Dark Hunger


Chapter 2


"No, I didn't know. Which algorithms?"

"To control a particle network."

"Your cameras are networked? All those little cameras communicate with each other?"

"Yes," she said. "They're a swarm, actually." She was still smiling, amused by my reactions.

"A swarm." I was thinking it over, trying to understand what she was telling me. Certainly my team had written a number of programs to control swarms of agents. Those programs were modeled on behavior of bees. The programs had many useful characteristics. Because swarms were composed of many agents, the swarm could respond to the environment in a robust way. Faced with new and unexpected conditions, the swarm programs didn't crash; they just sort of flowed around the obstacles, and kept going.

But our programs worked by creating virtual agents inside the computer. Julia had created real agents in the real world. At first I didn't see how our programs could be adapted to what she was doing.

"We use them for structure," she said. "The program makes the swarm structure." Of course. It was obvious that a single molecular camera was inadequate to register any sort of image. Therefore, the image must be a composite of millions of cameras, operating simultaneously. But the cameras would also have to be arranged in space in some orderly structure, probably a sphere. That was where the programming came in. But that in turn meant that Xymos must be generating the equivalent of-

"You're making an eye."

"Kind of. Yes."

"But where's the light source?"

"The bioluminescent perimeter."

"That's not enough light."

"It is. Watch."

Meanwhile, the onscreen Julia was turning smoothly, pointing to the intravenous line behind her. She lifted a syringe out of a nearby ice bucket. The barrel appeared to be filled with water. "This syringe," she said, "contains approximately twenty million cameras in isotonic saline suspension. At the moment they exist as particles. But once they are injected into the bloodstream, their temperature will increase, and they will soon flock together, and form a meta-shape. Just like a flock of birds forms a V-shape."

"What kind of a shape?" one of the VCs asked.

"A sphere," she said. "With a small opening at one end. You might think of it as the equivalent of a blastula in embryology. But in effect the particles form an eye. And the image from that eye will be a composite of millions of photon detectors. Just as the human eye creates an image from its rods and cone cells."

She turned to a monitor that showed an animation loop, repeated over and over again. The cameras entered the bloodstream as an untidy, disorganized mass, a kind of buzzing cloud within the blood. Immediately the blood flow flattened the cloud into an elongated streak. But within seconds, the streak began to coalesce into a spherical shape. That shape became more defined, until eventually it appeared almost solid.

"If this reminds you of an actual eye, there's a reason. Here at Xymos we are explicitly imitating organic morphology," Julia said. "Because we are designing with organic molecules, we are aware that courtesy of millions of years of evolution, the world around us has a stockpile of molecular arrangements that work. So we use them."

"You don't want to reinvent the wheel?" someone said.

"Exactly. Or the eyeball."

She gave a signal, and the flat antenna was lowered until it was just inches above the waiting subject.

"This antenna will power the camera, and pick up the transmitted image," she said. "The image can of course be digitally stored, intensified, manipulated, or anything else that you might do with digital data. Now, if there are no other questions, we can begin." She fitted the syringe with a needle, and stuck it into a rubber stopper in the IV line.

"Mark time."

"Zero point zero."

"Here we go."

She pushed the plunger down quickly. "As you see, I'm doing it fast," she said. "There's nothing delicate about our procedure. You can't hurt anything. If the microturbulence generated by the flow through the needle rips the tubules from a few thousand cameras, it doesn't matter. We have millions more. Plenty to do the job." She withdrew the needle. "Okay? Generally we have to wait about ten seconds for the shape to form, and then we should begin getting an image ... Ah, looks like something is coming now ... And here it is." The scene showed the camera moving forward at considerable speed through what looked like an asteroid field. Except the asteroids were red cells, bouncy purplish bags moving in a clear, slightly yellowish liquid. An occasional much larger white cell shot forward, filled the screen for a moment, then was gone. What I was seeing looked more like a video game than a medical image.

"Julia," I said, "this is pretty amazing."

