Part Five - The acceleration is proportional to the resultant force
Grace did her best to summarize Greer's technical program over the previous four months. When her technological knowledge faltered, Dana referred to the actual reports, which were not much help. Dana did her best to avoid noticing how close Grace was sitting, and when the doctor reached over to show her a specific passage, she tried not to breathe in her scent or stroke the shiny, straight, golden hair. God, she was still attracted to Grace, but she was never going to risk the hurt again. Instead, Dana nodded often and scribbled notes of the changes on her notepad.
"I can't figure out his method," Grace finally said and sat back in her chair, an arm's length between them.
Dana had her mechanical pencil between her teeth and was staring at the mention of changing the simulation program. She pointed to it with her pencil. "This is a huge mistake. The simulations are the only given in this project besides the cancer itself. We know the application works, so he changes it?"
"Why do you think he did it?"
"Sam Greer is not a nano tech. He's a very good mechanical physicist, but he has no understanding of the integration of the necessary knowledge. For instance, does he have any molecular biology or organic chemistry background?"
"Grace, think of him as a good mechanic but not the driver. He doesn't know how to get there, but he may be able to tune the engine. How did you end up with him, anyway?"
"Barbara tossed his name in the hat at the last minute. She was impressed with his graduate work, and he had been working with Dr. Adams at Stanford for three years."
"I doubt Adams misses him. And, for the record, he stole his graduate thesis."
Grace's eyes widened. "How do you know that?"
"I used to review new postings on the Web that had to do with nano. He published his thesis right after I was released from York."
"And you had seen it before?"
"Yep. A friend had posted it anonymously for me the year before. Cons aren't allowed to post."
"That's a drastic accusation."
"You don't believe me?"
"All I'm asking is if you can prove it."
Dana stood and walked over to the computer terminal and pulled up a series of postings from the Stanford Science Center Server. She pulled up a paper that had been posted anonymously and electronically dated late 2011, and printed it. Then she pulled up his thesis, also on the Stanford Server, electronically dated June 2013, and printed it. She grabbed the stack of papers, crossed back to the table, and handed it to Grace.
She sat back down in her seat while Grace flipped through the pages. "The sad thing is, I doubt he understands what he copied."
Grace could not believe how closely the two papers resembled each other. Greer had mentioned several experiments which Dana had not, but the theory was most definitely not his. It belonged to a self-educated lifer at a women's maximum-security prison in Southeastern Connecticut.
"I'm sorry, Dana."
"That's okay. I'm learning to accept the fact that all you educated types stick together."
"You don't have a very high opinion of me."
"Actually, Grace, that's not true at all. I've always thought that you were the most wonderful person I'd ever met. Which makes you much too good for someone like me."
Grace closed her eyes and thought about how they had arrived at this place. Dana really did believe Grace had not loved her. But would she ever be able to convince her otherwise? "Dana, I do not think I am better than you."
"Okay, Grace," Dana replied flippantly.
Grace reached over and touched Dana's chin to urge her to look at her. "I'm not better than you." They stared for a few seconds. Grace was mesmerized by the gentle blue eyes. They drew her closer, within inches, and the need to touch Dana became so urgent she stopped breathing.
Dana jumped up, a teardrop caught in her dark eyelashes. She swiveled the chair between them. "Don't!" she managed to choke out.
"Dana, I never stopped loving you."
"No. You never loved me, Grace. If you had, you would have come with me."
"Don't you tell me what I felt. I made a mistake letting you leave, but I couldn't have left all of this."
"When people love each other they want to be together. Even I know that."
"I could use the same argument, Dana. But I know you loved me, despite the fact that you disappeared without saying good-bye, and that you sold your boat. Do you know what that felt like, finding out you hadn't just sailed away for a while, that you weren't returning?"
Dana stepped backward, found the wall with her back, and leaned against it for support.
"Do you want to know how I found out?"
Dana did not answer.
