by Gary A. Mitchell
"Hunter-gatherers?" said Maria Dillard, her fingers raking long blonde hair out of her eyes. She quickly returned her hand to the tablet she had set up on the table in front of her, stabbing at the flexible keyboard laid out beneath the screen.
"An analogy only, but it's appropriate," he said. "The scavenger cells are programmed with that behavioral model in mind. They transit the circulatory system hunting for cancerous cells, and when they find them, they devour them, using the targeted cells as fuel."
Maria considered the image that Dr. Quinton Reed, CEO of NanoGenics, had evoked. Her minor in anthropology conjured up an appropriate context--Native Americans hunting mammoths to extinction, Europeans slaughtering the last of the aurochs. A half-dozen other examples came to mind.
"What happens when the cancer is destroyed, when there is no more 'game' for your hunter-gatherers to prey upon?" she said.
She watched him steeple his long, thin fingers in front of his face. Everything about him was mirrored in his hands--in another phylum he might have been a stick insect. Hardly handsome, and the heavy odor of cigarette smoke made him repellent. Plus he had a reputation for not liking journalists.
"The same thing that happens to any organic construct that runs out of fuel. It ceases functioning, Miss Dillard."
"You mean they starve to death," she said.
"Starve?" A frown pushed his lips into a narrow arc. "Does a machine starve? That's a very charged word, and suggests certain moral judgments. The animal rights activists would have a field day with it. Hardly the position I'd expect Science Online to embrace. We're talking about the greatest advance in the history of medicine since the discovery of germs."
"I'm no animal rights activist, Doctor. I was merely following your analogy to its logical end. After all, your scavengers are organic, they replicate, have more processing power than this tablet I'm typing on, and communicate with each other. Those are quotes from the press release you've prepared and distributed. That certainly sounds to me like they're alive."
"And if those are the measures of life, Miss Dillard, then the Toyota factory in Huntsville is alive as well."
Maria allowed herself a small smile. "You needn't worry. Even if I wrote it, my editor wouldn't post it. This is too much of a coup for us to risk cutting off our access to the source. We want to be there with you from the beginning. In fact, I was chosen for this assignment specifically because I recently lost my mother to cancer. My boss thought that would make me inherently sympathetic to a story about a miracle cure."
An awkward silence settled into the room. Dr. Reed seemed genuinely touched by her comment. "With your assistance, perhaps we can ensure that such needless deaths never happen again."