Leap Of Faith
The professor repeated what he’d told Ellie earlier that day.
It was nearing midnight and a young team of scientists had assembled on the ground floor of a Computing Laboratory – one of their agreed meeting points in the Department of Engineering Science.
They kept the room dark. Desk lamps glowed around them offering a soft light.
There were four shadows in the room: Ellie, James, another student named Sara and the professor, who was standing perched against a desk while the others sat in front of him.
‘Inconclusive? What the hell does that mean?’ Sara asked, rising to her feet.
Sara Morgan, a charismatic biologist studying Chemistry at Keble, was prone to speaking her mind. She was often considered fiery by the professors who taught her (or ‘worked with her’ as she would put it).
James was more composed. ‘Are they questioning the validity of the research?’
‘Not exactly,’ the professor said softly. ‘The Board have… concerns. Look, guys, this happens more often than you might think.’ The professor tried to reassure them. ‘The funding required to take this project to the next level is extensive. The Board need to ensure that all areas are covered, that the very best in their chosen fields are assembled and consulted… That the right approach is taken and that the correct equipment, support and… expertise is in place.’
‘Bullshit!’ Sara erupted. ‘They can’t do this! This is ours!’
Her face was red with fury, the vein on her neck throbbing and defined. Her fists clenched.
The professor spoke calmly.
‘They can, they did and it’s done. I’m sorry.’ He knew what this meant to them.
‘Motherfuckers!’ Sara shouted at the floor, pacing up and down. The professor let it go. Sara’s temper was always going to struggle when dealing with this.
‘So what’s the next step?’ James asked, ignoring the sound of Sara kicking her chair in the background.
‘There isn’t a next step, not for a while. The funding is pulled. But I can assure you that all your names will be credited as key contributors to the research when it’s published.’
‘And when will that be?’ Sara asked, barely holding back the aggression from her voice.
‘Most likely in the next few years. It depends on the Muscular Dystrophy research. I hear significant progress is being made. Perhaps in a couple of years they’ll…’
‘Oh, come on,’ James interrupted. ‘It’ll go private. They’ll never get the funding to take this all the way. Some corporate American pharmaceutical will take this on and reap the rewards.’
The professor paused before speaking. He had to choose his words carefully.
‘Perhaps… not exactly like that, but in a way… yes, that’s possible.’
Sara slumped into her chair, the stages of acceptance were passing quickly and giving way to the sadness now showing in her eyes.
Whilst they had been waiting for the decision their minds had run riot. They had convinced themselves that only the very best outcome was possible.
Ellie sat waiting for her turn. Unlike the others she had been given the time to process what had happened. But it didn’t make it any easier; she had watched as they arrived beaming with hope and eager to hear the news. The disappointment was unbearable.
Ellie looked around the room, deciding it was time to speak.
‘Look, I don’t know about the rest of you but this isn’t over for me. I can’t just walk away.’ Everyone looked at her confused. ‘Look, we’ve started something, and it’s more than… this…’ Ellie rose to her feet. ‘This would be a cure to the human weakness. It would change life as we know it. How can we be expected to step back? Is it vain that I want to be part of this? I’ve given two years of my life… We’ve all given… We owe it to ourselves!’
James slouched in his wheelchair, his spirit broken.
‘What are you suggesting? It’s over.’
Ellie hesitated before continuing. She’d been thinking long and hard on the best way to broach this.
‘Well, what did they say? ‘Inconclusive’, right? Fine, then we take that on board. We take it to the next level ourselves.’
‘Animal testing?’ James frowned.
Sara glanced at him pitifully, muttering something inaudible under her breath.
Ellie tried to sound as confident as she could.
‘This isn’t about the money… Screw the funding! We have nearly everything we need already. We take it to human trials.’
The room fell silent. Ellie was uncertain even as she said it, but she had done it. She had put it out there. If anything she was convinced everyone else was thinking it too.
‘Who would be the test subjects?’ James asked, knowing the answer.
Ellie gestured to the team, palms open.
‘I can’t just walk away… and I’m surprised you can?’ She turned to the professor.
He had kept quiet, choosing to observe. Often a closed book, he was difficult to judge at times.
‘I understand that you’re angry,’ he said, speaking with a tone that was more forceful than usual. ‘I can’t deny that I’m disappointed too, but we need the funding and this needs to be research accredited to the University. We can’t go rogue. We need the support. This is too significant to act alone. The risks are…’
‘I’m in,’ Sara asserted, biting her nails as she spoke.
The professor recoiled. Shocked by the simplicity the team seemed to view this decision with. Considering the time they’d spent together over the past two years it was easy to forget they were so young and their immaturity at times took him off guard.
‘Me too,’ James said, turning to the professor for a reaction. He had begun putting on his coat.
‘I’m sorry, I cannot be part of this. What you’re suggesting… It isn’t safe. I’d lose my job, my career.’
‘You could oversee the project,’ Sara offered. ‘Make sure that everything was being done correctly. We’ll do whatever it takes.’
‘No,’ the professor replied, putting a scarf around his neck and checking the time on his watch.
‘But this is our chance!’ Ellie tried not to sound desperate. ‘You said yourself the amount of faith you put behind your science will reflect what you get out of it. This is our leap of faith. This is our moment. How can you say these things and then…’
‘Do not use my words against me, Ellie!’ the professor snapped. ‘I wouldn’t have got any of you involved in this if I thought it was dangerous.’ He seemed angered by the idea that the team were doing this under his guidance.
‘Let it go,’ he pleaded, lowering his head with almost a whisper.
‘We won’t,’ Sara spoke defiantly. ‘We can’t and you know that.’
The professor could see the determination in their eyes, the devotion. He’d seen it before.
‘You don’t know what you’re asking,’ he warned.
‘All we’re asking is that you trust us, Professor,’ Ellie pleaded.
They knew the truth just as he did. The history of pharmaceutical publications were rife with law suits and damage claims from scientists protesting that their research had been stolen or misused in some way. This would be no different.
The professor offered each of them a glance, acknowledging the sincerity in their eyes. He knew they wouldn’t let this go. How could they? Why should they? Of course they are right.
They were a young team and couldn’t help but be ambitious, but unlike them he knew what they were asking; the risks, the danger.
The project now verged at the pinnacle of two years in extensive planning; an Everest of research had been overcome. Their opportunity was now.
He needed time. Time to think, time to assess, time to weigh everything up, but there was none. If he didn’t agree tonight he may never see them again.
Was it too late to turn back? He had started this. He had put them in this situation. The responsibility bore down on him like a curse. They needed him. He couldn’t risk a side project led by a team of students spinning off out of control. No, he would have to see it through. And the risks? The risks would be the ante to a reward beyond comprehension.
The professor stood, rooted to the spot, muttering under his breath and privately debating. Eventually he nodded as if in agreement with himself.
Walking to the exit, he left the group awaiting his response. He opened the door and glanced down the corridor to check it was clear.
The professor looked back at the team he’d assembled, leaving an uncertain pause before he spoke.
‘Follow me. There’s something I need to show you.’
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David P. Philip