Nano #6: The First Law of Thermodynamics

Part 3: Thermal Properties or Hot and Cold


The fire alarms bellowed their warning throughout the research building. Grace turned away from the doors and stomped her way down the ramp to where the hacker was standing. Her tears from fear had transmuted to ones of fury.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" she screamed at Rachel.

"Stopping you from making a mistake."

"Stopping me...." She looked away, exasperated. "What about Dana?"

"You can't help her, Gracie," the hacker explained.

"You don't know that," the blonde doctor said defiantly and brushed past her.

"I know that all you could have done going through those doors would have been to stop and stare at the elevator doors," she said sharply.

Grace continued to walk, ignoring the truth to that statement, and burst through the doors to the Emergency Room. She moved quickly through the ER until she whooshed outside and then ran toward the main doors of the sister building. Techs and doctors, secretaries and administrators mingled in the park across the street, huddled for warmth and companionship as they watched the firefighters charging into and out of the building. Grace scanned their faces, hoping, while she trotted toward the entrance of the building.

Rachel roughly caught the doctor's arm and spun her around.

"They'll never let you in," she said angrily, worried for her friend's safety.

Grace yanked her arm away and squinted her green eyes at the hacker.

"You ladies will have to move across the street," one of New Haven's finest men in blue said, ushering them away.

" is still in the building!" she explained.

The cop looked at her and touched the microphone on his chest. "What floor?" he thought to ask.

"Second, in the lab," Grace said breathlessly.

He paused for a brief second and then spoke into the air surrounding his thick chest. He pressed the earpiece further into his ear so that he could hear over the shouting and mayhem surrounding them. When he was sure that he had heard the message correctly, he gently took hold of Grace's arm and began to walk her toward the hospital entrance, a look of concern in his brown eyes. "There are people checking it now," he said soothingly.

"Oh, my God!" Grace muttered, losing all hope that the explosion just might have been a coincidence. "Have they found anyone?"

The cop shook his head. "No one yet."

______________________________________________________________________ _________________________

Jake Marr loved being a firefighter. It made him feel butch and heroic, and he looked so good in the uniform that he rarely went home alone. And now adrenaline and testosterone were racing each other through the veins in his body. He was pumped.

He tore around the corner, aching to have the heat scalding his face, the dark mystery and silent danger of the smoke calling to him, seducing him. He clunked his way in his thick-soled rubber boots and flame-retardant pants, spraying the remaining fires with his dry-chem extinguisher, unsure of what kind of chemicals might be present in the building. He moved forward, toward the next lingering fire, and doused it with white. Turning the next corner, he discovered blackened walls that still glowed orange. He shivered with a need and then leapt through a narrow break in two small fires, turning to douse them. He liked the way the flames had licked and lapped at his legs.

Through the dark smoke and the visor of his respirator he found the laboratory, residual fires still burning. He let loose a stream of the powder into the room through the holes in the wall, and then he climbed through.

"Never use a door if you don't have to," he chuckled to himself. Across the glass and powder he crunched his way into the room. White, slippery powder sheeted the floor, and he nearly fell, catching himself by placing a gloved hand on a lab bench. The room was still warm. He scuffed his way around the large room, spraying smoldering fires. Red lights blinked and alarms continued to blare. His eyes swept the floor as he walked, and then he found it, a yellow form huddled against a lab bench. The body was covered in the white residue of his dry chemical. As he brushed some of the powder away, he saw the darkened, melted material of the protective suit and mottled patches of burned flesh across the person's back.

"I found one," he reported huskily into his mask microphone. He rolled the body over, noticing a pool of blood underneath, and a metal test-tube rack protruding from the hip. It made him cringe. The face mask on the body was crooked, and the vacuum seal was broken. Kneeling down, he removed his helmet and rolled the warm body across his shoulders. He groaned at the weight as he powerlifted himself to his feet. Hefting the body across the room, he tried the door handle, which was still warm through his glove. Carefully, he carried his load down the smoldering hallway, the sprinklers having extinguished the flames, careful not to slip and fall. At the stairwell Jake was met by his partner, Ruth Wanes, a five-foot-five firefighter built like a pit bull. Together they maneuvered the stairwell, lit only by emergency lighting, until they reached the street, where they were met with a gurney and a crew from next door.

