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In The Shadow of the Valley of Death

Written by: Charles Gray

Disclaimer: Baloo, Rebecca Cunningham, Don Karnage, Kit Cloudkicker, Molly Cunningham and WildCat are (c)1990/1991 Walt Disney Company and are being used without premission. The writer has made sure that all material represented here is not used for profit and is used with the upmost respect to Disney and the Tale Spin team. All other characters are the property of the writer.


The first sign Michael had that something was wrong came on the Saturday before spring break. As usual, the teenagers and their friends were out at the park, enjoying a game of baseball. Molly was coming around the last leg of an easy homerun when she tripped. Molly went sprawling, barely catching herself in time to keep from smacking her face into the dirt.

 

Michael ran out onto the field, Jereem and Hannah right behind him.

 

"Are you okay?" Michael asked concerned, as he held out his hand for molly to pull herself up. She said nothing for a moment, then struggled to her feet without taking Michaelís hand.

 

"Must have been a pothole." Molly said. Michael blinked.

 

"No, it was pretty-"

 

"I said it was a pothole, Michael!" Michael paused. Molly didnít usually get this angry over a simple fall. He decided to let it pass and nodded.

 

"Okay." He said. Jereem looked over at Molly, his brow furrowed.

 

"Molly." Jereem said.

 

"Yeah?" replied.

 

"You fell last week... when you were in PE at school." Michael nodded. The Bearess had actually taken a tumble down the stairs on the way to the field, and had to sit out the entire period... and for Molly to do that, it had to have been something of a tumble.

 

"It happens to everyone, Jereem." Molly said, an edge to her voice.

 

"how many other times have you fallen?" Jereem asked quietly.

 

"None of your business." Molly said, face pale with anger and pain. She walked towards the sidelines, ignoring both Jereem and Michael. Michael looked after his girlfriend in confusion.

 

"She really bit your head off.... why?>" Michael said to Jereem.

 

"Itís probably nothing." Jereem said. Michael looked over at Jereem. "You know how Molly hates to look stupid." Jereem continued, in response to Michaelís unsaid question. Michael nodded.

 

"I see. Well, maybe tomorrow we can talk about it. She should be calmed down by then."

 

Molly sat on the bench, hands clasped tightly together. It couldnít be, not after all this time.... She tightened her grip, in order to make certain nobody could see the tremor that had started.

 

The next day, Michael, Hannah and Jereem waited for Molly at the base of the apartment. Late last night, Molly had called the others and suggested a hike up on the hills surrounding the city. Even after the war, little had been built on the hills, as they would be natural targets for anyone trying to bypass the defenses of the cliff face, making it a perfect area for hikes, with lightly wooded trees mixed in with rocky slopes and grass. Michael had been surprised at Mollyís choice, given the problems that she had had yesterday, but decided not to say anything.

 

The day started out well enough. The four friends headed for the beginning of the foothills sloping up from the city, in an area where there was little construction. Molly, for some reason, wished to take the more difficult slopes, scrambling up rocky, treacherous slopes, while the others puffed along in her train.

 

"Trying to show us all up, Molly?" Michael asked, with a light voice.

 

"You need more exercise, Michael." Molly called back as she headed up another slope. Behind the two, Jereem made his difficult way. Unlike Michael, Jereem wasnít even trying to keep up with Molly. Michael occasionally heard snatches of a whispered conversation between Jereem and Hannah. The only thing Michael could be certain of was that it concerned Molly.

 

"Hey Molly, wait!" Michael called again. "Weíre leaving Jereem and Hannah behind."

 

This time, Michael saw it from the beginning to end. Molly was trying a difficult move, when her leg... just gave out. It didnít slip or have the ground shift under it, it just suddenly crumpled, as if the muscles decided to give up. Molly gave a cry of pain and fear as she tumbled from the outcropping, rolling and bouncing over the ground as she headed back down towards Michael. Michael ignored his own footing and lunged for his girlfriend, getting her by the straps of her coverall, and tried to dig his other hand into the dirt as they both began to slide for an edge.

 

"Hang on Molly!" Michael shouted, as he realized that they werenít going to make it. The edge of the 12 foot drop came up as Michael tried to figure out how to keep either one from landing wrong, a broken leg being eminently preferable to a broken neck, when he felt two pairs of hands grab him by the belt and shirt. Michael stopped trying to hold onto the dirt, and then grabbed Molly with his free hand. With Jereemís and Hannahís help, the four stopped just short of the drop. Molly turned, face pale, and then tried to get up, before her leg gave out again. This time, she couldnít disguise the cry of pain, and grimace that ran across her face, and sat back down, pale and sweating. For a moment, she didnít seem to see Michael or the others.

 

"No! No! No!.... Itís not fair!" She snarled/sobbed pounding the ground with a fist. For a moment, Michael thought she was going to start crying on the spot. More importantly, the rocks on the ground were cutting her knuckles. Michael grabbed her hand and pulled it to him, gently but irresistibly.

 

"Molly... what is wrong."

 

"I-I just-"

 

"No Molly." Michael said forcefully. "You did not Ďjust fallí, and I think you know what is wrong. So tell us." Molly refused to look at him. Michael said nothing, just waiting.

 

"Molly." Jereem said. "You think you have it again, donít you. WE should probably tell-"

 

"DONíT YOU DARE!" Molly screamed, literally screamed at Jereem and followed it up with a torrent of abuse. Michael looked at Molly, stunned. He hadnít even known she knew half of those words... and there were a few he didnít know. Hannah looked outraged, but Jereem said nothing, letting it wash over him. As Molly continued, Michael listened to her voice, hearing the undertone of raw panic in it.

 

Finally, he put his hand over her mouth, stilling her in mid shriek.

