Illumination by Jules Mills
Part One – Illumination (n): 1) the amount or strength of light available in a place or for a purpose; 2) the provision of light to make something visible or bright, or the fact of being lit up
For Grace Wilson there was always something very special about when winter turns into spring in New England, always slowly and late, kind of like that meandering George Winston album. Winter was kind this year, 2020, neither too cold nor too snowy, just blustery. “Oh, yeah, that’s the spot” had been moaned or gasped nearly 250 times, give or take a few, as the two women, Grace and her lover, had braced against the winter wind that pounded their small beach house on Black Point Lane in Milford, Connecticut.
This was the first day of spring and Grace was spending the morning going through boxes of old books and clothes that had been stacked up in her spare room for well over six years. They needed more room. They, she thought to herself. That word used to scare her, make her act very stupid sometimes, but now she embraced it, and it seemed to embrace her back while it grew to maturity – like those beautiful gorilla babies that were once raised in homes and then slowly and carefully released into the Bronx Zoo gorilla habitat. She had considered buying a larger, more expensive place – she could afford it now, they could afford it – but shorefront property was expensive again, even out of her high-income range, and hard to find, and she wanted to stay near the ocean. Plus, less space meant less to clean, and that was a big incentive to stay put.
She was going through a box of old Calvin and Hobbes comic books and ancient, dusty beanie babies that had been transported from home to dorm to apartment to beach house over the years, when she heard the strangely loud rumble of a combustion engine and the sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway. Dana Papadopolis had been missing in action since nine am, having crawled out of bed while an exhausted and naked Grace was snoozing soundly in the fetal position. Grace had no idea where the tall one had gone but figured it was not far, considering that the green Wrangler was still parked in the driveway.
It was now ten of one on this day in April, and the east coast, with its high income-per-capita, was pretty much wide-awake, having survived its martini and whiskey hangovers. She grabbed a handful of stale Cheetos from the coffee table in the living room, popped them into her mouth, and climbed on the couch to look out the bay window at the front yard. To her astonishment, a large, 1980’s Chevy Suburban engulfed her driveway, and a trail of black smoke lingered above Black Point Lane. From inside the brown, rust-mottled monstrosity bounced her temporarily lost girlfriend.
Grace slipped into her Saucony running shoes and slowly approached the metal beast. She thought carefully and then finally greeted her lover with, “What the hell is that?”
Dana turned and smiled a full, toothy smile of pride. “She’s my new ride. Like her?”
Grace stood with her arms folded, visually assessing the vehicle as if it were a sick patient in the ER. No, she thought. “Uh, it’s big,” she said. Stinky black diesel smoke billowed from the tailpipe and made Grace cough. “And that is so illegal,” she said covering her nose and mouth.
“Yeah,” Dana replied, as if the size and exhaust were its essence and beauty. “I’ve been trying to find one just like her for so long.”
“It’s a boat.”
“No, Grace, boats don’t have wheels,” Dana corrected. “You don’t like her?”
“I don’t have to, do I?”
“No, I guess not.” Dana was disappointed and pouted for a beat before deciding that Grace was being a snob and was going to be punished for her arrogance. “You know, we don’t all want to drive the Barbie Jeep our daddy bought us when we were five.” She slammed the steel door closed and walked around to the front to open the hood.
“I was sixteen,” Grace corrected and started a slow circle of the truck. She stopped next to Dana and standing on tip-toe, looked under the hood. It was oily and noisy.
“Probably bought it at Wal-Mart!” Dana yelled into the rumbling engine. “Anyway, if you don’t like my truck, you don’t have to ride in her.”
Grace had completed her rounds and touched her girlfriend briefly in an effort to slow the deflation rate of Dana’s ego. “Thank you!” she yelled.
“It’s okay, baby, I still love you,” the taller woman said – to her truck, not the blonde – and slammed the hood closed.
“So, what are you going to name it? The ‘Helios’ or maybe the ‘Argo’?” Grace asked as she kicked one enormous front tire.
“‘Her,’ cars are ‘hers.'” Dana was walking towards Grace with a paper bag from which she pulled a container of ArmorAll. “And I was thinking of calling her ‘Puff.’ And don’t kick her.” She said, squirting Grace’s foot.
“Yeah, Puff the Tragic Wagon.” Dana squatted down and wiped away three decades of filth from the tire.
Grace laughed. “Now that’s appropriate.”
“I wrote a song about her on the way home.” Dana crabbed over to the back tire and looked up at Grace. “Want to hear it?”
“And here I was, offering to sing for you.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Grace replied. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
“No, not if you’re going to ask that way.”
Grace rolled her eyes and went into reparation mode. “Please?”
“Well, okay.” Dana paused and rising to a standing position, gathered herself, then sang,”Puff the Tragic Wagon, lived by the sea, along with little blondie blonde and a big bad chick named D. Blondie blonde had great big breasts and a hot and juicy sna–”
“Enough? There’s more.”
“I’ll bet there is.”
“Rip likes it, right, girl?” she said to the black, waggling, bird-dog mutt. The dog sniffed Dana’s feet and then sniffed the ground from Dana’s black Chuck Taylor’s to the rear of the truck. Grace followed the hound in an effort to appraise the truck once more and find at least one redeeming quality. She noticed the bumper sticker Dana had spontaneously bought a week earlier on Venice Street in Jersey City. It read “My girlfriend keeps complaining I never listen to her…or something like that.” The purchase no longer seemed impetuous as Grace began to wonder when Dana had decided to buy the vehicle and why she had not discussed it with her at all.
The tall brunette, having reconditioned the two tires on the other side of the truck, appeared at her side. “Want to go for the maiden voyage?”
“Honey, this baby is no maiden.” The engine seemed to burp on cue and Grace found herself choking on an extra thick stream of exhaust. “Plus, you said I wouldn’t have to ride in her.”
Dana chuckled and grabbed the doctor’s hips, turning her so that they were close and facing each other. “Come on. I’ll grab a sleeping bag and my fishing pole. We’ll pick up some food at the market and be in the hills in no time.”
Grace’s thoughts about the boxes she had to finish going through disappeared as Dana kissed her deeply, and finally she agreed that a voyage could be a very good thing.
“How did you get this thing registered?” Grace asked as the engine popped loudly. They were driving down the Boston Post Road, otherwise known as US Route 1, towards the Stop-n-Shop to buy the two foods essential for any camping trip – beer and grinders. The truck, floating slightly, was taking up more than its fair share on the two lane road. “I didn’t think Connecticut would allow you to register a diesel.”
“Who says she’s registered?” Dana said with a mischievous smile curling her lips.
“I have to work on her a little bit before I do. For one, I need to convert her. But I’ll do it eventually.”
“Good.” A few moments passed. “Under your own name though, right?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” Dana wiggled her eyebrows.
They pulled into the parking lot, which was crammed with practically every non-petrol vehicle derivative that existed. “I’m going to park Puff over there where there aren’t any other cars.” She then proceeded to park as far away from the store as possible. “Crack your window a little for Rip, would you?”
Grace looked at the door. “Where’s the button?”
Dana leaned over and began to crank the window open.
“Ah. not only is she not a maiden, but I think she’s old enough to have gone through menopause, Dana.”
“No, I’m technologically evolved.”
“‘Challenged’ is the PC term.” Dana pulled the door-lock button up for her as well, and Grace forced the heavy steel door open with both feet and jumped down to the pavement.
“Sure does ride high, doesn’t she?” Dana teased.
“You’re just full of wit today, aren’t ya, Gumby,” Grace snapped as they began the long trek across the asphalt. “Could you have possibly parked farther away?”
Dana looked back at the truck. “Nope.”
Eventually they reached the entrance to the market. “Whoa, look! Girl Scout cookies!” Dana exclaimed excitedly. “Let me buy them this time while you go grab the groceries.”
Grace hesitated. “You sure you can handle it?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m ready this time.”
Grace patted her back for encouragement and then went directly to the deli where she ordered two grinders – one tuna and one turkey-and-cheddar. She grabbed four bananas and two Granny Smith apples that looked edible. A trip to the mini cheese shop lasted three minutes before she found the perfect hunk of smoked cheddar and some stone oven-baked crackers. Finally she cruised the beer aisle before zipping through the express lane with her debit tag. She bagged her items and with her satchel in hand and a twelve-pack of Corona under her arm, she paused next to the animatronic ride ’em toys and candy machines and bought herself a massive blue gumball. She began the chore of breaking through the stale, thick, sugar coating while scanning the vicinity of the Girl Scout table for Dana. She wasn’t hard to see, a thirty-year-old bombshell, towering over a seven-year-old, bartering for Thin Mints and – by the puffed-up, defensive stance of the little blue-eyed girl in the brown, patch-covered vest – Dana was losing the battle to the tiny over-achiever.
A blast of humid air that felt like the breeze from a sneeze blew through the small crowd on the sidewalk. Grace looked over towards the hard plastic dog that a black-haired three-year-old rode while his grandfather watched. The small boy was wiping his eyes and nose with one tiny hand and holding on to the reigns for dear life with the other. His grandfather pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket and was leaning towards the boy to wipe the small runny nose. Grace rubbed her own eyes and nose with the back of her hand. Her sinuses burned, and she wondered whether it was too early for hay fever or pine pollen to be afflicting her. But a moment passed and the burning was gone.
“Hey!” Grace turned towards Dana’s voice and blinked away residual tears. “This kid says she’ll sell me ten boxes of Thin Mints if I buy three boxes of DoSiDos and five of the Samoas for twenty-five bucks.”
“We need that many Thin Mints?” Grace asked.
“They’re your favorite.”
“No, they aren’t.” She gently grabbed Dana’s arm and pulled her closer. “Here’s what you do. Tell her to up the DoSiDos to seven boxes and drop the Thin Mints to five, but only offer her twenty.”
Dana blinked as she tried to follow the logic but quickly gave up and decided to trust Grace’s instinct. She approached the table again ready for the next round. After a brief exchange with the pint-sized yet formidable Brownie and the transfer of goods for currency, Dana returned with a white garbage bag full of cookie boxes.
“How’d you know what would break her?”
“I keep telling you, Dana, you have to have been a Brownie to know how their minds work. Now let’s go, because we have a long walk ahead of us and I’m beginning to get a headache.”
Part 2 Refraction–the change in direction that occurs when a wave of energy such as light passes from one medium to another of a different density, e.g. from air to water
Where Grace had found her bearing and course over the past year by putting her energy into nesting and love-making, Dana was still tacking and trying to find her heading. For months she had been adrift, anchorless in post-program success. She didn’t use the term “empty” with her therapist to describe how she felt because it wasn’t quite correct. Nor would she say she was “lost,” because Grace was always there, signaling to her and showing the way to where she wanted to be. Dana had somewhat come to terms with her past and now she could look forward to a whole lifetime ahead of her. And based on new life expectancy rates sans doomsday, three-fifths of it remained. The problem was she had no idea what to do with that time. Maybe it was the newness of having love, success, and domestic comfort all at the same time that left her unsettled, but whatever the cause, it was driving her slowly insane.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” Grace asked as she sat down on the log that Dana was resting against. Dana relaxed on a sleeping bag with a full belly and a beer, watching the small creatures in the shadows of the towering pines of the cool Northern New England woodlands.
Dana shrugged. At this particular point in time the forest isolated them from the rest of the world and in doing so, momentarily comforted her. “Stuff.”
“I see.” Grace popped a generic clone of Motrin into her mouth and washed it down with a cranberry Snapple. She had been secretly fighting a migraine, determined not to let it ruin the day by constantly reminding herself it could be worse because she could have diarrhea instead.
“You okay?” Dana reached up and gently stroked her lover’s slightly pale cheek.
“Yeah. Just my allergies kicking in.”
“Can I do anything for you?” the darker woman asked with concern.
“You can tell me what’s going on with you.”
Dana retracted her hand and folded her arms across her chest. “Nothing’s going on with me.” Grace gave her that, “Yeah right, Dana,” look. Dana recognized her own defensive posture and consciously uncrossed her arms.
Grace leaned back over the log and picked up a stick which she used to poke at a large burning hunk of wood that had escaped from the flames. She tried to force the wood back into the fire but the stick was too small for the task and snapped halfway up its length. There was something about non-surgical tools, even chimpanzee-grade, that Grace just didn’t understand. Torque would never be her friend.
Dana knew she had to open up or there would be no love connection tonight amidst the tranquility. She knew if Grace had asked, then Grace had sensed something, and if she sensed something there would be no peace until she was proven right. Dana took a deep breath and began to broach her feelings, “Are you satisfied?”
Grace brushed bark and splinters from her hands. “You mean in an ‘I just ate’ kind of way, a sex way, or a ‘does my life have meaning’ sort of way?”
The brunette’s long legs were stretched out in front of her while her hands sifted blindly through the dirt for stones or sticks to fiddle with. Red and gold firelight danced around the two women, casting playful shadows across their faces. “I mean with your life, accomplishments, and things like that.”
Grace gave her broken stick up to the flames, stood up, and kicked the offending log with her sneaker so that it landed in the center of the fire pit. Orange-hot ash jumped into the air and then settled back down into the flames. “There,” she said with real satisfaction, wiped her hands on her jeans and sat back down on the ground next to her friend. She leaned very close to her lover and spoke quietly as if she knew that the surrounding woodland contained little squirrel paparazzi dying for a scandal. “In the sack, the answer would have to be a very large font ‘yes.’ As for my life, well, I’m only thirty and I would hate to think I’ve hit my peak and there’s nothing more for me to achieve. But I certainly don’t feel like a failure in any way. In fact, I have never felt luckier and relationship wise, happier.”
“You don’t feel some sort of letdown after last year?”
“No.” The blonde shook her head. “Not at all, because that was mostly you. I was along for the ride, and it was a really great ride to be on.”
Dana thought about that a moment. “That’s not true. We never would have succeeded without you. Nothing would have come together.”
“This from the woman who said, and I quote, ‘any bean counter’ could have done my job.”
“I never said that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Well, if I did I was mostly wrong.”
“Okay, I was wrong.”
Grace smiled and they shared one of those long, gooey moments where they gazed into each other’s eyes and were deeply in love. “Mushy,” Dana observed as she finally looked away and stretched. Grace, slightly embarrassed, sighed at the ground and nodded confirmation. They both chuckled and sighed quietly for a few minutes.
“Why did you ask me if I’m satisfied?” Grace asked.
“I don’t know.”
“There must be some reason. I don’t act unhappy, do I?”
“No. It’s nothing like that.”
“Are you happy, Dana?” the blonde dared to ask.
“No, not really,” Dana answered bluntly.
Dana suddenly realized Grace had not expected to hear something like that and was bound to take it personally.
“You mean with us?”
“No,” Dana quickly reassured her. “With meaning of life stuff.”
“Oh.” Grace paused and pondered that. “Do you think you want to do something else? Something not related to nanotechnology, like fish or something?”
Dana shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I want to do. But I feel like I’ve peaked, and it just seems like anything that I do now at Yale will be boring or sophomoric.”
“Dana, Dana, Dana. You’re the nanoqueen, for heaven’s sake. You can’t touch a molecule without generating excitement all over the world. And you are way too young and brilliant to have peaked.”
“I know. That’s exactly what I mean.” Dana’s eyes were large and pleading, displaying how unsure she was as she offered up her concerns to her lover. She looked away and picked up her own fire stick to poke at blazing wood. A tongue of flames licked around her stick and then darted back.
Grace spoke. “Do you know who Rene Jules Dubos was?”
“A Franciscan monk,” Dana replied in a disinterested tone.
Grace smiled and climbing onto her knees, faced her friend. “No.”
Dana prodded a log hard and then looked up. Grace was getting that glow she got whenever she was either taking care of patients in the ER, working Dana into a frenzy in the bedroom, or about to tell a meaningful story. “I give. Who was he?”
“He was a scientist. And his story kind of reminds me of yours.” Dana’ eyebrows arched in slight interest. “He discovered the enzyme which was used to cure pneumococcal infection. His work…”
“Wait!” Dana held up her hands in front of her. “Is this going to be another enzyme story? Because honestly, I don’t get those.”
“No.” Grace grabbed the hands playfully and set them back down into Dana’s lap. “Now shut up.” Holding the strong hands, she leaned forward and kissed Dana quickly on the mouth. “Now as I was saying, Dubos laid the groundwork for the development of antibiotics….”
Dana shifted in the dry dirt of the forest floor. The heat of the fire and Grace’s voice talking about medicine and pharmaceuticals formed the perfect combination to make her mind drift off.
“Gramicidin was his first and most notable discovery, because it was the first antibiotic used commercially and clinically. He also discovered ribonuclease, which was the enzyme used later in the discovery of DNA. Anyway, his work with antibiotics and his methods spurred the chain of antibiotics in the penicillin and streptomycin families. His biggest gift though, was the ability to start experiments or theories and then to pass them unselfishly to someone else to finish. ”
“Sounds more like he had ADD.”
“No, smartass, he could have finished the projects himself, but found it more exciting to foster the imaginations of others and move on to bigger things, like you do. What was most amazing however, was how he followed an ecological approach to science, which you and I know is way too rare, and that provided him incredible foresight. Even before other antibiotics became available, he predicted bacteria would adapt themselves to the drugs and produce more resistant strains. And even when the medical society didn’t want to hear it, he insisted that the cowboy attitude of drugs could never solve the condition which had caused the illness in the first place. Now how dead on is that?” Grace asked rhetorically. At this point in the story, and their relationship, Dana knew better than to answer. “You know what else he said?” Dana shook her head from side to side. “He said our environment is constantly in flux and we can’t eradicate disease, no matter what we create.” Grace was practically bouncing on her knees. “Is that fucking prodigious, or what?”
“Yes, very prodigious,” Dana answered on cue. “But what did he do after finding Felicity?”
“Gramacidin,” Grace corrected. And I told you, he kept his focus on the big picture and kept those around him thinking that way too. He taught them that a microbe was necessary but not sufficient to cause disease. By teaching this, he reformed the theory of what causes disease by implicating the total environment in any illness. And as his influence grew, he focused on teaching that people themselves were like microbes and that, with given conditions, they would have several potentials within their environments.”
“Okay, but given that’s really what he was doing, do you think he ever felt satisfied?”
“Totally, because as he grew, his focus grew, and his influence grew from local to global, and he affected the world. He went from being the first person to create an antibiotic to being one of the most influential proponents of defining humanity’s active duty in creating and maintaining a healthy environment, not just within medicine but as an environmentalist too.” Grace was so excited now Dana thought she almost looked euphoric.
“That was totally an enzyme story, Grace, and I didn’t get it.” Dana returned to poking the fire.
Grace smiled patiently and grabbed Dana’s right thigh to get her undivided attention. They were eye to eye. “The point is that a good life is made up of realizing our potential and our identity through moments of triumph. The rest of the time is deciding what our triumphs will be and trying to reach them. Our first achievement may be what we are most remembered for, but it doesn’t have to limit what is ahead of us. There is always something else out there for you to do. I think you need to define what that goal is.”
Dana ruminated for a long time about what Grace had said. “So are you are saying I should find the unified theory of physics or something?”
Grace stared at Dana, dumbfounded. Dana had been acting squirrelly lately; she had to admit that, which was why Grace had asked her what was going on in the first place. It started with Dana collecting recipes from newspapers and magazines, ten or eleven a day, then taking up knitting sweaters and socks, and finally buying the truck. They were all telltale signs that something was amiss in the nanophysicist’s brain. But Grace had not known the depth of the situation until just this minute. True, the nano cancer cure project was past the clinical trials stage and no longer required her constant attention. Their successes within the medical and nano technological worlds were colossal, but Dana kept busy by running around the northeast, helping new collegiate nano centers establish themselves, and older stalled ones jumpstart their programs. Sharing her knowledge with any non-warfare affiliated agency that asked seemed to please her. At least she thought Dana was enjoying that. However, it was now obvious that she was not happy. Perhaps she was too used to battling to enjoy her success, too used to fighting for everything, so that if she wasn’t in the midst of action or on some nano-front breaking new ground and expanding her knowledge, she was not going to be happy. Some people need to be challenged.
But Grace was pretty sure she had not said, let alone thought, that Dana should seek a unified theory of physics. Sometimes Dana extrapolated a lot more from what Grace was saying than what she meant, but heck if this one didn’t make Grace sound insightful. Dana was now asking her if she should travel the same path that Einstein had for the last half of his life, unsuccessful in his work, trying to tie quarks to relativity and find common ground between two seemingly and fundamentally opposing theories. It would certainly keep Dana busy for a while
“Yeah, Dana, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Dana’s foot slid across the ground, closer to the circle of rocks around the fire where, if the smell of burning rubber was a sign, it was a little too hot. She looked as if she was brooding, but Grace knew this as her look of deep concentration. She appeared childish, yet Grace knew the thoughts were anything but. It endeared her even more to Grace, if that was possible, and Grace knew what she felt was real and special, and that she was very lucky. Dana was all hers and she could not think of anything different she could want. Some days she would look at Dana across the room and think wow, she’s all mine,and it warmed her throughout the whole day. She thought of their future, the two of them and the dog in their small house on the coast, and maybe even someday, if she could get Dana to agree, and donate, children – brilliant, beautiful ones, just like Dana. It was then that Grace officially acknowledged that the biological tug of her uterus had become more of a hard yank.
“What are you thinking about?”
Grace startled from her domestic pipedream. “Huh?” Embarrassment and a hint of guilt consumed her. Kids had never been a subject up for debate between them, but she was beginning to think about them more and how they might fit into their lives. “Um…seeds.”
“Seeds?” Dana asked skeptically.
“Yes, seeds, planting, stuff like that.” She began to get up. “Want an apple?”
Grace was aware that Dana knew she was not interested in gardening, especially after she had fatally neglected all of her greenhouse tropical plants that were hearty and healthy when they first met. She knew Dana was suspicious.
“No, thank you. And make sure you don’t eat the seeds.”
“I don’t usually.” Grace said as she dug an apple from the grocery sack.
“I don’t want you getting sick or anything.”
