Newton’s Second Law — Gravitation
by Jules Mills
Part One – The phenomenon of attraction.
A few minutes before midnight, Dr. Wilson pulled the Jeep Wrangler into the gravel drive of her weathered cottage on the Southern Connecticut shore. She yawned, a long, hearty yawn, and removed her driving glasses and placed them in the visor pocket. The front light had been left on for her, illuminating the slate walkway to the front door. She punched her entry code into the access pad by the door, but it refused to release the lock. “Friggin’, fraggin’ techno piece of shit,” she sputtered as she tried again. The door clicked, indicating that the lock had finally succumbed.
She stepped into the house, depositing both her briefcase and her shoes haphazardly next to a neatly arranged pair of black, cloth Converse hightops. The house was very dark, and all Grace could hear was the jingle of the black dog as she climbed off the forbidden couch and waggled over to her roommate, offering an official greeting.
Grace rubbed the silky head and snout as she discarded her suit jacket onto a chair and meandered into the kitchen, hoping to find something to eat, having skipped both lunch and dinner. As was usually the case, the house was immaculate, everything stowed away in its designated cubby. She opened the refrigerator in hopes of finding remnants of the dinner she had missed but found no promising containers. “Well, shit. That’s what you get for being late again,” she told herself.
Knowing her roommate, the one without hair all over her body, she had probably made some succulent seafood dish that would have melted on her tongue and burst with flavor. This was the fifth night in a row she had stayed at the Center past nine-thirty. Dr. Barbara Buchler, the Biomedical Research Chairwoman for Yale, had placed her in charge of the Cancer Research Center, and Grace had spent all week trying to establish a budget and technical projections for the facility.
She washed her hand to remove the dog slobber and made a peanut-butter-and-Bacos sandwich, which she ate standing at the counter. When she was finished, she washed it down with a tall glass of chocolate milk.
With the warmth and reassurance of food in her belly, she silently moved to the bedroom, where she hoped her roommate would provide a different kind of warmth. She removed her tailored blouse and slacks, then her brassiere and bikini briefs, and finally her socks. She gently lifted the blankets to slip under the covers and inch closer to the curvy silhouette of her lanky lover.
Silver light sneaked into the room through the edge of the shades, allowing Grace to see that the sleeping figure was on her side, facing away from the door. She slipped under the cool sheets and let her hands roam and explore the warm body that had created the luscious outline.
“Gabrielle, I mean it, you have to go now–my girlfriend will be home soon,” a sleepy voice sighed.
“Your girlfriend. I didn’t know you had one. Is she dangerous?” A whisper and a kiss on the shoulder blade.
“Nah, but she does bite.”
“Like this?” A nip to the shoulder.
“Oh, yeah. Just like that.” Dana rolled over to face her tardy amorous partner and gave her a serious look. “You’re very late.” A peck on the mouth. “Ummm, again.”
“Am I too late?” Another kiss.
“I ate your dinner, and in terms of the lesson you’ve been begging me to give you, you’re too damned late for that too.”
The young face pouted, but then an idea twinkled a green eye. “No way we can strike a deal?” She kissed the base of the long neck. A lick, a suck, and then lightly grazing teeth. “I’ll even let you call me Gabrielle.”
A jet-black eyebrow shot up, and then the tall nano tech silently answered by rolling her lover onto her back and placing her body on top. Grace slid the inside of her thighs along the outside of the long thighs that pinned her to the mattress. Dana was resting on her elbows, her long, dark hair cascading from her head into the face of her favorite doctor. Slowly she lowered her head to kiss the soft, parted lips below her, capturing the top lip and drawing it between hers.
“Mmmm, Gabrielle, you kiss almost as well as my lover,” she whispered and then broke and began to chuckle. Grace’s lips pressed against the strong point of her chin, then moved slowly down to the base of her neck, where she could feel the pulsing of her heart. She felt her dark-headed companion shudder from her hot breath and touch, and she smiled. Her mouth worked its way around to Dana’s ear. When she reached it, she let her tongue brush the entrance, and then she lightly nibbled an earlobe.
“What about my lesson?”
A shudder and goosebumps covered her lover’s back and arms from the sound of the low voice. Meanwhile, hands had worked their way to aching breasts and hard nipples. They gently caressed, kneaded, and tugged out a few small gasps. Blue eyes that looked silver in the moonlight glazed over in pleasure. “Now?” the brunette labored to answer.
“Um, yes, now,” came the whisper.
Strong hands were gripping the sheets by the blonde’s head.
“Okay,” she moaned and rolled off to her back away from the attention. “God, you’re cruel.”
Grace was grinning and snickering. She rolled up onto her side and pushed her lover’s white T-shirt up past her belly button. She ran her hand along the scarred belly, lightly tracing the scars, the one from this year’s stabbing still pink, others many years old and pale. She let her fingers rest on the newest one, received four months before when Dana had been attacked for an unknown reason by someone powerful enough to have a deadly nanovirus at their disposal.
The two women rarely spoke much about who the attackers could be, but Dana had the government as the primary suspect, and possibly someone with whom she had once worked. But she was not sure why they had injected her with the Beta virus that ended up almost killing her, destroying her original kidneys. She suspected that they were the same people who had cloned her skin cells and placed them under a murdered woman’s fingernails. What they had expected to accomplish with either feat was still a mystery.
Grace chewed her lip, making little circles with her fingers on her lover’s smooth belly. She thought about the two hidden scars on Dana’s back, from the double kidney transplant. Modern medicine had performed its miracle, first the cloning of her organs and then the physical exchange. But Dana had been home from the hospital for only two months. She was beginning to regain some of the weight she had lost, but she still tired easily.
Dana grabbed the young doctor’s hand just before it slipped under the elastic waistband of her sleep shorts and withdrew it.
“Lesson first,” she corrected and climbed out of bed. Thank God the water’s cold, she thought to herself, and stretched her muscles.
Grace rolled out her side and pulled on a pair of gray sweats and an ancient, faded blue college T-shirt. She took a quick trip to the linen closet to grab a few towels and an old blanket. Dana came over and grabbed the bulky blanket, laying it over her own shoulder.
“Come on, Rip,” she said to the dog that was again sleeping on the end of the couch. A blue-black head popped up at the mention of her name, and she sprang to the floor. She led her friends through the back door and down to the sandy beach.
The waves of the Atlantic Ocean, formerly the Long Island Sound, beat rhythmically against the beach. The full moon cast shimmering light onto the two forms, who carefully laid out the blanket. Grace dropped the towels onto the blanket and then removed her sweats and shirt. Dana tossed a piece of driftwood into the water, and Rip sprinted after it, hopping over the crashing waves and splashing up a frothy path.
Dana watched the ocean come to her, leave, then rush back.
“You’re not too tired?” Grace said to the wide-shouldered back.
Dana turned to the doctor.
“Because if you are, we can skip–”
“–I’m fine,” she answered and grinned at the beauty before her. “But if you’re chickening out….”
Eyes squinted back at the challenge.
“And the water is really cold,” she said pointedly and walked to the blanket. She slipped out of her shorts and baggy shirt, revealing an endomorphic body just beginning to regain muscle mass. She held out her hand to Grace, who accepted, and walked her to the edge of the water. “Best bet is to dive right in,” she suggested.
“I’ll wade…you go ahead.”
Cold water struck their feet, then receded with their breath. Rip sloshed over to them and shook the water from her coat all over them as she dropped the piece of wood at Dana’s feet. Grace reached for the plank, but Rip barked at her, startling her.
“What’s her problem?” she asked Dana, who was bending to retrieve the stick from the sand.
“She doesn’t think you throw it far enough.” She flung the stick out into the water.
Grace scrunched up her face in distaste. “She thinks I’m a wimp.”
A crooked smile. “She accepts your shortcomings. Now for that swimming lesson,” Dana said, picking up the smaller woman and hefting her onto her shoulder. It would have been impossible a few weeks earlier, but the vitamins and exercise were doing wonders for reshaping the flaccid muscles atrophied by her illness. She waded into waist-high water and then lowered the clinging, naked woman down into the frigid water.
Grace clung to her like a kitten, pressing her breasts and pelvis tightly against the taller woman not out of passion or even the ice-cold water but out of fear. Grace could not swim in the ocean. At first Dana found this ironic, considering where Grace had purchased her house. But as she learned more about Grace, she understood it was a personal challenge she had put herself up to.
“Relax, I’m here,” Dana said soothingly, her arms around the curving waist and very, very much enjoying the contact. Saltwater rose and fell against their bodies. Rip dog-paddled by, kerplunking her way with each stroke and offering a doggy snort.
“Quit showing off, you bitch!” Grace grumbled.
“Now come on, loosen your hold a bit, or I’m going to take you under with me.”
Slowly the blonde began to relax, straightening her legs until soft, mushy sand squished between her toes. Dana did not let her eyes or hands move from the frightened pupil.
“First thing is that you need to become one with the water.”
Grace rolled her eyes. “That’s stu–” and then a large swell crashed into her, tugging her off her feet and under the murky water. After the initial mind-chilling hit of cold water, panic consumed her, and she tried to scream. Then she was yanked out of the darkness and terror.
choking, she pushed Dana away, angry and embarrassed, and began to trudge to shore.
“Get your perfect little ass back here,” Dana said in a low, strong voice to the retreating figure.
“That was mean what you did.”
“Mean how?” Grace continued to walk against the tide. “You don’t think I commanded the ocean to do that?”
Grace turned around. “No, but you knew that wave was coming. And you know I’m scared of…of….”
“My arms were around you the whole time. Besides, you can stand up here–all you had to do was put your feet down. It’s no different than in the bathtub.”
The frightened woman did not budge.
“Look, you won’t be able to sail with me if you can’t swim.”
Grace’s face grew grim. “I can swim, just not in this water.”
“Water is water, Grace, a highly dipolar molecule made up of two hydrogens and an oxygen. This stuff just happens to have a little salt added for taste.”
“And the ability to kill twenty million people.”
A pause. “You can’t sail with me unless you learn how to swim,” Dana repeated but wondered if she was being too tough. Millions of people had grown up with a fear of water after the Big Wave had wiped out many of the East Coast cities that were not buffered by some land mass. Millions of years earlier, the last Ice Age had left a long glacial deposit, subsequently named Long Island, off the Connecticut shoreline. This land mass had disappeared altogether when the enormous wave hit. Now the Connecticut shore was no longer protected from the corrosive energy of the ocean, which was why the waves pounded the beach so heavily.
“I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.” She held out her hand to her rigid friend. It took a moment for Grace to accept, and when she took the proffered hand, she was pulled into the naked body of her best friend. If anyone could keep her safe from harm, Dana could.
Dana spent the next hour teaching her pupil how to tread water and then how to swim–well, sort of swim–with the waves. With each new skill picked up by the bright woman, her confidence grew.
Dana was standing chest-deep in the water, tossing the stick for the dog, who swam quickly to retrieve it.
“So, who is Gabrielle?”
“Huh? What?” A glimpse of recollection. She chuckled. Could Grace actually think there really was someone else? “No one, it’s just a name that popped into my head.”
“Oh,” Grace replied, not believing her. The water was cold, and she felt herself begin to shiver. “I know several Gabrielles. Seems like everyone was naming their daughter that in the late ’90s.”
“I’ve never met any.”
“Yeah, right.” She picked her feet up and tried to breast-stroke a few meters farther away without thinking about fish or crabs or tidal waves.
“I would never lie to you, especially about another woman,” Dana said, intensely serious.
Grace turned and swam back toward her. “But you do know a Gabrielle–or did. I can tell from your eyes.”
Dana squinted at the approaching swimmer, her arms crossed over her exposed upper body.
“Who was she?”
Dana rolled her neck and stared at the water surrounding her. “She wasn’t a ‘who’; she was more like a ‘what.'”
“A ‘what’? What was she, some virtual woman you made on your computer when you got lonely?”
“No.” Dana looked nervous.
Grace swam closer, very interested. She had touched on something here and needed to know. “Then what kind of ‘what’?”
“An imaginary friend.”
Grace stood, a surprised but interested look on her face. “Go on.”
Dana watched the water dance off her lover’s breasts, the moon behind her. She felt the heat of arousal beginning as a small wave reached up and licked a perky nipple. The round breasts and strong shoulders, the thin belly that swelled into hips, and what was hidden beneath the water began to go through her mind.
“Da-na,” Grace sang, knowing where her mind had wandered.
Dana swallowed so that she could speak, hoping the cover of night would hide the blush that had crept onto her cheeks. “I was little. I made her up to play with because I didn’t have any brothers or sisters.”
Grace looked amused. “What was she like?”
“What do you mean?” Dana ducked into the water to cool off.
“You know, did she talk you into getting into trouble? Was she mischievous?”
“She was very brave.”
“What did she look like?”
A quizzical look back. “I don’t understand the question.”
“What’s to understand? What color were her eyes, her hair? Was she tall or short?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“What do you mean?” She began to laugh.
“Well, she was kind of clear.”
“Yeah, Dopey, she was invisible.”
Dana threw her head back and laughed loudly. “She talked a lot too, never gave me a chance to get a word in.”
“Well, that explains a few things, now, doesn’t it? Does she ever visit you now?”
“No, Grace.” Dana swam up to within inches of her companion. “I have you to keep me from getting a word in.” She slid her arms around the slender hips of her lover and stood. “You’re getting better. Still afraid?”
“Not as much, but I can touch here. If I were out farther, I don’t know.”
“We’ll have to try that when it’s light out. When you feel comfortable with the world knowing there is actually something you don’t know how to do, we’ll try a lesson during the day.”
“Want to hear something silly?” The two were sitting on the blanket, dressed, towel-drying their hair.
Grace looked at her with interest.
“When I was in York I spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. We called it the hole, and it wasn’t a very pleasant place.” She breathed deeply and picked up a handful of pebbles, which she began throwing one by one into the water. “I was placed in there on several occasions, but one time….” She tossed a rock toward the waves and waited for the splash. “One time I was in there for an incredibly long time. Rachel told me it was a year and a half, but it seemed a lot longer.” She stopped.
“That’s not silly,” Grace said, resisting the urge to wrap her arms around Dana.
She began to throw pebbles again. “The silly part is that after a couple of weeks or so, Gabrielle began to talk to me again.”
“What did you talk about?”
“She told me jokes and stories. Stuff like that. Sometimes she sang–not very well at first, but the more she sang, the better she got. You know, singing just takes practice. It’s all muscular–well, not all, but people can control their tone. Sad thing is, if they’re told young they can’t sing, they never practice enough to get any better at it.”
“Another theory from the desk of the Great Doc Papadopolis.”
Dana smiled lazily and lay back on the blanket. “What do you think about it? Do you think I was going crazy?”
“No, sounds more like coping, just like when you were a kid. You were lonely and needed a friend. That was a pretty extreme circumstance.”
Dana slipped her hands behind her head and looked up at the stars.
“Now, if you had slept with her, then maybe I would say you were a little cuckoo for cocoa puffs.”
“No, I don’t have sex with imaginary people, only beautiful, blond, brilliant doctors.” She shivered as a cold wind blew across the blanket.
“You’re cold,” Grace said.
“How about a hot shower, and then you can make love to your brilliant blond doctor until the wee hours.”
That caught Dana’s attention. “Rip!” a whistle. “Let’s go.” She hopped to her feet and offered her hand to Grace, yanking her to her feet.
In the shower Grace could see the blue tinge to her lover’s body from the cold and worked her hands all over the body to improve the circulation. She berated herself for not being more careful. Dana was recuperating wonderfully, but she was still healing, and being in icy water for an hour was not the best way to improve one’s health.
Dana had no idea why the doctor was treating her to such a wonderful washing, but she didn’t complain. She liked the attention.
“And you said I had a perfect ass? You need to check the mirror once in a while,” Grace said as she slid the soap down to wash the round behind.
“Nothing perfect about this scrawny body,” Dana said as she turned in to the smaller frame. “Now you, you take my breath away.” And with that she bent and indulged in a mouth-quenching kiss so deep that it sucked the air out of Grace’s lungs, leaving her feeling lightheaded.
“Dana?” Grace asked as she stroked the hair of her resting love’s head that lay in her lap. She was sitting up with her back against the headboard. They had made it to the bed when the hot water ran out. The sheets were still damp from the water they had not taken the time to towel off. “I want to ask you something.”
“Hmmm,” Dana replied sleepily, planting a kiss on her belly. Her hands were resting comfortably wrapped around her lover’s muscular thighs. She was comforted by the lingering musky scent of her Grace and the warmth of her body.
“Sex has been different since your illness,” she said tentatively.
“Different how? Bad?” Dana looked up in concern. She had thought it was better.
“No, not bad–different. I used to feel like you couldn’t get enough of me. Before, it was like you were trying to devour me.”
“I hadn’t eaten for twenty-nine years, Grace. I was kind of hungry.”
Grace cocked her head and swatted her lightly. “No, it was more….” She searched for the word.
“No, it’s still passionate. Insatiable.”
“Insatiable,” Dana repeated for herself. She sat up next to her lover to think about it. Wrapping her arms around her knees, she leaned her head on her forearms. “When we first started…” she paused, trying to be tactful, “…sleeping together, I was caught up in trying to please you, in the newness, and in letting go of certain…things.” But things had changed over the past months. Dana had allowed herself to enjoy the intimacy of the lovemaking, the easy humor it had, and letting her lover explore her body. A thought crossed her mind. “Are you telling me our lovemaking is boring?”
“No,” Grace laughed.
“Phew. Because I really like where we are.”
Grace let a hand rub down the curve of the spine to the pink scars on her back.
“Where are we?” she asked seductively, watching her hand’s languid progress.
Dana arched an eyebrow and in a swift movement pulled Grace toward the end of the bed so that she was flat on her back under her, their bodies stretched against each other.
“Do you know what I want when I’m with you, Grace Wilson?” she whispered into her ear before gently sucking the string of muscles of her neck. “I want to crawl right up beside you and stay there forever because that’s how good it feels for me to be with you.”
