When Kaire and Athellus reappeared – Kaire looked bright-eyed despite the time she had spent upstairs without food - he was able to be cheerful, and ignore what he had seen, or thought he had seen. “Morning, you two. There’s still some of that oat stuff left, but apart from that, those ration packs are starting to run short.”

“Sure,” said Kaire. She accepted the water he was offering her and drank it down thirstily. When she was finished, she said: “Dax…I want to say thanks for helping us out. Things could have got nasty down there if not for you.”

“Nastier than it did, at any rate,” Athellus was saying, as he unwrapped another of those oatmeal packets and dropped a block of oats into a bowl of cold water. Dax had seen this on the past couple of days: Athellus said that the oats were specially treated, so adding water created a chemical reaction that cooked them into a sort of porridge.

Kaire was watching Dax, expectantly. Dax felt a little discomfited by her thanks, though he knew they were warranted; he could easily have been killed, after all. “Uh, don’t mention it.”

“So I want to return the favour,” Kaire told him. “As soon as you’ve eaten, I’ll Gate you straight back home. It’s the least we can do.”

Dax took a deep breath. He wasn't stupid: after talking to Athellus, he had been expecting this for the past two days. He had even rehearsed his reply, but in the face of Kaire’s friendly gesture, it tasted false in his mouth. Finally he just said it. “I…thank you, but I’m not going home. I’m staying here, in Nones, with you two.”

There was a long silence.

Athellus had paused in his hunt through his backpack, looking for a spoon. Kaire was looking blankly at him. Dax felt suddenly and curiously embarrassed.

“Dax…” Athellus sounded as if he was being careful to say this just the right way. “Dax, you can’t stay with us. We have a mission to do and you can’t come along. It’s too dangerous. We can’t let you.”

“Dangerous,” Dax repeated. “You mean, I might die?”

“Well, yeah,” said Athellus, sounding cross. “That’s what the word means.”

Dax smiled a little, ironically. “That’s the one thing I’m not worried about, then.” He turned to Kaire. “I might have babbled something to you about being sick?”

She nodded. Dax sat down on the cold flagstones and gently tapped his forehead.

“I’ve got a brain tumour,” he told them. “It’s in just the wrong place to be removed. The pressure from that is making me see things, making me have headaches like something out of hell itself. The doctor I spoke to just before I ended up here told me that it’s malignant. I don’t know much about tumours, but I’m guessing that means I’ll most likely be dead within a year or so, and by then it’s probably going to be a relief.”

He looked at Athellus. “You talk about the Evinthei having stacks of technology, and even more knowledge in their Archive. I’m guessing that means their medicine is pretty advanced as well. So…if the doctors in London can’t remove this tumour, maybe these Evinthei could do it.”

 

 

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