Part Five - Finding Perfection

Grace was unable to sit idle for the next fifteen hours while Dana and her crew plugged away, surviving on adrenaline and Zap--Jolt's and Surge's daughter, so she went down to the emergency room to work.

The nano group had just begun to make the new nano processor work in simulations and were patting each other on the back, when Grace appeared at the door with a visage not unlike that of the Grim Reaper or Mick Jagger.

"Hola, Gracie, what's up?" Rachel asked boisterously when she saw her.

Grace simply nodded at Dana to follow her to the conference room.

Dana's good mood flew away as she followed her down the hall.

"Dana, sit down," Grace commanded, a slight edge to her voice.

Dana did as she was told.

"We have a serious problem."

She listened purposefully.

"Three people who worked in the boat yard checked into the hospital today."

"Oh, no. And they have Beta?" Dana said, knowing right away what had happened.


"How bad are they?"

"One's a large guy, two hundred fifty pounds, in his late thirties. He's in about the same shape as you, experiencing early renal failure. The other man, Mr. Riley, is old, in his eighties, and he's not faring very well. He's unconscious, and we have him on a respirator to regulate his breathing."

Dana rubbed her eyes under her glasses. "You said there was a third?"

"A boy, fifteen. Dana, he's dying. His kidneys have already failed, and his liver is failing."

"Long blond curly hair, braces?"


"He worked the dock this summer. I remember him."

"Dana, he's very sick."

"He's growing now, so the cells are dividing more rapidly. Shit!" She stood up and began to pace. "We're so close, Grace. I need one more day."

"We had to notify the police. They're checking with all of the marina employees, trying to track down anyone else who may have been exposed."

Dana blew out a long stream of air to help her concentrate and decide how to speed up the start of production.

"I guess we're lucky it's not the sailing season."

Dana sat back down, rested her hands together on top of her head, and closed her eyes.

"It gets worse."

"Good God." Dana waited. "Well, hit me with it now--don't make me wait."

"Dr. Buchler reported the Beta to the Feds."

Dana started to shake her head from side to side and whispered curses in a succession that would have put the Confederate States to shame. "Don't let them near the programs, Grace."

"It's the Contagion Agency, Dana, not--"

"--No shit. I know who they are. And they all have the same boss. Listen, we can encode all the programs. If they try to get into them before we can post them on the Web, even if I'm gone, they'll electronically dissolve."

"Dana, you're being paranoid."

Dana stopped pacing, her eyes furrowed in irritation. "It's not paranoia if they actually are out to get ya. I know these people, Grace, very well."

"Do you think they're the ones who started this?"

"No, they would have been waiting in the wings."

"Then why don't you trust them?"

"Anything else brewing?" Dana asked.

Grace realized that Dana was not going to answer her question. "Yeah, it's snowing."

The storm, a Northeaster, was a gift, shutting down every highway and airport in northern New England and stranding the Nano Division personnel of the U.S. Contagion Control Agency at Dulles Airport.

The hospital had taken on that aura of isolation that a good snowstorm could create. The hallways squeaked from wet rubber boots, and the maintenance crews were busy with their mops. The patients were cranky, as very few visitors were venturing out into the thirty-three inches of white stuff. But the group in Laboratory 2A was oblivious to the rest of the hospital as well as the rest of the world. Theirs was all of three thousand square feet on the second floor and five very sick people.

"How many do we need?" Jack asked Doc. It was Day Three, four-twenty in the morning, and the only sleep the group had snatched was during the three hours of simulation of the nano processor with its new sonar sensor.

"At least two trillion per person."

"Tr--tr--trillion?" Jack stuttered.

"That's probably how many Beta have infected each patient."

The group looked around at each other.

"Roughly three trillion cells in the human body, right?" Three nods. "How many cells must die to kill you?"

"Depends on the organ," Minnie said.

"No, this is not specific to one organ, or two organs. Beta is a general virus. It hits them all but affects the kidneys and liver first because of the generative life of those cells. But if we target only those organs, eventually every other cell will die as well. We may beat the acidosis, but we need our skin, our digestive system, and our heart to live. Besides, we can't physically deliver the Destroyers directly to specific organs. We have to cover the entire domain that the Beta covers and kill as many as possible."

"How will we deliver them--in an aerosol or a pill?" Grace asked.

"The digestive systems are shot in most of the patients by now from the effects of the acidosis. I doubt we could even get enough absorbed into the body. We'll have to go intravenously, right into the bloodstream."

"I think we should use the inferior vena cava."

"Me too. Right below the kidneys. That's where simulated entry seemed to work best. A portion will pass out in the urine--hopefully, not too much--which is another reason we need so many, but two-thirds will go to the heart and then be circulated throughout the entire body. Then we have to hope the fatty coating will allow them through the cell membranes so they can get to work."