Beside me, Julia snuggled closer and smiled. "I thought you might be impressed." Onscreen, Julia was saying, "We've entered a vein, so the red cells are not oxygenated. Right now our camera is moving toward the heart. You'll see the vessels enlarging as we move up the venous system ... Yes, now we are approaching the heart ... You can see the pulsations in the bloodstream that result from the ventricular contractions ..." It was true, I could see the camera pause, then move forward, then pause. She had an audio feed of the beating heart. On the table, the subject lay motionless, with the flat antenna just over his body.

"We're coming to the right atrium, and we should see the mitral valve. We activate the flagella to slow the camera. There the valve is now. We are in the heart." I saw the red flaps, like a mouth opening and closing, and then the camera shot through, into the ventricle, and out again. "Now we are going to the lungs, where you will see what no one has ever witnessed before. The oxygenation of the cells."

As I watched, the blood vessel narrowed swiftly, and then the cells plumped up, and popped brilliantly red, one after another. It was extremely quick; in less than a second, they were all red. "The red cells have now been oxygenated," Julia said, "and we are on our way back to the heart."

I turned to Julia in the bed. "This is really fantastic stuff," I said.

But her eyes were closed, and she was breathing gently.

"Julia?"

She was asleep.

Julia had always tended to fall asleep while watching TV. Falling asleep during your own presentation was reasonable enough; after all, she'd already seen it. And it was pretty late. I was tired myself. I decided I could watch the rest of the demo another time. It seemed pretty lengthy for a demo, anyhow. How long had I been watching so far? When I turned to switch off the TV, I looked down at the time code running at the bottom of the image. Numbers were spinning, ticking off hundredths of a second. Other numbers to the left, not spinning. I frowned. One of them was the date. I hadn't noticed it before, because it was in international format, with the year first, the day, and the month. It read 02.21.09.

September 21.

Yesterday.

She'd recorded this demo yesterday, not today.

I turned off the TV, and turned off the bedside light. I lay down on the pillow and tried to sleep.

DAY 2

9:02 A.M.

We needed skim milk, Toastie-Os, Pop-Tarts, Jell-O, dishwasher detergent-and something else, but I couldn't read my own writing. I stood in the supermarket aisle at nine o'clock in the morning, puzzling over my notes. A voice said, "Hey, Jack. How's it hanging?" I looked up to see Ricky Morse, one of the division heads at Xymos. "Hey, Ricky. How are you?" I shook his hand, genuinely glad to see him. I was always glad to see Ricky. Tanned, with blond crewcut hair and a big grin, he could easily be taken for a surfer were it not for his SourceForge 3.1 T-shirt. Ricky was only a few years younger than I was, but he had an air of perpetual youthfulness. I'd given him his first job, right out of college, and he'd rapidly moved into management. With his cheerful personality and upbeat manner, Ricky made an ideal project manager, even though he tended to underplay problems, and give management unrealistic expectations about when a project would be finished. According to Julia, that had sometimes caused trouble at Xymos; Ricky tended to make promises he couldn't keep. And sometimes he didn't quite tell the truth. But he was so cheerful and appealing that everyone always forgave him. At least, I always did, when he worked for me. I had become quite fond of him, and thought of him almost as a younger brother. I'd recommended him for his job at Xymos.

Ricky was pushing a shopping cart filled with disposable diapers in big plastic bundles; he had a young baby at home, too. I asked him why he was shopping and not at the office. "Mary's got the flu, and the maid's in Guatemala. So I told her I'd pick up some things."

"I see you've got Huggies," I said. "I always get Pampers, myself."

"I find Huggies absorb more," he said. "And Pampers are too tight. They pinch the baby's leg."

"But Pampers have a layer that takes moisture away, and keeps the bottom dry," I said. "I have fewer rashes with Pampers."

"Whenever I use them, the adhesive tabs tend to pull off. And with a big load, it tends to leak out the leg, which makes extra work for me. I don't know, I just find Huggies are higher quality."

