Wolfgang was restless. He squirmed in his seat and looked at José, amazed.
“If you happen to remember,” José continued, “Bahar wasn’t very comfortable with working for the Institute from the very first day. But we always disagreed with her, because we hoped our efforts would finally pay off after all these years. Bahar had done a lot of research into the Institute. She said: ʻWhen you search the Web for the M&T Institute, you can find thousands of good advertisements and short videos about their activities on the Internet and their website. They are active in every field and all of their projects are confidential.ʼ Through her online friends, Bahar was able to gain some information that proved the opposite of what we were told about the Institute and its activities.”
José was still talking when Wolfgang jumped forward and whispered to him furiously, “You mean Bahar talked about our plans with her online friends? My God! How naïve you are! I can’t believe it.”
“You speak as if Bahar and I are idiots,” José said. “They are people who have been exploited by such institutes and so they’ve decided to secretly pass on their information to people like us.”
“Don’t you think they might be spies?” Wolfgang asked.
“They don’t want anything from us and ask no questions. They just provide us with some information and answer our questions.”
Just then, the waiter came to their table. Wolfgang drank up his glass of water and said: “Sorry, I’m not hungry. Please bring me just some more water.”
José ordered his food and, after the waiter had walked away, he said: “Do you remember the first days we went to the research department? It was so huge with different corridors between the buildings that we often got lost and couldn’t find the way back to our own building.”
Wolfgang looked at him with an expression in his eyes that showed he was angry with José and Bahar.
“That’s obvious,” he interrupted José. “Everyone had that problem at first.”
“One day,” José continued, “when Bahar was going to her workplace, she got lost, and just as she realized her mistake she started to go back. On the way, she bumped into a middle-aged woman and the woman fell down. Bahar tried to help her. The woman was really scared. Then the woman grabbed hold of her and whispered in her ear: ‘Please distribute this information among people. Now, hurry up, get out of here quickly.’ Then she pointed to a door. Bahar heard footsteps coming closer to them. The woman shouted again: ‘Go and never look back. Hurry up!’ Bahar rushed to the door and got out. She said she was so scared she didn’t dare to look back. She just wanted to get away from that building and breathe some fresh air. That day, she couldn’t focus on her work and didn’t behave normally. I noticed it and asked her: ‘What’s the matter?’
She said: ‘I can’t talk now. Can you come to my home tonight?’
“I went to see her that night. I had hardly rang the bell when she opened the door. Her eyes were puffy — obviously from crying. She said: ‘José, come in and help me, for God’s sake.’ At first, I thought something bad had happened to her family, but later I realized she was afraid of something else. I comforted her so that she could tell me what had happened to her that morning. Actually, I was nervous, but I managed to stay cool. I asked her if she was wearing a lab coat when it happened.
“She answered: ‘No. What do you mean?’
“I thought for a little while and asked her: ‘Did the woman touch you?’
“She gave me a look and said: ‘It’s not a good time for joking. Of course she did. The poor woman fell down so badly and I helped her.’
“Soon Bahar understood what I meant. She went immediately to her room and came back with some clothes. She dropped them in front of me. We went over them crazily and even checked their seams, but couldn’t find anything. Suddenly Bahar threw them away, ran to her room brought her watch. She held it out and said that, when she had wanted to help her, the woman had held her wrist with the watch on it for a moment. I took the watch at once and looked at its back. And there it was: a chip! I took it off. We both looked at it in surprise.
“I said: ‘What are you waiting for? Bring the laptop.’ She hesitated and said: ‘We should be careful. We’d better view it on my father’s computer.’ So we went to her father’s study, put the chip in the computer and waited. Before long, the logo of M&T appeared on the screen. It was followed by beautiful pictures of farmlands and some ads about the Institute’s products.
“Bahar said: ‘You see, as always, everything’s great.’
“Just then we saw some pictures of a medical team in a conference room. They were talking about the high quality of their products. One of the doctors was explaining that they had chosen a hundred volunteers on whom they could do their tests for one year. He said they tested the subjects regularly to see how their bodies reacted to the transgenic food. Suddenly the video was cut. Bahar and I were staring at the monitor. I was about to remove the chip and turn off the computer when a low-quality image appeared again.
“Apparently it had been recorded in secret. The medical team we had seen in the previous video was now in a meeting, talking about the test results. Bahar pointed with excitement to the woman she had seen in the morning. She was one of the doctors in the meeting room and was talking about her test results. They called her Ms. Weinberg. She said she had achieved the same results and that was not what she expected. She said: ‘We can’t continue these tests any longer because the chances are very high they may develop severe diseases. We must stop the project at this point or their lives will be put at risk.’