"I'm assuming all of your base materials are ready and you're waiting to load the production program." Dana addressed Jack.

He was trying to calculate in his head how much time it would take to make ten trillion nano machines, the fifth patient having been brought in a little after midnight.

"Jack?" Dana asked gently.

The number was too big. "Huh?"

"Are you ready to begin production?"

"I'm waiting for Rachel to load the program."

Dana smiled. "How long will it take?"

"I have no idea."

Dana scratched out a mathematical equation on her notepad and slid it to him with her pencil. "Fill in the rate of how many you can create per second at full production."

He wrote down the number and slid it back to her.

"Fuck!" Dana said, looking at the number. "Are you sure?"

"That's conservative, Doc." He had picked up the name from Rachel.

Grace leaned over to look at the number. "Five million. That's great!"

"That's 555 hours, Grace. It's too slow," Dana explained.

"Twenty-three days?"

"What about a non-conservative estimate?"

"Six million, maybe."

"You added the lipid-sheathing time in too, Jack?" Dana asked.


"Good. Okay, let's be optimists. We have nineteen days to make ten trillion Destroyers. That's three-point-eight days per person." She scribbled on her pad, estimating how much longer she thought she could live without treatment. "We can save one person, before the rest die. So we're still fucked." Dana tossed her pencil down onto the table and closed her bloodshot eyes. "I remember this being a lot faster, somehow," she said to no one in particular.

"The Destroyers are more complex than the master Betas, Doc," Rachel offered.

Nobody knew what Doc wanted them to do. "How do you choose who lives?" She sighed sadly.

The group sat in silence..

"What about dosing the patient?" Grace offered quietly.

Dana looked at her with interest.

"We could give the person injections through a feeder bag in a drip, or several injections, in doses of one billion each. Why all or nothing?"

Dana slowly grinned at her magnificent companion proudly. "Would you be willing to create a protocol and oversee the nurses to make sure it happens, Dr. Wilson?"

"I'll give them to you myself, Doc."

Jack and Minnie looked across the table at each other in sudden comprehension. They knew their leader looked bad, but they all did, with as little sleep as they'd had over the past seventy-two hours.

"You start with the four downstairs and any more that may show up."

"Then we should get started right away," Jack said, jumping to his feet with a new sense of purpose.

Dana grabbed his arm. "Take your time, Jack. We make mistakes when we rush."

"I'll help you, Jack," Minnie said and joined him after running a compassionate, tiny hand across Doc's shoulders as she passed by her. She smiled at Dana.

"Do you think you can speed up the program at all?" Dana asked Rachel.

Rachel rolled herself away from the table and stood. "Of course. But a wise woman once said, 'Take your time. We make mistakes when we rush.'" Then she laughed as she walked out. "I'll see what I can do."

"Rach!" Dana yelled.


"In case I never get the chance again," she said as she walked over to the exhausted computer programmer, "you're brilliant." And she gave her an awkward hug.

"I know," the hacker said, squeezing back and then following the two students down the hall to the Organic Lab.

That left Grace and Dana in the office alone on opposite sides of the conference table. "I think you were flirting with that grad student, Papadopolis."

Dana smiled with her eyes; her face was too tired. "I'm in no shape to flirt, especially with one so young." Dana pulled her pad over and started a new page. "I was thinking we could use a plasma-based medium."

Grace began to walk over to her.

"We can't guarantee every cell will take up the Destroyers, but hopefully we can save enough cells." Grace was touching her arm now. "Maybe you can get the ER to lend you that mean old Nurse Sydney to help you," Dana said.

"I'll ask." She was rubbing Dana's back.

"Don't tell her I asked for her, though."

"I won't." She was getting a full shoulder massage. As Dana's muscles relaxed she found herself falling to a chair, Grace's compact body controlling her fall. When she reached the chair, she felt herself slipping but fought to keep heavy lids open so that she could see Grace.

"I want to kiss you."

"Are you in any shape to kiss me?"

A tiny nod.

Grace leaned into her face, their lips barely touching. Dana closed her eyes.

She was warm with fever, and her skin was beginning to take on the yellowing jaundice of liver failure. The liver failure was leading to signs of diabetes and aggravating renal failure. Grace quietly worried about her.

"I love you, Dana," she whispered and pressed her lips a little harder. Dana kissed her back but had to break because she was growing fuzzy-headed. She managed a smile, the sweetest thing Grace had ever seen, that spoke more than words ever could.

"I'm so tired, Grace."

"I know, baby," she replied and enveloped her in warm, loving arms. "I'll take care of it from here, trust me."

Dana rested her head on the sturdy shoulder.

"You did so good, Dana," she whispered, nuzzling her neck and listening to the even breathing as sleep quickly took her lover. "I'm so proud of you."

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