Part Five - A machine is a force-multiplying device. Its purpose is not to convert one form of energy into another but merely to exert on an object a force which is usually larger than the force which is applied on the machine from the outside.
Dana hovered over the sink full of Mexi-Velveeta-encrusted dishes, stirring a bowl of pancake batter and watching the post-storm chop of the ocean. Rip was chasing the seagulls that had returned to the beach from their safe haven on inland golf courses. She was getting slower in her domesticity and rarely came within ten feet of the birds. It was for sport now, not survival, and Dana was sure the dog understood that and was fine with it.
Dick, still in the bloodied clothing from the previous evening that reeked of souring beer, vomit, and the sweat of a beer brawl, moseyed into the dining area from the bathroom. He took a seat at the breakfast counter across from his sister's lover. Dana noted the mustard-yellow tint—where he wasn't black and blue—to his gaunt, thin skin. The green pupil of his right eye looked eerie in contrast to the red whites.
"Nada, you're the last person I thought I would find here this morning," he grumbled with all the Southern charm he could manage.
"Why's that, Dick-uh?"
"I thought Chipmunk had dumped you, and you were off living with some computer geek."
"Sorry to disappoint you there, buddy, but I'm quite certain that Grace and I are still together."
"Maybe you just haven't realized she doesn't want you, you having such limited people skills and all."
She took a long look at his swollen cheek and purpling brow and decided that she would have liked to have done that to him. "You're one to talk, Popeye."
Dick stared back at her with one good eye, the left one. "You know what I just realized?"
Dana sighed. "What, Dick-uh?"
"You remind me of someone."
Dana wanted to ignore him, she really did. "That's nice."
"You know who?"
Dana sighed again. "No, Dick-uh."
"That chick Rosmunda from that movie 'Penitentiary 9'."
An eyebrow shot up on its own. Dana couldn't believe she was having a conversation with anyone about that movie or any others in the series, let alone actually using its characters to compare real people to. Not even Dick had taste that bad, or so she had thought.
"She's big, lethal, and knock-dead-gorgeous but dumb as a garden hoe."
Bite your tongue, Dana, she urged herself. "I must have missed that masterpiece." She scooped out some creamy batter onto the long, buttered griddle and made six medium-sized flapjacks. She loved to cook for Grace and take care of her. She turned to her brother-in-whatever-chicks-who-love-chicks-call-them. "Come to think of it, you remind me of a character in a movie too."
He smiled, for he had engaged her. He would have looked evil, but he was one tooth short and looked a little dorky instead. "Really?"
"Yep. You remember that old pre-'Anaconda' Jon Voigt movie 'Deliverance'?"
"Unnnh-hunnnnnh," he replied slowly and waited.
Dana turned to the sink and began to run the water to soak the dishes.
"And?" Dick asked the back of her head with a little twist of whine.
"Oh, sorry." Dana smiled to herself and then recovered her impassive mask before turning to face him. "I thought it was obvious."
"No, it's not. And I don't do boys or pigs, if that's what you're insinuating."
"No, Dick-uh. I meant the little country kid with the banjo."
Dana watched as his pummeled smile slid down his face to become a snarl. When she crossed her eyes and began to swing the spatula from side to side like a pendulum while twanging out "Dueling Banjos," he slammed his fists on the counter, stood, and stomped off. Very amused eyes, the eyes of victory, followed him until he disappeared around the corner and slammed his door.
"La belle dame sans merci," a demure voice whispered to her.
Dana turned to face the back door leading to the deck, where Grace had been watching and listening through the screen after returning from her morning run.
"Cogito; ergo, sum," the tech replied.
"I'm speaking French, baby. You're using Latin." The doctor opened the squeaky door and took off her sandy running shoes, which she tossed on a throw rug next to the door. Dana opened the refrigerator, took out a bottle of water, and handed it to the blotchy-faced road-pounder. Grace sucked the bottle dry and wiped her mouth daintily with her fingers. "Why don't you like Dick?"
"Geeâ•œyou mean that homme moyen sensuel?"
"Yes, that average nonintellectual man."
Dana smirked. Grace knew French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. Dana had the back of her Webster dictionary and the section titled "Foreign Words and Phrases" memorized.
"Yes, from the heart. And, seriously, you only know him from two visits. Believe it or not, there is a lot more to him."
