Marque of Caine – Snippet 15

“Unfortunately, no.” She examined his leg even more closely, as if she was hunting for microorganisms. “I have your complete medical history, but a lot of the situational details are redacted. All those records tell me is that you sustained a very severe fracture of the left tibia just under three years ago.” She looked up. “There is no sign of it. And I mean no sign. I could run the scan again, but it’s going to show the same thing.”

Caine felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise in response to the certainty of her tone. “Why?”

“Because none of the things that should be in your scans are showing up.”

“Such as?”

Brolley sighed, stood, and stepped back to look him over. “Such as the lung damage from the spores on that same world. When you got home and cleared the quarantine exit exam, the med-techs were already surprised at how little scarring remained on your lung tissue. Now it’s gone.”

“Same is true with your older, even more serious wounds: the ones you sustained during the liberation of Jakarta.” She glanced at her palmtop. “Let’s see: ‘Lacerations of the right latissimus dorsi, the right lung, and the liver. Splintering fracture of T5 vertebra.’ Which, thanks to the Dornaani who were with you, all healed. A miracle, our doctors said.” She leaned closer. “They were wrong. The real miracle is that now, there’s no indication you were ever wounded. No place where the bones reknitted, no scar tissue in the muscle or at the wound site on your back. Your T5 looks showroom new. Your liver is fully regrown, no sign of damage.”

Riordan felt a chill moving up his torso. “But how–?”

“I’m not done. The wound to your arm from the assassination attempt on Mars? Healed. Like it was never there. Same with two minor bone breaks from playing sports as a kid.”

The cold front that had moved up Riordan’s torso now penetrated his bones, but not due to the unnerving exam results. It was because he knew what had caused them.

“And that’s only the gross deviations from what we should see,” Brolley continued. “There’s also freakishly low dental wear. Your age-normal gum recession has disappeared. Even the bone and muscle wear that starts changing your shape after a few decades in a gravity well are absent. Your endocrinology looks like that of a twenty year old: adrenaline, endorphins, entire lymphatic system is textbook for a young adult male.

“But here’s the weirdest of all–and we would never have detected it without the baseline we took after you picked up some rads while you were stranded off Barney Deucy. Today’s telomere test came back abnormal, but not the way we’d expect. The chains are longer than they were. By four sigma shifts.” She sat and shook her head. “These results: there’s no way to explain them.”

“There is,” Caine corrected quietly.

Brolley’s surprise doubled. “How?”

Caine nodded toward her palmtop. “Look at the entries for the respiratory trauma caused by the exobiotic spores on the planet I can’t mention.”

Brolley frowned, scanned. “Yes? What am I looking for?”

“Does it say how I was treated?”

“Er, just that the Slaasriithi used a therapy they translated as a ‘theriac.'”

Riordan nodded, felt like he was outside himself. “I presume you are familiar with that word?”

Brolley had to think. “That’s from classical references. Not scientific. Some honey-based mixture that was supposedly a poison antidote.”

Riordan shook his head, felt like he was looking out of someone else’s eyes. “There’s another definition.”

“There is?” Brolley entered the word into her commplex, waited a moment, then looked up, her eyes wide. “A cure-all? You think–?”

“I think that when the Slaasriithi used the term ‘theriac,’ they were not using it incorrectly or fancifully.”

Brolley leaned back on her exam stool. “Commodore–Caine, this has to be repor–“

“Suppressed.” Riordan could barely believe the word had come out of his mouth: just a day ago, he’d damned IRIS, and then Yan and her ilk, for doing what he was now suggesting. “Sit on it for a few weeks. After that, it’s in your hands.”

My hands?” Brolley’s laugh was ironic but genuine. “You of all people know that the powers-that-be are not going to allow me to decide what to do with this information. And if they did, suppressing it is the last thing I’d do.”

“Then you’d better get ready for everyone with a terminal disease, or a crippling injury, or encroaching dementia, to come lining up at your doors like it’s the new Lourdes.”

Brolley bit her lip. The healer in her was clearly at war the pragmatist. “Yeah. You have a point. A whole mess of points, actually. But even so, it’s not up to me to hold back this information. This has to be–“

Caine leaned toward her. “If you share this, they won’t let me leave Earth. Ever again.”

Brolley’s eyes searched his, probably looking for any hint of deceit or exaggeration. After two long seconds, she sighed, looked away. “All right. What’s so important about this next trip of yours?”

Caine told her. With admirable brevity, he thought.

Brolley’s frown was back, deeper and more frustrated than ever. “Well, that’s just great. So now I’ve got to choose between preventing you from retrieving the love of your life–“

“–and mother of my son–“

Brolley closed her eyes. “–Or withholding information on what may prove to be a ground-breaking panacea.”

Riordan nodded. “But only until I’m outsystem.”

“Yes,” she agreed, eyeing him. “Outsystem and away from our labs, our ability to use you to help replicate–“

“Christa, did you hear how you just phrased that: ‘our ability to use you’? That’s the other thing I’m worried about: becoming a lab animal.”

“Caine, I’m sorry, but whatever is in you–if it can be isolated–could change everything.”

“You have no idea how many times before and after the war I heard some variation on that phrase: ‘if you do this, it could change everything.'” Riordan closed his eyes. “You already have a pint of my blood and plenty of other samples. That should get you started.”

“And then? Caine, I hate to be blunt, but what if you get killed on this mission? Should Earth lose this unique opportunity just because you die in some accident?”

Riordan met her stare: he saw Elena’s eyes. He looked away, toward the window: it was Elena’s eyes, not his, that he saw reflected there. Even after shutting his eyes, he still saw Elena’s. “Christa, the Slaasriithi had a major debate over using the theriac. They had lots of restrictions against doing so.” He opened his eyes. “Now I understand why.”

“You mean, because we’re not ready for it?” She was frowning again.

“Well, are we? And more to the point, who’s to decide that? And how hastily? For instance, what if your research shows that it will cost a billion credits a dose. Who gets it? Based on what criteria?”

“I don’t know. That’s not my decision. That’s why I have to send it up the tree.”

“And you will. I am just asking you to keep it under wraps for a few weeks. At most.”

“Yes–until you’re out of our reach.”

“And isn’t that my right?”

Brolley shook her head. “Caine, I don’t know if I can agree. What this could mean–“

“May be wonderful. May be a disaster. May be something we won’t be able to replicate, no matter how hard we try and how much we spend. But you can be sure of this: when you submit this report, the powers-that-be are going to put this under wraps and sit on it for months. Because they’re not going to act until they learn if the theriac can be extracted from my samples and until they have some idea about how it works.”