“The head of the team said: ‘What the Institute wanted from us was to continue the project for one year and give their agricultural products to the volunteers to eat. However, hardly six months passed before the symptoms occurred in them. Unfortunately, five percent of the people in my group have experienced some symptoms of other illnesses too. And they will die of a mild cold if their immune system gets weak this quickly. So I agree with Dr. Weinberg: We should stop the project.’
“One of the other doctors said: ‘But, Dr. Sonne, there were some subjects in my group who showed no particular diseases. On the contrary, we’ve noticed a strange resistance in five percent of them, and the foods have had no harmful effects on their bodies.’
“Dr. Weinberg said: ‘I can’t help worrying about these people. They trusted us and don’t know that their lives are in danger. Sooner or later they will all catch some disease or other by consuming the foods whose DNA has been altered.’
“Those who agreed with the project protested: ‘Of course the Institute has taken these problems into consideration …’ While they were arguing, a man entered the conference room and everyone stood up out of respect when they saw him. He was tall and well-groomed and had a serious face. He sat on a predetermined chair and, without looking at anyone, said: ‘Good day!’ They all sat down and immediately put the test results in front of him. He surveyed the papers calmly and feigned a content look. Then he put his briefcase on the table, took some pills out of it, and said: ‘We have achieved the results we wanted. And the Institute is satisfied with your job. You can start the treatment today.’
“They all looked at each other. The head of the team, Dr. Sonne, said: ‘What kind of medicine is it? Have they done enough research on it?’
“The man said: ‘These pills strengthen the immune system and the patients will recover soon.’
“Dr. Sonne tried to look calm. He protested, ‘At the present time, five percent of people have caught some other diseases because of those foods. And I don’t think these pills can help them.’
“The man – nobody knew his name – said: ‘In comparison to the favorable results you have got, five percent isn’t so much. Of course we can give them medical support … By the way, we encourage you to do more research on those five percent whose immune system was resistant to our food products. I want you to separate them from their groups and do some tests on them in the laboratory and clinic of the Institute. We ought to know why their immune system is stronger than that of the others.’
“Dr. Weinberg interrupted him boldly: ‘Let’s first study the results of the project we set up.’
“The man said firmly, ‘There’s no need to study it and draw any conclusions. Everything is perfectly clear. You’ve done your job quite well so far, and now you must treat them with these drugs. That’s all. There’s no need to discuss it any further.’
“Ms. Weinberg said loudly: ‘Oh, really? You mean these crops have been manipulated genetically and the DNA of the seeds has been changed so that when people use them their immune system gets weaker and weaker and then they can use your expensive drugs to regain their health. And that’s all because of some greedy people like you who are just looking for money and profit. This isn’t ethical. This is shameful. This is against humanity.’ Then she looked at the other doctors, ‘We have sworn an oath to save the lives of people.’
“Dr. Sonne stood up. He wanted to calm Dr. Weinberg, but some guards came and took her away. And then the film was cut.
“Bahar and I were staring at the screen. We couldn’t yet believe what we had seen.
“I was dazed. I asked Bahar: ‘What should we do now?’
“She said: ‘Now, do you agree they’re dangerous? The Institute exploits geniuses and somehow misuses all the projects for its own benefits. As long as they work for the Institute it’s OK, but when the Institute thinks they know too much and might be dangerous, it will get rid of them.’
“Bahar fell silent. She made me think, too. Then she said: ‘José, will you promise me something?’ Before I could answer she added, ‘Let’s not talk about this with anyone, not even with Wolfgang. You know, if we tell him, he won’t believe it anyway and he’ll think we’re making up a story again. We must do something. Tomorrow, we’ll change the programs on R7 so that it can send its signals and information to us first, and when we’re sure that they don’t harm anyone, we’ll send them to the Institute.’
“Wolfgang, you can’t imagine how we felt then. I said: ‘Bahar, is it right if we don’t tell anybody? What if R7 becomes dangerous?’ And she said: ‘We’ll destroy it when it reaches that stage. We have no other options, José, because we can’t do anything with this film. We need more evidence and we must know what they want from the flying robot. I hope we’ll expose them one day.’”
Wolfgang was listening to José in disbelief. He drew a deep breath and said: “My goodness! You and Bahar were really brave to do what you did. I’m proud of you. Please forgive me for putting your lives at risk. I wish I hadn’t been so selfish. I should have listened to Bahar and never worked for them. But it’s rather late now. There are a lot of things that aren’t clear to me yet. I don’t know where to start. First, I wonder if you knew the mission of R7.”
