Part Three - An object at rest will never start to move of itself; a push or pull must be exerted on it by some other body.

The ever-predictable, massive ball of hydrogen was making its way over the horizon, illuminating the small seaport town south of Freeport yet again. Dana sat atop a concrete storm wall, watching the sun emerge from the blue waves of the ocean and reading the morning paper. Rip stood watching her back and eyeing the cruller resting on a napkin on the wall next to her friend. The smell of freshly-fried doughnut wafted by her highly-sensitive nasal receptors, and she licked her chops. Slowly her mouth drifted toward the wall. Dana lifted her paper coffee cup to her lips and paused.

"Don't even think about it."

Rip looked up at her equally dark-headed friend with sad puppy eyes, a look that Dana could not resist and, fortunately for the hound, took very little effort.

"Okay, you can have half." Long fingers broke the bread into two somewhat-equal parts and offered the larger part to the coal-black pooch. Dana munched the rest herself and flipped to the national section of the paper. She reached down to pat the happy dog on the head.

They sat there like that until the rest of the crew arrived, a group of four scruffy young men, all dressed in the same type of clothes as she, and all brandishing the cocky smiles of youth. None were groomed, or if they were, it was in a way to present themselves as careless. Their skin was golden, and they all wore scruffy growths on their chins. What a lot, Dana thought to herself every time the motley brunch arrived for work, but then again they were on a fishing troller, not Bank Street.

"Mornin', Doc." A long-limbed, gangly teen with curly golden hair greeted her and then lifted a leg over the wall to sit next to her.

"Spider," she acknowledged him and folded her paper up.

They both stared at the choppy whitecaps. "Beautiful rise today," he commented and sighed wistfully.

"Yep. Gonna be rough today." She leaned over to grab her rubber boots and slicker pants from the ground. "I guess it's about time we do some fishin'," she said and swung her legs around.

The boys followed her to the dock where the fishing troller was waiting, the large ship swaying with the residual energy of the past night's storm.

Kev Grinchgold watched the now-familiar and documented routine of the woman. He could predict the entire day now. They would stay out until six-thirty, and after they had unloaded their catch, they would come in to dock. She would let the crew leave, and then she would hose down the boat and fill the tanks with ethanol. By eight she would be finished. Then she and her dog would walk back to her small attic apartment over the home of an old widow named Beatrice Shrine. Sometimes, rarely, she would stop and buy a few groceries, or stop at the Yankee Fi sherman bar for a beer, but only one beer. She had surprised Kev only once, by staying until ten at the Fisherman and then walking one of the waitresses home and spending the night at her place.

Dana Papadopolis never took a day off from work, at least not over the three weeks he had been watching her. Each week he reported back in detail to his customer as to what he had witnessed and was always told to keep watching.

It was not such a bad job once he realized how to bum the day away. He bought himself a beach chair, an SPF40 sun-blocker, and a pair of baggy swim trunks, and passed the nice days on the beach. On an overcast or rainy day, he camped out at the Yankee Fisherman and watched baseball and drank whatever was on tap.

As soon as his watch beeped six o'clock, he would wander back down to the pier and wait for the ship to return.

Finding her in the first place had been almost as exciting as watching her. Ho-hum, he yawned, thinking back to staking out the post office and box number his customer had provided as the only clue to his mark's whereabouts. He had waited a full moon cycle for her to check her mail. When she did show, accompanied by the floppy-eared mutt, she tossed everything away except for a single envelope--a bill, from what he could tell. She pocketed the envelope and walked back across the small town to the bank. It was only three in the afternoon, so she must have left work early that one day. She came out of the bank a few minutes later, sealed an envelope, and dropped it in the blue mailbox outside the bank. Then she walked to the bar for a beer and a hamburger, and then went home.

Seated on an iron bench in front of the town drugstore, Kev watched the pier. Sure enough, around six-fifteen, in came the fishing boat. Once it was tied and secured, the boys left in a pack with their usual macho swaggers and boyish bullshit, and Dana went to work hosing off the decks and stowing away the nets and equipment. Then she removed her gear and washed the scales and slime from her yellow pants and rubber boots with the hose.

