Chapter 9: Collapse
Atoms of element 30, isotope 66 were streaming into the host’s body, carried by miner caste nanobots. Organizers dispatched more assemblers to construct pulsers and pumps, which needed that type of atom as a basic structural component. Element 30/66 was one of the most needed of the raw materials on their list.
Organizers noted the success of this latest host control technique. Miners and sensors were positioned in the skin cells, where simple contact with raw materials could be noted and used.
The connections to the brain had probably contributed to this latest windfall.
Nanobots had no concept of language. Nanobots had no words, and humans had no structured order trees. But it seemed that simple numbers could be transferred. Maybe other basic concepts could transfer as well, but that was still speculation.
Organizers ordered an increase in brain connections.
Deena’s blush just wouldn’t go away. Physics class finally crept to an end, and she hurried to escape.
Luther caught up with her in the hall.
“Hey, Deena. That was a great scam.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
He waved away the classroom. “Oh, don’t worry about Mr. Fenner. He doesn’t mind that it was a scam. All he cared about was being able to make one of his object lessons. He was as happy as a clam to be able to make a point about the Periodic Table.”
“No. Really! I wasn’t trying to scam anyone. I really didn’t know it was zinc.”
He looked puzzled. “I thought for sure you had just been looking at the chart on the wall. The numbers were all there, even the isotopes, which you nailed beautifully, by the way. Sixty-four is the most common. Sixty-six is rarer, but still significant.”
“No, I knew about the chart, but I didn’t think. I feel so stupid. But once people started looking at me, my mind went totally blank.”
“Well...then, why did you ask for element thirty?”
Luther was puzzled. And so was she.
“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. When I first started talking, I wasn’t even thinking about atomic numbers. I wasn’t thinking ‘I need element number 30’. I was just casually thinking I needed thirty, like thirty was a common word for a substance.
“I felt like I had been speaking a foreign language, without realizing it.” She looked down at the floor.
“Well, then how about the isotopes.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I barely know what isotopes are. The number of neutrons, right?”
“Close, the sum of the neutrons and protons. But you’re telling me you were asking for zinc, but only knew atomic number and atomic weight? How is that possible?”
She put her hand on her cheek. It was hot. But Luther didn’t seem like he was trying to make fun of her.
“I don’t know. Maybe I just picked it up off the chart—subconsciously.”
“Hmm. Okay, what is element 60?”
“I don’t know!”
He nodded, “Okay, let me rephrase. What are the isotopes of element 60?”
“A bunch of them. 142 through 150, except no 147 or 149.” She put her hand over her mouth. It had just popped out.
“And you don’t know the name?” Deena shook her head.
“How about the symbol?”
“Wait here.” He went to the open door of the lab room and stared inside at the chart, then came back.
“Neodymium. I’d never have remembered that one. But you had the isotopes dead on. What about element 90?”
“Just one, 232, but I can’t use it.”
He nodded, thoughtfully. “Thorium. And it’s radioactive.
“One more, element 45?”
“103. Just the one.”
He nodded. “I’ve got to get on to economics, but we have to talk some more about this.”
Deena agreed. She would have to think about it too.
If a brain tumor was distorting her take on reality, perhaps this whole thing was just a dream.
“Luther Jennings, Deena Brooke. Come with me please.” Principal Miles beckoned with her hand.
“But I’ll be late for math class!” Deena objected.
“It’ll wait. Come on now.” They walked toward the offices.
Mr. Fenner complained about the zinc thing. I’m in trouble.
“Please have a seat.” Principal Miles directed. She sat at her desk.
She checked a paper, and then looked them in the eyes.
“It seems that drug use has been reported at this school, and your names have been mentioned.”
Deena gasped. Luther’s eyes narrowed. “That’s ridiculous!”
The principal nodded, “I certainly hope so. Neither of you are on my troublemaker list, and I would hope that my judgment of you wasn’t mistaken.”
Deena felt her face burning. She felt deeply guilty, even though she knew she was innocent of the charge. Tears were starting to well up in her eyes.
“According to our school policy, whether I believe the charge or not, I have to order a locker search. It has already begun.”
Luther straightened in his chair. “I do not agree to have my things searched.”
She shrugged. “I’m sorry, but that is school policy and something your aunt agreed to when she signed you in at the beginning of the year.”
Deena could see that Luther was getting angry. He was burning, more than she was.
“But I didn’t do anything!” she wailed.
Alice Miles leaned forward, “Deena, I don’t think you did either. But this is policy. Once certain claims are made, we are required to do certain actions. To let some off, while searching others would open us up to claims of partiality.”
Luther’s voice was hard, “But you do think I’m guilty, don’t you? Just because I’m new at this school, and because I came from L.A. where everyone is in a gang. I’m automatically guilty!”
She looked taken aback. Principal Miles leaned back in her chair and decided to wait it out.