A woman glanced at us as she pushed past with her shopping cart. We started to laugh, thinking we must sound like we were in a commercial.

Ricky said loudly, "So hey, how about those Giants?" to the woman's back as she continued down the aisle.

"Fuckin' A, are they great or what?" I said, scratching myself. We laughed, then pushed our carts down the aisle together. Ricky said, "Want to know the truth? Mary likes Huggies, and that's the end of the conversation."

"I know that one," I said.

Ricky looked at my cart, and said, "I see you buy organic skim milk ..."

"Stop it," I said. "How are things at the office?"

"You know, they're pretty damn good," he said. "The technology's coming along nicely, if I say so myself. We demoed for the money guys the other day, and it went well."

"Julia's doing okay?" I said, as casually as I could.

"Yeah, she's doing great. Far as I know," Ricky said.

I glanced at him. Was he suddenly reserved? Was his face set, the muscles controlled? Was he concealing something? I couldn't tell.

"Actually, I rarely see her," Ricky said. "She's not around much these days."

"I don't see much of her either," I said.

"Yeah, she's spending a lot of time out at the fab complex. That's where the action is now." Ricky glanced quickly at me. "You know, because of the new fabrication processes."

The Xymos fab building had been completed in record time, considering how complex it was. The fabrication building was where they assembled molecules from individual atoms. Sticking the molecule fragments together like Lego blocks. Much of this work was carried out in a vacuum, and required extremely strong magnetic fields. So the fab building had tremendous pump assemblies, and powerful chillers to cool the magnets. But according to Julia, a lot of the technology was specific to that building; nothing like it had ever been built before. I said, "It's amazing they got the building up so fast."

"Well, we kept the pressure on. Molecular Dynamics is breathing down our necks. We've got our fab up and running, and we've got patent applications by the truckload. But those guys at MolDyne and NanoTech can't be far behind us. A few months. Maybe six months, if we're lucky."

"So you're doing molecular assembly at the plant now?" I said.

"You got it, Jack. Full-bore molecular assembly. We have been for a few weeks now."

"I didn't know Julia was interested in that stuff." With her background in psychology, I'd always regarded Julia as a people person.

"She's taken a real interest in the technology, I can tell you. Also, they're doing a lot of programming up there, too," he said. "You know. Iterative cycles as they refine the manufacturing."

I nodded. "What kind of programming?" I said.

"Distributed processing. Multi-agent nets. That's how we keep the individual units coordinated, working together."

"This is all to make the medical camera?"

"Yes." He paused. "Among other things." He glanced at me uneasily, as if he might be breaking his confidentiality agreement.

"You don't have to say," I said.

"No, no," he said quickly. "Jeez, you and I go way back, Jack." He slapped me on the shoulder. "And you got a spouse in management. I mean, what the hell." But he still looked uneasy. His face didn't match his words. And his eyes slid away from me when he said the word "spouse."

The conversation was coming to an end, and I felt filled with tension, the kind of awkward tension when you think another guy knows something and isn't telling you-because he's embarrassed, because he doesn't know how to put it, because he doesn't want to get involved, because it's too dangerous even to mention, because he thinks it's your job to figure it out for yourself. Especially when it's something about your wife. Like she's screwing around. He's looking at you like you're the walking wounded, it's night of the living dead, but he won't tell you. In my experience, guys never tell other guys when they know something about their wives. But women always tell other women, if they know of a husband's infidelity.

That's just how it is.

But I was feeling so tense I wanted to-

"Hey, look at the time," Ricky said, giving me a big grin. "I'm late, Mary'll kill me, I've got to run. She's already annoyed because I have to spend the next few days at the fab facility. So I'll be out of town while the maid's gone ..." He shrugged. "You know how it is."

"Yeah, I do. Good luck."

"Hey, man. Take care."

We shook hands. Murmured another good-bye. Ricky rolled his cart around the corner of the aisle, and was gone.