 

"Molly." The bearess stopped and looked at Michael, her eyes still wide. "What is wrong." Molly looked down at the ground. Michael sighed. "Maybe you should apologize to Jereem...."

 

"She doesnít need to," Jereem said. "I know why sheís upset."

 

"Why?" Asked Hannah. Jereem said nothing, looking at Molly.

 

"OK..." Molly said softly, her voice devoid of emotion, exhausted by her outburst. Michael put his arm around her and looked at Jereem with a question in his eyes.

 

"Well." Jereem said. Now that Molly had given him the ok, he seemed uncomfortable. "A lot of this actually happened before I met Molly... but she and Ms. Cunningham filled me in on most of it." Michael looked over at Molly. Jereem saw his look. "You didnít need to know Michael, it was over and..." He trailed off as Molly hunched in on herself. Michael gave her a comforting squeeze.

 

JUNE 1937

 

As usual, Higher for Higher was in a state of high chaos. Baloo had made it in on time, proving that there was a God in Heaven, but two shipments had arrived at the same time, with both owners clamoring for Rebecca to deal with them "right away!". Rebecca dealt with the problem by flipping a coin and taking the owner who had called it. The other one stalked off, grumbling, but then Rebecca knew that heíd be back.... she was the only shipper who would take Carpathian Dancing Beans with the proviso that they had to be turned over mid flight to keep them in shape.

 

Finally, as the day continued, the cargo was loaded onto the Sea Duck, and Baloo and Kit took a quick break while Wildcat finished tuning up the engines. Baloo lay back in his overstuffed stair giving a sigh of contentment.

 

"OK, Beckers, Iím ready for my bonus now."

 

"Bonus... for being on time for once, HAH!" Baloo looked at his boss from lowered eyebrows.

 

"Now, Iíve been on time before...."

 

"And for that I had to put a fake add in the paper claiming that Louie was getting ready to open a new place in town!"

 

Kit grinned... he could easily tell this was a bantering argument and not a serious one, and so he got ready to enjoy the show, when the phone rang, startling Rebecca. Recovering, she picked it up.

 

"Higher For Hire, Rebecca Cunningham speaking..... yes, what! Yes, Iíll be there right away." Both Kit and Baloo sat up at the worried sound of her voice.

 

"Whatís wrong, Beckers?" Baloo asked.

 

"Mollyís sick at school, they asked me to go pick her up." Kit sat up at that one, Molly almost never had to come home from school. "Baloo, could you handle this?" Rebecca continued, going for her coat.

 

"Sure Beckers... you tell Molly to get better quick, yíhear?" Rebecca nodded.

 

"Ms. Cunningham, should I stay here?" Kit asked.

 

"No Kit, itís probably just a bad cold or stomach flu... you go with Baloo." The young bear nodded uneasily. "Iíll give you a call tonight," Becky finished, heading out the door. With a sigh, Baloo got up and headed for the door himself.

 

"Címon Britches... Beckerís probably doesnít need us being late, so weíd better get started now.... and no Louieís," The Big gray bear finished mournfully.

 

***

 

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When Rebecca got to school Molly was sitting in the office, looking pale and ill.

"I donít feel so good mommy." Molly said, without a sign of her normal energy. Rebecca picked her daughter up and felt her forehead. Her brow wrinkled... molly definitely had a fever.

 

"Well go home so you can rest then, Sweetie." Rebecca said, reassuringly. The nurse met her outside the room where Molly had been laying down.

 

"Itís probably just a case of the flu, Ms. Cunningham." The kindly fox assured her. "Still, if she doesnít feel better by tomorrow, and especially if the fever doesnít go down, you should go to your doctoró just in case." Rebecca nodded and headed to her car with Molly.

 

Getting into the car, she settled molly down in the seat next to her, buckling her in.

 

"So Molly... would you like a little Frosty Pep when we get home, before you go to bed?" Rebecca asked.

 

"No mommy, Iím not hungry. Could I just go to bed?" Molly said listlessly. Rebecca shot a look at her daughter, feeling a twinge of real concern.

 

"Ok, Sweetie." Rebecca said. By the time they got home, Molly had fallen asleep. Rebecca carried her daughter up to the room and put her to bed, before settling down to do a little paperwork in the room so she could keep watch on her daughter.

 

As the day continued, she kept checking Molly at intervals. By 2:30, her daughter drank a little, and then dozed off while Rebecca watched. She was getting ready to work on another set of accounts when Molly woke up again.

 

"Mommy?" Becky looked down, alarmed at that weak tremor in Mollyís voice. "Mommy, I hurt all over." The golden bear cub said fearfully, without a hint of spirit. Rebecca leaned down and felt her daughterís forehead, and snatched her hand away. She was burning up... had become feverish in less then two hours.

 

"Well, donít worry, Sweetie.... weíll go over to Dr. Gozzlinís and heíll make you all better." Rebecca said with false confidence. She quietly left the room ,,and then called Dr. Gozzlin on his emergency number.

 

"Dr. Gozzlinís office, Nurse Detha speaking," A familiar voice came over the phone.

 

"Oh thank God, Janice." Rebecca said, unable to disguise the relief in her voice. "Mollyís very ill, she has a fever and I need to bring her over right away!"

 

"Come on then," The nurse said, "Dr. Gozzlin was going to leave early anyway... today has been very quiet."

 

Rebecca buckled Molly into the seat of the car, and then kept up a stream of chatter as they drove through the afternoon traffic to the doctors office. Her fear deepened as Molly remained listless and silent. By the time she got to the office, Rebeccaís initial worry and panic had blossomed into something far worse.

 

The office was done up in cheerful colors, but Janice met Rebecca, at the entrance and motioned them around to the other side.

 

"Janice... whatís this?"

