Landon sat at his desk, watching the sunset out the large corner windows. He had been working on the same legal documents for Chandler for a month straight, and he was starting to crave some variety. He looked around at his office. Tidy as usual, he had filing cabinets full of papers, each organized in his own personal system. He thought vaguely that maybe he should write down his system one of these days. If he just died at his desk no one would be able to find anything. Well, it was all on the server anyway.
He didn’t know why, but he felt the need to print out everything he worked on. Something about having a paper in his hands made it feel so much more real. Sometimes he thought he had just seen too much of technology. And things were always changing. File types, computer capabilities, software versions—if you didn’t keep up enough you’d be left useless. But a piece of paper was a piece of paper, and it would say the same thing no matter what the latest Mac looked like. He could fold up a document, stick it in his briefcase, take it to Shanghai, and be certain that no one had tampered with it in the meantime.
Maya thought he was a little paranoid. She was probably right.
The phone rang. His car was here. He sighed, got up, and grabbed his coat, wishing for a casual Friday. It was so hot these days.
He met with board members every Tuesday, but it was usually over Skype. He’d gotten an email last week inviting him to an in-person meeting this time. Someone from the board was going to be coming to the States and wanted to meet with him. They were so vague about the whole thing.
He thought as he got in the car, going to who knew what place. Maybe his paranoia stemmed from working at Wang Enterprises. Chandler loved a show. He loved smoke and mirrors, surprises. It could be a legal nightmare for Landon. Then again, it kept him in the job.
The car stopped and Landon looked out the window. He looked around, unsure of what to do. They had just pulled up to Wang Enterprise’s headquarters – the same building they had just left – except now they were at the back door of the building.
The driver got out and opened his door.
“Mr. Gartner,” he said respectfully, taking his briefcase and waiting for him to get out. Landon raised an eyebrow and got out.
“What’s up? All this just to go to the back of the building?” he said.
The driver gave him a small smile and simply shrugged. He escorted Landon inside, past the receptionist who bowed as he walked by, and through a glass door that led to some unused offices. But to Landon’s surprise, he walked right past them and to a door that he had never noticed before. It was the same color as the concrete wall, and apparently could only be opened with a key card. The driver swiped his and led Landon across a skywalk and into another building he didn’t know was attached to this one. But all that was there was a tiny room with nothing but an elevator door. Landon looked around and at the driver, who simply watched him quietly.
“I’ve got 911 on speed dial,” Landon said, only half joking, as he stepped into the elevator behind the driver.
The elevator had six floors with little white buttons next to each one. But to Landon’s surprise, the driver got out a plastic key and put it into a little slot underneath the floor numbers. He turned the key and the elevator doors closed.
Landon was reminded for a moment of a horror movie as they stood in silence in the elevator. It felt like they were going down, but it was hard to be sure.
“So who is it that I’m meeting with?” he asked the driver.
The man shook his head.
“I do not know, Mr. Gartner. A member of the board.”
Landon chewed on the inside of his cheek. Okay….
The elevator stopped rather abruptly. The doors opened to a dark hallway. Landon glanced at the driver.
“This is as far as I go,” said the man, shaking his head and shrugging.
Landon walked out and the driver immediately shut the elevator doors behind him. Landon couldn’t help the little gasp that escaped him. At the end of the hallway he could see light under a door. The elevator door behind him was key-operated only. There were no buttons at all. He took a deep breath and walked toward the door at the end of the hall, going over self-defense in his mind. Well, really all he knew was from one karate class when he was nine.
He was toast. Might as well go with dignity.
Landon reached the door and it opened for him. He winced a little at the light inside. It was so bright it hurt his eyes.
He squinted, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and started to make out a few things in the room. Long, thin tables stretched from wall to wall, and there were big tanks sitting on them. Everything was white. Or… his eyes started to adjust better and he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Water. The walls were made of water.
It was like standing in the middle of a huge fish tank. Landon stared around in awe. The light was nearly blinding, but it sparkled and bounced from wall to wall. There were even fish swimming in the walls, and there were panels separating sections of the room that seemed to be made of water as well. The table right in front of him was made of glass. As he watched, the glass seemed to melt into water, sparkling and fluid but still solid as a table should be. He stared and reached out a hand. The table was cold and smooth as glass.
“So I see you’ve found your way in.”
Landon spun at the voice, ready to karate chop.
“Welcome to Lab2O!”
Landon stared. Just a little shorter than him, his hair spiked in the middle, wearing a dark pinstripe suit. It was Chandler.
“Oh, come on!” Landon said. He felt weak in the knees.
Chandler was smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. “Come see my lab!”
Landon stopped. “Really, Chandler. Really! You could have just told me you were coming for a visit!”
Chandler was already walking past him, looking around the room with pride. “It would have ruined the effect,” he said simply, a wide grin on his face.
Landon rolled his eyes. “Well, good to see you, friend,” he said. “And you’re a ridiculous human being.”
Chandler laughed. “Just you wait,” he said. “You’ve seen nothing yet.”
Landon stood on his shaking legs, recovering, as Chandler walked around the room and started showing him things.
He had to admit, this place was… insane. It turned out the outside walls were aquariums and the panels were LED glass. They could go clear like normal glass, go dark to black out light, show pictures, or be turned into a screen for just about anything—video conferences, movies, slideshows….
“Video games,” Chandler said, grinning as he pulled up Command and Conquer on the screen.
He sat on a chair that looked like a watery bean bag and pulled out controllers.
Landon rolled his eyes again. “You’re a child.”
“You’re getting boring.”
Landon shrugged. “I’m trying to keep Wang Enterprises in business. And this place is not on the books.”
Chandler looked at him with guilty eyes. “It… it will be.”