Deena fretted, having dug out a tissue and turning it into a soggy mass. “Is it the zinc? Mr. Fenner gave it to me, but I’ll give it back!”
Deena held out her hand and opened it, showing the warm, sweaty, little clump of metal she had gripped tightly since the class.
The principal took it. “I’ll hold this until I can check with Mr. Fenner.”
Deena felt an urgent longing to get it back. But she was just too frightened to move. What would Mom say when she heard about this? A drug search!
Several long minutes later, with a rap on the door, a uniformed policeman entered carrying two cardboard boxes.
“They’re clean. Nothing to report.”
Alice Miles stood up and smiled. “I’m very glad to hear it. Thank you, Bill.” The officer left.
Deena was embarrassed to see her cardboard box overflowing with junk, old hats and gloves, poster board from old projects, coat hangers, a couple of empty coke cans, as well as a plastic bottle that had gone to mold inside.
Luther’s box was empty, except for his school standard combination lock that they could open with a special key, one Government textbook, and one opened card of pencils.
Why had he complained about a search? His locker was empty.
The principal nodded to the door. “Well, we’re done here. Just a false alarm. Take your time getting your stuff back in your lockers and I’ll notify the teachers. You won’t have any trouble over missing this class.”
Luther got to his feet, still angry and sullen. He picked up Deena’s box. “Carry mine, would you?” He walked out without a word to the principal.
“Thank you,” Deena said. She nodded to Mrs. Miles and escaped as quickly as she could.
Luther walked slowly down the empty corridor. Deena caught up with him, but he wasn’t thinking about her.
This is the end. If they check with my previous schools, it’s all over. A whole year wasted.
How did I get fingered? Who has it in for me?
He looked at Deena. She was pointing.
“This is my locker.”
“Oh.” He set the box down. “Here, I’ll take my things.”
His own locker was a dozen feet away. He put his book and pencils back where they were. Not that it mattered. He never kept anything important in his locker. It might have to be abandoned at any time.
Like tonight. Where will I go next? Crescent City had been a much better place to live than he had hoped. I’ll be alone again.
Deena was crouched over her box, sorting trash from junk. She had less than a third of her things back in the locker, and a much larger pile of discards on the floor.
She looked up as he returned. “Are you okay?” she asked.
He shrugged, squatting down beside her, sighing. “It just gets old.”
“What gets old?”
“If you are a stranger, then you can’t be trusted. I...my family moved a lot. Each new town, each new neighborhood—you have to prove yourself. Nobody gives you any slack.
“You’ve been here in Crescent City, how long? Years?”
“Nearly all my life.”
He nodded. “And Old Lady Miles was about ready to give you a hug and bake you some cookies because you were upset by the search. But not me. Guilty until proved innocent, and maybe not even then.”
“I don’t think she thought that.”
“That’s because you are an innocent and haven’t seen how petty and hurtful people can be.”
Deena laughed. It burst out of her, and she almost couldn’t get her breath. Between gasps, she said, “Dear Luther! I’m a fat teenage girl! You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She finished the job and closed her locker.
“Here, I’ll get that for you.” He reached for her cardboard box, now full of trash.”
“No! I’ll get it.” A conspiracy of helpfulness overturned the box. Deena grabbed, trying to right it, and got her hand around a crumbled aluminum can. Bent at a sharp angle, it sliced open her left hand.
Blood splattered out, every heartbeat splashing more of the floor, her dress, and the trash.
“Here,” he shouted, taking her hand, and pressing it hard between both of his palms. “You’ve cut an artery. Let’s get you to the nurse.”
Deena’s face went pale in seconds. They took only a few steps before she stumbled and fell to the floor.
“Deena?” he called, but she was unconscious. He transferred her hand, so he could hold pressure on the two-inch slice with one hand and then lifted her partly and began half carrying, half dragging her towards the nurse’s office.
You could stand to lose a little weight at that.
On the floor, in tiny isolated collections, nanobots noted that they had left the host. In each puddle of blood, a census was taken. That data filtered into the order tree, and the self-destruct order bubbled to the top.
Within seconds each of the nanobots unzipped, turning a functional machine into a useless fragment of atoms. There was quickly nothing left in the drying blood but an unusual concentration of minerals.
In the host, all assembly activity was shut down and activity redirected to host repair. It was a top priority shift.
The host’s circulatory collapse was due to the extensive changes made in the biological systems to achieve greater heat dissipation. Blood had been thinned to promote a higher blood volume through the surface capillaries, getting the hot blood closer to the skin where the heat could escape. Add to that, a higher blood pressure and an unfortunate influx of ‘emotional’ hormones caused by something in the host’s environment. It created a situation where the circulatory system was less robust than normal.
Finally, add a surface breech and an arterial rupture. The fast-moving blood caused the blood pressure to crash. The heart flipped into arrhythmia, and all blood circulation stopped.
There were things that needed fixing, and quickly.