 

"Just a precaution, Ms.Cunningham." Janice smiled. "We donít want her to catch anything else from somebody in the waiting room." Rebecca nodded uneasily as they walked into the office... forgetting that Dr. Gozzlin had been about to leave because he had so few patients.

 

"Hello Molly," Dr. Gozzlin said as the door to his office opened. A elderly Crane, he had an ability to tease the fear out of any child... and reassure parents without patronizing them.

 

Inside the office, Dr. Gozzlin put Molly on the examination table and gave the listless child a quick examination.

 

"So, Molly... Iíve heard that youíre trying to get out of school?" Molly didnít even respond. Dr. Gozzlin gave a tiny frown. Usually, even when she was sick, Molly was all over the place, both mentally and physically. She was definitely sick. Gozzlin checked her, and then rechecked her.

 

Rebecca waited, more and more worried. Gozzlin had shoed her out after a few moments. In the waiting room Rebecca tried to concentrate on the magazine in her lap.... and hadnít even learned its name yet.

 

Finally, the door opened, and Janice came out.

 

"Ms. Cunningham?" Rebecca looked up.

 

"Yes."

 

"Could you... could you come in please. Dr. Gozzlin needs to talk to you."

 

Clutching her purse, Rebecca walked into the room. Molly was curled up on the table, shivering despite the cover that Gozzlin had put over her. The doctor came over to Rebecca and when she looked into his eyes for some sign of good news, it felt like her heart would stop.

 

"Rebecca...." He paused, and motioned for her to sit down. Becky shook her head. Bad news always comes when youíre sitting down, she thought irrationally, if she was standing then the news had to be good. Gozzlin sighed.

 

"Rebecca.... I canít be certain, but Iíve called Suzette community to come and get your daughter..."

 

"Whatís wrong?" She felt her voice beginning to scale up. "She was fine this morning, Iíve been watching itís just a cold-" Becky stopped herself with what remained of her will. "What do you think is wrong, Dr. Gozzlin?"

 

"Rebecca.... I believe that Molly might have come down with Infantile Paralysis....Polio."

 

Becky felt herself begin to fall, as Gozzlin and Janice rushed forward.

 

*Oh God, oh God, no, no, no, no....." At some point the wail in her mind merged with her voice... but Rebecca didnít notice.

 

***

 

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The Sea Duck lay moored at Louieís.... for once not due t o a detour on the part of Baloo. The Sea Duck had fought headwinds for the entire trip, and by the time he had been heading back to Suzette, the need for fuel had required the stop. However, Kit knew temptation, so he sat in the plane while Baloo got a take out lunch. Papa Bear meant well.... but Kit intended to be certain, especially since the bear cub wanted to get back to the city. He was worried about Molly.

Inside, Baloo waited at the counter while Louie finished up his last Sandwich. Kitís lone meal sat besides Balooís four sandwiches... but then Baloo was a growing boy, the bear reasoned.

 

"So Cuz, I hope shortstuff is feeling ok..."

 

"Ah, Iíll be she is, Louie.... yíknow how kids are, fine today, sick tomorrow fine the next day." Louie nodded, then turned as one of his workers came up.

 

"Boss.... thereís someone on the radio for Baloo."

 

"Line out again, Louie??" Baloo mentioned, pointing at the phone.

 

"Storm took out the line, Cuz." Louie said, as he and Baloo headed towards the radio. Baloo picked it up and clicked the mike on.

 

"This is Baloo."

 

"Hi Baloo...." Wildcatís voice came over, sounding oddly serious. "Ya gotta get back quick."

 

"Whatís wrong, Wildcat?" Baloo asked, worried. Wildcat *never * got worried.

 

"Mollyís real sick Baloo...." Wildcat said, then continued. "Rebecca said she has.. Pollywogs?" Baloo blinked, then Louie took the mike.

 

"Was that Polio, Wildcat?" Wildcatís unhappy voice came back over the airwaves.

 

"Yeah, Louie, thatís it." The color drained from both faces.

 

"Awww, man no.... not short-stuff." Louie said.

 

"Wildcat, tell Beckerís weíll be there." Baloo said and then headed towards the door, bouncing a few unwary patrons off of his bulk. Louie grabbed his battered hat and headed after the bear.

 

Kit was waiting in the plane when Baloo and Louie got into the plane and without any ceremony, started the engines, turned the plane around and headed off, driving the engines as fast as they would.

 

"Kit, dump the cargo." Baloo said shortly.

 

"What... Papa Bear, Ms. Cunningham..."

 

"Wonít care at all..." Louie said. "Iíll give you a hand..."

 

"Whatís wrong?" Kit asked, getting scared. "Is Molly?"

 

"Sheís.... pretty sick." Baloo said uneasily. "We need to get back so Beckerís can be with her." Kit looked at the two adults... and then turned to the cargo bay. Not even listening to the sound of the cargo getting dumped, Baloo continued staring out into the air in front of the Duck.

 

*Aw man... not Molly....." Was one thought... the other one was worse.... *Nobody knows how people catch this stuff.... what if Kitís got it?*

 

 

 

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***

Jereem paused in his talk, then looked over at Michael. Michael still had Molly in the shelter of his arm.

"Well, shouldnít we get back if that is the case?"

 

"Wonít matter." Molly said shortly. "If I got it.... wonít matter at all."

 

"Regardless." Michael said, getting up and pulling Molly to her feet. "I dontí fancy climbing down as it gets darker. Jereem can continue on the way down." Molly opened her mouth, but Michael quelled it with a look.

 

"Molly," He said softly. "We canít stay up here forever.... and when we get back, you need to tell your mother about this. You owe her that." Molly didnít reply. But didnít resist either. Behind them, Jereem and Hannah walked forward.

 

"I take it things got worse?" Hannah asked.