Grace walked back to the sleeping bag. She pulled a pocketknife out of her back pocket and sat back down beside Dana. Dana was watching the fire, warm and content, and cognitively excited. With surgical precision Grace began to peel one long, twisted strand of waxy, green skin. She was just about done when a slow-moving wave of pain in her head finally broke into one tumultuous riptide, and then numbness, as if submerged under water, taking with it her senses and then her consciousness. Within a nanosecond the knife slipped from her hand and her body collapsed. The skinless, fleshy apple rolled away, dirty and wasted, into the fire.
A moment of shock passed before Dana caught Grace, just before she landed facedown in the edge of the fire. Grace’s body had become lifeless and pliant in her hands. “Grace!” she screamed, and slapped the face as the blood drained from it. When she could not wake her with shaking or shouts, she put her ear to Grace’s lips to hear or feel if she was breathing. She seemed to be, she thought, she hoped, she wasn’t sure. She felt for a pulse and found a faint one. Hefting Grace onto her shoulder with strength borne of pure panic, she ran to the truck and placed Grace across the backseat and then climbed in. Rip barked repeatedly until Dana opened the passenger door for her. Seconds later they were bounding recklessly down the mountain on old shocks and over-inflated, but very clean tires.
“Come on, Grace,” she repeated over and over. She reached one hand back, desperate to touch Grace, while grasping the wheel with the other. She knew that if she let go she would lose her.
After many long minutes on winding dark roads through dark pines she pulled into the parking lot of the nearest town’s fire station. There the volunteers, two young men in their late teens and early twenties with nothing productive to do, loaded Grace into their ambulance, climbed on I-91, and sped her to the emergency room of Farmington Medical Center. It was by far the longest, and worst, fifteen minutes of Dana’s life.
Part 3: Reflection–the image of somebody or something that appears in a mirror or other reflecting surface
The chair was Danish design, with smooth, black leather, and it reclined just enough to induce comfort. It could have been comfortable, if Dana had let it. But the woman sitting across from Dana on the couch could tell that her patient was uneasier than a pig when the farmer’s wife was away. And her patient was watching her right back with an intensity that made mere mortals shrink. The patient was most likely noting her wildly curly red hair, as Grace had termed it when they had dated years earlier. She and Grace had been the best of friends before and after their short-lived romance while undergraduates. They had never been about sex, they both claimed, which was why Cassandra felt that she could take Dana as a patient. Grace had referred Dana to her, despite the initial protest about whether or not it would be ethical to treat an old lover’s new lover. She had decided they would try because Grace had pleaded with her and claimed the redhead was the only person she trusted. And Grace could be persuasive.
“You summing me up?” the therapist asked her new patient. She did not know it yet, but only days earlier Dana had tried to kill Karl Reichert in San Francisco.
“Do you think that’s fair? I mean, if I diagnosed you before you even opened your mouth, wouldn’t that be unfair to you?”
“Yep, but I bet you’re doing it anyway.”
“I am not. Why would I do that?”
“So you know how to play me.”
“To mess me up.”
Adversarial with strangers, Cassandra mentally noted. “That would defeat the purpose of why I’m here.”
“Do you think I want something from you?”
“I want to assure you that all I want to do is help.”
Dana shrugged again.
“Have you seen psychologists before, Dana?”
“Did they want something from you? Did they hurt you? Mess you up?”
“They wanted to control me, so they said I was sick and gave me lots of pills.”
“When was this?”
“A long time ago, in York Prison.”
“Yep.” She held up her hand so that Cassandra could see her bar-code tattoo.
The therapist held the branded hand in hers and carefully looked it over. “What were you in prison for?”
“Don’t you have a file on me?”
“No, I do not have a file on you. You are coming here on your own accord. If the state or another doctor had sent you, then I would have a file, but that’s not what this is about. This is about you seeking help from me, your choice. Am I correct?”
“Yeah. But didn’t Grace tell you anything?”
“No. Just that you really wanted someone to talk to, but that you didn’t trust my profession in general and that I was the only person you would agree to see.”
“Were you out of control before, when you saw the other doctors?”
“Are you out of control now? Is that why you are here?”
Dana shrugged again.
“So why are you here, Dana?”
Slowly and carefully Dana responded, “Because I don’t want to lose Grace.”
It was two years earlier that Dana had first sat in that leather chair, first started seeing Cassandra. And now two years later, Dana was staring through a glass partition in the emergency room door at the UCONN Medical Center, watching masked men and women stripping Grace of her clothes and dignity, and forcing a breathing tube down her throat. She was so far away from that safe space of Cassandra’s office. As the doctors and nurses moved, circling Grace’s body time and again, they spoke in loud excited voices to each other – ‘doctor-speak’ was what Grace called it – and Dana understood very little of what was being said. They hooked up machine after machine to the small body lying helpless on the gurney before them. And as Dana watched, she wondered sadly if those two years of therapy mattered at all if she was going to lose Grace anyway.
They pumped Grace’s stomach and sent the contents, what was left in her normally hyperactive belly, to the lab for immediate testing. Dana tried to remember what she had eaten. A tuna grinder, cheese and crackers, juice, aspirin or something. Beer? She couldn’t remember. They scanned her body and scanned her brain; they yelled at Grace and pinched her. Stuck her with things. No response. It seemed like hours of this and then, suddenly, the movement ceased. The doctors stood around Grace’s cloth-draped form and watched as her chest rose and fell with the rhythm of the machine attached to her. Up and down, in and out, the machine was breathing for her, feeding her, and they simply watched, then eventually dispersed. Some of the doctors tried desperately to convince Dana that Grace was gone and that the machines were now living for her. But Dana refused to hear them. She was furious with them for stopping and cursed them for not knowing what was wrong.
Meanwhile, fifty miles south by way of Interstate I-91 at the Yale research facility, Rachel Jones was on a hunt. She had been tracking for over twenty minutes. The thrill of being super predator was invoking an unconscious memory of her basal and ancient calling, the huntress.
Armed with only her wits and Size 9 Adidas runners, she cornered her prey between the cinderblock wall and the garbage can. Slowly she moved in for the kill. It would be swift and just. She held her breath and just as she began her strike… her assistant walked into the computer room.
“Stop!” screamed the co-ed with the mousy brown hair. “That’s a silverfish, not a roach.” Quickly she positioned her body between the huntress and the prey. The small creature lay frozen in the shade. The undergraduate looked down at the bug. “And, by the size and color, it’s a very old one. Don’t kill it,” she demanded.
Rachel regarded her assistant with astonishment as her breathing slowed and the heat and fury of the chase slowly left her. Tasha was an environmental science major who happened to be a hell of a computer geek. Her thesis involved trying to use supercomputers to predict the ocean currents and warming trends of the climate and then model mechanical attempts to affectively reverse the trends. But Rachel could have cared less about that and just wished she could make a better pot of coffee; however, she knew better than to ever say that aloud in this environment. “You gonna take it home and feed it?” Rachel asked.
“No. But it’s not hurting anything, and it has just as much right to be here as you do. You can’t kill it.”
“Bullshit. It’s Saturday, this is my niche and I can kill it if I want to. Now step aside.”
“I cannot,” the co-ed said defiantly, chin held high.
Rachel’s teeth gnashed. “Don’t you have a Solstice gathering or something to go to.”
This young and idealistic insectophile would not deny her this moment. “You should appreciate this. This is the great circle of life in action. Now MOVE!”
Sensing her own life suddenly in danger, the young woman reluctantly stepped away. SPLAT! The sneaker came down and the deed was done. The silverfish was now an unrecognizable smear on the floor.
Tasha raged silently at her boss, and with a look of disgust stomped away down the hallway in her Birkenstocks, forgetting why she had gone to the computer room in the first place.
“You’d think it was a panda or something!” Rachel yelled after her. She was determined not to let the bug-rights woman diminish her glory. Tasha was brilliant but it was hard to take her seriously when she was dressed like a druid all the time. Despite the interruption, the kill sparked small fires throughout her body. If Rachel had a bonfire she would have stripped herself naked and gyrated in victory around it. But this was a space with built-in fire extinguishing halon equipment, so she settled for a Snickers bar. She had eaten off the chocolate coating and was beginning to nibble away the peanutty nougat from the caramel when the phone chirped. She could tell instantly from the ID that it was Barbara Buchler, director of the Research Center. She very seriously thought of ignoring it, but then she wondered why Barbara was in on a Saturday, and her curiosity beat out her better judgment.
She hit the speakerphone button. “Jones,”she greeted, but what she really wanted to say was, “Rachel the Great Silverfish Huntress.”
“Dr. Jones,” Dr. Buchler said swiftly and to the point, “I need to find Dana Papadopolis immediately.”
“She’s not here.” Rachel scraped the bottom of her sneaker on the edge of the garbage can and put it back on her foot.
“Do you know where she is?”
Rachel sensed extreme alarm in the normally emotionless voice.
“This is an emergency.” She sounded panicked.
On most days Rachel would have lied even if she did know, but she sensed from the lapse of Barbara’s cool façade that something was very wrong. Even when Dana and the director were at odds, Barbara never lost her cool.
“I have no idea where she is.” And she could not believe what she said next. “But maybe I can help. What’s going on?”
Oddly enough, Dana was much more uncomfortable going into her second session with Cassandra than her first. Perhaps it was because she no longer considered Cassandra one of the evil head shrinks she first thought she would be, yet, she still could be a threat. So Dana’s simple us/them structure for defining people was failing her, and because of the lack of dichotomy, Dana did not know what to expect or what was expected of her. “Just talk to her,” Grace had suggested, but that went against all of Dana’s instincts.
Cassandra was wearing a bulky, light-blue knit men’s cardigan that contrasted with the coa-coa brown silk dress she wore. She had also taken her shoes off and tucked her stocking-feet under her, sitting Indian-style in her chair. “I would apologize for my impropriety, however, I am too cold to mean it,” she told Dana, who was watching her rub her hands together for warmth. She finally settled into a motionless state and directed her attention away from her digits to her client. “You ever feel like that, Dana?”
“What – cold?”
“No. Like people expect you to tell them something but you don’t because it just wouldn’t be true.”
Dana thought about that. “I don’t talk much.”
“Well, how about to Grace? Do you ever feel tempted to tell her a white lie?”
Dana paused. She knew enough about these psychology types to know that their questions were meant to uncover something more. This was not idle chitchat. And she wanted to figure out what exactly Cassandra’s questions were meant to determine. “I never lie to Grace.”
“Never once said something to make her feel good that wasn’t entirely true?”
“Well, maybe a couple of times.”
Dana eyed the psychologist. “Why are you asking me about Grace?”
“Because she’s the reason you’re here. That’s what you told me last time at least. So what do you lie to her about?”
“I don’t lie, but sometimes I’m not precise, like about her weight. I tell her she looks healthy and she asks, ‘What’s that mean?’ and of course I say, ‘I would prefer not to talk about this.’ But by then it’s impossible not to because she makes this demanding eye contact thing and corners me. So sometimes I tell her she looks like she lost a little weight. She looks great, but she has gained a little around the middle over the past year and she has an issue with that, and so that’s that.”
“What if you told her the truth, what you just told me?”
A short laugh was Dana’s answer.
“Do you feel bad about it?”
“No. I never even thought twice about it until you brought it up.” Dana shifted and crossed her arms, meaning that the subject should be closed.
“Okay. Then I’m going to change the subject.”
“How do you feel right now, Dana?”
Oh God, they were going to talk about feelings. Dana rolled her eyes and shifted in her chair. “I don’t know, uneasy.”
Dana wanted to get up and walk around but stayed seated and stilled her body.
“Do you feel uneasy often?”
“Mm hmm.” Dana answered guardedly.
Dana shrugged. She felt like she was being trapped.
“Does it ever overwhelm you, this uneasiness?”
Dana’s heart began to pound but she didn’t know why.
“Are you frightened, Dana?”
“Not frightened. Uneasy.”
“By uneasy, you mean anxious?”
“No. I mean uneasy.”
“Is this specific to you being here with me?” Cassandra asked. Her voice was gentle but still carried authority.
A long pause. “No.”
“Is it this discussion?”
“What are you getting at?” Dana finally asked, unable to hide the defensiveness in her tone.
“Are you uneasy about revealing something to me, Dana? Personal things, feelings?”
“Okay. Let’s be more specific. What are you uneasy about revealing? Something you have done? Something you are thinking about doing? Something you are ashamed of?”
“Yes. I’ve been in trouble. I bring trouble, and that affects the people I care about.”
“You’ve been in trouble with the law?”
“And other people,” Dana answered cryptically. Cassandra did not react and Dana wondered how often she heard that.
“Are you afraid of these people now?”
“I feel uneasy about them.”
“Does this anxious feeling…”
“Uneasy.'” Dana insisted.
“Do you have this feeling all the time?”
“Will you explain that for me?”
Dana rubbed her clammy hands on her jeans and took a deep breath. “I think something bad is going to happen, but I don’t know when or how, so I can’t make the feeling go away. But I think I can do something about it, so it will go away.”
“So if you feel like you have some power within this situation, why are you still anxious?”
“I can’t do anything about it,” Dana answered, annoyance tingeing her voice.
“I thought you said you could?”
Cassandra bit her lip. “Okay, describe what that’s like to me.”
Dana looked at her, trying to understand the question.
“What does the uneasiness feel like? If you had to close your eyes and visualize your feelings.” Dana stared blankly. “Close your eyes, Dana, and try.”
Doubt this will help, Dana thought.
“Go on,” Cassandra urged gently.
Dana closed her eyes and settled in on her thoughts, trying to visualize. Cassandra gave her a few moments. “Well?” she asked softly.
Her eyes remained closed as she spoke. “Well, it’s kind of like this huge wave is moving towards me and I can’t get out of the way or break through it and I sure as hell can’t stop it. It keeps building and building and then kind of breaks on my head, sucks me under and grinds me down into the rocks as it’s dragging me out to sea.”
“Good. Now open your eyes.” The ice blue eyes were hard to read. “How often do you feel like this?”
“Have you always felt like this?”
Dana shifted, suddenly feeling vulnerable. “No. Not my whole life.”
Cassandra gave her a thoughtful look. “Since you were a teenager?”
“What percentage of the time would you say you feel this way?”
“Somewhere between one and a hundred.”
Cassandra smiled slightly. “Is it a constant feeling?”
Cassandra shifted slightly and wiggled her toes. “When do you feel it the most? Do you feel it at home?”
“Do you feel it when you are alone?”
“Do you feel this way…?”
Dana was getting irritated. The conversation was going in a direction she didn’t want to go. “Not in a house, and not with a mouse, and not in a box, and not with a fox. That should answer your next four questions.”
Cassandra took her time to form the next question. “What about on a boat with a goat?” Then she smiled. “When did you first start feeling this way? Can you remember?”
Dana stared at her, defiant. “I don’t want to talk about my childhood.”
“Okay. Then we won’t.”
“How do you feel when you are out and about? Would you say public places make you more uncomfortable than at home?”
“Do you feel this affects your ability to relate to people?” the psychologist asked.
“You could say that.”
“I could, but would it be true?”
“What about your work? Does it affect your ability to get your work done?”
“No. That’s a safe place.”
“Your workplace is safe. Why, because it’s physically protected?”
It was obvious that Cassandra did not understand the Nanoverse. “My work is up here,” Dana explained and pointed to her head.
“I see.” Cassandra thought about that before moving on to her next question. “Do you think the people around you are feeling the same way you are?”
“No, definitely not. They don’t understand what’s happening most of the time.”
“But you do?”
“Yes. They think they’re safe but they really aren’t.”
She doesn’t see, Dana thought to herself. She only thinks she sees.
“Let’s change direction here a little bit. What do these uneasy feelings feel like to you physically? Are you able to describe what your body is going through?”
“Um, I feel sick.”
“Like you are going to vomit?”
“And if you get sick, do you feel better?”
“No, it’s still there, or comes back quickly.”
“What makes you feel better?”
“I told you. Taking out the threat.”
“You never mentioned eliminating threats, Dana. But that’s okay.”
“Yes I did. I said I can do something about it, and I’ll feel better.”
Cassandra smiled again. “Yes, you did say that. Am I a threat to you right now?”
“Do you want to eliminate me?”
No answer again.
“Dana, you must understand. You can leave here at any time. I’m not here for me or for anything other than to help you. You chose me.”
“I’m not threatened by you.” Dana finally admitted. “It’s something else that’s bothering me. And talking about it bothers me more.”
“Why don’t you take out the threat?”
“Because that’s not socially acceptable.”
Cassandra was quiet for a moment. “Are you talking about killing someone?”
A very, very long, uneasy pause. “Yes.”
“That usually is socially unacceptable.”
“I rein myself in pretty tightly most of the time.”
“You said before that you have seen psychiatrists and they wanted to control you.” Dana nodded. “Have you lost control in the past?”
“When this happened, what were you reacting to?”
“Threat of what?”
“Uh.” Dana replied and did not speak for a long time. She was beginning to withdraw. Talking about this could not be good for anyone. She felt so sure of that. It was too dangerous.
Finally Cassandra spoke. “Only you know, Dana. I can’t guess.” Cassandra had a gentle way about her, but there would be no games. “Before, when you were out of control, was someone hurting you?”
“And have you lost control recently?”
“And why did you lose control recently?”
“Because he threatened me, threatened Grace.”
“Who threatened you and Grace?” Cassandra asked.
“How are you recording this?”
“I record our sessions digitally. Why?”
“Where do you store the recordings?”
“On a protected hard drive that I remove when I’m not here.”
“What do you do with the hard drive?”
“I lock it in a safe. It’s also password-protected. Are you concerned that something you tell me could get out?”
“What would happen if it did?”
“Let me put it this way, Cassandra. Do you have a will?”
Cassandra asked Dana question after question at each session during those early days. The nanotech knew she was trying to diagnose her, determine if she was paranoid and delusional. The therapist subjected her to a series of questions meant to dissect her feelings and her actions to get to the base cause of her behaviors – her problems. Dana also knew it was her choice to either mislead or tell the truth. But the truth was dangerous to everyone.
Dana made a choice. Whether it was the right choice or the wrong choice, she cautiously began to disclose her past and her feelings. She told Cassandra about her decision to work for Reichert in exchange for her freedom from York prison. She acknowledged the guilt over what she had created for Reichert and what had happened in Los Angeles. They spoke about how crowds made Dana feel uneasy, always aware that someone could be watching or might be waiting around the next corner, about how she always felt like an outsider, and about how that isolation made her feel different but safe. They touched on what Dana thought people thought of her, and what she thought of herself, which wasn’t much.
After a few months, they delved into the violence – the cycle of raging and unrestrained behavior that had begun with the stabbing of her foster father – her first murder. It had become her way of solving problems because to Dana, it seemed the only way to numb the anxiety and calm down. Physical force sublimated her feelings to the point where she could function somewhat on a personal level. This brutality became the very cause of her problems.
By the end of the third month of sessions, Cassandra had waded as best she could through the wild stories and cryptic answers to offer her conclusions.
Dana’s diagnosis had seemed so overwhelming at the time, so indicative of the insurmountable odds she always seemed to be up against, but it was nothing compared to what lay before her now.
While Grace was being moved to ICU, Dana found the public phones, charged with the morbid duty of notifying Grace’s Kentucky-based kinfolk of the tragedy. Dick, Grace’s asinine brother, was at his parents’ home – no surprise to Dana who knew he was a first class moocher. He answered the phone and yelled, “Hey, Maaaah, it’s Grace’s L-O-V-E-R!” before handing the receiver off to Faith Wilson.
“Dana, what’s wrong?” Faith Wilson reminded Dana too much of an iron fisted prison warden for Dana to ever feel comfortable around her. She was judgmental and she bullied Grace. Faith knew that Dana would never call her unless something had gone wrong and Grace was not able to call herself.
“It’s Grace. She’s in the hospital.”
“Richard!” Mrs. Wilson commanded her husband shrilly. “How is she?” she demanded.
Dana found herself unable to respond immediately, but finally she did, not sounding much more hopeful than the doctors whom she had railed against moments earlier. “They don’t know what’s wrong yet. But she’s not breathing or awake anymore.”
Dana could hear the voice of Faith Wilson fading from the phone and beginning to pray. “Richard!” She yelled again.
“What’s going on, Dana?” Richard Wilson’s worried but firm voice came over the line.
“Grace is in the hospital. It’s some sort of cerebral incident. They think it’s poisoning but can’t confirm a toxin, so they have no treatment for her yet.” Dana didn’t want to go over everything the doctors had told her. She felt weak, as if she needed to burst out in tears, and that made her want to hit something. So she reined in her soul as tightly as she could.
“Is she conscious?”
“No! She’s on machines and they say they can’t do anything!” Dana was going to be sick.
“Okay, okay, Dana. Calm down,” he said with the smooth drawl of a Southern gentleman, but his voice cracked slightly. “You have to be calm so you can be there for her. She needs you right now.”
“I can’t do anything.”
“Yes, yes you can. Sit with her. Hold her hand. Speak to her. We’ll be there as soon as we can, but until then you’re all she has, and you have to be there.”
Silence. She didn’t want to sit by and wait. She wanted to tear something apart.
“Yes.” Her voice revealed the strain of control.
“Have Grace’s physician give me a call.”
“Remember, sit with her and talk to her.”
“Don’t leave her alone.”
“I never will,” Dana replied, and hung up the phone.
Part 4: Huygens’s Principle: Geometric method for finding from a known wave shape what the shape will be at some other instance in time.
“Major depressive disorder compounded by panic disorder with possible agoraphobia and sexual dysfunction with brief psychotic episodes, stress-induced avoidant personality disorder and intermittent explosive disorder.”
Dana delivered the newest definition of her psyche as though she were reading it from a dictionary, trying her damndest to disguise her trepidation.
Grace poised her fork, laden with homemade angel hair pasta and dripping with a marinara sauce that was bursting with garlic and fresh grated Parmesan, at her lips. “All of those are yours?”
“That’s what Cassandra said,” Dana stated while the impulse to change the subject surged. She placed the small scrap of paper that she had scribbled the diagnosis on next to her plate like a disappointing Chinese fortune.