Grace smiled against Dana’s shoulder and kissed softly at first, but as she felt her lover’s hands part her thighs and then begin to stroke the inside of her legs, she bit down hard. Dana forgot her activity and reached for the bed covers as she moaned loudly. When Grace removed her teeth, Dana took the opportunity to possess her mouth roughly. Her tongue searched ardently for Grace’s, but the blonde captured it between her teeth and began to suck on it, pulling it deep into her mouth. Dana whimpered and grabbed onto her lover, who had slid her thigh between her legs. Grace used her hands to pull the body on top of her even closer, her own body moving against her lover, who groaned desperately into her mouth. When Grace finally climaxed, she threw her head back against the mattress and called out Dana’s name, her body rigid and convulsing as Dana continued to move. A moment later Dana reached the same place and collapsed, with a gasp, onto the smaller body. They fell asleep like that and slept until late morning.
As was becoming the practice, Grace awoke first. Dana’s illness had made her tire easily and get into the habit of sleeping late. On mornings when Grace woke up underneath her lover, which was often, this was a problem; however, it was nothing she could not solve. On this particular morning she decided on a slightly novel approach. She decided to sing one of Dana’s least favorite ditties.
“It takes all sorts to make a world.” Dana’s eyes shot open. “Big and tall sorts, short and small sorts.” Grace began to giggle when she caught the look on her sideways face.
“Stop!” Dana said, lifting herself onto her elbows. The protest only made Grace sing louder and more off-key. She was rewarded with a wet tongue on her nipple. But she continued to sing. “It takes–oh, God,” she groaned while Dana let her hand roam down as her mouth clamped on the nipple and sucked.
That was the last great evening and morning they shared together.
Part Two – Direction of the Acceleration is the Same as that of the Force
There was no doubt that Dana and Grace had been caught up in an F5 whirlwind, first the circumstances of their meeting, then the frightening illness of Grace’s father, and finally the Beta scare. Neither had had much time to breathe, or sort out their feelings, or really understand where they were headed. And meteorologically, sooner or later, pressures do change affecting the weather patterns, and storms lose their powers, and the debris begins to fall back to the earth, usually leaving something of a mess to clean up. And, even if it does set you down gently, who knows where that place may be, perhaps at ones own backdoor, or on the opposite side of the county. Heck, sometimes it will even drop you on top of a wicked witch.
In Dana and Grace’s case, they fell on completely opposite sides of the Nanoverse.
Dana spent the days of May and June alone at the boat yard readying her boat for the sailing season. She had completely sanded and repainted the hull, rudder, and keel. She had scraped the propeller of the inboard, repainted it as well, and scrubbed the decks. She waxed the teak of the cabin to keep it from molding.
She enjoyed the toil, the sun, and the fresh air. The smell of the seaside filled her body and the aching work was a reaffirmation of life. She could not wait to cast off, say good-bye to Connecticut and the stresses of being in one place for too damn long. She still worried about another attack, always mindful of strangers in the boatyard, or when she walked to her house. Dana kept a watchful eye on things. And then there was the freedom of the open seas.
Most nights Grace came home late, after dark, and Dana would be in bed already, or sitting around waiting to talk excitedly about their plans.
Grace spent most of the weeks of May and June traveling across the country surveying fellow University research facilities and trying to recruit personnel for the Yale program. Her largest concern was to find a candidate for the technical administrator position for the Small Cell Carcinoma Nano Project, which was going to be the facility’s prime focus and big money target. And she also began the long, political process of acquiring the funds.
When she did come home, she was exhausted or stressed beyond her capacity. She would usually crawl into bed and fall asleep within two or three minutes of hitting the pillow.
“Hey, Grace?” Dana asked one night, after Grace had slipped quietly between the sheets.
“The boat’s finished. We put up the mast today.”
Grace’s eyes flickered open in the dark. Her body felt leaden and fatigued. She had spent the day with Dr. Barbara Buchler strategizing a grant for several million dollars.
“I was thinking, it’s awfully pretty down in the Keys this time of year.”
She rolled up on her side and face Grace in the darkness.
“I can’t go anywhere right now. I have too much to do with the program. I have six interviews lined up over the next two weeks, and after that we have to work on establishing a technical plan.”
Dana felt her stomach knot. “When will you be able to go?”
“I don’t know.”
Dana lay back and stared at the gray shadows on the ceiling. It was raining lightly outside and she could hear the pattering on the roof.
“Maybe now that you’re feeling better you might reconsider talking to Barbara.”
“About what, her hairdo?”
“No, about working on the project and paying off the bill.”
Dana sat up and hung her feet over the edge of the bed. “I’m not interested, and I’ll find another way to pay.” She was referring to the two hundred sixty-eight thousand-dollar health care bill for her hospital stay and kidney replacement treatment. Convicts did not receive benefits from the state, and unless they held a job they were responsible for health costs.
“You don’t have that kind of money.”
“I’m not going to let them chain me into slaving for them because of a debt.”
Grace bit her lip and sighed. “Why?”
“If I want to work, I’ll work anonymously and publish on the web for everyone’s benefit, not just one fox hoping to keep all the eggs for herself.”
“I’m the fox?”
Silence. “No, your buddy Babs is.”
“Dana,” she said softly in that way that really means `you’re being unreasonable’.
“Grace, I can’t stay here.”
“Please think about it.”
“This isn’t right for me; I like being out there.”
“On the water?”
“Away from people.”
“Away from me?”
“I asked you to come.”
“But this is what I think I want to do with my life.”
“You don’t have a clue about the Nanoverse, Grace, not a clue.”
“I think I’ve learned a lot the past few months.”
“You haven’t learned shit.”
Grace sat up, insulted, and faced the opposite wall. “Dana, who the hell do you think wrote all of the technical reports and sat through the inquisitions with the Feds. It wasn’t you with the answers, it was I. And I took all of the responsibility.”
Dana looked over her shoulder at the outline of the smaller woman who wasn’t listening. “They didn’t accept your answers because they were good, they accepted them because once Rachel posted everything on the web, they had nothing to steal and hoard for themselves.”
Grace was becoming angry. “I think I know what this is about. You’re jealous.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“You think that all this nano business is yours.”
It was hers, in a way. It was her solace, her ecological niche, and the place where she survived. “You don’t understand me at all.”
“How can I. You rarely tell me anything.”
A long pause. You don’t have time to listen, she thought. “Do you know what I think about all day?”
“You’re boat,” she replied.
“No, Grace, I think about when or how they will try again.”
Grace dropped her head and closed her eyes. She tried not to think about that. She was so tired. “I have too.”
“I have to leave, and I want you to come.”
The rain continued to fall against the house. “Can we talk about this tomorrow? I’m too tired to think clearly.”
With reluctance, Dana lay back down. Grace wrapped an arm around her waist and fell back to sleep, but Dana lay awake all night, struggling to ward off the disappointment and anxiety.
The next day, they settled nothing. Grace went to work, and Dana hung around the marina cleaning her sails and tuning her lines to make sure they were tight enough and worked properly. And as usually was the case, Grace returned home after sunset, after a grilling set of financial meetings with Dr. Buchler and the Research Board.
She also came home with an offer for Dana from Dr. Buchler. Although it was a low-level technical position, right along the line of janitor in Dana’s opinion, Grace presented it as if it were the Presidency.
“You have to be kidding me? I’m a flunky, not an idiot,” Dana scoffed.
“Dana, we can’t have . . .”
“What can’t weeee have. A degreeless sociopath running a multi billion dollar program. Or is it because I created the Beta?”
“They don’t even know about that.”
Dana slammed the pot she was filling with water to make rice down on the counter, startling Grace. “Tell them, and then see if the offer still stands.”
“We’re offering you a chance to do something about that.”
Dana opened the oven and slammed it again. “God, now you’re offering Karmic payment options.” She began to laugh sardonically. “You friggin academic types.”
“Do you know how many people die from cancer every year?”
“I have an idea.”
“You can help save them.”
Dana was feeling trapped, confined, and bullied. She turned to the stove and poured in the rice. “I can’t do anything about those people that one of your candidates can’t.”
Grace was becoming irritated as well, her fuse already short from the stress and strain of the past months. “So you only save yourself, Dana?” She knew she never should have said it, but it was too late, it was out there.
Dana felt her heart implode, and prayed it did not show on her face. “I’m going for a walk.”
Grace swallowed nervously. She had not seen it for a long time, but Dana had put on that impenetrable mask that could hide her hurt and anger. And then the door slammed.
Dana came back home around Seven AM and walked to the couch where Grace had fallen asleep waiting. She kneeled down next to Grace and gently touched her arm, and waited for the lids to open. “Grace?”
Grace swam through the haze of slumber until she realized Dana was leaning over her. “Dana, I’m sorry. I should never have said what I did.”
“Grace do you want me?” It was a hard question for Dana to ask aloud, but that’s what it came down to for her. If Grace wanted her she would wait a little while longer.
Stunned silence. Her look left Dana needing to explain further.
“I mean with the illness and all, you took me in, and we fell into this . . . this domesticity, but we never really discussed staying together. And I don’t think you really want this.” Phew.
Grace rubbed her eyes.
“I felt comfortable with you, but I . . . I . . . things are different now. You’re going somewhere that I don’t want to.”
“No you are,” Dana stated pointedly
“Not all the time.”
“Most of the time.” Silence. “Please be honest with me. I need that right now.” She said this with a surety to cover the quaking of her soul. “We hardly know each other, and to set up house, that’s a commitment. And you want something here, and I need to be somewhere else.”
“Dana, you can’t run off all the time.”
A long silence.
“I think you still have some conflicts about my past.”
“No I don’t.”
“You need to be honest with yourself. I am. It’s hard enough for me to live with myself after what I did.”
“Do something about it.”
A frightening void.
Grace was frustrated. Why couldn’t she see how much she could do? “Maybe we do need some room,” she finally said softly with a sigh.
“Okay,” Dana said without the hurt that she felt, as if it were settled. And she realized immediately, never, never give away something you will want back, especially your heart, and don’t ever loan it if you are afraid it will come back broken.
Stoic pale blue met tired green, two fraudulent understanding smiles slid to their faces.
“I need coffee,” Dana said lifting herself from the floor. Grace also climbed off the couch and went to get ready for work. While Grace dressed and applied her lipstick, Dana made coffee and threw leftovers into a container for Grace’s lunch as had become a habit.
Grace came into the kitchen and helped herself to a mug of Java. She was standing next to Dana at the counter who was pretending to read the paper flipping through the stocks. Grace pulled her hair from her suit collar.
“Where will you stay?” she asked a question that had popped into her head while stirring in two scoops of sugar.
“I’ll find a place.”
Then a thought. “What about money?”
“I’ll be fine, Grace.”
“No,” a sharp retort. “I can never go to Ruth again. I’ll find a job.”
Grace touched her arm and Dana instinctively flinched.
Dana ignored it. She still having not looked up from the paper.
“When does the boat go into the water?”
Dana must have told her twenty times. “Thursday.”
Another thought, “How will we communicate, I mean how will we make plans.”
“I’ll call and leave a phone number on the machine, or you need me before that, call the marina. They’ll come get me if I’m docked.”
“Are you planning to ship out?”
“I haven’t made any plans.” She still did not look up. “But soon.” Dana was building her walls as quickly as she could slap the mortar down, pushing the ache as far away from herself as possible. But those not so old feelings of inadequacy were charging her from all sides. She never could make anyone she cared about happy. She looked at her watch, “It’s Seven-Thirty.”
“Ah, shit!” Grace said, setting her cup down, grabbing her lunch, and racing to the door. She had an Eight o’clock meeting. She ran back to grab the keys off the table. “See you later?” she said with an unsure smile.
Dana looked up over her silver rims. “Later.”
And then the door shut.
Dana finished the paper, straightened the house, including washing, folding and putting away the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and dusting the electronics in the front room. When she finally finished vacuuming she walked to the bedroom, packed her clothes, her few toiletries, and leaving the porch light on for when Grace came home after dark, she and Rip left the house. She had no money, no home, other than the boat that was in dry dock, and no computer.
Dana coerced the marina owner to push up her launch time to the next day. The repairs and the painting were done. She had nearly five thousand dollars in debt to the marina for storage and supplies. For a moment, she entertained the thought of stealing away, but having never been a thief and hearing Grace’s words echoing `you can’t run away from everything’, it was not a plausible solution. She knew of only one way to pay her debt and her hospital costs.
She decided to take a local restaurant owner, who liked to hang around the marina and make offers for her boat, up on one. In order to assure its seaworthiness, and to spend one last night aboard, even if it was on dry land, she worked on her Tartan all night.
The next day, after the launch, she received a cashier’s check for more than its appraised value, but for far less than it meant to her, and she handed over the title and the tethered key from around her neck.
When Grace came home late that first evening she was not shocked to find her house sparkling clean, but the fact that it was empty did not go unnoticed. Maybe in her haste that morning day she had not fully understood that when Dana meant she was moving out, she meant right then. Dana had left nothing, although she had very few belongings in the first place, but not even her preferred brand of gentle toothpaste remained in the cupboard. Rip’s Tupperware bowls were washed and stashed in the pantry. Even her wonderful additions to the house music collection were gone. “Well of course it is gone,” she said to herself. “Holy shit!” she whispered and collapsed in exhaustion and numbness onto the couch, her couch, and realized that this was not what she wanted. She curled her legs under her, still in her silk suit skirt and flipped on the television for company.
Part Three – An object at rest will never start to move of itself; a push or pull must be exerted on it by some other body.
The ever-predictable, massive ball of hydrogen was making its way over the horizon, illuminating the small seaport town south of Freeport yet again. Dana sat atop a concrete storm wall, watching the sun emerge from the blue waves of the ocean and reading the morning paper. Rip stood watching her back and eyeing the cruller resting on a napkin on the wall next to her friend. The smell of freshly-fried doughnut wafted by her highly-sensitive nasal receptors, and she licked her chops. Slowly her mouth drifted toward the wall. Dana lifted her paper coffee cup to her lips and paused.
“Don’t even think about it.”
Rip looked up at her equally dark-headed friend with sad puppy eyes, a look that Dana could not resist and, fortunately for the hound, took very little effort.
“Okay, you can have half.” Long fingers broke the bread into two somewhat-equal parts and offered the larger part to the coal-black pooch. Dana munched the rest herself and flipped to the national section of the paper. She reached down to pat the happy dog on the head.
They sat there like that until the rest of the crew arrived, a group of four scruffy young men, all dressed in the same type of clothes as she, and all brandishing the cocky smiles of youth. None were groomed, or if they were, it was in a way to present themselves as careless. Their skin was golden, and they all wore scruffy growths on their chins. What a lot, Dana thought to herself every time the motley brunch arrived for work, but then again they were on a fishing troller, not Bank Street.
“Mornin’, Doc.” A long-limbed, gangly teen with curly golden hair greeted her and then lifted a leg over the wall to sit next to her.
“Spider,” she acknowledged him and folded her paper up.
They both stared at the choppy whitecaps. “Beautiful rise today,” he commented and sighed wistfully.
“Yep. Gonna be rough today.” She leaned over to grab her rubber boots and slicker pants from the ground. “I guess it’s about time we do some fishin’,” she said and swung her legs around.
The boys followed her to the dock where the fishing troller was waiting, the large ship swaying with the residual energy of the past night’s storm.
Kev Grinchgold watched the now-familiar and documented routine of the woman. He could predict the entire day now. They would stay out until six-thirty, and after they had unloaded their catch, they would come in to dock. She would let the crew leave, and then she would hose down the boat and fill the tanks with ethanol. By eight she would be finished. Then she and her dog would walk back to her small attic apartment over the home of an old widow named Beatrice Shrine. Sometimes, rarely, she would stop and buy a few groceries, or stop at the Yankee Fi sherman bar for a beer, but only one beer. She had surprised Kev only once, by staying until ten at the Fisherman and then walking one of the waitresses home and spending the night at her place.
Dana Papadopolis never took a day off from work, at least not over the three weeks he had been watching her. Each week he reported back in detail to his customer as to what he had witnessed and was always told to keep watching.
It was not such a bad job once he realized how to bum the day away. He bought himself a beach chair, an SPF40 sun-blocker, and a pair of baggy swim trunks, and passed the nice days on the beach. On an overcast or rainy day, he camped out at the Yankee Fisherman and watched baseball and drank whatever was on tap.
As soon as his watch beeped six o’clock, he would wander back down to the pier and wait for the ship to return.
Finding her in the first place had been almost as exciting as watching her. Ho-hum, he yawned, thinking back to staking out the post office and box number his customer had provided as the only clue to his mark’s whereabouts. He had waited a full moon cycle for her to check her mail. When she did show, accompanied by the floppy-eared mutt, she tossed everything away except for a single envelope–a bill, from what he could tell. She pocketed the envelope and walked back across the small town to the bank. It was only three in the afternoon, so she must have left work early that one day. She came out of the bank a few minutes later, sealed an envelope, and dropped it in the blue mailbox outside the bank. Then she walked to the bar for a beer and a hamburger, and then went home.
Seated on an iron bench in front of the town drugstore, Kev watched the pier. Sure enough, around six-fifteen, in came the fishing boat. Once it was tied and secured, the boys left in a pack with their usual macho swaggers and boyish bullshit, and Dana went to work hosing off the decks and stowing away the nets and equipment. Then she removed her gear and washed the scales and slime from her yellow pants and rubber boots with the hose.
The stocky private investigator found himself admiring her strong, bronze body, her bare arms and shoulders thick with muscle, and her dark hair highlighted with reddish-brown streaks in a long braid down her back. And despite the fact that she never smiled or wore makeup, she was drop-dead gorgeous. He took bets with himself as to where she would head after work: a drink and dinner, or home to shower and cook.
He sat across the street, watching her over his magazine, his sunglasses hiding his eyes and a ball cap covering the sunburned patch on top of his head. This was not such a bad job. As long as his customer continued to pay out, he would continue his stakeout.
Dana was talking in the Dock Master’s booth when Kev’s cellular phone rang in his pocket. He pulled out the sleek, black machine and pressed a button.
“Grinchgold,” he answered officially. A pause. “As we speak, just got off the boat.” Another pause. “What’s that?” Another pause. “Holy–” he gasped as his shirt front was yanked and twisted until he could not speak or breathe. He found his face within inches of his mark. Dana snatched the phone from his hand and placed it against her ear to listen, but there was no connection; he must have hit the disconnect button when she grabbed him.
“How long have you been following me?” she growled.
“A couple of days,” he managed to get out and grabbed at her wrist. The tightness was cutting off the blood flow to his brain, and he felt dizzy.
