by Jules Mills
Cold, acid ran pelted the floor to ceiling windows while wailing, winding gusts whipped past, causing the high-rise to vibrate and hum. It was morning, a low winter sun streaking through a brown sky, and Rachel Jones lay in bed, eyes closed, listening through the throbbing of her head. She began her daily ritual of mentally discrediting any seemingly credible reason to get out of bed. She rolled over onto her stomach and pulled her spare pillow over her head, hoping to suffocate herself. To sleep, perchance to dream… as if. Why did she even have that pillow, except to make her queen sized bed look symmetrical, if she ever actually made her bed. What day was it? Like it mattered…Sunday?… she moaned, forced some remains of last night’s vodka back into her stomach, and willed herself back to sleep.
Insulated 30 stories high with the storm blowing outside and the Grey Goose sleep aid, Rachel slept easily through the rest of Sunday. When she finally awoke Monday morning, it was still dark and rainy. She wasn’t looking forward to the long drive to New Haven from New Jersey, but she had been gone for a few days, and was feeling kind of paranoid. She didn’t have any emails or messages from work on her PDA, and that was unsettling on it’s own. Something always goes wrong when she’s not watching the computers.
The drive in the morning twilight seemed to take forever, at times she felt like she had traveled in circles. And she needed coffee. At one point she realized she had been in such a zombie state, she found she had made it to her exit without remembering how.
Turning and using her back, she crashed through the one-way door to the nano technology department in the Yale Medical Center, lifting the cup of Starbucks to her lips for that first refreshing sip. The scent evoked a Pavlovic shiver of anticipation down her spine; the bitter creamy jolt would slake her need for caffeine after the long drive from New Jersey to New Haven. Suddenly her dream splattered, burning liquid streaming down her chin and covering her white Adidas t-shirt. Down she went in a pool of frothy latte and hospital tile. “What the fuck!” she cried, yanking the stinging wet fabric away from her breastbone.
“Oh, Ms. Jones!” exclaimed Tasha, her new intern. “I’m so sorry, are you okay? Oh no, you spilt your coffee.” She grabbed her by the arms and began to lift, Rachel’s sneakers slipping in the puddle of coffee. It took a few seconds, but finally she was upright again and in a standing position. Tasha reached to the ground and gathered Rachel’s shoulder bag, offering it to her boss. Rachel bent to grab her coffee cup only to discover it was mostly empty. She swigged the little sip that remained and licked a drip on her hand. She looked down her soaked front, spots of coffee dotting her green army coat, her woolen scarf full of coffee, her shirt stained brown. She untied the wet scarf and removed her coat, trading them with her apprentice for her shoulder satchel. “Dry-clean, same day,” she instructed, then turned and walked away, the wet rubber soles of her running shoes squeaking all the way down the hallway and around the corner.
Rachel opened the door to her office, the department super computer room, with her fingerprint, and dropped her bag on the floor next to her workstation. Her PDA was buzzing on her hip, and she pulled it from the holder to check the message. It was from Dr. Grace Wilson, the Nano Program Manager, instructing her to come to her office when she arrived.
She sauntered a few doors down the hallway to the office of Grace Wilson. Grace was attractive, smart, nice, and just twisted enough that were she not involved with her best friend, Rachel would be interested herself. Grace had a bad habit of Vicatin abuse and the worst taste in music, ever, but Rachel was confident she could deal with that.
Dana, the Chief Technical Lead on the program, was standing behind the cute doctor when Rachel entered, reading something over the Manager’s shoulder. The wire-rimmed spectacles Dana wore made the tall, gorgeous brunette look almost as intelligent as she actually was. They both looked up when she entered. Grace smiled. “Morning, Rachel. Feeling better?”
“Yeah, much.” She sat down on the little office couch. Rachel had taken Friday as a sick day because she was bored and tired. “Need coffee, but I’ll survive. Did I miss anything Friday?”
Dana and Grace gave each other a look. “Not really. What did you do this weekend?” Grace asked.
“Went home. Relaxed. The usual,” Rachel sighed. “You know me, a little vodka and time to kill, and the National Republican Party is bound to give its bank account over to a Pro Choice organization.”
“You need someone to keep you out of trouble,” Grace commented all-knowingly.
“Well, all the straight girls I know are straight, and all the men I’d be attracted to are in prison, and I just hate long distance relationships.”
“You ever consider broadening your criteria?”
“I’ll take that under advisement. Besides falling in love is a pain. Research has determined it’s really just a horrible allergic reaction; it’s not good for you. Makes you sick and stupid. She stood up and looked at the document displayed on Grace’s monitor. It looked like a Starbucks logo and she was reminded of her lost latte.
“I resent that remark.” Dana challenged.