 

"Oh yes, much worse." Jereem said soberly, worriedly looking at his friend.

 

There was a strict protocol for dealing with Polio. Nobody was entirely certain how it spread, and nobody could be certain that it wasnít pneumonic... although very little thought it was. Nonetheless, it was proven that it *could* be passed from person to person, and also that being exposed to other illnesses could do dreadful harm to the victims, as their immune systems tried to fight off two infections at once.

 

So the law had been laid downóanyone contracting polio immediately went into complete quarantine, in a hospital dedicated to that purpose. Ideally, they would be isolated even from other polio sufferers, but that just wasnít possible.... Both due to the number of victims, and because only a few, even among the most selfless doctors or nurses, could bear to work in the wards.

 

Within a few minutes, Molly and Rebecca were in an ambulance, heading out of the city. Rebecca had Molly on her lap in the back, with Gozzlin for company. The pediatrician looked at the motherís drawn and pale face.

 

"Rebecca... thereís no reason to think that Molly wonít just have a bad week or so, then get better. Most Polio patients do, you know." There was no reaction. He continued, "Going to the hospital is both for her protection and others. We donít know all the ways the Polio spreads... but physical contact is one of them... and getting a cold from somebody else can also intensify the illness." Rebecca said nothing, stroking her sleeping daughterís forehead. Molly tensed and whimpered, before relaxing again.

 

"Is she going to die?" Rebecca asked. There, she had said it. Gozzlin looked at her, then sighed.

 

"Rebecca....I canít tell you. The specialists will know more, but the simple fact is that although we can quote numbers, we canít tell for certain in any given case. Mollyís young, and very healthy and active for her age, which is encouraging... but I canít tell you anything more." Rebecca nodded, numbly, and said nothing.

 

Less then thirty minutes later, the ambulance came to a large building, built far away from any neighbors. The Buildings grounds were green and well tended, with the occasional nurse or wheelchair bound figure in the sun. Rebecca shuddered as she saw them, then the ambulance had pulled into a covered garage, and she had to get out.

 

An orderly was standing by a gurney, and looked at them both.

 

"Is she M. Cunningham?" He asked, Rebecca nodded. "Place her on the gurney, please....Iíll take her to the examination room."

 

"I canít come along?" Rebecca asked unbelievingly.

 

"Iím sorry maíam, the wolf replied, "But that is in a quarantine section of the hospital... only staff and patients are allowed."

 

"But sheís my daughter!" Rebecca said, louder then she intended.

 

"I know maíam... but right now sheís our patient, and this is the best way to help her. Please?" Rebecca stepped forward and put Molly on the gurney, tucking her in.

 

"Mommy...." Molly murmured in her fevered sleep, and Rebecca kissed her on her forehead.

 

"Sleep tight, baby... youíll be all better soon." Becky whispered, her voice catching on the last word, and then watched as the orderly quickly, but skillfully, maneuvered the gurney out of the room. Gozzlin took her by the elbow and steered her into the waiting room, empty with books and chairs. He paused, then nodded to himself.

 

"Rebecca, you wait here and Iíll go talk with her attending physician." He watched as she sat down, still in shock. It was a pity that there were no receptionists... but the hospital didnít have enough nurses to waste on such duty. Still, it didnítí look like Rebecca was going to go anywhere. With one last look at his friend, the doctor headed out into the hospital corridors. He knew the way. Rebecca was a single mother with one child, but Dr. Gozzlin had many children as his patients, and he had had to make this trip before.

 

 

 

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***

"Címon baby... give Baloo just a little more speed." Baloo muttered, gunning the Sea Duck through the air. After he had left Louie's, Baloo had taken the most direct route home, plowing straight through a thunderstorm on the way.

"Papa Bear" Kit said, "That storm cost us a lot of fuel... we may not be able to make it to Higher For Higher." Baloo grunted.

 

"Weíll be able to make the harbor, Little Britches... and we can get an air taxi from there and let somebody pick up the ĎDuck later." Kit blinked, and paled. It must be worse then he thought, for Baloo to so cavalierly speak of letting someone else pick up his beloved plane.

 

"Baloo...whatís wrong with Molly?" Kit said.

 

"Ah... nothin Kit." Baloo said, and even more so then usual, it was plain that he wasnít telling the truth.

 

"Baloo...." Kit said,

 

"Kit just mind the course!" Baloo snapped. Kit blinked, more surprised then hurt. For Baloo to blow up over that- he got ready to say something else, and then saw Louie, sitting behind Baloo, shoot him a warning gaze and shake his head. Kit sighed, and then bent back over the map.

 

"Come to heading 217, Papa Bear.... Thatíll cut about ten minutes off of our course." Baloo nodded, but said nothing, as the plane continued through the sky.

 

 

 

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***

"Mmph." The younger Doctor grunted. "Well, I wish like hell I could tell you your being a Chicken Little, Gozzlin... but itís Polio, alright." Molly was already being taken to her room, while the two doctors looked at the tests. "Good thing you donítí do an Ostrich.... this stuff moves *fast*, once it gets started." Gozzlin nodded.

"What do you think we should do?" Gozzlin asked. Salk looked at the chart and then over the walls, filled with case studies.

 

"Mmmmmm...." He paused. "Hopkins thinks that icewater baths might help." Then he paused, chewing a fingernail. "I donít. If the fever is the body trying to burn the virus out, then cooling her off is the worst thing we could do. Thereís a few other..." He paused, then murmured, "first, do no harm." He turned and looked at Gozzlin. "We donít do a damn thing, Gozzlin. Just the ordinary course, treating symptoms, make certain she has enough water and food, avoid possible secondary contaminants, that sort of thing... but thereís nothing out there right now that Iíd consider safe... hell, nothing Iíd consider more then wishful thinking that we could see our way to using." Gozzlin nodded, unhappily.

