Part Two - Velocity, Not To Be Confused with Speed
The very last place Grace Wilson wanted to be going at four-thirty on that Tuesday afternoon was to work. But after thirteen frantic messages from her assistant, an accountant who appeared to be even younger than she named Greyson Davenport, begging her to call him back, she had resigned herself to the task.
She walked down the tiled hallway, briefcase in hand, to her office. The lack of sleep, the emotional yo-yo she had been on, and the withdrawal from her pills had left her rather mellow and not wanting or able to think, especially about numbers.
Grey's brown eyes lit up as soon as he caught sight of his boss passing his doorway.
"Dr. Wilson!" he yelled, springing from behind his desk and into the hallway. "Dr. Buchler has been calling for you all day."
"Ah, Barbara can bite me," she mumbled unprofessionally as she rounded the corner into her office. She smiled at herself and thought, I must have picked up a little of Dana's irreverence, and it was good.
"Good afternoon, Grace."
Grace looked up and stopped in her tracks, a heat of rosy flush spreading across he cheeks. Oh, shit! she thought. Not so good.
"Barbara," she managed.
Dr. Barbara Buchler was sitting on Grace's leather couch, dressed primly in a gray skirt suit and two-inch black pumps. Grace crossed behind her desk and settled her briefcase on the floor next to her chair.
"Where have you been, Grace?"
"I had an unexpected personal situation I had to attend to."
"And you could not call in to tell me?"
"It was something of an emergency." For some reason, she was becoming incredibly irritated.
"So are those numbers I needed--yesterday."
"You'll get your numbers tomorrow morning. I have to consult with my technical people before I make any projections, and I haven't had a chance to do that. Otherwise we may overrun, and we wouldn't want that." To her own ears she sounded much more caustic than she had intended.
"No, Dr. Wilson, we do not want that," her supervisor responded in the same tone. "Where is Ms. Papadopolis?"
"She's home with the flu."
"Hmmm. And Dr. Jones?"
"She took a personal day." Grace began to make a show of going through her in-basket.
Dr. Buchler looked down her long nose at the hillbilly doctor and studied her green eyes and pouting lips.
"I want those figures no later than eight tomorrow morning." She left the office, her heels clicking their way down the hall.
"You'll get them."
Grace pulled the untouched folders from her soft leather case, opened them flat on her desk, and stared at the columns of labor categories and current dollar allocations based on the different tasks planned for the project. She could understand why Dana hated this part. Her head ached and she was feeling a little shaky as well as extremely tired. She took a few deep breaths to try to shake off her despondency, but it didn't work. She walked down the hallway to the small employee lounge, which was vacant at this hour, and helped herself to a bottle of water from the refrigerator. When she returned to her office, she opened her desk drawer and pulled out an amber container of pills, dispensing two into her hand. She popped them into her mouth and chased them with a large amount of water.
Dana was sitting at the kitchen, counter, dressed in long flannel lounge pants and a baggy, white, V-neck T-shirt. Rachel Jones was sleeping on her couch, snoring so loudly that the termites had abandoned their strongholds and run for the hills. From across the room, Doc watched the rise and fall of the hacker's chest and smiled to herself.
An image of the dusty York Prison courtyard and Rachel belly-down while Ruel Gundy and her sister had kicked the fallen hacker flashed through the nanotech's mind. She could not remember if she had hesitated, but before she knew it, she had driven her fist into Ruel Gundy's spine, knocking her to the ground. A second later her sister was lying next to her, and Doc was towering over both of them, a dark demon consuming her body and soul. Standing up for the hacker whom she had met only two hours before had not been the smartest of moves for Doc. Life had been relatively quiet for the prior three months, but her acts that day had definitely destroyed the peace. But with 20/20 hindsight, it was probably one of the best decisions she had ever made, for now she had a friend for life.
Doc was on her third bottle of Gatorade, the dehydration from the flu and the starvation leaving her parched and wobbling. Through the thin lenses of her wire-rimmed glasses, she returned her attention to the screen of her laptop and the one question that seemed most important: how the hell was she going to find Reichert?
When the hacker finally awoke, the sun had long since set, and Dana had been running searches through all of the commercial chemical and biological companies on the World Wide Web. She had come up with nothing that stood out or struck her as something Reichert might be involved in, although, she had to admit, he would never advertise it. But sometimes the most benign of postings could be clues, and scientists often solicited help through postings on the Web.
