Part Seven - Thermal Stresses

The doctor walked purposefully down the corridor toward the steel-reinforced security door. She checked the button on her blazer, then swiped her badge throught the kiosk. She took a deep breath and opened the door.

Looking up at her from the lobby were three pairs of brown eyes, and one pair of hazel ones belonging to Ned, the security guard.

"Dr. Buchler, we have a problem," she stated firmly.

"This is ridiculous!" Spinnelli complained. He walked over to the blonde, hostility oozing out of every pore. "What the hell is the problem?"

Grace counted to five slowly. During that time she memorized the wrinkles of his forever-lengthening forehead. She frowned at the man and turned her attention back to her supervisor. "I need to speak privately with you."

"You are obstructing an investigation, Dr. Wilson," Ryan commented, rising from his chair. He joined the threesome.

"Gentlemen, I realize you believe the world revolves around you; however, I am speaking to Dr. Buchler. We are trying to rebuild our laboratory and return to the business of finding a cure for cancer. When we have a chance, we will make time for you."

"Have you checked our credentials?" Spinnelli spat out.

Okay, Dana, I found the one with the temper. Now what? "We are still working on that," she lied.

"We need to speak with Dr. Jones," Ryan said calmly.

"That is simply not possible right now."

Spinnelli grimaced and quickly shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "Why?"

"She's left for the day."

"Then we will try her at home," Ryan said.

Like they could even find out where she really lived. "Suit yourself," Grace answered. "Barbara, I do have a few questions for you about tomorrow's board meeting."

"We want to review Dr. Jones' computer files," the balding man demanded.

"Not unless you have a subpoena, boys."

Ryan looked over at his partner and made a decision. "We'll be back in a few hours, Doctor. I expect cooperation when we return," he said evenly.

"Of course, gentlemen," Barbara Buchler said diplomatically. "When you return with the proper paperwork, I am sure that Dr. Wilson will be able to show you everything that you need."

Both men gathered their briefcases, temporarily ensconced by the chairs, and made their way to the elevator without so much as a glance at each other. Grace and Barbara swiped their badges and hands through the security mechanisms and then entered the secure area.

"What the hell are you doing to us, Grace?!" the administrator screamed. Her head was very close to blowing completely off her shoulders.

Grace had known this was coming but had failed to brace herself for the raised voice. What to tell Barbara was the wild card, and she and Dana did not share the same opinion on the matter. Hell, Dana trusted no one except Rachel, Grace, and Cassandra. But Barbara had helped protect Dana from the Feds after the Beta infection. That should have increased her trustworthiness in Dana's eyes. But the NSA was a different deck of cards. To Dana they were the Tarot.

Dana slid the Wrangler keys into the coat pocket of her leather jacket and followed Rachel Jones from the foyer of the elevator through the New Jersey penthouse apartment.

"When was the last time you were here?" Doc asked her hacker friend.

"Last month." Rachel sighed and threw her leather coat on the floor.

Dana walked over to the floor-to-ceiling windows and admired the blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

"Ugh! It's hard coming here, for some reason," the hacker complained, letting herself fall on the pillowed couch. She grabbed the remote control and flipped on two of the three big-screen televisions.

"Why's that?" Dana asked without turning from the window. If she squinted hard enough, she thought she could see the Connecticut border, and immediately she thought of Grace and missed her.

"It's lonely." She flipped the channel of the screen in the center.

"You aren't lonely in Connecticut?" Dana asked, turning to the remote controller.

"No. I have friends there." Click.

Doc studied the older woman's profile. She was by all lengths and measurements attractive--the slightly upturned nose, the long dark eyelashes, the shoulder-length dark curls, the dainty lips, and the solid chin. Dana opened her mouth to ask Rachel more about her personal life and then thought better of it. Rachel had not spoken much to her in terms of anything personal since San Francisco. "Do you think it could be Reichert behind this?"

Click. The hacker hesitated. "It's definitely possible." Click.

"Do you think he might be in with Spinnelli and Ryan?"

