Saturday, 3 June to Monday, 5 June, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Standing in front of the Pogany’s door, Kate whispers to herself. “I can do this,” she says. “Just like the building, except smaller. Like a CAT scan.” She approximates a reassuring smile, which quickly fades. “And if it doesn’t work, she doesn’t even need to know that anything happened. We can try again.”
She stands looking at the door.
“OK,” she whispers, then steps forward at last, cradles the covered pot in her left arm, and knocks.
Janos Pogany brings tea to his wife, and smiles down at her.
“You are looking better!” he says. “Good, good. You are getting some strength back, yes?” As he sets down the cup of hot tea on the side table, he places next to it a small plate with three of Sara’s favorite little butter crackers, which he orders from a shop in Detroit at ruinous expense. “Can you take one of these with the tea, do you think?”
She smiles up at him, and tries to speak. She has to try again before she can make an audible sound.
“Yes,” she whispers. “Thank you Jancsi. You should rest.”
He stands above her for another moment and puts a hand gently on her thin shoulder.
“Yes,” he smiles. “I will just go to the bathroom for a moment.”
He leaves her in the big chair wrapped in her blanket facing the windows so she can see whatever remaining light there is in the sky, but he goes to the bedroom rather than the bathroom, and closes the door quietly. Safely in the room, Janos lets his face relax, no longer needing to project confidence. He walks over to their old dresser and stands for a minute looking down at it, then opens the top drawer and extracts a small box from which he pours a black rosary into his left hand. Walking to the bed, he carefully kneels by its side, resting his forearms on its edge. He spreads the rosary out on the bed’s surface, trying to straighten it out so he can find the small crucifix and begin with the first ‘Our Father’. Before Pogany can manage the task, however, his eyes close tightly and he begins to weep silently, pulling the blanket rather than the rosary up to his face to smother any possible sound.
Minutes later he is just beginning to get control of himself again when he hears a quiet little knock at the door. A girl’s knock.
It is, of course, the crazy girl from upstairs: Miss Spence. Pogany starts to frown, imagining that it might be the best way to conceal his own recent indisposition, but desists when he realizes that the girl wouldn’t notice if he had shaved his head. To him, Kate Spence looks like a ninety-eight-pound waif who has just taken enough stimulants to kill a crew of construction workers. She always looks that way to some extent, but especially now. Her bright gray eyes fix on him so desperately that Pogany’s breath catches in his throat and he is forced to frown at the girl after all.
“Mr Pogany,” she says, “may I come in? I made something I think Sara will like.”
He is tempted to say ‘No’, just to see if she will actually knock him down and rush inside anyway, as she looks on the verge of doing. But it will be even more interesting to see what the girl can possibly be so excited about. Whatever it may be, it is not about soup.
“Yes, yes,” he mutters. “Please.” He opens the door wide and stands aside to avoid being knocked down. “And what do we have this time?” he asks, looking at the pot.
“Oh, it’s just chicken soup with little dumplings,” she smiles at him so brilliantly but briefly. Her face goes from sheer joy, through several more difficult emotions, then at last to a careful neutrality—all so rapidly that it’s like being splashed with cold water. “Could you warm it up? But is it OK if I just go and sit with her for a minute?”
“Of course, yes,” Pogany replies, accepting the pot. “And I will make tea.” As the door closes itself he removes the lid. Pale little dumplings flecked with parsley, golden broth with carrots and onion and bits frugal little bits of chicken. The contents look and smell as though his grandmother has come back from the grave and taught the girl how to cook. Which, he reflects, is just possible with this young woman. She is an odd one. On his way to the kitchen Pogany keeps an eye on young Miss Spence as she hurries to the chair next to Sarika. She is quite obviously up to something.
“Hello, Sara,” Kate says nervously. “I made some soup. I hope you like it. But, can I, um, just sit with you for a bit?”
Sara looks up at her and manages a smile. “Yes,” she whispers, “please.”
The child sits, and immediately starts to fidget. She is so obviously up to something that Sara’s smile broadens. But what can it be? Certainly not the soup. It is no longer a surprise that she cooks like a Hungarian of a hundred years gone by. (Perhaps not surprisingly, since those people were very likely just as poor as this child and thus forced to improvise very much as she does.) As Sara watches Kate work her way up to revealing whatever surprise she has in store, she realizes that this is not about a new culinary treat. The child is more serious than Sara has ever seen her before. Serious enough for life and death. Has she just now understood how ill her hostess is? Absurd. Sara is quite certain that the child has understood her situation perfectly well since the first time they met. What then?
