Nano #6: The First Law of Thermodynamics

Part 2: Heat

Dana sprinted past the young woman, her sneakers squeaking as she sped to the Organic Laboratory entrance. As soon as she opened the door to the outer laboratory area, she was bombarded with the noxious fumes of the ether. Dana pulled her shirt collar up over her mouth and nose and walked through the noxious fumes to the door of the manipulator room. Through the glass viewing windows, she could see Sylvia passed out on the floor. She pushed the numbers as quickly as her fingers would allow and barely waited for the steel door to unlock before barreling into the room. Dana placed her fingers over the pale woman's lips and felt the faintest sensation of warm air running over her skin. She hoisted Sylvia over her shoulder and carried her out of the lab, finally laying her down on the hard tile floor of the hallway. Rachel removed her sweatshirt and rolled it up to form a pillow for the tech's head.

"I called down to the ER, and Lolita's getting Grace."

As if on cue, the doctor came running down the hall toward the huddled group. "What happened?" she asked.

Dana wiped her burning eyes. "The whole lab is filled with ether. She was passed out like this when I found her."

Grace felt for a pulse and put her ear to the woman's mouth to listen to her breathing while watching her chest rise and fall.

"She's breathing," Dana said.

They were interrupted by the sound of the hard rubber tires of a gurney and the heavy footfalls of two orderlies racing toward them.

"How long has she been out?" Grace asked, lifting the woman's closed eyelids one at a time to check for pupil reaction.

Dana looked to Lola, who was still dressed in her protective clothing. "I have no idea. She was lying on the floor in the back room when I came back from the bathroom."

"How long?" Grace said sternly.

"Ten minutes."

"Did you smell the ether when you left?" Dana asked.

"Just the stuff I was working with, but that was under the hood."

Dana was furious, as was Grace. The number-one safety rule was that no one worked alone in the lab.

The tall nano tech leaped to a standing position and peered through the glass into the Organic Lab, looking for a broken or spilled bottle of ether. Then she looked up at the display panel outside of the manipulator room. "The manipulator is on," she mumbled into the window. She contemplated the amount of ether she had encountered and the fact that the manipulator was still running..."Get everyone out of here as quickly as possible!" Dana barked, turning to the small crowd of people that had gathered in the hallway.

"Why?" Rachel asked.

"Because that manipulator is going to reach 1000 degrees Kelvin pretty soon, and when it does, that machine is going to be practically 180 degrees and that stuff is going to auto-ignite--that ether is going to flame, that's why. Now get everyone out of here!"

Sylvia had already been lifted and strapped onto the gurney, a monstrous oxygen mask covering her dainty face. Grace had turned when she heard the alarm in Dana's voice. Dana was hastily pulling on a yellow protective jumper and gloves from the safety stationin the hallway.

"What the hell are you doing?" Grace asked, yanking on the nano tech's arm to gain her attention.

Dana put on her glasses. "I'm going to turn that thing off and turn on the room circulation. That's ethyl ether vapor filling that room, which is going to explode if I don't stop it, Grace." Meanwhile, the orderlies were speeding away toward the elevator with the patient.

"Are you crazy?"

"Yep!" Dana slipped a small, New Age, self-contained breathing apparatus with a five-minute oxygen tank over her mouth and nose and opened the steel door to the lab just enough for her to slip inside. Grace was blasted with a sweet, pungent cloud of ether.

Dana ran quickly over to the emergency vacuum controls and began typing in commands. Slow down, she told herself. The last thing you need now is to create static electricity. She tried to calm her breathing down, but the sound of the respirator reminded her of a time a year and a half earlier. Concentrate, you big, stupid nano tech!

"Grace! Sylvia's convulsing or something! We need you!" she heard Rachel scream from the corner of the hallway.

"Oh, my God!" Grace said, sprinting down the hallway toward the loud ruckus.

Dana looked up at the large overhead vent that should have started blowing fresh air into the room once she typed the command into the console. But nothing was working. She checked the air vents on the walls that should have been sucking the bad air out. She removed her glove and placed her hand on the vent, but instead of suction she felt a breeze coming into the lab. Her eyes were watering profusely from the etherized air.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" she cursed into the respirator. Now she only hoped like shit she could manually turn off the billion-dollar manipulator before it reached critical temperature and set off the highly flammable ether. She ran over to the manipulator control panel outside the small room: 998 degrees Kelvin. "Oh, shit!" But it was too late. The temperature hit 1000 degrees within two seconds, radiating just enough external heat to cause the ether molecules that filled the small room to burn. A chain reaction of external events from the combusting air ultimately
destroyed the protective layer of metal of the manipulator, frying the internal chips that maintained the stabilized high pressure of the machine. The machine began to pressurize uncontrollably until the degraded seals could no longer sustain the environment. Within five more seconds the machine exploded with a deafening boom, blowing out the windows of the small cuby, sending shards of glass toward the nano tech as she dived over the laboratory bench. The outer lab burst into a huge fireball, roaring along the floor, the pressure blowing the viewing windows into the hallway.

Dana crashed hard to the floor, landing on her right shoulder, and then her hip came crashing down. She quickly rolled until she was nestled into the workbench, her hands and face hidden as she curled as much of herself as possible into a ball for protection from the heat and burning vapor. The protective clothing melted off her back, the intense heating scalding her skin.

She barely felt the flame burning her, she was too busy trying to process the sharp, spearing pain that split through her side. She lay huddled against the bench, the world burning around her, her body numbing, along with her mind, as she labored to breathe. A whiteness seemed to drift down onto her from above, cooling her, enveloping her before she drifted off into nothingness.

Grace was running alongside the gurney through the glass gerbil tube that joined the research facility and the Yale-New Haven Hospital when she felt and heard the deafening explosion that shook the entire building. As the windows around them rattled, ice-cold fingers of fear clenched her heart and held tight. The orderlies and the gurney crashed through the swinging doors to the hospital and rolled into the waiting hands of the emergency staff.

"Dana," Grace whispered, turning from her patient and the new doctors. She began to run back up the incline to the research facility. Rachel grabbed her from behind, holding her tightly and preventing her from reentering the building. The doors to the research facility, which were automatically timed to lock when the fire alarms exploded with sound, suddenly released from their locked positions against the wall. Alarms screeched all around Grace. Screaming her frustration, she could not even hear herself above the relentless din. Tears washed down her face as she desperately struggled with the strong hacker.

"Let me go!" she yelled at Rachel. Rachel could not hear her but released her grip when she saw her friend's agony. The doctor ran toward the doors that were now only working in the direction for those who wanted escape. Most people were likely using the stairwells and the stairwell exits. Unfortunately, the tube was accessible only via the elevators, which were probably now locked on the first-floor level. Grace yanked on the door handles and pounded desperately.



Part 3


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