“Holy fuck.” Grace commented, before placing the spindle of spaghetti into her mouth.
What little strained dinner conversation there had been prior to Dana’s disclosure was trounced by Grace’s reaction. The only sound to be heard was the quiet smacking noise Grace made when she put the food in her mouth, which today was driving Dana crazier than usual. Grace had been eating more lately, Dana noticed, and figured it was due to the stress of San Francisco and this psychoanalysis stuff. She sat back, folded her arms across her chest and waited for Grace to look at her. Finally Grace looked up from her plate to reach for her glass of wine. Dana’s heart pounded hard beneath her forearms. She grabbed Grace’s wrist before the doctor was able to lift the glass.
“That’s all you have to say, Grace?”
Grace swallowed, her green eyes finally settling on Dana’s. She retracted her empty hand and went back to the business of twirling more noodles. “Come to think of it, you think maybe I can borrow a couple of your disorders to get out of jury duty next week?”
“Isn’t the drug addiction a good enough excuse?” Dana shot back. Why was Grace being so flippant about this, Dana wondered angrily?
Grace bristled. “Don’t be nasty, Dana. I was only kidding.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Dana pronounced slowly and arose from the table. She picked up her full plate of pasta and threw it across the kitchen where it crashed into the sink. Marinara sauce splattered the wall and a spoon crackled across the top of the stove. This was no time to be “just kidding.”
“Jesus! Is that the intermittent explosive thing? Stop throwing things around and calm down!” Grace commanded as she stood up. “Maybe you should take a step back and realize that this is some pretty heavy shit you’re laying on me on an empty stomach.” Grace’s voice had dropped an octave and she spoke loudly to the wide shoulders. “Give me a few seconds to absorb it all and I’m sure I can say the right thing.”
Hurt, Dana spun around on the doctor. Her face was rigid and hot, and because she had vowed never to shed a tear again no matter what, she couldn’t cry despite the awful frustration. So instead, she grew angrier.
“What?” the doe-eyed doctor asked.
“I’m feeling explosive.” Dana said evenly. Too evenly.
Grace raised her eyebrows. “Try some Rolaids.”
Dana’s teeth gritted. She forgot to breathe and her face began to turn purple.
Grace smiled nervously. “Whoa. Okay, okay, okay. I’m sorry, baby.” She stepped closer. “Breathe.”
Dana’s eyes narrowed and finally her nostrils flared, pulling in the aromas of garlic and basil that now covered the kitchen.
“I promise not to joke anymore about this.”
Dana was trembling.
“How about giving me a do-over?” the doctor asked.
Grace stepped even closer. “Come on. I’m sorry for joking about this. Give me another chance. Please.”
Dana sensed she was going to touch her and stepped back. “No fucking way.”
“Goddamnit!” Grace’s own temper, on edge from the strain and stress, began to surface, but instead of yelling back, she calmed herself and chose honesty. “Okay” she said slowly, “I’m scared. I don’t know if that’s what you need me to say. All this shit scares me. What happened in San Francisco scares me. I don’t know what to make of any of it, and I don’t know what else I’m supposed to say to you.”
“Now you’re scared of me?”
“No, yes, no…I don’t fucking know!” She spun away and waved her arms in the air. “Fuck!” But she didn’t want to lose it. She wanted to be solid this time. When things became tough and unknown in the relationship, they usually ran from each other or did something rash or stupid. She turned back around. “It’s just been so fucking intense since the day we met! And don’t get me wrong, I love you and I want to support you the way you need me to, but this is all new to me too. I mean, you want me to be this perfect, understanding girlfriend. But I’m sooo not perfect.”
“Believe me, I don’t think that.”
Grace closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. Hang in Grace, she told herself. “Dana, please.” She spoke with her eyes still closed. “Don’t shut me out. Cut me a little slack here. I’m not Cassandra; I don’t know what this all means. ”
And then for the first time in as long as she could recall, Dana allowed her anger to dissipate, just enough to remember why she cared about any of this, about what Grace thought or how she reacted to the news.
“What can I do?” the doctor pleaded.
Dana’s eyes lingered on Grace for a moment. They were finally talking about this after walking on pins and needles for weeks, and all Dana could think about at the moment was grabbing Grace and forcing her against the wall.
And the next thing she knew that’s exactly what was happening,
“Maybe we should talk more.” Grace managed to gasp between Dana’s kisses.
Dana was breathing so hard. “I need to be close to you.”
A look of seriousness crept to the hungry doctor’s face and slowly she replied, “Me too.”
“Good,” Dana replied, and before Grace had a chance to take control of things, strong arms wound around her hips and lifted her away from the wall. Urgent lips captured Grace’s, and momentum carried them backwards into the bedroom. Grace wrapped her arms around Dana’s neck and allowed herself to be swept up into the energy and power of the moment.
Grace felt herself falling backwards with Dana’s weight crashing down on her, the heavy body between her thighs, pinning her to the sheets. Her mouth was covered again, Dana prying Grace’s lips apart with her own. Grace grabbed the head of dark hair to force the face away from her own. The eyes were dark, lids half closed, and the irises danced with dark blue flames. “Dana,” she spoke but long fingers smothered her mouth.
“Don’t say anything!” came the hot, breathy command in her ear as Grace felt her shirt being pushed up. A strong hand slipped beneath her bra and grabbed. Between the body on top of her and the hand covering her mouth, she couldn’t breathe. Fingers pinched her nipple hard and she was suddenly caught by the intensity of her arousal. The pressure of the demanding mouth on her neck swayed between pleasure and pain.
She had worked hard to control the physical aspects of her relationship with Dana, but Dana was naturally more powerful, stronger, bigger, and more intense. It was easy for Dana to overpower her physically, easy for her to force Grace’s hands over her head and effortlessly hold them there with one arm while removing her clothes with the other. Grace resisted being carried away and gasping, bit the closest flesh to her that she could – a scarred shoulder. But that didn’t stop Dana. She gripped the wrists she held even harder and kissed Grace roughly on the mouth, driving her tongue deep inside, daring her to bite again. But Grace wasn’t sure that was what she wanted or should do. She struggled against the hold, panting for air. She would give herself up to whatever Dana wanted. But could she?
She struggled to push Dana back, but was forced down by a hand around her jaw. She tried to protest, but the noise was drowned out by her own moan in reaction to Dana’s lips and tongue on her ribs, and the hip pressing between her thighs. Fast, it was happening fast now. Her back arched, pressing her body towards Dana’s grunting mouth, driving her muscle and flesh against teeth and tongue. She ached for Dana to move down on her but she had no control over what she wanted. Her body had moved on without her, reacting to the fiercest of touches and ignoring the protests in her mind. It had already sided with Dana and decided the response for her. And by the time the hand moved off her neck and fingers found their way into her mouth, her mind had finally succumbed. She began to suck and lick the fingertips like a starved woman.
Dana had given up control to her own need before, but never in bed, not with Grace. She always held back out of insecurity, the fear of letting go completely always restraining her. But now, perhaps because she had admitted her sexual fears out loud to Cassandra, she was free to let what she feared, impulse and sexual desire, to guide her away from all her pain and insecurities. Everything about Grace on that bed was intoxicating. She was a drug that spread like heat through her veins. Desire for more of the body, more of those lips, engulfed Dana, feeding on the thoughts and feelings that had been spinning in her head for years, distorting and consuming them until there was nothing left inside to feed upon. Only the body beneath her existed. She just wanted to touch it, wanted everything she could feel, wanted all of Grace, and wanted her all at once. And the tongue and lips that were wrapped around her fingers overwhelmed her until she could no longer function, barely able to breathe, like the way she felt when she was enraged, but different, because she couldn’t figure out what move to make next. Breathe, she tried to remind herself, Breathe, she commanded again, but the air didn’t come. Grace started on her fingers again with that wet, hot tongue, and it all came crashing in on her, and overloaded, she froze. She was lost, confused, and unsure. She needed Grace to make the next choice, to help her decide on one thing and make it hers. And just like that, Grace had extricated a hand and Dana found herself being guided downwards by that hand in her hair. Dana’s lips found their own way then, and there she was, with everything they both needed.
“Harder,” Grace moaned.
Grace had made it so easy again.
“Why is that so easy for us and talking so impossible?” Grace asked lazily, her hand still in Dana’s thick, dark hair. Dana rested her cheek on Grace’s smooth belly, while pheromones and perspiration covered them both and filled her, seducing her into a haze.
Dana didn’t want to speak, so instead kissed the salty skin beneath her lips.
“All talked out?” Grace asked with a little smile. Grace’s hand felt so good, so relaxing.
Dana turned her head slightly to enjoy the spectacular view of full, perky breasts and the face just beyond the nipples. “Are you really afraid I might hurt you?” she asked, with her chin resting in Grace’s belly button.
Grace thought before answering this time. “I’m not afraid of you like that. It’s the other hurt I’m afraid of. That you’ll run off again or be taken away from me. Or decide I’m not strong enough.”
“That’s not going to happen again, I promise that,” Dana heard herself say. They lay for a few minutes resting in the safety and warmth of the words. But she wondered if Grace believed her. Did she believe herself? “Cassandra has a plan for me.”
“I’m sure she does,” Grace spoke absently.
Sensing Grace’s detachment, Dana crept up her body until they were face to face. “What is it?” Dana asked slowly. “What is it about me that scares you so much?”
Grace needed to come clean and she knew it. “It’s the way it sounds. Like some malignant tumor that will grow back. I feel like it’s always going to be right there, ready to surface again.”
“I wish they could cut it out, like a lobotomy. But it will always be there. Connected neurons, memories, I’m hard wired, Grace. All the shit that makes me this way, that makes me who I am, isn’t going to just go away because we know what it is. I can’t replace memories with new ones. Can’t remember my mom differently or forget my dad…or York…or Los Angeles…or Reichert…”
“I know, I know,” came out as a hush and the soft hand in her hair stroked gently.
“So it’s my past that scares you?”
“No. That’s not who you are. I know that.”
“But it is, in that it’s who I was.”
“You’ve changed. A lot.”
Dana laid her face back down against the warm skin of Grace’s shoulder. “I never want to be that again. And things are different now.” She held Grace close to her then, and kissed her, trying to convey how very different things were with Grace in her life.
They lay quietly for a long time, soaking in each other’s presence, and Dana began to doze.
Grace spoke quietly. “Did she prescribe medication?”
“Yes, Cassandra. And you don’t have to say her name like that… all sexy…especially in our bed.”
Dana smiled to herself. “No drugs, just counseling.”
“Really, just counseling?”
“Yes. It’s called therapy. We talk about how we feel and why we feel the way we do, and this helps us figure out how to accept the past and recognize the old way so we can deal with the present in new ways,” she said lazily.
They were Grace’s own words, spoken to get Dana to go to Cassandra in the first place. Dana sensed tension beneath her and thought she felt a prickle of jealousy running through the doctor. She knew she was letting Cassandra into places she did not want Grace to go, at least not yet, and maybe not ever.
“She specifically said to work on the sexual dysfunction thing and cure it first.” Dana said, kissing the spot just beneath the earlobe.
A shiver. “Oh really?” Grace shifted to get a little leverage this time. “I hope with one person in particular?”
“She didn’t prescribe a name brand,” Dana said as she began to jockey for position. “So I assume a cheap generic one will do.”
“Uh, who you calling cheap!” Grace demanded, grabbing Dana’s face and pulling her up into a deep kiss. “You need me,” she whispered into Dana’s ear, her fingers quickly working the clasp of Dana’s bra. Dana lifted herself as Grace slid the straps down and pulled the fabric from between them. Grace rolled Dana over and began to pull open the buttons of her jeans. “Lift your hips.” She pushed the jeans off, the underwear following quickly. “Dana,” Grace slid her hand between her lover’s thighs. “Tell me you need me.”
“I do,” Dana replied to the insistent fingertips.
And then Grace decided to make her realize just how much. One by one she found the scars that marked every physical pain Dana had ever suffered, and took the time to circle each of them; each mark a memory of some trauma. She wanted Dana to know she recognized them and accepted them. She found them not to make Dana remember, but to soothe, and accept, and heal them. But they were rough under her tongue and fingers, hard, and indelible. So her mouth moved on from each, leaving a wet, tingling trail connecting them to her. The muscles tightened beneath her lips.
The pulsing quickened, but wasn’t as furious as before. Grace touched Dana like no one else ever had – deeply tender and always purposeful. She moved lower, seeking heat, craving smooth and unscarred skin. Her tongue searched, tracing, pressing, tasting. Her fingers explored softly. She groaned as her own need returned. Her mouth slid, finding the softness of a thigh, and then warmth and the scent of Dana’s arousal enveloped her. Her lips moved urgently now, encapsulating Dana’s need, stealing Dana from the rest of the world, from the past and the future, and held them there as long as possible. She wanted this moment in time to be only theirs. Her tongue urged Dana into seclusion with her, and froze the moment. She was relentless, confident and precise. She had been here time and again with no qualms or fear of consequences because she was sure that this was where they belonged, and knew without doubt what the outcome would be. If only the past would leave them alone.
Rachel Jones jogged through the building and across the gerbil tube to the Yale Medical Facility’s administrative offices. Sipping on a Dunkin Donuts coffee, she thought about how much she hated this side of the complex. When she arrived outside the “Big Cheese’s” office, as she disrespectfully referred to it, Rachel knocked on the wooden door that separated her from Barbara’s big secret. Immediately, but cautiously, the door opened just wide enough for Barbara Buchler to appear. When the doctor saw it was Rachel Jones, the door opened slightly more, enough for the hacker to enter. It was promptly closed and guarded by Barbara. Rachel then realized that she was in the company of the five most powerful people at Yale.
“Dr. Jones.” She was being addressed by the head of the hospital, Paul Yerky, who spoke to her from across the room. Yerky was in his late fifties, less than six feet tall, and appeared to Rachel to be somewhat fit. His hair was very gray with touches of dark over his ears and in front, where it was slicked back with Dippity Doo or some other such product. He had gray eyes, matching his hair, shaded by drooping eyelids and thick eyebrows. Rachel had never been this close to him before, and now noticed the craggy lines from age and too much sun on his sailboat. Perspiration beaded his temples and the light blue polo shirt with the words “Cape Cod” embroidered over the left breast was dark with sweat. Rachel could smell the anxiety in the room. “Sit,” he commanded.
Rachel took a seat at the small conference table, alongside the others. Barbara left the door and sat as well. She looked old, worried, and frazzled.
Paul Yerky spoke again. His voice was loud and authoritative. “To bring you up to speed, we have thirteen patients in our emergency room, all admitted between three this afternoon and eight this evening. They are currently showing minimal, if any, brain function and all are on life support. Based on the social range of the patients, we suspected some sort of biochemical agent.” Rachel was following, but not sure yet why she was here. “We’ve run extensive testing, fluids, MRIs, and have been unable to identify any known catalogued toxins in their systems. In short, there are no biochemical agents causing these cerebral incidents in these patients.”
Rachel looked to Barbara for an explanation as to why this concerned her, or more specifically, Dana Papadopolis, although she had a horrible suspicion.
Yerky continued, “We have, however, discovered something in the spinal fluid of all thirteen patients.”
“Nano.” Rachel heard herself say rather than ask.
“Yes. ‘Nanobots’ I believe is what you refer to them as.”
To Rachel, Yerky’s tone verged on disapproval, and she sensed that he was holding her and Dana personally responsible, as though she had lit a stink bomb in the executive bathroom and he knew it was her. She looked at Barbara Buchler and discerned that she had probably already been through Yerky’s grist mill, which was why she appeared so defeated.
Rachel swallowed hard. “Are they cancer patients?”
“From the information we have gathered, none are on any of the protocol lists we maintain. They are all local citizens. One of the patients was associated with the clinical trials, a patient’s wife. So, it does not appear to be associated with any particular treatments, but we have not ruled out the possibility that the treatments are tied to this in some way. You are here to do that, Dr. Jones,” Yerky responded.
Tom Sanspine, the head of the public relations department, spoke next. “Right now we have only determined that there are nanobots present. We were hoping Ms. Papadopolis could tell us how they got there.”
“Why would she know?” Rachel defended Dana. Rachel did not know much about Sanspine. But he seemed smarmy, his skin too tanned, eyes too green, hair too perfect, and ties too damn red. Who wears a tie on a Saturday?
Barbara Buchler spoke up. “Tom, I don’t think we should be jumping to any conclusions about how these nanobots came about. Yale and Ms. Papadopolis are not the only facilities developing products using this technology, and we certainly have not been developing anything that would even remotely resemble these effects. W are hoping, Dr. Jones, that you can show they aren’t Yale nanobots.”
“Have you asked the government if they’re field testing?” Rachel shot.
Yerky turned to the chief of medicine, Todd Bigg, who was pressing a button to end a call on his cell phone. The doctor was still dressed in his golf attire, green bloomers and a yellow Izod shirt covered with a white lab coat. Not even clowns should dress like that, Rachel thought.
“That was Farmington. I have a call in to their Chief of Medicine.”
“We need to get as many people as possible on the phones and contact all hospitals in the area immediately. I want to know of any patients with similar symptoms. They may not have any insight into the nano presence.”
“I’m already on it. And I have people contacting the city hospitals and all facilities as far north as Boston.” Bigg replied. His phone rang again and he was pulled into a conversation about levels and counts.
Sanspine broke in. “We need to be as discreet as possible, Paul. I want names of anyone talking to anyone else about this, as well as who has been contacted. We want to keep this under control until we can determine the extent of what has happened. Last thing the center needs is hysteria and accusations.”
“We must notify the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta,” demanded the Head of the Epidemiology Department for the University and Hospital, Mary Jane Fuzer.
“I think that it’s premature for that,” Sanspine quickly responded.
“I strongly disagree. Who knows where else this may be happening. Your thinking is insular. The information we…” Mary Jane was interrupted.
“You’re being an alarmist! And nanobots are not under the jurisdiction of the CDC,” Sanspine stated.
“It’s better than the Contagion Agency division of the Homeland Security Organization here.” Her voice grew deeper, “I believe this is nanoviral and should be treated as a viral outbreak! We should be quarantining all the victims and anyone who worked on them until we know what we are dealing with,” Mary Jane argued.
Sanspine puffed up. “You call CDC and tell them it’s a nanovirus, Mary Jane, and you’ll have the Homeland Security Organization and the Contagion Agency in here within the hour looking up your skirt and digging in your panties before you have a chance to even cross your legs. We’ll lose all control of this facility, and the situation, and our ability to do anything. Do you want them involved? I don’t think so.”
Rachel watched the frustration and confusion around the room grow with the small arguments that were erupting between the parties. Finally Yerky commanded their attention. “We will do a survey immediately of the other local facilities. Depending upon the results, we will decide whether to contact the CDC.”
Sanspine concurred with an assured chime of agreement and victory.
“I want my recommendation on the record,” Mary Jane protested angrily.
“Yes, Mary Jane,” Yerky responded. He was sweating profusely now. “We’ll quarantine until we know the contagion of these nanobots, but Tom is right. I am not sure this falls under the CDC umbrella, and I am very reluctant to bring in other agencies until we have more information about whether this is isolated or not.” He turned to Rachel. “Dr. Jones.”
Rachel was busy playing voyeur, so she did not hear him when he spoke.
“Dr. Jones,” Yerky repeated tersely.
Rachel blinked once and then realized everyone was looking her way.
“Do you have any idea where Ms. Papadopolis is or how we can contact her?”
“Did you try Dr. Wilson’s cell phone?” Rachel replied, thinking Barbara must have.
Yerky looked to Barbara Buchler.
“Yes, I called several times,” she answered. “We even sent someone to the house. Dr. Wilson’s car is there but there appears to be no one home.”
Rachel knew that Dana carried a cell phone, but it was primarily a leash for Grace. Very few people had the number due to Dana’s paranoia and refusal to give the number out. Despite the gravity of the situation Rachel thought better of giving the number to Barbara Buchler and company. She wanted to get out of the room and start trying to find the nanotech herself, so she lied. “I may have an emergency number on my computer.”
“You can use mine and log in from here,” Yerky stated.
Rachel thought quickly. “Actually, it’s on my PDA. I’ll go back to the office and get it.” She began to stand.
“Sit,” Yerky commanded, just as he had when she first walked into the room.
Rachel hesitated, then slowly sat, feeling the pressure of Yerky’s and the others’ intense gazes.
“I didn’t call you here for a phone number. Since you are the only one here, you are going to assemble the rest of your team immediately. I don’t care where they are or what they are doing. I expect you andyour people to figure out where these nano robots came from and what they are doing to our patients. Until Papadopolis gets here, you will be in charge of this with Dr. Buchler’s oversight. Do you understand?”
Rachel’s auto response to him and his “you’s” and “your’s” was the bristling of her hackles and evil thoughts of hacking into his stock portfolio, and switching his shares of Pfizer stock to Dildos R Us. But that would have to wait. She began to think; Question: What would Dana do? Answer: She’d knock his lights out, that’s what she’d do. Instead, Rachel stood up and did the next best thing. She began to give orders and make demands. “You want this done right, you and your team better get on my team. Capiche? First off, we need samples of all the spinal taps in the lab immediately. We’ll be able to determine right away whether they’re ours. And FYI, our nano bots aren’t viral, and if they were to somehow go rogue, which is extremely doubtful, we created a failsafe chemical power switch to turn them off just in case something like this happened.”
“We’ll have a sample sent up,” answered Todd Bigg.
“No, I need samples from all of the patients. And I don’t just want test results and papers. I want the nanobots, so bring the actual fluid samples. And I want to know everything that’s going on inside these people, physically. That means I need your most knowledgeable physician in the lab at our disposal. I want someone who can tell me everything that’s going on at the cellular level. Ions, electrons, if it’s happening, we need to know. And if you don’t know, start figuring out how to find out. I want copies of all tests that have been run, any more that are run, and when the team physiologist arrives, I guarantee we will be running more. I want full histories on every patient, where they have been all day, all week, all year.” Rachel stated. “And no one enters the lab except Dr. Buchler or other identified personnel. She’ll give you updates. We don’t have time for anyone snooping around, getting in the way, or bothering us with politics.” She looked at Mary Jane Fuzer and Tom Sanspine. “And you better make damn sure no Feds come near the lab. You keep them out and we’ll find the answers to your questions.”