"Ex pede Herculem. Ecce signum."
Rip scratched at the door.
"Beware the dog," Grace repeated and opened the screen door. "Come on in, doggie, but wipe your dirty paws first."
Rip looked up at the sweating blond beauty knowingly and traipsed into the living room, leaving sandy little prints the whole way.
"And you, Dana, are as naughty as that there hound."
"Just like Rosmunda," Dana remarked with a triumphant, adolescent pride and handed Grace a tall stack.
"Rosmunda? Hehâ•œthe only Rosmunda I know is from these prison movies Dick and I used to dig." The blonde sat at the counter and doused her cakes in maple syrup "That chick was a total bad-ass babe. But dumb as a garden hoe."
"Oh, yeah," Grace replied with a dirty little chuckle.
"You think maybe you had a crush on this Rosmunda?"
"We all did. Even Joy. She wanted to save her, make her good. I just wanted to be her prison guardâ•œoh, yeahâ•œI had a crush, all right." It took Grace three mouthfuls before she realized what she had said. "Oh, shit! Dana, I'm sorry."
The ex-con had turned her back to the counter and was scrubbing the plasticized cheese product from the good china. "It's no biggy."
"Yeah, it isâ•œI mean, I never would have saidâ•œI mean, it was this fantasy I had as a teenagerâ•œ." The doctor was standing next to tall, dark, and reticent, trying to get her to look down at her.
"Sorry, Grace, but prison wasn't a fantasy to me at that age."
"We have a lot to do today to start the trials and should get going," Dana replied curtly as she turned off the water and moved out of the kitchen, leaving the pancakes burning in butter.
The lab bustled with nervous excitement. Those who were working, agents of what was bound to become one of the biggest medical discoveries of the 21st century, could practically feel and hear a physical buzz in the rooms, a phenomenon caused by the chemical reactions of static electricity, human sweat, and the heat of the nanomanipulators working overtime. They were on the verge of making history and changing the world. And each one knew how rare a chance it was to be part of such a remarkable thing.
Dana was very aware of her part in this. She had cracked the physical mysteries of nanoscience left by Merkle and Drexler practically on her own with her gift, her clarity of thought. She had always thought of it more as her affliction...and even now still doubted its goodness, her goodness. And today she was preparing to unleash a power with the potential to be more hideous and epidemic than the cancer that was eating the bodies and sucking the life from the people who as last resorts and first resorts elected to be her guinea pigs. But would they still be so willing if they knew who she had been only years earlier? Who was she now?
The time with Cassandra had taught her how to control her fierce anger and put her niggling fears into perspective. Grace had offered her that once-in-a-lifetime chance of contented domesticity, a home. She had led her to a happiness that Dana had never imagined, or if she ever had, had forgotten, and Dana was so afraid that she was about to detour again. Maybe she was trying to attain something that was not really there but was some facade or illusion. Could she change herself? Was she changing? Cassandra had urged her to uncover the darkest, ugliest parts of herself and deal with them. But she was not sure that dealing with them wiped out what she had done or the even larger question: was she trying to be something that she was never supposed to be? She had always felt like a wanderer. Now she was working day in and out in a lab creating nano cures and living in a small beach house with a cute blonde who had great breasts and dimples.
Suddenly she felt like Wilbur about to release a zillion little Charlottes into the barnyard, into all the winds of the world, and she wondered if they were going to be literate, gentle arachnids like their mother, Grace, or more like black widows.
She shook off all these self-doubts when her assistant, a young American raised in Germany and now in her senior year of biomedicine, asked her a question about calibration.
Down the hall, Grace was seated at her desk, going over the forty-six pages of blindly selected candidates, another thirty-seven pages of wait-listed people, waiting only for production to catch up with need. Name after name—male and female, senior and infant—were listed in front of her. Their enemy had no prejudice. The research facility had decided to aggressively test five types of carncinoma, so there were five batches of nanomachines being created, each batch specifically keyed to the chemical the tumors released. It had been either five or choose one or two types to test on, and neither Grace nor Dana, nor even Barbara Buchler, could make the choice. It was the invasive cancers and the large tumors that would either make or break the testing, and the advanced cases would require creating a protocol that incorporated gene therapy to repair large cellular and organ damage from the cancer.