The hacker sighed. "Probably." Click.

"Shit!" Doc exclaimed, turning back to the window.

"Or they could be trying to find him," Rachel offered.

"Do you think they've always known?"

The hacker shrugged. "Who knows--and would it matter? We have no control over these people. I'm not going to worry about what they might have known."

"Would they have something in their database that you could--"

"--No!" Rachel turned to Dana. "Look, Doc. There's no way in hell I'm hacking the National Security Agency system for you. I don't want their computer geeks crawling up my ass with an orthoscope." Then she turned back to her televisions.

"Are you suggesting that we cooperate?"

"Not if there's a chance Reichert has something to do with them," the hacker replied. Click.

Dana's cell phone vibrated against her hip. This new situation was as confusing as hell. She pressed the talk button and listened. "Hiya, Sweets," the nano tech said into the phone.

Rachel stuck her finger down her throat and gagged. Dana turned away from the demonstrative hacker and listened to the caller. Rachel ignored her and turned on the third television.

When she was finished with the call, Dana sat down at Rachel's feet and grabbed the remote from her hand.

Dr. Jones grabbed it back. "How's Grace?" Click.

"She's fine. The wienies left but promised to return."

The hacker shrugged. "I expected as much."

Dana cleared her throat. "They were pretty adamant about speaking to you, and they want all of your project files."

That caught her attention. "What? Why? This isn't a technology investigation."

Dana looked at her friend. "You tell me."

The hacker swallowed nervously and turned away. "I hate the fucking Feds." She climbed off the couch and walked over to the windows. "I could hide here for a while."

"You can't hide forever, Rachel." Dana turned the televisions off.

"I can destroy the files."

"Duh. We need them to finish this project."

"I can't turn them over."

"That's true."

"We could make dummies."

"That could take a while."

Rachel crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Like I have anything better to do here."

"How can I help?"

"Get all of the files out of the safe and off the server and then send them to me."

"How long will it take you to copy and alter them?"

"A couple of days. Grace should be able to stall them that long."

Dana looked at her watch.

"You have a shrink appointment?"

Dana nodded. She had missed last week's. "I have an hour and a half to get there."

"You should go, then."

"Do you need me to do anything else?" Dana hated giving up control, but this was Rachel's career at stake as well, and she needed to learn to let the hacker make decisions.

"If all they want is the files, then they should go away once we give them to them," Rachel said.

"What if they want something more?"

"Like you?"

"It's possible." Then Doc realized the unlikelihood of that and shook her head. "No, the NSA would have already taken me if they wanted me. I don't think they'll touch me. I'm too unbalanced for them." Steely blue-gray eyes studied the hacker. "They may want you."

"Oh, please, like I'm a nano physics genius." She laughed. "Or I'm balanced."

"You know everything I know about the project so far. And like it or not, convict, you are sane." Dana looked at her watch again. "I have to go if I want to make Cassandra."

"I hope you don't say things like that in front of Grace."

"Don't worry. I contend that you are just as loopy as I."

"Fuck you. Go. And send me my files as soon as possible. And keep a copy locked away somewhere safe."



"Are you okay with this?"

"No. But I don't have a choice."

"If you want to hide...or go somewhere...I understand."

"Go to your appointment, Doc."

After a little prodding and a lot of negotiation, Dana donned her gray wool slacks, gray cashmere sweater, and black dress boots, and pulled her raven hair neatly back from her angular face. She sat silently at the oblong table, dotting her notepad with her pencil, making an impressionistic picture of a sailboat in greyscale. She listened to Barbara Buchler semi-publicly berate Grace about the proposed rebuilding schedule and cost analysis. Dana knew there was much more to Babbs' vicious diatribe than days and dollars. And Grace was taking it like Ghandi, in silence, although Dana was sure that the belitting and caustic deconstruction in front of the board hurt. She counted to ten, several thousands of times, to rein in her own impulse to throttle the executive. And then Babbs made a bigger mistake--she turned her fury on Doc.

"Why is this taking so long, Ms. Papadopolis?"