The group stared at Rachel as if she had a three hundred pound head and lightning shooting out of her ass.
Rachel stared back. “Did you get that?”
“Someone will be in your office with the data in 10 minutes.” Yerky looked to Todd Bigg for confirmation.
“Within the hour,” Bigg replied stubbornly.
“I’ll be back in my office in five, so you’ll be wasting 55 minutes trying to get your act together. I suggest you get on the phone and start making calls, Doctor. We have thirteen people to save, if you can work it in before your tee-time?” Rachel replied and left the room. As soon as the door closed, she broke into a run, adrenaline fueling her body, sneakers squealing on the shiny, tile floor. She was past the gerbil tube and halfway back to her office before she pulled out her cell phone and took a breath.
What Dana loved most about lying with Grace was her smell – the smell of her skin to be precise. It was intoxicating. While Grace slept, Dana would bury her face in the nape of the doctor’s neck, breathing in her scent, her warmth. During those hours of closeness, Grace was her lullaby, and sometimes in the middle of the night, that same soothing essence would gently nudge Dana awake, bringing her pleasure and urging her to make love. And in the mornings, their togetherness was the sunrise, welcoming Dana to a new day.
In the sterile, spartan room, with the beeping of monitors measuring Grace’s heart rate and blood pressure, and the hissing of the artificial respiratory devices surrounding them, Dana pulled up a chair next to Grace’s bed and placed her head on the mattress. Her face was as close to Grace’s cool, pale cheek as she could reach, and she breathed in the comfort and memories of happier times. She clasped Grace’s limp hand, warm and soft, but the bones felt fragile and small like a child’s. Dana scanned the face and saw the frailty there as well. The doctors had offered no answers, no hope. Helplessness crept into her chest. She closed her eyes and gripped the hand tighter, willing another time, another memory into her thoughts. She inhaled deeply. Grace still smelled of camp fire smoke and a hint of the day’s activities. “You’re still here, no matter what they say, I believe it,” Dana whispered to her. “And I’m still here too. So don’t give up.”
She closed her eyes and fell asleep, next to the soft, sweet-smelling skin. Hours later, she was awakened by the gathering doctors around the doorway. Finally one broke away from the huddle and approached the silent pair.
“Ms. Papadopolis,” he spoke softly. “We need to speak with you.” He was the doctor in charge of the ER, a very tall man, who appeared to be in his sixties but was actually only forty-two. He was touching Dana’s shoulder. He had soft brown eyes.
Dana lifted her head and reluctantly placed Grace’s hand on the bed sheet before following him out.
She stood in the hallway with two of the doctors she recognized and another she did not, and a woman in a grey suit. The woman in the suit began to speak. “I just spoke with the head of Yale Medicine.”
Dana did not respond. She knew Todd Bigg. Grace said he was okay, but Dana found him arrogant. “What does this have to do with us?”
She continued. “They have over a dozen patients who they believe may be in the same medical condition as your partner.”
“Do they know what it is?” Dana asked without trying to sound too hopeful. Maybe if there were others, it was more common and definable. Maybe it was something that Yale knew how to handle that these doctors didn’t. But why weren’t they taking action if there was a remedy? Why were they just talking?
“They seem to believe that what has caused your friend’s condition is a nanorobotic infestation of the brain.”
A heavy weight slammed into Dana’s chest and her ears began to buzz. A vaguely familiar wave of fear mingled with disbelief and fury spread through her. “What?” A sour taste filled her mouth. Words began to run through her head over and over again. “This is just like Los Angeles. Just like it.”
“Nanorobotic infestation,” the doctor repeated. “It’s based on a somewhat new technology that’s been around since the nineties, but only recently actualized as a biomedical treatment, especially down in the New Haven area, but in this case, it could be some sort of viral agent. Extremely small robots are used to ….”
“I know what it is!” Dana snapped. Her vision was growing dark around the edges. “But how did she get it? How many people so far? What are they doing about it?” she managed to ask through her increasingly louder, subconscious chant, “Remember Los Angeles.”
“We don’t know how she contracted it or exactly what it’s doing to her. Ms. Papadopolis? Are you all right?”
“Do you remember Los Angeles?” It was her own voice reminding her. The world was disappearing. She felt cold and saw only darkness.
“Breathe, Dana.” She heard a familiar southern drawl and felt a hand on her back. “Help me get her to that chair,” the same kind voice commanded. Dana felt herself being led across the hard floor and lowered into a sitting position.
“Maybe she’s been exposed too,” she heard someone say.
“Dana, take a deep breath and open your eyes.” It was the voice of Grace’s father, Richard Wilson.
She inhaled through her mouth and held the stale antiseptic air of the ICU in her lungs for a moment before releasing it. She opened her eyes and was rewarded with a friendly face. “Grace has his eyes,” she thought for a moment before the terror crept back into her body and she tried to stand. His hand was on her shoulder tethering her to him. He wasn’t much taller than Grace, and since his heart attack a few years ago, he hadn’t regained all the weight he bore in the millions of pictures in Grace’s endless photo albums. He glanced over to the bed and she watched while he assessed his daughter’s condition, reading the monitors and understanding their meaning. The color drained from his refined face. He removed his hand from Dana and reached for his daughter’s.
“Oh sweetie,” he spoke sadly as he bowed his head and kissed his daughter’s hand. He held it to his face and broke down and sobbed. He was too late.
Suddenly Dana was flooded with anger, and the anxiety was flushed away. She stood. “She’s going to be okay, Dr. Wilson.” She said quietly, and she meant it. “I can fix this.”
“Dana,” Richard Wilson said through his tears, in his quiet fatherly way, “this is well beyond you and me.” He looked to the doctors surrounding them.
“No! I can fix this.” She pleaded to him to believe in her. She turned to the doctors and demanded answers. “What are they doing at Yale about this?”
The doctors who had watched from a respectful distance were stunned by her words and did not reply.
“Who did you speak with? Did you speak with Todd Bigg?” she insisted impatiently. She wanted her phone but it was in the parking lot of a fire station twenty miles north. “How are they treating it?”
The doctor with the brown eyes was gentle, “I don’t think you fully comprehend the situation. This is possibly a nano viral infection that has, as we described, knocked out all of your partner’s neural activity except the most basic functions. In essence, she is brain dead. There’s no way to fix this.”
“Comprehend this,” Dana spoke evenly, trying desperately to keep her fury in check. “If she’s this way because of nanobots, then I can do something about it.”
Richard Wilson had straightened up and turned towards them, still holding Grace’s hand.
“They say it’s a nano virus, Dr. Wilson.” Dana stared at him, willing him to understand.
“Dana, this isn’t the same as a cancer tumor. If it’s neural, it’s very, very complicated, and at this stage, impossible.”
“Biochemistry is biochemistry, it’s just a bigger problem, and every problem has a solution.”
“Dana, look at her,” he pleaded, tears covering his face. “As hard as it is to accept, she’s gone.”
Dana looked at Grace, her chest rising and falling, the machine sucking in air. As far as Dana was concerned, she was still weighed down to this world by gravity and machines. Grace wasn’t going anywhere. “She’s not gone and she stays like that for as long as it takes.”
“Dana, Grace is gone.”
“I can do this, please believe me. Please give me a chance,” she pleaded, choking on her own desperate tears.
“Dana, dear, Grace is gone.”
One of the doctors closed in on Dana, believing she could help this woman understand. “Ms. Papadopolis,” the woman spoke, “We’re still in the process of verifying if it is nano related. We’ve sent samples from the Lombard puncture to the Yale laboratory and they will confirm the results by morning possibly. Meanwhile I think you should let us give you something to help you relax, gain some perspective.”
“Fine, verify it.” There was no doubt in Dana’s mind now that it was nano. She walked over to Grace lying in the bed, and whispered her promise that she would fix this. “She stays just like this!” she told Grace’s father. She turned to the doctors. “Nobody touches her.” And then she walked out of the room.
Part 5: Illuminance–the amount of light, evaluated according to its capacity to produce visual stimulation, that reaches a unit of surface area during a unit of time. It is measured in lux.
A fly buzzed from window to wall to coffee table, to Dana’s arm, to its death. A waterfall tinkled in the background. “This isn’t working,” Dana sighed and sat up. “And now I have to pee.”
“It’s your dime,” Cassandra replied and nodded to the private bathroom door.
The nanotech lifted herself out of the chair on powerful muscles and loped out of sight.
The psychiatrist was not making much progress with her patient as of late. The previous leaps and bounds had plateaued unexpectedly. Tropical rain began to fall, a poison dart frog chirped. The psychiatrist leaned across the table to a laptop computer, and with a touch, the weather cleared.
Dana retuned and plopped back down in her chair across from the redhead, one arm dangling over the armrest. “So am I an emotional retard, or what?” she asked bluntly.
“Interesting terminology, but yeah.”
Dana put her chin in her hand and leaned against it while Cassandra sighed.
Cassandra shrugged. “So, what have we learned today?” No response. “Dana, that question was for you.”
“We’ve learned that I can’t be hypnotized.”
“Okay. And why do you think that is?”
“Hmmmm. Because I can’t relax?”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because I’m paranoid?”
“Think it’s more basic than that, maybe?”
The nanotech laughed. “What’s more basic than being paranoid?”
“Being unable to trust.”
“Trust,” Dana repeated, thinking about the word, backwards, forwards, jumbled. “I trust,” she stated.
“What do you trust?”
“You know. I trust things.”
The psychiatrist sighed. “Can you be more specific?”
Dana smiled. “Seriously?”
“Well, the Pythagorean Theorem for one.”
“Newton’s First and Second Laws. Heck, I even buy the Third Law!” It was apparent Cassandra wanted more. “Pi, Murphy’s Law. Senescence. Mortality. The Cubs will never win a World Series again. The Resurrection.”
“You believe in God?”
“No, not really. I tossed that last one in to throw you off.”
“Speaking of Grace…” Cassandra transitioned.
“Aye.” Abruptly the nanotech stood and began to pace the room.
“Talking about her is difficult for you. Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you trust her?”
“Aye.” Dana shrugged. “I know I love her. And she knows my secrets.”
“Are you afraid she’s going to reveal your secrets?”
“That’s trust then.”
“Maybe. But that’s not everything. Not when you’re with someone. It’s not about secrets. That’s not what you doubt.”
Normally Cassandra would have interrupted her, correcting her use of the third person and requesting that she replace the ‘you’s with ‘I’s’, but she didn’t want Dana to stop. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about how one feels in someone else’s voice.
“No? What do you doubt?”
Dana, suddenly tight lipped, had no answer for the psychiatrist.
“Is it love that you don’t trust?”
“Let’s just say it hasn’t always worked out very well for me, and leave it at that. I mean, don’t you sometimes wonder what it even is? If it really exists, or if it’s some made up emotional attachment that turns us into fools, lets us down, sometimes destroys us, or worse, destroys the person we ‘love’.” Dana accented this with the annoying quotation hand motions created during the late 20th century and destined to remain with us through Armageddon.
The psychiatrist took one of those long pauses, and brushed a shiny, perfect curl out of her eyes. “Are those things outcomes of love, or outcomes of any relationship? How would your love destroy someone? How would it destroy Grace?”
Dana made no attempt to answer, sat back down, and picked at the fabric of the armchair.
Cassandra shifted herself to signify that she was changing the subject, when in fact she was just going to attack the conversation from another direction. “Define ‘love’ for me.”
“What kind?” Dana continued to pick at the furniture as if uninterested in the conversation, as if the question were as vague as asking her to describe a nanobot.
“You define it any way you want, Dana.”
Dana thought. “Uh, a noun. An emotion.”
“You sound like a Vulcan.”
This elicited a tiny smile from Dana. At times she did feel like an alien to emotions. “Who can trust an emotion? And you can love someone and not trust them. Love doesn’t have to be good. Mothers drown their babies, for men they supposedly love…”
“That’s not what I would consider normal behavior, Dana. Those are very extreme cases and those women are very, very sick.”
“How about mothers who abandon their children, their families? That happens all the time.”
Cassandra nodded. “Yes, it happens, but it’s never very simple and it’s not love that makes them leave, or drives them away. There is so much more to something like that, and I can say with certainty, it’s not because of the people they leave.”
“In those cases love’s not enough though, is it?”
“No.” Cassandra reached over and took a sip from a bottle of water. “Your perspective on love is very interesting.”
“Well I’m glad I’m not boring you,” Dana replied with a note of sarcasm.
“You’ve been concentrating on all the negatives of love. Usually when I think of love, I think of the positive aspects, and how much empowerment comes with it. You don’t strike me as a pessimist, and I think you love Grace very much, so it’s not apparent to me why you would have this perspective.”
Dana rested her hand on her chin.
“Who we love defies circumstance, race, religion, sex. It makes us into fools; it makes us vulnerable, yes, but…” Cassandra caught a darkness crossing her patient’s face and a realization struck her. “Is vulnerability the same as weakness to you?”
Dana nodded. This time the psychiatrist saw something deeper in the blue eyes. A moment passed, but the tech offered nothing.
“Can you control who you love?”
“Not in my experience.”
“And I bet you’ve already tried to avoid it, but couldn’t, could you?”
“No way, it just sucked me in,” Dana remembered, and smiled. “I tried so hard to stay away. But I just couldn’t.”
“And it made you vulnerable?”
Dana sat back with her hands behind her head, still smiling. “Oh yeah. I’m vulnerable.”
“But do you realize she’s vulnerable too? And it’s the way that we handle that vulnerability that causes those negative outcomes you spoke of earlier, as well as the positive outcomes. Being vulnerable isn’t weakness. It’s the character with which we handle our vulnerabilities that determines weakness or strength. The mothers who abandon their families, who run from those who love and need them are…”
“Weak?” Dana replied.
“What was the one thing you were afraid of, Dana, when you came in here that first day? You were afraid of losing Grace.”
“Do you trust Grace?”
“Do you trust that she loves you?”
A pause. “Yes.”
Dana nodded. And knew the next question would be ‘why?’
“Do you think she doesn’t have the character?”
“No, she does, but…” Dana defended her lover, and looked directly at the psychiatrist. “But what if I don’t?”
“Can you imagine life without Grace?”
“Does she make you happy?”
“Sometimes…ugh…and sometimes she makes me crazy. She makes me angry; she makes me worry…”
“No. Dying,” she said quietly.
Thinking back as she rumbled down Interstate-91 to New Haven, Dana realized no one really knew who or where they’d be within five days, let alone five years, ten years, or fifty years. So much could happen. So much could get in the way, even in the most normal of lives. A car accident, a tidal wave. It could all happen in an instant. “Or Karl Reichart could happen,” Dana said to her dog amongst the diesel rumble. “It has to be him, Rip. Has to be.”
She had spoken to Rachel until her phone battery died; returning the many messages the computer geek had left her. Rachel was already hard at work, booting up the machines and loading the software. She was running carbon by carbon diagnostics of the nanorobotic architecture and analyzing its programming, and by the time Dana arrived, she was retracing replication and documenting mutations from patient to patient.
“Dana.” Rachel jumped to her feet when the nanotech entered the office, relieved like never before, and awkwardly hugged her. “I’m so sorry about Grace.”
Dana pushed her friend away, but took the time to explain. “I need to focus.” Rachel stared at her for a moment. “Or I’ll completely lose it,” Dana added with honesty. “And I can’t lose it now.”
Rachel nodded, “Okay.” She ran her hands through her crazy, curly hair, sat down in her spinny chair, and waited while Dana took off her sweatshirt and situated herself in the room. Finally Dana sat down at her desk, rubbed her face with both hands, and took a really deep, settling breath.
Dana nodded. “Whatcha got?”
Dana’s jaw went slack. She couldn’t believe what she just heard.
Part Six Shadows: The shadow of an object illuminated by a source of small dimensions has the same shape and edges of the object.
“So, how was your session?” Grace was heating up water for tea in a metal kettle.
Dana tossed her keys on the counter and walked into the kitchen to grab something to eat. “I’m starving. Do we have anything quick to eat?” She moved past Grace, who was leaning against the sink, and opened the refrigerator.
“It was fine,” Dana reached in and pulled out the milk. She sniffed it and then set it back.
“Learn anything new today?”
“Yep.” She opened a large square Tupperware container and peered in. “Did you eat all the brownies?”
“No. So whadya learn?”
Dana opened up the cupboards. “I’m gay.”
“You learned that today?”
“Wow, that’s quite the epiphany.” The kettle began to whistle.
Dana closed the cabinets and sighed. She turned around and folded her arms across her chest, resting her backside against the counter. She watched Grace remove the kettle from the burner. “You’re gay too. That stuff you do to me in the bedroom, that’s really gay, and the fact that I let you do it is super gay.”
“Smartass!” Grace filled a large cup with water and dipped a teabag into it. “Little do you know, Dana, that if you would let me, we could be a hell of a lot gayer.”
“Can I have some?” Dana asked. “Tea, Grace.” She clarified, to wipe the smirk off the blonde’s face.
Grace pulled out another cup and made tea for Dana. “Learn anything else?”
Grace handed her the cup. “Anything worth talking about?” Grace padded out of the kitchen into the dining area and sat down at the table. She stirred sugar into her cup.
Dana hesitated a moment then followed her. “Do you remember when we first got together?”
Grace gave her a cautious look. “Of course I do.”
“So today we talked a lot about that. How when we first started hanging out you cried all the time. You handled things differently. You were very immature.”
“What are you talking about? And what does that have to do with you?’”
“You used to be like, ‘I don’t know what to do, this is so intense and so stressful,’ and then you’d start crying.”
“I did not.”
“Yes you did.”
Grace set her spoon down, trying hard to be objective. “When did I do this?”
“When we first met.”
Grace gave up and took a sip of her tea. “What’s the point of this?”
“The point is, you’ve changed.”
“Yes.” Dana sat with her hands in her lap while her tea steeped.
Grace could tell Dana was struggling and uncomfortable, but it still wasn’t clear where she was going with this discussion. “Okay, I’ll bite. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
Grace’s eyebrows arched. “I’m not sure I’m liking this conversation.”
“Okay.” Dana was relieved and started to get up.
“Wuwuwait.” Grace grabbed Dana’s shirtsleeve. “Sit back down.” Dana sat down. If Dana was going to bring something like this up, then Grace was going to make her follow through, all the way. “How have I changed for the bad?” She took a sip of her tea.
“Well, you don’t laugh as much, or socialize, or enjoy things. You have too many worries. You’re very uptight.”
“I have a lot of responsibility now and… and things on my mind.”
“And you’re afraid something will happen. I think you think that Reichert will come back.”
“No, Dana. I’ll admit I’m concerned for you, but that’s not on my mind. He does want you though.”
“That’s true.” Dana paused. “But it’s not that simple.” Grace looked at Dana quizzically. “He knows about you. He threatened me with you. When I was in Virginia, he said he was going to kill you.”
A chill ran down Grace’s spine and she watched Dana’s face twitch with stress. “You’re freaking me out a little, Dana.”
“I’m not being paranoid.”
“I didn’t say you were. But why are you telling me this? Are you telling me I’m your weakness?”
Dana reached across the table to hold Grace’s hand. “No. But anyone I care about is in danger. You, Rachel, Minnie, Jack, your family, even Dickhea…” she stopped herself.
Grace’s tension grew, and she folded her arms over her chest as her face tightened. Communication could be painful, she knew, which was why people usually avoided it.
Dana was obviously reading Grace. “Let me finish. You are also key to my happiness. Whether that’s strength or a weakness doesn’t matter. I think it’s both. And I’m not going to leave you, and I don’t want you to leave, but we need to be ready.”
Grace, still tingling from the endorphins of knowing someone threatened to kill her, mulled that over for a while.
Dana was growing a little impatient, but sipped her tea to cover the fact, watching Grace over the rim of her cup.
“I guess it’s good to know that. It’s just very intense… but I’m not going to cry,” Grace finally said.
Dana nodded and smiled. The lack of tears when times got a little intense was part of the good change. “You were very cute and perky when we first met,” Dana added to continue the conversation.
“And now I’m not?”
“No. You’re beautiful and serious.”
“And you don’t like that?”
“I want to you to be happy and safe.”
“And you talked about this with Cassandra, what you want me to be?”
“Yes, and Rachel.”
“What does this have to do with your issues?”
“And I like you with a little belly just as much as with a bigger belly.”
“What the hell!” Grace stood up and took her empty cup and spoon into the kitchen.
“It’s okay to have gained some weight,” Dana added loudly.
“Thanks,” Grace said quietly to herself, and rinsed out her cup.
Dana came into the kitchen. “And my issue is, I should be able to tell you that.” She put her arms around Grace, whose posture was rigid and defensive, and nuzzled the nape of her neck. “And still get lucky. I need to be able to express myself with you. Without filtering or fear of punishment.”
The soft reverberations of Dana’s voice changed the adrenaline tingle to a more pleasant one, and Grace’s body melted into the one behind her. “Okay,” she responded quietly and let her hands cover the ones holding her. “You miss my perkiness?”
“And the crying?”
“Mmm, no, that was irritating,” she mumbled into Grace’s neck.
Grace smiled. “I think the two are yin and yang though.”
“Okay, well, I’ll get over the perky crying thing if we can replace it with a sex for being honest thing.”
“You want sex for calling me fat?”
“Yeah,” her hand slid up and gently squeezed Grace’s nipple through the fabric, “tit for fat.”
For that, Dana’s hand was slapped away. But eventually she was led into the bedroom for some intimate therapy, and the next day, Grace got up at six am to run, and started hitting the gym at lunchtime.
Part Seven Dispersion: The separation of a complex wave into its component parts.
It did not take long after Dana arrived in New Haven for Barbara Buchler to descend on the super computer room. She scanned her finger and pushed open the door.
