Verse 24: CANCER
"No fucking way!" Nate screamed. He burst into tears and ran from the room. Hannah started after him but Gloria stopped her. "We'll deal with Nate's problems once we see to Lex. He needs us much more now."
"But what can we do?" Hannah almost whined. "We have to get him to a hospital."
Gloria shook her head. "I don't think medical science holds the answer. At least not our medical science. Lex, stay with me!" She snapped her fingers in front of his face. "You have cancer, but you were perfectly healthy minutes ago. No one gets this sick this fast without something very strange happening and my money's on that portal."
Lex tried to speak but could only wheeze.
"Hannah, get him some water, stat."
Hannah rushed to the bar and returned shortly with a glass. Gloria lifted Lex's head up while Hannah held the glass to his lips. Most of the water ran down his cheeks, but some found its way into his mouth. He swallowed painfully, but Gloria told Hannah to give him more.
"Not possible," he gasped. "Imperials do not get kanser." He coughed and flecks of red sprayed from his mouth. Hannah gave him some more water.
"Then you have something that looks very much like it. You have all the classic signs, and it's in end-stage. It's metastasized throughout your body, far faster than cells normally divide. Could the portal have done this?"
"Chaos. I think the winds are fueled by Chaos."
"Is there any magical cure?"
Hannah handed him the bag, but he was too weak to open it. Gloria took it instead. "What am I looking for?"
"Behind shirts. Blue with white starburst."
Gloria reached into the purse, found the shirts and rummaged behind them. She grabbed something solid and pulled out her hand. It was the size of a large lunchbox and matched his description. She opened it, revealing tubes, vials, rolls of bandages, some pouches, and several things that looked like gravity knives. All were similarly marked with the starburst symbol, but each had other unfamiliar markings as well. "Which one?"
"Blue vial. Should be several."
She saw three of them in a row and took one. She received an immediate sensation of strength, rest, and freedom from pain. She held it up to Lex's face but he did not react. His eyes were clouding and she doubted if he could see very well, if at all. Still, it felt right. She uncorked it and looked inside. The liquid, which had appeared green due to the blue glass of the vial, was actually yellow.
"Lex, I have it, I think. Will this help?"
"Cannot hurt." He smiled weakly.
She had no other options. She poured the contents into his mouth. The effect was instantaneous. Lex relaxed completely. At first, Gloria thought the elixir had killed him, but a quick check of the carotid pulse proved otherwise. In fact, his pulse was decidedly stronger.
"Lex? Can you feel any change?"
But he did not answer. The potion, working or not, had rendered him unconscious. Unwilling to just stand there waiting, Gloria turned to the only other potential source of information.
"Spellengine! Did the potion help him?"
"Yes," the basso voice responded. "Displaying body scan." The CAT-scan screen reappeared, and before Gloria's eyes the red blotches turned orange, then green and within five minutes were indistinguishable from the rest of the body area.
"I feel much better now," Lex announced in a normal tone of voice that almost made Gloria drop the kit. "I think I can sit up."
"No you don't! I'm the doctor, you're the patient, and your job is to lie there until we're sure this worked. Computer, I mean spellengine… can I call you something else?"
"I am a Djawan Anak VI."
"Fine, I'll call you Six then. Is he cured?"
"No abnormal cellular growth detected. No mutation detected. Damage to cells repaired. Multiple toxins remain in tissues and bloodstream."
A second screen with a list of perhaps 300 names scrolled by. Gloria recognized only a few words: Brimstone, Flogiston, Qwiksilver, Formaldehyde, Nikoteen, and Benzeen.
"Lex, it looks like you've been poisoned. From what little I understand of this display, you've taken in a lot of chemicals to which your body is not accustomed, probably from breathing exhaust fumes, second-hand cigarette smoke, and other airborne pollutants. A lot of these are considered carcinogenic; that means they can cause cancer. I wager that the chaos you mentioned triggered the disease. It grew very quickly, but that's a good thing, too, since it doesn't look like it left any permanent damage." She shook her head. "I don't know if the cancer will come back, or what other effects these chemicals could have. I'm really out of my depth."
Despite Gloria's protests, he sat up on the table, and held out his hand for the Kit. He took out two brown bottles. One had a green teardrop superimposed on the starburst, the other the same but in black. He held out the first. "This is for poisons that are biological in origin, the other for mineral toxins." He drank the contents of both. There was no apparent change. All three waited.
"Do you feel any different?" Hannah asked.
"Yes. I feel like I could eat a horse and then piss like one." He considered for a few seconds. "Maybe not in that order." He swung his legs over the edge of the table, stood, and headed for the men's room at an awkward trot, accompanied by Six's screens. Gloria followed close behind. She did not intend to let him out of her sight, in case he was not as fully recovered as he seemed to think. She stood by as he dropped his pants and let loose a truly prodigious urinary output. Lex sighed with that pleasure peculiar to men, the joy of a really good whiz.
Hannah, standing outside the door, held out two strawberry Pop-Tarts. "You said you were hungry," she explained. "I had these in my knapsack."
Lex took them and gobbled both down in short order. "Ghastly! Dwarves would love them." He licked his fingers. "Do you have any more?"
They went into the kitchen where Lex proceeded to eat three ham and cheese sandwiches faster than Gloria could make them. He also drank three more glasses of water, whereupon he dashed back to the bathroom. This time Gloria assumed he could cope on his own. He looked completely recovered. She turned the kit over in her hands.