Sometimes you can't think about painful things, you can't make your mind focus on them. Your brain just slips away, no thank you, let's change the subject. That was happening to me now. I couldn't think about Julia, so I started thinking about what Ricky had told me about their fabrication plant. And I decided it probably made sense, even though it went against the conventional wisdom about nanotechnology.

There was a long-standing fantasy among nanotechnologists that once somebody figured out how to manufacture at the atomic level, it would be like running the four-minute mile. Everybody would do it, unleashing a flood of wonderful molecular creations rolling off assembly lines all around the world. In a matter of days, human life would be changed by this marvelous new technology. As soon as somebody figured out how to do it.

But of course that would never happen. The very idea was absurd. Because in essence, molecular manufacturing wasn't so different from computer manufacturing or flow-valve manufacturing or automobile manufacturing or any other kind of manufacturing. It took a while to get it right. In fact, assembling atoms to make a new molecule was closely analogous to compiling a computer program from individual lines of code. And computer code never compiled, the first time out. The programmers always had to go back and fix the lines. And even after it was compiled, a computer program never ever worked right the first time. Or the second time. Or the hundredth time. It had to be debugged, and debugged again, and again. And again.

I always believed it would be the same with these manufactured molecules-they'd have to be debugged again and again before they worked right. And if Xymos wanted "flocks" of molecules working together, they'd also have to debug the way the molecules communicated with each other, however limited that communication was. Because once the molecules communicated, you had a primitive network. To organize it, you'd probably program a distributed net. Of the kind I had been developing at MediaTronics. So I could perfectly well imagine them doing programming along with the manufacturing. But I couldn't see Julia hanging around while they did it. The fab facility was far from the Xymos headquarters. It was literally in the middle of nowhere-out in the desert near Tonopah, Nevada. And Julia didn't like to be in the middle of nowhere. I was sitting in the pediatrician's waiting room because the baby was due for her next round of immunizations. There were four mothers in the room, bouncing sick kids on their laps while the older children played on the floor. The mothers all talked to each other and studiously ignored me.

I was getting used to this. A guy at home, a guy in a setting like the pediatrician's office, was an unusual thing. But it also meant that something was wrong. There was probably something wrong with the guy, he couldn't get a job, maybe he was fired for alcoholism or drugs, maybe he was a bum. Whatever the reason, it wasn't normal for a man to be in the pediatrician's office in the middle of the day. So the other mothers pretended I wasn't there. Except they shot me the occasional worried glance, as if I might be sneaking up on them to rape them while their backs were turned. Even the nurse, Gloria, seemed suspicious. She glanced at the baby in my arms-who wasn't crying, and was hardly sniffling. "What seems to be the problem?"

I said we were here for immunizations.

"She's been here before?"

Yes, she had been coming to the doctor since she was born.

"Are you related?"

Yes, I was the father.

Eventually we were ushered in. The doctor shook hands with me, was very friendly, never asked why I was there instead of my wife or the housekeeper. He gave two injections. Amanda howled. I bounced her on my shoulder, comforted her.

"She may have a little swelling, a little local redness. Call me if it's not gone in forty-eight hours." Then I was back in the waiting room, trying to get out my credit card to pay the bill while the baby cried. And that was when Julia called.

"Hi. What're you doing?" She must have heard the baby screaming.

"Paying the pediatrician."

"Bad time?"

"Kind of ..."

"Okay, listen, I just wanted to say I have an early night-finally!-so I'll be home for dinner. What do you say I pick up on my way home?"

"That'd be great," I said.

Eric's soccer practice ran late. It was getting dark on the field. The coach always ran practice late. I paced the sidelines, trying to decide whether to complain. It was so hard to know when you were coddling your kid, and when you were legitimately protecting them. Nicole called on her cell to say that her play rehearsal was over, and why hadn't I picked her up? Where was I? I said I was still with Eric and asked if she could catch a ride with anybody.

"Dad ..." she said, exasperated. You'd think I had asked her to crawl home.