She clenched tighter with the one hand. “You’re a weasel and a liar.” She reached around his back and unzipped his fanny pack, and pulled out a wallet. She flipped it open and silently read his license and P.I. card. She had waited a full week to make her move, until she was sure that she would not be walking into another attack, like the last time she had approached the goons that were tracking her. When she was satisfied he was not going to pounce on her, she had made her move. The Dock Master had been watching his comings and goings around the pier for her for two weeks.
Just as he was turning purple, she released him and he collapsed onto the bench, stunned and breathing heavily. Sliding the phone into her jeans pocket, she grabbed her boots and slickers and walked away. She whistled for the black dog that had been waiting patiently down the sidewalk. The phone rang again, this time in her pocket.
“Yeah,” she answered in a deep voice. Her eyebrow shot up to her bangs when she heard the familiar voice on the other end.
“We must have been disconnected,” it said.
Dana grunted in the affirmative.
“Listen, I’m at a seedy little bar called the Yankee Clipper or something. Leave her and meet me here now.”
Dana grunted again and then clicked disconnect.
She walked back to the gasping man. “Come on, Kevy. We’re going to meet up with an old acquaintance together.” She grabbed him roughly by the arm, and they began to walk toward the Fisherman, which was less than a mile from the docks.
Rachel Jones was sitting at the end of the bar on, ominously, Dana’s favorite stool, sipping a vodka martini. She was minus her signature butt-ugly bathrobe, in a pair of khaki slacks and a leather vest over a tailored white tuxedo shirt.
The flimsy screen door opened with a bang, and in flew the befuddled man that she had hired to locate Dana Papadopolis.
“Oh, fuck,” she said, sliding off the barstool.
Kev regained his footing and tried to straighten up. As soon as he did, Dana, now inside as well, gave him a little shove toward his customer.
“A Sam Adams, please,” Dana said with an evil grin to the bartender. She walked around to the far end of the bar, took the seat that Rachel had been occupying, and slid the martini glass several spaces down the semi-crowded bar. “Thank you,” she said when Andy placed a dark bottle in front of her. Rachel grabbed her glass from in front of a white-bearded, heavyset man and came to stand next to her friend.
Dana ignored her.
When she opened her mouth to speak, Dana held out her hand for her to stay quiet. As soon as the hand went down, she tried again and was rewarded with the same reaction. When Dana had finally downed her beer, and only then, there would be words. Dana was furious with Rachel for spying on her and ticked at herself for being found. She decided she needed a few minutes and a beer to collect herself or she would go ballistic on the hacker.
When she was finally done, she placed three dollars on the counter and slid off her chair. With much less flourish than when she had arrived, she departed. Rachel followed after her, signaling Kev to stay.
Fine by me, he thought, and ordered his own beer.
Dana was adjusting her work equipment in her arms when Rachel sprang out from the doorway. Dana looked at her with ice-blue eyes. “Why are you hunting me?” she asked coolly.
“We were worried about you.”
Dana laughed sarcastically. “Bullshit.”
“We need you?”
“Try someone with a degree. They seem to know everything.”
“Is that why you left, because of ego?”
“Is he the guy with the hump on his back?”
Levity. That’s good, she thought. “You’re thinking of Igor.”
“Oh, well, then I don’t know him.” Dana began walking away from the woman. “I’m happy where I am.” She waved a hand above her head but did not look back. “Leave me alone.”
Rachel ran after her. “I don’t see how you can be happy.” She was trying to keep in step with Dana’s longer strides.
“I’m much happier here than pushing a broom around some Organic Lab. I make good money.”
“And I could be making a lot more money too, doing something a lot different as well, Dana, but I choose to work on the project.”
“You could be making a lot more money illegally.”
“And legally. Commercial is big bucks.”
“So you’re saying you’re a better person than me? That’s awfully ironic coming from a smack dealer.”
Rachel bit the inside of her cheeks in anger. “I’ve never dealt drugs. I can’t believe you fucking said that to me.”
Dana spun on her and grabbed her arm, her eyes piercing and violet. “And I can’t believe you’re spying on me,” she growled.
Rachel swallowed the lump in her throat. “We need your help.”
Dana dropped her arm and began to walk away again. “I’m not interested.”
“Don’t you want to start giving something back?”
“My debt is too large, and there isn’t any power out there that can vanquish me.”
“What about a gorgeous, five-foot-four, blond M.D.?” she yelled.
Dana froze in her tracks. Rip stopped and looked at her sideways. “Did she send you?”
Rachel approached slowly. Rip growled.
“I’ve been consulting with nano experts for her?”
Dana rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t on her list, I’ll bet.” She kept the hurt out of her voice.
“Not even a mention?”
“She doesn’t talk about you at all. It’s like, once she found out you sold the boat to that guy, you don’t exist to her. You broke her heart, again.”
Dana laughed bitterly. “Not quite, Rach. I think it was the other way around.”
“The way I see it, you walked out just as it was getting tough.”
“Then you need glasses because that’s not how it happened.”
“Sure it is.”
Dana gave Rachel a look that almost made her wet her Victoria’s Secret silk underwear.
“Don’t ever discuss my personal life again,” she said and began to walk away.
After a second to catch her breath and to really think about the personal jeopardy involved in pursuing the pissed-off fisherwoman, Rachel trudged forward.
“Doc, she needs you. The program has stalled again, and they’re looking to lay the blame on her. It would destroy her, which is totally fucked, because she’s the only really good thing besides me about the program.”
They were standing in front of a small, fenced-in, grass-and-sand playground, the neighborhood beach on the other side of the small dunes. Older children, eleven- and twelve-year-olds, were playing tag in the dusk. A mother was swinging her child in a black wraparound seat, little pink booty feet hanging through the holes. The kid looked terrified and, from the contorted face, was about to let out a yelp.
Dana dropped her boots and hung her weather gear over the rail. She pulled a nasty old tennis ball from her slicker pocket and threw it toward the grass. The kids screamed in glee as the dog ran into the pack and disappeared. Dana stood with her foot on the rail and watched the baby cry. The mother stopped the swing, lifted the little one out of the confining seat, and held her closely.
The hacker stood beside her and watched the display. Turning away from the scene, Dana shook her head. “That mother sure has patience. She brings the kid here every day and tries to get her to play. And every night that kid ends up scared and bawling.” She leaned her back against the splintered wooden fence and crossed her arms over her chest. For a long time she studied her Converse hightops.
Rachel studied Dana. She was amazed at how good the tall woman looked. Her skin was a deep golden hue, her hair dark and shiny, and she must have reacquired thirty or forty pounds of muscle.
“You’re into fishing now?” Rachel asked.
“It comes easy.”
“You have your own boat?”
“No, belongs to a friend. It’s honest work and something Papadopolises have been doing for a couple millennia.” She pulled herself up on the rail, taking brief glances over her shoulder at the dog, who was being chased by the group of children.
“I haven’t seen you on the Net.”
“Haven’t been on the Net. I don’t even own a computer. I figured they couldn’t find me that way.”
Rachel nodded acknowledgment. “So you’re Miss Anti-tech now?”
“Nope. I don’t have the time for it. How did you find me?”
“Your P.O. box. I hacked into the hospital billing database and found it. It took me three months to find anything on you, and that was it.”
Dana hopped off the fence, took a deep breath, and stretched. “I busted my ass today, and I need to get some sleep before I have to go back and do it all again tomorrow. Nice seeing you, though.”
“Come back with me, Dana.”
“Ohhh, no no no no. Can’t do that.” Another stretch.
“I have responsibilities, commitments.”
“I think the guys could use a day off.” Rachel had read the reports and knew how hard she was working herself, probably as hard as Grace was.
Dana whistled for the dog. A frothing hound came running; a white ball covered in the slime of dirt and saliva was in her mouth, and her fat, pink tongue was hanging out the side of her mouth. Dana pocketed the tennis ball and grabbed her gear. The kids yelled out their complaints for a few minutes and then went back to their original game. The mother had the baby poised at the top of the kiddy slide, and the baby began to scream.
The dog and the two women began the short walk to Dana’s apartment. “So Grace didn’t send you?”
“Are you kidding?”
“How would she react to my presence?”
“The way I see it, she has no choice. The program has been single-handedly destroyed by Greer.”
“Greer–is that who they decided on?” Dana rolled her eyes.
“I know. He’s a putz.”
“He’s worse than a putz, Rachel. He’s a plagiarist.”
“What did he plagiarize?”
“His doctoral thesis.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“I posted the theory on your server when I was still in York.” They walked to the apartment and climbed the back stairs to the second-floor porch. “I don’t understand why with all the brainpower and the information we posted about the Destroyers, you people can’t make the machines work.”
She unlocked the door with a key on a string around her neck. Leaving the gear outside on the rail, she pushed the sticking door open. Rip entered first, and then Dana, Rachel following behind.
Dana lived in a two-room apartment that was austere but neat. She had a couch serving as a much-too-short bed, a small stove and refrigerator, a sink, a counter, and an open cubby for a closet. The second room was a tiny bathroom with a decrepit pedestal sink and plastic closet shower.
The closet held four or five pairs of jeans, two sweaters, a leather coat, and two pairs of shoes–one black leather and the other brown. A stack of underwear was piled on a shelf next to several pairs of socks, an old, faded, blue sweatshirt, and several white T-shirts. There was no television, and no phone. The only electronic equipment was a small, portable CD player next to an index of plastic bound discs.
“My, my, this is extravagant,” Rachel commented.
She received a dirty look. Dana walked to the kitchen and took out a container of some kind of sup and placed it in a pot on the stove. She also took out two bottles of water and tossed one to Rachel, who bounced it around before getting a handle on it.
Dana poured the dog some water from her own bottle and then set down another dish filled with kibble. Rip lapped at the water and then began bolting the food.
“What will she think if I show up at her facility?”
Great, she’s thinking about it. “I think she’ll be cool about it.”
“You think she’ll be cool about it,” Dana said, mimicking the hacker’s lazy delivery.
“Since when do you care what anybody thinks anyway?”
Dana turned away to stir the soup with a tablespoon. “Okay, I’ll go, but if she freaks out about it, I get your car.”
After a shower and a change of clothes, Dana used her new cell phone to call Booger in Freeport and tell him she was taking a couple of days off and that Spider was more than capable of captaining the boat in her absence. She explained tht she needed to give the fish a break anyway. Then she called Spider’s house and left a message with his mother saying that he would be skippering the boat for the next few days, and if he had any problems to call Booger.
Dana filled a small duffel with a couple of pairs of pants, shirts, and undergarments, and, of course, her toothpaste. Then the two ex-cons and the dog walked back to the Yankee Fisherman, where they retrieved Rachel’s gunmetal-gray Porsche.
Part Four – The change of motion is directly proportional to the motive force impressed
The trio found themselves at the Connecticut border within a record time of three hours. Rachel drove her Porsche hard and fast because, one, she liked speed, and, two, the dog smelled like fish. Normally a good traveler, Dana was ecstatic to unfold herself and set her feet on the hard, static concrete of the medical facility’s parking garage.
“The word ‘harrowing’ does not do your driving justice, Rach,” Dana remarked. She contemplated kneeling down and kissing the ground but stretched her long arms and legs instead.
Rip climbed out of the car wobbling and still whimpering. Dana patted her head to reassure her that it would be okay.
“I don’t know who was whining more–you or that dog.”
“Me, most definitely.” She worked her hands, which were stiff from clasping the sides of the seat for dear life.
Dana grabbed her small duffel from behind the seat and took a deep breath to release some of the nervous energy. Once she had gotten past the initial anger at Rachel for finding her, she had had a few minor revelations. And, as soon as Rachel had mentioned that the program was in trouble, Dana had convinced herself to go. She was tired of amateurs mucking around in her nanoverse. The fact that Greer was the premiere mucker added fuel to the flame, and, of course, there was Grace. Dana was not going to let Grace forget her, especially since Dana could not do likewise.
The three rode the elevator to the second floor of the research facility and disembarked at the security station. The security officer recognized Rachel but asked for her badge anyway. After a few minutes of waiting while Rachel signed Dana in as a visitor and a long debate over whether or not Dana would relinquish Rip into the custody of the security officer, the hacker and the nano tech proceeded to the locked entrance. In turn, each slid her assigned keycard and then right hand into a biometric reader. When it recognized Rachel’s dimensions and the fact that she did indeed have a human visitor, the door clicked open and they were admitted entrance to the laboratory facilities.
But on the other side it was really no different from the lobby. A series of glass administrative offices lined the walls. The lights flickered on when the motion of the women was detected. A few seconds later the air-conditioning whirred to life.
As she led her companion into the guts of the lab, Rachel regained her confident step after the brief encounter with the guard. The floor was vacant, which surprised Dana. From what Rachel had explained during the ride, the group had gotten stalled after several failures of the first modification. Dana would have had her team in around the clock working through the problem, striving to find a solution.
“The computer center is right down here around the corner.”
“You moved it?”
“I needed more space for my assistant.”
“Assistant? I never thought I would hear that word from your mouth.”
“We all grow up sometime. You should try it.”
Dana gave the back of the hacker’s head an evil sneer.
“Whoa.” The hacker’s shoes came to a squeaking halt as they rounded the corner. A few paces down on the left was a single large, glass-walled office. The privacy blinds were pulled down, but the door was open, and the lights were on. The recorded voice of Tracy Chapman was coming from the occupied office.
Rachel approached slowly and peeked her head around the door frame. She looked back at Dana and mouthed, “Here goes.”
Grace looked up from the technical progress report that Greer had dropped off on her desk in the late afternoon, five days late.
“Rach. Where have you been all day?”
“I had some questions for you,” she answered in a tired, husky voice. Her eyes were wiped clean of the morning’s light dusting of make-up and were dark and puffy from lack of sleep.
Rachel was concerned for her friend. “You should go home, Grace, and get some sleep. You look like the ragged end of a used Q-tip.”
Grace thought about the description and then brushed it off. “How do you always know what to say to make me feel so pretty, Rach?” She tried to rub some of the fatigue out of her eyes and then inquired, “What are you doing here so late? Aren’t there any government databases to crash tonight?”
“Ouch,” Rachel said, grabbing her chest and laughing. “No, I had an idea I wanted to apply that couldn’t wait until morning.”
“Really?” Grace perked up. “Can I help?”
Rachel looked back at Dana, who shook her head no. “I have some help, but thanks.”
Green eyes sparkled with curiosity. Another consultant, perhaps. But Rachel had not mentioned any others. And she would need to arrange any additional help through Grace. And why hadn’t she introduced the consultant to her? Grace stood up from her desk and walked over to the door to see who it was.
The tall, full frame of her ex-lover leaned against the wall, blue eyes diverted to black sneakers. Grace felt her heart stop and then flutter a few times in an attempt to restart. She was beyond speechless, she was without thought. And when she gasped, her wide eyes were met with the most beautiful pale blue eyes. She would have noticed the fear in them had she had any cognizant brain activity whatsoever. Instead, she spun on her heel and proceeded back to her chair to sit down at her desk, numb from shock.
“See, I told you she wouldn’t freak,” Rachel said, looking at Dana triumphantly.
“Rachel, we need to talk–now!” Grace said, her voice shaking.
Dana blew out a stream of air.
“Let me get her started, and I’ll be back down,” Rachel replied more cautiously. She turned to Dana. “This way.”
Dana was led past the computer center to the conference room that she had used as a base for the Destroyer Project nine months earlier.
“What do you want to start with?” Rachel asked as Dana walked around the table and chose a cushioned chair to sit in. It was a good thing she had not spoken, or she would have sounded as tousled as Grace.
“The last iteration that functioned with a fifty-percent clinical success rate or higher.”
“That would be the basic.”
“You mean you haven’t had a single iteration beyond the basic that worked?”
“Then let’s start there. If you can bring me the models and the simulations for the baseline and the first modification, I’ll start with those. Meanwhile, you can track down all of the lab notebooks that correspond to the two trials.”
“What departments are you interested in?”
“All of them. Come to think of it, I want all of the lab notebooks up to today. I need to try to get a fix on what Greer is doing. But we’ll save your programs until last, unless you think they are the problem.”
“Ha! We’ll review them last,” Rachel said and disappeared on her search.
When she had Dana poring through the simulation results, the models, and the lab notebooks from the Organic Laboratory and the clinical department, Rachel made her way back down the hall to Grace Wilson’s office.
She knocked on the doorframe to announce an official visit. “Grace, I can explain,” she said when the young doctor looked up from the report. She had not read a word of the report since the two had left. It didn’t matter anyway; Greer had not made any progress in two months.
“What makes you think I want her help with my project?”
“This isn’t your project,” Rachel found herself arguing.
“It is my program.”
“God, who died and made you Queen? It’s not yours. It belongs to everyone–otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Got it?” She found that her jaw was clenched painfully at the frustrating woman.
“You–you can’t bring in an outsider into a program this sensitive without going through the board or at least the head administrator.”
Rachel smirked. “You’re just pissed off because you’re looking frumpy and she looks great.”
“No, Rachel. I’m pissed off right now because there’s a protocol and you didn’t follow it.”
“Ah, fuck the protocol. It was their tight-assed protocol that landed us Greer instead of Dana in the first place.”
Grace bit back a retort that would have made her sound even more like the worthless suits that Dana and Rachel always complained about. “What does she want?”
“To help us. That’s all. And you might want to cut her some slack, considering she had to take time off from work and her girlfriend to come down here.”
“What? What does she do?”
I got ya interested now, Queenie. Rachel smiled to herself. “She skippers a fishing boat near Freeport. It’s quite lucrative, from what I’ve been told. She looks good, doesn’t she?”
Grace had to admit, even from that little glimpse she had taken, that Dana had filled in and looked even better than when they had first met. She had gained twenty pounds herself, but more from eating junk food and not having time to run. She was on her duff all day in meetings, on the phone, or reading reports. She had become quite soft.
“Do you really think she can accomplish anything that the other consultants haven’t been able to?” She recalled the countless physicists Rachel had been in charge of bringing into the program.
“Gracie, this is Doc we’re talking about.”
Grace’s eyebrows pinched as she thought about her computer administrator’s words.
Rachel grinned, knowing she had most definitely convinced Grace. “I think she can solve all of our problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had figured it all out while we were in here gabbing about it. Come and talk to her. She says if you don’t agree, she’ll go back home.”
Grace stared at Rachel. The thought of actually talking to Dana again frightened her. What would she say?
“You don’t think she’ll mind working with me?”
“She’ll probably barely notice you’re there.” Oooh, I’m good.