Dana looked up from her drawing into malevolent eyes. She was not used to Dr. Buchler even acknowledging her presence. A direct question was an anomaly. "Why is what taking so long? The rebuilding or the whole project?"

"The whole time line. We're way past initial projections of cost and time."

"Well, we tried the sheep-guts-and-eye-of-warthog cure you gave us, Barbara, but it didn't work." Barbara's mouth tightened into a flat, lipless line. "So unless you can share a new spell with us, you old witch, we'll just have to stick with the slow but trusty old scientific method."

Dr. Buchler took a long moment to comprehend that she had just been openly insulted, while the members of the board looked on in stunned silence.

"You completed the Beta cure in three days." Hillary Speigel, a normallyquiet member, broke the silence.

"This is a very different situation."

"Your life is not at stake," Barbara said snottily.

Piercing blue eyes promising destruction settled back on Dr. Buchler.

"No. They are pathologically very different problems." Dr. Wilson asserted herself. "The Beta was a systemic infection, affecting every cell in the body, whereas the cancer is, in most cases except for the severe ones, a localized event. We have to detect in a much larger, three-dimensional area, then track, classify, target, neutralize, and remove the cells. With Beta, all we really had to do was detect the nano machines in a two-dimensional area, track, and and neutralize the nano virus. Location and removal weren't issues."

"At the nano scale the human body is a hell of a lot bigger than a single cell." Dana abruptly pushed her chair away from the mahogany table and grabbed her notepad. "You can think of it like this if it helps, Barbara: hoofing yourself to the Eddie Bauer store in the mall, or hoofing it to one across the Milky Way Galaxy. Which do you think would be easier in those three-inch pumps you're wearing?" With those words she walked out of the room. Grace got up quickly and followed her without excusing herself. It took her a few long, quick strides, but eventually she caught up to the fuming nano tech.

"Jesus, Dana. Remind me not to take you to another meeting."

"Does Barbara treat you like that all the time?" Dana asked angrily and then pushed the button for the elevator.

"Not, not all the time."

"Well, if she ever bullies you like that in front of me again, I'm doing to deck her." The doors to the elevator swished open with a hydraulic hiss. She stepped sideways between the doors to allow the doctor into the elevator.

"I'm not a victim here. I choose to let her bully me," Grace rationalized while she settled against the back wall. She reached past Dana and hit the number for their floor.



"Then why did you want me there today? You could have answered every one of those questions yourself."

"For support."

"Ha! You didn't need that management training, Grace. You went because you didn't want to disappoint Barbara. No, I take that back. You went because you were afraid of disappointing Barbara. You have this tough I-can-take-anything-it-just-rolls-off-me persona, but I can tell that what she does to you eats you up inside. That's why you use the pills, and that's why you torture yourself."

"Are you a psychologist now?" Grace replied just as angrily.

"No, I just know you." The elevator made a whirring noise. "And you talk in your sleep."

Grace grabbed Doc's arm. "Really?"

"You call Barbara nasty names all night long."

Grace went pale.

"And you argue with me about the pills." The doors opened and Dana walked out. "Cassandra says that it's a manifestation of your frustrations," she remarked over her shoulder.

"Wait a second!" Grace ran up to the tech and caught her arm again, stopping her. "You told Cassandra?!"

"She's my therapist."

"She's not mine! Oh, my freaking God!"

"Have you thought of getting help, Grace?" Dana commented as they passed through the security door.

"I don't need help!" Grace shot back, determined to deter any further thoughts on the matter. "Why would you even talk about me to Cassandra? I'm not your problem." She stopped, and her green eyes grew darker and pinched in thought. "Am I your problem?" she asked, more softly.

Dana stopped and sighed, then walked back to the doctor. "No. I talk about you because you're the most important thing in my life, Grace."

"Oh." They walked together toward the office. "I'm not doing pills."

"You were talking about them."

"I think about it, but I haven't--not for a long time." The doctor sat behind her desk and placed her face in her hands. "Barbara is going to be impossible now. You realize that?" she mumbled into her sweaty palms.