 

"I know, but you people get all the newest information.... You know that Ms. Cunningham is in there right now, expecting us to show up with a blue pill that will make everything okay." He paused, "Well, the best we can give her is the truth. You want I should handle this?" Salk shook his head.

 

"Comes with the territory, Dr. " The two men looked at each other, then walked to the waiting room.

 

Rebecca waited, for the second time that day, and if the first time had been bad, this was a foretaste of hell. When the door opened, and Gozzlin emerged, followed by a medium sized Mongoose. Gozzlin stopped.

 

"Ms. Cunningham, this is Dr. Salk... heís one of the specialists here, and I thought he should talk to you."

 

"Itís a mistake, Doctor, right? Molly canít really have polio, I mean sheís been so healthy and I make certain she eats right and gets plenty of sleep-" She paused, drawing in a shuddering breath. Dr. Salk started to speak.

 

"Ms. Cunningham, Iím afraid that your daughter does have Polio, and is a very, very sick little girl." He raised his hand before she could say anything. "First of all, although it is true that people who start in poor health have a higher chance of contracting the illness, that is by no means a law... even the healthiest person can get polio."

 

"Can... I mean, you can cure her, canít you?" Salk wanted to lie to her... but every doctor knew that to lie was only to delay, and ultimately, make the truth worse.

 

"There is no Ďcureí, for Polio, Ms. Cunningham... at least not in the sense of a medicine or serum." He paused, "But many people become cured when their own body fights off the infection, and our own treatments are geared at given them as much help as possible, by keeping them rested and fed.... over fifty percent of those who contract polio have no long term ill effects."

 

"Then sheíll get better?" Rebecca asked, "I mean, if sheís already in good health, and everyone has a fifty percent chance of getting better then she should be in-"

 

"Ms. Cunningham... I need to be honest with you... there is no way to tell at the onset of the illness how bad it will be, or what the outcome will be." That stopped her. "But it is vitally important that we give her all the help that she can get and that is why your daughter must be isolated, not only for the safety of those around her, but for her safety as well."

 

"But I can-"

 

"No, Ms. Cunningham." Salk was kind, but implacable. "Even the slightest sniffle could take away the strength your childís immune system needs to fight this sickness off.....Everyone at this facility has been carefully screened, and the rooms have filters and positive air pressure systems, to insure that there is no contamination. All clothes, effects and other items are burned once they have been used." He paused, "In fact, there is no cleaner facility for a thousand miles around. You daughter is in the best hands."

 

"But... sheíll be scared, I mean, canít I even hold her!" Rebeccaís voice had scaled upwards as the thought sank in. Gozzlin lightly touched her, and Rebecca brought her voice down.

 

"Rebecca," Gozzlin said, "You can stay in the visitorís building, and you can see Molly... but the quarantine must remain, or else we could be responsible for causing permanent damage to your daughter."

 

"But all these measures... you wouldnít be taking them if there was no hope... sheíll be okay, wonít she?" Rebecca didnít notice the tears beginning to flow down her cheeks. Gozzlin looked at her kindly.

 

"Rebecca, whatever is humanly possible, I till you before God, will be done." Rebecca gave a short nod, then sat back down. The two doctors waited a while longer, and then left the room, signaling a nurse to keep a watch on Rebecca. Then they headed out to the room where Molly was going to be staying.

 

"God...." Salk said, "that must be the thousandth time I gave that talk... it never gets any easier." The older doctor looked at him.

 

"Well, Doctor, let me give you a clue... if it ever gets easy, you need to get another career." Gozzlin answered.

 

 

 

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***

Molly had been wheeled down a big white hallway. The bearcub looked fearfully around, but she hurt so bad, and she felt sick and tired and itchy all at the same time. Moving her head around as much as possible given the tight blankets, she saw a room going by with big cans in it.... there was a ladies head sticking out of one of the cans, gray hair trailing and framing a listless, lifeless face. The big can was giving a wheezing and groaning sound, that you could hear even as it receded behind the stretcher. Molly whimpered.

"mommy....": She said. The orderly brushed her forehead,

 

"Donít worry, youíll see your mommy soon." He said.

 

Then they were at a room, it smelled funny, not funny nice like Dr. Gozzlinís room, and there was a big bed with rails in it. The big man picked her up in his hands, gentle but not the way mommy did, and put her into the bed before pulling up the covers. Molly wanted to look around, but the light started to hurt her eyes, and she scrunched them shut. Pretty soon there were other sounds, and then she heard Dr. Gozzlin say,

 

"Hello Dangerwoman... how are we doing." Molly tried to say something, but she started to cry instead.

 

"Hush, molly...." Molly couldnít stop crying. "I know youíre scared, but Dr. Salk here is a real good doctor, but he needs your help to make you better... could you help us answer some questions." Molly wanted to keep crying for mommy... but mommy said that it was important to help the doctor, so she tried to stop crying and answer the other manís questions.

 

The more Dr. Salk heard, the less he felt there was a chance of mis-diagnosis.... and in fact it sounded like the sickness was beginning to advance. He patted Molly on the head, and waited until the bearcub subsided into an uneasy sleep... which in and of itself was not a good sign, indicating that the sickness was already sapping the childís strength.

 

 

 

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***

The Sea duck had made it back to H4H... even if it had to glide the last mile. Baloo didnít even tie the plane up, as he bounded up the steps. Wildcat was waiting for him with a piece of paper.

"They took Mollycat here.... I got the address from the phone lady cuz Ms. Cunningham kept crying and forgetting the address."

 

"Good, Wildcat... get a car and weíll... wait a minute, you, me and Louie will go, but Kit stays."

 

"WHAT?" Kit yelled from where he had come up without Baloo hearing him.