"I drove by the marina every day, hoping to God to find that you had returned so I could run to you and apologize. I planned to beg you to come home. Then, one day, I thought my prayer had been answered. There she was, your baby, tethered and waiting for me at the dock. I thought you were waiting for me." She wiped a tear away from her cheek. "But it wasn't you. It was some diner owner who said you had sold the boat to him in early June." She began to shake her head. "I was so upset I refused to talk about you ever again."
Dana was watching the younger woman and debating with herself why Grace was telling her this.
"I know I hurt you, Dana, just like everyone else in your life has," she said, stepping closer. "And I will never forgive myself for that." She gently laid her hand on Dana's shoulder. "But I also know I will never be happy without you."
Dana's chin was trembling, and a few of the tears had broken free and run down her cheekbones. Her survivalist instinct wrestled with the aching need to be touched by Grace. Another small hand reached up and wiped the tears away from her face.
Dana grabbed the hand from her face and held it away from her body. She studied the short, manicured nails and the soft skin, and remembered the tender ways it had caressed her. She let her other hand cover the hand on her shoulder and pulled it away as well. Then she let her eyes move to the lovely face, and she saw what she needed to see: desire, sadness, and love.
Slowly she raised the hands to her lips and brushed her mouth against the knuckles. She released Grace's hands. They slid immediately to Dana's face and removed her glasses, tucking them into her own pocket. Dana was slow, but eventually her arms wound around the smaller body, entwining them into a tight embrace. Smaller hands moved to the back of the taller woman's neck and clung for life. Dana buried her face in the strong warmth of Grace's shoulder and melted.
It did not take long before their mouths found each other, and lips joined in their own embrace. They were kissing deeply, yet tenderly, the way people who promised each other never to hurt one another again do. Dana had not forgotten the taste of her lover's mouth, of the softness of her lips, but she reveled in being able to experience it again, not having to rely on memories any longer.
The door opened, bringing the touch to an end. Rachel stood in the doorway, grinning from ear to ear as she watched the women move away from each other.
"I figured I would either find you two dead or doing something like that. And for the sake of the program, I'm glad as hell that you two chose the latter. Now if you're all done making up, I can show you the changes I've made in my programs."
After a few moments to locate her glasses, Dana took her place standing next to Rachel and watched while the hacker described the changes in the code that scrolled by on the screen. "So on Monday he asks me to change the variables for the--"
"--Yeah, yeah, I've seen enough," Dana said, removing her glasses to rub her eyes. "I hope you saved the basic application."
Rachel did not dignify that with an answer.
"How bad did Greer screw up my program?"
"I think he's wasted three months on a damned Easter egg hunt. Maybe even backslid by making changes to the applications."
"Easter eggs?" Grace looked confused.
"He's spent the past three months trying to find answers randomly, like looking under a bush for an Easter egg. When he ran out of obvious places, he started checking out Rachel's bush...symbolically, that is, Rach."
Rachel wore a silly grin. "I'd like to see him try to check out my bush."
Dana met that with a chuckle.
"What do you suggest now?" Grace asked, understanding the implication of having wasted two months of her budget. The heat she was already dealing with escalated as every week passed.
Dana looked at her watch. It was five-thirty in the morning. "I need to take Rip for a walk."
"Rip is here?"
"Your security guard has her corralled."
Grace unfolded her crossed legs and followed Dana out of the room. "How is she?"
Dana chuckled. "Same old bitch as she ever was."
When they reached the security station, the guard was listening to country music and surfing the Internet. Dana whistled lightly.
Rip jaunted over to her side. When she saw Grace, her tail began to wag violently, and she leaned her body against the doctor's legs, practically knocking Grace to the floor.
Dana and Grace found a bench in the middle of the park to rest on while Rip ran from tree to tree, sniffing for squirrels and dog pee. Grace was facing Dana, studying the long, straight nose and dark lashes over the pale blue eyes. "Where do we go from here?"
"I think we should repeat the clinical trials of the first modification and use what has happened as a learning tool."
"No, Dana. I mean, where do we go from here?"
Dana turned to her and shrugged. "Depends on how slow you want to go."
