Part Three - High Pressure
Rachel was shocked by the appearance of her friends and noticed by the weary faces that a dark cloud was hanging over them, especially over Dana. "Come on in, have a seat."
"Thanks, Rachel," Grace said and offered a pained smile.
"Do you have my backups?" Dana asked.
"Yeah, sure, of course," she replied, befuddled. "They're in the safe. Do you want them?"
"Please," Dana replied. She had learned some manners from her current companion.
"I'll be right back." She disappeared into her bedroom for a long time. When she returned she was carrying a large, flame-retardant, silver envelope the size of an 11 by 17 mailing envelope. Dana accepted the envelope, walked to the glass dining room table, and dumped out the contents. There must have been fifty or sixty small CDs and cases that were white-labeled and marked in black pen with file names. Dana began sorting the discs into piles while the other two watched in amazement.
Dana looked up at her audience, her expression blank. "Do you have some stickies?"
Rachel walked over to her computer center and returned with a purple pad of Post-It notes. Dana pulled a roller ball out of her jacket pocket and uncapped it with her teeth. "This is going to take me a little time," she told the idle women. Then she sat down and began to make notes on the stickies for each disc.
"What the hell is going on?" Rachel whispered to the doctor.
"Can I get a bottle of water?" Grace asked, grabbing the hacker's elbow and gently pulling her into the kitchen, where Dana could not see them. There she explained the miserable circumstances.
"The biopsy was positive."
"I thought we'd destroyed all the Beta."
A questioning look. "You were involved too?"
"Doc called me right after the L.A. thing hit the news links. I helped her destroy the lab and wipe out all the files, the backups, and all the remaining base materials with CH5. We even wiped it out of Dana's laptop. Then Dana torched the lab. There was nothing left."
"You must have missed some."
"No, she cataloged every batch that was manufactured. The only stuff missing was what Reichert took and used in L.A. to control the riots."
"Maybe he still has some."
"He died of Beta, caught himself in the aerosol release." Fear crossed the hacker's face. "Do you know who did this to her?"
"We're not communicating very well right now." A pause. "I'm having a hard time accepting it."
"Uh-huh," Rachel said as she opened the refrigerator. She handed her a water and took two others out as well, opening the cap to one. "Tell me, Grace, does Doc ever tell you about what her life was like in York?"
"She doesn't like to talk about it."
"What do you think it was like?"
"I can only imagine."
"Well, I was there, and I only dealt with a fraction of the shit that she did. Horrible things happened to her during the three years I was in. She didn't have a life there; she existed. And she hid everything that happened to her behind that same mask that she's wearing right now."
"What kind of things?" Grace asked tentatively.
"I know she was raped."
"Every night was a battle for her, and every night she would meet me to talk about software and programs and she would always have a new split lip, or cut, or bruise. We never talked about it, so I never knew what nights they had been successful, or what nights she had managed to...anyway, that was her life, and I was in there when she was only nineteen. I can't imagine what it was like being a--"
Rachel nodded. "Did you know Doc holds the record for the longest time in the hole?"
Grace shook her head.
"She never mentioned solitary?"
"Once, earlier tonight. But it sounds like it would have been better than being with the general population."
"No, Grace, it's not."
"--Imagine this: a room, cement floor, white walls, no furniture, a toilet, a sink, no windows, and lights that never go out. All you get to wear is a pair of underwear and a T-shirt. Your meals and any supplies are fed to you through a door, and you eat with your hands because you might hurt yourself with plates or utensils. You never see anyone or hear a voice, and you aren't sure if they hear you or see you. Now imagine being there for a month, except you think it's been a lifetime because you have no sense of day or night." She looked at the doctor and waited for a sign of comprehension. "Now imagine that for sixteen months."
Grace was silent.
"I spent another nine months with Doc after that, before I was released. It was not a pleasant time for her after she came out of solitary after having killed a guard. And all of Gundy's pals were on her like stink to vomit."
