The Rain King


The beau­ti­ful new home for Cor­be­lient Sys­tems on the edge of Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park on the bor­der of Vir­ginia and Ten­nessee is “a cathe­dral to inno­va­tion.” It’s a tall met­al behe­moth that, when fin­ished, will be cov­ered in black glass, danc­ing with the reflec­tion of the near­by riv­er. The exact cost is unknown, but at least mil­lions of dol­lars were spent to turn the land that Fort Req­ui­site sat on for a hun­dred years into a world class research and devel­op­ment cen­ter for the new­ly formed Cor­be­lient Sys­tems. While the work being done there is top secret, the nev­er end­ed car­a­van of gov­ern­ment vehi­cles and pri­vate black cars lets the world know that some­thing big is hap­pen­ing. And the man at the top lets the world know that it’s only a mat­ter of time before that some­thing big will change it forever.

* * *

Mar­quis Cor­bel was born in Lille, France in 1969 to a wait­ress named Louisa. Nine months ear­li­er a Bel­gium gang­ster named Bruno had been hid­ing out in Lille and soon fell in love with Louisa. Yet, a very pub­lic mid­night shootout in Citadelle de Lille left Louisa to raise Mar­quis all on her own. Despite his family’s hard­ships, the young boy became inter­est­ed in chem­istry and physics, inter­ests that were nur­tured by local neigh­bor­hood characters.

There was Alvan, the ex-gov­ern­ment chemist, who was always bick­er­ing with the social­ist physi­cist Fran­cois. The two of them would fight from the sun’s dusk to the sun’s dawn. When Louisa and Mar­quis were forced out of their home, Pierre the Librar­i­an let them sleep in the library, where Mar­quis would reg­u­lar­ly fall into a lush world of imag­i­na­tion, with Pierre act­ing as his guide. Bryce and Aaron, the twin butch­er and bak­er, would pro­vide Mar­quis with a meal if he would recite sci­en­tif­ic facts. The entire town got behind Mar­quis, and he was a lov­able lit­tle scamp who was hit by a gov­ern­ment truck when he was 14.

The truck not only crushed his leg, but also his youth­ful vig­or. Mar­quis retreat­ed fur­ther into books and stud­ies. Some­times he would go on walks along the riv­er, but his limp made it dif­fi­cult for him. He nev­er had much use for friends. Yet, thanks to this curios­i­ty, per­sis­tence and his mother’s con­stant encour­age­ment, he gained entry into the Insti­tut Nation­al des Sci­ences Appliquées de Toulouse at the age of 18. In 1993, he was recruit­ed into the French Nation­al Cen­tre for Sci­en­tif­ic Research. It was here that Mar­quis made the first of his many impor­tant discoveries.

Mar­quis was part of a team tasked with help­ing sol­diers heal faster. While this endeav­or may sound altru­is­tic, the French gov­ern­ment was most­ly wor­ried about the ris­ing costs of health care. Mar­quis was the one who dis­cov­ered a rare pro­tein in a frog that could regen­er­ate its nerves very fast. While it could not do any­thing for ill­ness­es or bone breaks, it was the pre­cise rem­e­dy that could remove Mar­quis’ limp. Yet, he chose nev­er to take it him­self. He believed the limp was a reminder. “When the world is fixed,” says Mar­quis, “I will fix myself.”

* * *

In 2004, Cor­bel became dis­il­lu­sioned with the French gov­ern­ment and took a job work­ing for Flu­id Com­bine Indus­tries. While he was not chang­ing the world, he knew what FCI’s inter­ests were: mak­ing mon­ey from com­bin­ing flu­ids. Cor­bel was instru­men­tal in the Bone Enam­el Oil, made from deer bones for lubri­cat­ing rear axels on trucks. In 2009, FCI was bought by hPhar­ma and Mar­quis went to work cre­at­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals such as Sas­mox, a very effec­tive hair-growth pill. Final­ly, in 2010, Mar­quis moved over to TARK. Fol­low­ing TARK’s indict­ments for tax eva­sions, the com­pa­ny was restruc­tured and Mar­quis was made the lead researcher for the Future Prop­er­ties Lab.