“More like resemble.”
Grace walked around the desk and put her hand on Rachel’s arm as if to say something important. “Love makes the world go round.”
Rachel chuckled, looking over to Dana, waiting for the nanotech to denounce the silly, sentimental blather. The blond grinned broadly, kissed Rachel on her cheek and walked over and kissed her girlfriend on the cheek as well, and left the room. “I have a budget meeting. Gotta go.”
Stunned, Rachel’s gaze followed the woman out of the room.
“What the hell?” Rachel finally said. “Love makes the world go round! And you, nothing from you? How could you stand for that? What about gravity and momentum, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” the dark haired woman pronounced. Her demeanor was easy, calm, as though she hadn’t a care in the world.
“What!? Rachel asked, irritated.
“What makes you so sure love doesn’t make the world go round.”
“Oh my god! You cannot be serious.”
Rachel threw her hands in the air. They settled on her head, perhaps to keep it from exploding because maybe this nonsense was due to some cosmic imbalance, maybe the poles were reversing, and maybe she could still protect her brain from whatever was affecting everyone else. She turned on her heel and left.
Dana followed her pessimistic friend out. “Rachel?”
“Yeah?” she said curtly and began walking back towards the super computer room
Dana followed her. “Where’s your Starbuck’s?”
“I dropped it on the way in. I haven’t had any coffee today.”
“Oh. I think you should have coffee.”
“I don’t need it. It’s too late anyway.”
“It’s never too la…”
“Don’t talk to me!”
“Don’t talk to me! You’re a traitor.”
“Come on, Rach…”
“Don’t! And what the hell are these things?” She asked, pointing to an 8 by 11 sized construction paper envelope taped outside the door to the office, just underneath the name plaques on the wall. “D-A-N-A” made of green and purple bubble letters cut out of shiny paper decorated it. She flipped it up with her finger.
“An envelope for the valentines.”
Rachel triggered the door with her print again and clapped her hands twice, which caused the super computer to start up and hum. She dragged her finger across a large pad, tapping at holographic images. “Come on, what are they really for?” she asked.
“Envelopes, to collect valentines.”
“You shittin’ me?”
“We made them Friday, in the staff meeting.”
“What are we, in Kindergarten? Whose idea was this?”
“But don’t worry. Tasha made one for you.” She pulled out a pink and doily envelope from a stack of papers on her desk, and smiled as she handed it over. “She made it with recycled paper, gathered by workers on bicycles. It’s pretty cool. Definitely better than mine.”
Rachel flipped it over a few times to examine it. “Wow. This is totally queer,” and she tossed it onto her desk
“Did you make your valentines or buy them?”
The door clicked unlocked, and Tasha strode into the office.
“I bought mine,” Dana said holding up a red cardboard box, and sat down at her station.
“I made mine, of course using recycled bills and magazines,” Tasha explained. “And I made a special one for, well, anyway.” She blushed. “We’re going to distribute them at 2. So you better get on that, Ms Jones.”
“Oh, goody.” Rachel replied and swiveled away from the idiotic conversation. She knew this had to be some elaborate prank, but enough was enough. She looked at the security camera in the corner of the office, and thought this would be funny someday, but today it was outright annoying. Maybe if she ignored them, they’d let the ruse end.
Dana got busy at her desk opening the red box and dumping the contents on the desk.
Tasha left some mail with Dana, and then left the room.
Finally some peace. Rachel began scrolling through her email, reading the first line and the sender, deleting 90% of the messages, including a large stream of emails debating the maximum size of valentines allowed.
There were a series of automated emails from Dana requesting her review and approval with the subject MIHRT4U. “Dana, what are these?” she asked.
“These look like test results, new architectures, and protocols for some new product line called MIHRT4U? What are these? I don’t remember any design or development on these.”
“Oh those? Hmm I thought I canceled those. You can delete them. They shouldn’t have been routed to you.”
Rachel watched her for a moment longer than usual, because today was just weird and everything seemed like she needed more time to absorb and understand. Rachel was always the crosscheck to all nano production lines. And this was a series of simulation tests, nano structures, and computer programs for creating a whole new nanobot. Mistakes on nanobot production would cost millions, and possibly lives.
“What are they?”
“Just delete them. They’re OBE.”
“OBE? OBE how? Did you catch an error before…is there something I need to review?” She began looking through her notebook for any mention of this new line. “I don’t see this anywhere in my notes.”
“It’s OBE,” Dana averted her eyes. “Anyway, you told me not to talk to you today and quite frankly, I don’t want to. You’re very negative.” Dana spun away to look at her own screen.