“Thank God!” she said when she saw Dana sitting next to Rachel, looking at the monitors hanging on the wall.
The two techs turned toward the interruption. Dana was not as happy to see Barbara as Barbara was to see her, but she was too tired and stressed to care about the administrator. Rachel had already filled Dana in on the powwow she had attended with Yerky and the rest of the hospital brass.
“Do we have anything yet?” she asked.
“We’re working on it!” Rachel told the administrator, for the forty millionth time.
Barbara looked to Dana, hoping for another answer.
“We’re working on it,” Dana repeated.
“We’ll call you,” Rachel mouthed as she held up her hand in the shape of a phone to her ear.
The techs stared at the administrator until Barbara realized that was all she was going to learn on this visit. “As soon as you know anything…” She headed for the door and then turned back. “Dana, I am very, very sorry about Grace. If there is anything I can do… I know this is a difficult time for you.”
Dana looked down at her sneakers, using all of her energy to gather her composure. “There is something you can do for us, Barbara,” she stated.
The administrator seemed surprised, but waited to hear the request.
“Have Grace moved down here to Yale.”
“I don’t understand? Have her moved here?”
“Yes. It will be easier to treat her, and I can concentrate on things better while we’re working through a solution if she’s here.”
“Solution? We‘re trying to identify the virus, to see if it’s ours.”
Rachel remained very quiet.
“We’re going to do more than identify it.” Dana stated.
“Dana, these people have no brain activity. They’re brain dead. Two of the families have already…” She looked at the brain biopsy on the screen. “You can’t possibly think….”
“I can, and I will.” Dana said defiantly.
Barbara looked to Rachel for some insight. “I don’t think you understand what you’re up against, Da…”
“Barbara!” Rachel stood up suddenly, interrupting her. “I need a word with you,” and led her out of the room.
Dana cautiously approached the small visitation room. It had been years since she had a visitor, and that was her lawyer, or someone official. Eight years ago she was very young and had no real understanding of the mix of politics and circumstance that had led her here. Eight years of beatings and bruisings. Eight years of unleashing the darkest parts of herself. Eight years completely forgotten by everyone on the outside.
If she had expected anyone, and she didn’t, it would have been Rachel Jones.
A guard who was Dana’s height and twice her girth escorted her to the small utilitarian conference room and opened the door. He told her to sit down, and Dana followed the instructions, allowing the guard to shackle her to the restraint bar on the floor. She subtly tested the chain by curling her biceps. The guard turned and walked away, closing the door behind him. It took a few moments before Dana raised her eyes from the table to look more closely at the person sitting across from her. She had caught a glimpse of her visitor when she entered the room, but didn’t recognize the slender man in the suit.
“Are you a lawyer?” she asked flatly.
“No, I’m a scientist.” The man slid a printout of one of her anonymous articles across the table so that she could read it.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“That is pure genius, that’s what it is,” the man stated with the enthusiasm of a well meaning teacher.
Dana didn’t respond. “This is a trap,” she thought to herself. Internet posting by cons was illegal and would mean more punishment.
“My name is Karl Reichert.”
Dana didn’t speak.
“And this theory, this posting, is brilliant,” he stated, tapping at the papers with a thin, well manicured finger.
Dana looked him in the eyes. They were gray, and his smile appeared genuine. “What does it have to do with me?”
Reichert sat up straighter in his chair and studied the lanky, pale woman shackled in front of him.
“You wrote this.”
“No. I have no access to the internet.”
“I see.” Reichert lifted his chin slightly and looked down his nose at her.
Dana bit her lip, and looked down at the table again.
“A person with the intellect and imagination to write something like this is a very rare find. I’ve spent decades in nano technology research, and this is the first theory in over ten years with any potential. Whoever wrote this is considered to be very important to the nano community.”
Dana shifted, chains jingling.
“I’m in a position to offer the author of this work anything they desire, including immunity.”
The convict, tight lipped, shook her head, repeating her insistence that she had no idea what this meant to her.
“You’re headstrong.” The man pointed out.
“Are we done?” Dana pulled on her chains.
“And I know you’re not stupid.”
“Who do you work for, the Warden?” Dana asked.
Reichert smiled, “Yours.”
Dana chuckled. She was going to maintain her fidelity to silence and self protection. This guy was lame.
Her interviewer placed another stack of papers in front of her.
“Pardon papers. Yours.”
“Wow. Warden Crutch is taking this to the wall.”
“This is a serious offer.”
“I have no idea who wrote that nano stuff, and I know those papers aren’t real. Guard!” Dana yelled.
“This is real. You’re exactly what I’ve been hoping for, and I admit, this is the last place on earth I ever expected to find any answers. But I’m offering you a chance to join me, and you’ll be able to do incredible things.”
“Guard!” Dana tried to stand, the chains holding her down.
Reichert was watching Dana. He stood, picked up the papers from the table and placed them back into his black, hardcover briefcase, very business like. “You have a choice, Ms. Papadopolis. Freedom, or you can waste away and die in here. And I guarantee, in a few years, all those brilliant theories and inspirational ideas bouncing around in your head will no longer be there for you. This place will destroy that. It has, very obviously, already taken a toll.”
“Guard!” Karl Reichert called out. The door opened and the guard appeared. Reichert turned to Dana. “Think about what you want to make of your life. I’ll be back in one week.”
Rachel returned a half hour later, with donuts and a box of Joe from Dunkin Donuts which she placed on Dana’s work desk. Dana was standing at Rachel’s workstation, tapping at the holographic buttons on the desk and dragging her finger around a touch pad, zipping through test results, video images, stopping for long moments and peering at the monitors.
“Jaaavaaa,” Rachel said, grabbing a donut from the box and pouring a coffee. She sat down in her chair. “Barbara is going to have Grace moved down here, but she’s going to need you to fill out some paperwork.”
Dana looked down at the hacker and nodded.
“Have a donut and some coffee,” Rachel said, her mouth full of carbohydrates and sugar.
“I can’t eat,” Dana said testily.
“Have something. You have to eat to think.”
Dana placed her hand on her stomach, the thought of food unappetizing.
“Seriously, eat!” the older woman demanded.
Dana walked over to the donuts and picked a cruller from the box, poured a cup of coffee and took a seat next to the hacker.
After they had both eaten, Rachel brushed crumbs from her shirt and took a long swig of coffee. Dana chewed her food like it was made of cardboard. She put the remaining half of the cruller on the workstation.
“What do you think about these things?” Rachel asked, putting on her microphone.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Yeah. They’re insane.”
“So show me why you think this is ours, because it’s not evident to me.”
Using voice commands and a series of movements on a holographic keypad, Rachel drilled down into an electronic snapshot of a Yale patient’s nanorobot captured on a digital electron microscope. She zeroed in on what appeared to be a tail.
“A tail? What does that have to do with our bots?”
“Not that there’s a tail.” She zeroed in further. “This.”
Dana stood and moved within inches of the monitor, a finger tracing the configuration of atoms.
“Yes.” Mid point on the tail was a series of carbon and hydrogen atoms resembling a structure in the cancer nanobots that functioned as a receptor for the Viagra molecule, which then shorted the cancer nanobots in case something went wrong. “The kill switch. Does it work?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter though.”
Dana looked down at the hacker, lights reflecting off her spectacles. “Why?”
“Because they’ve already done their damage. These people are essentially dead.”
Dana knew the hacker didn’t mean to sound heartless, but even if she did, Dana was already in emotional shutdown mode. “We should turn them off anyway, just in case.” Dana said flatly, as she turned towards the monitor which showed the full image of the nanobot. “This thing is really ugly. We’ve never made anything remotely like this.”
“Watch this.” Rachel took the image off pause and let the electronic video play, showing the little nanobots swim around the monitor, propelled by the tail.
“Yeah,” Rachel said, still amazed. “And they differ slightly from patient to patient, similar, but different enough that you can see it.” Rachel pulled up all the samples she had and tiled them next to each other, freezing all of the images.
“Like there was racemation in the production process, yet they all still function,” Dana commented. “That’s incredibly lucky. Are they a systemic infestation?”
“No, nothing in the blood or organs we’ve biopsied. I’ve only been able to find them in the labs done on the central nervous system. These are from the spinal fluid, but they don’t appear to do anything here except swim around. But take a look at this.” Rachel pulled up a cross section of a brain biopsy.
“What are those?”
“Those are brain cells, Doc.”
The image in front of Dana made her stomach drop. The sample of brain was infested with wormy bots. The gray matter or nerve cells, the neurons, which were fragile enough on their own, had been ravaged by the nanobots which clung to the long axons of the cells, wrapped around them in many cases. She sat down in her chair and covered her eyes. “Besides the kill switch, do you see anything else that looks like ours? Because I don’t see any correlations to our models,” Dana said quietly, exhausted.
“Dana, it took me while to figure it out, but I think that these were somehow created from the data files we fed those NSA guys Ryan and Spinelli.” Rachel resurrected the contrived nanosystem files that they had Lena Whitley plant with Agents Ryan and Spinelli a year prior. Files they suspected would make it to Karl Reichert.
“Look, it’s very simple, Dana,” Karl Reichert said. He was sitting in his office, elbows on his desk, fingers interlaced, and a gold Cross pen shining on the desk blotter. Dana was standing on the other side of the desk, the door to the hallway beyond her. Reichert wore a perfectly pressed gray Brooks Brothers suit, with a yellow shirt and navy blue tie. He looked down and picked up his pen. “You have the requirements. Your job is to build something that fulfills those requirements. That’s it. You must complete this project for this deal to work out. I don’t care what you think or what you want. If you can’t do what’s required of you, then this arrangement is a mistake.”
“What? You’re going to send me back to York?”
Reichert didn’t look up. “What do you think?”
“I’m not going back to York,” Dana said defiantly. “I’ll run.”
He laughed. “You run, and I guarantee I’ll find you. If I could track you down from an anonymous internet posting to a prison number in York, I can find you anywhere on the grid. And when I find you, I won’t be offering a job.”
It became very clear to Dana at that moment that there are many, many types of prisons.
“You’re free because I gifted it to you. You’ve screwed your life up to this point, Dana. Don’t make it any worse.”
Dana felt her anger surging with each pulse.
“Now, I don’t want to hear anymore about this.” He looked up at Dana. “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Dana said coldly, and walked away from everything, out the front door, and off the grid.
After hours of reviewing all the files with Rachel, it was clearly possible that Reichert had used the dysfunctional data they had planted and created this nanomonster. If anybody could turn nanocrap into gold, Reichert would be the one to do it. Dana needed to take a break, mentally as much as physically. Instinct drove her as she wandered down the hallway to Grace’s office and unlocked the door with her keycard. The lights turned on automatically. She stood in the doorway for a long time, looking around. The room smelled of chocolate and printer fumes, both of which were somehow caught for the weekend when Grace locked her door Friday afternoon after the weekly staff meeting. Dana walked over to the little glass bowl on Grace’s desk that held the mini M&Ms that were out gassing milk chocolate. She grabbed a handful and let the little candies slip through her fingers back into the bowl. She resisted the overwhelming urge to cry. That would be giving in, she told herself, and she was not giving in to this. Eventually she took a seat on the small office couch and leaned her head back to rest. She closed her eyes. After 20 minutes, the lights clicked off, leaving her in the dark, but by that time, she was already deeply asleep.
Click, click, click, click, click, pause, click, click, click, click, click.
Dana knew it was her before the lights snapped on.
“Yes, Barbara.” Dana didn’t open her eyes.
Click, click, click, click. “I need you to sign some forms, for Grace, to transport.”
Dana lifted her head, unclipped her glasses from her shirt collar, and reached out for the forms. She took the time to read them, and the extra time to try and understand them. Barbara sat down next to her, also exhausted. She offered Dana her pen when she was ready to sign.
“Will you ride down with her?”
“No, her father will probably want to, and he’s a doctor, so that would be better, I think.” Dana handed the papers back.
But the administrator did not leave. She needed an answer for her own sake, as much as the hospital’s. “Dana, are the nanobots ours?”
“Thank God!” But Barbara Buchler’s relief was short lived.
“But it’s very likely that they’re a derivation of some of our early designs.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that when Agent Ryan and Agent Spinelli subpoenaed our files last year, they took those designs and turned them into these monsters.”
“That’s impossible. They were FBI.”
“They’re NSA. And whoever they acquired them for was able to take the data and turn it into something I’ve never imagined.”
“Why would they do this?”
“Money, power, same old story. It’s the same group behind Los Angeles. The same group I worked for.”
“Those were terrorists.”
“Yeah, you could call them that, but they weren’t foreign.” Dana was too tired to pontificate, but Barbara’s choice to believe foreigners were the only people capable of causing death and pain to American citizens urged her on. “How would a terrorist organization fund nanotech research? It would cost billions. Look how much we’ve spent.”
Barbara regarded her, apparently too tired to argue, and perhaps she did know in her gut what she refused to accept in her head. “Some of the patients’ families are ready to let go.”
“I’m going to fix this.” Barbara looked at her doubtfully. “I know what the challenges are, but it’s not the first time I’ve been up against a virus. So far I’m batting five hundred.”
“They aren’t challenges, Dana. This isn’t minor brain damage or illnesses we’re dealing with. We’re talking about resurrection. Brain death. I can’t authorize this based on your ego, or on Grace.”
“Barbara, I know you don’t like me. But I’ve never let you down. And pulling the facility out now would be a huge mistake. Letting those families give up, that would be wrong.”
The administrator pursed her lips, and stood up. She cleared her throat. “I have my answer concerning the nanobots, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to report them to the authorities.” Click, click, click, click. She stopped at the doorway and turned to address the nanotech. Her voice held a note of finality as she took control. “You, Dr. Jones, and a small team can move your systems downstairs and take the lab on the second floor. Take one manipulator and keep it quiet. I’ll talk to the families. But I’m going tell them there’s only a one percent probability of survival, no guarantees.”
Dana rose. “Thank you.”
“Yes, well, get a move on, Ms Papadopolis.” Click, click, click, click, click, click…
It took eight and one quarter hours for Dana and her team to establish a functional nano research department on the second floor. The new secret lab included supercomputers and one nano manipulator. Dana arranged for the manufacturers to fly out from Seattle to install the manipulator, along with two laborers. During the rebuild of the lab after the fire, there was always the intention of expanding the nano research facility and taking over the second floor, so the infrastructure was already available. A new nano genetics department was expected to start up in June, so until then, Dana and her team would be squatters.
Dana chose her team carefully and it consisted of only those she trusted: Rachel, Minnie to run the simulations and organism analysis, and Sylvia and Jack to run production. She left Tasha as a later possibility, but didn’t know the girl well enough, and Rachel seemed to think she was clumsy and smelled funny. They were still short a neurologist. Meanwhile, Rachel worked her magic, creating a new parallel but paranoidally secure computer network. They inhabited two rooms physically, the super computer room, which would also function as the meeting room, and the organic chemistry lab with the manipulator room inset.
While they were establishing the lab, Grace was transported via ambulance from UCONN’s Farmington hospital to Yale’s New Haven hospital. By the time she was settled into the ICU, Faith, Joy, and Dick Wilson had arrived in Connecticut, having driven in Dick’s extended cab dooly. Dana met the distraught, and road weary family of blondes in the ICU waiting room, and gave them her house keys so they could use the beach house as a gathering and resting place. She made no promises to meet back up with them, and left so that she could deal with Grace’s situation on her own. Barbara Buchler was correct, she needed to get a move on, and after checking in on Grace to tell her what she knew and what the plan was, she headed back to the lab.
“I know everyone is exhausted,” she told the small team. “But we have a ton of work ahead of us. Jack and Sylvia, I need you to take the production protocol files Rachel will give you and dissect them, simulate them, look at base material variations on procedures, whatever you need to do, to see how someone could generate these new bots from the files.”
“Like reverse-engineering it?” Sylvia asked.
“Sort of. You have both end points, the start and the finish. You need to figure out how they made the production data executable and viable. Minnie, Rachel says you know what these things are doing.”
Dana told Jack and Sylvia they could leave and get started.
“So where do we start, Minnie?” Dana was sitting in a chair close to Rachel’s work station.
Minnie seemed a little unsure, suddenly on the spot, and moved to a chair beside Rachel. “Uh, how about bringing up one of the cortex biopsies, Dr. Jones.” She cleared her throat, feeling very self-conscious now that she was the center of attention. Rachel handed her a laser pointer. “From what I can see, the nanobots attacked the axons of the neuroblasts. If you can magnify that a little…good, thanks…you see this shape here.” She moved the laser pointer to show a claw like formation on the head of the bot. “Some are bigger than others, depending on the patient.”
“What are those things dangling from the axons?”
“Those are strands of the mycelin sheath, which insulated the axon. I haven’t been able to observe it because whatever they did, they’ve already done, but I think the claw acts like scissors and shreds the mycelin into these strands,” she clarified further. “The patients with smaller claw structures… Dr. Jones can you pull another up… yes, that one… these with the smaller claws show less stranding.” The new image of the nanobots showed them wrapped around the nerve cells.
“Huh. And without the sheath?”
“Without the sheaths, the neurons can’t fire,” Rachel added.
“I thought they were blocking the neurotransmitters. This is very different,” Dana stated.
Minnie agreed. “Yes, very different. That’s the first thing we looked for, but there are plenty of neurotransmitters in the tissue. And the dendrites and axon hillocks are clear.” She used the pointer to show how the ends of the nerve cells were unobstructed by the wormy virus. “If the shredding had taken place more slowly, we would have seen the same effects as we do in MS, but they attacked and destroyed the cells much faster. In these, where the sheath isn’t destroyed, the wrapping of the axon does something similar. In both cases, the shredding and the wrapping, the propagation of the local current flow down the axon is disrupted, so the signal never makes it and the neurons essentially don’t work. The wrapping blocks both the voltage gated and leak channels, and the active channels required to create the resting potential.” She looked at Dana and explained further. “It’s the electrogenic pump in the neuron membrane that readjusts the potassium and sodium ions imbalance to reset the resting potential for the next neuron pulse, plus it aids in the propagation of the charge down the neuron axon instead of back up.
“The neurons can’t fire again because the ions are out of whack?”
“Exactly. The pumps bring two potassium ions in for every three sodium ions that are pushed out. The leak channels, which are open all the time and allow ions into the cell, are blocked, and the voltage gated channels won’t work without the current. The permeability of the ions is essential.”
Minnie squinted her eyes, having described the complete destruction of the nerve cell.
Dana put her hands on the top of her head. “This is really, really bad.”
“Yep,” Rachel said.
“Minnie, call Doctor um,um…” Dana snapped her fingers trying to remember. “Dr….Rachel, what was the name of the man running the nano research centre at UW? The one you set up the production software for?”
“Give him a call, see where they are, and see what he’s willing to share. Tell him we’re, um, tell him, tell him the truth, what we’re up against, and that when we make this work, he can have the technology.”
“And see if he has any modifications that would upgrade the CNS portion of the simulation program. If he does, have Minnie run through them.” Dana thought quickly. “Minnie, you and Rachel need to create these nano bots virtually. I want to see if we can simulate what you described.”
“Okay,” Minnie replied, writing down notes.
“It’s going to take some time; you need to run each patient’s virus. When you’re done, I want to sit and compare all the results. Run as many simulations as you can, and get back to me by tomorrow afternoon.”
“Dana,” Rachel interrupted. “It’s going to take longer than that.”
“How much longer?” Dana asked.
“At least three days.”
“Run half then, but try and get a decent sample.”
“Got it,” Minnie said.
“Give me a minute with Doc,” Rachel said to Minnie. “Go get something to eat.”
“Okay,” Minnie replied, and left the room.
“Do you think they have an antidote?”
“Who? Reichert?” Dana asked.
“No way. Look at what this does.” Dana knew without a doubt why Grace was one of the people it was used on, and who was behind it. “Have you heard from Lena?”
“She has nothing. She said she could reopen the trail on Spinnelli and Ryan, but thinks that it will lead nowhere new. No direct connections to Reichert. They covered their trail.
“Because she follows the rules. There’s always a money trail to follow, if you can bend the rules.”
“Yeah, well, let me see if she’s willing to push that a little, but I can’t promise anything.”
Lena agreed to meet Rachel and Dana that evening, but wanted to avoid the hospital. The nanovirus had been reported to the Contagion Agency and the CDC, and agents had already descended, as had the local and national media. The noon day news report had headlined the stories, and by evening, the news talk shows had scooped up anyone who had even a minor attachment to nano technology, and represented them as nano experts. The crowds and chaos around the hospital made it easier for the tech and the hacker to slip out unnoticed.
They were sitting at a little clam shack that Lena liked. Rachel hated seafood, but would go and eat the fries with a mountain of ketchup.
“You’re sure that Karl Reichert is behind this?” Lena asked. Rachel was sitting next to Lena, using two fries at a time to eat her ketchup.
“Who else would go after Grace, or me? It’s Reichart, and we’ve been careless.”
“And the other victims?”
“Collateral damage. He doesn’t care who he hurts. For him it’s a field test.”
“Did you think Spinelli and Ryan were working for him when we gave them the data files?”
“We were pretty sure.”
“So why’d you give him something this good to work with?” Lena was irritated because she knew she played a role in this mess, and it drove her crazy.
Rachel broke in. “If we had given them the real files, this would have happened a long time ago. The data had to be good enough so that they wouldn’t discover they were fraudulent, but I left out huge portions of code and distorted the nano structures and production protocols.” She returned to eating her fries.
“He has to have a lab,” Dana stated.
“If Spinelli and Ryan are NSA.” Lena told them.
“No doubt in my mind,” Dana interrupted.
“If he’s NSA, I’ll see what I can access,” Lena finally said. “But I don’t know what we’re going to do with the information. This is way bigger than I can handle.” She ate one of Rachel’s fries. “Has he contacted you?”
“No. He may not know where I am. We’ve been keeping a low profile.”
Whitley sat at the table with complete poise and coolness. “If it is NSA, he knows exactly where you’ve been since you checked into UCONN,” Lena explained. “My guess is he knows you’re here right now, and he let you come. And he’s using you.”
