The room around her was painfully bright. But then, everything usually was. That was what happened when you had a tumor literally growing into your brain from all sides. Everything made you hurt. Everything was too loud, too bright, too colorful, or too pungent. Or, it was too dark, too quiet, or too dull. It was never the same every day.
Liza closed her eyes to block out the bright light. The tumor always screwed with her brain. It would kill her, soon enough. At least, that's what the doctor said. How it hadn't already done so was a miracle, in the doctor's own words.
But she needed to continue through the painfully bright lobby. Liza hobbled up to the reception desk and tapped the counter to get the attention of the receptionist. "Uh-um, excuse me."
The receptionist glanced up. "Yes?"
"I-I'm here to meet D-D-Doctor Lurk?" Liza stuttered. She had no idea if the stutter was natural or from her tumor. The tumor did a lot of things to her brain.
"Doctor Lurk is on the third floor, office 335," The receptionist listed off, glancing at the screen of her computer for a moment to double-check.
"Th-thank you." Liza nodded and started off towards the elevator.
A couple of passers-by gave her weird looks, but she was used to that. It was what happened when you couldn't bring yourself to eat more than a couple of meals a week. Having her skin taut against her bone with absolutely nothing in between made her skeletal, and as such she was weak. She knew she was far from attractive because of it. The last time anyone had even considered asking her out was in high-school, before the tumor had begun to have a major effect on her eating habits. Even then, though, it had made her awkward and unable to operate normally.
Liza hit the button for the third floor and backed into the corner of the elevator. She fervently hoped that she would be alone in the elevator. Interacting with people was so, so difficult when she could barely understand their words and she stuttered so much that they couldn't understand her.
Her hopes were dashed, though, when a pair of young men entered the elevator as well. The duo were chatting as one of them tapped the button for the second floor.
Liza just stood in the corner and tuned them out. They were talking back and forth so quickly that she couldn't catch their words. It wasn't like their conversation mattered to her, though. She was just on the way to meet Doctor Lurk about a revolutionary supposed cure for cancer. If it worked, Lurk would be the most widely praised man on earth. If it failed, then Liza was probably dead. She was dead if nothing happened, too. There really was nothing for her to lose.
Just about every part of Liza's brain was affected by the tumor. It made light painful, it made noises painful, it gave her debilitating headaches, it ruined her ability to speak and understand words, and it sometimes messed with her memory. It had gotten so bad that she couldn't even remember when it had first become a problem.
Liza's attention was brought back to the real world when she realized that one of the two men had directed a comment towards her. "Huh?"
"I was just asking what you were here for," The young man repeated.
"I-I'm g-g-going to see D-Doctor Lurk," Liza answered meekly.
"The crazy doctor with the supposed cure for cancer, right?" The man asked. When Liza nodded, he continued. "Me and Charles are here to see Doctor Sears. Nanobot tech is the up and coming new form of medicine, and we're going to be a part of it."
Liza just nodded. She had read about the nanobots, but it didn't really stand out to her. Not enough to warrant further interest.
The two young men stepped out of the elevator at the second floor, leaving Liza alone in the elevator once more. That was a good thing, in her opinion. It meant that she didn't have to worry about them talking to her.
After a couple of moments, the elevator reached the third floor. Liza stepped out and glanced around, her eye catching a sign. She squinted her eyes to read the directions, then turned left and continued down the hallway, stopping every now and then to read the door numbers. She eventually located office 335 and stepped inside.
As was probably to be expected, there was a receptionist for this individual office. The receptionist glanced up as Liza entered the room. He gave her a bored glance. "Please state your name."
"L-Liza P-Patterson," Liza answered shakily. "I-I have an ap-appointment with D-Doctor Lurk."
The receptionist glanced at his computer for a moment, his eyes flickering across the screen. "Oh yes, Doctor Lurk is waiting for you. Continue in."
