Part Four - How to Fight Perfection
Yale was interested in saving their cancer research program, but had it not been for the fact that the administrator of the program was Dr. Barbara Buchler herself, Grace and Dana might have been buried in red tape until it was too late. Dr. Buchler had lost the most recent program supervisor to Stanford; moreover, she was a woman dedicated to saving lives as well as money. Because of these reasons, she had accepted Grace's plea and the disc with enthusiasm. However, all responsibility for any repercussions--good or bad--would be Grace's. It was a risk the young doctor was more than willing to take. It also did not hurt that the lab was shut down to a skeleton crew: a few techs and students running simulations and refusing to give up on their project.
Basic arrangements were made by two that morning, and they were given Laboratory 2A. The set-up included a network of super computers, but they were not quite on a par with the system in the living room of Rachel, who had come along to help.
Dana was inclined to refuse the offer of aid from two grad students, but Grace talked her into taking the help, knowing that sooner or later Dana would grow too tired or sick to do the work herself. Dana agreed on one condition, that nobody be told that she was the one with the virus.
Despite assurances of confidentiality, the word that someone with Beta virus had been in the hospital had spread through the nano community within the previous day, and the hush-hush research added another level to the excitement.
At six a.m. Dana took the two students aside into the conference room of the vacated lab for a briefing. Grace watched through the glass partition while Dana explained to them what they were going to try to accomplish and how. Then she spent an hour trying to get to know them so that she could decide who would support which tasks. She decided that Minnie, a twenty-three-year-old microbiologist, would be best-suited to work with Rachel creating the computer-generated machine and running the simulations to determine whether the machines would work. Jack, almost twenty-six and working on his Ph.D., was an organic chemist. Dana trusted him to take the physical preparation of materials and machine production and run.
"You know what's funny about Doc?" Rachel said, blowing a bubble with her chewing gum while standing next to Grace to watch.
"What?" Grace asked, fighting the temptation to pop the large sphere with her finger.
"She has no clue how super-smart she is and how much good she could accomplish. She always fears she'll screw it up if she tries to act." She chomped her gun for a few seconds. "She trusts you to guide her in the right direction."
Grace watched her tall, ailing friend drawing pictures on the dry-erase board. "Dana is strong on her own."
"Dana is defiant, but not confident. You give her strength."
The two students came out of the room, buzzing with anticipation and heading for their assignments.
Dana stood in the doorway, letting the doorframe support her aching body. "We need to write the production program for breeding our little monsters."
"We have to determine what they'll need to do."
"We know they have to find the Beta and destroy it."
"What tools do they need for that?"
"Depends on how we're going to find the little buggers."
Rachel nodded her head in agreement. They began to walk as a group to the computer room.
"First thing I want to do is adjust the model to make them non-replicating."
"We don't have time for both the master and slave phases."
"They'll be bigger than the Beta slaves but smaller than the master Betas."
"And they'll have to be motile so they can catch the slaves. Do you have any ideas?"
Dana sat down in the cushioned chair and groaned at her throbbing muscles.
"How will they destroy the others?" Grace had asked a good question.
"We'll short out the Betas with pulses, kind of like a power surge that disrupts and crashes their programming. Or we can blast them and hope to destroy the structure enough to halt functioning. Kind of like how lightning can stop a human heart."
"We have to gather and store energy for that. And then there's the big problem," Rachel said.
"A bigger problem?" Grace asked, perplexed.
"Locating them." Dana rubbed her tired eyes as the obstacles mounted. "Get started designing her. I'm going to use the Alpha base and turn it into Beta and stick it in the simulation program." She rolled her head and popped her neck. "I hope I can remember everything about the differences between the two, or the simulations won't have any validity."
"I haven't programmed with your model application before. What did you write it in?" Rachel asked as Minnie entered the room.
"Rachel, I only use your language. It's the best."
Rachel smiled at the compliment, but then Doc was only speaking the truth. With a spring in her step, she jaunted over to the computer station and began speaking commands as she watched the code flash by her quickly.
Grace stepped closer to Dana and touched an elbow. "You're a good leader," she whispered as they walked out of the booth.
Dana smiled weakly down at her.
"What can I help you with?"
"Don't you have to report to work?"
"Then you should go down there. They count on you."
Grace looked hurt. "But...."
"I didn't mean it like that. I meant that you can help far more people being down there than helping one worthless ex-con up here."
Grace roughly grabbed the front of Dana's shirt and pulled her face down to hers. "Don't ever call yourself worthless again." She was standing on her tiptoes trying to be at eye level with the taller woman.