Grace cross-referenced the case study in her computer of a five-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor that had not responded to either chemical or gene therapy. This was the child's last chance. Then she found a thirty-year-old mother of two with ovarian cancer. Next was a sixty-two-year-old man with cancer of the lining of the stomach who had been opened last month and closed immediately after doctors saw that the cancer filled his abdomen. And there were the prostate cases, the cervical cases on twenty-year-olds, lung cancer in middle-aged men and women, and finally the most demanding and difficult of the cases (in the rats at least), the leukemia patients, because they were non-tumor and the nanomachines actually attempted to identify the genetic defects that caused the leukemia and repair the genes.
She sensed, as did the others, that she was at the most pivotal moment of her career, if not the medical discovery of the 21st century. She felt like Salk. But unlike him, she had spent the past three months in preparation for the tests, fighting with the HMO's and the doctors to get people to try the nano. The funding she had fought for in Washington D.C. over the past few years, as well as the streamlining of the manufacturing process by Dana and Rachel and several nano labs around the world, had made nano cheaper and had helped the HMO's swallow the pill a little easier. Still, it was not free, and Grace knew she would be ruined if they failed.
Still, she was strong as she tried to put a possible failure into perspective. The world had passed through its third wave, the Great Disruption of the information age. As with the transition from hunting/gathering to agriculture, and from agriculture to industry, the social order that had started to decline in the 1960's was now reconstituted. New hierarchies of political and corporate life had emerged from those crumbled by the explosion of freedom of choice and individualism. The relentless progress of technologies and the process of modernization had transformed the accumulated social norms and habits of the industrial era into the stock of shared values; new communities had formed despite personal freedom and individualism that tended to leave culture bereft of community.
New communities arose, cyber ones mainly, forced into existence by tragedy and fueled by the adaptability of the human spirit when faced with the horrors of the Wave, the nuclear meltdown of ANO 1, and the human plagues of the Alpha and Beta. It was the transference of information on the lines of the net at 56K bps that had brought people together with physical and emotional support. They had in fact, derailed the trends of crime, declining family, and the loss of trust. They had come together and survived, not as animals, but as intellectuals who, like their ancestors, learned to use their tools and their technology to overcome.
Grace herself had grown up happy, knowing family and a sense of community, but as she watched Dana come through the doorway she realized she had been lucky. She had grown from child to adult pretty much unscathed, confident, and evolving. Dana's world had been staccato to her crescendo. Dana had lived through the Great Disruption and survived; Grace had barely noticed it.
Seeing Dana and what she had done and conquered empowered her, and she realized that it was the human spirit that gave the mind the ability to take all the moments in life and join them and make sense of them and avoid fragmenting. And that was why she could share values and beliefs with someone from such a fractured life. So now she had two choices she could make: she could revel in her loneliness, or she could reach out and communicate. It had been four days since Dick had left, and the lovers had hardly spoken. Now, though they sat no more than two meters from one another, they were in different worlds.
"Hi," Dana mumbled back with as much enthusiasm as a frying pan. The tech sat down hard in her mid-management chair and mumbled to her laptop.
Information Age, Grace thought to herself, and began to type at her computer. She then pressed her enter key, and waited.
The mail icon flashed on Dana's plasma screen and Imma spoke to her, re-emphasizing the presence of new mail. Dana clicked on the icon and the latest message flashed on her screen.
I''d really like to reconnect .
Dana bit her lip nervously and typed her reply.
A moment later Grace's computer dinged and she clicked on her mail icon.
yeah? me too
Grace typed again.
Can we talk?
Dana read it and looked over to the expectant face.
She nodded and chewed her lip harder.
Grace found the courage to gather herself up and closed the distance between them. She knelt on the thin industrial carpeting in front of Dana. Her hands rested on the blue jeans covering Dana's knees. "I'm not sure what to say...."
"About the other day...what I said... you know.... "
"Is it a problem?"
"You haven't spoken much to me since."
Dana shrugged. "It's no big deal."
"It bothered you."
"Maybe I can explain."
Dana shrugged again. Those who had known her father would have recognized him by her reticence.
"It was this fantasy...an immature one...but nonetheless a fantasy I had, and what I said just slipped out and I'm very sorry you took it as something I want now. Do you understand that?"
Dana shifted. "I don't understand it at all."