Liza hesitantly passed the reception counter and pushed her way into Doctor Lurk's personal office. She glanced around, only to wince as the light in the room made her eyes hurt. She did catch glimpses of bookshelves and books, as well as a couple of trinkets, but she had to squint her eyes to lessen the pain. Liza continued towards the large desk set in the middle of the room.
A man was seated at the desk, head bowed as he focused on paperwork. As Liza came closer he looked up. He didn't look old, but neither was he particularly young. It was somewhat off-putting, the way that his eyes carried experience but his face was free of wrinkles. "Hello, miss. I assume that you are Liza Patterson?"
"Y-yes." Liza nodded in confirmation.
"Take a seat, Miss Patterson." The man gestured to a large chair that was sitting in front of his desk. When Liza shakily lowered herself into the seat opposite, he continued. "Now then, you're here about the tumor removal procedure that I've been working on, right?"
Liza just nodded, not trusting her stuttering voice.
"Well, it's good to meet you in person, Miss Patterson." Doctor Lurk put his papers to the side. "I'd heard about your rather unique condition. A tumor that ruins most of your mind. It's no wonder you came to me. If all goes well, the procedure should make the tumor literally disappear."
"H-how?" Liza asked. "H-how does it w-work?"
"It's a complicated bit of genetic alteration," Doctor Lurk explained. "We begin the process by taking a tiny sample of the cancerous cells and using that to find the exact genetic mutation that causes them to grow. Then we mark all cancer cells with both a harmless radiation and a visible color, so that we can tell if all cells are removed. Then we administer a drug that seeks out the marked cells and causes them to wither away, returning to nutrients the body can use. If all goes well, then the process will leave you tumor-free, and in much better health."
"H-have y-you ever d-done it be-before?"
"There have been multiple successful tests, but you will be the first human patient for the treatment," Doctor Lurk replied calmly. "If everything goes as planned, then the worst-case scenario is that your skin is stained green from the color-dye that is used on the tumor. Even then, though, that should wear off within a couple of weeks at most."
Liza considered it. After all that she'd had to suffer from the tumor in her head, knowing that the worst that could happen in removing it was that her skin would turn green was heartening. "I-I-I'll d-do it."
A wide smile broke out on Lurk's face. "Wonderful!" The doctor leaned to one side and opened a drawer, pulling out a stack of papers. Liza couldn't even try to count how many papers there were, but it was at least an inch thick. Doctor Lurk put the stack on the desk and pushed it over towards Liza. "Please sign at the bottom of every page."
Liza took the pen and began to sign on the pages. Reading the whole thing would be a pain for anyone, even people without brain difficulties. As such, she just signed at the bottom of each page. It wasn't like she could really be punished by anything in the contract. If she didn't sign, she'd die. She didn't have anything valuable, and even if she did there was nobody she would be able to give it to. Really, she didn't care if she was signing all her money over. There was nothing to lose.
As soon as Liza was done, she put the pen down. "Wh-when d-does the procedure st-start?"
"I was thinking a couple of days from now, on Tuesday. Just make sure to be at the hospital by ten in the morning, and we'll get it all set up," Doctor Lurk answered. "Does that work for you?"
"Y-yes." Liza nodded.
"Then I shall see you then." Doctor Lurk closed the lid back on the pen.
Liza walked into the hospital at nine forty-five. The sliding doors opened for her as she slowly and carefully made her way in. She quickly spotted Doctor Lurk and made her way over to him. The man was sitting on a large chair and reading a book, but he closed it and tucked it under his arm when she approached.
"Hello, Liza. Are you ready to begin the treatment?" Lurk asked.
Liza nodded, not trusting her voice.
"Alright, follow me." Doctor Lurk stood from his seat. He nodded to the passing hospital employees and took Liza into a room with a large device set into the wall. Liza didn't recognize it, but she assumed that it was something important.
Doctor Lurk had Liza sit down on a chair and lean back over a trash can. "Now, I'm going to have to remove your hair before we proceed. It would get in the way of the surgery. Is that okay?"