"Can you imagine what a pharmaceutical lab would pay for an opportunity to backwards engineer some of those potions?" Gloria asked her sister.
"Or to hush them up," Hannah countered. "But I'd be willing to bet a year's allowance that they could run those through a mass spectrograph and it would come up three lemons. There's some serious juju at work here, in my expert opinion as a bona fide science nerd."
"You're not a nerd."
"Maybe not on the outside. Inside, I've got long stringy hair and bad skin."
Lex soon returned, looking cheerful and at a safe remove far from death's door. There was a spring in his step and his eyes were clear and bright. If only he had been whistling, that would have completed the image.
"Nate!" Hannah exclaimed. "We have to tell him."
Gloria took out her cell phone and spoke. "Home." After a pause, she told Hannah "Recording." She waited a few more seconds, then spoke into the phone. "Nate? Are you there? If you're there, pick up. Lex is all right." Pause. "I swear he's fine. Nate?"
"Let me," Lex offered. She handed him the phone. "Nate? This is Lex. If you can hear me, I would speak with you. Yes, it is really me. Yes, I was, but I am better now. No, it is gone. Every trace. Yes, magic is indeed an outstanding thing, but your sister did most of the work. You need not apologize. I was far more scared than you, I promise. I will see you soon. Here she is." He handed the phone back to Gloria.
"Nate, I'm sending Hannah home now. Lex and I have to talk, and he has another show tonight. Yes. Yes, I'm glad, too." She smiled at Lex. "Maybe we can go out for pizza before the show. We'll see. Love you. Bye."
She flipped the phone closed and slipped it back into her pocket. Before she could say anything, Hannah held up her hands in resignation. "Yeah, yeah, I know. I'll leave you two lovebirds alone." She shouldered her pack and headed out of the kitchen, then stopped.
"What?" Gloria asked.
"I said he was your boyfriend," Hannah dimpled, then stuck out her tongue. Gloria stuck hers out in classic sisterhood comeback fashion, then both laughed. Gloria took Lex's hand in hers and looked up at him.
"Maybe he is at that," she said.
"Told you so." Hannah said, nodding sagely. She bid Lex good-bye and departed.
"So," Gloria asked, "what's Plan B? I mean, what do you want to do now?" By way of an answer, he pulled her close and kissed her well and proper. She soon got over her surprise, and surrendered to the impulse, but pulled back as his ardor increased. "No way! I am never going to get freaky in the workplace ever again. If you're dead set on getting frisky, we should do it the American way; go to a hotel, order room service, and hang a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. Besides, that's not what I meant. Do you have any other ideas about getting home, since the ‘Run At Top Speed’ plan was such a rousing success?"
"Not at the moment. I must give it some thought."
"Well, let's check you out one more time, to make sure your potions did their job."
Lex reactivated the screens, and asked for a health update. "No abnormal cellular growth detected. No mutation detected." Gloria felt a wave of relief. "Traces of multiple toxins remain in tissues and bloodstream."
"What?" Gloria exclaimed.
This time the list was much shorter, but still depressingly long. The amounts were minuscule, but present none the less. "I do not understand. Those potions should have purged all these."
Inspiration struck Gloria, and she did not like what she was thinking. "Lex, these toxins are in our air, our food, and water. Even if the potions flushed your system, you've been drinking, eating, and breathing ever since. These are new levels. They're very small, but they'll grow. We develop resistance to them, and maybe you will in time, but I cannot predict the long-term effects our environment will have on your body. You may even eventually develop cancer again."
“That cannot happen. At least not without the intervention of chaos, and even then chaos is… well, chaotic. It need not have the same effect twice.”
"Accepting that as a premise, what other effects could the slow build up of toxins have? Six, any ideas on that score?"
"Insufficient information available for definitive response."
"How about a non-definitive response?" she pressed.
"Possible outcomes: sterility, blindness, deafness, insanity, impotence, vitamin deficiency, respiratory failure, damage to heart, livers, shortening of lifespan –"
"Shortening… how short?" she demanded.
"Insufficient information available for definitive response."
"How about –"
"My medical diagnostic runecoding is rudimentary and is not geared towards long term prognostication."
"Guess then!" Gloria demanded, feeling a little foolish arguing with what was essentially a glorified laptop.
"Given the paucity of the local mana quotient, which is below marginal and verging on critical and the resultant strain on biologic systems, especially when compared to home conditions, and given the rate of toxin intake... I predict a range of possibilities: Minimum 50%. Maximum 99.99%."
Gloria digested that bitter mouthful. "Instead of his normal 3,000 year lifespan, he could live as little as three Novagrovian years."
"Or as many as 1500," Lex commented. "Like most Weren strains, Imperials adapt to adverse conditions quite well... and I could take more potions if things progressed to a serious stage."
"How many of those potions do you have left?" she asked.
"Two," he replied, then added, "Of each."
"Helpful, but not that helpful," she sighed. "It looks like this world will get to you eventually, unless we get serious about pollution control, and I wouldn't hold my breath – pardon the pun – for that to happen." She sighed. "If the cycle remains constant, we might have another shot at it tomorrow night. That gives us a day and a half to brainstorm."
"Plan B?" Lex guessed.
"And C and D and WXYZ if necessary. You have something most of us only dream of, and I for one will not give it up without a fight."
He paced the room, then threw up his hands. "I cannot think in here!"
"That hotel I mentioned?"He grinned and gave her another kiss, but shook his head. "We do that and we will never get to talk. My head is filled to bursting. I do much of my best thinking in motion. Would you care to take a walk?"