So when the hacker came into the kitchen and helped herself to some water, Doc was ready to start picking at her gray matter for ideas.
The hacker downed a bottle of water while watching the waves from the kitchen window.
"It's tranquil here."
"Yep," Dana replied, without looking up from her screen.
"You're lucky. You've found a babe with a great spread."
Dana smiled at the implications. "Yep."
"I wish I had someone like Grace."
Dana looked up. "I wish you did too, Rach."
Rachel turned to face her friend. "You should have seen her barreling into that house last night."
A quirky grin crossed the nanotech's face. "I appreciate what you did for me too, Rach."
The hacker shrugged. "All in a day's work.... So Reichert has returned from hell?"
"Yep." A sigh.
"He wants you?"
"Looks that way."
"At least he's not trying to kill you any longer."
"I'm not so sure of that."
"You'd be dead if he were. He had the chance."
"Unless he just wanted to torture me."
"Nah, he likes to watch the people die. That's why he used the Beta and Alpha. To watch."
Dana thought about that and Rachel's insight.
"He's working on another killer."
"But he's stalled?"
Dana nodded, her arms crossed over her chest. "He wants me now."
"What are we going to do?"
Bright blue eyes searched the programmer's round cheeks and brown eyes. Dana wondered why Rachel still said "we" after everything she had already done to help. "Rach, you don't owe me anything."
"Shut up, Doc."
"Okay, I want to find the little prick and take him out."
A long pause. "Not necessarily. I want to destory his file, his lab, and, if I have to, I will kill him."
"How do we find him?"
"I was really hoping you could tell me."
Dr. Jones, the brilliant MIT computer scientist who hated for people to call her "Doctor" or even know she had a degree, came around the counter and viewed the laptop.
"What have you tried so far?"
"Of what? His name, aliases?"
"And I looked for project names and research facilities that I might recognize. But he could be anywhere."
"He's in the States."
"How do you know that?"
"Money. U.S. corporations will pay more here because we don't have the brainpower that the Japanese or Germans do. If Reichert were a tech himself, it would be different. The foreign corps would pay for him. But you carried his program."
"Any idea who's big in nano warfare nowadays?"
"No, Doc. The only reason I'm into this shit is because of you."
Dana studied her friend for several seconds. "So how do I find him?"
"He's not using the same name?"
"He's not that stupid."
"Set a trap. If he was desperate to come for you once, he'll come again."
"I would rather not be surprised again, Rach."
"Then let me in there, and I'll see what I can find," the programmer said, nodding toward Dana's stool in front of the computer.
Dana relinquished her post.
"What are the chances they're soliciting help?"
"If Reichert came for me, I would suspect they've been desperate for some time."
"Do you think his techs have posted questions?"
"Have you answered any lately?"
Dana's body stiffened. She placed her hands on her head and closed her eyes.
"Fuck." For one, she had not been aware that Rachel knew of her on-line activities as nano helper to others, and, two, she had not realized she might have been aiding in the creation of another nano virus. How could I have been so stupid? she thought.
"We need to go through all of your recent replies, Doc."
Dana opened her eyes. "How far back?"
"I suggest at least a year."
"Shit. That has to be Reichert's group." The two were viewing a series of replies to several postings by the same author that Doc had worked on the previous November, two of which Dana had written while in the Wilson home in Cox's Creek. As she placed each post into its new malevolent context, the pattern of questions and mistakes made by the originator became clear. They had been making viruses.
"I can trace the URL to the server domain easily. I'll have to watchdog and wait for any new activity in order to nab the remote location."
It was nearly ten p.m., yet both the nanotech and the hacker were surprised to hear the two failed attempts at the electrical door lock and then Grace's entrance.
"Friggin' piece of techno crap," the blonde muttered as she dropped her briefcase on the floor.
The black dog that had been snoozing at the end of the couch waggled her sleepy body over to the doctor and nudged her for attention until she received some.
An involuntary smile crept across Dana's face, and she swaggered over as well for a physical greeting, nudging the blonde until she received a kiss.
"I'm going home," Rachel said, after sending her own e-mail address a message containing all of the information she would need in order to set up her own watchdog program. "You two enjoy your...um...bliss," she said, and then was gone.