Dana was looking through the carbon-purification processes for both the baseline model that had worked and the subsequent ones that had failed in clinical trials with the rats. The simulations were very good, all in all, so when the clinical trials were busts, the first thing Greer had attacked was the simulation application, which burned Dana’s ass big-time.
When she heard Rachel’s shoes squeaking down the hall she was glad, because she needed someone to vent on. She pushed her glasses further up her nose to help with distinguishing the letters of the handwritten notes of the second material-preparation notebook. “Hey, Rach, where’s Jack’s lab book for the first modification?”
“He left after the baseline.”
“Where did he go?”
“Down one floor and to the right. He’s in an organic lab there.”
“Now, there’s great management. Get rid of your best organic tech. Who was responsible for that blunder?”
“I was,” Grace said as she entered the doorway to the conference room.
Dana let the notebook slip from her hands to the table and straightened up.
“He was unhappy and requested a transfer to another lab.”
“That’s too bad. Jack’s the best material tech I’ve ever worked with. Did you even bother to find out why he wanted to leave?”
“And you actually listened to him.”
“He didn’t like working with Greer.”
Dana nodded. “Did you lose anyone else I should know about?”
Grace hesitated. “We lost a few others.”
“Would Minnie be one of them?”
Dana sighed, shaking her head disapprovingly, and jotted something down on a notepad. “How did you manage to keep Rachel?” she asked, still staring at the paper.
“Leave me out of this,” Rachel said.
“How hard would it be to get them back up here?” Dana asked, without looking up from her notes.
Grace looked to Rachel for some sign of where she was going with this. “We have people who–”
“–You have people with no practical experience and obviously no leadership to give them that experience.”
“I mean in the technical arena, Grace, not administrative, so get your panties out of a bundle.”
If Dana had looked up, she would have seen Grace’s face turning pink. “How can you walk in here and make a determination like that so quickly? You haven’t even met–”
“–I don’t need to meet Greer. I know him through his work. As for the others, their notebooks tell me the technical story.” She finally looked Grace squarely in the eyes over her silver rims. “You have me for three days to straighten this mess out. I suggest that you stop making excuses and start accepting where the problems lie.” Dana looked away at her notes again. “And if you had told me you were going to hire Sam Greer, I would have talked you out of it.”
“You weren’t around,” the blond woman snapped.
“Funny, I remember waiting around for a week for a phone call that I never received. Maybe if you had returned any one of my thirty-eight messages, you would have known I was still here,” Dana replied, without looking up from her notebook.
“Okay, you two, now’s not the time or place for who’s to blame,” Rachel interjected.
Dana set down her pencil. “What time does the team come in in the morning?
“Team? Oh, team, right. Around eight,” Rachel answered. “Is that enough time?”
“Enough time for what?” Grace asked, feeling both flustered and inept in the face of the secret communication code of the techs.
“To figure out what the method is to Greer’s madness, and to try to get the program back on the correct path,” Dana answered.
“I have a series of status reports he writes for me once a week, if that’ll help.”
Dana looked at her over her wire rims and nodded.
Once Grace had left to retrieve the paper reports, Rachel turned to Dana. “So what do you think?”
“I think this place is a mess.”
“No, I mean about Queenie.”
Dana refused to look up. “Who cares?”
“All I care about nowadays is where the fish are hanging out and whether Rip has enough to eat.”
“Do you want time alone with her to go over the reports?”
Alone, she thought. What would happen if they were alone? What did she really wish would happen? “Doesn’t matter to me.”
Rachel shook her head disgustedly. “I don’t know what happened between you two, but you’re both being incredibly large asses.”
Just then Grace returned with a stack of red plastic binders, each five inches thick. Rachel walked over to help her with the load and slid them across the table at Doc. Dana looked at the binders and then her watch and sighed. She stood up to deconstruct the pile in front of her. A moment later her watch beeped, signaling two a.m. “No wonder Greer hasn’t accomplished anything. He’s too busy piecing together progress reports.”
“They aren’t for shits and giggles, Dana. I had him start the reports to find out what he was doing about the program after things had begun to falter.”
Dana resisted the urge to apologize. “Rachel suggested that it might be helpful if you stayed and went through them with me.”
“If you want me to.”
“I don’t want to read these if I can avoid it, and if you can keep me from wasting my time, then, yes, I do want you to stay. But if you think I should read them myself, then leave.”
The two stubborn women stared at each other.
“I’m going to find all of my programs,” Rachel said, sliding out of the conference room between the two women.
Dana crossed the room and closed the door.
“Rachel tells me I’m an ass for leaving you,” she said, still facing the door.
“If the shoe fits.”
“Actually, she says we’re both asses. But I didn’t leave you, Grace, not until I was sure you didn’t give a damn.”
“I was busy. That doesn’t mean I didn’t care.”
“Too busy to call me back?”
Grace could not argue with her. She had not returned those calls. After Dana withdrew from her, she had made the choice that she could not concentrate on both the infant program and her friend. But looking at the hurt she had caused, she knew she had made the wrong decision, or at least should have found a compromise.
“I even tried to arrange a meeting with you before I left, but your secretary canceled me.”
“I had to go to Washington for Barbara.”
A brief pang of hurt darkened Dana’s blue eyes before she returned to her seat. “I was more disgusted with myself for taking so long to figure out you really didn’t want me.” She paused and looked at Grace thoughtfully. “But what you did for me, taking me in, taking care of me, for whatever reason, no one had ever done that before, and I’ll always be grateful to you for that.”
“For whatever reason? Dana, I loved you.”
“I don’t think it was love, Grace. Kindness–maybe, attraction–perhaps, a challenge–absolutely. But let’s not romanticize it; that’s how people got hurt.”
“I hurt you?”
“Well, I figured we were even for what I did in Chicago.” She opened the red binder in front of her and flipped to the first report.
Grace sat down in the chair next to her and touched her hand, causing Dana to twitch.
“Just explain what’s been going on with the project, Grace.”
Part Five – The acceleration is proportional to the resultant force
Grace did her best to summarize Greer’s technical program over the previous four months. When her technological knowledge faltered, Dana referred to the actual reports, which were not much help. Dana did her best to avoid noticing how close Grace was sitting, and when the doctor reached over to show her a specific passage, she tried not to breathe in her scent or stroke the shiny, straight, golden hair. God, she was still attracted to Grace, but she was never going to risk the hurt again. Instead, Dana nodded often and scribbled notes of the changes on her notepad.
“I can’t figure out his method,” Grace finally said and sat back in her chair, an arm’s length between them.
Dana had her mechanical pencil between her teeth and was staring at the mention of changing the simulation program. She pointed to it with her pencil. “This is a huge mistake. The simulations are the only given in this project besides the cancer itself. We know the application works, so he changes it?”
“Why do you think he did it?”
“Sam Greer is not a nano tech. He’s a very good mechanical physicist, but he has no understanding of the integration of the necessary knowledge. For instance, does he have any molecular biology or organic chemistry background?”
“Grace, think of him as a good mechanic but not the driver. He doesn’t know how to get there, but he may be able to tune the engine. How did you end up with him, anyway?”
“Barbara tossed his name in the hat at the last minute. She was impressed with his graduate work, and he had been working with Dr. Adams at Stanford for three years.”
“I doubt Adams misses him. And, for the record, he stole his graduate thesis.”
Grace’s eyes widened. “How do you know that?”
“I used to review new postings on the Web that had to do with nano. He published his thesis right after I was released from York.”
“And you had seen it before?”
“Yep. A friend had posted it anonymously for me the year before. Cons aren’t allowed to post.”
“That’s a drastic accusation.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“All I’m asking is if you can prove it.”
Dana stood and walked over to the computer terminal and pulled up a series of postings from the Stanford Science Center Server. She pulled up a paper that had been posted anonymously and electronically dated late 2011, and printed it. Then she pulled up his thesis, also on the Stanford Server, electronically dated June 2013, and printed it. She grabbed the stack of papers, crossed back to the table, and handed it to Grace.
She sat back down in her seat while Grace flipped through the pages. “The sad thing is, I doubt he understands what he copied.”
Grace could not believe how closely the two papers resembled each other. Greer had mentioned several experiments which Dana had not, but the theory was most definitely not his. It belonged to a self-educated lifer at a women’s maximum-security prison in Southeastern Connecticut.
“I’m sorry, Dana.”
“That’s okay. I’m learning to accept the fact that all you educated types stick together.”
“You don’t have a very high opinion of me.”
“Actually, Grace, that’s not true at all. I’ve always thought that you were the most wonderful person I’d ever met. Which makes you much too good for someone like me.”
Grace closed her eyes and thought about how they had arrived at this place. Dana really did believe Grace had not loved her. But would she ever be able to convince her otherwise? “Dana, I do not think I am better than you.”
“Okay, Grace,” Dana replied flippantly.
Grace reached over and touched Dana’s chin to urge her to look at her. “I’m not better than you.” They stared for a few seconds. Grace was mesmerized by the gentle blue eyes. They drew her closer, within inches, and the need to touch Dana became so urgent she stopped breathing.
Dana jumped up, a teardrop caught in her dark eyelashes. She swiveled the chair between them. “Don’t!” she managed to choke out.
“Dana, I never stopped loving you.”
“No. You never loved me, Grace. If you had, you would have come with me.”
“Don’t you tell me what I felt. I made a mistake letting you leave, but I couldn’t have left all of this.”
“When people love each other they want to be together. Even I know that.”
“I could use the same argument, Dana. But I know you loved me, despite the fact that you disappeared without saying good-bye, and that you sold your boat. Do you know what that felt like, finding out you hadn’t just sailed away for a while, that you weren’t returning?”
Dana stepped backward, found the wall with her back, and leaned against it for support.
“Do you want to know how I found out?”
Dana did not answer.
“I drove by the marina every day, hoping to God to find that you had returned so I could run to you and apologize. I planned to beg you to come home. Then, one day, I thought my prayer had been answered. There she was, your baby, tethered and waiting for me at the dock. I thought you were waiting for me.” She wiped a tear away from her cheek. “But it wasn’t you. It was some diner owner who said you had sold the boat to him in early June.” She began to shake her head. “I was so upset I refused to talk about you ever again.”
Dana was watching the younger woman and debating with herself why Grace was telling her this.
“I know I hurt you, Dana, just like everyone else in your life has,” she said, stepping closer. “And I will never forgive myself for that.” She gently laid her hand on Dana’s shoulder. “But I also know I will never be happy without you.”
Dana’s chin was trembling, and a few of the tears had broken free and run down her cheekbones. Her survivalist instinct wrestled with the aching need to be touched by Grace. Another small hand reached up and wiped the tears away from her face.
Dana grabbed the hand from her face and held it away from her body. She studied the short, manicured nails and the soft skin, and remembered the tender ways it had caressed her. She let her other hand cover the hand on her shoulder and pulled it away as well. Then she let her eyes move to the lovely face, and she saw what she needed to see: desire, sadness, and love.
Slowly she raised the hands to her lips and brushed her mouth against the knuckles. She released Grace’s hands. They slid immediately to Dana’s face and removed her glasses, tucking them into her own pocket. Dana was slow, but eventually her arms wound around the smaller body, entwining them into a tight embrace. Smaller hands moved to the back of the taller woman’s neck and clung for life. Dana buried her face in the strong warmth of Grace’s shoulder and melted.
It did not take long before their mouths found each other, and lips joined in their own embrace. They were kissing deeply, yet tenderly, the way people who promised each other never to hurt one another again do. Dana had not forgotten the taste of her lover’s mouth, of the softness of her lips, but she reveled in being able to experience it again, not having to rely on memories any longer.
The door opened, bringing the touch to an end. Rachel stood in the doorway, grinning from ear to ear as she watched the women move away from each other.
“I figured I would either find you two dead or doing something like that. And for the sake of the program, I’m glad as hell that you two chose the latter. Now if you’re all done making up, I can show you the changes I’ve made in my programs.”
After a few moments to locate her glasses, Dana took her place standing next to Rachel and watched while the hacker described the changes in the code that scrolled by on the screen. “So on Monday he asks me to change the variables for the–”
“–Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen enough,” Dana said, removing her glasses to rub her eyes. “I hope you saved the basic application.”
Rachel did not dignify that with an answer.
“How bad did Greer screw up my program?”
“I think he’s wasted three months on a damned Easter egg hunt. Maybe even backslid by making changes to the applications.”
“Easter eggs?” Grace looked confused.
“He’s spent the past three months trying to find answers randomly, like looking under a bush for an Easter egg. When he ran out of obvious places, he started checking out Rachel’s bush…symbolically, that is, Rach.”
Rachel wore a silly grin. “I’d like to see him try to check out my bush.”
Dana met that with a chuckle.
“What do you suggest now?” Grace asked, understanding the implication of having wasted two months of her budget. The heat she was already dealing with escalated as every week passed.
Dana looked at her watch. It was five-thirty in the morning. “I need to take Rip for a walk.”
“Rip is here?”
“Your security guard has her corralled.”
Grace unfolded her crossed legs and followed Dana out of the room. “How is she?”
Dana chuckled. “Same old bitch as she ever was.”
When they reached the security station, the guard was listening to country music and surfing the Internet. Dana whistled lightly.
Rip jaunted over to her side. When she saw Grace, her tail began to wag violently, and she leaned her body against the doctor’s legs, practically knocking Grace to the floor.
Dana and Grace found a bench in the middle of the park to rest on while Rip ran from tree to tree, sniffing for squirrels and dog pee. Grace was facing Dana, studying the long, straight nose and dark lashes over the pale blue eyes. “Where do we go from here?”
“I think we should repeat the clinical trials of the first modification and use what has happened as a learning tool.”
“No, Dana. I mean, where do we go from here?”
Dana turned to her and shrugged. “Depends on how slow you want to go.”
“I don’t want to go that slowly.”
A smirky half-smile. “Then your place, I guess. I don’t have a room yet.”
Grace looked away and blushed but quickly grew serious. “What about your girlfriend?”
Dana’s eyebrows shot halfway up her forehead. “What makes you think I have a girlfriend?”
“Rachel said you did.”
Dana pulled a mangy tennis ball out of her sweatshirt pocket and tossed it toward the dog, who ran after it. Rachel must have been spying for longer than I suspected, she thought to herself.
“Is she someone special?”
“I don’t think that talking about this is such a good idea.”
“Please. I’m jealous as hell, and I need to know who I’m up against.”
“There is no competition, doctor.” Rip brought her the ball and ran off before Dana could launch the next toss. “Cheater!” Dana eyed the worried young face. “She was a waitress at a little bar in town, a psychology student home for summer break. She was sweet and smart and cute as hell, and we spent a couple of evenings together. Then she went back to school.”
“So it’s over?”
Dana laughed. “It barely got started, Grace.” How do I tell you I spent the whole time thinking about you, wondering why her lips weren’t as soft as yours, or why she didn’t smell as wonderful as you do, or why she didn’t taste as sublime? Rip dropped the ball at her feet and trounced off again. Dana threw the ball as far as she could. “She wasn’t you, Grace.”
The doctor felt a little better, but she could have done without the “cute as hell” remark.
“What about you? Get any speeding tickets lately?”
Grace guffawed. “I don’t even have the time or energy to masturbate.”
Dana found herself smiling at the doctor’s candor. “You poor thing. You must have been really busy. No wonder you’re so tense.” She tentatively reached over and began to playfully knead the tight shoulders. It turned into a real rub when Grace dropped her head and groaned. Grace did not even care that Dana’s hand was covered in dog slobber. The touch felt so good. Dana lifted her other hand and reached across Grace’s shoulder to work the other side. Grace’s head dipped in compliance.
Both jumped when Rip barked at them, the ball lying next to Dana’s black sneakers. Dana removed her hands, leaned over to pick up the ball, and tossed it farther than she had imagined she could. “I want to meet with your materials people first, before Greer comes in.”
“Why not wait for Greer?”
“I think that your stereochemistry was all screwed up and that’s why the rat trials failed so miserably.”
“They weren’t miserable–they were godawful.”
“I get the impression from your organic tech’s notebook that she didn’t know what she was doing. I think your building material was crap.”
“Carbon isn’t just carbon?”
“Not in this case. The carbon molecules we use are asymmetrical three-dimensional shapes, so if the stereochemistry is not of a specific geometrical configuration, we have a problem. Think of them like puzzle pieces that fit together in a specific way to make gears of the nanomachine. Although they aren’t really gears, they function in the same way, especially when trying to create the nano computer network used to program the machine.”
“So the molecules were the wrong shape.”
“Simply put, yes. The product was probably made up of a mixture of the possible configurations.”
“Shouldn’t Greer have checked that first?”
“If he’d had a clue about what he was doing, absolutely.”
“I can’t believe I made such a mistake hiring him.”
“Next time choose better,” Dana said, letting her hand drift to Grace’s back and lazily begin to rub.
Rip came toward them and let the ball roll ten yards to Dana, taking off while it was still rolling. “Look at that–she’s not even coming all the way back anymore.” Dana tossed the ball again but only halfway to where the dog had run, the dog not noticing where it had dropped. Rip sniffed around, looking for the ball. “It’s right there!” Dana yelled and pointed.
“Why do I get so lost without you?”
“I would hardly consider you lost, Grace. I told you this nano world wasn’t easy. And I wouldn’t expect your project to get very far without a technical leader.”
“You seem to have it all together now.”
Dana shook her head. “I worked from dawn to dark every day until I was too tired to eat or think. So it’s not composure you see–it’s exhaustion.”
“But you seem happy.”
“Do you actually believe I could be happy without you?”
Dana slid her arms around the tired administrator and pulled her closer for a kiss. “Are you happy without me?” she whispered into her ear.
“I’m miserable without you.”
Dana smiled and let her lips brush against Grace’s cheek. “Now I’m happy, Grace,” she whispered breathlessly.
Grace wound her arms around the strong, firm body. In an attempt to ward off the jealous thoughts of anyone else touching Dana intimately, she squeezed hard. Dana responded by turning into the embrace and pulling Grace against her chest. Grace buried her face in the soft, clean cotton of the warm, dark sweatshirt and listened to the steady throbbing of Dana’s heart. She smelled familiar and comfortable, and for the first time in several months both women felt whole.
Together they walked down the corridor to the conference room where Rachel was sleeping. Her feet were propped up on the table, and drool was sliding out of the corner of her mouth. Dana slammed the door hard enough to startle Rachel out of her chair and give herself whiplash.
