The Carnot Cycle by Jules Mills

Part Two - Cooling


"What are you doing to me?" Grace groaned the words out loudly.

Dana looked up from between the thighs where she had been submerged. "If you have to ask that, I must not be doing it very well."

"No, I don't mean that," she said a little crossly, frustrated that her lover had stopped.

Grace still had Dana's full attention but in an entirely different manner. Dana rested her head on her hands, eyebrows arched, and awaited an explanation.

"I mean, I should be trying to save you, not lying on my back, begging you to move a little to the right."

Dana pulled herself to a kneeling position. "Grace, there is no cure for what I have, and I would rather be doing this than anything else with my remaining time."

"Alpha was curable, right? So maybe someone has found a cure for Beta."

Dana shook her head sadly. "No, Alpha was curable because it had a chemical trigger-mechanism built in, an off-button specifically incorporated to activate a shutdown sequence in the machine."

"Maybe there's a back door in Beta too. We just have to find it."

"No, Grace, there is none."

"You don't know that."

"Yes, I do."

"How do you know?" she asked testily. The nano tech thought she knew everything sometimes.

"Because I didn't build one into it."


"Yes, I created Beta, and Alpha as well."

Grace was completely stunned, her mouth hanging wide open. Dana silently watched her expression change while she processed the information. Dana knew that talking now would be a mistake and that there was no good reason for what she had done three years earlier.

"I don't understand why anyone would create something so hideous. Why would you make something like this?"

Dana took a deep breath for courage to face this, not only with Grace but with herself as well. She had hoped to die without this ever coming out, had accepted her recent affliction as poetic justice, karma, right back at ya, babe. However, the illness was nothing like the torture of seeing the disgust in those green eyes at the revelation of how hideous a monster she had really been.

"I can't justify it, Grace, and I have to live with it." The irony of that statement hit her like an '85 Bears linebacker.

"My God, Dana, do you know how many people have died because of this?"

"Two thousand two hundred six officially-documented deaths from Alpha. Sixteen thousand eight hundred forty-three from Beta," she whispered with shame.

"Plus one."

Dana's eyes grew dark. "I'm not dead yet," she said, echoing Grace's earlier remark.

Grace closed her eyes, stricken with a colossal pain in her heart. "You told me you had done a lot of things that you weren't proud of, but I never figured it was on this scale." Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she spoke. "I can't believe someone with your intellect would choose such an awful path. It's really hard for me, someone...."

"For someone good like you to accept. Look, Grace, I understand how you feel, but I did not set out to destroy people, and it wasn't some sort of perverse experiment I did for kicks. I look at myself in the mirror with the same disgust and hatred as you are right now."

"I don't want to feel like this about you." The sobs came hard, racking the petite body.

Dana was helpless, and the easy loving was gone. Grace had finally encountered the darkest, ugliest part of Dana's soul, and she had no idea how to feel about what she saw. "We aren't all good or all bad, Grace. But sometimes the darker part is stronger in some of us than the lighter. For a long time that was me. The only thing I lived for was saving myself. I couldn't see that there were other lives at stake. I had not really known or cared about anyone for years. I was just a faceless number to everyone else, and so you all became faceless and nameless to me."

Grace became angry. "Is that your reason?"

Dana was acutely aware of the fact that the young doctor, dedicated to improving the lives of others, could not look at any part of Dana's body, especially her face. "I don't have a reason. Reasoning is a tool for finding forgiveness or justification. I haven't forgiven myself."

"I need time to think," Grace finally said and slid away from the bed and into the bathroom, shutting the door between them. Dana listened to the retching noises coming from the other side of the door and knew she was the cause, and she detested herself more at that moment than she ever had before in her life.

"I would have expected you to run away from this." Grace addressed Dana, who was sitting wrapped in a blanket on the couch. An hour had passed while Grace sorted out her thoughts in the privacy of the bathroom.

"Were you able to wash me away?"

Grace shot her an angry look. "I wasn't doing that."

"I would have left, but my clothes are in the bathroom," Dana explained.

"Oh." Grace went to the refrigerator. "The bathroom is free now."