"You look better. Have you been drinking liquids?" the doctor asked her lover.
Dana took the time to scrutinize the normally hazel-green eyes, which were now a dark forest-green, indicating that her lover was either incredibly aroused or high. Dana convulsively swallowed.
"Grace?" she asked softly.
The physician began to remove her shoes and coat.
"Are you high?"
"No, I'm not high. But I did take a stimulant earlier."
Dana's dark brows furrowed.
"A couple. It's no big deal," she answered nonchalantly as she walked into the kitchen. Dana followed, a frown on her face.
"I thought we had agreed you weren't going to use them. They're not good for you."
"A couple of stimulants aren't going to kill me. It's like coffee." Grace opened the refrigerator and removed a package of turkey and a bottle of mayonnaise.
"It's not like coffee. Grace, you're a doctor, for God's sake, and you're comparing speed to coffee. Come on, you know you can't toss that stuff into your body and not expect it to take its toll. Your body is a delicate balance of chemical reactions, and you can't screw around with it."
"I know that, goddammit!"
"Don't you snap at me."
"I don't have a problem."
"Yes, you do, Grace. Especially if you're lying to me about it."
"Wait a second. When did I lie?"
"Last night. You said you didn't use them."
"I only take them when I need them."
"And how often is that?"
A shrug. Grace opened a bag of bread and began to slop mayonnaise on a slice.
"This weekend and today." She finished assembling the sandwich and began to eat.
Dana wove her arms across her chest.
"And when else?"
"Once or twice last week."
"Well, which is it? Once? Or twice?"
"I don't remember."
"Monday and Thursday."
"And the week before that?"
Grace finished her sandwich. "I can't recall."
"Don't you pull a Reagan on me. Next you'll try a Clinton and tell me you put them in your mouth but never swallowed them."
"That would be a Lewinsky."
"Don't you dare try humor with me right now. This is serious!"
"Don't you get all pious with me, Dana. I don't have a problem."
"I never said you had a problem. Where are the pills? I want all of them."
Grace had moved to the bathroom and begun washing her face. "They're not here."
"Where are they?"
"At work, in my desk."
Dana worked her jaw.
"Tomorrow morning they're going in the toilet. Do you understand? No more."
"You're acting like a mother."
"No, I'm acting like your lover and partner. And I'm not going to let you destroy yourself without challenging you."
"I'm not destroying myself--I'm surviving."
"What are you surviving? Is it stress, or is it me?"
"It's not you, Dana. Jesus. I was taking them for months while you were gone."
Dana felt a rush of relief at the news that she was not the reason, despite the unsettling fact that it had been going on for longer than she had imagined.
"Is it the job?"
Grace looked away.
"I hate this discussion, Dana. What I do is important."
"You can do a million things that you enjoy that are just as important."
"I need to do this one."
"That's a five-year-old's answer."
"Because I said so."
"And that's your mother's. What is your answer?"
They had moved into the bedroom, where Grace found a seat on the soft edge of the queen-sized mattress and was slipping out of her clothes.
"My dad is turning his practice over to a guy out of Louisville."
"You said you didn't want it."
A long silence.
"Are you trying to prove something to him?"
"I can't reject his practice, and my grandfather's practice, and my great-grandfather's practice to tool around in an emergency room all my life."
"I don't think you tool." Dana sat next to her. "So you're running the cancer program to show him."
"I don't think your father would ever want you to be this miserable. Grace, you need to give up the speed, and if that means the program too, you should let it go."
"It's not the program so much as the financial crap and dealing with Barbara all the time."
"I thought Davenport was helping."
"He is, but not enough."
"Okay. After we find Reichert, we'll look at redesigning your position and getting you more involved in the technical end. And maybe you can work a day or two more at the clinic."
A long arm wrapped around the smaller, tense frame and squeezed.
"I love you, Grace," the nanotech said as she nuzzled the yellow, silken hair.
A soft, trembling hand ran up the bare forearm encircling the smaller woman.
"And I'm crazy about you, Dana."
"Lie down with me?"
A small laugh. "I thought you'd never ask."
Dana scooted back onto the bed, slipped her body between the sheets, and waited with an arm extended for Grace to change into her pajamas and settle into her embrace. The blonde reached over and flipped the switch on the lamp before settling into the crook of the arm.
" Can you turn the light back on?"
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