“We knew,” José said, “that the research about migratory birds was just a pretext. They were looking for some other information which the six groups before us were unable to get, and now we were the seventh group and had to continue what they had left unfinished.”
“Did you manage to get all of R7’s messages?” Wolfgang asked in excitement.
Wolfgang moved his chair toward his friend. There was a gleam of joy in his eyes. “So, R7 is as smart as we thought, isn’t it?”
José smiled. “It’s unbelievable. R7 is even smarter than we thought, and it succeeded.”
Wolfgang remembered Bahar and a sad look appeared on his face. “I hoped we would celebrate this success with Bahar. I never thought we’d end up here. I’m so worried about Bahar. Haven’t you heard from her?”
“No,” José answered. “I think it’s better this way. She has a lot of online friends. They’ve made some groups and have decided to stand against these crimes and abuses and inform people about them. I know Bahar has sent them the information she has received from R7 so far, and I hope she herself is with them now.”
“You can’t imagine,” José continued, “how Bahar and I felt when we sent R7 onto the path the Institute had specified. We were anxious about it day and night. I followed R7 every day at the Institute and every night with Bahar. We knew that things were going to change sooner or later.”
“José,” Wolfgang said, “you mean R7 isn’t lost and is still active?”
Involuntarily Wolfgang thumped his fist on the table. “Yes, yes! That’s exactly what we wanted.” He took José’s hand. “We made it, we made it!” he said happily. “Has R7 discovered anything dangerous for people?”
José hesitated. “I don’t know how to tell you. If I hadn’t heard and seen its messages myself, I would say that they were all a hoax. At first, everything was normal and R7 followed the birds’ path according to plan. But all at once it changed its path and disappeared from the radars.”
“Yeah,” Wolfgang said, “I’ll never forget that day. I was in a panic and worried about R7.”
“We were all worried,” said José, “and we did our best to return R7 onto its right path. Bahar and I knew what had happened to those six teams before us, and so we tried even harder. But you saw that all our efforts were in vain. Remember, when we were at the Institute, everyone had lost their hope after searching for a couple of days. But after work, Bahar and I went home directly and sat in front of our monitor and radar and sent signals to R7 again and again. To be honest, I was tired, too. I felt pity for Bahar when I looked at her. She kept sending signals, just like a mother who doesn’t lose her hope until the last moment. I sat beside her and said: ‘Bahar, enough is enough, there’s no hope.’
“And she burst into tears and said: ‘José, please, let’s wait a few more days. I can feel R7 and I know it’s still there, we just can’t see it.’
“I hugged her and tried to comfort her. Sometimes I got tired of her being so stubborn, but I couldn’t leave her alone like that. Anyway, I didn’t have anything else to do. Every night we took turns and connected to R7 and waited. That night it was Bahar’s turn to rest. I was dozing when I heard a noise, and then a picture appeared which was kind of fuzzy and difficult to recognize. Slowly it became clearer. I was in a panic. I hurried to Bahar. I was too excited to talk, just took her hand and brought her to the computer. She was wide awake now. She looked at me and the monitor in utter confusion. She couldn’t see it. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked.
“I pointed to the monitor and said: ‘I guess we have received a message from R7.’
“She looked at the monitor again: ‘Are you sure? Maybe you were sleepy and just imagined things.’ While we were arguing Bahar heard a noise, too. Right away she put on the headphones and said: ‘From the nest to R7. Can you hear me? Describe your situation.’
“R7 heard her voice and sent a message: ‘I am in an unknown area for which I am not programmed. I am sending some photos from this location.’
“We couldn’t believe it. We were jumping with joy. You know Bahar, she starts dancing whenever she hears happy news. Then we sat down again and focused our thoughts. We couldn’t take our eyes off the monitor. It was not clear yet. Soon some pictures appeared.
“Bahar said: ‘Yes, yes, the pictures were received, but they’re not recognizable. Get closer to that place.’ R7 sent more pictures, one after another. We were surprised. It was as if R7 had gone to a fairyland. We could see a part of an old palace in there with some people who were walking around. The pictures were still blurry. R7 zoomed in on them and then we saw everything quite well.
“We saw people wearing strange clothes. Bahar said in wonder: ‘Wow! What do these pictures mean?’ I didn’t understand either, because the men and women were wearing traditional eastern costumes and the women had veils over their faces. And some people were riding horses.