"I don't want to go that slowly."
A smirky half-smile. "Then your place, I guess. I don't have a room yet."
Grace looked away and blushed but quickly grew serious. "What about your girlfriend?"
Dana's eyebrows shot halfway up her forehead. "What makes you think I have a girlfriend?"
"Rachel said you did."
Dana pulled a mangy tennis ball out of her sweatshirt pocket and tossed it toward the dog, who ran after it. Rachel must have been spying for longer than I suspected, she thought to herself.
"Is she someone special?"
"I don't think that talking about this is such a good idea."
"Please. I'm jealous as hell, and I need to know who I'm up against."
"There is no competition, doctor." Rip brought her the ball and ran off before Dana could launch the next toss. "Cheater!" Dana eyed the worried young face. "She was a waitress at a little bar in town, a psychology student home for summer break. She was sweet and smart and cute as hell, and we spent a couple of evenings together. Then she went back to school."
"So it's over?"
Dana laughed. "It barely got started, Grace." How do I tell you I spent the whole time thinking about you, wondering why her lips weren't as soft as yours, or why she didn't smell as wonderful as you do, or why she didn't taste as sublime? Rip dropped the ball at her feet and trounced off again. Dana threw the ball as far as she could. "She wasn't you, Grace."
The doctor felt a little better, but she could have done without the "cute as hell" remark.
"What about you? Get any speeding tickets lately?"
Grace guffawed. "I don't even have the time or energy to masturbate."
Dana found herself smiling at the doctor's candor. "You poor thing. You must have been really busy. No wonder you're so tense." She tentatively reached over and began to playfully knead the tight shoulders. It turned into a real rub when Grace dropped her head and groaned. Grace did not even care that Dana's hand was covered in dog slobber. The touch felt so good. Dana lifted her other hand and reached across Grace's shoulder to work the other side. Grace's head dipped in compliance.
Both jumped when Rip barked at them, the ball lying next to Dana's black sneakers. Dana removed her hands, leaned over to pick up the ball, and tossed it farther than she had imagined she could. "I want to meet with your materials people first, before Greer comes in."
"Why not wait for Greer?"
"I think that your stereochemistry was all screwed up and that's why the rat trials failed so miserably."
"They weren't miserable--they were godawful."
"I get the impression from your organic tech's notebook that she didn't know what she was doing. I think your building material was crap."
"Carbon isn't just carbon?"
"Not in this case. The carbon molecules we use are asymmetrical three-dimensional shapes, so if the stereochemistry is not of a specific geometrical configuration, we have a problem. Think of them like puzzle pieces that fit together in a specific way to make gears of the nanomachine. Although they aren't really gears, they function in the same way, especially when trying to create the nano computer network used to program the machine."
"So the molecules were the wrong shape."
"Simply put, yes. The product was probably made up of a mixture of the possible configurations."
"Shouldn't Greer have checked that first?"
"If he'd had a clue about what he was doing, absolutely."
"I can't believe I made such a mistake hiring him."
"Next time choose better," Dana said, letting her hand drift to Grace's back and lazily begin to rub.
Rip came toward them and let the ball roll ten yards to Dana, taking off while it was still rolling. "Look at that--she's not even coming all the way back anymore." Dana tossed the ball again but only halfway to where the dog had run, the dog not noticing where it had dropped. Rip sniffed around, looking for the ball. "It's right there!" Dana yelled and pointed.
"Why do I get so lost without you?"
"I would hardly consider you lost, Grace. I told you this nano world wasn't easy. And I wouldn't expect your project to get very far without a technical leader."
"You seem to have it all together now."
Dana shook her head. "I worked from dawn to dark every day until I was too tired to eat or think. So it's not composure you see--it's exhaustion."
"But you seem happy."
"Do you actually believe I could be happy without you?"
Dana slid her arms around the tired administrator and pulled her closer for a kiss. "Are you happy without me?" she whispered into her ear.
"I'm miserable without you."