______________________________________________________________________ _________________________

Rachel felt the skin on her forearm tearing as she and the doctor watched Dana's body being rolled past them. Rachel had no idea what the nurses and doctors were shouting. A moment later Grace released her and fell into the wake of the gurney.

Dana was wheeled directly into the operating room, where what was left of her clothing was removed. She was placed on her belly while the nurses and doctors surveyed her burns and wounds. Grace washed her hands and slipped into a set of scrubs, but Nurse Sydney would not allow her to get in the way of the doctors. She led the blonde around and made her hold Dana's limp hand while the doctors tended to her hip and the major burns on her back and the back of her thighs.

Grace watched the steady heartbeat spike across the monitor screen but did not believe it until she actually felt the pulsing of blood through the hand she was holding.

______________________________________________________________________ _________________________

Six hours and a couple of shots of a morphine derivative later, Dana was conscious, lying on her good side, covered with fresh skin glue and skin patches, and with no intention of staying in the hospital another minute. When she realized that she was alone in the small room, she pushed herself off the table, slipping her bare feet to the floor.

"Ouch," she moaned as the movement tugged the new skin across her back. She smelled of antiseptics and cleaners, as did the whole hospital. She pulled the IV from her hand with a hiss and a pain that shot up her arm into her heart.

"Sit your ass back down!" Nurse Sydney yelped as she entered the room.

Dana startled and found herself instinctively climbing back onto the examining table.

"Get on your bloody belly," the nurse clucked. "No goddamned common sense."

Dana rolled onto her stomach. Sydney began examining her, checking for any oozing or bleeding on her bare back and thighs, and then examined the hip.

"You're mean," Dana said.

"And if you get up again, I'm going to tell Dr. Wilson you're being a pain in my ass."

Dana shot her a look that was half mean, half pout.

"Oh, cut that out," the nurse said. "You don't scare me, Dana Papadopolis. Never did, not even as a punk convict. Now lie down and rest until I say you can get up."

"I think you missed your calling. You should have been a dictator."

"Kiss my ass!"

"I would if you had one, flat-butt," Dana replied testily. The nurse left. She slid off the bed again.

In walked Wonder Doctor, looking mighty peeved.

"Get back up there." Grace could not believe what she was seeing. Dana had found a pair of green scrubs and was trying to get dressed.

Dana growled angrily but climbed back onto the bed. "I want to go home," she huffed.

"Not until we're sure the grafts have taken. Where's your IV?" Grace looked around and saw it on the floor, clear liquid spilling in a little pool on the tile. "Jesus, Dana. What kind of sense is that?" Grace walked purposefully over to a cabinet and removed a small bottle, then unwrapped a sterilized needle. "That was antibiotic, so that you don't end up with an infection." She walked back to the bed, stopped, and filled the syringe with liquid. Gently she nudged Dana onto her belly.

"What's that?"

"More antibiotic." Grace swabbed a spot on Dana's butt and quickly jammed the needle into the flesh.

Dana hissed at the burn. "Geez, Grace, are you angry with me?" she asked after the needle was removed.

Grace turned and disposed of the needle and syringe.

"No," she said with a cold professionalism that did not convince her lover. "I mean, the fact that you ran into a laboratory, knowing it could blow up and kill you, leaving me to worry about you until you were carried out half an hour later unconscious and toasted on one side. No, I'm not mad, I'm furious."

Dana looked away, ashamed.

"Now lie on your side, be quiet, and stop harrassing the nurses, and do not ask to leave again. You will leave when I say you can." But Grace's voice was not its steady bravado; it was trembling, as was her whole being, betraying her as she walked out of the room, trying not to break down again.

"I'm glad to see you too," Dana mumbled into the white sheet.

She had not thought about why she had gone into the lab alone, or the chance that she would not come back out, or how it all had affected Grace. She lay quietly waiting for her caretakers to revisit her.

When Grace finally returned, she was unhappy to find Dana on her back.

"I thought I told you to stay on your side."

Dana ignored her, looking away. And she was not going to tell her how much her body ached; she would suffer in silence. "How's Sylvia?" she asked coolly.

"Stable, conscious, and listening to her doctor's advice. She was lucky you got her when you did. It took her a few hours to come to, and she's still suffering from the toxicity, but she'll likely be fine."