Dana could not answer; she was in shock. When Grace realized what she had done, she released the shirt and smoothed out the claw marks. "Sorry, I think the intensity is starting to get to me."
Dana could not blame her. She recognized that Grace was scared. She had seen the younger woman scared once before, and she had been kind of mean and nice to Dana at the same time then too. Dana wrapped her long arms around the doctor and pulled her into her chest for a long hug. Grace returned the embrace, trying to release her fear and enjoy the comfort of being there, with her, at that moment.
Eventually, Rachel popped her head out of the booth. "Hey, Doc, I need a few pointers."
Grace pulled away slowly. "I'll be up in a couple of hours to check on you and bring you some food," Grace said, calmly touching Dana's cheek with a familiar gentleness and a wistful look before walking away to the elevator.
When the elevator closed and the disappointment of no longer seeing Grace faded, Dana actually felt a little less hopeless. She knew she could design and build the destroyer of the Beta slaves, but the ultimate challenge would be to somehow find and catch the Betas. But Beta slaves gave off no special wastes or heat any different than the wastes and heat given off by other cellular organelles, like Messenger RNA from the nucleus, or Golgi Apparatuses which packed and released nutrients into the cell, or mitochondria that created usable energy for cell power. The Beta mimicked the organelles because Dana had made sure they would, so that they would be invisible for just this reason.
Minnie and Rachel worked through the morning, modeling the tools they knew they wanted into the nano machine, giving it mobility and a way to store enough pulse energy to destroy the slaves. This in itself was determined through a set of simulations, once Dana had fed the Beta model into the simulation program. It took more energy than they had expected it would to blast the Beta.
"The real Betas won't be as strong as the simulated Betas," Dana pointed out for morale. "The real things will have molecular imperfections," although very few, because she had honed the system so that the error was smaller than that allowed in Japanese electronics production. The kids did not need to know that.
After adjusting the pulse levels and the measurement of energy in the form of small molecules called adenosine triphosphate necessary to generate the most effective pulse to do the job and not damage the cell at the same time, Dana felt even closer to her goal and a sense of accomplishment. And Grace had come up to feed Dana and examine her twice already.
By eight p.m. Dana, Rachel, and Minnie were incorporating several sensory adaptors into the machine for tracking the slaves. Rachel was inputting different chemical levels that the slaves were known to give off during activity and praying that one of the levels or combinations of chemical levels would allow the destroyer to lock on its target.
"We've tracked the phosphate ingredient already," Dana explained.
"What about motion detection?" the hacker asked.
"They replicate vacuole movement."
"We should feed their speed into the program and simulate anyway," Minnie suggested.
"That's a good point," Dana replied.
That made Minnie grin for a second, then resume her serious work face.
"How many simulation categories are we up to now?"
"Fifteen," answered the Asian woman.
"It's going to take hours to run enough cycles to results to make a judgment."
"Does it leave an exothermic or endothermic trail?" Rachel asked.
"It's slightly endothermic, because it takes in slightly more heat than it releases, but it's too low for the destroyer's receptors to even pick up."
"We should simulate anyway," Minnie stated, and Rachel began programming that.
"I know." Dana rubbed her eyes. "I can't think of any more properties." I can't think at all, she told herself. Her body was aching everywhere except in her stab wound. The skin cells of the unspoiled graft tissues were weaving their way through her dying skin, holding her together tightly.
"Too bad video receptors haven't been developed."
"I'm only human, Rach."
Rachel turned to the computer loaded with the simulation program. "Only human and you created a perfect nano virus the first time," she mumbled to herself as she began inputting a list of chemical properties that Minnie had handed her.
When Grace returned from feeding the dog and buying Dana a clean set of clothes, it was almost eleven. Rachel and the two grad students were in the office sitting at the conference table and talking over Chinese food. Grace stuck her head into the room, interrupting a discussion of how Dana had developed the human physiology program they were using.
"She downloaded most of the physiology right from the government's electronic human program," Rachel said, stuffing a dumpling into her mouth. "She took all the basic cellular function data and translated it into an IDNO. We can find out how each organelle is affected as well as the entire virtual patient and the Beta.
"Howdy, Grace," Rachel said when she caught sight of the blond head. "We're in the middle of simulation. Do you want something to eat?"
"Actually, I was wondering where Doc was."
"Doc's out wandering. She paces when she's anxious."
Grace nodded and lifted a wonton. "Has she eaten?"
