Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 18, 2164

Late in the morning of 2164, Dar’cy came into Leona and Serif’s room and gently woke them up. “We let you sleep a little, but we need you. Serif, specifically you.”
Serif was still groggy. “What is it? What happened?”
“A lot. Since you’ve been gone. We lost Missy.”
Leona shot up out of bed. “What? What do you mean, lost her?”
“Acute radiation poisoning. She was exposed. Well...” she lifted her shirt to reveal radiation burns on her chest. “We were all exposed, but hers was the worst. She didn’t make it a week, even with treatment.”
Leona found Serif’s shirt while she was looking for her own, and threw it over to her. “The micrometeoroid. I scrubbed afterwards.”
“It was too late for us,” Dar’cy explained. “Symptoms appeared just after you left. We all thought we just ate a bad batch of meal bars.”
“How much treatment do you have left?” Leona asked.
“None,” Dar’cy answered. “We ran out months ago, and now everybody looks like me. We were hoping Serif’s special healing powers could help us.”
“Of course,” Serif said. She couldn’t get her pants all the way on without her morning coffee, so she just gave up. “Take me to them.”
The rest of the crew was sitting in the lounge area, except for Nerakali, who was sprawled out on the floor. They all had vomit buckets. Paige noticed them come in, and checked her watch with her eyes closed. “You’re back. I didn’t realize it was your day.”
“Brooke, Paige, your upgrades. They’re not protecting you?” Leona asked while Serif was assessing everybody’s condition.
Paige laughed. “I didn’t get the antirad upgrade. I didn’t think I would need it.”
“I did,” Brooke said lethargically. “But I bought the bronze package. I need regular doses, or I lose it, which are heavily regulated, and supplied by my employer, who has no control over this mission.”
“Dar’cy?” Serif asked. “You seem the healthiest.”
“I threaded two months after the incident, when my dermatitis appeared. I only came back yesterday. Obviously we needed to save treatment for the people who couldn’t jump through time.”
“I still don’t get why you couldn’t take us with you,” Nerakali griped from the floor, head buried in a throw pillow.
“I don’t really either,” Dar’cy admitted. “I guess radiation poisoning makes it difficult for me to take passengers.”
“You barely tried!”
“Enough,” Paige demanded. “She’s back now, along with...Serif.” She clearly just wanted to go to sleep. “Please start with our pilot.”
“I’m the worst one!” Nerakali complained.
“She’s right,” Serif said. “She has to go first.”
Paige shook her head. “I can’t have that. She may be the sickest, but she’s also the most expendable. If Brooke goes, we lose control of the Warren.”
“Why does it matter?” Brooke questioned. “We’re all getting cured? She can go first, I don’t mind.”
Paige struggled to sit up straighter. “What if Serif can only save one of us? What if she can only save one of us per day? No, Brooke, it’s you. I make the decisions around here, and with Miss Atterberry gone, you are our best bet.”
“You’re wrong,” Leona said. “If Nerakali dies here, it will create the paradox I was telling you about. We don’t know when she goes back in time to seal her own fate, but one thing I do know is that she wasn’t at all sick when it happened. She has to get the cure to protect the timeline.”
“Leona Matic. Unlikely voice of reason,” Nerakali said.
“Shut up,” most of them barked at her in unison.
“Dar’cy,” Brooke said.
“What is it, hon?” Dar’cy asked her, coming over and kneeling down at Brooke’s side, ready to help.
“No, you. You get the cure. This is a logical problem, like that one where you and a...and like a, sheep and a wolf, or something, have to cross a river. You’re the piece of the puzzle that solves everything.” She was having trouble concentrating, but pushed through it. “Serif cures you, and say...say she can only do it once a day. Days don’t matter if you’re alive. If the rest of us die, you can go back in time and pull us out of the timestream to stop it from happening, meeting up with Serif after she recharges.”
“And what if she can only do it every week? Or every year, from her perspective?” Paige posed. “What if she can only do it once ever? What if the illness is so bad that it drains her of all her power?”
The room had no answer to this morbid riddle.
“Twelve hours,” Leona finally said.
Paige slumped back into the couch. “To what?”
“I never got a chance to study her ability. Give me twelve hours to do so. You think you can all make it that long? More importantly, Brooke, can you make it? Because Paige is right about one thing, you’re the most valuable crew member this boat has, with Missy gone.”
“Yeah, I can make twelve hours. I can make sixteen.”
“Ten,” Paige amended. “You have ten hours, and regardless of what you find out, Brooke goes first.”
“All right,” Leona accepted. “I’ll make a list of things I need. You’re all more familiar with the inventory.”