Liza nodded again. At her signal, Doctor Lurk walked over to a table and grabbed an electric hair razor. After checking to make sure it was plugged in, he began to run the razor over her head, shearing her hair off in its entirety. It wasn't as though she had much in the first place. Growing it out was just impossible, and even if she could grow it out it would be difficult to take care of. That didn't mean that she didn't want long hair. On the contrary, it was one of the things she yearned for most.
Once all of her hair was cut off, Doctor Lurk walked back over to the table and picked up a syringe. He raised it up to double-check the dosage. "I'm going to put you under to perform the rest of the procedure. When you wake up, the trouble will be all gone."
Liza didn't have any complaints as the doctor inserted the needle into her arm and pressed the plunger. As far as she knew, the world slowly faded into darkness as people wearing hospital outfits entered the room.
"Quickly, quickly now," Lurk directed as the nurses lifted the unconscious Liza off of the chair into a stretcher. "We have maybe four hours, and we need to make the most of it."
The nurses quickly carried Liza into an adjacent room with a viewing window. It had cost Lurk a great deal of money to get this efficient system set up, but he wasn't upset. On the contrary, if it worked he'd be making twice as much as he had spent. Damien Lurk was incredibly pleased with that possibility.
Damien watched through the window as the nurses prepared Liza's body for surgery. He glanced away for a minute while they changed her into a hospital gown, but looked back as soon as they were finished. The nurses turned Liza on her face so that they could access her brain. Most of her blood was being drained from her body to be replaced by a cooling fluid of Damien's own design. It would slow the rate at which her body died by a significant amount, allowing the surgeons much more room for error. Several machines were rigged up to the young woman, monitoring her heartrate, brain activity, and similar effects.
With calculating eyes, Damien watched the surgeon enter the room and begin to cut away at the skin on the back of Liza's head. He had seen it more times than he cared to admit, and at this point it was little more than procedure to him. While Doctor Lurk might've told Liza that she was the first, she was really closer to the ninth. All of the others had been failures as the tumors proved to be immune to the special chemicals that he had engineered to destroy them. It was infuriating.
After changing the serum enough times, though, it would work. The tumors would be destroyed, and the compound would allow Damien Lurk to go down in history as the man who cured cancer. That was the legacy he was owed for his work in biochemistry.
The surgeon removed a large portion of the back of Liza's skull, carefully lifting the bone away from her brain. It was easy to see the mess of fleshy tissue that lay beneath, clearly not brain matter. The surgeon sliced off an extremely thin layer of the fleshy tumor and slowly carried it to a vial that had been set aside for this purpose.
The slice of flesh hit the chemical mixture and began to sizzle, melting into the concoction. Once the tumor had completely assimilated with the green fluid, the surgeon picked up a syringe and began to fill it with the chemical. With the tumor's DNA assimilated into it, the serum would only affect the tumorous tissue. Then the secondary injection would begin, and the tumors would melt away.
With a steady hand, the surgeon carefully embedded the tip of the syringe's needle in the tumorous tissue and depressed the plunger. Even from the other room, Damien could see the green color rushing across the surface of the tumor. A glance at one of the monitoring machines showed that it picked up the radiation markers as well, clearly outlining the tumor that covered and snaked through Liza's brain.
As soon as the green dye set in, the surgeon walked back to the table and put the empty syringe down. He picked up another syringe and extracted a specific amount of fluid from a second vial.
Damien could feel the tension in the air. This was it. This was the moment of triumph. If it worked, then not only would Liza survive, but more importantly Damien would go down in history. He'd be the most famous biochemist to have ever lived for finding a cure for cancer. The surgeon slowly and carefully administered the drug, pressing the plunger until the entire syringe was empty.
The surgeon carefully removed the syringe and stepped back, putting it back on the table. Now all they could do was wait.
Fortunately, they didn't have to wait long. After a couple of minutes the monitors showed the tumor begin to shrink. Damien congratulated himself on his success. The first successful use of the new procedure.
