been overwhelmingly technical. He had enthusiastically spouted details of the machines and the fabrication processes.
But if Brad was to write this biography, he really needed to know whether Fallon would let him probe beyond the enthusiastic engineer, into the personal history and thoughts of this man whose story he was hired to tell. He was remembering a fellow science writer who’d had to return a badly needed advance, because the scientist refused to reveal his innermost thoughts.
Fallon’s answer was only somewhat reassuring. “Yeah, I get you,” he said, waving his hand deprecatingly. “You’ll want the inside stuff. The personal stuff. We’ll get to that. I’m a private guy, though, so I won’t be real comfortable with it, I warn you.”
Shortly, they shed their isolation suits and were sitting in the spacious atrium of the employees’ cafeteria, with trays of food, and surrounded by workers having lunch. There were a few suits and ties, but the people’s garb mostly reflected Fallon’s casual style.
Fallon leaned forward, talking eagerly, as he ate his sandwich, periodically waving to passing workers as they greeted him.
“Okay, well, I got the idea for the Happy Chip when I was fiddling on my laptop one day, looking for something on Amazon. A book, I think. I suddenly realized everybody collects and analyzes data about us. Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, banks, marketers… everybody knows what we like, except us!”
He waved the sandwich in the air, dislodging a bit of lettuce. “I wondered why couldn’t people collect their own data about themselves, to help them really measure what they like, what they don’t like. So, I thought, ‘I’ve got this nanoscale technology that can measure chemicals in the body, so why not hormones?’ Hormone levels reflect how happy or sad or excited we are. So that was the start.”
“And you ran with the idea?”
“Well, only walked at first.” Fallon chuckled. “I went and talked with our engineers. I talked to a whole bunch of medical types. They all said we couldn’t possibly measure hormone levels in real time. I talked to computer people. They said that getting that much data from a nanochip to a computer was a humongous problem. They all said it wasn’t possible.” He smiled and shook his head.
“I decided they were wrong. So, I put everything we had into developing the Happy Chip. It had to measure and transmit data on all the relevant hormones—cortisol, adrenaline, testosterone, oxytocin, leptin, thyroid, estrogen, dopamine—all of them. Once we actually had a working prototype, that’s when my engineers got all excited and started percolating ideas. We were working for days on end. My wife threatened to send in guards to drag me home to sleep. But the engineers were going nuts. They said, ‘Hell, how about measuring blood pressure, heart rate and temperature?’ So, we added all those measurements. We built them all into the chip. And we had physiologists figure out what we could do with the data—how we could give people a precise measure of how they felt.”
“But that was just data.”
“Right. Raw data doesn’t help anybody. We needed an app to process it and make it useful for people. That’s where Gregor Kalinsky came in. He’s a software genius. Some said ‘That Russian is crazy, and don’t go anywhere near him.’ Others said he’s shady as hell, which he is. And you never know whether he’ll agree to help you or throw you out a window. But he’s crazy-smart. So, I went to see him and didn’t get thrown out a window. We put him together with the engineers and the medical people, and he came up with the Happy App.”
“That’s the one on your smartphone that interprets the data?”
“Yup, you’ll love it! The chip has a short-range Bluetooth wireless connection to the phone. The app crunches the raw data and gives you a real-time personal measure of how much you like or don’t like something. So, for example, you scan the bar code on a bottle of beer you’re going to drink. You drink it, and the app gives you a score of how much you liked it, based on how much it tweaks your hormones and heart rate, and so forth. And as you try different beers, it scores which one really gives you the most pleasure. And the same goes for other products… songs, restaurants, even people, jobs, apartments… anything at all.”
Brad smiled to himself in some relief. This guy would be easy to work with! He was no self-important, egotistic CEO. And he had that what-the-hell attitude that made for a fascinating character. Brad could foresee a fun, productive year interviewing Fallon, exploring the company, and writing Marty’s biography.
He continued the test, quipping, “As they say in the commercials, ‘But wait, there’s more!’ Right?”
“Oh, yeah, baby,” said Fallon, high-fiving a passing employee. “Then we created the Happy Ratings service. The app draws data from the Happy Ratings database of people’s physiological reactions to thousands of products and services, and it suggests what others might make you happier. Like a beer you haven’t tried or a movie you didn’t know about. And even people who aren’t chipped can subscribe to Happy Ratings. It’s so far beyond other ratings services… like Consumer Reports on steroids. It’s really become the best true measure of what people like and don’t like… better than any survey or review.”
“How many people are chipped now, and how many Happy Ratings subscribers?”
“I’d say over a hundred million chipped worldwide, and maybe half a billion subscribers to the database.”
“Wow, I had no idea.”
Fallon leaned back, his smile becoming puckish. “Um… now on a more personal note, I’m sure you’ve heard of the chip’s Intimate Pleasures feature.”
“Uh… yeah… but I was a little reluctant to talk about—”
But Fallon wasn’t reluctant. He continued. “Two people can sync their chips, so each can measure how much they like the other. It breaks down barriers between people. Hey, and if they have sex, they can measure just how much the other really enjoys a position, or a toy, or a sexy piece of clothes. When that came out, this dating service, Happy Resonance, licensed the technology. Jeez, they’ve already got hundreds of thousands of subscribers.”
“I read on the web site that the personal uses have gone beyond sex.”
“Yeah, all the media went nuts over the Intimate Pleasures feature. But last year, we started working with therapists. They’re using the chip to improve treatment for depression and other mood disorders. For example, the chip tells them exactly how depressed a patient is, or how fearful. The therapist uses that to prescribe a better therapy! And the weight-loss people are using the chip to monitor hormone levels to help people stay on their diets. They can track hormones that govern hunger and fat storage and make it easier for people to lose weight. Cool, huh?”
Now, Brad had to find out how Fallon would react when he got poked a bit. “Yeah, that’s the good stuff. But I also read that the feds went after you over privacy concerns.”
“We took care of those.” Fallon waved his hand dismissively, but smiling. “You know that Kalinsky’s company is also expert on data security. So, we got his people to create security systems that keep individual data absolutely private. So the user can choose to delete the real-time readings on his device, to store them in the cloud, and/or let them feed into the anonymous Happy Ratings database. Those cloud servers use the same firewalls and security protection that the military uses. The ratings data are totally anonymized. We couldn’t get hold of a particular Joe Six-Pack’s data even if we wanted to. In fact, we invited white-hat hackers to try and breach the system. Nobody’s done it yet!”
“But sticking a chip in people. It’s invasive.” It was yet another poke at Fallon, this one more provocative.
“We solved that, too,” said Fallon, still smiling tolerantly. He likely knew he was being tested. “I’ll give you the clinical studies we submitted to the FDA. Only after we did tons of animal studies did we go into human clinical trials. The animal studies showed that the chip has no effect on the body. It’s nearly invisible to the immune system, like some viruses. But we did an even better job than nature. Our chip is enveloped in a fatty lipid layer, which our guys developed. Once the chip’s injected, it just sticks benignly to an arterial wall somewhere in the body and stays there.”
“Okay, all this discussion is great, but you know I’ll want lots more details. And I need to emphasize that this is your biography, not a science book, so you’ll have to really open up to me. And I’ll want access to the people who’ve influenced your life. And, of course, access to facilities and background information on the company.”
“Yeah, I understand. I’ve had a pretty boring personal life, but you can talk to people about it. And this was only a quick look at our stuff,” said Fallon, finishing the last bite of his sandwich and standing up, grinning and sticking out a hand, which Brad shook. “You’ll get it all, maybe more than you want. But I’m convinced you’re the one to write my story.”