The stocky private investigator found himself admiring her strong, bronze body, her bare arms and shoulders thick with muscle, and her dark hair highlighted with reddish-brown streaks in a long braid down her back. And despite the fact that she never smiled or wore makeup, she was drop-dead gorgeous. He took bets with himself as to where she would head after work: a drink and dinner, or home to shower and cook.

He sat across the street, watching her over his magazine, his sunglasses hiding his eyes and a ball cap covering the sunburned patch on top of his head. This was not such a bad job. As long as his customer continued to pay out, he would continue his stakeout.

Dana was talking in the Dock Master's booth when Kev's cellular phone rang in his pocket. He pulled out the sleek, black machine and pressed a button.

"Grinchgold," he answered officially. A pause. "As we speak, just got off the boat." Another pause. "What's that?" Another pause. "Holy--" he gasped as his shirt front was yanked and twisted until he could not speak or breathe. He found his face within inches of his mark. Dana snatched the phone from his hand and placed it against her ear to listen, but there was no connection; he must have hit the disconnect button when she grabbed him.

"How long have you been following me?" she growled.

"A couple of days," he managed to get out and grabbed at her wrist. The tightness was cutting off the blood flow to his brain, and he felt dizzy.

She clenched tighter with the one hand. "You're a weasel and a liar." She reached around his back and unzipped his fanny pack, and pulled out a wallet. She flipped it open and silently read his license and P.I. card. She had waited a full week to make her move, until she was sure that she would not be walking into another attack, like the last time she had approached the goons that were tracking her. When she was satisfied he was not going to pounce on her, she had made her move. The Dock Master had been watching his comings and goings around the pier for her for two weeks.

Just as he was turning purple, she released him and he collapsed onto the bench, stunned and breathing heavily. Sliding the phone into her jeans pocket, she grabbed her boots and slickers and walked away. She whistled for the black dog that had been waiting patiently down the sidewalk. The phone rang again, this time in her pocket.

"Yeah," she answered in a deep voice. Her eyebrow shot up to her bangs when she heard the familiar voice on the other end.

"We must have been disconnected," it said.

Dana grunted in the affirmative.

"Listen, I'm at a seedy little bar called the Yankee Clipper or something. Leave her and meet me here now."

Dana grunted again and then clicked disconnect.

She walked back to the gasping man. "Come on, Kevy. We're going to meet up with an old acquaintance together." She grabbed him roughly by the arm, and they began to walk toward the Fisherman, which was less than a mile from the docks.

Rachel Jones was sitting at the end of the bar on, ominously, Dana's favorite stool, sipping a vodka martini. She was minus her signature butt-ugly bathrobe, in a pair of khaki slacks and a leather vest over a tailored white tuxedo shirt.

The flimsy screen door opened with a bang, and in flew the befuddled man that she had hired to locate Dana Papadopolis.

"Oh, fuck," she said, sliding off the barstool.

Kev regained his footing and tried to straighten up. As soon as he did, Dana, now inside as well, gave him a little shove toward his customer.

"A Sam Adams, please," Dana said with an evil grin to the bartender. She walked around to the far end of the bar, took the seat that Rachel had been occupying, and slid the martini glass several spaces down the semi-crowded bar. "Thank you," she said when Andy placed a dark bottle in front of her. Rachel grabbed her glass from in front of a white-bearded, heavyset man and came to stand next to her friend.

Dana ignored her.

When she opened her mouth to speak, Dana held out her hand for her to stay quiet. As soon as the hand went down, she tried again and was rewarded with the same reaction. When Dana had finally downed her beer, and only then, there would be words. Dana was furious with Rachel for spying on her and ticked at herself for being found. She decided she needed a few minutes and a beer to collect herself or she would go ballistic on the hacker.

When she was finally done, she placed three dollars on the counter and slid off her chair. With much less flourish than when she had arrived, she departed. Rachel followed after her, signaling Kev to stay.