"Right," Dana replied and managed her way to claim her belongings.

Grace tried not to follow her, but there were still questions to which she needed answers. And despite her revulsion for what Dana was claiming responsibility for, she wanted to forgive her for the simple fact that she loved her.

Silently, she watched from the hall as her lover tried to pull up her pants. Dana was struggling, the anesthesia's effects having long since dwindled. Perspiration from the pain covered her body in a damp sheen. As she managed to snap her jeans, Grace broke in. "Where are you planning on going?"

Dana looked at her, unaware that she had been watching.

"Maybe I'll find a nice hard park bench."

"That's certainly an option."

Dana clamped her jaw to hide the pain created from the simple act of putting on her sweater and Grace's biting sarcasm.

"How long ago did it wear off?"

"I'm fine." Dana was brooding over the reality that what she had most dreaded and what she had known was eventually bound to happen had in fact occurred.

"No, you aren't, you big, stupid nano tech." She reached over and helped Dana to a seat on the toilet so she wouldn't pass out.

"Don't help me," Dana said, grasping her arm. "I deserve this."

"Shut up, Dana. This is my house, and I'm in charge here, and if I want to help you, let me. You think you can do that without screwing it up?"

Dana scowled at her.

"Stay put while I get my bag." She returned from the bedroom with her black doctors' bag. Withdrawing a syringe and a small bottle of Novocaine, she set to the action of preparing a dose. "Hold this up," she said, handing the hem of the sweater and undershirt for her patient to hold away from the wound. She swabbed the area and then jabbed the needle deep into the muscles of the tight belly.

Dana hissed at the warm burning of the Novocaine flowing through her flesh.

"All done," Dr. Wilson said and disposed of the used materials. "You'll be numb in a few minutes." She had turned her back to her seated companion while she repacked her bag. "What happens next, renal failure?"

"Renal tubular acidosis. All of my blood proteins and glucose will pass out in my urine, my blood will become acidic, and then if convulsions don't kill me, eventually renal failure will," she stated quietly.

"Slow and painful."

"I'll get headaches, dizziness, and vomiting first. I figure three, maybe four days before I'm seriously ill."

"Maybe dialysis will help."

"If you want to prolong the effects. But to treat me you'd have to eliminate the destruction of the kidney cells, but eventually my liver will fail, then all of the other organs will follow."

"I still don't understand why...."

Dana hurt, she was exhausted, and she was beyond being defensive. She was as sore in every emotional way a person could be, and her irritation was gaining control.

"Look, I had been in prison for twelve years, okay? I had been in solitary for ten months straight, and I had spent most of that time trying to figure out a way to hang myself with my underwear. If I could have, I would have gotten out that way. When the suits came to me and offered me a reprieve, I took it. I didn't give a shit about good or evil or the repercussions of what I was being asked to do. They gave me something I had never thought I could have, and I gave them my soul. And I don't expect you to understand that, not someone who was voted most popular in high school."

"Best smile, actually," and Grace looked Dana in the eyes for the first time in what seemed like years. "But you're correct. I can't understand how a person could trade the lives of thousands of people for their own happiness."

"I must be missing that gene, but then, I don't have any future generations to sacrifice myself for."

"Who did you work for? Maybe they can help you," Grace asked, a distance in her voice forced by that remark.

"The government."


"Yours. I can't vote."


"--Look, I'm not in the mood to play Twenty Questions," Dana snapped. "I need to make arrangements. I have some money saved, and I want you to have it."

"I don't want money earned from that kind of work."

Dana looked hurt. "You still think I did it for money?"

"I don't have any idea what I'm thinking," she snapped, just as irritated now as the tall brunette.

"The money is from Ruth."

"Your mom?" she scoffed. "You don't talk to your mother."

Dana looked away from the disbelieving green eyes. The money had been a payoff, her mother's life insurance, offered with the stipulation that Dana never try to contact her or her new family again. Angry and fresh from prison, Dana had taken the money and given up hope of ever having any type of relationship with her mother.

"Ruth has a couple of kids who will be college-age in a few years. You can send it to her. Then, if I don't get a chance, call Tony or Booger and ask them to sell the boat for me. They can either keep the money or send it to her too."