"Hey, I'm stuck."

Very sarcastic: "Whatever."

"Watch that tone, young lady."

But a few minutes later, soccer was abruptly canceled. A big green maintenance truck pulled onto the field, and two men came out wearing masks and big rubber gloves, with spray cans on their backs. They were going to spray weed killer or something, and everybody had to stay off the field overnight.

I called Nicole back and said we would pick her up.

"When?"

"We're on our way now."

"From the little creep's practice?"

"Come on, Nic."

"Why does he always come first?"

"He doesn't always come first."

"Yes he does. He's a little creep."

"Nicole ..."

"Sor-ry."

"See you in a few minutes." I clicked off. Kids are more advanced these days. The teenage years now start at eleven.

By five-thirty the kids were home, raiding the fridge. Nicole was eating a big chunk of string cheese. I told her to stop; it would ruin her dinner. Then I went back to setting the table. "When is dinner?"

"Soon. Mom's bringing it home."

"Uh-huh." She disappeared for a few minutes, and then she came back. "She says she's sorry she didn't call, but she's going to be late."

"What?" I was pouring water into the glasses on the table.

"She's sorry she didn't call but she's going to be late. I just talked to her."

"Jesus." It was irritating. I tried never to show my irritation around the kids, but sometimes it slipped out. I sighed. "Okay."

"I'm really hungry now, Dad."

"Get your brother and get into the car," I said. "We're going to the drive-in." Later that night, as I was carrying the baby to bed, my elbow brushed against a photograph on the living-room bookshelf. It clattered to the floor; I stooped to pick it up. It was a picture of Julia and Eric in Sun Valley when he was four. They were both in snowsuits; Julia was helping him learn to ski, and smiling radiantly. Next to it was a photo of Julia and me on our eleventh wedding anniversary in Kona; I was in a loud Hawaiian shirt and she had colorful leis around her neck, and we were kissing at sunset. That was a great trip; in fact, we were pretty sure Amanda was conceived there. I remember Julia came home from work one day and said, "Honey, remember how you said mai-tais were dangerous?" I said, "Yes ..." And she said, "Well, let me put it this way. It's a girl," and I was so startled the soda I was drinking went up my nose, and we both started to laugh.

Then a picture of Julia making cupcakes with Nicole, who was so young she sat on the kitchen counter and her legs didn't reach the edge. She couldn't have been more than a year and a half old. Nicole was frowning with concentration as she wielded a huge spoon of dough, making a fine mess while Julia tried not to laugh.

And a photo of us hiking in Colorado, Julia holding the hand of six-year-old Nicole while I carried Eric on my shoulders, my shirt collar dark with sweat-or worse, if I remembered that day right. Eric must have been about two; he was still in diapers. I remember he thought it was fun to cover my eyes while I carried him on the trail.

The hiking photo had slipped inside its frame so it stood at an angle. I tapped the frame to try and straighten it, but it didn't move. I noticed that several of the other pictures were faded, or the emulsion was sticking to the glass. No one had bothered to take care of these pictures. The baby snuffled in my arms, rubbing her eyes with her fists. It was time for bed. I put the pictures back on the shelf. They were old images from another, happier time. From another life. They seemed to have nothing to do with me, anymore. Everything was different now. The world was different now.

I left the table set for dinner that night, a silent rebuke. Julia saw it when she got home around ten. "I'm sorry, hon."

"I know you were busy," I said.

"I was. Please forgive me?"

"I do," I said.

"You're the best." She blew me a kiss, from across the room. "I'm going to take a shower," she said. And she headed off down the hallway. I watched her go. On the way down the hall, she looked into the baby's room, and then darted in. A moment later, I heard her cooing and the baby gurgling. I got out of my chair, and walked down the hall after her.

In the darkened nursery, she was holding the baby up, nuzzling her nose.

I said, "Julia ... you woke her up."

"No I didn't, she was awake. Weren't you, little honey-bunny? You were awake, weren't you, Poopsie-doopsie?"