"The Gundys were the women she killed?"
"They were the two sisters that were always trying to take Doc. Killing them and the guard who had brought Ruel Gundy from Cell Block C into ours is what landed her in the hole. Some battle too. Doc took all three down after they tried to gut her. Anyway, I figure after I flew, life wasn't much better for her, except she didn't have anyone to talk to."
"Did you ever visit or communicate?"
"Nah. No one goes back there if they don't have to."
"How did she get hooked up with the government?"
"She wrote a letter about her ideas to a professor who had been mentioned in one of the old textbooks she was reading. He posted it for her, and they caught wind of it. But I don't understand why they're killing her now. They should want her, instead." She went to the counter and opened a bag of potato chips. "Have you ever seen 'Quest For Fire'?"
"Yeah, that movie about early man where all they do is grunt and fight over fire."
"Dana is fire to those people."
"Who are they?"
"You'll have to ask her that."
They sat quietly for a few minutes. "How did Dana find you?"
"I gave her my e-mail address before I left. But she didn't contact me until after the L.A. thing. What do you think she would have been like if she'd had all the same opportunities and home life as you?"
"I figure MIT, maybe. Did you know that what she's done without a formal education is fifteen years ahead of projected schedule in nano technology?"
"--And when we destroyed the lab, we wiped out that fifteen years. No one has been able to reproduce it. The only place it still exists is up here." She tapped her head. "That's how she survives, that's what got her out of York, and that's what's killing her now."
Grace sat thinking.
"Did you go to church as a kid?" Rachel asked.
"Me too. Mom and Dad used to trap me between them in the pew for an hour. It was boring as heck, and I didn't understand the chants or the songs. And I went along with it because I had no choice. But I used to like the part when the pastor would talk to us from his pulpit. I usually didn't understand him, but he was funny and the light shone off his head and he had this loud, booming voice." She spun the plastic cap to her water bottle on the table.
"One day, I was about seven or so, he was talking about hell fires and sin. And then he started talking about how we would suffer in hell, and I got really scared. So I listened, wide-eyed and curious. And then he asked us all, 'If someone offered you the nastiest, most vile cigar and told you if you smoked it you couldn't go to heaven but you would never have to suffer the hell fires again, would you take it and smoke it?' Do you know what I did? I stood up and told him at the top of my voice, 'Yes, I would,' because I thought that was the right answer and I didn't want to be scared anymore. Now, you and I can say that that wasn't the right answer, because smoking can kill you, and second-hand smoke is worse. But do you think a scared seven-year-old cares about that?"
"Hey," Dana said from the doorway.
Both looked up, startled at the sound.
"I want to get to the server. Can I use your computer?"
Rachel stood. "I'll clerk for you." A good hacker didn't let anyone use their device. She led her to the workstation. The super computer whirled with phenomenal speed.
The nano chip had been developed first for super computers for two reason: one, the nano-chip technology was needed for intelligent nano machine technology, and, two, there was more money in creating faster nano-chip-based super computers than any other use for the technology. The scale had revolutionized personal computers, minimizing electricity used, eliminating heat loss, and speeding up the processing. Computers would no longer hold up humans. Now it was almost always the other way around, the computer waiting for the next command before the user had finished with the first.
Dana drank from her bottle, watching Rachel log on to her server with expert skill. She must have gone through thirty passwords and several encryptions before accessing a main menu.
"What do you want?"
"Fidelity First Bank."
Rachel grinned. "Gonna go out in style, Doc?"
Doc looked at Grace, irritated that the doctor had divulged the story of her predicament. "Get into their main branch for a transfer."
She logged in like a regular customer, using Dana's password and account number. Dana had her electronically write a check and send it to her mother for the full amount of the savings as well as a portfolio of stocks to be transferred.
"I wouldn't have given her a freaking dime back," Rachel commented after the deed was done.
Dana walked away from the workstation to the dining room table without a word. She stood over the piles of discs, contemplating them. Grace approached cautiously.