Doc slid into the hacker’s seat. Grace rolled another chair next to Dana’s, for which she was rewarded with a smile.
Dana could see that Grace was exhausted and marveled at her endurance. All she wanted to do was take the blonde home and make love to her for the next few weeks. She reached over and squeezed her knee for support. “You should find a way to get some sleep. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”
“I’ve had less sleep,” the doctor replied, swallowing a yawn.
Doc spent the next few hours explaining what she thought the day’s itinerary should be, first stop the organic laboratory. She was going to have the techs there create a batch of the lattice carbons while she observed, and then they were all going to examine the material for the stereoisomers, using electron microscopy and rotational spectrometry.
And that was exactly how they passed the morning. When Sam Greer finally sauntered in with his espresso from Starbucks and his dark, curly hair slicked back with gel, Dana and Grace had already begun their examination and found the samples so racemated that the carbon was completely useless for constructing the nanomachines.
“I’m surprised that there was any function at all,” Doc commented.
“Sylvia, did you produce all of the material the same way?” Grace asked the young organic tech, whom Dana had insisted take part in the examination to learn what she should be looking for.
“Yes. But Dr. Greer never showed me how to do this.”
Grace looked to Dana.
“They have the pressure too high so that they’ve lost control of the structure,” Dana explained. “Is there any way we can get Jack back up here? At least to talk to Sylvia.”
“I can probably arrange a meeting downstairs.”
“Sylvia, how much training did you have with the carbonic lattices process before Jack left?” Doc inquired.
“Thanks,” she said and left the lab.
Grace followed her out. “My fault again,” Grace admitted to her tall companion. “She’s actually a very good tech.”
“I suggest that you insist that Jack come up and run her through the process until she understands what she is supposed to be doing. And yes, you should have insisted he stay until his replacement was properly trained.”
“I should have insisted that you stay as well.”
They walked to Grace’s office in silence, a tiny smile on Dana’s face. Dana dropped down to the leather couch and looked at her watch. “Ten-fifty? Greer should be here by now. Has Minnie had her baby yet?”
Grace sat in her high-backed executive chair. “Three weeks ago.”
“Did Jack marry her?”
“Three weeks ago.”
“About friggin’ time.” Dana lay back and stretched her arms and legs in an effort to relax.
“They had a little boy, Nate.”
Dana closed her eyes. “That’s nice,” she replied sleepily.
She awoke to her name being spoken and her shoulder being nudged. She was completely unaware of where she was for several seconds, until the sleepy face of Grace filled her vision.
“I never should have sat down,” she complained, rubbing her face. “How long was I out?”
“A little over an hour.”
Dana sat up and placed her feet on the ground. “I’m getting too old for this shit,” she grumbled.
“Jack agreed to come up and talk to you at three. He asked if you were going to take over the program. Actually, everyone is asking me that.”
“I haven’t been able to corner him yet today. He avoids me like you do my mama’s chicken.”
Dana popped a breath mint into her mouth and chewed it, then added two more. “I hate to be the one to tell you this, Grace, but chickens aren’t marsupials.” She offered a mint to Grace, who declined and grabbed her mug of fresh coffee.
“I’ve already notified Barbara and the Board of my desire to have Greer resign, and they support me.”
“You were busy while I slept.”
“I’m going to explain it to Greer as soon as I can find him. And I’m going to use these as leverage,” she explained, holding up the two identical printouts of his thesis and Dana’s theory.
Sam Greer shoved Grace backward against the conference table with such force that the table moved several feet, and then he threw the papers in her face.
Dana, who had been waiting outside, saw the attack through the glass. That was all it took for the darker part of her soul to take control of her body. She had no idea how she had entered the room so quickly or that she had Sam Greer pinned against the dry-erase board until after the fact. He grasped desperately at her arm to break the vise-grip so that he could breathe.
“Dana, let him go,” Grace urged gently from behind her.
But Doc was intent on choking the life out of him and squeezed harder.
“Dana, stop! You’re killing him!” Grace screamed and grabbed her arm to pull her away from the purpling man.
Dana let her hand slide away and stepped away from him. As soon as she let her guard down, he lunged at her, slamming her into the glass wall, which shattered. Dana caught herself against the metal frame and pushed back while sweeping his feet out from under him with a kick. He lay breathlessly on his back, the wind forced out of him by Dana’s knee on his chest and another lodged in his gonads.
Grace pulled her up and away from him.
“I’ll sue you,” he groaned.
“I’m going to take you to court for plagiary, you dumb shit,” Dana barked.
“Get up, go to your office, and type up your resignation, Doctor. I want it on my desk in an hour,” Grace growled.
Grabbing himself, Sam Greer slowly left the conference room.
When they were alone again, Grace addressed Dana. “That was a lot more violent than I intended, Dana.”
“He started it,” Dana said, grabbing a handkerchief out of her pocket and wrapping her bleeding palm.
“Hey, let me see that,” Grace said, unwrapping the hand.
“Ouch!” Dana complained as she examined the deep cut.
“How come you’re always fighting?”
“I don’t know.”
“I want you to go down to the ER and have this cleaned up and closed.”
“No, thanks, it would be just my luck that Nurse Ratchet is on duty. She’ll have to get her voodoo doll back out, and I’ll end up with that crick in my neck again.”
“Go!” Grace ordered, opening the door and pressing her on the back toward the elevator.
Dana looked back at Grace with a scowl.
“Dana Papadopolis. Don’t you move your burly butt another step.”
Dana bared her teeth at the wall. Slowly she turned to the approaching head nurse.
“Dr. Wilson said you were headed down. Got yourself into another slugfest, I hear. Causing more trouble for my favorite doctor?”
Nurse Sydney had the distinguished look of a woman with power and knowledge and who was not going to take any crap from any person, especially Dana. She might have been considered attractive outside of work by someone, but Dana never saw her outside of the ER.
She made a show of sizing up the nurse. Her blond hair was graying and pulled back in a knot, and she wore blue scrubs and a short, white lab coat.
“Attila the Bun, how have you been?”
“Come this way,” she replied, stone-faced, and led Dana into the examining room. “When is the last time you had a tetanus shot?”
“The last time you poked me in the ass,” Dana answered.
“Did I ever tell you how much I enjoyed that too? Sit down,” she said gruffly, indicating the gurney. “What happened?”
“I cut my hand.”
“Duh. On what?” she said, taking the hand and turning it palm up. She removed the bloody fabric. “This is very deep.”
Dana tried not to yelp when she separated the skin. But Sydney’s touch was tender as she inserted a local into the hand and then cleaned it and glued it closed. “You’re lucky you didn’t slice a muscle.” She ran her fingers over Dana’s calluses. “You have tough hands. Where have you been?”
“Your girlfriend missed you.”
“So I’m told.”
“Are you back for good?” She wrapped the hand in clean gauze and taped it for reinforcement.
Dana shrugged. “I think she wants me back.”
Sydney studied her blue eyes and bronze face for several seconds. “If you do decide to stay, you’d better not hurt her.”
“It works both ways,” Dana said coolly and tried out her hand. “Feels better.”
“Wait until the Novocain wears off,” Sydney said with a sadistic smile.
Dana squinted at her, trying to look mean. “Why do you dislike me so much?”
“I don’t dislike you,” the nurse replied and began to clean up. “But Dr. Wilson is special to me.”
“I thought I was special to you,” Dana smirked.
“You are, you little creep,” she said and left the room.
Part Six – Every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle with a force which is directly proportional to the product of the particles’ masses.
Three and a half hours later Grace was having her usual difficult time with the security entry pad to her door. The fact that Dana was sucking on her neck did not help her concentration. Dana reached over her shoulder and punched her secret code into the mechanism, and the door clicked.
“I really hate it when you do that.”
“No, you don’t,” Dana replied, gently nudging her forward.
Grace flipped the wall switch to illuminate her small house and tossed her briefcase and coat on the chair by the door. Dana allowed her eyes to roam over the familiar, yet foreign surroundings. The kitchen counter was cluttered with newspapers, mail, and things the doctor had picked up at the store but failed to put away. The floor was covered with fuzzy debris, not having been vacuumed for several months. Magazines of all sorts were stacked on the coffee table, as were a pair of red pumps and a sweater.
“Damn, Grace, you need a maid.”
“Wait until you see the bathroom.”
Dana walked over to the little john and flipped on the light. “Yuck. You haven’t cleaned it since I left.”
“I’m glad I’m all caught up on my shots. How’s the kitchen?”
“Clean only because I never use it.”
Except for a sink full of cereal bowls and spoons, and an overflowing garbage can, which Rip found quite appealing, she was right.
“Oh, Chipmunk, you really do need me,” she said facetiously and let her hands slide around the torso of the beautiful, overworked slob.
“I need a day off is all.” The blonde tried to play it down. “I’m going to take a shower. I feel kind of grungy.”
“Do you actually think bathing in there is going to help?”
“Be quiet,” she said, slapping the tall brunette in the abs.
Dana made the most of the time alone by dressing the bed with clean sheets and blankets. And then she saw it, the one thing she could not resist. Slowly it drew her closer until she was standing next to it. It beckoned her, and she caved in to its calls. As soon as she pushed the knob in and the hot water started running into the washer, she knew she had gone too far, but it felt so good. A second later the wall was vibrating from Grace’s fist pounding against the tile. “Heh, heh, heh,” Dana chuckled as she pulled the knob back out and the water stopped.
After programming the stereo with Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison, and two slow songs by Melissa Etheridge, she stripped out of her jeans and tossed them into the soapy water, along with her sweatshirt and some of Grace’s clothes that were piled on the floor of the laundry closet. She shook her head, noticing that she had barely made a dent in the mountain of garments.
What she assumed to be clean laundry was strewn across the hope chest at the foot of the bed. While the music played, she began folding and putting away the clothes into the bare dresser drawers. Once the water stopped running in the bathroom, she restarted the washer and settled on the edge of the bed to finish sorting the clothes. She was matching socks when she heard the door open. A cloud of steam whooshed out of the bathroom, followed by the beautiful, damp woman. Wrapped in a towel, Grace approached the bed.
“Can I have that T-shirt and underwear?” she asked, indicating the little stack Dana had built.
“Why, to wear, Dana.”
“But I’m not planning on you wearing anything tonight.”
Dana held the shirt and panties out, but as soon as Grace reached for them, she pulled them away. After several attempts, Grace grabbed the nano tech’s wrist and yanked the garments away, only to disappear into the bathroom again.
When she returned, her golden hair was combed back, and her small frame was covered with the shirt. Dana began to laugh. “What in God’s name are you doing, Grace?” she asked her uncharacteristically shy friend.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The shirt hung down past her knees and elbows. “I’m talking about that outfit.” She laughed again. “Are you wearing your bra too?”
“No,” she said, her hands on her hips. “I was cold.”
Dana sighed. She thought her friend was kind of cute when she was insecure.
Grace tried to change the subject. “I like the music you chose.” The Mac were singing “chains” in their oh, so kicking way.
“Come here,” Dana whispered, reaching for the edge of the shirt.
Grace spun it out of her hand and backed away a half-step.
Confident blue eyes bore into timid green. Dana wanted to tell her not to be afraid, that she would never leave her again, that Grace was the only thing she thought about before falling asleep and the first thing when she awoke. She searched for the words to describe how terribly she ached for her touch…her sound…her breath on her neck. “Grace, I would really like to see you naked,” she stated and reached out again.
Again she was thwarted with a spin.
“I’ll be right back.” The doctor retreated from the room.
“Smoooooooth, Dana,” the tall techie mumbled to herself as she fell backward on the bed. “Jesus, Dana. That was fucking dumb.” She pounded her gauze-wrapped hand against her forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Grace stopped in the doorway with a bottle of water and watched her lover castigating herself. “You go first,” Grace bravely challenged after a few moments of silent observation.
Dana sat right up. One of her eyebrows shot up into her bangs, and a mischievous smile settled on her lips. She reached for the bottom edge of her shirt and pulled upward, revealing her tanned, rippled flesh.
Grace’s throat became parched but instead of sipping from her bottle, she found herself licking her lips. Yikes, Dana looked good, she thought, as the round breasts revealed themselves…then the shoulders. She took a long swig of dihydrogen monoxide.
The powerful fisherwoman moved to her feet, bringing herself closer to the mesmerized blonde. Sliding her fingers under the waistband of her shorts, Dana pushed them down until they dropped to the carpet of their own accord. Of course, Grace’s eyes followed the falling garment past the dark triangle, past the knees, and down to the ankles. While Dana stepped out, Grace’s eyes leisurely climbed the long, tan legs.
“Your turn.” Amused blues met startled greens.
Dana sat back on the bed, crossed one long leg over the other, and nodded.
Gingerly Grace approached and stood before her. “One thing,” she said timidly.
Dana sighed. “Hmmm.”
“I’ve put on some weight.”
“So have I.”
“Yeah, but you were sort of skinny.”
“So were you.” She was running her hands under the shirt over the soft skin of the doctor’s sides. A half-grin formed on the dark face.
“What?” Grace’s voice was pregnant with insecurity.
She let her hands roam down the hot body and began to remove the underwear as she pulled the beautiful blonde closer. Her hands then slid up over the soft, naked buttocks and strong back to pull her closer still.
“I look like my sister.”
“Your sister is beautiful,” Dana whispered, enthralled by what she felt under her callused hands. Those hands began to push the T-shirt upwards, revealing golden curls and a smooth belly. The rippled skin was gone, but a definite line still ran straight from her sternum through her belly button. Dana tried to measure the amount of body fat by pinching but barely achieved an inch. Her hand was slapped when she looked up with that silly half-grin. In an effort to apologize she leaned forward and placed her lips on the exposed skin of the blonde’s stomach just below the belly button. “You are beautiful,” she mumbled into the softness. She pressed her cheek against the warmth. “And crazy for thinking I could ever find you unattractive.” She looked directly into the other woman’s eyes. “Grace, you look really good, and you haven’t put on much weight at all.”
It was more like twenty, but Dana was not going to argue. “In all the right places. Now I won’t get poked by those bony hips.”
Grace smiled, pulled the oversized shirt over her head, and straddled the muscular legs of her love. “My hips were never bony.”
“I have scars, see?”
“Shut up,” she said. Using her weight, she pushed the protesting woman backward on the bed. An unpleasant memory flashed through Dana’s mind, but it was exorcized by the exquisite sensation of Grace’s hot, wet mouth on hers, soft breasts pressed against her own. Hardened hands gripped Grace’s head, and the bodies began to slide against each other fervently until they both became desperate for more, much more.
Dana awoke at dawn to the soothing sounds of the ocean and the rhythmic sound of her lover breathing next to her ear. Grace was up on her elbow watching her and playing with the long, dark hair. She had been watching her for at least forty-five minutes.
“Morning,” Dana said, trying to roll over to face her. Still drained from the night’s activities, her body was slow to respond. “Ummm,” she mumbled as she tried again. She decided to stay on her back. “I do believe I have been rocked.”
Dana smiled at the ceiling, having finally discovered the true meaning of the term she had heard her bawdy, sex-crazed crew use to describe a great hump. She sighed and relaxed into the soft mattress. “Rocked,” she repeated with a longer, satisfied sigh. She did not know if it was the exhaustion of working and staying up through the night, or the little extra Grace was packing these days, but boy, oh, boy, she was feeling well loved this morning.
“You’re implying I rocked you.”
“I think it was you, unless your sister is visiting.”
“I can’t believe you said that to me.” The pink, chapped lips of the smaller woman began to pout.
Dana rolled over and kissed her on those full lips and tried to convey in the touch that she was the only one. Releasing her, she drifted back and watched Grace’s eyes flutter open. “Let’s go swimming,” she said, springing out of bed and yanking her naked companion along. Dana surveyed the large number of purpling love bites on the pale skin and smiled wickedly.
“It’s still September, Dana. My neighbors will be out there,” she protested.
“It’s five a.m. Who the hell is up at this hour? Joy would do it.”
A sinister look passed from the doctor to her lover as the one dragged the other through the house to the back door. “Noah would kill her.”
“Yeah, right. He’d be taking pictures.” Dana opened the back door to the deck and let Rip go out first. The nearest summer home was a hundred yards away toward the main road. “Stop being so….” She drew a square in the air, making chalkboard noises along each edge.
“God, I hate when you do that,” she hissed through gritted teeth.
“No, you don’t.” She was beginning to draw a fresh shape when Grace grabbed her fingers.
“I love you, Chipmunk, but I think you need a dip.”
“I think I just had one.”
“That’s it, you sassy, Hee-Haw, frog-eating hillbilly. She grabbed the smaller, nude form by the waist and slung her over her wide shoulder.
Blood flooded Grace’s head while she watched the wooden planks of the deck and then the white sand pass under her, her butt stuck into the air for all of the morning sea gulls to dive-bomb.
“Oh, hi, Mrs. Nesmith.” Dana waved to a pretend neighbor. Grace panicked and strained to look around, but before she could right herself, she felt her body being thrown into the cold, green waves of the ocean. Before she could panic, strong arms reached in and lifted her above the surface, holding her tightly against an equally powerful golden body.
“You are such a shit,” she said, wiping saline and snot from her face..
“That’s not what you were calling me last night,” Dana replied with a wiggle of the eyebrows. She moved in and began to nuzzle an already purple mark on the soft shoulder.
Tender hands wrapped around the long neck and tugged down until her mouth could reach the full bruised lips above her. High tide gently rose and fell against their chests. They broke the kiss when they heard Rip barking and saw her chasing a twilight jogger who had to veer off the beach, more concerned with avoiding having his rump bitten off than the two naked women getting it on in the surf.
“I think we should take this inside before we get arrested,” Little Miss Propriety suggested. She led her tall companion gracefully from the waves across the sand and back to the house. But they did not get any farther than the dining room table before Dana said the hell with propriety.
A few hours later, after Dana had had a chance to clean the bathroom and Grace had vacuumed, they rested together on the sofa under a century-old, hand-crafted, Kentucky quilt. Grace was sprawled across Dana’s outstretched legs and was feeding her spoonfuls of ice cream for breakfast. It was the only thing Grace had that did not come in a can or require nuking.
Dana, who rarely watched television, was flipping through the Saturday morning cartoons. “These things sure have become tame since I was a kid. They don’t even let Sylvester get mauled behind the fence by those dogs anymore.”