 

"Britches... you canít go." Baloo said, getting a little loud himself. "It isnít safe!"

 

"Well that never stopped you, and I bet if I was sick Molly would want to visit me!"

 

"Well you ainít sick and I donít intend for you to get that way... youíre going to stay here and..." Baloo got an idea, "answer the phone... yeah, a lot of people who know Beckers will be trying to get ahold of her, and she ainít home right now."

 

"Balooooo....." Kit started, but then Louie came up.

 

"Heís right, Cuz... and Iíd better stay here too." He paused, "We can head out there later, but right now, Baloo and Wildcat need to go, and we need to hold the fort." Louie caught the thanks his friend sent him as Kit relented, watching as Baloo and Wildcat headed to the car. Then, as the car vanished, Kit rounded on Louie.

 

"OK Louie... why is Papa Bear so scared." Louie paused, then decided that in this case, the truth was the best policy.

 

"Kit.... Mollyís got Polio... and thatís real bad business." Kit blinked, heíd heard about Polio.

 

"Mollyís... not gonna d-die?" He bearcub finally said, Louie looked at him.

 

"Don't think so Cuz... sheís a fighter, but thatís why Baloo doesnít want you to go right now, and I donít blame him. This thing likes people when theyíre closer to Mollyís and your age then mine and Balooís." Kit looked around at H4H, looking more dingy then he had remembered in a long time, everyone who had given it life now gone.

 

"Címon Cuz..." Louie said, "Youían me can get the place tidied up, maybe make a few calls and get a free pilot who wants his tab lowered to bring in the cargo we dropped..." With that, Kit and his friend walked into the offices, and began, listlessly, to work.

 

 

 

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***

Baloo was better at flying then driving, but still, he broke all records going to the hospital... and then spent more time muttering one the way to the sanitarium, where Molly had been transferred. When they finally got there, HE and Wildcat got out and headed for the main waiting room, where they found Rebecca sitting in a chair, twisting her purse in her hands.

Baloo stopped at the door. Heíd never seen Becker's look so bad... The gray bear walked forward.

 

"Any news, Beckers?" She started, not having noticed Baloo.

 

"Oh Baloo... they say I canít see her for now, that she needs to be isolated." She paused, drew a shuddering breath. "Itís certain, now that itís polio." Baloo sat down beside her, while Wildcat sat down in the other chair. "I...I need you to go get something from home, could you?" Rebecca asked, "Iím going to stay here and stay with Molly until she gets better or-"

 

"Now sheís gonna get better, Rebecca, you donít go fretting yourself about that.... Meían Wildcat an Louie will get everything and bring it here. Little Britches wanted to-"

 

"Donít you dare let him come, Baloo... not and risk getting it himself!" Rebecca snapped, eyes belying her tone. Baloo nodded,

 

"Donít worry about that, Beckers, Iíll keep Kit away until the doctor says itís safe.... heís worried about Molly, like us all." Rebecca nodded,

 

"Heís like that," She said. Then she brought herself back to the subject.

 

"Baloo, the doctor says that this could last a week, or more before they know how itís going to come out.... could you and Louie run H4H?"

 

"Sure thing, Bosslady... donít you worry about it at all..."

 

"Thanks...." Rebecca looked at Baloo. "Mollyís so scared Baloo... and sheís all alone in there and I want to see her, but I canít...." Baloo put his hand over hers. Wildcat spoke up unexpectedly.

 

"Donít worry, Miz Cunningham... Mollycat knows you love her. Even if youíre not there, she knows that... sheís smart that way." Rebecca blinked.

 

"Thank you Wildcat." Baloo sat with Rebecca for a while longer, then got a list of what was needed and headed out. As much as Becky might need companionship, she didnít need any headaches about getting the stuff she needed to stick with Molly. Once they got back to the apartment, Baloo let himself in, looking around at the carelessly scattered financial documents lying where Rebecca had left them. He grabbed clothes for Rebecca and Molly, as well as her doll, Lucy and several childrenís books that Rebecca had asked him to bring.

 

Wildcat was looking around the apartment and sighed as they got ready to leave.

 

"I hope Rebeccaís gonna be ok, Baloo." Baloo stopped, then realized that once again the mechanic had hit the point... Looking around the apartment again, Baloo thought about how Beckers two major interests were Molly and H4H...and H4H was dedicated to making a life for Molly... if something happened to Shortstuff.

 

No.

 

Nothing was going to happen to her. She was going to get better, and run around wearing her Dangerwoman costume until he thought Rebecca was going to scream and Kit was going to hide... That was the only thing that was going to happen.... by this time next week, theyíd all laugh at themselves for even thinking differently.

 

Baloo turned the lights out and left the apartment, heading back to the hospital. By the time he got there, Rebecca had fallen asleep, exhausted by nerves. Dr. Gozzlin was there to greet them.

 

"An excellent occurrence." He said, "Ms. Cunningham will need all of her reserves.. and she doesnít need to exhaust herself by staying up when she should be sleeping." Baloo noticed a coffee cup by the sleeping womanís hand.

 

"Doc, did you slip her a Mickey?"

 

"Of course not, Mr. Baloo... simply a mild sedative to allow her to get a natural sleep." He paused, "donít worry, if itís necessary, we can wake her up easily, but honestly, she is going to need to get her sleep.... we may need to ask her some hard questions."

 

"Like what, Doc." Gozzlin looked at him, and then sighed.

 

"Like should we ready an iron lung, if she needs it." Baloo winced.

 

"Oh man... itís not gonna happen to Molly, is it?"

 

"I donít know.... but we need to be ready. Are you going to stay here?"

 

"Naw... Beckers asked me to handle the shop... she donít need the headache right now.

 

"Youíre right about that.... Iíll leave a message with the nurses desk, theyíll call you if anything comes up, no matter the time."