"What are all these?" she asked, touching a pile covered in stickies.
Rachel had joined them too, her curiosity growing. She picked one up and read the note. "What's up, Doc?"
"I hoped you would post those for me, get the info out to everyone so that no one group can wield it over another."
"What are these, your theories?" Rachel asked.
"Some of them are, mostly theoretical. Some are applications; some are notebooks of experiments. This pile is strictly nano machination; this is laser manipulation; these are biomedical applications. This is a programming application I used for general experiments that simulates nano machines in the human physiology at a cellular level. This is the programming application I developed for creating Alpha, with all of the simulation tests. This is a general self-replicating program I used as a template. These are the notebooks of all the techs who worked on the Alpha project. These are the anti-devices for Beta that failed," she said, tossing it on the table at Rachel, who picked it up and flipped it over in wonder.
"I thought we destroyed them."
"I kept this one. I should have destroyed all of the Alpha records too--they're so much alike."
"You want me to post all of these on the Web?"
"No, just some of my theories. I've marked the ones I want out there."
"What about these other discs?" Grace asked, picking up a disc from a pile Dana had not touched or explained.
"Those are personal."
"They're for you, if you want them."
Grace quietly accepted. "What are they?"
"Ideas, collections--I don't know what to call them. Just anything I thought I might want to keep. Some are songs I wrote and recorded on the boat. A journal. Some are digital images I took while I was sailing...stupid stuff like that."
"This one says 'prison.'"
"That's a journal, kind of, from memory. They didn't let us use computers in there. Knew us too well, huh, Rach?"
"What's this one?" Rachel pointed at a lone disc in the center of the table.
Dana picked it up and handed it to Grace. "I want you to give this to your lab at Yale."
"What is it?"
"It's some ideas I have about how to get past the hump."
"Hump? You mean dead in the water." The Yale nano tech cancer research program had been stalled for two years now, despite the brilliant mind pool it had. They were losing some of their best techs to corporates as the program died, but, worst of all, they were losing hope. Grace took the disc in wonder, her mouth agape.
Dana turned away from her.
Tears were running down Grace's cheeks. "So that's it?" she blasted angrily. "This is a cleaning-house session. You give us some of your ideas and you wash your hands of it? Of us?"
Dana looked at her in surprise. "I'm never going to save the world, Grace."
"No, but you could do a lot more for it than hand off some ideas. What the hell are we supposed to do with this shit? Like we can even understand it."
"I don't care what you do, Grace!" Doc yelled back.
"You should. You owe us all that much."
"I owe? What the fuck--I'm dead, Grace, time's up, missed the buzzer, can't make up for my bad deeds now!" She was shouting.
"Doc, chill," Rachel said calmly.
"You haven't even tried to save yourself."
"Save myself? Don't you think I would have saved those people if I could have?"
"We tried to kill this thing last time, Grace," Rachel explained.
Grace turned to Rachel. "But you said you destroyed the lab after you heard about L.A."
Doc walked out of the room. Rachel watched her disappear into the bathroom. "Yeah, but we spent two weeks trying to find a cure, up until the last person died."
Grace followed the path Dana had taken to the bathroom and knocked on the door. "Dana, are you okay?"
The water was running.
"Are you sick?"
The door unlocked but did not open. Grace peeked in. Dana was washing her face and rinsing her mouth with Listerine.
"Did you vomit?"
"Only because you haven't eaten in hours." She handed her a face towel that smelled of fabric softener. Dana dried her face and hands and hung the towel on the rack, then looked deeply into green eyes.
"Grace, you need to accept the fact that I'm going to die."
The fire of stubborn anger flashed in her eyes. "I can't."
"Why not? You see people die every day."
"And I hurt every time I do."
Dana looked away from her.
"Despite the fact that I'm totally overwhelmed by this, I know one thing, and that is that I love you."