"I don't know where it came from...I don't like to hurt people. I don't think there is anything sexual in rape or what happened to you, and I would never want that...when I thought about her it was more like a game...she wanted it and let me...kind of like tying you up."
"That was about trust and power, and very real, and I gave that to you freely."
"I know it' s different...I don't know how else to explain it. It's like when I was 11 and I spent the whole year learning to...well you know...."
"No, I don't."
"To hump, Dana."
"And I got hooked on this fantasy about being naked and having my math teacher spank me. Who knows where that came from?"
"Jesus! You two ever consider closing your door when you play your kinky reindeer games?"
Grace's spun to the doorway to find Rachel staring at them both. The computer guru shook her head from side to side in dramatic disgust, but her body belied jesting.
Grace's face flushed faster than a Boeing 747 toilet. "What do you want, Rachel?" she hissed, then stood and and brushed the little carpet imprints from her knees.
"I came to get Doc for pizza day in the cafeteria. But I think the real question is 'What do you want, Grace?'" The computer geek said this with such seriousness Dana began to half-smile as well.
"And here I thought you would want me to spank you, Queenie."
Grace shot her a look meant to suck all of the goodness out of the hacker and leave her as blue marble. She stomped back to her chair and spun away from the door so that neither Dana or Rachel could see her embarrassment and defeat. She had wanted to explain away something that Dana might have seen in her and would hate, forever.
"I'll catch up with you downstairs," Dana said quietly to the hacker and then closed the door.
"Bye, Spanky," Rachel yelled through the door.
Dana took a deep breath. "Want to go for pizza?"
"No." A reply to the wall.
Dana regrouped. It was her turn and at the least, Grace was cornered. "Do you ever think of having me that way?"
"What way?" the doctor replied grumpily.
"Taking me against my will."
"No...I don't think of doing that to anyone. How could you think I could want that? I mean, in all the times that we have been together, have I ever once done something that hurt you or that you weren't ready for? I waited for you, remember? I admit I like taking, and I really like having the control, but only when you want to give."
"I know that. It's just that you surprised me. Jesus, Grace, what you said was so...so...."
Grace faced her. "So what? Hideous, cruel, ugly?"
"Yeah. You just seemed so much like Dick that it scared me. I mean really scared me...because you do seem more like Joy when we're together...loving and caring and gentle...never too pushy. Now I keep thinking that Rosmunda is what you really want and wonder whether you're even turned on by me or whether you'll stop eventually because you can't take it to some other dickish level."
"Oh, my god, baby...I am always very, very turned on and no way would I ever, and I repeat ever...how could you even doubt that?" When Dana didn't answer right away, she turned her chair back to the wall.
Dana shrugged. "I don't know." She thought hard for a moment. "Look, Grace, I had some ideas, way back when, as a kid before stuff happened, nothing quite like your penitentiary fantasy or that spanking thing, but naughty stuff. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I think maybe a lot of us were desensitized to violence and hurtful things growing up and that some of us were baptized into the reality of violence and some of us weren't...and I don't mean just you...but more like Dick and Reichert and all these other bastards that don't realize how precious people really are. I know you understand that and you wouldn't hurt me. I guess I just didn't realize that maybe at some point you were a little more like Dick, and that shocked me and got me wondering if I was right for you. But you're not like that now, I guess, just as I'm not the same stupid kid who plunged a butcher knife through the heart of a man and watched the life drain from his face. So I'm not going to judge you, I'm not judging you, but it does mean I am questioning a few things about us. Okay?"
Grace had not realized it, but as Dana delivered her words to her, Dana's own admonition and Grace's absolution, she had begun to cry silent tears of relief and understanding. The tears ran down her cheeks over her lips and fell off her chin into her woolen lap. Dana did not see these tears because Grace was still turned away. Perhaps that had made it easier to speak to her and for Grace to listen.
"Want to go for pizza?" the tech asked awkwardly after a few moments of silence. And then she heard a sniffle, and then a snort. It was then that Dana turned the chair around and looked into the pink, wet face of her friend. And she did not have any more words to say because sometimes it was best to act rather than to talk. So she took Grace's damp cheeks into her hands and kissed her softly, first the right eyelid, then the left, tasting the warm salt on the lashes. Her lips followed the salty trail down the cheeks to the mouth and covered Grace' s lips as compact, strong arms wrapped around her neck and clung tighter than spandex across a biker's muscled buttocks.
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