 

"Thatíll be good, Doc. Also have Ďem call Louieís....Iím gonna clear the docket of any long hauls, but I might be in the airónaw, donít worry about that, Iíll leave Kit or Wildcat at H4H, and they can relay anything."

 

"Good."

 

The trip back to H4H was quiet. Wildcat was silent, as was Baloo. Mollyíd be ok... right, there was no reason to think otherwise. Sheíd managed to fall off just about everything at H4H, and that only whetted her appetite for more. Sheíd be fine.

 

 

 

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***

A war was raging. The Virus flooded the bearcubís bloodstream, infecting cells, which died- exploded really, flooding it with hundreds of thousands or millions more virusís, half alive messengers seeking other cells to hijack. Legions of Whites cells confronted the viruses, encapsulating them, before dying themselves.... even the bodies own furnaces were brought into the fray, trying to burn out the virus with raging fevers.

But the key to defeating the horde of invaders was the anti-bodies... and it took time, time for T and B cells the discover the right chemical "Key" and more time to start churning the antibodies out. And of all the things, from the millions of white blood cells, to the legions of T cells... the one thing the body didnít have in abundance was time."

 

 

 

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***

Baloo hoped that the fact that they hadnít recieved any calls during the night was a good thing... not that anybody had gotten any sleep. Wildcat had spent the entire night fixing the SeaDuck.... and Baloo could see that he was just doing it to try to relax. Kit went to bed, like Baloo, but he figured Kit had slept about as much as he had... which was to say not much at all. Later, as he was getting ready to take out the SeaDuck for the one delivery of the day that they couldnít cancel, the phone rang. Louie grabbed, it and then listend for a few moments. Baloo watched his friend turn pale, and then turn to Baloo, looking older then he had in a long time.

"Baloo?"

 

"Yeah, Louie."

 

"That was the hospital... Cuz, they say that we should get out there now... Molly canít move her legs, and they say that itís moving up...." Baloo closed his eyes, then opened them. Nothing changed.

 

"Yeah Louie... you go outside and Tell Kit and Wildcat, and Iíll get the car... this time youían me will go. Did it say anything about Beckers?"

 

"Nope, Cuz... but.... I hope they donít let us see Molly."

 

"Louie!" Baloo exclaimed, shocked.

 

"Baloo.... if they let us see her, it might be because they think that things canít get any worse.... Ďand you know what that means."

 

"I see your point, Louie."

 

*Címon God... sheís just a kid... cut her a break.* Baloo thought, as he followed his friend out the door.

 

Part III

 

 

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***

"Papa Bear, why canít I go?" Kit asked, desperation in his voice. Baloo opened his mouth to shout, then closed it. Little Britches was like a big brother to Molly, and she was like a little sister to him... no cause to go biting his head off because he was worried. Time for the truth.

"Kit...." Baloo paused. "Mollyís real sick, Ďan if any of us get near her, and give her any kindía cold or sniffle, she could die." Kit paled, Baloo continued. "This stuff goes after kids your age, Britches.... if you go, you could get it, and that wouldnít help anyone." Kit still looked just a little rebellious. Baloo finally used his trump card. "Besides, Rebecca told me to keep you away until itís safe.... and the minute it is Iíll be here and youíll be there faster then I can eat a hamburger." The joke didnít even get a smile. Kit closed his eyes.

 

"O-okay, Papa Bear." The cub said, with a catch in his voice.

 

"Good... donít worry none, Little Britches, those doctors are the best." Baloo said, as he got into the car, with Louie driving.

 

 

 

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***

By the time they got to the hospital, Baloo was chewing the walls. The nurse met them at the door,and took them to Dr. Salkís office, where Rebecca and Gozzlin already were. Baloo looked around, as he and Louie entered the office. Books and folders covered the wall, cabinets full of case histories and studies occupied the floor, and the lone spot of neatness in the room, Dr. Salks desk, had a single folder on it, labled, CUNNINGHAM, MOLLY ELIZABETH.

Rebecca was sitting very still, very calm, her hands in her lap... turned white from where they gripped each other.

 

"Ah, gentlemen.... Thank you for coming." Dr. Salk said, then motioned to the chairs. After everyone had sat down, he started to speak.

 

"Iím afraid that our first hope has been proven false. Molly has not shaken off the illness as fast as we had hoped.... and is now suffering a momentary... and Ms. Cunningham, I emphasize the word *momentary* paralysis of her lower limbs." Rebecca said nothing, as Baloo put a comforting hand on her shoulder. Salk paused and then looked at Gozzlin. Here was the difficult part... to avoid causing dispair while also avoiding giving untrue or unrealistic prognosises.

 

"This happens in many cases, Rebecca." Gozzlin added. "Sometimes itís a hysterical reaction to the tension, other times its a symptom of the bodies fight... fever and chemicals released into the bloodstream... and it will cease when the condition ceases."

 

"What if it isnít?" Rebecca asked.

 

"Then, we continue to treat the symptoms." Salk paused, and looked at a book. "Even among those who do not shake off the disease, the great majority only suffer a minor loss of limb control... they have to take a little more care going up stairs, or use a cane to get around.... but there is no impact on their ability to lead a perfectly normal day to day life."

 

"Can I see my little girl." Rebecca asked a trembling voice.

 

"See yes.... but you canít touch her." Gozzlin said. "Rebecca, at this point, weíre keeping any contact to a minimum... I know itís hard on Molly, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to avoid any kind of exposure to other diseases." He looked serious, "It could quite literally be the difference between life and death." Rebecca nodded, numbly.

 

"Iíd like to give Molly something to have." Salk nodded,

 

"Remember, Rebecca, that anything you give her will be burned..." Rebecca nodded back, before getting up and leaving. Louie went with her, as Baloo motioned the doctors to stay behind.