Dana refused to listen and tried to push her way out of the room. Grace grabbed her, using her strong legs and back, and forced her back against the sink. Grace was determined, and Dana could see how the young woman had excelled in the competitive world of medicine.
"This isn't about what you did, or why you did it, or that you think retribution should be exacted for it. Yes, something terrible happened, and you were a big part of it. But I think I know who you are now, and I can't see the person I'm in love with ever doing something like that."
A shake of a dropped head.
"I'm not your judge--I'm your friend, and I want to help you."
And then it happened. The person who had dragged Dana back into the world once and made her feel joy brought her back again, but along with those sweet emotions came the flip side, the misery of knowing that this heaven of being loved again was only going to be temporal. Dana cried for the first time since her father had died.
Grace reached out to touch the crumbling woman, needing to touch her and hold her. "We aren't finished with each other," she whispered, as if she could read her lover's thoughts, and wrapped her arms around her. Dana tried to push away, afraid that Grace would find herself regretting again, but found herself melting into the embrace. "I expect you to try to find a way to survive this, just as you have every other test fate has subjected you to, understand?"
"I don't know how, Grace," she whispered into the smaller woman's shoulder.
The three were sitting around the kitchen table, Rachel munching on potato chips and holding a glass mug of moonshine in her right hand. Grace broke the silence that had settled in on the group. "Did you run out of time the first time, or ideas?"
Rachel looked at Dana.
"Both," Dana answered.
"A lot of time has passed since then."
"A lot of time, but the same old problem."
"Try a new approach."
"What do you mean?" Rachel asked.
"How did you try to kill the virus the first time?"
"We tried to trigger a shutdown with chemicals," Dana explained.
"A back door, like Alpha has?"
"Exactly," Rachel answered.
"What triggered Alpha to shut down?"
Rachel looked to Dana.
"Why Viagra?" Grace said in disbelief.
"I wanted something that would be in everyone's medicine cabinet, with a unique and easily identifiable molecular structure."
"Why not Ibuprofen?"
"Too much racemation in the commercial products. The sensors in the Alpha could pick up only one conformation of the molecule. Commercial products usually have two geometries present."
"So you tried several organic compounds on the Beta, and none worked."
"The diamonoid properties of the slaves and masters are at such a stable energy state that they won't combine with other compounds until they're programmed to, so they won't break down or react, which is what Alpha did. It reacted with the Viagra because we told it to, and when it reacted, it lost several of its atoms and disintegrated. Kind of like pulling out the wrong blocks in Jenga."
"Did you try every chemical?"
"There are fifteen million known organic compounds, Grace. We didn't have that much time, and not too many are things a person wants floating around in their bloodstream. All of the simulations we tried either failed to stop the Beta or killed the simulated patient."
"So then what did you do?"
"Then we ran out of time," Dana stated flatly.
"So the machines are impervious to everything except acids. Did you try acid?"
"Only strong acids worked, but in simulations they killed all the cells as well. The weak acids merely aggravated the renal acidosis, killing the patient in simulations quicker than the Beta alone. The diamonoid structure of the machines is too strong," she locked her fingers together, "like a web of interlinked pyramids. It takes a lot of energy to build, but once constructed, it's impervious."
"Like a diamond," Rachel added.
"Gee, that must be why we refer to it as 'diamonoid,'" Dana said, looking at the hacker and crossing her eyes.
"Diamonds aren't impervious."
"Under normal environmental conditions they are."
"The only thing that will cut a diamond is another diamond," Rachel said, and then slugged down three inches of white lightning.
Grace looked at her lover. "So build another machine to destroy it."
"It takes time, Grace, and a facility. Can't cook it up in your mama's crock pot."
"Yale has a facility."
Dana rolled her eyes. "Right, I'll walk in and say, 'By the way, since you're not doing anything with it, can I borrow your multi-billion-dollar facility?'"
"No, but I could. With this as a payment," she said, holding up the disc marked with a purple stickie that said "Yale."
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