Terminal Illness

Mary sat at her son’s bedside, hands clasped in desperation, eyes dark. She stared — trying to cure him by willpower alone.

“You need a break, darling.”

Mary looked up, her lips forcing a smile that would never reach her eyes. “I can’t leave him, John.”

Her husband smiled softly, a rueful expression of love, sympathy. “I know how hard it is, but you must look after yourself too. You need to rest, eat.”

Mary looked back at her son, shaking her head. “No. When Daniel was first sick we tried to be all grown up about it. We tried positive thinking, we tried to ‘get on with life’ and we very nearly lost him.”

“But we didn’t lose him.”

“By some kind of miracle! The doctors…and all our money, all your fame…was good for nothing.”

John stood silent, lips pressed into a flat line. He watched the back of his wife’s head, watched her shoulders tremble. He knew she was quietly crying again.

“I’m sorry,” she said, eventually. “I’m sorry…”

John stepped forward, putting one hand on her shoulder. “I know. But do you remember when that miracle happened? You spent the day with your sister. I called you there to tell you that Daniel had shown sudden improvement. We don’t know why, but he did. At least go outside, for ten minutes. Have a walk, get some fresh air. I’ll sit with him.”

With a suppressed sob, Mary nodded. She laid a soft, lingering kiss on Daniel’s forehead then left the room.

As soon as John heard the front door close he pulled out his phone and said tersely, “Doctor Stellman.”

There was a pause, then a click, then a tense voice said, “John?”

“Yes. How can this be happening, Stellman?”

“It really shouldn’t be. It’s just that we had to work so quickly before…”

“Enough. Whatever. We have to fix it. Now.”

“Yes, of course. Okay, you have the protein serum?”

John nodded, pulling a vial and syringe from his inside pocket. “It’s here.”

“Okay, roll him over. Find the correct pressure points, like we practiced.”

John lifted his son and flipped him over, face down on the bed. As he probed with his fingers at the base of Daniel’s skull he said, “This had better work, Stellman.”

“It will, I’m sure.”

“She can never find out, Stellman. Never!”

“I know. She won’t. You have the points?”

“Yes, I’m doing it.” There was a soft click. Daniel went completely limp — a corpse. John pressed more points in his son’s neck and the flesh at Daniel’s hairline melted back, revealing flexible, polished metal. John ran a fingernail along the metal and popped open a panel. “Okay. I’m in.”

“Good. There’s a cannula port right beside the Neural Cortex Master. Inject the protein serum, count to thirty, then reboot the Neural Net.”

John inserted the syringe needle with trembling hands. “She can never know, Stellman. And this must never happen again.”

(c) Alan Baxter 2009

This story was originally published in the March 2009 edition of Antipodean SF, now archived here.