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a DarkSF short story

by John Argo


title by John ArgoCara is a very beautiful girl.

One-eye woke up screaming again in the early morning light—something he was doing a lot lately. He clutched his throat with both hands to stop the nightmare claws that seemed to be choking him. He kicked and thrashed about on his back, on the cold stone floor. Finally he sat still—terrified, breathing hard—while his heart raced madly. He gulped deep breaths of smoky air and tried to remember what he had just seen. Death, that was what he'd seen: his own death at the hands of a young girl with a dazzling smile who came closer, closer, smiling, ever closer with her hands outstretched…

Outside the Aerie, it was sunny above, but cloudy below as if ash were raining in a cold sky. The sun was a wan orb in the distance, bracketed by chalky fog rings.

Portney poured himself a crystal of claret and regarded the skyline of New York. "No," he told his colleague Lipski, "there was no choice."

Lipski was a short, paunchy man with a red face and shortness of breath. Lipski welcomed Portney's offer of claret. There was a red splashing sound in the air-conditioned silence of the richly carpeted and wood-paneled study five miles up. The two doctors pursed their lips and weightily regarded the miles and miles of coppery rooftops basking in Mediterranean sunshine.

Lipski toyed idly with the index-triever control panel built into the wall of Portney's study. "Say, Portney, suppose she really is traveling in time? Suppose we could learn from that…?"

Portney shook his head vehemently. Red drops of claret shimmered on the horns of his mustache. "No. Remember, this is a disease we are dealing with. We don't want to use it. We want to cure it."

Lipski allowed a sallow nod. "I suppose you're right. Too many questions of ethics and phenomenology involved."

Portney waved his claret glass over the rooftops of 2105 A. D. "See there? A gravityless ferry rising toward a space station. A marvelous world we have today. And still, each new age, no matter how marvelous, brings within its host of new diseases. Or else diseases never before properly diagnosed. Even a century ago, our girl would have been thought to be, what did they call it, schizoid. Or even possessed by demons. But we know we have clear-cut case of Lampert's Disease."

Lipski agreed: "Time-crazy, as it's popularly known. Identified less than twenty years ago. Now if we only understood it. If we only had a cure."

Portney shrugged. "We don't understand the disease, remember, but we know the trigger which sets it off. An overexposure to tripulin-60."

There was a long silence during which Portney dourly surveyed the beautiful silent landscape through heavy, silent glass. A balmy haze suffused the air above the gleaming roofs of spires and domes, cubes and sphere shapes, turning verdigris in long running rivulets according to the dictates of gravity.

Lipski put his hand on Portney's shoulder: "Don't let it eat you up. It had to be done. She was dying."

Portney made a tense, helpless little shrug. "I saved her? Did I really?" He turned and looked sharply at Lipski: "We don't understand what is going on inside her. We don't know how to cure her of this new illness. We cured her of Tyler's Syndrome, yes, although we still haven't been able to fix the fact that she's blind, that her face is all caved in, that her arms and legs are atrophied, that she is practically sexless, and that she's either comatose or stark raving mad most of the time. We took an advanced case of Tyler's, ten years mind you, and arrested: it, knowing it would induce Lampert's Disease. I ask you, because I don't have the answer to the ethics and phenomenology of that."

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