“He wants something from Dana?” The hacker had a dollop of ketchup on her cheek.
“Why else would you be alive?” Lena asked. “If the virus is as complex and accidental as you claim, I doubt he has any way to control it.”
Dana nodded. She understood now. Reichert needed a cure. There was more power in creating a virus if you also held the cure. And he had placed Dana in a position where he knew she’d have no other choice but to provide it. “Rach, I’m going to point you in the right direction on a few things, but you’re going to have to do the hack…the work.”
“I’m there,” the hacker said, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
Part Eight: Scattering- The process in which light is linearly polarized and observers only see the light they are in parallel position with. The scattering is caused by light passing through molecules in the atmosphere.
“She has a living will, Dana. You should respect that.” It was Monday afternoon and Little Dick Wilson and the entire Wilson family were in the ICU waiting room, located down the hall from Grace’s room.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Dana argued.
“It’s right here,” he pointed at a paper with a shaking hand.
“I know what it says. And that paper says that ultimately it’s my decision,” Dana defended. She didn’t have the time for Dick to interlope.
“Jesus!” Dick turned away, frustrated and angry, and looked to his father to help. Richard was showing the strain just as everyone else was. His white hair looked dull and gray, his face gaunt and colorless, and his forest green eyes, dark and sunken.
“Dana,” the elder Wilson spoke, with a kind and patient drawl. “Grace is only alive because of machines. Her brain isn’t even telling her to breathe anymore. And look at this.” He pulled Dana over to Grace and lifted up her eyelid. The eye was rolled into the back of her head because the muscles were no longer tense. “Do you understand that?”
“I’m fixing this.” Dana explained as she struggled to maintain control of her emotions.
Dr Wilson scratched the back of his head and sighed.
“This is ridiculous!” Dick threw his hands into the air, and then folded his arms across his chest. “Grace doesn’t want this.”
“It’s Dana’s decision,” Faith Wilson finally spoke up. “If Dana’s not ready, then Grace will wait for her to be.”
“There is no brain activity at all!” Dick spat at his mother.
“Her heart still beats. There’s still blood going to her brain, and if there’s blood her tissues aren’t dead.” Anger was creeping into Dana’s voice.
“Dana. In another week she’ll need a tracheotomy to breathe. A feeding tube. Her skin will start breaking down. The body knows when things aren’t right,” Dr. Wilson continued.
“There’s still hope,” Dana told them.
“Dana, listen to me…” Dr. Wilson pleaded.
“I can fix this, goddammit!” Dana shouted, and she began to shake. You can fix this, she told herself.
“No one can fix this, honey.” And Richard Wilson placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“I can,” Dana said defiantly, and headed out of the room. “And if Grace could talk, she’d tell you that!”
Richard turned to his wife, exhausted, then to his son and oldest daughter, and shrugged his shoulders.
“She’s not ready, and I see no reason why everyone should be in such a hurry to rush this. You don’t press something like this, Richard!” Faith Wilson stated angrily, silent tears running down her face. She turned and followed Dana out of the ICU.
“It’s Dana’s decision,” Richard told the others reluctantly.
Part Nine: Malus’ Law- when light is incident on a polarizer, only linear light is transmitted
In an ICU, time is measured differently than in the rest of the world. It’s measured by the spaces between the beeps of a heart monitor, or the silence between the rhythmic rise and fall of a breathing apparatus, and ultimately, it is measured by how long someone is willing to allow the instruments to continue. The ICU waiting room at Yale was crowded, even in the middle of the night. Family members from the eight remaining nano virus victims, as well as all the other trauma patients, came and went through all hours, checking in with the ICU nurse’s station via a red phone in the corner of the room, which would then ring several minutes later with the nurse beckoning the visitor to enter the controlled area. The Wilson family took turns spending the nights by Grace’s bedside, or when not allowed inside due to some medical procedure, sleeping on the uncomfortable chairs of the lounge. It was impossible for Dana to avoid a Wilson when she went to visit Grace.
With Rachel back in her Jersey City highrise doing all the bending for her FBI galfriend to track down Karl Reichert, the nano team was sliding their tasking to the right, their schedule slipping hourly, and Dana was growing more and more frustrated. However, Rachel was able to get Dr. Higuchi to agree to not only share his nano research on restoring mycelin sheaths, but to come out and participate with the team in person. He was expected to arrive in the morning, and that would help fill a much needed gap when it came to understanding the intricacies of the physiology associated with the Central NervousSystem.
Grace had agreed to take off from work early one Thursday afternoon, but was regretting that decision as soon as she entered the small waiting room of Cassandra’s office.
“You’re nervous?” Dana told Grace more than asked.
“A little. I thought we were doing really well.”
“We are. This isn’t couples counseling. But it’ll be good long term. You’ll see.”
“What are we going to talk about?”
Cassandra came into the small waiting room. “Hi guys. Come on in.”
Grace gave Dana one last look, and then followed the other two women into the room.
Instead of sitting in her usual seat, Dana sat on the sleek, leather Danish couch so that Grace could sit beside her, which she did.
“How are you doing, Grace?” Cassandra asked in a chipper tone.
“Good,” Grace replied.
“She’s nervous,” Dana explained.
“Why are you nervous, Grace?” Cassandra asked.
“She thinks I’m going to drop a bomb on her.”
“Really?” Cassandra seemed surprised.
“No, I’m afraid Dana’s going to do all my talking for me.” Grace turned to her girlfriend, crossed her arms across her chest, and glared at her.
Cassandra smiled. “Why don’t you tell her why you asked her to come, Dana?”
“I thought it was time to share some of the things that we’ve talked a lot about here that are important for you to know, the things about me I haven’t talked about with you before. And how you can support me with some of the things I need to change, and to let you know if there’s anything you need to talk to me about, you can, and I can handle it. I thought it would be easier here, without all the interruptions and distractions we usually have, or by using some of the escapes we tend to fall back on.” Well, that was awkward, Dana thought to herself, and she gently clasped Grace’s hand.
“Escapes?” Graced asked.
“Sex,” Cassandra supplied when Dana didn’t jump in.
“We tend to fall back on sex instead of talking, because it’s easy and really, really good.”
“You want less sex?”
“Hell no!” Dana answered quickly. “Definitely not. I mean, I want more if anything. It’s just not an option here.” She looked to Cassandra who smiled. “So we’ll have to talk. I’ll have to talk, say the things I avoid and maybe you avoid too.”
“Oh, okay. So what do you want to talk about?”
Dana paused, “I want to tell you about my Dad and his suicide, and York, and Los Angeles.”
Grace smiled. “I’d like that, Dana. I’d really like that.” And she squeezed Dana’s hand.
Sometime around midnight, Dana left the ICU after a visit with Grace to update her on what they were dealing with, that Lena was helping now, and Rachel was up to her old tricks, and to reassure her that they were making progress, just not as quickly as she had hoped. She didn’t tell Grace how tired she was, or that she had an interview with contagion agents in the morning, or that she saw her nanobots, and they appeared to be some of the worst of the lot.
She was winding her way down a series of hallways and stairwells that would eventually lead her back to the lab, and allow her to avoid major intersections. Her plan was to curl up on a cot in the office for a few hours and get some rest. The deserted hallways of the hospital smelled of antiseptic and sick people. The lights were dimmed; the nurses’ stations lit only by desk lamps, and occasionally a nurse scuttled from room to room, taking vitals.
Dana was halfway down the east stairwell when she heard the door above her close and the soft sound of footsteps on the stairs. Shoes, not sneakers, she thought. She continued down to the first floor, through the back end of the emergency room, and down the maintenance hallways that lead to the west stairwell. She glanced behind her, then slipped into the stairwell where she waited in the darkened corner. After fifteen seconds or so, the door opened carefully and a short, stocky figure entered, letting the door close quietly behind him. He tilted his head to listen above him, and jumped when Dana appeared from the shadows. But his fright quickly turned to anger.
“We need to talk,” Dick said.
Dana stood a meter away. “About what?”
“About Grace and what you’re putting her through, what you’re putting us through.”
“This is difficult for everyone,” Dana said.
“Yeah, and your unreasonable behavior is making it far worse.”
Dana felt a tightness in her chest and her body. “Why, because I’m not willing to give up without a fight?”
“Because there’s nothing to fight, you fucking nut! Grace is dead! You have to let her go, and stop torturing everyone!”
Anger flashed, and she felt her right fist connecting with the rigid jaw line of Dick Wilson. Despite the fact that she threw most of her weight and strength into it, he didn’t fall. Instead, he took advantage of Dana’s shock that she had lost control, and lunged towards her, landing a solid punch to her mouth. He came again with another shot to her nose which bent her over in pain, but then her instincts kicked in. She dodged another punch and then landed a hard shot to Dick’s gut and another to his cheek, finally knocking him to the ground. He tried to scramble to his feet but Dana drove down hard into his ribs with her knee. She followed with a brutal shot to his mouth that left him moaning.
Dana left Dick reeling in the stairwell and walked behind the security doors to the second floor. She entered the super computer room and collapsed to her knees.
Minnie arrived at the lab first that morning to find Dana already at work completing the tasking Minnie had started. She was creating a new virtual model of one of the eight viruses. “Good morning,” the young Asian woman said. “Ooo, ouch!” she said when Dana turned around. “What happened?”
“Brother in law,” Dana replied. She had two bloodshot, bruised eyes and a swollen lip.
“Is that what brother in laws do? I only have a sister in law.” She looked at the model on the monitor. “Which one is this?”
“Grace’s,” Dana answered and typed on a cordless lap keyboard. “Can you pick Dr. Higuchi up from the airport?” She asked. “He might be frightened by me, and Rachel is…well, who knows.”
Dana gave her the flight info and arrival time. “How’s Jack doing? Has he said anything?”
“They’re getting close. But why do you need to know how they were made?”
“If we understand the pressure and the material composition of how they were generated, we’ll understand their weaknesses and strengths better.”
Minnie nodded. They needed to understand their enemy in order to beat it.
“This one I’m working on, this one’s the worst I’ve seen. Look how it wraps around the neurons, and there’s nothing left of the axon but bare neuron.”
“Yes, it is bad. They’re all horrible.”
“Just like brother in laws.” Dana mumbled under her breath.
“I think I have the changes for the simulation program figured out, the ones they sent from UW. I don’t know if you want them or if you want me to wait for Dr. Jones.”
Dana put the keyboard aside. “What do you have?”
“Mostly chemistry and activity of the Glial cells, um, the white matter.” She handed Dana a notebook filled with neatly printed equations and system markings.
“Okay. How about you finish this model and I’ll build in the changes to the software.”
Part Ten Magnification–the process of causing an object or image to appear larger than it really is by passing light through a lens or microscope
Sometime around one thirty in the afternoon Rachel rolled into the office and tossed a tuna grinder into Dana’s lap. “Let’s go!”
“We have a lab to destroy.” Rachel said slowly, taking in Dana’s raccoon look.
Dana climbed to her feet.
“What happened to your face, Doc?”
“Well we have a long drive ahead, so start talking.”
The phone in Rachel Jones’ penthouse rang until the voicemail kicked on. “Rachel, pick up. I know you’re there. It’s Doc…uh…Dana Papadopolis. C’mon, pick up.”
“I’m downstairs. I want to come up.”
The hacker walked over to the window of her penthouse and stared down, unable to see anything from the 240th floor. “You have vodka or cigarettes?”
“Call me back when you do.”
Fuck, Dana said to herself and walked down the street until she found a liquor store. When she returned to the building, she called again and had to talk to the machine until Rachel picked up.
“Come up,” Rachel finally answered and pressed a button, remotely unlocking the door to the high-rise. She watched on the security cameras as Dana walked through the lobby. She pressed another button that unlocked the elevator to her floor, and waited for her guest at the door.
Dana was deeply tanned and lean. Her hair was highlighted by the Caribbean sun, and her arm hung in a bandana sling.
“Doc, whatcha doin’ here?”
“You seen the news?” Dana handed the hacker a brown paper bag.
“Yeah. You have anything to do with it?” Rachel looked into the bag. Dana knew nothing about booze or cigarettes.
Dana limped over to the windows and gazed at the water line in the distance. “They’re my bots.”
“Fuck, Doc! There’s like 10,000 people dead!” She put the bag on the couch, and turned up the television which was tuned to CNN.
“I know. I heard it on NPR. And there will be a lot more.” Dana watched the scenes of Los Angeles on the TV – the hospitals, the Mayor encouraging people not to panic but to stay indoors, the chaos.
Rachel finished off her bottle of Grey Goose, nearly filling a large glass mug, and lit a cigarette. “Want some booze?”
“No,” Dana said, wincing and grabbing at her shoulder.
The hacker took a long drink. “Why’d you do this?” She indicated the television with her half full mug, a little sloshing over the sides. Apparently she was already drunk.
“I didn’t. I mean I made them, but I didn’t do this. I didn’t unleash them.”
“You made them? Why the fuck did you make them?” Rachel’s voice had grown much louder.
“It’s a long story.”
“I’m sure, and a real sad one too,” the hacker said dismissively. “You fucked up big time, Doc. I mean, this is way fucking bad.”
“I know that, Rachel!” Dana said angrily.
“Well, why’d you do it?”
Dana paused. At least she was giving her a chance to explain. She knew Rachel would listen, which was why she was here. “They gave me a choice, York or work for them, and I took it.”
Rachel looked disgusted. “Why are you here?”
“Because I need your help. I need to stop this.”
The hacker rolled her eyes. “You don’t fix something like this, Dana.”
“I have to try.”
“Fuck!” Rachel yelled and looked at the television screen. The caption under the picture of the California governor read, “Terrorist Attack?” She closed her eyes and rubbed her head. This woman was giving her a headache.
“I was working for a group in the NSA,” Dana explained. “About three months ago I slipped away, but I left everything with them. I left all the research and the designs. And apparently it all works.”
“They say it’s terrorism.”
“It’s Karl Reichert. He’s field testing.”
“I’d say his test was successful,” Rachel said flatly.
Lena met them in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart just off I-95 near New London. Reichert’s laboratory was in what appeared to be a decrepit medical supply building on the Thames River, in a run down area near the heart of New London. While Rachel ran into the store to buy some ammo for her shotgun and her Colt .45, Dana and Lena rolled out the building schematics and did a tactical survey. It took them over an hour to agree on what they would do, Dana compromising more than she wanted, and it took even longer to determine how they would do it.
They drove into New London, close enough to stake out the building with binoculars. Dana kept watch while Rachel hacked into the building’s computer network, disabled the virus security, and stole all the data from the servers. She wrapped them up with a virtual ribbon and using Lena’s federal account, sent them to the Nano Terrorism Unit of the federal government and the CDC. Then she sent every major international news organization a package containing information about Karl Reichert and the secret lab. After placing a computer virus in the system, she sent a report she had concocted from facts about Reichert and the investigation she had conducted, signed Lena’s digital signature, and sent it through a classified system to Lena’s FBI supervisor. Lena was going to be furious with the hacker, but she deserved some credit when they brought this down.
Dana looked over and questioned Rachel with a simple look.
“What? She deserves it. She’s risking everything.”
“Rach, we need to talk.” They were alone in the car while Lena was staking out the other side of the building. Dana knew that Rachel knew what she was going to say. She’d been saying it for months. “Can I just say one thing?”
“What?!” The hacker refused to look up. She was already annoyed.
“You need to give up on that straight girl right now. She’s not going to turn, and you deserve to be loved.”
Rachel scowled, “Shut up.”
Dana shook her head. She knew that Rachel would continue going to that well even though it was dryer than the planet Mars.
“There’s nothing to give up. It’s platonic.”
“Yes, but for years you’ve been fawning over her.”
“I have not. I respect her. But she’s a Federal Agent and believes in law and order, and I spend most of my free time disturbing order and distributing social chaos. And that doesn’t work for her.”
“That doesn’t keep you from drooling over her.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“But mine sleeps with me,” Dana argued.
Rachel was not going to argue back. She had better sense. She hit the enter button on her keyboard. “I agree, Queenie is way hot, and while you’re not looking, she’s the one I drool over.”
After San Francisco, Dana assumed Reichert had moved his operation east, wanting to be nearby, perhaps to watch and eventually pounce, as he had. Who knew how long he had been watching them.
“I don’t like this,” Rachel whispered to Dana as she followed her down through the pitch black into the bowels of the building.
Like in San Francisco, they had waited until the wee hours, when they were pretty confident that most people had left for the day. Bypassing the security system was easy for Rachel, and now they were in, but other than the security system and basic layout of the building, they had no other map. The two crept down the stairwell at the north end of the building while Lena entered from the south. It appeared that the building had been some sort of medical supply facility in the past because the main portions of the large basements were filled with shelves and storage containers. Dana crept down one of the rows, a little pen flashlight her only illumination. This was apparently the storage area for left over prostheses from the 20th century.
Behind her she heard glass shatter. Dana swung in surprise, the light flashing across scared brown eyes, along with blue and green eyes which appeared all around them. They were everywhere, covering the floor, the shelves. One rolled off a shelf to her left and plinked on the cement flooring; one emerald green orb bounced from the third to the second warped shelf, then landed on Dana’s black sneaker with a thwap. “Jesus, Rach!” She shouted in a whisper.
Rachel bent over and picked up the prosthetic green eye from Dana’s shoe. It challenged her, unblinking, fearless, unfeeling, like an inanimate object will. She wanted to break into a Sammy Davis Jr. song. “Creepy little buggers.” She placed the eye back on the shelf, but it wouldn’t stay and rolled onto the floor, finally settling in on a long stare at her ass. Dana was about to go ballistic on the hacker when they heard a noise overhead, a door closing, the sound muffled by several feet of concrete above them. Rachel looked at Dana. “Split up. You keep going, find the offices. I’m going to check that out.”
Lena Whitley moved with unusual grace and stealth given her considerable height. She wore sensible shoes with high enough heels to be vogue, and how she managed not to click, click, click down the hallway was a miracle. The evenness of her breathing and athleticism of her movement appeared more like predator than prey, yet she knew Reichert was hunting her. She watched him enter the building an hour ago. She crept into the dark office, the moonlight casting an eerie glow through the small windows at the top of the wall. Where is he? she thought, turning into Karl Reichert, who held an automatic in front of him. “Fuck!”
Rachel was traveling a similar path in the darkness, parallel to Lena, but from the north stairwell. She carried her shotgun like it was an elephant gun. Under her breath she hummed and reminded herself over and over, this is not a Big Game Hunter on Xbox1200. She heard pops at the end of the hallway, and slowly crept toward the noise, staying close to the wall. Sweat dripped down her back. Her sneakers squeaked in the perspiration.
She smelled it before she saw it. Edging around the corner, she caught sight of Reichert’s silhouette in the doorway, his back to her. He was lean and lithe, no more than 5’5″, with thin gray-blond hair, and dressed in a sleek, light brown suit. In his right hand a Beretta hung, pointed at the ground. The gun smoke was suspended in the air, visible in the moonbeams. Lena lay on the ground at his feet, brown eyes bright, but lifeless. The pool of blood grew and began to spill out into the hallway. Rachel gasped and Reichert turned. She pulled back behind the corner and readied her weapon, then jumped out of cover, knowing he would be there. She shot four rounds but Reichert was gone. She ran towards the office and heard a heavy door close at the end of the hall. “No, no, no!” she yelled and dropped to her knees next to the lifeless body. “No, no, no!” she repeated, taking the dead agent into her arms. “No!”
Dana was on the second floor, unaware of the happenings below her. She had found the lab and the science offices, and was busy shorting out the locks when the stairwell door opened. The unmistakable form of Karl Reichert appeared, backlit by the glimmer from the exit sign. The gun in his hand was leveled at her head.
Dana slowly stood.
“Dana.” He smiled like they were old friends. “What took you so long?”
“I’ve been busy,” Dana gritted.
Reichert kept the gun aimed at her head, and when he reached her, checked her for weapons. He pulled the colt from her waistband. “Sit down,” he instructed, pressing the warm metal of the Beretta’s barrel into her temple.
Dana sat down on the tile floor. “You look old.”
“And you are a mess, as usual,” he said.
“Because I’m cleaning up your mess, asshole.”
“That mess is nothing. But I bet you’re working hard at fixing it.”
“That what you want?”
“Of course. I have to admit, I never would have imagined this five years ago, but it’ll do.”
Dana looked away.
“I was impressed when you evaded the waitress murder. I thought for sure I had you trapped.”
“You framed me.”
“Yes. But you were innovative, and you had help. I should have expected the innovation, but I never expected you to ask for help. And then you survived the nano virus, again with help.”
“So you kidnapped me.”
“And again, someone came to your aid. I couldn’t imagine that someone would care that much for you, or that you would let someone that close. Grace Wilson. Always in the way.”
“Grace is the only reason you’re alive. I should have killed you in San Francisco.”
“Yes. She’s an idiot. And now she’s dead, unless you think you can change that. Can you change that, Dana?” He smiled. “I think you believe you can. And I’m letting you try.”
“You’re letting me try because you want it. But I’m telling you, I’m not going to give you anything.” She looked up at her old mentor, defiant and full of contempt.
“Really?” He squatted down in front of her, gun still at her head, muzzle pressing her temple.
“Really,” she said through clenched teeth.
“See, I’m not giving you a choice.” He stood up. “You should have known better, Dana. If you didn’t want me to find you and use you, you shouldn’t have tied yourself down.”
“You’ll get nothing. You’ll have to kill me first.”
“Then I’ll kill you, Dana, and when you die, any hope for Grace Wilson or millions of other innocent people dies too.”
“You won’t have any control.”
“I have plenty of control. I have control over who uses them, when they’re used, and on whom they are used. And I make lots of money.”
“Dana, it’s such a shame. You could have done such great things.” He sighed, pausing for a moment to look at her. Then he pushed the muzzle of the gun hard against her head. “Goodbye, Dana.”