“Sara,” Kate says quietly, finally meeting the older woman’s steady gaze. “Could I just hold your hand for a moment? And, maybe, could we just, um, just sit quietly? And,”this is the part she is most nervous about, “could we just, um, I mean, could I just close my eyes?”
“Certainly, child,” Sara manages a louder whisper, and moves her hand an inch closer to Kate on the smooth surface of the old coffee table.
Looking nervous but determined, Kate takes Sara’s hand, closes her eyes, and leans back in her large chair, taking controlled deep breaths. With some effort Sara Pogany turns her head to watch the child intently.
With her eyes closed, Kate sees a different version of the room. No brilliant blue sparks this time. Just the Pogany’s front room like anyone else would see it, and even from more or less the correct point of view for where she is sitting, except kind of zoomed in on Sara, who appears to Kate’s new vision as though she is not sitting in a chair but standing, arms at her sides, palms forward. And floating over top of her is a glowing blue-white rectangle. The CAT Scan, ready to go. Kate takes a slow, controlled breath. This is going to be harder than doing a building.
Kate does not exactly see herself in the room. It’s more like she is the captain of a powerful ship, sitting in the big chair in the middle of the bridge, looking at Sara and the CAT Scan Device on the Big Screen. And everybody is waiting for her.
Kate looks at Mr Sulu (but played by the young Chow Yun Fat), and nods.
“Engage,” she says.
And the CAT Scan Device begins to move.
The CAT Scan Device in Kate’s imagination does not require X-Rays, nor ultrasound, nor powerful magnetic fields. But it uses compute power like a sonofabitch, and serious compute power takes lots of juice. That’s why we are going to need the power of an entire starship to pull this off.
The glowing rectangle touches the top of Sara’s head, and, deep in the engine room, the ship’s great power plant begins to hum.
You might assume that, because of the physical size difference, a building would be more difficult than a human body. But the issue is not how many cubic millimeters the CAT Scan Device must cover. The issue is complexity. That compute power will be used to examine every one of the thirty trillion cells is Sara Pogany’s body, and the difficulty of that maneuver goes way, way beyond the complexity of an apartment building.
Even so, at first, the effort is not too bad. The ship trembles a bit from time to time as the linear intermix matter-antimatter reactors step up their output and the dilithium crystals do whatever it is they do. The glowing rectangle moves smoothly through the 3D hologram schematic view of Mrs Pogany’s head, continues through her neck, and touches her shoulders. At which point the reactors step up their output again and there is a serious jolt. Everybody on the bridge leans to the left, and then to the right in excellent synchrony. Mr Scott appears on the screen, in a smaller window on the side. Except he’s played by Tony Shalhoub from Galaxy Quest, because he was always so calm.
“Hey, Captain. The reactors are starting to get a little bit of a workout here.” He smiles reassuringly. “Just FYI.”
Then there is a murmur around the bridge. As the glowing rectangle slowly proceeds downward, the first red glimmers have begun to appear in the patient’s blue-glowing body hologram. The procedure works! But the satisfaction among the bridge crew is tempered by the fact that the cancer cells appear to be concentrated in the patient’s bone marrow. And they are numerous. In the wake of the scanning blue rectangle, it looks as though Sara Pogany’s bones are lit from the inside with glowing red sparks.
“Captain,” Mr Spock says from his science station. (He is played by the young Leonard Nimoy, not the new guy.) “The enemy cells appear to be too numerous for our weapons.” As always Spock is careful not to suggest any course of action, limiting himself to offering the observation. But the implication is pretty damn obvious.
Kate projects an air of grim determination. “Nobody said is was going to be easy, gentlemen. And lady,” she nods to Uhura, who is apparently being played by some linear combination of the new woman, and Sade, the singer from a million years ago who did Smooth Operator. God, she was good. We could use a little of that smooth operating right now.
“Mr Sulu,” Kate nods to the young George Takei, since Checkov (new guy) is needed to control the CAT Scan itself. “Target enemy cells and begin photon torpedo barrage, if you please.” She has to speak up because of the hum propagating throughout the ship from the engine room. It does not actually seem very loud until you try to talk over it. Sulu hesitates for a long moment, and Kate glares at him.
“Yes, Captain,” he says, and turns to his panel. When she glances at Spock he merely raises an eyebrow.
There is a bit of a cheer around the bridge as the sparks of white light begin to issue from the Enterprise and speed toward their targets, and another when the torpedoes of light meet their target cells and the cancerous cells begin to die. But the celebration is muted by the fact that the hum of the straining engines becomes louder immediately.