“Television desensitizes kids to violence.”
“Yeah, right, those scientists can bite me,” Dana said, taking a mouthful of butter-pecan ice cream from the offered utensil. “We’re talking Looney Tunes here.”
“Ugh!” Dana groaned her frustration as Wyle E. Coyote managed to escape the falling boulder again. “This sucks,” she exclaimed, flipping the channel to the weather station, where they were told about the weather in California.
“No. I’m in Connecticut.” She changed the channel again and took another spoonful. She landed on the Adventure Channel, which was playing old reruns of a series about Hercules. “Ruth and Dad used to bust my butt for watching this show.” Another spoonful was offered and accepted. “By the way, I’ve noticed it’s always two for you, one for me.” Grace leaned over and offered a sweet, sugary kiss, which was savored. On the television screen a nasty, green, slimy monster was holding Hercules upside down.
“That guy looks like Booger.”
Dana tilted her head to get a better look at the dangling actor. He did look a lot like Booger. The monster vomited on Hercules, and then there was a break for a commercial. “The violence on these shows never affected me.”
“Dana?” Grace said in surprise.
“You tried to drive Sam Greer through the wall yesterday.”
“He hurt you,” Dana said and flipped the channel.
Grace, although somewhat frightened by the sheer power Dana could wield, was also touched that she had used it to protect her. “What time will the lattices be ready?”
“And then we assemble the new machines for the trials.”
“First we have to remove any stereogenically impure substances; then we assemble the machines.”
“And then we’ll add a radioactive tracer carbon so that we can measure whether or not the machines can locate the tumors in the rats.”
“And if we’re successful, will you leave?”
Dana turned from the television to the woman who was asking her a very important question. “We’ll need to talk about that.”
Fear cinched the insecure woman’s gut.
“We need to find something that will allow us both to be happy. Let’s not worry about it now.” Her good hand cupped a smooth, fair cheek. “Okay?” Dana offered a cunning half-smile when Grace pressed into the cradling hand and kissed it.
“This is a dream,” she murmured.
“There aren’t any commercials in dreams,” Dana quipped and switched the channel again.
“Give me that,” Grace said, tossing the carton of Hood onto the coffee table next to the red shoes and lunging for the remote control.
Using her long arms, Dana was able to thwart the attack by holding the remote high above her head. The smaller woman tried to claim the booty by climbing the reclined body, playing right into Dana’s hands and her sexual advances and quickly diverting further bloodletting in the battle for the remote.
“Oh, God,” Grace exclaimed, sliding her hands into the thick head of hair that was attached to the freezing teeth and tongue that had latched onto her left nipple. Her right knee slid against Dana’s supremely tender and rapidly warming southern region, eliciting a muffled groan from the nano tech. Dana had an idea. She reached for the container on the table and dug out the melting cream with two fingers and then swirled it around the hard, pink nipples in front of her.
Grace arched into the touch. “That’s cold.”
“I can see that,” Dana said with a very naughty grin on her face. Then she began to taste the dessert herself and groaned again at the sweet double prize. She lifted them both up, still attached to the tasty nipple, and flipped them over so that Grace was writhing under her. Using the other hand, she reached over for a larger dollop and began to smear a line from the smaller woman’s breasts to her belly button. Grace began to giggle as Dana licked her way down. When she finished cleaning the rounded abdomen, she reached for another scoop and smiled evilly at her impromptu plate.
Grace began to laugh harder at the stained face of her lover and wiped a round smudge from her nose. “You have a pencil mustache and a goatee,” she giggled. “You look like a snowboard junkie.”
Dana arched her eyebrows in question, managing to heighten the comedic look and making the blonde laugh even harder. As if Grace would mind, she took a larger scoop of cream and smeared it on the rounded belly. Using her shoulder, she spread the doctor’s legs and covered the tender flesh of her inner thighs with cool stickiness. She started the taste test smack-dab in the middle of her tummy and used the next hour to decide which section tasted best. They spent the rest of the afternoon passed out under the soft blanket, tangled in each other’s arms.
“Your have butter pecan under your chin,” the little blonde said with a chuckle. She reached up with the soap and began to wash the sticky crust away. Dana held the slick body in front of her loosely while the hot water pelted her back and relaxed under her touch. Grace was soaping up her muscular shoulders and chest, running her soft fingers over the new ripples and old scars. When she touched a firm, tender breast, Dana slipped her tough hands onto the round bottom and found a hot mouth with hers. Smaller arms moved around to blindly lather her back.
“I don’t think I will ever get tired of tasting you,” Dana said, swaying them gently.
“Turn around so I can wash your hair.” Grace stood on her tiptoes, balanced by Dana’s hands on her waist, and scrubbed the raven locks. “Okay, rinse, and then you do me.”
“Gladly,” Dana replied, forcing the soft, smooth body against the tile wall. “Should I start anywhere in particular?” she whispered into the ear she was nibbling.
“I meant wash me.”
“Ohhh.” Dana took the soap that was offered to her.
Dana let one eyebrow arch as she began to work the soap into a thick, fluffy lather.
Part Seven – Applications of Newton’s Second Law
After an early dinner out, the two lovebirds drove into New Haven to the Yale Research Facility. Rachel’s Porsche was already in the parking garage when they arrived. “You know you’re lucky to have her?” Dana said of the computer whiz.
Grace smiled knowingly. She felt lucky and relaxed, but it was not because Rachel Jones was working on the cancer project. For the first time in months she was dressed casually in blue jeans and one of Dana’s T-shirts because she liked the way it smelled. She and her lanky lover were unself-consciously holding hands while they strolled to the security desk. Grace signed Doc in and handed her the key card/badge to wear.
“You’re nervous, Dana said after they passed through the electronic doors. She lifted a hand to her lips for a kiss as they rounded the corner and passed the administrator’s office.
“No, actually I’m not. But I should be; my whole career is riding on this.”
“You can always go back to saving lives as a real doctor. You remember that job you had that you liked.”
“I’m still a doctor.”
“No offense, Grace, but what you’re doing now does not take the intellect of an M.D. It could be done by any suit who can count to ten a few million times.”
The doctor’s face darkened. “I’m offended,” she said quietly. “What I’m doing here is very important.”
“I didn’t mean to sound condescending. What I meant was that you don’t need four years of med school, three years of residency, and three years in the ER to run this program. Especially with all of the politicking and budgeting.”
The feisty woman pulled her hand away. “There’s a lot more to it than politics and budgets.”
Dana tried to recover after the hand was abruptly withdrawn. “What I think is that you should be more involved with practicing medicine because you’re a really wonderful doctor.” Unfortunately, once she started being open, Doc really did not have any idea about when to stop. “You sit in your office all day or travel around the building to meetings babysitting egos and schmoozing the brass. I’m telling you that all it takes is a politician with a scientific calculator. Hell, a politician could probably do it in half the time while kissing some hairy suit’s ass.”
Grace grimaced. “Have you seen how hairy your ass is?”
“Funny.” Dana was unamused as she held the door open. “I’m serious about this, and you’re being mean.”
“I’m trying not to take what you’re saying too seriously, otherwise I would be quite ticked at you.”
“For what? All I said was that you could be doing something more–”
“–I know exactly what you said.” She was donning a pair of safety glasses and handed a pair to Doc.
“You don’t enjoy your work.”
Grace laughed. “No, I’m not enjoying this conversation about my work. Let’s drop it.”
“–Look, this was my choice. I have very good reasons for choosing this path, and it’s not a whim or a part-time job.” She turned away and started to walk to the back room where Rachel, Jack, and Sylvia were standing.
Dana’s lips tightened into a firm line. “I’d like to know what those reasons are when you feel I’m capable of understanding them.” She wound around the opposite side of the lab benches. Distance was necessary. Turning her attention to the three in the back who were watching them, she said, “What are you three waiting for? Betty Crocker? Take those cookies out of the oven before they burn.”
Jack slid his arms into a pair of static-prevention gloves and entered the small, plexiglas-enclosed area called the hood room while Doc disengaged the carbonic-preparation apparatus from a control panel outside. Using a speaker, she told Jack that the machine was disengaged. He opened the lid to the billion-dollar pressure cooker and removed a foot-long silver cylinder, placing it into a hood which contained several spectrometers and an electronic MelTemp.
After air-locking the hood and decontaminating it, Jack showed Sylvia the procedure for testing the material for purity of the material, using the melting point. Then both he and Doc showed her how to use the optical spectrometer to evaluate the percentages of R-carbonic lattices and the unwanted mirror images. In this particular batch, the unwanted molecules numbered very few, less than five percent.
Doc removed her glasses and left the hood room, followed by Jack. “It’s a really good batch,” she told Jack.
“I figure maybe two passes through the filter should clean it up.”
Doc nodded. “Why don’t you run the filtering with Sylvia while Rachel cleans up the assembling program. Dr. Wilson can call the Rat people and pathologist to arrange for the trials.” She addressed Grace. “We should be ready to go in three hours.” Turning to the hacker, she said, “I’m going to work on a few adjustments for the assembly program, and I’ll bring them to you for incorporation when I’m done.” The orders given, she tossed her unused safety glasses onto the lab bench and left the lab.
The self-appointed keeper of the nanoverse settled herself at the conference room table. She tried to ignore the plastic taped across the missing wall and cracked her knuckles. Slipping her little rims from her pocket and setting them on her face, she verbally commanded a loaner laptop to life. She had downloaded as many files on small-cell carcinoma from as many on-line libraries around the world as she could find. The preliminary studies she had done on the Yale project were insufficient to take the project the next level up. But the disc she had given Grace when she thought she was going to die was meant to be only a starting point. Intent on taking that step, she scribbled notes while the computer read her information about what was important on the physiological systemic level and the cellular level.
The baseline had been nothing more than a nanomachine with strong enough propulsion mechanisms to move against the flow of blood in the veins. Now she was trying to add a mechanism for locating the tumor cells throughout the body. The first thing she needed to decide on was which chemical signal the nanomachines would follow that would lead them to the tumors. She had to admit that it would have been a lot easier to understand the pathology of the cancer with a microbiologist handy than to try to learn it all on her own. She should have asked Grace for help.
Instead, she stubbornly spoke her commands into the computer, trying to incorporate a receptor for G-enzymes secreted by malignant cells. She ran a loop to debug the code and discovered several syntax errors, which caused her to cuss extremely lewdly. Then she ran simulations using her rat program and the new model. The results were abominable, with less than ten percent of the tumors located. Dana pushed her glasses up to rest on her forehead while she rubbed her blurred eyes.
“Six percent?” Grace said behind her.
Dana stiffened at the comment.
“I thought we were closer to twenty percent without locators at all.”
“I’m trying to up the efficiency before going to trials.”
“I may be totally unqualified to say this, but I think the percentages are supposed to go up to be more efficient. But correct me if I’m off-base.”
“Grace, I never said you were unqualified,” she stated.
“Not ‘whatever.'” Dana turned to her. “I said that what you were doing was beneath your capabilities.”
“Curing cancer is not beneath me.”
Dana rolled her eyes. “Okay, you keep collecting your reports and counting your pennies.”
“That’s an awfully hypocritical position for an extraordinary scientist who wastes her time gutting fish for a living.”
“I don’t gut them, I catch them. And the difference is that I like fishing. You hate what you’re doing, and it’s making you old and cranky.”
“I don’t hate it. Maybe you should ask me how I feel about things instead of telling me.”
Dana offered a small smile as a peace offering. “Is that what I’m doing?”
“I’m sorry,” Dana said softly. “I only want to see you happy again.”
A small, smooth hand brushed a high cheekbone. “I know, but I don’t need to be told what to do or how I feel. I have a mother for that, and that’s why I live nine hundred miles away from her.”
“Can you take some criticism?”
“Ugh, Dana, what now?”
“Hire a bean counter to run your budget and get more involved in the technical portion of the work. I guarantee it will lower your stress level and bring you closer to your people. Right now they see you as a suit.”
“But you said it yourself; I don’t know shit about nano.”
“You can run the clinicals.”
Grace scratched her chin and thought about the suggestion. “What else?”
“Volunteer one day a month at the clinic.”
“I’ll consider it. What else?”
Dana smiled. “Take off all of your clothes and dance a bump-and-grind on the table for me.”
“It was worth a try.” Dana pointed to her computer. “Help me with this.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The levels of G-enzyme secreted by the malignant cells in the anterior and posterior positions of the body are so diluted by the time the enzyme molecules reach the insertion point that the nanomachines cannot distinguish a direction to follow.”
“Have you changed the variable range or the data bytes being scanned?”
“I’ve tried both increasing and decreasing, but nothing works. By the time the molecules reach the nanomachines, the concentration is too uniform and the probes can’t detect a gradient.”
“Hmmmm…what about tracking another secretion as well?”
“Grace, I’m not a doctor or a pathologist. Help me out.”
“Okay, we’re trying to detect malignant neoplasms, which are noncapsulated masses that secrete abnormal levels of the G-enzyme and a copious amount of oncogenic proteins.”
“Wait right there.” Doc woke her computer from its sleep. “Can you name some of these onco proteins?”
“Sure, there are k-ras, b-ras, m-ras, z-ras….”
“All malignant cells display these proteins?”
“No, k-ras is detectable in colon cancer, b-ras in some breast tumors, m-ras in liver cancer. But secondary cancer masses that develop from cancer cells that have metastasized will exhibit oncogenic proteins dependent on the type of cell they have invaded.”
“Is it species-determined?”
“No, it’s dependent on cell type: liver, neural, kidney, but not species-specific unless the species does not have a certain organ or cell type.”
Doc rolled her neck. “We’ll start with one protein and then add the function of detecting the others later. Let’s see if I can find the protein structure in the Merck Molecular Database, and then I have to create a new receptor to detect the presence of the protein.”
The two worked together, developing the additions to the modeled machine and its programming. Dana then added the oncogenic proteins to her stimulation program and began to run it. The results for rats with liver tumors came to seventy percent.
“How many injection sites are you using?”
“I was thinking six or seven would be more logical than one.”
“Both femoral veins, the brachials, the external jugular, the inferior vena cava, and the hepatic.”
“That would put a lot of undue stress on the patient. Don’t we usually know where the cancer is?”
“Unless it has spread, which is very common in Stage III and Stage IV cancer cases.”
“Then I would change the protocol for treatment for those cases only. But that’s a good point. There’s nothing keeping us from moving the point of entry closer to the known tumors as well. The nanomachines are going to have to swim upstream to the neoplasms no matter where we inject them. The closer they are to the target, the less energy they’ll expend and the lower the chance of failure.”
They varied the location and number of the injection points in the simulations, and the percentages of successes increased to eight.
“Much better,” Grace said and pecked Dana on the cheek.
“The variable range is too high, and too many of the probes are misdirected.” She resized the range and ran the simulations until she had reached ninety-five percent success.
“Good enough,” Grace said. Dana transferred the probe assembly program to the network so that Rachel could download it into the assembly computer.
By seven a.m. Sunday, Grace was injecting one hundred white, furry, red-eyed rats with the latest version of the nanomachines. Some of the rodents had benign tumors, some were given cancerous tumors which were in various stages of severity, and then there were the temporarily healthy rats. Each rat was given eight hours with the locators in its body, and then they were all put to sleep and sliced up by the pathology techs. All of their vital organs were mounted on slides and viewed for abnormalities and the presence of locators. The tumors of the affected rats were also sliced, mounted, and surveyed.
By six Monday morning all of the data were compiled and Grace was wiped out. Doc had refused to have anything to do with the rats, being particularly fond of one blond chipmunk herself. Instead, she added receptors to the model for the other oncogenic proteins and, after changing the simulation programs to incorporate the proteins, ran electronic simulations on beagles and monkeys.
After wracking her brain to remember her e-mail password for Rachel’s server, Dana perused the overflowing mailbox.
Grace came into the conference room with a bright smile despite the hour. “All done,” she said, walking over to the dry-erase board. She picked up a marker and began to draw what looked like a column graph. “What do you think?” she asked, turning to her lover.
“I think that marker smells like phoof, and you need art lessons.”
“Ninety-freaking-nine percent, Dana, and no other organs were detrimentally affected. God, I’m so excited.” She flopped down on the chair next to the art critic.
“So we can locate the tumors. Now what do we do with the cancer cells?”
Grace leaned her head on the back of the chair and relaxed. “Don’t burst my bubble yet, Babe. We’ll approach the team on Monday about that.”
“It is Monday.”
“Then Tuesday. Stop being so uptight.”
“We need to talk about this, Grace. I’m due back in Maine.”
The doctor could hear the air hissing out of her bubble. This was the moment she had dreaded. “Don’t tell me you can’t stay.”
“I have other responsibilities.”
“What, a fishing boat?”
“I don’t like your tone.”
“You have a screwed-up sense of priorities.”
“Wait a second. I’m thinking about a promise I made to Booger. I can’t leave him hanging.”
“You’re talking about one person. I’m talking about hundreds of millions, present and future. And, Dana, there is no way I’m going to let you waltz down here, fuck my brains out, and sashay away again. And don’t suggest a weekend thing. Long-distance relationships don’t work for me. I need to be able to jump your bones at least twice a week.”
“What if you came with me?”
“I can’t do that.”
“You could open an office in town.”
“If I wanted to put my shingle up, I would be back in Cox’s Creek, taking over my daddy’s practice.”
Dana studied the pencil that had found its way into her hands and frowned.
“You owe us all, Dana.”
“Because I’m the Beta killer?”
“No. You owe us your gift.”
“What if I fuck up again? This nano has colossal powers.”
Grace took the pencil away and held the strong, nervous hands. “That’s why you have me.”
“Can I have the summers off to fish?”
Grace’s green eyes twinkled and her face scrunched up in a way that always made Dana’s stomach flutter. “We can negotiate something.”
“I would expect some other perks.”
“A new laptop.”
“Access to your body on demand.”
Dana smiled her crooked half-smile. “You’re sure you don’t want to think that one over, Grace? It will be more than twice a week, I guarantee it.”
I’ll have to build up my stamina.”
“How about a signing bonus?” Dana suggested with a wiggle of her dark eyebrows.
“Let’s go home and feed the dog,” the doctor answered and extended her hand.
She took it. “Interesting euphemism.”
“I think you spent too much time on that boat with those horny teenagers.”
Dana allowed herself to be led down the hallway to the elevators. “We should talk about living arrangements.”
“I think we did right fine before you moved out.”