“Goodbye to you, you mother fucker!” Rachel screamed, and from ten feet away, blew a hole through Karl Reichert’s head, chunks of brain and bits of blood and skull and silver blond hair splattering the wall and white tiled floor. His small body crumpled to the ground like a rag doll in front of Dana. Rachel stood over him and emptied the remainder of her rounds into his heart, pumping and pulling, until all that was left was the clicking of the trigger release.
After a moment of pure shock, completely deaf except for the ringing in her ears, Dana climbed out of the gore and slowly approached the hacker. “Rachel,” Dana tried to say softly, but she couldn’t hear herself. “Rachel.” She pried the shotgun from her best friend’s hand. Tears and dirt streaked Rachel’s face. She looked up at Dana, her eyes wild. “He killed Lena.”
Dana read her lips and felt sick. She looked around at the carnage, the lifeless body and partial head. “Okay, Rach. It’s okay,” Dana reassured her, unable to hear her own voice. Blood and brains dripped down the wall. This wasn’t the type of mess Rachel was used to making. Dana put a long, protective arm around the shaking hacker.
Part Eleven: Aberrations: 1) Imperfect image, 2) the apparent displacement of a celestial body in the direction of motion of an observer on Earth caused by the motion of the Earth and the finite velocity of light.
Dana had avoided contact with the Wilsons as long as she possibly could. She was sure that Dick had reported their fray, and that she had been labeled the antagonist. But she had to see Grace despite the inevitable face offs that would come. She did regret the pain her decision was causing, but she had no intention of changing it. She knew she was right.
She didn’t know how Rachel was going to come through either. When she left Rachel in New London, they had traded sneakers and coats because Dana’s were covered in blood and brain tissue. Rachel had a plan, and it didn’t include Dana. It involved Lena and her takedown of a secret and illegal nano warfare organization, with Rachel caught in the middle as a concerned friend, who Lena had told where she was going. And Rachel went in when she hadn’t heard from her. The data files that Lena had sent backed the stories.
Wearing shoes three sizes too small, Dana caught a train from downtown New London into the New Haven train station. When she made it back to the hospital, she took a shower in the doctor’s lounge and stole some scrubs and a pair of running shoes from a surgeon’s locker.
Somehow Dana had missed the Wilson on Grace Watch in the waiting room. When she entered Grace’s ICU room, she stopped short when Faith Wilson looked up.
“Dana,” she said, tears filling her eyes. She had brought her own box of softer tissues to the hospital. Her nose was red from crying and wiping, and she looked destroyed. “You look awful.”
The nano tech acknowledged the older woman with a weak smile, then walked up to the end of the bed and watched the vital monitors.
Faith resumed smoothing her daughter’s hair. “Whenever I come in, I expect her to be sitting up, wide awake, saying ‘Hey, Ma.’”
Dana moved over to the opposite side of the bed and took Grace’s hand. It was warm, but limp. “Me too.” She pulled up a chair and sat down, watching Grace’s motionless face. The breathing tube was causing sores on her lips.
They sat like that for many, many beeps. “She was a beautiful child, Dana.” Faith smiled and stroked Grace’s forehead lovingly. “Round, rosy cheeks. And smart, so smart. Fearless, independent, confident, and very mischievous. She got into so much. But she was always kind.” She sighed. “She was my good eater. Ate anything we put on her plate. Such a good girl. What you hope a child will be, when you imagine them.” She sniffled. “Even when she was older, everyone liked her. She was so loving and giving, and so much fun to be around.”
Dana couldn’t help smiling. That was Grace on so many levels.
“She was happy?” Faith asked as tears trickled down her cheeks.
Dana nodded. “Yes, very happy. We talked about that.”
“That’s all I really wanted. I mean I know we didn’t always see eye to eye. I know she used to get angry with me.”
“Maybe it was the way you both communicated that was getting in the way of the message. I know you all mean the world to her.” Dana kissed Grace’s hand. “I’m going to go downstairs, see if I can push things along a little.” She stood, still holding her hand. She didn’t want to leave, but it hurt. Her chest ached, it hurt so much. “I’ll check back in the morning.”
Part Twelve: The velocity of light in free space is one of the fundamental constants of nature, 186,000 miles/second.
It was Day 17 since the nanovirus started its ravaging of Grace and the others. Richard Wilson stood in the doorway of Grace’s ICU room while they removed Grace’s breathing tube. The tracheotomy was done and a new tube was inserted through the hole in her larynx. When Grace was respiring again, although entirely artificially, he turned to Dana and the rest of the family and said in a stern but quiet manner, “I can’t watch this anymore.” He left the controlled area. Joy was crying and with a painful look to her mother, followed her father. Without a word or acknowledgment to anyone, Dick followed as well. Only Faith and Dana remained.
When they received the ‘all clear’ from the nurse, they entered Grace’s room. Her lips were swollen and covered in sores, and shining from gobs of antibiotic ointment. Her throat had constricted from infection and irritation, as was expected, and she was on an antibiotic IV.
Faith sat down next to Grace and pulled out her Bible. Dana noticed the blanket wasn’t covering Grace’s feet and her right foot was at an awkward angle, pressed up against the bed rail. Probably moved during reflex testing or a sponge bath. Dana straightened it so it looked more comfortable. It was cold, so she covered it up and then took a seat by Grace’s side. She took Grace’s hand, moving the fingers, stretching them a little so they wouldn’t be stiff, and closed her eyes. She wasn’t praying, but she was trying to will part of her life into Grace. She slowed her own breath to that of the rise and fall of the mechanical lungs, and visualized the gathering of her own energy as an intense light deep in the core of her body, breaking free and flowing down her arm, into her hand and into Grace, hoping it would travel far enough inside to repair her. She did this many, many, many times. When she finally opened her eyes, she looked to the monitors, but there was no change.
Other than a text message saying things were okay, Dana heard very little from Rachel Jones for several days. Dana contacted Madeline Stokes, the ex call girl, and connected Rachel up with Madeline’s lawyer husband Barry to represent her, but evidently the hacker wasn’t charged with any criminal activity. She had admitted to killing Reichert in self defense, and her story seemed to hold. But it wasn’t just the legal repercussions that Dana worried about for Rachel. She was pretty sure Rachel had never killed before, and she was sure that the hacker was devastated by the loss of her agent. Platonic or not, they had connected. Later in the week, Dana received a message from the hacker that she was making the trip down to Baltimore, where the Whitley family was holding the funeral services.
With Dr. Higuchi on staff, Minnie and he were able to enhance the simulation program far beyond its prior capacity. They had incorporated the continually expanding knowledge of Glial cells into the software routines. Minnie had coded all of the viral deviations and they were able to review the outcomes of thousands of simulations. Jack and Minnie also had the data files that Rachel had taken off Reichert’s computer network, so they could discontinue their reengineering of the production process, and begin work on identifying where they suspected the nanobots’ common weaknesses were. Based on the number of transition points in the molecule, the pressures used in manufacturing the diamonoid structures, and the number of production cycles as well as rate of production, the scientists could determine where covalent bonds would be weakest, and where errors would most likely occur in the replication process.
Dr. Higuchi had also identified the effects to different portions of the patients’ brains. Based on MRI data, the nanovirus appeared to attack specific areas of the brain, mainly the fleshy lobes, where memories were stored and thinking took place. It also targeted the pons which controlled respiration. In most of the patients, the cerebellum, which controlled the motor processes, was unaffected. The nerves of the medulla oblongata appeared untouched, which was why the patients’ hearts still beat steadily.
It was Dana’s job to use this information to create a solution. She needed to peel the nanobots away from the nerve cells very carefully, rebuild the mycelin sheaths, redistribute the atoms correctly to create the resting potential, and somehow jumpstart the brain. Much easier said than done.
Part Thirteen Focus: to cause light rays to converge on or toward a central point
Dana had returned to the beach house, sharing it only with Grace’s mother. She would fall asleep with the bots on her mind and wake up having dreamt about them all night. There was nowhere to escape her thoughts, so she harnessed them and applied all of her hours, waking and sleeping, to the problem.
Several weeks passed before she had created the first version of antiviral nanobots that was even remotely viable. Her approach was to build a machine that would attack the weakest bonds with a blast of energy, cutting the spirals into sections, and then prying them off with little hooks until the nerves were free. The simulations were running on all the virus configurations, and if things went well, they would have their results in 18 hours.
There was still some grumblings from the federal investigation; however, the information distributed by Rachel had drawn most of the spotlight to the secret organization. The feds were very interested in determining Reichert’s primary source of funding.
The morning that the simulations were expected to be complete, Dana took her time getting out of bed. She could hear Faith moving around the house and talking to the dog. She always used the dog’s full name, ‘Riptide,’ when addressing her, and both appeared to enjoy the company. Rip never talked back to her, and for that, received extra goodies. Dana didn’t feel like talking to her, really talking to anyone, except for Grace. She was very tired, physically and mentally, and her eyes ached, so she kept them closed. There was so much more to do, so many intricacies to figure out. She longed for the simplicity of life. Of waking up to a warm body curled into her, when all she thought about was how slowly she would slip the panties from her sleep mate, and whether to go for the neck or the breast with her lips. Grace would say between sleepy moans, “I don’t know why I bother wearing anything to bed,” and slip her hand into Dana’s hair and kiss her deeply. Holding on to that thought, Dana fell back to sleep.
She wandered into the lab around 11am to find Rachel in her old spot. She was with Minnie and Dr. Higuchi reviewing the early results of the simulations.
Dana placed her laptop bag on her desk. “How bad?” she asked the group, as she walked behind Rachel and placed her hands on the hacker’s shoulders. It was a rare display from Dana but she wanted to show how happy she was to see her best friend back in the chair.
“How’s Grace?” Rachel asked.
“They had to insert a feeding tube a few days ago. Much the same though. Thanks for asking. So gang, how did the sims come out?”
“There’s good news and bad,” Minnie said.
“What’s the good?” Dana asked. She could wait for the bad news; there was always plenty of that these days.
“The good news is that they lock onto their target, identify the weak bonds, and effectively destroy the bonds.”
“That is good,” Dana smiled.
“The bad news,” Dr. Higuchi added, “Is that in half the patients, the destruction of the virus causes a sodium incident.”
“What’s a sodium incident?”
“Essentially, the tail breaks free attracting several sodium ions. It appears to be programmed to commune at the midbrain, the portion of the brainstem where the audio and visual sensory nerves connect to the brain, and where the two halves of the brains connect. Once there, they appear to form a larger sodium structure which reacts violently with the water in the intracellular fluid and explodes. The explosion destroys the cerebellum, the pons, and the medulla oblongata, which stops everything.”
“Plus it’s messy,” Rachel added. “Sometimes the virtual patient’s whole head explodes.”
“It’s a real explosion?”
“Yes,” Dr Higuchi added.
“I wasn’t expecting that. Is this even after the Viagra shut off?”
“Yes. The pulse we deliver jump starts them.”
Dana had to create a separate kill switch on her nanobots, because the presence of Viagra already in the patients would shut off her bots before even getting started.
Dana was already planning to create three sets of nanobots; the second to build the sheaths, and the third to create the action potential and jumpstart the brain. “What about another bot, to catch them, keep them from moving and creating this sodium bomb?”
“It’s already very tightly packed in there. I thought we already concluded that three would be pushing the limits of space between the cells,” explained Dr. Higuchi.
“I’ll make a really small one,” Dana said testily.
“A nano-nanobot,” Rachel said, smiling to herself.
“Or we can try and consolidate two into one.” Dana added.
“I have an idea,” Dr Higuchi said with enthusiasm. I was thinking that we could drop the last series, tricking the Glial cells into working together to communicate with the neuron. I’ve flooded the Glial with ATP before and noticed all the Glial cells become hyperactive.”
In the first decade of the 21st century, neuroscience began to concentrate more on the Glial cells of the brain. It was the white matter – the packing – not the grey matter, that geniuses and problem solvers appeared to have more of. Neurobiologists began to investigate the 90% of the brain they had been ignoring for half a century. Glial cells were responsible for controlling the amount of neurotransmitters available, for directing the neurons on where and how to connect, and were the architects of the creation of memories. Some Glial cells were actually responsible for creating the mycelin sheaths when a fetus was in development. It was theorized and being proven that Glial cells communicate chemically with each other through calcium ions and ATP.
“I’m very reluctant to rely on a theory,” Dana said. “We only get one shot at this with the patients, or they’ll die, and there’s no guarantee the simulation program is displaying the Central Nervous System activity realistically. But I think if I try to add anything to the bots now, it would require a major redesign that will take at least two months. I also don’t want to alter the nanobots you’ve been developing, Dr. Higuchi. They seem to be close to working.” She stopped talking and thought for a long, long time, the team quietly waiting. She sighed heavily. “If you can come up with something more concrete for the Glials, we can try and model them. In the meantime, I’ll figure out how to trap these little sodium bombers. The explosions don’t happen in all of the simulations?”
“No, only half.” Minnie said. “The ones wrapped tightly can’t extricate themselves and are dismantled by the time they’re removed from the axon.
“Okay, run the simulations on those samples again and add Dr. Higuchi’s bots. Dr. Higuchi, let me know what space capacity remains. I’m also curious about the time from injection to repair, and how the bots distribute throughout the brain. Meet back here tomorrow, same time, with the results.” She dismissed the team, leaving only Rachel and herself in the room.
“So, how are you doing?” Dana asked, taking her laptop out of its bag.
“Yeah? You know if you want, you could give Cassandra a call.”
Dana wrote the therapist’s number on a yellow post it note and handed it to the hacker. “Tell her I recommended her.”
“You’re willing to share your shrink. Aw, that’s so sweet. Thanks, Doc,” she said sarcastically. She put the sticky in her back pocket. Rachel was depressed and pessimistic. Even Dana could tell. “I checked in on Queenie, Dana.”
“And she doesn’t look good.”
Dana sat at her workstation. Time was taking its toll on all the patients, not just Grace, and she knew that. Tubes went in all sorts of orifices and came out many others. It overwhelmed her when she thought about it, but it was temporary, she told herself.
“Have you considered the possibility that Grace may not come back the same?”
Rachel was exhibiting a reckless courage that Dana had never seen in her before. She usually knew when and what to challenge with Dana.
“We aren’t rearranging the neurons, we’re repairing them.”
“You’re assuming a lot. For all you know, she could come back demented, or evil.”
“Were you reading Stephen King this weekend?”
“That’s not the point, Dana. There are so many unknowns here. Even if we can hammer this out in time, we have one shot to get it right, and who knows how well it’s going to work. What if Grace comes back and she’s retarded?”
“That’s not going to happen!” Dana argued.
“You don’t know that for sure.”
Dana placed her hands on her knees, and turned to address her friend. She wanted to be angry at her. Pessimism was the last thing they needed at this point. But Dana couldn’t be angry, not only because of Rachel’s loss, but because she could tell the hacker felt responsible, and it was eating her up inside. Rachel had created the files that had turned into the virus. All of them thought they were smarter than Chaos, and now Lena was dead, and a machine was breathing for Grace. Dana shook her head. She should have taken Reichert out in San Francisco, but Grace had stopped her. “Rach, bad things happen. Believe me, I’m the first person to admit that. But we can do this. We can.”
But Rachel Jones wasn’t convinced, and she was dealing with her own demons, “I don’t know. We fix this thing, and what horror will that lead to? We have no control of the implications. I’ve got to think about this.” She left the room and Dana wondered if she would be back.
Luckily for the team, a few days later, Rachel did return. She had taken Dana up on her offer to share the hot psychoanalyst. By then, Dana had a bead on what changes needed to be made to Higuchi’s nanobots, and she had completed the design for a bot to capture the suicide nanobombers.
“I know it’s primitive,” Dana explained to the group during the peer review. “But I don’t have anything that will move as fast as they do, and I think it will work.”
“Simple can be good,” Dr. Higuchi stated. “I like this approach because when it comes to space, we’re at 89% capacity when we run the first two protocols. This would only take maybe another 5%.”
“What about you, Jack?”
“Simple is better for us. Easier to produce too.”
“Works. Never would have thought of it. It’s like a Chinese finger cuff.”
In essence it was, but it was designed around the concept of some of the fishing nets Dana had worked with. The more the prey struggled, the more the net tightened and collapsed around it. Once the new bots tied up the motile spinoffs, they slowly tugged their booty out. Additionally, these same bots would capture their first and third sets of sibling bots, the ones destroying the virus wrapped around the axons, and the others rebuilding the mycelin sheaths. They would then port them out of the body. The trigger for turning off the other bots so they wouldn’t attack each other was a challenge. Dana had expected as much and was not surprised to see the bot fights in the simulations. It was also the reason the timeline was extended. There would be so much overlap of the nanobots, keeping them out of each others way was a huge challenge. Dana chose to use programmed identifiers so that the bots could recognize each other. They would also phase the bots, overlapping them to conserve space.
“Okay, I should have final design in a few days for all of the bots. Based on the space issue, I think we’re going to have to take a chance on Dr. Higuchi’s Glial cell jumpstart approach for restarting things. So, we need to develop a protocol using the Glial cells for activation once we determine the neurons are ready. I don’t know how you’ll determine that.” She looked at Dr. Higuchi.
“I have many ideas,” he replied excitedly. “But I would like to ask some colleagues. We need to make sure we don’t fry the brain.”
After a brief moment of terror, Dana spoke calmly. “Whatever it takes. Just pick the right one. And Rach, I need you to tweak Dr. Higuchi’s Multiple Sclerosis bots so that they take a more active roll in restoring the ionic balance, not just rebuilding the mycelin.”
“If you’re confident on the materials, Doc, Sylvia and I will start pre production for the rodent tests,” Jack stated.
“I think that it’s still too early. We’re still a few weeks away,” Dana answered.
It was more than a few weeks. It was three weeks before they started the rodent trials, and five weeks after that when they held the pre production kick off meeting and invited Barbara Buchler. Dr. Higuchi handled the planning of the patient protocols, the task that Grace usually handled, determining when and with what patients would be dosed, in what medium, where they would be injected, and the hands on treatment, which needed to be individualized for each patient. The first patients to receive the treatment would be those who did not require the finger cuff for bomb disposal, but they would receive nanobots to remove the other Yale bots. That group did not include Grace. Dana knew that if things went really wrong with the first group of patients, there would be time to adjust, but she also knew Grace was rapidly running out of time. Even if the first round went well, she had no idea how well her netbots would work and whether Grace’s head would explode once the treatment engaged. Another big unknown was Dr. Higuchi’s theory about the Glial cells. They didn’t acquire enough conclusive data through simulations, and all would be for naught if they couldn’t create the action potential in the neurons.
Dr. Higuchi and Barbara Buchler met with the families of the patients, discussing all the possible outcomes of the nano treatment, both positive and negative. All but one of the families agreed to the experimental treatment and signed the waivers. The family of the young boy who had caught the virus while riding the plastic dog at the Stop and Shop were not ready to take the risk, not yet, but they were willing to risk it for the boy’s grandfather, whose body was struggling.
Dana and her crew stayed busy through the night, triple checking every procedure and cross checking each other. None were able to sleep anyway. Dr Higuchi had assembled a small crew of the hospital’s best nurses and doctors to be the treatment team, which included Nurse Sydney.
Once the treatments started for the first group of three patients, there was no rest for the team. Around the clock they continued the nano production, reviewing MRI and laboratory results to gain any insight into the ongoing nano battles and cellular health.
At first, each hour that passed with no fatalities was a small relief. After a week of treatment, Dr Higuchi initiated the Glial cell stimulation to bring life back to the brain cells. “It worked in the rats,” he told the group a month earlier during one of the final meetings. “We should trust the rats.”
It started as a phrase of hope, scribbled by Rachel on the white boards of the lab and the supercomputer room, in red marker. “Trust the Rats” became the team mantra, especially when it appeared things were not progressing well in the first treatment group. Rachel had mail-ordered t-shirts with the phrase silk screened on the front, and each team member wore one under their clothes. It made sense. 2020 was the year of the Rat, Mice to be specific, but close enough. They clung to whatever they could.
Dana took a seat in her favorite chair. She was drinking Sprite from a can and was holding it in her hands between her knees. Cassandra’s office had become a place of complete comfort despite the fact that over the last two years, the process of uncovering her ‘feelings’ had been excruciating. But today, nothing made Dana feel safe, no place, no words, no prayers.
“So how are you holding up, Dana? It’s been a while since you’ve called, other than about Rachel.” Cassandra asked. She was sitting in a broad armchair across from Dana. She curled her legs and shoeless feet underneath herself on the chair, a wide, flowered skirt covering her entire lower half.
“Yeah, I’ve been really busy.” Dana took a sip of her Sprite. “Rachel tell you anything?”
“I can’t say much, but I know there are some incredible things going on right now. How are you handling everything?”
Cassandra waited until Dana made eye contact and held her gaze. “Is that why you called, because you’re okay?”
Dana put her soda on a side table. “I need someone to talk to.”
“Okay,” Cassandra said simply, but seriously.
Dana had gone completely still, which was a tell-tale sign that she was under stress. It was her way of not backing down, even if the challenge was internal. “We’re starting the nano treatment on Grace tomorrow.”
“Oh.” Cassandra’s green eyes flashed away for a moment then returned, but they looked sad and concerned.
“I’m not ready. There’s so much that can go wrong. And so far, with the first group, all we’ve managed to do is not kill anyone…I mean, I expected…I mean, by now…it should have worked. I’m just not ready. I know it sounds selfish, but I don’t want Grace to start this if we have it wrong, and what she has is ten times worse than most of the others. I’m not ready for this.”
“Can you wait?”
“I don’t think so. Her legs are atrophying. Last week she had an infection from the trach tube.” Dana pointed at her own neck. “She’s in such bad shape…and the nanobots are ready. They have no shelf life, maybe a few days, and that’s not fair to others, for me to move her down in the queue. And her family all flew into town. We’re supposed to get together tonight. I told them I would fix this. I feel sick,” Dana sprang to her feet and ran to the bathroom. When she returned, she was pale, and slouching. She sat back down and sipped her Sprite.
“Are you okay now?” Cassandra asked.
Dana wanted to cry. “If Grace dies…I think I’ll die too.”