A chill ran through Grace's body. She knew Dana was slipping far away from her emotionally, but she was not sure if she could handle holding on to her any longer. Grace wanted to change the conversation before being consumed by the panic that was hovering over her. She cleared her throat. "Look, it's one-thirty in the morning. You should get some sleep. We'll talk about this in the morning."

Reluctant, yet relieved, Dana agreed.

"You can have the bed. I'll take the couch."

"No, Grace, you and Rip should sleep in the bedroom." Grace opened her mouth to insist, but Dana interrupted. "Otherwise, if I get up for anything, Rip will attack me."

They made up the couch together, Dana holding the pillow while Grace laid out a sheet and a quilt made by her great-great-grandmother.

"I'll wait out front while you bring her inside," Dana said.

Grace reported to the hospital for work five hours later. Too busy to take lunch because of a gang shooting, she also forgot to call home until she received the report on the biopsy from the techs upstairs. Then she made time. It was definitely Beta virus. Of course, with the results came the questions, and Dr. Wilson's presence was requested in the hospital director's office at two-thirty concerning the discovery, a meeting that would be attended by the head of the Biomedical Research Facility, Dr. Barbara Buchler.

Dana, meanwhile, slept most of the day anyway. When she was not sleeping, she was sitting on the back deck, watching the gray winter waves lick and tease the beach, leaving tokens of love from far-off lands in the form of rocks and driftwood. Closing her eyes, the dying woman pictured the ruins of Trinidad, an orange rooftop poking out of the clear blue waves at the highest point of the former island. The melting icecaps had slowly drowned the island over the last twenty years, lost cities now shadows under the water of the Caribbean.

The phone drove her from her daydream. The news was not unexpected but was still depressing. She decided that a break from her rest was in order, so she washed her clothes, the few that she had, and took a shower. She even allowed herself a cup of coffee and a granola bar. Then the nausea started, as did the headaches.

Grace returned to a dark house, the dog still lying under the apple tree on the drive. It had been tethered there first thing in the morning for Dana's safety.

She found her ill companion sitting in a fold-up lawn chair down on the beach, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders for warmth. A full moon was low on the horizon, skittering yellow light across the ocean to them.

"How do you feel?" Grace asked, feeling her forehead.

"Shitty. Depressed. How was work?"

"A madhouse. Full moon always does it. Listen, Dana, I've thought about this, and I want you to check into the hospital."

"No hospital."

"I can't take care of you."

Dana had known this was coming, that Grace would decide she could not be with her anymore. "I can take care of myself," Dana said a ngrily.

"For what, another day, a few more hours, maybe. I'm more than willing to stay home and take care of you, Dana, but you'll need IV's, dialysis, painkillers. I can't do that for you here."

"Take me to the train station," she said, struggling to her feet.

"Dana, be reasonable. You can't run off now," Grace pleaded.

"If you won't take me, then lend me ten bucks so I can call a cab." Dana's words were angry. She was full of anger at herself and everyone else in the world at the moment. Nothing was beautiful, or friendly, or fair--not the moon, her memories, or her friend. She could not remember a single good choice she had made in her life and wondered if this was how her father had felt, desperate and scared.

"I thought you had money!" Grace shouted after her.

"It's in the bank, Grace. Do you think I carry it on me? They took what little cash I had, my clothes, and my fucking computer."

Grace ran up to her and swung her by the arm to face her. "Who took them?"

"Motherf--" She bit her tongue. "Shit, Grace!" she exclaimed in pain, grabbing her side. The curses fell from her mouth quickly and heavily--she was losing control. "The geeks that stuck me."

She tugged her arm away from the blonde and plowed across the sand to the door. Grace sprinted after her into the house.

"I'll take you wherever you want to go," Grace said, snatching the phone out of Dana's hand.

"Take me to New Jersey."

"Why can't you get money at a teller?"

"I'm not going to a bank. I want to see Rachel. She has some things of mine. I'll go to the bank in the morning."

"How do you know Rachel will even be there?"

"She's always there."

November 1998 by Jules Mills