Dana smiled and let her lips brush against Grace's cheek. "Now I'm happy, Grace," she whispered breathlessly.
Grace wound her arms around the strong, firm body. In an attempt to ward off the jealous thoughts of anyone else touching Dana intimately, she squeezed hard. Dana responded by turning into the embrace and pulling Grace against her chest. Grace buried her face in the soft, clean cotton of the warm, dark sweatshirt and listened to the steady throbbing of Dana's heart. She smelled familiar and comfortable, and for the first time in several months both women felt whole.
Together they walked down the corridor to the conference room where Rachel was sleeping. Her feet were propped up on the table, and drool was sliding out of the corner of her mouth. Dana slammed the door hard enough to startle Rachel out of her chair and give herself whiplash.
Doc slid into the hacker's seat. Grace rolled another chair next to Dana's, for which she was rewarded with a smile.
Dana could see that Grace was exhausted and marveled at her endurance. All she wanted to do was take the blonde home and make love to her for the next few weeks. She reached over and squeezed her knee for support. "You should find a way to get some sleep. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."
"I've had less sleep," the doctor replied, swallowing a yawn.
Doc spent the next few hours explaining what she thought the day's itinerary should be, first stop the organic laboratory. She was going to have the techs there create a batch of the lattice carbons while she observed, and then they were all going to examine the material for the stereoisomers, using electron microscopy and rotational spectrometry.
And that was exactly how they passed the morning. When Sam Greer finally sauntered in with his espresso from Starbucks and his dark, curly hair slicked back with gel, Dana and Grace had already begun their examination and found the samples so racemated that the carbon was completely useless for constructing the nanomachines.
"I'm surprised that there was any function at all," Doc commented.
"Sylvia, did you produce all of the material the same way?" Grace asked the young organic tech, whom Dana had insisted take part in the examination to learn what she should be looking for.
"Yes. But Dr. Greer never showed me how to do this."
Grace looked to Dana.
"They have the pressure too high so that they've lost control of the structure," Dana explained. "Is there any way we can get Jack back up here? At least to talk to Sylvia."
"I can probably arrange a meeting downstairs."
"Sylvia, how much training did you have with the carbonic lattices process before Jack left?" Doc inquired.
"Thanks," she said and left the lab.
Grace followed her out. "My fault again," Grace admitted to her tall companion. "She's actually a very good tech."
"I suggest that you insist that Jack come up and run her through the process until she understands what she is supposed to be doing. And yes, you should have insisted he stay until his replacement was properly trained."
"I should have insisted that you stay as well."
They walked to Grace's office in silence, a tiny smile on Dana's face. Dana dropped down to the leather couch and looked at her watch. "Ten-fifty? Greer should be here by now. Has Minnie had her baby yet?"
Grace sat in her high-backed executive chair. "Three weeks ago."
"Did Jack marry her?"
"Three weeks ago."
"About friggin' time." Dana lay back and stretched her arms and legs in an effort to relax.
"They had a little boy, Nate."
Dana closed her eyes. "That's nice," she replied sleepily.
She awoke to her name being spoken and her shoulder being nudged. She was completely unaware of where she was for several seconds, until the sleepy face of Grace filled her vision.
"I never should have sat down," she complained, rubbing her face. "How long was I out?"
"A little over an hour."
Dana sat up and placed her feet on the ground. "I'm getting too old for this shit," she grumbled.
"Jack agreed to come up and talk to you at three. He asked if you were going to take over the program. Actually, everyone is asking me that."
"I haven't been able to corner him yet today. He avoids me like you do my mama's chicken."
Dana popped a breath mint into her mouth and chewed it, then added two more. "I hate to be the one to tell you this, Grace, but chickens aren't marsupials." She offered a mint to Grace, who declined and grabbed her mug of fresh coffee.
"I've already notified Barbara and the Board of my desire to have Greer resign, and they support me."
"You were busy while I slept."
"I'm going to explain it to Greer as soon as I can find him. And I'm going to use these as leverage," she explained, holding up the two identical printouts of his thesis and Dana's theory.