"Just that carbo/vitamin crap you brought up earlier."
Grace took a fork and a small carton of rice and went to look for her patient. It took her twenty minutes of searching every dark corner before she found Dana tilting back in a chair next to the janitor's closet. She was staring at the wall and sipping from a bottle of Gatorade. When she heard Grace's sneakers squeak on the floor, she looked up.
Grace gasped at the grisly changes that had taken place in her appearance over the past six hours. The whites of her eyes were pink from exhaustion and stress. Grace touched her cheek to sense the temperature and felt the clammy, warm skin of a person in the throes of acidosis.
"I must look as bad as I feel," Dana said with a half-hearted, crooked grin.
"How do you feel?"
"Weak, achy, like I have the flu."
"You need rest."
"I need kidney dialysis."
"I can arrange that, but I don't think you're ready for it. Here." She handed her a minty bicarbonate pill to buffer the acids in her blood.
"Yum, chalk," she said, crunching it and then chasing it with Gatorade.
"What were you thinking about when I came up?"
Dana studied her a moment. "The Carnot cycle."
"You were thinking about engines?"
"Not just any engine. The Carnot cycle describes a perfectly heat-efficient engine, so that the work done by the engine is 100% of what is put into it."
"That's a dream. It doesn't exist in our physical world."
"It does in none, almost at least, at the nano scale."
"Why were you thinking about that?"
"Because I wanted to think about something perfect, and attainable." She looked at Grace. "It makes me feel better."
"Do you want me to leave you alone for a little while?"
"No, Grace." She smiled. "Now that you're here, I don't have to imagine something to make me feel good." She caressed her cheek.
Grace turned the hand over, kissed the palm, and then placed it back on her face.
"Dana, I'm sorry I haven't been understanding about things."
"No, let me say this." She was kneeling next to her sickly friend. "When I...in Chicago...when I brought up the tattoo...I didn't understand what it meant to you, and now I think I do, and that remembering is very important to you. That it keeps you from making mistakes. What I'm trying to say is...uh...what I'm trying to say here is...."
A mischievous half-smile found Dana's face. "I never thought I would have a doctor on her knees apologizing for anything."
"How about we go into the bathroom and get you cleaned up." She held up the bag of clean clothes, a toothbrush, and some supplies. "You'll feel better."
Another crooked smile.
While the water in the bathroom ran to a steam, Grace helped Dana undress, taking the time to examine the puncture wound.
"That's taking really well," she remarked, surprised at how well.
"Too bad you can't use that stuff to replace all of me. It would make this a whole lot easier. Or we could transplant my brain into a whole new body."
"But I really like this one," Grace said, helping her out of her jeans.
Dana felt the heat creep into her face and other places.
Grace marveled at Dana's blush, that of a young woman. Using a soft washcloth from home, she began to systematically wash the brunette, starting with her face and working down to her toes. When she was done, she wrapped the damp body in a towel. "Bend over and I'll wash your hair too."
Dana caught her hands. "If you touch me anymore, this is going to become more than a sponge bath."
"But you're in no shape to...."
"I know that, which is why I can't take you touching me like this."
"I promise not to be--"
"--Erotic, arousing, tender. You would have to be in the other room not to be."
Grace laughed softly. "Let me wash your hair and we'll go find a place to take a nap."
"If you're intimating that doing it lying down would be any less hazardous, you're a fool, doctor. I'd rather go right here, right now with you on this sink," she said, testing the sink's strength with her hands. When she was satisfied as to its stability, she lifted Grace by the waist and set her on the edge of the sink.
Grace giggled nervously. "But I haven't washed your...."
Dana took her mouth with a primal growl and the intensity to match. Her hands popped off the buttons that held the tailored white blouse closed, exposing the naked torso. A moment later and she was tugging on the woven belt of Grace's slacks. All the while tongues were stroking and tasting each other, darting from one mouth to the other and back again. Grace was holding herself up by hanging onto Dana's neck with both hands. When Dana could not get the belt to unhook, Grace lowered a hand to help and had to quickly grab the sink as Dana yanked the Dockers' off her, nearly pulling Grace off the sink in the process. "Grab hold," Dana growled into her mouth. Grace could tell by her tone that she meant it and grasped the porcelain more tightly.
By the time Dana had finished, Grace thought she would never be able to move again and did not want to. Dana's towel had fallen from her body way back when, and they stood together in their birthday suits holding each other, Grace's head resting on a scarred shoulder.