Scotty’s face appears again, this time in a window right in the middle of the main screen. He’s doing that on purpose. As soon as the window appears, everyone on the bridge can hear what the roar of the reactors sounds like down in the engine room itself. The sound is shocking. It’s almost as much of a shock to see Scotty’s face. He’s normally so easy-going and basically cheerful (when played by Tony Shalhoub). Not now.
“Captain!” he shouts over the roar of the reactors. Behind him, nets of electrical discharges are crawling up things that look like stacks of huge discs. “She shaking herself apart! She canna take much more a’this, ma’am!”
“We have a job to do, Mr Scott!” Kate shouts back. “Just a little more and we’ll have them on the run! Just a few more torpedoes!”
But of course, the reverse is true. When she dismisses his window and zooms in on the battle front, the truth is obvious to everyone on the bridge: the red cells are breeding almost as fast as they are being destroyed by the sparks of white light. This job won’t be finished with just a few more torpedoes. It won’t be finished with just a few more million torpedoes. But Kate can’t stop. She can’t bring herself to issue the command that will admit defeat.
“Phasers, Mr Chekov! We’ll kill them a thousand at a time!”
Chekov turns toward her with horror in his young eyes. “But—but Keptin,” he says. (His accent gets worse when he gets scared.) “Phaser power consumption. It is wery high! Yuge!”
“Captain—” Spock begins.
“Do it, Mr Chekov! Now!” Kate shouts. “Set phasers on cancerous cells only!”
Chekov sets his young jaw and turns back to the control panel. A moment later, the devouring beam of the ship’s main weapon lances out. Instantly, the lights on the bridge flicker and the ship lurches drastically. Uhura whacks her head on one of the display pedestals and goes right down with a bad pressure cur on her forehead. Out in the hallway, alarms begin to blare.
“Kate!” Doctor McCoy shouts. “You tryin’ to get us all killed? Will you be happy then?” He is played by the new guy, and he looks pissed.
In the midst of the screen static and smoke in the air, Mr Scott comes on once more. He does not look at all reassuring now. He looks grim.
“I don’t want to hear it, Scotty!” Kate shouts over the din of overheating reactors. “We have a mission to complete!”
“Captain,” he says, looking into her eyes. “Please listen to me. You have to stop now. You cannot do this. If you don’t stop, you are going to die. Do you understand me?”
Kate looks at his face gazing soberly down at her from the big screen, then looks desperately around the smoke-filled room. Spock is using a fire extinguisher on his sensor panel.
On the verge of entering the living room carrying two cups of tea, Pogany stops and frowns. Sarika and Kate are both sitting back in their chairs with their eyes closed. Sarika looks tense, but the crazy girl from upstairs—her skinny arms are rigid and her hands are gripping the arms of the chair as though she is afraid of being thrown out. As he watches, the girl twitches and moans.
“Sarika?” he says, starting to set the tea cups down.
Kate Spence moans, and everything happens at once.
Pogany puts the tea cups down on the counter so fast that one of them tips and spills. The girl spasms so that she doubles over at the waist and her arms flail out to either side. Her right arm not only knocks the heavy lamp off the coffee table, but sends it arcing across the room to bounce off the couch as though it weighed nothing. Sara moans loudly and opens her eyes.
“Janos! Janos!” she calls in the strongest voice he has heard her use in weeks. “Stop her!”
He rushes across the room to grab Sara and look into her frightened eyes. “What’s wrong!” he shouts. “What did she do? Are you hurt?”
“Stop the girl Janos!” Sara shouts up into his face. “She is killing herself!”
Janos, has almost no idea how the sentence his dying wife just shouted at him can mean anything at all, but he nevertheless turns to the girl. From the depths of his soul, he believes that if Sarika says something, then it means something. These last months he has seen her sometimes sorrowful, sometimes wistful, sometimes in pain, but he has never until now seen her afraid. Kate’s hands have gone to her face but she is still doubled over. Janos grabs her shoulders and forces her upright.
There is blood all over the girl’s face, and her hands. Blood is coming from her nose. Her eyes are bright red, and there is blood coming from them also, like tears.
“I can’t do it,” she says looking up at him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! It’s too much.” She weeps helplessly.
“OK, yes, stop this now!” Pogany tells the girl sternly, but he hugs her to his chest. “We have to stop this bleeding!” Easing her back again, he pushes gently on her forehead. “Can you tilt your head back? We have to stop this quickly! You must go to the hospital. I will call an ambulance.”