The baby rubbed her eyes with tiny fists, and yawned. She certainly appeared to have been awakened.

Julia turned to me in the darkness. "I didn't. Really. I didn't wake her up. Why are you looking at me that way?"

"What way?"

"You know what way. That accusing way."

"I'm not accusing you of anything."

The baby started to whimper and then to cry. Julia touched her diaper. "I think she's wet," she said, and handed her to me as she walked out of the room. "You do it, Mr. Perfect."

* * *

Now there was tension between us. After I changed the baby and put her back to bed, I heard Julia come out of the shower, banging a door. Whenever Julia started banging doors, it was a sign for me to come and mollify her. But I didn't feel like it tonight. I was annoyed she'd awakened the baby, and I was annoyed by her unreliability, saying she'd be home early and never calling to say she wouldn't. I was scared that she had become so unreliable because she was distracted by a new love. Or she just didn't care about her family anymore. I didn't know what to do about all this, but I didn't feel like smoothing the tension between us. I just let her bang the doors. She slammed her sliding closet-door so hard the wood cracked. She swore. That was another sign I was supposed to come running. I went back to the living room, and sat down. I picked up the book I was reading, and stared at the page. I tried to concentrate but of course I couldn't. I was angry and I listened to her bang around in the bedroom. If she kept it up, she'd wake Eric and then I would have to deal with her. I hoped it wouldn't go that far.

Eventually the noise stopped. She had probably gotten into bed. If so, she would soon be asleep. Julia could go to sleep when we were fighting. I never could; I stayed up, pacing and angry, trying to settle myself down.

When I finally came to bed, Julia was fast asleep. I slipped between the covers, and rolled over on my side, away from her.

It was one o'clock in the morning when the baby began to scream. I groped for the light, knocked over the alarm clock, which turned the clock radio on, blaring rock and roll. I swore, fumbled in the dark, finally got the bedside light on, turned the radio off. The baby was still screaming.

"What's the matter with her?" Julia said sleepily.

"I don't know." I got out of bed, shaking my head, trying to wake up. I went into the nursery and flicked on the light. The room seemed very bright, the clown wallpaper very yellow and burning. Out of nowhere, I thought: why doesn't she want yellow placemats when she painted the whole nursery yellow?

The baby was standing up in her crib, holding on to the rails and howling, her mouth wide open, her breath coming in jagged gasps. Tears were running down her cheeks. I held my arms out to her and she reached for me, and I comforted her. I thought it must be a nightmare. I comforted her, rocked her gently.

She continued to scream, unrelenting. Maybe something was hurting her, maybe something in her diaper. I checked her body. That was when I saw an angry red rash on her belly, extending in welts around to her back, and up toward her neck.

Julia came in. "Can't you stop it?" she said.

I said, "There's something wrong," and I showed her the rash.

"Has she got a fever?"

I touched Amanda's head. She was sweaty and hot, but that could be from the crying. The rest of her body felt cool. "I don't know. I don't think so."

I could see the rash on her thighs now. Was it on her thighs a moment before? I almost thought I was seeing it spread before my eyes. If it was possible, the baby screamed even louder. "Jesus," Julia said. "I'll call the doctor."

"Yeah, do." By now I had the baby on her back-she screamed more-and I was looking carefully at her entire body. The rash was spreading, there was no doubt about it. And she seemed to be in terrible pain, screaming bloody murder.

"I'm sorry, honey, I'm sorry ..." I said.

Definitely spreading.

Julia came back and said she left word for the doctor. I said, "I'm not going to wait. I'm taking her to the emergency room."

"Do you really think that's necessary?" she said.

I didn't answer her, I just went into the bedroom to put on my clothes.

Julia said, "Do you want me to come with you?"

"No, stay with the kids," I said.

"You sure?"

"Yes."

"Okay," she said. She wandered back to the bedroom. I reached for my car keys.

The baby continued to scream.