"I guess you can wash my hair now," Dana mumbled into the salty skin of her lover's cheek.
"I'll wash anything you want after that," Grace mumbled back.
A knock on the door. "Hey, you two, get dressed. The simulations are complete," Rachel said through the metal door.
When they emerged from the bathroom, Grace was wearing the new T-shirt she had brought for Dana. The taller woman was dressed in the new jeans and a softer-than-clouds blue fleece shirt. Dana led Grace by the hand to the computer room where they would view the results.
"Where are the kids?" Dana asked, looking for the students.
"I sent them up to the third floor to rest. I didn't expect the sim returns this soon." This statement said a silent warning from hacker to tech.
Dana took the seat next to Rachel and pulled Grace down onto her lap, causing Grace to blush a little in front of the hacker.
"Don't worry, Gracie, after all that ruckus you made in the bathroom, your professional image is not key in my mind or ears right now." Dana snaked her arm around her lover's hip and squeezed.
"Now, for the results."
"Hard copy, or shall we scroll?"
"Scroll, but save first." She pulled her glasses out of her pocket and hooked them around her ears. She breathed in the skin of Grace for luck, enjoying the scent of her lover.
Painfully slowly, they moved through the results of sets of simulations. The lists of numbers and percentages meant very little to Grace, but from the falling moods of her companions she could see that the simulations had not gone well. An hour later Dana's expression had changed from elation to defeat.
"How bad?" Grace ventured to ask.
"Zero percent," Dana said in a whisper, her eyes closed.
The doctor stirred uncomfortably. Dana turned to face her. "I'm sorry, Grace," she said, her forehead touching her lover's. Their fingers intertwined and held tightly.
"It's fucking invisible," Rachel vented angrily. "The little destroyers blasted everything but the Beta slaves."
Dana had buried her head in Grace's shoulder, so tired she could have slept just like that. Grace stroked her hair soothingly.
"Can you think of anything else, Doc?" the hacker asked impatiently.
"Get some rest," Dana said, looking up with blood-red eyes. The rosy flush from love had drained away to sickly gray.
Rachel strolled out of the computer center, slapping the door frame in frustration.
"What now?" Grace asked, trembling.
Dana shrugged. "Home, if you want." Dana had expected the disappointment; however, she had let hope in, and now the failure devastated her. But she could not let Grace know her despair or her fear.
"Why did you have to make it so perfect?" Grace asked, sliding off her lap and looking at the numbers on the screen.
Dana shrugged and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and her face in her hand. "It was supposed to be a Beta--it wasn't supposed to be perfect. That's why I put a trigger in the Alpha."
"It's so imperfect we can't even find it to stop it." Grace laughed sadly. "Too bad we can't shrink Rip and send her in to hunt out and destroy them. She seems to be the only thing that can detect the little shits."
"Dana?" Grace said, wondering if she was asleep and turning to find the nano tech staring back at her. "I didn't mean to make light of--"
"--Where were you three years ago?" Dana said in wonder.
"Downstairs working in the ER in my first year of residency. Why?"
"Because I could have used you three years ago," she said, jumping up and switching the computer into a super browse of the World Wide Web. She began hunting for sonar receptors and found a jackpot in the U.S. Navy Net. With three keystrokes, she was able to get past security into the catalog of sonar hardware and software and zoomed in on several technical, yet unclassified publications that were perfect.
"Dana, what are you doing?"
"I'm going to build a nano scale sound receptor--sonar receptor, really--that can latch onto the sound waves of the Beta."
"The sound that Rip hears."
"Yeah, the freaking thing isn't perfect. I had to change some of the gear works in the Alpha to get rid of the noise. Otherwise the little buggers squeak."
"Kind of like that Six Million Dollar Man episode when Steve Austin's friend is an evil robot that squeaks."
"I guess not everyone got the Sci Fi Channel when they were kids."
"I watched South Park," Dana said and continued her search for the sonar receiver she wanted to reproduce.
"Hmmm." She paused and stared at the screen. "I have to incorporate the other sounds of the body into the memory of the program, like the viscosity of the blood against the walls, the heartbeat, digestive noises, and external noises. The cell is a highly littoral environment, which makes determining a specific sound more difficult, especially if I haven't blocked out the wavelengths of the other noises. Hopefully, the Beta will be so unique it won't be too much of a problem. Cross your fingers, Grace."
"We can help by keeping the environment outside quiet."
Dana rubbed her chin. "Would you run upstairs and get Minnie and Rachel for me? I need them to help too."
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