Eight hours later, Serif walked into Leona’s lab. “Anything?”
“Lot of things,” Leona answered. “Come here and take a look.”
Serif put her eyes on the microscope. “What am I seeing here?”
“Nanobots,” Leona said with a grin.
“Nanobots,” she repeated. “Organic nanobots. Your body makes them. It converts the chemicals you eat in everyday foods into programmable machines. your brain. You can expel these through your breath, instinctively programming them to treat wounds.”
“Don’t the Earthans have this kind of technology anyway? Aren’t they part of transhumanistic upgrades?”
Leona shook her head, even though this wasn’t technically wrong. “You can’t just..give someone medical nanites. They have to not only be programmed for specific tasks, but be customized to the individual.”
Serif just stood there.
“The only nanites that can treat a patient are the ones that were made especially for them. They’re non-transferable.”
“Well, then why are mine?”
“Because you’re a miracle,” Leona said, no doy. “We already knew that. When you donate your nanites to others, they automatically become compatible with their blood, organs, and microbiome.”
“You say I create them when I eat.”
“Yeah, basically. They die eventually, just like any cell, and your body discharges them, probably through urine, and replaces them simultaneously. That’s why your patients don’t suddenly start carrying nanites themselves. They lose them after the job is done, and they don’t replicate.”
“If I create them when I eat, and lose them after a period, then I only have so many.”
“At any one time, that’s right. But theoretically you’ll just keep producing them, like man’s sperm. I still don’t know why you can do this. If you were born with it, or what. It’s not really a time power, and those are the only kinds we’ve ever seen, but I guess it’s possible tha—”
“Leona!” Serif interrupted her. “Come back to me.”
“Yeah, sorry, I get carried away. This is a major discovery.”
“If I have a limited number, maybe I really can be drained. Maybe I can only save one. Maybe two. Hell, maybe even three, which means I don’t just have to decide who lives, but also who dies.”
“Paige is making that decision. It’s her job.”
“She can make all the decisions she wants. It all comes down to me.”
“Look, I need more time. I need you to heal someone, and then I can test your refresh rate. We can’t know that if you don’t use it.”
“You’re not getting it. You were supposed to tell me I can heal everyone, with absolute certainty.”
“Science doesn’t work like that.”
“This isn’t science. It’s magic. What we do is magic! There’s a way out of this, and you need to figure it out!”
Leona shut down and turned herself into a statue.
Serif composed herself. “I’m sorry. I’m under a lot of stress. I can’t wrap my head around the possibility that something I do—or don’t do—could lead to someone’s death. I can’t pass that off to Paige. I’m the one with the power.” At last, she inhaled.
“No you’re not.” Leona said, coming to an idea.
“You are now, but you don’t have to be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Allogeneic HSCT.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“A transplant. Transplants can transfer powers.”
“That works with time powers, but you said you don’t know if that’s what this is.”
“True, but it shouldn’t matter anyway. Cancer patients receive marrow transplants when their body can no longer produce certain cells on its own. Your nanites are probably made in the marrow, originating as stem cells, like all your others. If we transplant these stem cells to all the patients, they’ll start producing nanites on their own, for a short time.”
“For a long enough time?”
“There aren’t any studies on this, Serif. I know that’s a shitty answer, but it’s all I have. That certainty you were looking for doesn’t exist, not in ten hours.”
“Can you perform a, allergic CT?”
“Allogeneic HSCT. Probably.”
“Yes, I can,” she clarified, though she wasn’t really so confident.
“Paige isn’t gonna like this. A lot can go wrong in surgery, even I know that.”
“Well, if we had five days, and growth factor, I could give you growth factor, and it would be totally noninvasive.”
“Helpful remark.”
“I just need a blood centrifuge, and some needles,” Leona said, as if that wasn’t asking a lot. “And anesthesia.”
“And a sterile environment, surgical tools, time to practice the procedure, oh yeah, and the years it takes to become a surgeon.” Paige had hobbled into the room, and was resting against the door frame.
“You shouldn’t be up,” Serif said, trying to help her stand.
Paige refused the help. “And you shouldn’t be indulging in your girl’s fantasies.” She turned back to Leona. “You’re not performing surgery on five people, Leona. Jesus Christ, who do you think you are? I’ll be the first to admit that you’re an amazing woman, but you cannot do this. Time is up.”
“I have two more hours,” Leona argued.
“I’ve decided you don’t. Brooke’s health is too important, so Serif, you’re saving her now. We can only hope she isn’t your last.”
“Love,” Leona called out when Serif started following her out of the room.
“I’m sorry. If I can only save one, let me at least save one. If I jump forward in time to find nothing more than a pile of rotting corpses, because we wasted these last few hours on the off-chance you find out how to make this work, will the try have been worth it?”
“We can try to contact The Crossover,” Leona begged as they were walking away. “They know doctors, and they can be here in a flash!”
No one answered.
Leona remained to stew in her defeat, praying that someone from the Crossover randomly decided to show up without prompting. Then she realized that that was it. The Crossover. Serif was badly injured by the Sword of Assimilation. She must have absorbed the powers from someone else; someone from the other universe. She ran out to stop Serif, hoping her epiphany could be enough for them to rethink their plan. Only when she saw Serif breathing deliberately all over Brooke’s body did she realize the news didn’t matter.
As midnight approached, Brooke showed no signs of improvement, and the conditions of the others were deteriorating. In a desperate attempt to save the crew, Serif breathed on everybody, including Leona, just in case. Come 2165, they found everyone in perfect health. The nanite treatments apparently just needed a few days to work. Unfortunately, they realized that their exposure to radiation was not due to the meteor strike itself, but the contamination of most of their water supply. They had been forced to get creative with the recycling system, especially since no one knew how to repair the atterberry pods following Missy Atterberry’s death.

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