Green eyes looked down into blue, and a soft hand reached out and brushed hair to either side of her forehead. "Don't ever pull a stunt like that again," she stated softly and kissed her.

Then Grace pulled away, withdrawing her touch. Dana pushed herself to a sideways sitting position to try to reclaim the touch. All Dana wanted was the physical comfort of Grace's hand on her, but she could not get it.

Grace stepped backward and scribbled something on a chart. Dana slung her feet over the edge and jumped to the ground. Grace shot her an angry glare.

"Mother, may I?" the nano tech asked super-sweetly, trying not to grab her now-throbbing side.

Grace scribbled something else on her sheet.

"I hope those are discharge papers, because I'm not staying here another minute," Dana threatened, plucking at her scrub pants.

"Don't get snippy with me."

"Where are my glasses?" she asked, frustrated. Grace reached into her pants pocket and handed her the wire rims. Dana went to reach for them but accidentally knocked them out of her hand. They fell to the floor with a crack, popping out a lens. Dana tried to stoop to pick them up but stopped at the stabbing pain in her side.

Grace watched her from under her golden bangs as she pretended to write discharge notes. Eventually she leaned forward and picked up the frames and lens and handed them to Dana.

"Are you going to take me home, or should I call a cab?" Dana asked as she snapped the lens back into the frame. She cleaned them on the fabric of her shirt, looked at them in the light, and cleaned again with a hot breath, repeating the process until she was satisfied.

"Let me see my chart," she demanded, reaching for the clipboard.

"Excuse me."

"Let me see my chart. I'm going to get stuck with the big-assed bill, and I want to know what I'm paying for. Now hand it over."

Grace could not believe her ears. A patient had never had the audacity to ask to see a chart she was working on.

"I have a right--now give it."

Grace handed it to her and watched as Dana ran her finger over the list of treatments she had received.

"The program will pay for the hospital care, Dana."

"Yeah, right. I've heard that before, two hundred fifty thousand dollars and one sailboat ago." She handed the clipboard back to the doctor. "That's gonna cost me at least four thousand pounds of fish."

Grace tried to hide her smile. Dana equated money to how many fish she hauled in when she worked the boat during the summer, her vacation. This was the only source of money she actually spent; what she did with her salary from the program was a mystery.

"I'm going home, so you should give me my papers, Warden."

"Don't talk to me like that," Grace said, not liking the reference to Dana's incarceration. "I expect you to stay home from work all week, at the least," the doctor finally said.

"Anything else, Doctor?" the nano tech snapped.

"I'm prescribing a painkiller, and I expect you to take it."

"Aren't you taking me home tonight?"

"No, I have to finish the grant, start the process of hiring a contractor to rebuild the lab, contend with the fire marshal's investigation, prepare for tomorrow morning's visit from OSHA, and still go down to Washington for the grant proposal and that training."

She handed Dana the discharge papers. Dana hesitated a moment, stunned, and then took them.

"Rachel said she'd take you home. She should be out there. I'll be home late."

Dana leaned against the bed and sulked. "You know, Grace, there are enough people in the world who think I'm not worth a damn...I don't need you blowing me off around every other corner too."

"Excuse me?"

"No, I'm not going to excuse you. When you care about someone, especially someone that you're supposed to be in love with, you don't just squeeze them into your busy schedule. You want to be with them more than you want to be with anyone else, not just because they're convenient or they'll gain you something."

"Is that what Cassandra says?"

"No, it's what I say," she said and looked away, angry that she had even bothered trying to explain what she felt, "because you make me feel the last freakin' duchess."

"Hunh? You lost me."

The two women stared at each other, having no idea why they were so far apart. Dana hated herself for being stupid enough to discuss her feelings, and Grace wished she knew how to state her own without getting angry or frustrated.

Dana left the room without saying another word. "Fuck that!" she mumbled as she walked straight out of the lobby to the street and down to the corner, where she hailed a cab to drive her all the way back to the house.

______________________________________________________________________ ________________________

Dana was feeling rightly sorry for herself when she arrived at home, the cab having cost her more than she wanted to pay. She had to go into the house to get money for the driver. After reentering, she fed and watered the dog, swallowed several generic acetaminofen tablets with a glass of orange juice, and stretched out on the couch with the soft quilt over her body. The house was cold, so she got up and turned the heat way up, then settled in to listen to the pictureless sound of the jazz satellite channel on the television. Within minutes she was fast asleep.