“Of course you do, Pig Pen.”
The elevator doors opened. “Yeah, it was like you were my doting wife, staying home, cleaning, baking me a chicken pot pie, keeping me warm at night. I didn’t realize how good I had it.”
They stepped into the elevator and the doors closed.
“Sounds like I was more like your slave.”
“How about sex slave?”
“That has a nice ring to it.”
Part Eight – The Equal Arm Analytical Balance.
By late October the acid rain had long since stripped the trees of their leaves, and the woodland lining I-95 slipped by in a blasé blur. Dana and Grace were well into their fourth week of remapping each other’s bodies, a rather intense process, as one can imagine. And when the two were not waist-high in geography, topography, or whipping cream, they worked closely on modification number two of the nano project, where they happened to be heading that Friday morning.
“Barbara wants you to come to the meeting today.”
“Babs wants me there? How genuinely intriguing.” Dana rolled down the Jeep Wrangler’s window and spit into the wind.
“You want me to swallow it?” she replied, rolling the window back up.
“Do you want to swallow it?”
“Stop it–you’re making me nauseous.”
Dana grinned evilly. “I think I’m coming down with something.”
“Did you get your flu shot like I asked you to?”
“No way, Grace. I’m not going to play into the hands of some government infectious-disease experiment.”
“You’re so paranoid.”
“It’s not paranoia if–”
“–Yeah, yeah, yeah, if they’re really out to get you.”
They both shared a silent exchange of a very real concern. “And I’m not going to a meeting so that a bunch of rich people can bitch at me and ask me why there isn’t a cure for cancer yet.”
“Why not? I do it every week.”
“That’s because you have to. I’m a technical person. The only other person’s opinion I care about is yours, and we have meetings every night.”
“You don’t care about my opinion. If you did, you wouldn’t be launching loogies from my car window. I’m waiting for one of those to fly back in and hit you in the face.”
“Never gonna happen, Sweetcheeks.” P-tew.
“Ah, gross. Jesus, Dana, at the very least roll the window down next time.”
“Okay, quiet down, everybody.” Doc walked around the circular conference table where all of her techs were seated for their Friday afternoon recap and planning meeting. “Due to the fact that nobody has come up with an imaginative solution to our current dilemma, I suggest we try another approach.” She sat in her own cushioned seat, leaned back in her chair, and planted her long legs across the tabletop. After stretching, she clasped her hands behind her head. “Everyone, feet up and head back!”
The guys were the first to follow her command, some of the women in skirts quite hesitant. Eventually, though, all fifteen techs and their unique leader had elevated their feet above their heads. “Now maybe we can get some blood to those Ivy League brains of yours. Close your eyes.”
Someone began to giggle.
“Knock it offf!” Rachel barked. “I’m trying to sleep.”
Doc climbed out of her chair and went over to the giggling grad student. “There’s nothing funny about this,” she said in her best ex-con voice. Several people began to chuckle. “Knock it off!”
Dr. Wilson was sauntering down the hall after her board meeting, grateful to be released but dreading being the one to tell Dana that they expected a new projection report for the project’s remaining timeline. After Sam Greer’s delays, the board had cut the budget for the next modification by half. Hoping to catch the tail end of the group’s Friday meeting, she peeked in the window and found the entire staff taking a siesta. Dumbfounded, she watched for a moment and then knocked on the door.
Dana popped up from her reclined position and answered the knock.
“What in the world are you doing in there?” she asked.
“I need your input on something.”
“Hold on a second,” Dana said to Grace and leaned back inside the room. “Every person in this room stays exactly the way they are, and I don’t want any of you to come up until we have at least one epiphany.” She closed the door to the sound of Rachel singing “Just the Way You Are” and joined Grace in the hallway. “What do you need from me, Grace?”
“Come,” the doctor commanded and began walking down the hall toward her office. “Given the fact that you’re some kind of nano miracle worker, I’m not even going to ask why you have those people acting like kindergartners.” Dana responded with that silly half-grin. “I need to know how many man-hours by category you expect the new generation to take.”
“Ah, Grace,” Doc complained as they entered the cluttered office. “I hate doing this stuff.” She fell down into the cushions of the couch.
“It’s all part of the job. We can’t spend all our time napping in the conference room.”
“You keep making fun of my methods and we’ll see how much help you get with your projections.”
Grace sat in the leather chair behind her desk. “Don’t threaten me, Dana. I need those numbers, and if I have to, I’ll resort to more drastic methods.”
A black eyebrow arched.
“Come on, Babe. Give me some numbers and I’ll let you get back to circle time.”
“Only if you join us.”
“No deal.” Doc climbed off the couch.
“All right! I’ll participate.” She wanted to anyway. It seemed that she was always kept away from the Friday meetings by a board or budget meeting. Now this way she would get the numbers she needed without owing anything she was not willing to give. It was mesmerizing to watch Doc with her people; she had enjoyed seeing the transformation of the unhappy, faltering group into an effective team within four weeks.
“I’ll give you the numbers tonight. The team can’t wait too long.”
The team was upright and jabbering when the two women returned. “I guess I lucked out,” Grace commented.
Dana clapped her hands. “Okay, who’s our genius today?”
“Sylvia,” Rachel stated.
“Sylvia, how refreshing. And what is your idea?”
Doc looked around the room at all of the concurring faces.
“Pepe’s?” Grace asked in confusion.
“Pepe’s for pizza and beer it is. Grab your coats and your picture IDs, kids. We’re going to party tonight.” She winked at Grace.
The spirits of the Yale group were higher than the cost of living as they scrambled to hunt up their car keys and headed for the elevator. Dana followed Dr. Wilson to her office, a triumphant bounce in her gait.
“You’re a good leader, Dana.”
“Come on, Chipmunk, let’s go get drunk on suds and stuffed on the best pizza in the world.”
The blonde sat in her chair. “I have to work.”
Dana flipped off the lights to the office and dragged her out from behind her desk. “You need to be with your coworkers. Now bond!”
“Shhhh. I mean it. Plus, you promised me you’d come.”
Half the group was waiting for the next run of the elevator.
After half an hour of waiting on the downtown sidewalk for entrance into the small restaurant, the group ended up with the right half of the dining room. They pulled all of the loose tables together and conquered several booths as well to make it homey. Somehow Grace and Dana ended up at opposite ends of the large table, which probably bothered the introverted Dana more so than her gregarious roommate. Grace was pleased to find out that the young techs surrounding her were extremely friendly and had a million questions for her, some of which centered on what she had gone through with the Beta Destroyers.
While Grace was busy socializing, Dana ordered the pitchers of beer, ten assorted large pizzas, and several salads. By the second round of beer, Grace had warmed to her new friends, and they were singing lewd versions of Cole Porter songs and laughing hysterically.
Rachel rolled her eyes at Doc. “This has to be Yalie humor.” Dana nodded and sat back to observe the glowing doctor. For a moment she was transported to an earlier time, a year prior in a blues bar, where she had first noticed the easy spirit of the beautiful woman, her easy touch and smile, and the wonderful, deep, melodious laugh. The events of the past year had transformed Grace into a serious, gray creature as of late, but at that moment she seemed young and vibrant and colorful again. Or had Dana changed Grace, sucked the happiness from her to claim it as her own?
A sudden jolt of discomfort settled in on the ex-con as the noise level rose. Dana took a long swig of her beer and returned her attention to a conversation about a theory on circuits with Rachel and Ernie, her computer assistant. Then she was reminded of why her attention had wandered in the first place. She poured herself another beer and downed it quickly. After she put her empty glass on the table, her eyes wandered back to the object of all her desires, the very same person whom she could not reach at the moment unless she were to climb on top of the table and crawl down to her.
“What do you think, Doc?” the thick-lensed, red-headed computer programmer asked.
“I think that you should write up a proposal for Grace and see if she’ll fund you.”
“You think she would help me?”
“Um-hmm.” She poured another tall glass.
Ernie beamed from ear to ear, his wild, curly hair and freckles making him appear so youthful it left Dana wondering if he was old enough for the beer he was sipping.
“Excuse me,” Dana said, pushing herself away from the table. On her way to the bathroom she ordered another five pitchers and paid for the meal with her seldom-used credit card, which was not in her real name. Paranoia was definitely a hard habit to shake. She lingered in the bathroom longer than was necessary because, except for the occasional flush, it was quieter than the rest of the restaurant.
When she returned, she discovered that the entire group was plastered, lit, snockered out of their gourds. Grace was standing on her chair, reciting in her best bardic persona all of the dirty limericks that Fuzzy had told her. Sometimes a good memory was not always a good thing to waste. Rachel was on the other end, yelling, “Bring it on, Queenie!” and offering her own, very natty rhymes. The drunken students were laughing and cheering their leaders on.
The tall ex-con felt lucky to be able to watch two of the people she cared for most in the world having a good time and knowing that she had played some part in putting them there, in making them happy. This gave her the rare feeling of being whole, much like the gratification she felt when she brought her lover physical pleasure.
Grace began to sway immediately after downing an offered glass, and several hands went up to spot her. Rachel was doing her own weaving, but Dana was not too worried about the hacker, who had more lives than a cat.
The energy level in the restaurant was so high it made the hair on Dana’s arms stand on end. She decided not to force her way back to the table when she realized a very lovely undergraduate had infiltrated the party and was in her seat, eyeing Rachel suggestively. Instead, she wandered to the back of the floor and hid in a dark booth to ride out the rest of the evening. Seeking solitude, Dana dreamt of the calmness of the ocean, the sun on her skin, the salty breeze, and the occasional action of battle with the seagulls dive-bombing her grill for the day’s catch.
A passing waitress offered her a cup of coffee, which she gladly accepted. By the looks of things, she was going to be driving several people home or back to the hospital. Grace was no longer on her chair, but she was involved in the happy chatter. More people were filtering in the door for late pizza, and the restaurant was crowded again, so much so that Dana could no longer see her lover.
The busy waitress refilled her coffee during a hasty pass and then disappeared into the crowd to take orders. A busboy brushed noisily by her while bringing in extra chairs from a storeroom in the kitchen, distracting her.
“Hello, Dana.” A man she thought she recognized slid into the vinyl bench across from her. Another man towered over her, blocking an escape and covering her reaction from anyone else’s view.
A shiver of panic traveled down her long spine. In reaction, she palmed the coffee spoon from the table and slipped it up her coat sleeve. “Let me guess. You’re here to give me another nano virus,” she said dryly. She lifted her cup to her lips and sipped.
“No, we’re here to see if you would like to go for a ride with us.”
Scorching coffee burned her tongue and the roof of her mouth. “I have other plans.”
“You will have to change them,” the seated man replied calmly.
“And why would I want to do that? You guys can’t be half the fun that my friends are.”
“Your friends, or that little blonde over there that you’re living with, splashing around naked with in the ocean at the most ungodly of hours? Hmmm?”
“How fun will she be when she’s dead?” boomed the creep next to her.
Dana tried to lie. “I don’t go for blondes.”
The man across from her laughed at her attempt. “Then you wouldn’t mind if Rob and I introduced ourselves?”
“I doubt you’re her type.”
“We have a lot in common.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Sure we do. For instance, I know some things about the Beta’s creator that she is not aware of, things that may not make you welcome in the facility where you work…or in her bed.”
Dana mentally picked that card up from the table and squirreled it away for later. “Are you trying to blackmail me?”
Rob was beginning to feel conspicuous and opened up his leather jacket to reveal his sidearm. “Get up off your ass–now.”
Dana lifted her cup to her lips and played it cool. It was a public place, and she doubted they would try to use an aerosol with themselves present. She was sure that her last assailants had died undocumented after spraying her. “Make me, Uncle Fester.”
His fat, muscular hand jerked her upward, making her spill her coffee on the table and her leg. “Hey!” she yelled. “I told you I don’t dance.” Several people in the surrounding booths looked up to find out what the commotion was about.
The man who was seated across from her stood up and waved for his overbearing friend to join him, and they then walked to the rowdy side of the dining room. The thinner man, whom she now remembered as the pre-dawn jogger, pointed out Dana’s favorite blonde to the brute.
“Fuck!” Dana began to panic. Action was necessary, but she was unsure of what kind. Her instinct was to lure the two men outside and try to beat them senseless, or be beaten senseless. All that mattered was that Grace be safe. The other option was to try to make a break with Grace and run, but that would not solve anything, and it would leave other friends in jeopardy. Neither option gave her much hope.
She left a few dollars on the table and made for the door, hesitating long enough to indicate with a flip of her dark head that they should follow her.
Stepping out into the cool air normally would have given the nano tech a sense of relief, but Dana felt her body shaking with alarm. She admitted to herself that she most likely would not survive whatever it was the two men had in store for her. Her luck had finally run out, she thought.
A few feet of air and a glass window separated her from Grace, whom she watched laughing and conversing with a group of very beautiful people.
The wiry man managed to find his way out of the restaurant first and came to stand beside Doc.
“Do you have a cigarette?” she asked. She knew he smoked by the yellow stains on his hardened fingertips.
He reached into his pocket and handed one to her, then reached over with his lighter and held out a flame to her mouth while she sucked on the stick until the end was glowing orange. Probably because she had not smoked since she was seventeen, the nicotine was soothing her nerves.
Fester joined them. A long exhale. “So where are we going?”
“Someone in Washington wants to talk to you.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” Doc turned to the larger man to size him up against herself, now that she was standing. He still had four or five inches each way on her. She took another long drag. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Grace still chatting happily. God, she looks so beautiful tonight, she thought. A group of undergrads stumbled out of the restaurant and passed them.
“So what’s the overall plan here? Frame me, kill me, and now talk to me. I hope I don’t sound too ignorant, guys, but the order seems a little out of whack. And you guys aren’t exactly tech material,” another drag, “so what’s the deal?”
“Let’s go,” Fester said, grabbing her roughly by the arm and trying to pull her to the side street where the car was parked.
“You’re making a scene, Gorilla Man,” Doc growled, yanking her arm away. It took every ounce of self-control not to start a fight right there, but Grace was still too close.
The smaller man stepped between them, facing Doc. “The car is this way.”
“Rach, do you see Dana anywhere?” Grace interrupted the conversation between the large-pupiled hacker and a gorgeous blond undergraduate.
“She probably made some new friends and ducked out on us. She hates crowds.”
“But Dana doesn’t make friends.”
“Oh, yeah? Then who are the two guys she’s walking away with?” she asked, indicating the three forms moving away from the window.
“That’s weird. Dana doesn’t smoke. She thinks it’s disgusting.” Grace turned back to Rachel and grabbed her shoulder for emphasis. “Something’s terribly wrong. And shit, I’m drunk. Help me find someone who can drive.”
“Jack’s the most sober one of us all.”
Grace wove her way around the chairs until she reached the handsome man. However, he could not find his car keys, and by the time he realized he had not driven, Grace had run out onto the sidewalk in search of Dana. Rachel and Jack followed her out of Pepe’s just in time to see the blue Sable turn right and disappear.
“We need to get on-line, Rachel.”
Rachel blinked, having missed a major link in the chain of events.
“Give me that pen, Jack,” the doctor said, snagging the ballpoint from his pocket. She scribbled down the license plate number on her palm.
“That’s indelible, Dr. Wilson.”
“Hurry up, you two,” Grace said, breaking into a run toward her Jeep. Thank you, she thought, checking her coat pocket and finding she still had the keys. She tossed them to Jack. “Where’s the best place for this, Rachel? Your place or the lab?”
Rachel was still trying to slice through her drunken haze and walk at the same time. “For hacking?”
“Yeah, for freaking hacking. I need to get into the DMV database to track this number down.”
“For hacking, my place, most definitely.”
Part Nine – Every Particle Of Matter In the Universe Attracts Every Other Particle With a Force Which Is Inversely Proportional To the Square Of the Distance Between Them.
“What’s your name?” Dana asked the smaller, wiry man who was driving the Sable. She was puffing on yet another cigarette and blowing the smoke toward Rob, making his eyes water.
“Henry? Ha, you don’t look like a Henry. You look like a Steve.” Another stream of smoke hit Rob’s face. Rob reached over the seat and grabbed the cigarette from her mouth. “Asshole,” she muttered. “Didn’t anyone warn you about me?” she asked the big man. He sneered at her. She sent a stone-cold look full of promise back at him. “Who do you work for, Steve?”
The little man smiled at the game but would not answer..
The word “weasel” came out with her breath. She was feigning a coolness she did not really own but intended to keep for as long as it took. What the “it” was, she was not sure.
While the car sped through the Delaware Water Gap in the dead of night, Doc contemplated what her next action should be and who they were headed to see.
Around seven a.m. the Sable pulled into the suburban town of Rockville, Maryland, outside of Washington. Steve parked the car in the garage, and Dana was urged out of the car and into the house through a door. Rob roughly forced her to sit in a hard wooden chair at the country-styled kitchen table. “Don’t tell me–I’m here to be your new housekeeper.”
Steve left the small kitchen and made a quick call from his cellular phone. When he returned, he whispered a few words to Rob and then left through the garage entrance. Rob silently went for the refrigerator, stared inside for a few minutes, and then closed it in frustration. Grace would have hated him just for that.
“You two have a real zest for decorating, I see.” Dana gazed around the barren house. She had been functioning on adrenaline and a twelve-hour cold pill Grace had given her on the way to Pepe’s to help clear up her sinuses and keep her from spitting. Now she was feeling tired and ornery.
“You two been together long?”
“Mmmmmake me, Fester,” she taunted. She was ready for a go at him. Better now than when I’m really tired, she thought. “Come on, Fester, come and get me,” she snarled and pulled herself to a standing position. “I’ve been waiting for this all night long.”
Intent on pulverizing her, he stepped from behind the counter into the dining area. Dana stooped into a match stance and wiggled her eyebrows at him while she growled.
He lunged first, catching her in the midsection and sending them both flying backwards into the table. She came down on the back of his fat head with her elbow several times until his grip lessened. When he stood, she drove her knee into his gut and then her palm into his hose, stunning him. She followed that with a quick uppercut to his stone jaw, the impact causing her hand to smart. That’s when he pulled out his gun and pointed it at her.
“I’m going to blow your head off, you asshole!”
Doc began to chuckle. “I dare you, Fester.”
Crack! The handle of the metal gun against the side of her head shook her teeth and caused her to drop to the floor, stars swirling past her eyes. She was slightly aware of the door opening and the yelling. A moment later she was lifted to a chair. It took her a few minutes to focus on her surroundings. When she did, she could not believe what she saw and shook her head to clear the muddle.