Rachel turned back to her own screen, paranoia even stronger than before. She waited for the camera crew to come in behind her, yelling she’d been punk’d. Nothing. She took a deep breath and cleared her mind. She opened the architecture file for the MIHRT4U and started to review the structure even though Dana told her to delete them. The three dimensional image depicted the Carbon to Carbon structure of the molecule, the complicated bonds between atoms of Carbon and Hydrogen, the angles creating a structure. This particular molecule looked different from most of the nanobots she reviewed. “That can’t be right,” she mumbled to herself and reviewed the structure three more times. After the fifth review she closed her eyes really tight for a few minutes just in case there was something wrong with them. When she finally opened them again, nothing had changed. Was she looking at what she thought she saw? She rubbed her eyes, flipped the three D image over and around three or four times, but no matter what angle or perspective she took, it was evident what the shape was. Back, front, top, bottom, side. It was the same. It was a valentine heart. A microscopic heart made of carbon atoms. She rolled away in her chair as if distancing herself from the image would make it go away. She rubbed her eyes and looked again, looked at Dana, who was busy, back to pulling 3 inch by 4 red perforated blocks with pictures of different cartoon animals holding hearts, from a larger sheet. She then took a black Sharpie and wrote “Dana” on each one, stuffed them into little white envelopes, all the while humming some lame pop tune. Rachel slapped her own face a few times to pull herself out of the Twilight Zone.
Dana looked over when she heard the slapping noise. “Shoulda had a V8? “
Rachel gave her a look that said, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?”
Dana looked at Rachel’s screen. “Oh that. Didn’t I tell you to delete that?”
“You didn’t… make this? Rachel asked slowly and gestured to the screen.
Dana’s eyes twitched.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“What is this?” she asked cautiously. The little heart began spinning as she gave her holographic keypad a swirly. Slowly the image came to a stop as if virtual computer friction was in effect.
The door clicked and Grace entered the room. She put her hand on Dana’s shoulder, then her eyes caught the screen image.
“Rachel wants to know what the MIHRT4U is.”
“Rachel, you know how I said love makes the world go round.”
“Well, there you go.”
“There I go what?”
“There you go Love.”
It took Rachel a few seconds to think about the gibberish. Should it mean something? Because it just didn’t. Rachel rolled her chair over to Doc. “Have you two gone insane?” She grabbed the valentine from Dana’s hand, a skunk holding a heart, and the little white envelope it was intended for had Rachel’s name on it. “You’re giving me a skunk? No one wants a skunk for Valentine’s.” She crumpled the little valentine up and threw it to the ground.
“Hence the reason you’re getting the skunk,” Dana explained, reaching down to pick the crumpled paper.
“Is this a joke?”
“No,” Grace said, defensively.
“Are you telling me this is in production?” Rachel’s voice was vitriolic with outrage and anger.
“No.” Dana said testily, trying to flatten out the skunk. “It’s not in production.”
A slight wave of relief ran through her body. Rachel rolled back to her workstation. “Better not have made it to production,” she warned, but she was going to be sure. Rachel tapped at her holographic keypad and pulled up the production records for all the nano-ovens since Thursday and through the weekend. Shock reclaimed her. All of the nano-ovens had run MIHRT4U production. The nano center had spent the weekend in fulltime production of the little valentines.
“You were out sick, and we all agreed, we can make the world a better place. All you need is love. We can do more than cure cancer here,” Grace continued. “We can achieve world peace.”
“Are you on crack? Spend two and a half million on valentine nanobots! Have you completely lost your minds? Have I lost my mind?”
“No one’s crazy,” Grace reasoned.
“Do they do anything?” Rachel finally asked.
“They’re a means to happiness, to love, to peace. They open your heart,” Grace said, placing her hand on Rachel’s chest.
“They make you receptive,” Dana added.
“Open to possibility, to love.” Grace was beaming like a stepford wife.
“You mean ovulate?”
Dana smiled. “No. Stage one, receptive to affection. Heightens attraction, like E. Stage two, once the endorphins of attraction are detected, they morph to enhance the feelings associated with love. Like the chemical reactions associated with chocolate consumption.”
“Helps you fall in love,” Grace added.
Rachel couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “I didn’t see anything on this, any tests or simulations.”
“I’ve been working on this independently.” Dana explained.
“We didn’t want to tell you. We wanted it to be a surprise. Surprise!” Grace said giddily.
“Surprise, yeah, that’s an understatement. How many people have you tested this on?”
“Millions. Anyone who had a latte today from Starbucks. We set up distribution through the syrups.”
“Lattes?” Rachel suddenly remembered how she had barely tasted hers today.
“We knew how you would resist.” Grace pointed out for her.