"She's not stupid. Yale has more invested in this program than any other research project. She won't screw it up by doing something hasty. Barbara is a lot of things, but hasty isn't one of them."

They were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come in!" Grace commanded.

The door opened and Davenport stood in the doorway, his thin frame barely taking up half the space. "The men from yesterday are back. Ned in Security is waiting for you to give him the okay."

"It took them longer than I expected," Grace said as she rose from her seat.

"Let them come to you," Dana recommended.

Dr. Wilson reseated herself. "Want to escort them back here?" she asked Davenport.

He nodded and disappeared.

Several minutes later the sound of several pairs of leather shoes and one pair of heels could be heard coming down the hallway. Dana rolled her eyes. "Good God, they have Babbs with them."

Davenport reappeared at the doorway with Ryan and Spinnelli. Dana acknowledged the doorway first. "Agent Spumoni and Rhine, isn't it?" she asked without leaving her seat..

Grace walked over to the doorway. "Gentlemen."

"We have the subpoena you mentioned," Spinnelli said. "And we have Dr. Whitley, who is a special agent from the FBI, with us as well to make sure we receive all the information we need."

"Dr. Wilson." A robust woman's voice. In her seated position Dana could not see who had introduced herself to Grace. All she could make out between the bodies was a gray-suited arm extending toward Grace's outstretched hand. A solid handshake.

"Dr. Whitley," the blonde acknowledged her. Grace turned sideways to expose Dana to the entire group huddled around the door. "This is Dana Papadopolis."

Dana was already standing and walking to the doorway.

"Lena Whitley." The statuesquewoman leaned forward and firmly grasped Dana's hand. In heels the two were exactly the same height. Without heels, Lena was only an inch shorter, and her grip was as powerful as Dana's. Lena's skin was a dark bronze, her cheeks polka-dotted with dark freckles, and her hair hung around her strongly-featured face and firm jaw in black ringlets. Eyes--dark and intelligent eyes--seemed to the nano tech to be assessing her. A tailored, gray pin-striped suit hung expertly from her curvy figure, and conservatively painted fingernails graced long hands. "I have heard a great deal about you."

"All good, I bet," Dana remarked, releasing the strong hand.

"Hmmm. Right," she answered and moved back into the hallway.

"At least she's honest," Dana whispered into Grace's ear.

"We would like to see Dr. Jones," Agent Ryan said.

"Dr. Jones is out sick. I thought you were going to visit her at home yesterday anyway," Grace said.

"She wasn't there."

"Where is she?" Dr. Whitley turned to Grace.

Grace shrugged. "The doctor's, perhaps."

"Then we will simply have to rely on Ms. Papadopolis to show us the computer center and find the files. You have programming experience, correct?"

Dana nodded slowly. This was a brilliant move by the NSA or Reichert or whomever. "Do you?"

A rich laugh from the African-American beauty. "A little."

"She's the manager of the Bureau's takedown division," Spinnelli gloated.

Grace felt her head begin to ache..

"Takedown? What the hell does that have to do with our nano program? I thought this was a sabotage investigation," Doc stated. Things did not look good for Rachel. What was going on here?

"It is," Ryan replied quickly. "But Dr. Whitley also has the expertise to understand your programs. We felt we needed some assistance, considering the uncooperative nature of yesterday's experience."

"I would hardly define validating your identification a failure to cooperate," Grace snapped.

"What are you looking for in our program files that could possibly tell you about sabotage?" Dana addressed Whitley.

"I'll tell you when I see it," she said enigmatically. "Dr. Jones would probably understand."

Oooh, she just took a personal-capabilities shot at me. Dana's hackles were standing on end, and she fought the urge to bare her teeth at the woman. "This way," she growled, leading Dr. Whitley down the hallway to the computer center.

Grace rubbed her chin as she watched the two women leave. Her job was to decide what to do with Spinnelli and Ryan. And she could not help wondering if Rachel was in some other mess they knew nothing about.

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