Fine by me, he thought, and ordered his own beer.

Dana was adjusting her work equipment in her arms when Rachel sprang out from the doorway. Dana looked at her with ice-blue eyes. "Why are you hunting me?" she asked coolly.

"We were worried about you."

Dana laughed sarcastically. "Bullshit."

"We need you?"

"Try someone with a degree. They seem to know everything."

"Is that why you left, because of ego?"

"Is he the guy with the hump on his back?"

Levity. That's good, she thought. "You're thinking of Igor."

"Oh, well, then I don't know him." Dana began walking away from the woman. "I'm happy where I am." She waved a hand above her head but did not look back. "Leave me alone."

Rachel ran after her. "I don't see how you can be happy." She was trying to keep in step with Dana's longer strides.

"I'm much happier here than pushing a broom around some Organic Lab. I make good money."

"And I could be making a lot more money too, doing something a lot different as well, Dana, but I choose to work on the project."

"You could be making a lot more money illegally."

"And legally. Commercial is big bucks."

"So you're saying you're a better person than me? That's awfully ironic coming from a smack dealer."

Rachel bit the inside of her cheeks in anger. "I've never dealt drugs. I can't believe you fucking said that to me."

Dana spun on her and grabbed her arm, her eyes piercing and violet. "And I can't believe you're spying on me," she growled.

Rachel swallowed the lump in her throat. "We need your help."

Dana dropped her arm and began to walk away again. "I'm not interested."

"Don't you want to start giving something back?"

"My debt is too large, and there isn't any power out there that can vanquish me."

"What about a gorgeous, five-foot-four, blond M.D.?" she yelled.

Dana froze in her tracks. Rip stopped and looked at her sideways. "Did she send you?"

Rachel approached slowly. Rip growled.

"I've been consulting with nano experts for her?"

Dana rolled her eyes. "I wasn't on her list, I'll bet." She kept the hurt out of her voice.


"Not even a mention?"

"She doesn't talk about you at all. It's like, once she found out you sold the boat to that guy, you don't exist to her. You broke her heart, again."

Dana laughed bitterly. "Not quite, Rach. I think it was the other way around."

"The way I see it, you walked out just as it was getting tough."

"Then you need glasses because that's not how it happened."

"Sure it is."

Dana gave Rachel a look that almost made her wet her Victoria's Secret silk underwear.

"Don't ever discuss my personal life again," she said and began to walk away.

After a second to catch her breath and to really think about the personal jeopardy involved in pursuing the pissed-off fisherwoman, Rachel trudged forward.

"Doc, she needs you. The program has stalled again, and they're looking to lay the blame on her. It would destroy her, which is totally fucked, because she's the only really good thing besides me about the program."

They were standing in front of a small, fenced-in, grass-and-sand playground, the neighborhood beach on the other side of the small dunes. Older children, eleven- and twelve-year-olds, were playing tag in the dusk. A mother was swinging her child in a black wraparound seat, little pink booty feet hanging through the holes. The kid looked terrified and, from the contorted face, was about to let out a yelp.

Dana dropped her boots and hung her weather gear over the rail. She pulled a nasty old tennis ball from her slicker pocket and threw it toward the grass. The kids screamed in glee as the dog ran into the pack and disappeared. Dana stood with her foot on the rail and watched the baby cry. The mother stopped the swing, lifted the little one out of the confining seat, and held her closely.

The hacker stood beside her and watched the display. Turning away from the scene, Dana shook her head. "That mother sure has patience. She brings the kid here every day and tries to get her to play. And every night that kid ends up scared and bawling." She leaned her back against the splintered wooden fence and crossed her arms over her chest. For a long time she studied her Converse hightops.

Rachel studied Dana. She was amazed at how good the tall woman looked. Her skin was a deep golden hue, her hair dark and shiny, and she must have reacquired thirty or forty pounds of muscle.

"You're into fishing now?" Rachel asked.

"It comes easy."

"You have your own boat?"

"No, belongs to a friend. It's honest work and something Papadopolises have been doing for a couple millennia." She pulled herself up on the rail, taking brief glances over her shoulder at the dog, who was being chased by the group of children.