“Uh yeah! You have no right to force people into love! Millions of people suddenly sucked into relationships where they have to compromise, obsessively checking their emails, text messaging. Do you know what that will do to corporate America’s productivity, to the national intelligence quotient? What have you people done?” She grabbed her head again and closed her eyes, turning away from the doctor. A throbbing buzzing had started in her ears.
“Rachel, we wanted to include you before we executed, but you were out, and well, you’re just so pissy about relationships since Helena anyway.”
“Hence the skunk.” Dana said, holding out the wrinkled valentine.
Rachel’s peripheral view was shrinking, and her vision began to shake in time with the throbbing. Grace’s face pulsed in front of her, and she was talking to her through the buzz. “It will make you happy. Because love makes the world go round.”
“Shut up!” Rachel screamed. She was starting to hyperventilate, gasping for breath. They said they distributed them through Starbucks, in lattes, she thought.
“With a venti it takes abut 20 minutes for the nanobots to duplicate and commence to stage one.”
Rachel closed her eyes. The shaking was making her sick. “Aneurism, I’m having a stress induced aneurism,” she slurred. She grabbed her ears, and it seemed to help, but she couldn’t open her eyes. Blindly, she climbed out of her chair, moving past the Doctor and nanotech, towards the door.
“No, it’s the bots. It only hurts for a minute and then you’ll be fine. You’ll be making valentines in no time.”
“But I didn’t have a latte.” She began to fall and was lowered to the floor by many arms.
“You had a sip. That’s enough, it just takes longer for replication,” Dana’s disembodied voice instructed.
“It’s two thirty.”
Tasha was in the room now. She could hear her.
“It’s time for…..oooooo. Is she okay?”
Grace’s hands were on her, the noise was so loud now. “Confused, I’m so confused.” She struggled to her feet and moved out of the office, barely able to open her eyes. The hallway was full of coworkers, people moving from doorway to doorway, slipping little envelopes into the large construction paper folders.
She stumbled to Dana’s envelope and ripped it from the wall, while voices cried with outrage.
“What have you done?” Rachel screamed at the crowd.
“Don’t resist. Let it take hold,” Grace urged, but she sounded concerned and a little scared.
“Let what take hold?” she yelled. The echo and swirling of people around her was maddening. Grace and Dana stood in front of her, blurry, swaying.
“What have you done to me? What do I have?”
Tasha, in a brown flowing gown and Birkenstocks, swayed in front of her too, holding a gigantic pink card. “Is she ready, can I give it to her?”
“She’s almost there,” Grace said, grabbing her wrist to take her pulse.
“Let go of me!” Rachel shrieked, jerking her arm around and falling to the ground. “What have you done to me?” She sobbed.
“We just want you to be happy, Rachel.”
“I don’t want to be,” she wept. “Not like this.”
“Rachel!” Grace was yelling at her now.
Tasha shoved the card towards her, and Rachel pushed it back hard.
“Be my Valentine?” Tasha asked, pushing the valentine again.
“No!” Rachel fought, pushing the card back even harder.
“It’s not working,” Grace whispered to Dana. They were both holding her down in the hallway. Dana had her arms wrapped around her legs as Rachel writhed and kicked.
“Maybe she’s immune,” Dana suggested as she took a knee to the chin.
“Rachel!” Grace screamed. “Rachel!”
Rachel found herself twisted in her sweaty sheets, Grace leaning over her, shaking her. Rachel had that wild eyes look of a dieting sleepwalker startled while raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night. She twisted her head right to left, taking in her surroundings. They were in her bed. In her penthouse.
Dana stood behind Grace, hands in her jean pockets, observing. “You look like hell, dude.”
Rachel sat up, shoving Grace back. “What day is it?”
“Monday,” Grace replied.
“Monday, the what?”
Grace looked to Dana who looked at her watch. “The 14th.”
“Yes,” they said in unison.
Rachel stared at them for a few moments. “Valentines Day.”
Dana and Grace looked at each other. “I guess so.”
“What time is it?” Rachel whispered.
Rachel looked at the windows. It was light out. “A.M.?” She whispered again.
Grace reached forward to place a damp washcloth on her. She leaned back so that she couldn’t reach her.
Grace spoke, “We came by because we haven’t heard from you since you called in Friday morning.” Dana sat on the edge of the bed nodding. “I’m glad we came by because you have a fever, you’re dehydrated, delirious.” She lifted the empty Grey Goose vodka bottle from next to the bed.
Dana mumbled, “Kept saying love makes the world go round, and nutty crap like that.”
Dana crossed her arms and nudged Grace’s shoulder with her elbow. “We all know the planet spins because the cloud it condensed from had rotation set off by the Big Bang, and as the mass condensed, it spun up because the angular momentum was conserved. Only a dork would get that confused with Love.”
Continued in Nano 8 – Illumination