“Part of you will. When we lose someone we love…”
“I said ‘if’,” Dana said angrily, bent over with stomach cramps, but defiant. “I haven’t given up!”
“I heard you, and I understand. We are only talking about possibilities.” Dana looked away while Cassandra was speaking. “It’s okay to talk about this. It doesn’t mean it will happen, but it can happen, right? And that’s why you’re here, that’s why you need to talk, that’s why you’re feeling so uneasy.”
Dana closed her eyes and swallowed. “I’m so scared. I don’t know what I’ll do without her. I miss her so much now, but she’s still here, and I can see her and touch her, and talk to her, but if she doesn’t wake up, or if something happens, I’ll have to let her go.” She lifted her head to look at Cassandra, pleading for some relief from her desperation. “Without her, I don’t think I can be anymore…does that make sense?”
“Yes. If this doesn’t work, things will change very drastically for you, and it will change you. You’ve been there before, with your father.”
“But I didn’t control that, he did that on his own. I wasn’t responsible.”
“Are you responsible now?”
“Yes. I should have killed Reichert when I had the chance. Or I should have never left York.”
“Dana, any of those choices and you wouldn’t have Grace in your life either. You cannot go back. This is what is before you now.”
Dana closed her eyes again. Quietly she spoke, her head hanging low. “It’s so complex, so unpredictable.”
“What is?” Cassandra asked.
Dana looked at the therapist, desperate. “All of this, the chain of events, the virus, the solution. I think I’m missing something. Fixing all of this, it’s like walking through a maze, but the walls keep rearranging themselves. Like every where I turn, another crisis manifests. I’ve broken it down further and further into smaller pieces. All those things we learn not to see or that we assume, I’ve broken down to the smallest detail, so there’s less and less approximation in everything and it’s more predictable. I’m working at the nano level, but it’s not working. No one is getting any better. I factored in all the irregularities. It should work.”
“Dana, life is chaotic, and it’s sensitive and complex and random.”
“I know, I just said that.”
Cassandra blinked, not understanding.
“I’ve applied chaos to this, and it’s not making anything clearer.”
“Then maybe there’s something else?”
“What else?” Dana asked.
“Something that cannot be represented mathematically, or chemically, or in your nano world.”
Dana straightened and sat back in her chair and regarded the therapist. “Maybe,” she said as she thought about the possibility. This was where it would all end. With something that Dana could not wrap her mind around or dissect into its components. Tomorrow there would be no turning back, and this something was either going to end or save Grace Wilson’s life.
Cassandra folded her hands in her lap. Together they waited in silence for the fifty minute hour to expire.
Part Fourteen The Mirage: The phenomenon caused by atmospheric refraction, when the air closest to the surface is less dense than that above it, the light image is seen by the observer on two paths, its real path, and its inverse.
Rachel entered the room quietly, unlike her usually boisterous manner of flinging the door open without even announcing herself. Instead she was respectful. “What are you reading to her?” she asked quietly, and glancing around Dana’s arm, she tried to make out the title on the paperback cover.
Doc peered at her over the wire rims of her glasses. “Five Equations that Changed the World.”
“What’s it about?”
“No wonder she’s still catatonic.” Rachel pulled a chair up next to the bed. “We have to stimulate the brain to make the Glials work.”
The previous nano virus cure for the beta had required a completely silent treatment environment, and that had become the standard for all treatments. They had discovered the key to the Glial triggers somewhat by accident. A drunken father had snuck into the youngest patient’s room – the boy had just turned four – and sang him happy birthday and apparently talked to his son for several hours. When the nurse came into the room she found the man passed out next to the boy and the boy’s hand tightly gripping his father’s.
“It’s a good book,” Dana defended.
“Hello. You are such a dork sometimes.”
“Bite me.” Dana slid her chair closer to the hospital bed and tried to ignore the hacker.
“If you knew Grace, you’d know she loves these ‘human frailty equals human greatness’ stories. Plus I’m hoping it will imprint a little.”
“A little what, dorkiness?”
“No, like maybe she’d wake up and understand me better because of the math and physics stuff. Math is the universal language.”
Rachel sighed. “You’re hopeless. First of all, she’s not a gosling or a fetus, so you can’t imprint her. Second, love is the universal language, Einstein, math is the international language. And third, if you want her to open her eyes, read her something interesting.”
“This is interesting, just like poetry.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “To a geek maybe. Read her this.” The hacker offered the well worn paperback that she had been reading to Grace during her sittings.
Dana put her book down on the bed, then turned slowly and glared.
Rachel looked death in the eyes, blinked once, and decided to take the chance. “Take it, she likes it. Trust me.”
“I’m not reading that to her.” Doc pushed the book at the hacker.
Rachel shoved “Horny Amazon Women” back at her again. “You want to try to imprint something, at least imprint good lesbian erotica. I guarantee it will be way better than her understanding you. No one should have to do that.”
“Fuck you,” Dana whispered, but took the book anyway. She looked past the hacker and down the hallway to see if anyone was within listening range, and then began to read, a little quieter than before, while Rachel watched the vital monitors rise.
Part Fifteen Diffraction: Change in the direction and intensities of a group of Waves after passing through an obstacle whose size is the same as the wavelength of the waves.
“Where…me?” Grace asked her mother, her voice feeble and dry.
“You’re in the hospital. You’ve been very, very sick, my beautiful baby girl,” Faith Wilson explained softly to her daughter, and kissed her forehead. She had been sitting with Grace when she finally opened her eyes a few hours earlier. Nurse Sydney was getting another dose of the nanobot regimen ready in an IV bag. Dana had come running from Milford when she was notified and had just arrived in Grace’s room, with Rachel following closely at her heels.
“Feel…weird,” Grace wheezed.
“How weird?” Rachel asked from the bedside. “Pet Cemetery weird?”
Dana punched the hacker hard on the shoulder.
“Um,” Grace struggled for words, confused.
Dana’s eyes were watering. She knew the confusion was temporary. Based on the results of the first patients who had started the treatment a few weeks earlier, all of the language and physical strength took time.
Grace tried to lift her arm. It shook from weakness and whacked brain impulses. She couldn’t raise it and a look of panic crossed her face.
“It will get better. The electromagnetic balance is being restored and the cells are still being repaired,” Dana explained in a soothing tone.
Grace moved her mouth as if she tasted something really awful. “Alummum.”
“Yeah, not sure what’s causing that,” Dana said. “Could just be an electrical imbalance in that part of the brain.”
“Mom?” She turned slightly to Faith for reassurance. Faith gently stroked her daughter’s face and wiped away frightened tears.
Grace looked at Dana. “Doctor?”
Surprised, Dana looked to Rachel.
“Girlfriend,” Rachel explained and pointed at the brunette. She made lewd hand motions, signifying sex. “Lover,” she explained slowly.
Dana hit the hacker hard, again.
“Owww!” Rachel grabbed her shoulder and looked angrily at the nanotech, who shot an angry look back.
The look of confusion returned to Grace’s face again. She turned her head towards her mother and buried her face into the pillow.
The nurse stood up and walked Dana and Rachel out of the room. “Let’s give her some time to rest and repair a little more.”
“Wow,” Rachel said outside the door, “Not the reaction I expected.” She patted the stunned nanotech on the back. “It’ll be okay, Doc. She’ll remember.” They walked further down the hallway. “But maybe you should call Cassandra, someone to talk to who you won’t hit.” The hacker suggested, rubbing her smarting shoulder.
Part Sixteen Total Internal Reflection: Total Internal reflection can only occur when the ray is incident on the surface of a medium whose index is smaller than that of the medium in which the ray is traveling.
Grace’s recovery came slowly. She struggled both physically and mentally. MRIs had revealed that her cerebellum and temporal lobes had been damaged more than any of the other patients, affecting both her memories and her motor coordination. After three weeks, she was finally able to hold objects and small conversations. She still had very few memories, and none of Dana or the nanoverse. After six weeks of recovery, Grace was able to stand and walk with a walker, but she experienced ataxia. They treated her with an extra round of nanobots, more than was originally planned. She did have memories of her childhood, yet despite the hours she spent with Dana talking and visiting, she still had no memory of her lover or of her own life as a doctor in Connecticut. After twelve weeks, in mid October, the frustration and guilt associated with not being able to remember was too overwhelming for Grace and she broke down.
Dana entered the supercomputer room without acknowledging Rachel, and sat at her desk, facing the wall.
“How’s Queenie today?”
Dana didn’t respond. She stared downwards at her desk, her body rigid and her hands on the desk.
“Doc?” The hacker asked cautiously.
Dana banged the desk several times with her fists.
Shocked and worried, Rachel waited several minutes in silence, until she heard a sniffle. “Oh my god! Dana, what’s wrong? Is it Grace? Is she okay?”
Another sniffle. Dana didn’t turn around. “She’s going home,” she choked out, bitterly.
The hacker was relieved. “That’s good news. Why are you crying?”
Sniffle. “I’m not crying!” Dana wiped her face with her hands, but didn’t turn around.
Rachel rolled her eyes, then wheeled over to the nanotech and handed her a box of tissues. “Blow your nose.”
Dana took some tissues without facing the hacker. She cleared out her sinuses, took a few more tissues and wiped her face, throwing the used tissues onto her desk.
Rachel tossed the box onto Dana’s desk and rolled back to her own space. She watched the nanotech out of the corner of her eye and pretended to read the New Jersey Times on-line. Dana took more tissues out of the box and used them.
“Grace is going back to Cox’s Creek,” Dana finally said, nose stuffy. Rachel spun in her chair, but Dana was still facing her desk.
“For how long?” Rachel was shocked.
“Whose idea was this? Faith’s?”
“She wants to go.”
Rachel sat back in her chair. “Are you going too?”
“No. Everyone thinks Grace needs space, to feel safe.”
Rachel had no idea what to say. She hadn’t expected this, and she was going to miss Grace too. “Wow. That sucks, Doc.”
“Yeah,” Dana said her voice cracking. “She doesn’t remember anything. Not me, not Rip, not the house. Nothing.”
“She doesn’t remember me either.”
“No, but she adores you. You make her laugh. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. I just make her feel guilty.”
“Did anyone say she won’t remember?”
“No. But she’s not going to, not in Kentucky.”
“It’ll be okay, Doc,” The hacker said, but she wasn’t really sure, Grace’s recovery was taking longer than any of the others. “She just needs more time, that’s all.”
Dana sighed heavily.
“Maybe you should talk to Cassandra about this.”
“I’m not going to hit you,” The nanotech defended.
“I know, but this is way harsh.”
Part Seventeen When a ray of light is reflected, the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence. The incident ray, the reflected ray, and the normal to the surface of the point of incidence, all lie in the same plane.
Joy and her oldest boy Mark met Dana at the luggage claim area of Louisville Airport, which was just off I-65 and a hop, skip and a jump from the State Fairgrounds. Dana traveled with just a carry-on, no surprise, so she was waiting for a few minutes amongst the holiday travelers before Grace’s sister spotted her towering form in the crowd and bustled over to her. She gave the tech a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so glad you decided to come.” She hooked her arm into Dana’s. “Let’s go. I can’t wait for Grace to see you.”
“Where’s your dog?” Mark asked, looking for the crate.
“She’s spending Hanukah with Rachel.”
“I didn’t know she was Jewish,” Joy questioned.
“She’s not, but Rachel is,” Dana answered.
Dana allowed the older of the Wilson girls to chat away, afraid to ask too much about Grace for fear she wouldn’t hear the answers she wanted. Mark, the young gentleman, took her bag and carried it on his preteen shoulder.
“She’s doing so much better. Physically, mentally. She has a little bit of a limp and is using a cane, so be prepared for that, but it beats the walker, and Daddy says she’s been talking medicine with him and a lot of that has come back. It’s remarkable.”
Dana froze. “She doesn’t remember me? I thought you said she was remembering!”
Joy patted her arm. “She will. She needs to be around you a little. Stir those memory juices. You know, sights, sounds, smells. All she’s been smelling is Kentucky.”
“I don’t smell like Kentucky?”
“No, honey, you don’t.”
They walked a little more and Dana hesitated again. Joy moved on a few steps before stopping and turning back. “Dana, she’ll remember. Be patient.”
Dana had been patient, at times feeling like she would die from patience.
“But even if she doesn’t, there’s nothing to stop her from falling in love with you all over again. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you have to be here for that to happen. Now come on!”
Silently and apprehensively, the nanotech followed.
It was about forty five minutes before the station wagon pulled into the driveway of the rural home of Joy and Noah. The grass barely had a tint of green; the trees were gray silhouettes against a full moon. Christmas lights flashed around the windows of the red brick ranch house and framed the roofline. A life-sized plastic Santa waved at Dana from the middle of the yard. Dana had barely said a word the whole ride, reflecting on the last time she had been here, three years earlier. She worried about what Grace would say, what she would say or do if Grace was still afraid of her, or worse, didn’t remember anything at all about her.
“Hey,” Grace said, reaching out her hand, as Dana walked into the country style kitchen. Dana reached out and they shook. Grace’s thumb ran across Dana’s numbers, and the blonde looked curiously for a brief moment at the tattoo.
“Hi,” Dana smiled, uneasy, not knowing what to expect. Grace released her hand and watched the taller woman, studying her face, waiting. “Uh, you’re doing a lot better since last time I saw you,” Dana remarked. “You’re walking.”
“Yeah,” Grace smiled and held up her cane. “Coming along. Still have my bad days though.”
“And you got your hair cut.” Dana lifted her hand to point out the short, messy hairdo.
Grace scrunched up her nose and ran her fingers through the blondee strands, making it messier and even cuter. “It was so hard to keep it long with all the physical therapy, and I was too weak to wash it. Do you like it?”
“I do. I think it’s sexy, very hip,” Joy remarked.
“Yeah, very, very cute,” Dana answered.
“Why don’t you two go into the living room and talk for a little while,” Joy suggested. She had Mark take Dana’s bag to the guest room, and then get ready for bed, but not without a fuss about video games and going on line for fifteen minutes. When he didn’t get his way, he headed for his room, lamenting the whole time about how he was on vacation.
Grace led the way into the living room and took a seat in a worn leather arm chair, leaning her cane against the wall. Dana followed her, taking a seat on the sofa across from Grace. A brick fireplace to Dana’s left crackled with flames. She rubbed her hands together.
“You cold?’ Grace asked.
“A little.” Dana wasn’t cold. “So, um, Joy tells me you’re remembering a lot more.”
Grace’s face grew tighter, and serious.
Too eager, Dana told herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she chastised. You’ve only been here five minutes. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Grace tapped the soft leather of the armchair with her fingertips. “I have been remembering a lot. It’s just a very intense process, and when things come back, they come back kind of hard and put me out of sorts for a while until I can make sense of them.”
“Oh,” Dana had no idea what she meant.
“Tell me something.”
“Uh, okay, sure, anything.”
“Did you and I fight a lot?” Grace asked and looked Dana directly in the eyes.
“Uh,” Dana stiffened, and didn’t know how to answer. “Um…”
“Because one night we were having dinner at my mom’s and Dick was there, and he said something really stupid, and then suddenly I remembered you and me arguing, fighting about some stupid prison movie. It was so strange. ”
Dana froze. It hadn’t crossed her mind that if Grace did remember something, it would be that. “Uh yeah, I don’t get along with him very well.”
“Yeah, and I remember some other things, kind of like that, that had nothing to do with Dick.”
“Yeah,” Dana admitted slowly. “I was kind of immature and not always good at….at…communicating my feelings.”
“Hmm.” Grace regarded Dana, taking her time. “I’ll admit Dick can be kind of a jackass sometimes.” And then it looked like she winked. “But he’s still my brother,” she said, again very serious.
“I’ve changed a lot,” Dana explained, but she came off sounding pathetic.
Grace got up from the chair and using her cane, walked over to the Christmas tree across the room. Wrapped presents were scattered around the tree trunk. “Do you like candy canes?” She pulled a red and white cane from the middle of tree and turned to Dana, who was nervously rubbing her hands on her jeans. She was still trying to figure out why they had fought so much, why she was so reactive and childish.
Dana stood up and walked over to the tree. “I like the peppermint ones.”
“Me too,” Grace said, unwrapping the cellophane and breaking the candy in half, handing Dana the rounded hook portion that’s hard to eat without painting your face with red, sticky lines. “I had one last night and realized how much I loved it.”
Dana nodded and tasted hers.
Grace put the stick in her mouth. “Especially with ice-cream. Yum.”
Joy popped her head into the room. “You staying here tonight Grace, or going back to mom’s? It’s after eleven, and if you’re going back we need to leave soon.”
“I’m heading back,” Grace answered.
“Okay, then there’s some stuff I want you to look through and take over there with you.”
“I’ll be right there,” Grace said. She turned to Dana and handed her the rest of the candy cane. She addressed Dana as she started to hobble out of the room and after her sister. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Sounds good.” Dana replied, half of the peppermint hook hanging out of her mouth. She watched the blonde shuffle away.
Part Eighteen The Rainbow—Is produced by the combined effects of refraction, dispersion, and total internal reflection of light on drops of DiHydrogen Monoxide
Dana was lying in the bed in the front bedroom, Christmas lights on the other side of the window blinking through the blinds, alternatively red, yellow, and green. She was on her side reading a copy of the “Kama Sutra for Lesbians” that she found on Joy’s bookshelf, her little wire rimmed glasses reflecting the light from the lamp. She was wearing blue and black plaid cotton pajama pants and a faded light blue tank top. Grace limped into the room with her cane, her muscles aching from her physical therapy session. Dana closed her book and watched Grace standing just inside the doorway.
“Hi,” Grace said quietly. “Just wanted to say good night one more time before I go.”
“Goodnight,” Dana said, restraining herself from launching to her feet and asking a million questions.
“And I’m glad you came.”
“Me too,” Dana replied with a small smile.
“What are you reading?” The blondee asked.
Dana held up the book for her to see.
Grace laughed softly. “I always wondered where that disappeared to. Did Joy have it?” She limped slowly to the bed, sat down on the edge and reached over to take the book from Dana’s hand. Grace smiled, flipping through some pages. “Finding it interesting?” She handed it back to the nanotech.
A faint blush rushed through Dana, and she shrugged without looking Grace in the eyes.
“Well, goodnight,” Grace repeated and moved to get off the bed, but her leg cramped, making her groan and sit back down. “Ugh!”
“You okay?” Dana asked.
Grace sighed. “Just tired. Sore. You have no idea how frustrating this is.” She rubbed her leg.
Dana nodded. “Want some help?” She was trying not to sound too eager, or desperate.
Grace paused a moment and regarded the brunette. “Sure, you want to rub it?” she finally said, and moved closer towards her on the bed. Having waited for Grace to make the first move, Dana put the book aside and slid onto her knees, meeting her in the middle of the bed.
Grace situated herself so that she was sitting with her legs stretched out on the bed, lounging back on the pillows, while Dana massaged and kneaded her legs and hips through her pants. The few little moans and ‘ouch not so hards’ were okay with Dana because she was getting to touch Grace, and after all this time, it was at least something.
“Do you like to sing?” Grace asked Dana, who was concentrating hard on the massage, thrilled to be in the same room with the doctor without causing frustration or guilt for not remembering.
“Sometimes,” the tech looked up and smiled a little, shoulders and arms and hands still working against muscle. She moved to the other leg, the one that wasn’t as sore or gimpy.
“Yeah, right there, but not so hard. I love to sing, and I remember being pretty good at it,” Grace chirped.
Dana stopped rubbing and looked up at that comment.
“What?” Grace asked innocently.
Dana moved on with her massage, smiling to herself.
“I think I’m a songwriter too.”
Dana didn’t look up this time and grunted, “Really?”
“Yep. This evening a memory of one I wrote came flooding back when you arrived. It was so weird. It’s always weird when they come back, the memories, like they just happened. Want to hear it?”
“Um, okay,” Dana said, mentally bracing herself. She didn’t know Grace wrote songs, and she was ninety-nine percent sure Grace could not sing well.
“Puff the tragic wagon, lives by the sea, along with little Blondeie Blondee and a big bad chick named D. Blondeie Blondee had big round boobs and a nice and juicy sna…Hmm that’s all I remember.” Grace looked puzzled.
Dana had stopped the massage and stared at Grace, frozen.
Green eyes sparkled, and she smiled. “Come here,” Grace whispered and crooked her finger.
Slowly, disbelieving, Dana slid up next to Grace until they were face to face. With a light touch, Grace trailed her hand up Dana’s bare arm, and stopped on the large V scar, tracing it with her finger tips and her eyes for what seemed an eternity. She said very quietly, “Shark.” Dana’s heart skipped a beat. They locked eyes for a moment and Grace smiled a little wickedly. Dana felt her shirt being pushed up her side and a warm soft hand slipping under the material. It moved quickly to a ribbed scar on her belly. “Hmm, knife.” Dana watched the gentle fingers explore, and then felt them move to a long scar on her back perpendicular to her ribs. “New kidneys.” The hand slid down slowly and slipped under the waistband of her cotton pants to her hip, circling it several times. “Test tube rack. Tsk tsk.” The hand drifted to the soft flesh of Dana’s lower back. “Mmm, explosion.” Grace took her time tracing each edge of the skin grafts.
Dana watched Grace closely, each scar requiring attention and eliciting a different expression – pinched eyebrows, a bitten lip, a sigh. The hand found its way to Dana’s face and removed her glasses. She touched a small scar that an encounter with concrete had left on her forehead, and then caressed another across the bridge of her nose. She chuckled softly. “Orange juice.” She moved to a small crescent on her cheek and smiled. “Beth?” Dana nodded. Grace slid her hand into Dana’s hair, to the back of her head. “Pool cue,” she said quietly, but confidently.
Dana closed her eyes and dipped her head. She took a long, deep breath. “You know me?”
Grace took Dana’s face into her hands and lifted it towards hers. She looked at her for a long, long time, studying her, green eyes delving. “I know you.” She whispered. It wasn’t a question. She kissed Dana gently on the lips. “I’ve known you forever.”