"I haven't seen you on the Net."

"Haven't been on the Net. I don't even own a computer. I figured they couldn't find me that way."

Rachel nodded acknowledgment. "So you're Miss Anti-tech now?"

"Nope. I don't have the time for it. How did you find me?"

"Your P.O. box. I hacked into the hospital billing database and found it. It took me three months to find anything on you, and that was it."

Dana hopped off the fence, took a deep breath, and stretched. "I busted my ass today, and I need to get some sleep before I have to go back and do it all again tomorrow. Nice seeing you, though."

"Come back with me, Dana."

"Ohhh, no no no no. Can't do that." Another stretch.


"I have responsibilities, commitments."

"I think the guys could use a day off." Rachel had read the reports and knew how hard she was working herself, probably as hard as Grace was.

Dana whistled for the dog. A frothing hound came running; a white ball covered in the slime of dirt and saliva was in her mouth, and her fat, pink tongue was hanging out the side of her mouth. Dana pocketed the tennis ball and grabbed her gear. The kids yelled out their complaints for a few minutes and then went back to their original game. The mother had the baby poised at the top of the kiddy slide, and the baby began to scream.

The dog and the two women began the short walk to Dana's apartment. "So Grace didn't send you?"

"Are you kidding?"

"How would she react to my presence?"

"The way I see it, she has no choice. The program has been single-handedly destroyed by Greer."

"Greer--is that who they decided on?" Dana rolled her eyes.

"I know. He's a putz."

"He's worse than a putz, Rachel. He's a plagiarist."

"What did he plagiarize?"

"His doctoral thesis."

"Really? How do you know?"

"I posted the theory on your server when I was still in York." They walked to the apartment and climbed the back stairs to the second-floor porch. "I don't understand why with all the brainpower and the information we posted about the Destroyers, you people can't make the machines work."

She unlocked the door with a key on a string around her neck. Leaving the gear outside on the rail, she pushed the sticking door open. Rip entered first, and then Dana, Rachel following behind.

Dana lived in a two-room apartment that was austere but neat. She had a couch serving as a much-too-short bed, a small stove and refrigerator, a sink, a counter, and an open cubby for a closet. The second room was a tiny bathroom with a decrepit pedestal sink and plastic closet shower.

The closet held four or five pairs of jeans, two sweaters, a leather coat, and two pairs of shoes--one black leather and the other brown. A stack of underwear was piled on a shelf next to several pairs of socks, an old, faded, blue sweatshirt, and several white T-shirts. There was no television, and no phone. The only electronic equipment was a small, portable CD player next to an index of plastic bound discs.

"My, my, this is extravagant," Rachel commented.

She received a dirty look. Dana walked to the kitchen and took out a container of some kind of sup and placed it in a pot on the stove. She also took out two bottles of water and tossed one to Rachel, who bounced it around before getting a handle on it.

Dana poured the dog some water from her own bottle and then set down another dish filled with kibble. Rip lapped at the water and then began bolting the food.

"What will she think if I show up at her facility?"

Great, she's thinking about it. "I think she'll be cool about it."

"You think she'll be cool about it," Dana said, mimicking the hacker's lazy delivery.

"Since when do you care what anybody thinks anyway?"

Dana turned away to stir the soup with a tablespoon. "Okay, I'll go, but if she freaks out about it, I get your car."

After a shower and a change of clothes, Dana used her new cell phone to call Booger in Freeport and tell him she was taking a couple of days off and that Spider was more than capable of captaining the boat in her absence. She explained tht she needed to give the fish a break anyway. Then she called Spider's house and left a message with his mother saying that he would be skippering the boat for the next few days, and if he had any problems to call Booger.

Dana filled a small duffel with a couple of pairs of pants, shirts, and undergarments, and, of course, her toothpaste. Then the two ex-cons and the dog walked back to the Yankee Fisherman, where they retrieved Rachel's gunmetal-gray Porsche.

Next part

Return to the Academy