______________________________________________________________________ _________________________

"Hey, Gracie," Rachel said, popping her brown head into Grace's temporary office in the hospital administration wing. "Is Dana going to come find me, or should I find her?

Alarmed, Grace looked up from her electronic presentation at her free-spirited computer administrator. "Rachel, she left hours ago. Are you telling me you didn't take her home?

"Maybe my evil twin took her."

"I swear I'm going to wring her neck," Grace said angrily, hitting the speaker phone and dialing her home number.

Dana had been sleeping so soundly that her throat was sore from snoring and the burning heat. Of course, she had not had the forethought to place the phone near her, so when it rang she had to walk across the room.

"Dr. Wilson's answering service," she said testily, knowing it was either Grace or for Grace, considering she rarely received calls for herself.

"How did you get home?" Grace replied, miffed at the way Dana had answered.

"Do you even know what a salutation is, Grace?"


"I walked."

"You wouldn't be there yet if you'd walked."

"Well, then, I must have flown."

"You didn't hitchhike again, did you?"

"I really can't remember--these painkillers are messing with my memory path."

"Dana, you're really beginning to anger me."

"Beginning to anger you, now that's a good one. I'm home--safe--and I was sleeping when you called, so go back to work and forget about me."

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself. No one told you to go into that lab."

Now Dana was angry. How many times had her mother told her, "Don't feel sorry for yourself" when she had broken her leg falling off her bicycle? Or when her father had died? "I'll talk to you later, Grace," she said coldly and pressed the off button. She drank a glass of water, took another few Tylenol, and climbed back under the covers, where she brooded until she fell asleep again.

Grace stared at the speaker, which was buzzing from inaction.

"She hung up on me," Grace said incredulously.

"Well, at least we know she's home. I'm out of here myself," Rachel said, trying to slip away nonchalantly. There was no way she was going to get in the middle of this tete-a-tete. She knew from Dana's sudden coldness that the argument had gone past banter. Grace had struck a nerve.

Grace sensed this too, and caught Rachel at the elevator.

"Can you talk to me for a few minutes?" she asked the hacker, her eyes pleading as a friend.

Rachel took one look at the tears beginning to well in the green eyes and sighed.

"Oh, Gracie, what are you two doing to each other now?" she asked, putting her arms around the smaller woman as she began to cry. "Come on, let's get back to the office before one of your subordinates thinks you have a weakness they can prey on."

"So, why are you so angry with Dana?" she asked, once they were behind closed doors.

"I don't know. I just...she...God, she could have been killed, and for no good reason."

"Maybe. But she could have been killed getting Sylvia out too."

"She didn't even think once before jumping into the fire."

"She spent a long time where no one cared what happened to her, not even she herself. You can't expect her to start now, especially when you send mixed messages."

"Mixed messages?"

"Yeah, like telling her to stop feeling sorry for herself. How would you feel if you were almost charcoal, and the one person you cared about acted like it was no big deal, put work ahead of you? I doubt she feels very significant right now. A brush with death, in itself, makes you feel pretty insignificant. How do you think she feels?"

"Barbara expects me to go."

"Barbara is a bitch."


"She has no life outside of this place. You do, sort of."

"You're not making me feel any better."

"Sorry, kiddo," Rachel said, offering her shoulder. "I know how hard it is to worry about her. I used to every night, especially when she was a few minutes late to the common room." Grace buried her face in the hacker's shoulder. "Look, I know how terrified you were today, Grace." The doctor began to weep. "Can I give you a word of advice?" she asked in a whisper.

Grace nodded a small movement the hacker felt in her shoulder. "I have never seen or heard Dana cry or complain about anything. So if she's telling you now that she's hurting, don't invalidate it or brush it off. Because when you shut off your feelings, it's awfully hard to be connected to anyone or anything, and we all know Dana can be out of reach."

Grace looked up at the older woman and wiped her eyes. "I'm going home too. Walk with me to my car?" she asked while gathering up her discs and her laptop rather hastily. Rachel waited by the door, and together they proceeded to the parking garage.

To be continued... 

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