He threw Landon a controller. Landon sighed and sat down. He forgot how much of his time in Shanghai had been spent humoring Chandler. Good thing he was so fond of the guy.
“You know Yuri would go nuts if he saw this place,” he said. “What is it for? Who approved it?”
“Oh, the board knows about it.” Chandler said, sounding a bit too aloof for Landon’s comfort. “I even have the proposal if you want to read it. I call it Lab2O.”
“I got that part.”
“This is where Wang Enterprises will go from a profit-driven, run-of-the-mill corporate sellout to a truly innovative, one-of-a-kind organization that will literally change the world. Everybody’s world. Not just the wealthy, not just the business guys, not just our employees. Oh, killed you already.”
Landon wasn’t even watching the game. He was staring at the room—the lab—around him. The place was enormous. Huge tanks of water lay everywhere, with futuristic looking machines unlike anything he had ever seen.
“This place looks like it cost a fortune.”
“It did,” Chandler said nonchalantly. “But trust me, it will make us a fortune. And it will put Wang Enterprises in the history books. On the cover!”
“What exactly are you planning on doing here? Do you even know anything about… science?”
Chandler laughed. “No. Nothing. But I’ve done my research. I’ve been researching this for years, in fact. Ever since…” he paused and his face went dark.
“For years,” Landon pressed, knowing what was coming and wanting desperately to avoid talking about it. About her.
Chandler blinked a couple times and seemed to come back. “Yes.” He paused. “Killed you again. You suck, Landon.”
“Chandler, this is really important. I’m worried and seriously considering reporting you to the board. Or the Better Business Bureau. Maybe also a psychiatrist.”
“Okay. Do you remember for a while back when I was traveling a lot?”
“You’re always traveling a lot.”
“Well, when I was traveling a lot and not telling anyone where I was going.”
Landon thought for a moment. He sighed. “Yes. I remember. Right after you recruited me back to Shanghai. I almost quit.”
Chandler gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
“I didn’t. So what were you doing?”
“I was… looking. I was in a dark place, Landon. The girls were getting older and Grace and I had tried and tried and just couldn’t have any more children. Girls. No son. I noticed a gray hair on me one day and panicked. I didn’t know what was going to happen to the company when I was gone. And Mr. Butler was getting so old…. And I started feeling a little… closed in.”
“I do remember that. You never said anything.”
“I did a lot of reading. And thinking. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about… about the son I would have had. And about her. And the life I thought I was going to have. I know, it’s silly. It had been what, fifteen years? But… it just all came back. And there was this book Ella read when we first came to Shanghai, Landon. Lost Horizon. You know, the one about Shangri-La, where the people are immortal and happy and there’s magic everywhere. I got this crazy idea in my head that maybe—just maybe—that’s where she was. She had found it.”
“I’m definitely calling a psychiatrist.”
“Hear me out. It gets better. So… I went looking. I wanted to find her more than anything. But you know I didn’t. I found something much, much better.”
Chandler grinned. “I found the next best thing to immortality. I found the secret to life. To keeping people alive—everywhere.”
Landon furrowed his brow. “What?”
Chandler stood up and started pacing down the aisles between tables.
“What is the most abundant resource in the world, becoming scarcer and scarcer all the time? What do people need more than anything to stay alive? What can never be duplicated?”
Landon paused. “Water.”
“Exactly.” Chandler was talking faster, getting excited. “But what if I told you that wasn’t true? What if I told you that water, like life—like trees, bacteria, animals, humans—can reproduce? Can replicate? What if I told you we could make water?”
“I would tell you you were crazy.”
“That’s what I thought. But I found it, Landon.”
“You found it.” Landon felt a little guilty for the dubious tone in his voice, but he was starting to worry that Chandler really was going nuts and he was going to have to pick up the pieces after this.
“There’s a place—a little town in the Kunyun Mountains—where it’s like life is turned on its head. Some of the craziest things you’ve ever seen. They almost never get sick. They live to their eighties. The moss glows in the dark. There are plants and fungi and animals that don’t make sense, even after you’ve seen them with your own eyes. And they have water, Landon. They have an unending supply of fresh, clean drinking water.”
Landon tilted his head. “Like an underground spring?”
“That’s what I thought. It’s just this hole in the ground. But it never goes dry and for all anyone knows it has no source. It’s just… there. Well, I took a vial of it back home and had it tested. They found some kind of bacteria they had never seen before. So I had them look into it. I started a lab back in Shanghai. I wrote up a proposal on it and I’ve just about convinced the board to believe me. They’re these bacteria, Landon. They take just about anything—plants, fungus, garbage, even the air—and can turn it into water. Landon, they can turn trash into water.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“No, I really can’t believe that, Chandler. If that were real you’d already have it to market.”
Chandler frowned. “There are some… kinks to work out. I don’t know the science behind it. I just know the bacteria I got didn’t last very long. They’re working on genetically modifying them to do the same thing in any environment. They really want to go back and get more samples and test them right there, in their natural environment. But I was sworn to secrecy about where I found the original bacteria, and I can’t go back on that. I can’t see those people turned into a tourist attraction. So I’ve gone back a few times to get more samples, but that’s all I can do. I really just have to sit back and let the scientists figure it out.” He paused. “They will. They’ll figure it out.”
Landon sighed. “How sure are you about this, Chandler?”
Chandler slapped a hand on the table. “Mr. Butler keeps asking me that, too. I’m sure. I’m just… this will work. Landon, just think about it. Think about how incredible it would be to give clean water to the world. We would save thousands of lives.” He gave him a little sly smile. “And we would make a killing.”
“You scare me, Chandler.”
“It’s good to be scared sometimes. It keeps us from growing complacent.”
Landon paused and considered him. “Okay,” he said. “Fine.”
“You’ll do this with me?”
Landon sighed and stood up. “I’ll do it.”