“No, no!” the girl shouts, in sudden wide-eyed panic. With blood on most of her face, it is an arresting expression. “I can’t go there!”
In addition to the fact that she is bleeding to death, the girl is crazy. Pogany is two seconds away from rushing to get the flat computer to call 911 no matter what she says, but the genuine fear in the girl’s voice stops him.
“It’s OK,” she says more calmly. “I’m sorry. I can stop it.” And even as she says it, incredibly the terrible hemorrhaging slows and stops. “I’m sorry,” the girl whispers. “I’m sorry, I should go. I have to rest.”
“You can go when I see you are not going to bleed to death,” Pogany says sternly. “Just rest here for a little. Sleep. I will watch. But first, a warm washcloth.”
Kate dimly sees Mr Pogany give her one more scowling, worried look. Then he turns away toward the kitchen, and the world fades.
Kate inhales and opens her eyes, sees the ceiling, and realizes that she is lying on her couch. Except that it has moved: it’s on the wrong wall in the living room. And it’s bigger than her couch. And softer.
She remembers where she is, and turns her head to see Mr Pogany sitting in the chair that she passed out in. He is wearing a different shirt, reading a real book in a pool of light, the rest of the room dark. Hearing her, he has looked up.
“Hello!” he says, looking at her penetratingly. “Can you hear me?”
What kind of a question is that?
“Y—yes,” she says, her voice catching. “What—what do you mean?”
He sets his book down. “You couldn’t last time. But you took some soup. That was yesterday.”
“I—” Kate frowns. Something is not parsing. “What? What time is it? Did I fall asleep?”
“You visited us on Saturday afternoon. Now it is Sunday night. You have slept a day and a half. One time early this morning you got up and used the bathroom, then when you came back you let me give you some water and soup, but you did not speak or look at me.”
“Oh my god,” Kate whispers. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry.” As he was speaking she managed to sit up on the couch. Now, suddenly, she is frightened again. “Sara!” she says, looking as though she is getting ready to leap off the couch. “Is she—”
“She is well. She is sleeping. She fell asleep praying for you and I had to put her in bed. I also had to carry you to that couch, yesterday.” He looks at her sternly. “I am not a strong man, but you weigh nothing. You should gain weight. You will get ill.”
The Poganys have an old wind-up clock that they keep on a table on the other side of the room, carefully sheltered from direct sunlight. A new sound now adds itself to the clock’s normal ticking: a little sort of buzz or whirring noise, which is immediately followed by the clock beginning to strike the hour. In the gloom Kate cannot see the clock’s face well enough, but she now counts twelve bongs. It seems to take forever. Even after the last one sounds, she remains silent, not knowing what to say.
Instead, Mr Pogany speaks.
“My wife says that you are taltos,” he says. Seeing her look of incomprehension, he continues. “It is a Hungarian word that mean crazy person who doesn’t know what the hell she is doing, and is probably going to get everybody killed including herself.
Kate looks at him seriously.
“That a—very specific word.”
“Yes. Hungarian language has as many words for crazy person as Eskimo language has for snow.”
The clock ticks.
“It means healer,” he says. “Or something like healer. Or like witch.” He looks at Kate.
“Except I didn’t heal her, did I.”
“I told her that she is as crazy as you,” he smiles, but the smile fades quickly. “But what I will tell you is this. You are young. Sarika and I are old. Whatever you can do, or think you can do—this task is not for you.”
He looks at the floor for a while, then back up at her. His eyes gleam in the lamplight.
“Is your arm OK?” he asks.
“Um,” she frowns. “Not really. I have a bad bruise.” She turns her right arm toward him so he can see. The bruise is quite large and ugly. “Did I—fall or something?”
“You had a seizure and your arm hit this lamp and threw it across the room like a toy. I would say you should have X-rays, but you were afraid to go to the doctors.”
“Yes,” she says. “I’d rather not.”
“You know that Sarika is dying,” he says.
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
Pogany shrugs again.
“Everybody dies.” He looks out the dark window for a moment. “Tell me,” he says. “Do you think I would do anything possible to keep my wife alive?”
“Ah,” he smiles faintly. “Then you would be wrong. I would not sell her soul to save her life, and I would not sell my soul. And that means,” he frowns at her, “that I would not take your life to save hers. Do you understand?”
After a moment, Kate nods.