Dur­ing this time, back in Lille, Mar­quis’ moth­er Louisa was hit by a gov­ern­ment truck and died. (In fact, the French dri­ver of the truck got out, scratched his head and said, in an Amer­i­can South­ern accent, “Paw, I done did it again!”) Mar­quis was unable to make it in time to her funer­al, need­ing to be in the US as the TARK restruc­tur­ing took place.

It was also dur­ing this peri­od that a cowork­er, Sal­adé Pan­tis, rebuffed his advances. All of this led to immense home­sick­ness, iso­la­tion and depres­sion for Mar­quis. Yet, despite all of his hard­ships, Mar­quis did as he always did and poured him­self into his work.

TARK’s heavy invest­ment in the own­er­ship and oper­a­tion of Super­Max Pris­ons led Cor­bel to devel­op Cor­bel­Loaf, a genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied food that tast­ed and smelled great, was per­fect­ly nutri­tion­al and effi­cient to feed to pris­on­ers. When Cor­bel pre­sent­ed his loaf to the board, they refused to bring it to mar­ket. They didn’t want the pris­on­ers fed or treat­ed well.

Cor­bel was furi­ous and began his exit from TARK. In a last ditch effort in the cafe­te­ria, he begged to Sal­adé Pan­tis to be with him. He informed her that he “want­ed her to be his ‘first’.” He was laughed out of the com­pa­ny. “This was a dark time,” says Cor­bel, “I lost my way in what my cause was. The rea­son that I left TARK was only because of myself. I allowed myself to focus on love. This was a folly.”

Yet, it was Cor­bel who would have the last laugh. Thanks to a lack of over­sight, Cor­bel was the sole inven­tor named on all of TARK’s patents for the four years of his employ­ment, dur­ing which time he devel­oped many of their key prod­ucts. Cor­bel took TARK to court and won, effec­tive­ly ruin­ing the company.

It was with his immense win­nings that he bought Fort Req­ui­site from the Unit­ed States Gov­ern­ment and begin con­struc­tion on the head­quar­ters for his new oper­a­tion: Cor­be­lient Systems.

Cor­bel stands in his office — or what will be his office once con­struc­tion is com­plete — in his trade­mark dark sil­ver suit and a pur­ple polo shirt com­plete­ly but­toned, two inch­es short­er than he should, thanks to his limp. He enjoys eat­ing Cor­bel­Loaf, which he has been hav­ing a small plant in near­by Abing­don, Vir­gina pro­duce. In fact, it’s all that he eats. It’s looks like a tube of grey cook­ie dough. He munch­es on it as he shows me around his new facil­i­ty. He calls it his “cathe­dral to innovation.”

“What we believe in is inno­va­tion, and only inno­va­tion.” says Cor­bel. “Every­thing here today will be gone tomor­row. We must always start anew.” Then he took me to one of the few areas that had been fin­ished, com­plete with a state-of-the-art secu­ri­ty sys­tem from a com­pa­ny that Cor­bel won’t dis­close. It is a sim­ple black pol­ished room with a long fish tank. In the mid­dle of the tank is a fil­ter, and probes on either side of the fil­ter run up to screens on the wall show­ing the puri­ty of the water. Cor­bel walks over and grabs a vial from a refrig­er­a­tor. He shows it to me: “Cholera.” As he pours the vial into the water, the puri­ty lev­els drop. The water becomes con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed. Then Cor­bel press­es a but­ton on the fil­ter and it buzzes to life.

And this buzz. This small whirring of tiny micro-motors with­in the fil­ter. This is the sound that prayer sounds like in this cathe­dral. The fil­ter is a mir­a­cle as the puri­ty lev­els rise and the con­t­a­m­i­nants are gone. Cor­bel explains that it removes con­t­a­m­i­nants from the water, breaks down the impu­ri­ties into indi­vid­ual mol­e­cules, and then dis­pers­es those mol­e­cules as harm­less par­ti­cles of air. I remark that it is genius.

Cor­bel turns and tells me that it is only what is nec­es­sary to save lives. “Genius would be find­ing a way not to ever need these at all,” laments Cor­bel as he takes a bite of his Cor­bel­Loaf. His plan is to begin installing these fil­ters in water sup­plies world­wide in the next four­teen months. By 2016, his plan is to have every­one in the world drink­ing clean water. It’s a mon­u­men­tal task, but for Cor­bel he sees no choice. For him, sav­ing the world is the only answer. ✦