Sam Greer shoved Grace backward against the conference table with such force that the table moved several feet, and then he threw the papers in her face.
Dana, who had been waiting outside, saw the attack through the glass. That was all it took for the darker part of her soul to take control of her body. She had no idea how she had entered the room so quickly or that she had Sam Greer pinned against the dry-erase board until after the fact. He grasped desperately at her arm to break the vise-grip so that he could breathe.
"Dana, let him go," Grace urged gently from behind her.
But Doc was intent on choking the life out of him and squeezed harder.
"Dana, stop! You're killing him!" Grace screamed and grabbed her arm to pull her away from the purpling man.
Dana let her hand slide away and stepped away from him. As soon as she let her guard down, he lunged at her, slamming her into the glass wall, which shattered. Dana caught herself against the metal frame and pushed back while sweeping his feet out from under him with a kick. He lay breathlessly on his back, the wind forced out of him by Dana's knee on his chest and another lodged in his gonads.
Grace pulled her up and away from him.
"I'll sue you," he groaned.
"I'm going to take you to court for plagiary, you dumb shit," Dana barked.
"Get up, go to your office, and type up your resignation, Doctor. I want it on my desk in an hour," Grace growled.
Grabbing himself, Sam Greer slowly left the conference room.
When they were alone again, Grace addressed Dana. "That was a lot more violent than I intended, Dana."
"He started it," Dana said, grabbing a handkerchief out of her pocket and wrapping her bleeding palm.
"Hey, let me see that," Grace said, unwrapping the hand.
"Ouch!" Dana complained as she examined the deep cut.
"How come you're always fighting?"
"I don't know."
"I want you to go down to the ER and have this cleaned up and closed."
"No, thanks, it would be just my luck that Nurse Ratchet is on duty. She'll have to get her voodoo doll back out, and I'll end up with that crick in my neck again."
"Go!" Grace ordered, opening the door and pressing her on the back toward the elevator.
Dana looked back at Grace with a scowl.
"Dana Papadopolis. Don't you move your burly butt another step."
Dana bared her teeth at the wall. Slowly she turned to the approaching head nurse.
"Dr. Wilson said you were headed down. Got yourself into another slugfest, I hear. Causing more trouble for my favorite doctor?"
Nurse Sydney had the distinguished look of a woman with power and knowledge and who was not going to take any crap from any person, especially Dana. She might have been considered attractive outside of work by someone, but Dana never saw her outside of the ER.
She made a show of sizing up the nurse. Her blond hair was graying and pulled back in a knot, and she wore blue scrubs and a short, white lab coat.
"Attila the Bun, how have you been?"
"Come this way," she replied, stone-faced, and led Dana into the examining room. "When is the last time you had a tetanus shot?"
"The last time you poked me in the ass," Dana answered.
"Did I ever tell you how much I enjoyed that too? Sit down," she said gruffly, indicating the gurney. "What happened?"
"I cut my hand."
"Duh. On what?" she said, taking the hand and turning it palm up. She removed the bloody fabric. "This is very deep."
Dana tried not to yelp when she separated the skin. But Sydney's touch was tender as she inserted a local into the hand and then cleaned it and glued it closed. "You're lucky you didn't slice a muscle." She ran her fingers over Dana's calluses. "You have tough hands. Where have you been?"
"Your girlfriend missed you."
"So I'm told."
"Are you back for good?" She wrapped the hand in clean gauze and taped it for reinforcement.
Dana shrugged. "I think she wants me back."
Sydney studied her blue eyes and bronze face for several seconds. "If you do decide to stay, you'd better not hurt her."
"It works both ways," Dana said coolly and tried out her hand. "Feels better."
"Wait until the Novocain wears off," Sydney said with a sadistic smile.
Dana squinted at her, trying to look mean. "Why do you dislike me so much?"
"I don't dislike you," the nurse replied and began to clean up. "But Dr. Wilson is special to me."
"I thought I was special to you," Dana smirked.
"You are, you little creep," she said and left the room.
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