“You have some gift, it seems. This is good. But I think you came into it lately, yes?” Kate nods. “Yes, I thought so. But then listen to me. This means something! It means that there is no more time to be a silly girl. And this is being silly!” He gestures around to include his wife, himself, his world. “It is silly to spend yourself trying to—to do what? What would you do? Make us young again? Should the young make themselves old trying to keep the old young?” Pogany scowls. “This is madness. If you have some gifts, fine! But then you should not be such a fool. It doesn’t mean you are God, to do whatever you wish. And God, who can do whatever He wishes—it is His wish to let people live, and get old, and then die so that the young can have their chance. You have some ability, fine. Everyone who is young has some ability that I do not! But you, Miss Spence, must use whatever ability you have to do what I cannot do. That is your proper place.”
Kate just looks at the old man, in the pool of light from the lamp that made the bruise on her arm. Although it is warm in the Pogany’s apartment, she is sitting with the blanket around her shoulders that was covering her while she slept.
“What can I do that you can’t?” she asks.
“You can make the future! Like I did when I was young! I made the world you are living in now, can’t you see?” He waves around angrily at the whole building. “When I was young, when it was my time to act, I acted! I did not spend myself on the old. I left them because when Sarika came to me, I knew: This is the one I must protect. This is the one I must help. Our Lord said ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead.’ I left my village where everyone was scared of their own shadows and I helped Sarika find a new world.”
He scowls into the distance like a thundercloud, thinking, then looks at Kate again.
“When it was my time, I made the future. That is for you to do now. That is your proper work. Ask yourself. And ask God: How must I make a new world for the ones who come after me?” Mr Pogany shrugs. “If you won’t do that, then there will not be a future.”
Back in her own place in the wee hours of Monday morning, Kate sits on her own couch and wonders about the future. She reflects that Mr Pogany does not know that she has no place in it, being as afflicted with cancer as his wife, and an even more pernicious and devious form of it.
If you have some gifts, fine! But then you should not be such a fool.
It is a pity, Kate thinks, that she does not have a big old-fashioned clock like the Poganys, because she is quite sure that it would be bonging right now, as if to mark her great realization.
If she can do a CAT scan, then she can also do a KATE scan.
This time, however, Kate thinks it is probably not necessary to involve the crew of the Enterprise. Kid stuff.
Closing her eyes, Kate sees her own body, again as a kind of hologram schematic, standing, with her arms down at her sides, palms facing forward. Yes, OK, the body looks kind of skinny. Her astral self frowns. Well, what do you expect in The World of 2017? Gina Lollobrigida?
So. Her astral self takes a deep breath. It is time to face the truth, once and for all. To find out how much time she really has. Who knows? Maybe there will be enough time to make a little of the future, as Mr Pogany would say.
The blue-white square floating above her body-hologram is ready to go now, glowing at full power. It apparently takes some time for the thing to warm up. She is ready, this time, for how much mind-power this thing requires which, last time, her imagination symbolized as the reactors of the Starship Enterprise. But this time she has no intention at all of straining those ‘reactors’. No ‘photon torpedoes’ this time, and definitely no ‘phasers’. Whatever her fate is to be, Kate prefers not to end by bleeding to death all over her apartments floor.
The glowing rectangle meets the top of her head, the intersection between scanner and body glowing doubly bright and then fading as the scanning rectangle moves on. The scan continues from the top of the cranium into the cerebral cortex: the frontal and parietal lobes, the occipital lobe and optic nerve, the temporal lobe. It continues down through the cerebellum, and finally continues down into the brain stem and spinal cord, passing out of the head entirely. It leaves the completed scan in its wake, and Kate’s astral eyes stare at the horrible truth.
There is not a single cancerous cell in her brain. No, not even one sad solitary little cancer cell, hoping to someday grow up and kill its big host.
Zero, zip, zilch. Nada. Nihil.
Kate just glances at it when, passing through her lungs, the scan does encounter five or six red specks. But even as she is glancing, one of them winks out. A helpful message appears, in glowing blue-white text beside the hologram. It says: Cancerous Cell Production In Equilibrium With Immune System Response. No Net Increase in Cancerous Cell Count Detected.
Well. OK then. As the scanning rectangle passes through the soles of her feet, she lets the image fade and opens her eyes.
And feels that her face is wet.
Panicked, Kate puts her hands to her face and then looks at them. But it is only water, not blood. She seems to have been crying rather a lot, lately. Maybe that will have to stop, too.
Kate sits on her couch, staring out into the predawn darkness.
She is going to have to rethink a lot of things.