As if the universe knew he was succeeding, the tumor began to grow once more. In moments, it was back to its original size. It seemed as though the serum had caused the tumor to grow, rather than causing it to shrink. Probably only served to enhance the mutation. Damien sighed and pressed a button set below the window, turning on the intercom. "Another failure. Stop procedure. She's as good as dead."
The surgeon nodded, his shoulders slumping in resignation. He removed his facemask and looked at the heartrate monitor, noting as it flatlined.
Then without warning, it started again. The radiation monitor showed the tumor growing, but now it was slowly extracting from Liza's brain. Instead, it was growing out. The green-dyed tumor was growing out of the back of Liza's head, visibly bulging out of the hole in her skull. The surgeon looked askance at the window, his eyes wide with surprise. This was not part of the plan, and by all means should be impossible.
The tumor continued to grow, now no longer restrained by Liza's skull. A pseudopod of tumorous flesh began to bulge out of the growing mass, slowly elongating into what looked like a fleshy green tentacle. More and more began to grow out of the bulging tumor, until there were almost a dozen tentacle-like pseudopods that had developed. At this point, the surgeon began to back towards the door, trying to get out of the room.
But the mutation wasn't done. The tentacles twitched and slowly rose, muscle developing inside of the boneless structures. It was biologically impossible for them to grow this quickly, yet they did. It was a marvel of modern biological manipulation.
Or at least, that's what Damien thought until the tentacles launched towards the surgeon and burrowed into his chest.
In seconds, the surgeon's skin grew pale, as though the blood was being siphoned from his body. It wasn't just his blood that seemed to be siphoned, either. His form rapidly grew gaunt, like he hadn't eaten in years. It barely took half a minute for the surgeon to become little more than skin stretched over a skeleton. Then he fell over, dead.
Conversely, the tumor was still growing. It began to spread underneath Liza's skin, causing her skin to slowly change to a green color. Her previously anorexic form began to fill out, as it seemed the tumorous tentacles transferred the nutrients they absorbed into her. What was once an unnaturally skinny and skeletal young woman soon became a healthy and rather physically attractive woman, if you ignored the green and the tentacles.
The tentacles withdrew from the now-dead surgeon's chest, leaving twelve clean holes in his skin and flesh. With almost impossible dexterity, the tentacles delicately began to remove the needles and diodes from Liza's skin, disconnecting her from the machines. As if they were seeking the source of their growth, the tentacles then began to quest around the room, pushing the monitoring machines aside with next to no effort. Eventually they located the chemical Damien designed, and plunged right in.
It was like the chemical was a mutagenic drug. The tentacles began to grow out of control, more and more sprouting from the back of Liza's head to thrash around the room. Once the vial was drained, the tentacles began to lift Liza up by pressing against the floor, acting as dozens of legs attached to the back of her head. Slowly and carefully, the woman was lifted to an upright position.
Then her eyes snapped open, a completely black color. It was as though her pupils had overtaken the iris and whites. Those solid black eyes turned towards the window, staring right at Damien.
There was a rush of movement, and suddenly she was right up against the window. The green-skinned young woman place her hand against the glass. After a moment, she spoke, her voice smooth and sure, contrasting with her previous stuttering. "Another failure?"
Damien could only back up in fear. It was wrong. It had all gone wrong. He had made a cure for cancer, only to find that it was a powerful mutagen. It didn't shrink the tumors, it made them grow.
The mutated Liza backed away from the glass, suspending herself above the ground with the tentacles sprouting out of the back of her head. She glanced around the room, her eyes stopping on the body of the surgeon. Even from the distance Damien was at, he could see her blanch.
Tentacles wrapped around the doorknob and ripped the door open. Like some creature from the deep, the betentacled woman left. Screams from other rooms in the hospital alerted Damien to the fact that she was leaving, but he really didn't care anymore.
All Damien could do was sit and contemplate his complete and utter failure.