"I realize it's uncomfortable," the intern was saying. "But I don't think it's safe to sedate her." We were in a curtained cubicle in the emergency room. The intern was bent over my screaming daughter, looking in her ears with his instrument. By now Amanda's entire body was bright, angry red. She looked as if she had been parboiled.

I felt scared. I'd never heard of anything like this before, a baby turning bright red and screaming constantly. I didn't trust this intern, who seemed far too young to be competent. He couldn't be experienced; he didn't even look as if he shaved yet. I was jittery, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I was beginning to feel slightly crazy, because my daughter had never stopped screaming once in the last hour. It was wearing me down. The intern ignored it. I didn't know how he could.

"She has no fever," he said, making notes in a chart, "but in a child this age that doesn't mean anything. Under a year, they may not run fevers at all, even with severe infections."

"Is that what this is?" I said. "An infection?"

"I don't know. I'm presuming a virus because of that rash. But we should have the preliminary blood work back in-ah, good." A passing nurse handed him a slip of paper. "Uhh ... hmmm ..." He paused. "Well ..."

"Well what?" I said, shifting my weight anxiously.

He was shaking his head as he stared at the paper. He didn't answer.

"Well what?"

"It's not an infection," he said. "White cells counts all normal, protein fractions normal. She's got no immune mobilization at all."

"What does that mean?"

He was very calm, standing there, frowning and thinking. I wondered if perhaps he was just dumb. The best people weren't going into medicine anymore, not with the HMOs running everything. This kid might be one of the new breed of dumb doctor. "We have to widen the diagnostic net," he said. "I'm going to order a surgical consult, a neurological consult, we have a dermo coming, we have infectious coming. That'll mean a lot of people to talk to you about your daughter, asking the same questions over again, but-"

"That's okay," I said. "I don't mind. Just ... what do you think is wrong with her?"

"I don't know, Mr. Forman. If it's not infectious, we look for other reasons for this skin response. She hasn't traveled out of the country?"

"No." I shook my head.

"No recent exposures to heavy metals or toxins?"

"Like what?"

"Dump sites, industrial plants, chemical exposure ..."

"No, no."

"Can you think of anything at all that might have caused this reaction?"

"No, nothing ... wait, she had vaccinations yesterday."

"What vaccinations?"

"I don't know, whatever she gets for her age ..."

"You don't know what vaccinations?" he said. His notebook was open, his pen poised over the page.

"No, for Christ's sake," I said irritably, "I don't know what vaccinations. Every time she goes there, she gets another shot. You're the goddamned doctor-"

"That's okay, Mr. Forman," he said soothingly. "I know it's stressful. If you just tell me the name of your pediatrician, I'll call him, how is that?"

I nodded. I wiped my hand across my forehead. I was sweating. I spelled the pediatrician's name for him while he wrote it down in his notebook. I tried to calm down. I tried to think clearly.

And all the time, my baby just screamed.

* * *

Half an hour later, she went into convulsions.

They started while one of the white-coated consultants was bent over her, examining her. Her little body wrenched and twisted. She made retching sounds as if she was trying to vomit. Her legs jerked spastically. She began to wheeze. Her eyes rolled up into her head. I don't remember what I said or did then, but a big orderly the size of a football player came in and pushed me to one side of the cubicle and held my arms. I looked past his huge shoulder as six people clustered around my daughter; a nurse wearing a Bart Simpson T-shirt was sticking a needle into her forehead. I began to shout and struggle. The orderly was yelling, "Scowvane, scowvane, scowvane," over and over. Finally I realized he was saying "Scalp vein." He explained it was just to start an IV, that the baby had become dehydrated. That was why she was convulsing. I heard talk of electrolytes, magnesium, potassium. Anyway, the convulsions stopped in a few seconds. But she continued to scream.

I called Julia. She was awake. "How is she?"

"The same."

"Still crying? Is that her?"

"Yes." She could hear Amanda in the background.

"Oh God." She groaned. "What are they saying it is?"

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