“Hello, Dana.” Karl Reichert addressed her.
“No, dear, you’re wide awake.”
“You died in L.A.”
Reichert’s thin lips pulled up to reveal gray teeth and what was his version of a smile.
“No, I am very much alive.”
“Good–then I can kill you myself.” She leaped toward him, only to be restrained by Fester.
He laughed. She hated that laugh. It was a noise that chased her in her dreams.
“You always were full of anger and hated, Papadopolis.”
Rob threw her back into the hard chair.
“You haven’t seen the half of it.”
He walked closer and stood over her. He was only five foot five and had grown thinner over the past three years.
“I assume you know what I want from you.”
“I assume you know what I’m willing to give you, and it isn’t a compliment.”
“I want your mind, Dana.”
“You finally realized yours didn’t work?”
His lips receded into a tight line. “I want you to work for me on my nano weapons project.”
“And I want to rip your heart out and use it as bait. There’s no fucking way I’m going to work for you, you psycho bastard.”
“You don’t have a choice, dear.”
Dana despised that term of endearment, especially from Reichert.
“Sure I do. You can’t control me anymore.”
The man Dana despised more than prejudice or seeds in her jam shook his head disapprovingly and sighed.
“You would rather choose to die?”
“Only if you choose to kill me.”
He smiled. “I won’t do it. Mr. Carson will.”
Dana looked at the man she had been referring to as Uncle Fester.
“The choice is easy for me,” he growled.
She looked back at Reichert and gritted her teeth. “You’re a coward, Reichert. A wuss in every sense of the term.”
“Is that the best you can do–call me names? You have this incredible intelligence but emotionally you’re an infant, an unloved infant. Why is that? Is it because your mama never held you, or because your father blew out his brains to free himself from you?”
Dana lunged from her chair across the table in an attempt to rip his heart from his chest. Rob quickly entangled one of her arms with one of his and took hold of the long, black hair with the other, slamming her face into the flat, wooden surface of the table.
A startled Reichert rubbed his injured neck.
“It’s up to you how you want to do it, Carson, as long as you wait for me to leave and clean up after yourself. When you’re done with her, kill the Wilson woman too.”
His words stabbed Dana more deeply than any knife could and released her dark demons from their prison.
“Fuck you, Reichert,” she hissed, slipping the spoon from her coat sleeve and imbedding it in Rob’s right temple. After he stiffened in shock, she twisted it twice and then withdrew it. The dead weight of his body dropped to the floor, and his head slammed against the table, spurting blood against her thigh. Thick, dark liquid ran from the hole in his head across the white linoleum, and still, glassy eyes looked back at her from the floor. A feral grin twisted her lips as she squared herself to the weaponry executive. She rolled the dripping spoon between her fingers.
“It appears Mr. Carlson can’t take care of this himself. You’re going to have to do this one yourself,” she growled with barely human noises.
“This only proves you’re still a killer.”
Dana looked at the evil deliverer through half-lidded eyes, spatters of blood on her face.
“Takes one to know one,” she chanted and moved closer him, intent on burying her spoon in his cerebral cortex. Her breathing was raspy and her eyes a dark violet. She stepped still closer.
“I hate you, old man.”
“I’m all you have. You can’t go back now.”
But she would not play into his mind games this time. What he had said about Grace had made it more than personal, more than protecting her body or her life. This battle was for everything, and, unlike Greer, Karl Reichert was not going to get away unscathed. He slipped backwards against the counter, his hands searching for an object to fight back with in the vacant house. Doc could smell his fear and hear his heart pounding. His unsteady breathing resounded as the soft rubber soles of her sneakers fell against the floor…and then nothing.
Dana was five years old, sitting defiantly on top of the school’s jungle gym. But it was the middle of the night, and the bars she gripped tightly were cold against her hands. She had taken her coat off to climb, and now the wind was hissing by her ears and she was cold.
“Dad?” she yelled into the darkness. She could not see which way to move, how to climb down, or how high she was because everything was dark.
“Dad, help!” she cried out in a feeble, childish voice. But he did not come.
“Damn you,” she thought with an adult anger as she stood tall and jumped off what she believed to be the edge. And then she fell and fell and fell.
She started from sleep before she hit the ground. A cold sweat covered her aching body, and there was a sharp pounding behind her eyes. The only sounds were noises of her body shuffling against the floor. Dana worked hard to focus on her surroundings, but there was no light, and she could not even make out shadows. She forced her sore body to crawl along the cold, hard cement floor until she found an equally hard wall, and then another, and another, and another. Blindly she traced the surfaces for doors or cracks and found none in the darkness. She forced herself to stand and reach for a ceiling, with no success.
After what must have been hours of exploration and screaming into the darkness, she resigned herself to the surreality of her situation. She was dead, and this was her hell. In this hell, time passed unmeasured except by an ever-growing hunger and the discomfort of her body, yet another cruel punishment for her mortal crimes. And worst of all, the powers had also confined her to the torture of her memories and her mind, until she sank into the confusion of utter darkness and isolation, where she wallowed in her loneliness and the pain of remembering Grace. This, she determined in her despair, was the afterlife that had made her fear eternity.
“Da-na,” a gentle sing-song voice called out lightly to her.
Dana sat against the cold, hard wall, her head bent in hopelessness and misery.
She turned her head toward the voice but saw nothing.
“Grace?” she moaned.
“Is Grace invisible?”
“No. But I can’t see anyway.”
“Take my word for it–I’m invisible.”
“Now you’re cooking.”
“Oh, God. I can’t believe it. I’m stuck with my psychosis for eternity too.”
“Who are you calling a psychosis?”
“Excuse me. ‘Hallucination,’ if you prefer.”
“You can’t see me, so I’m not a hallucination.”
“What should I call you?”
“How about ‘friend,’ considering we’re going to be together for a long time?”
Dana would have smiled if she had not still been depressed about being dead.
“So how did we end up here, friend?” Gabrielle asked.
“Reichert. Somehow, someone from behind. I guess I wasn’t paying attention to my back.”
“He ran the Beta program. He’s the bastard that took the Beta to California and released it to control the riots. I thought he was dead.” She sighed to relieve herself of the desolation, but it did not go away. “He wanted me to work for him again, and I refused, so he had me killed. It was probably Steve who pulled the trigger.”
“Are you sure you’re dead? You may not be.”
A sardonic laugh. “I think; therefore, I am.”
“That defines existence, not death.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I exist, but I’m not alive.”
“You exist because too many of my neurons overlap where they probably shouldn’t.”
It would have been a long pause if Dana had been able to measure time.
“If you have neurons, you’re still confined to your brain; hence, you’re still alive.”
“Are you going to argue with me forever?”
“I have plenty of ways to irritate you. Arguing is only one of them.”
Dana placed her face in her hands. “Jesus, Dana, you’re a psycho even in the afterlife.”
“If you had known you were going to be placed here, would you have taken Reichert up on his offer?”
Dana bit her lip because she still could. “No. I could never go back to that.”
A shrug of very tired shoulders. “Because it’s wrong.”
“Is that all?”
“Isn’t killing wrong?”
A guilty shrug. “Sometimes.”
“That’s a cop-out.”
“That’s your opinion.”
A deep laugh. “Not if I’m your psychosis it’s not–it’s yours.”
Dana almost smiled again. “I killed in self-defense.”
“You scrambled his brains with a spoon, Dana.”
“What do you care?”
“Because I’m your friend.”
“Someday you’ll be able to love yourself, Dana.”
“You really are a pain in my ass.”
“No, Babe, I’m the little voice in your head.”
Dana rubbed her eyes with a bloody hand.
“Want to play a game?”
“Come on. It’s an easy one. Even you can win.”
Dana shifted in the grit. Her body ached and her head throbbed.
“That’s ironic. I win either way if you’re a figment of my imagination. Where’s the sport in that?”
“Okay! I’ll play if you promise never to whine again.”
“So what are we going to play?”
“What are we going to play?”
“You tell me. You’re the one who wanted to play a game.”
“You’re the one who wanted to play a game,” Gabrielle repeated.
“No, no, no. I hate this game.”
“No, no, no–”
“–Stop it!” Dana grabbed her aching head.
It took Rachel three minutes to find that the license plate in the Department of Motor Vehicles database belonged to a Steven Edgar of Farmington, Connecticut. Further inquires into the Treasury Department database and Social Security Department led to empty personnel files for Edgar. Rachel then traced the originators of the files, i.e., the authors, by tracking the date and time of the files’ creation, both of which had originated on the same day, spaced temporally by two minutes.
“Definitely government,” Rachel commented. She hit a button to list all of the logons to those databases for that day and time.
“We’ll get a lock on the usernames and that should key us into a bureau, Gracie.” As if on cue, the supercomputer pulled out forty-five users logged onto the DMV database at that time: DMV offices, police stations, federal agencies, and several insurance companies. She then ran a similar query on the Social Security database, which came up with thousands of hits. When she cross-referenced them in a one-for-one pairing, two matches came up.
“There you go, Queenie. You have the choice of Log ID 26548 of the Philadelphia Police Department or Henry Taxson of Calamity Insurance.”
“I always like to go with a name,” Grace said, crossing her fingers.
“It certainly is a hell of a lot easier.” Rachel typed the name “Henry Taxson” into a search engine for databases and then began to hack her way into personnel files of every database she thought could provide useful information, starting with the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve banks. Based on an educated guess, she also typed his name into the armed forces personnel database. A criminal smile curled her lips. Thirty hits.
“You gotta love supercomputers,” the hacker commented. She set the computer to match the various numbers used to identify and catalogue Henry Taxson as an individual. A match, a match, and a match.
“B-I-N-G-O and bingo was his name-oh! It appears our Henry was in the Marines and has very good credit.” She cut and pasted several account numbers to her notepad. “And, oooooh, he owns a lovely home in Maryland.” She cut and pasted the address listed on his credit report and dialed a phone number.
“Hi, Kevin,” she said. “Got an easy job for you…yes, I promise it’s easy, but you have to be careful this time. You need to drive to Maryland tonight. I’ll send you the address and a pict file via e-mail.” She studied Grace. “Watch the residence for any activity, especially Dana Papadopolis, or someone who looks like the picture I sent you. I want a call every two hours or if something happens.”
Grace scribbled down the address and memorized the face of the young Marine.
“What are you doing, Gracie?”
“I’m going down there. Tell Kevin to pick me up here.”
“Grace, we don’t even know if it’s the right guy. He could really be an insurance agent.”
“Entering Social Security information?”
“Gracie, you’re exhausted, you’re emotional–”
“–And I’m going.” She grabbed her keys from the counter. Jack had taken a cab home after Grace insisted he go to his wife and son.
Rachel returned to the phone.
“Kevin, pick us up here on your way.”
Rachel disappeared into the bedroom of her new home and returned with a pump shotgun, a Sig Sauer nine-millimeter silver-plated gun, and several boxes of ammunition.
The young doctor’s eyes widened at the arsenal.
“So who’s Grace?”
Dana’s head dropped at the unbounded pain of remembering the last image of her happy lover.
“Is she someone special?”
A sniffle in the darkness.
“Dana, I don’t think you’re allowed to cry in hell.”
Dana cried as quietly as she could.
“Are you done?”
“Yeah,” she said softly.
“Tell me about her.”
“Don’t start that again.”
“I’m not. I was correcting you.”
“Oh, thank you,” she replied sarcastically. “Like I need good grammar here.”
“You sure are bitchy this time. I’m not sure I like this Grace very much.”
Dana slid her foot across the dirty floor in frustration. “I’m a bitch because I’m stuck in a shithole.”
“York was as much a shithole as this is.”
“You weren’t as irritating last time.”
“And your life is really that much better than this?”
Dana closed her eyes to embrace the light of the images in her mind despite the blackness of her prison.
“Tell me about her.”
“Last time you did most of the talking.”
“Last time you didn’t have a girlfriend. Besides, it’s your turn.”
She took her time forming the words to describe the most wonderful creature in her world.
“Grace is the most brilliant, charming, excellent person I’ve ever met. She has that youngest-child selfishness, and she packs around a super-sized I-can-accomplish-anything-if-I-try-hard-enough ego, but I think it’s kind of cute on her.”
“No, no, no. I don’t want to hear about character. I want smutty details.”
Grace took a couple of uppers before they left, hoping it would help with her exhaustion.
“Dana’s going to be pissed when she finds out you got high while she was gone,” Rachel warned.
Tears began to trickle from the red eyes. “I have to stay awake to find her. She’s counting on me.”
Rachel became very serious. “Grace, have you thought about the possibility that we may be too late?”
“No! Don’t even suggest it!”
“Okay, sorry,” the hacker replied, holding out her arms in the universal symbol for “Chill, baby.” Rachel stepped forward and grabbed hold of the crying woman to pull her close.
“We’ll find her, Gracie. I promise.”
The blonde buried her face in the hacker’s sweater. “You can’t promise me that.”
“I just did.”
“Go ahead–use my shoulder to wipe your snot on, Queenie.”
Grace laughed. “Sorry.”
Kevin Grinchgold arrived within the hour. The women loaded his Explorer with their guns, and the three headed for Washington, a twelve-hour trip because of traffic, and several more hours to find the neighborhood where Henry Taxson owned a house.
They watched the house from the Explorer in shifts, hoping for some signs of life, but none came. No lights went on and no cars came or left.
By midnight Monday, Grace could not wait any longer. She climbed out of the truck and walked around the back to open the hatch. Rachel climbed out on the other side and went to the rear of the vehicle.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going in there.”
“No, you’re not.”
Grace pulled the shotgun out and held it across her chest. “Yes, I am.”
Rachel could not keep from laughing at the determined woman.
“Don’t you look butch, Queenie,” she commented. The hacker shoved a wad of Big League chewing gum into her mouth and found a box of shells. She handed them to the doctor and then began to load her Sig Sauer clip with bullets from another box.
“Have you ever shot a gun before?”
“Yes, but I’ve never hit anything…I watched my brother shoot a deer once.”
“Okay, that’s a start.”
“It made me sick.”
“Hmmm, not good.”
Kev Grinchgold had climbed out as well and joined the women. He loaded his own Berreta, and they moved in the cover of cloudy night skies to the backyard of the small ranch. Rachel shined her light into the kitchen window, arcing the light from one side to the next until it lit on the dark form on the floor.
“Is that her?” Grace asked in a high, tight voice.
“I don’t know.”
“We have to get inside,” she said, running along the house to find the back entrance. When she found it, she smashed the glass pane with her gun handle and reached in to unlock the door. Grace ran through the empty rooms to the kitchen into the dried blood and knelt down to examine the body. Not until she realized that it was not Dana did she breathe. A few second later Kevin and Rachel entered the house more cautiously than their comrade.
Rachel shined her light across the kitchen floor. Blood was smeared for several feet across the white linoleum to the basement door, and several sneaker prints and shoeprints had dried in the mess.
Grace followed the drag marks to the basement door. Rachel looked over to Kev Grinchgold.
“You stay here and watch out backs.” The two women proceeded down the wooden stairs.
The basement was as barren as the rest of the house. But the blood streaks, although lighter, continued until they disappeared into the south wall of the house.
“It’s an addition.” Rachel pointed to the wall. “There’s a bedroom further down.”
Grace found a small hatch at the foot of the concrete wall and forced it open. She lay on the ground on her belly and peered down into the darkness of the storage area. Rachel scooted next to her and used her flashlight to illuminate the area.
Dana forced herself to a sitting position. She held her hands up to block the light, which hurt her eyes.
“Grace?” she asked, slowly moving her stiff body toward the now-visible hatch. “Ese ise?” She was filthy and starving and unsure if she was simply dreaming this or if the powers that be were tormenting her with something new.
Rachel and Grace were unable to understand the words, but it was definitely Dana, beaten and traumatized, but Dana. Reaching their hands down to her outstretched arms, they hauled her through the small opening into the basement.
When Dana felt the hand touch her face and saw the tears running from the slightly puffy and red eyes in the light of the flashlight, she had to return the touch. As she drew her long arms around the smaller frame, she was amazed at how real it felt. In this dream she was allowed to touch, and it was wonderful.
Two loud pops shook the ceiling, startling the women. After a moment there was a loud thud.
Rachel scurried to the stairs, her gun pointed at the door.
“It’s me!” Kev yelled down the stairs, his voice a little shaky. “I just capped this guy.” He did not mention that he had also peed in his pants.
“I thought I was in hell,” Dana explained as Grace leaned over the side of the tub of the hotel room and washed her back. She was munching on the remainder of her hamburger and French fries and draining a bottle of water. With the comfort of food in her body and Grace’s gentle hands moving over her, she felt human again.
Grace rinsed a bruised shoulder. “You were speaking in Greek when you saw me,” she said, rinsing the soap from the broad back.
“How long have I been gone?”
Dana looked at her, astounded.
“That’s it?” It had seemed an eternity. “Did you miss me, Grace?” she asked in a tremulous voice.
Grace poured warm water over the dark hair, gently rinsing out the remaining dirt and shampoo. Dana closed her eyes while the soap ran down her face. She was saddened by the fact that Grace had not responded to her question. Three days had not been that long. The gentle hand left her hair.
“Are you angry with me, Grace?” she asked, afraid to open her eyes. She listened as Grace moved away from the tub.
“Yes and no,” whispered the other woman. Then there were waves as another body entered the water. Bare skin pressed down against Dana’s thighs; soft hair tickled her belly, a hand lifted her chin, and then a warm mouth and soft lips touched hers. Dana opened herself to the seeking tongue and let her arms take hold of the soft body that brushed against hers. She pressed her mouth hard against Grace’s and returned the strokes of her tongue. Long fingers grabbed the soft, golden head and pressed it even closer. Dana was aware of a low, rhythmic humming and then realized it was her own voice. Grace moved her mouth to the long, outstretched neck, licking and sucking her way to the full breasts. Dana leaned back against the towel pillow, unable to believe how her circumstances had changed in a matter of hours. Her breath caught, and she stopped thinking when her left nipple was sucked between warm lips.
“Ese oh parathesos mou, Grace,” she whispered, her hand stroking the silken hair.
Grace smiled, unable to understand the Greek words but recognizing her name.
“You are my heaven,” Dana muttered again.
Next – Nano part 5 – Motion