 

"That was a real nice speech, doc... now how about you tell me the truth."

 

"I did tell the truth, Baloo." Dr. Salk said.

 

"Doc...." Salk sighed.

 

"Yes... I gave Ms. Cunningham the most optimistic take on things." He paused. "Baloo... sheís going to need all of her strength, not just for Molly, but for herself. Dr. Gozzlin told me about her husband, and that is going to make things harder on her, because however many friends or family she has, there isnít the same connection there... and given that her husband also was taken from her...." He sighed. "Someday somebody is going to have to figure out a better way to help the families of victims, but for now Iím all there is."

 

"Right now, Baloo, we donít know." Gozzlin added, "Iíve seen people stricken down and die of this... and Iíve seen other people walk out of this place when I, and every other doctor in the city, thought they were going to die.... the word miracle wouldnít be out of place."

 

"But we canít tell Ms. Cunningham to expect one." Salk said, "That would be untrue and unkind... we, and by that I also mean you, have to keep praying for the best, but understanding that the worst might occur." Baloo said nothing for a moment, then took out a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and blew on it.

 

"Doc, you gotta do something about the dust floating around here... canít be good for all the patients." Salk accepted the lie. "Now, Iíve got something for you I didnít want Beckers to know about." Baloo pulled out an envelope. "Iíve been saving for a while... ta buy back my plane, yaíknow.... anyway, I was wondering if you could use this to buy any special medicine that Short Stuff might need..." Baloo carefully counted out the envelope, leaving just under 50,000 dollars on Salkís desk. Salk looked at it for a moment, then over at Gozzlin, who had a sad expression on his face.

 

"Iím sorry," Salk said, as he put the money back into the envelope and handed it to Baloo. "Weíre giving her everything we can... everything we know how to do. You canít just throw money at a disease and command it *Be Cured!*." He paused, "But we *are* going to cure it Mr. Baloo...We are going to discover a serum or a vaccine and then Iíll take you up on your offer... because when we do," Salks expression suddenly looked like a shark out of the deepest ocean, "We are going to hunt it down, out of every child, out of every cell and out of everty town and city, and we are going to kill it so that in the future, the only damned place youíll find this disease is in encyclopedias and history books." He paused, "and then, Mr. Baloo, if there is any lack of money to accomplish this goal, Iíll take you up on your offer... but for now, all we need are your prayers."

 

"Oh, you got those, doc, you got those in spades."

 

 

 

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***

Back at H4H, Kit sat in the room, unable to do anything. He finally decided to try to clean up the office. Yeah, that would be a nice surprise for Rebecca when she and Molly got back. Kit set out to work, but after a few moments something happened that brought the work to a screeching halt. Kit was bent under a chair looking at something when he bumped a cabinet, and something, with a crash, hit the ground.

It was Mollyís ridiculous Colander... Rebecca must have put it on top of the cabinent after she had finished playing Dangerwoman. Kit looked at it for a few minutes, holding it in his hands and remembering all the times that Molly had driven everyone crazy by fighting evil.... through every room of the building.

 

Kit sat looking at it for a moment, then without realizing how he got there, he was outside the building, just running, running as fast as he could.

 

 

 

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***

At the hospital, Baloo, Rebecca and Louie were following Dr. Salk and Gozzlin.

"Weíve moved her up to this ward, because there is continious supervision and checkups... thatís why there are no doors on any of the rooms, so the nurse can continually check for changes in their condition." He paused. "Here we are." Rebecca was holding on to Mollyís doll, Lucy.

 

"Molly sweetie?" Rebecca called from the door, Salkís hand on her arm. The doctor knew that sometimes a parent simply could not restrain themselves from going to their child, no matter the warning. Rebecca didnít, however, she stood at the door with an expóSalk turned and looked into the room. There were somethings that just had to remain between a person and God, and that expression was one of them.

 

Inside, almost lost in the bed, with a Nurse tucking her in, Molly turned her head weakly and looked over to her mother.

 

"Mommy?" She asked, "Mommy, can I go home now?"

 

"Soon Sweetie... Youíll be better soon, and then you can go home." Rebecca paused and showed her Lucy. "I brought Lucy to stay with you." Molly looked for a long moment, and Baloo wondered if the sick child had even understood Rebeccaís words.

 

"NO Mommy!" Molly said, beginning to get agitated. "The man said that they burn everything up when they take it here... dontí let them burn up Lucy, Mommy! I want to Go home!" She was crying now. Baloo was furiously rubbing the bridge of his nose,while the Nurse was trying to sooth the child. Louie spoke up unexpectedly.

 

"Donít worry, Molly... ainít nobody gonna burn up Lucy. Fact, I was just here to ask you if I could take her to my place... all the frosty pep that you ainít eating is stacking up, and I need somebody to eat it." Molly started to subside, then looked at Louie.

 

"But dolls donít eat that much Frosty Pep."

 

"Good news for you... that means thereís more for your coming home party!" Molly looked like she was going to say something to Louie. Then-

 

"Mommy...."

 

"Yes, baby?"

 

"Iím tired, caníI go to sleep?"

 

"Yes, Molly, you go to sleep right now... Mommy will be here when you wake up." They waited until the bear cub had subsided into sleep. Gozzlin softly said,

 

"That kind of semi-coherence is pretty common when a child has a fever..." Rebecca didnít respond, just walked back out into the corridor, running a hand along one wall, like a blind woman. Baloo looked over at Louie.

 

"You go with her Cuz... the rest of us will wait here." Louie said. Baloo nodded and hurried after her. Rebecca managed to make it to the stairs (the elevators were reserved for doctors and patients), then down several flights. Baloo hurrying after her saw her crumple in the corner of one landing and start sobbing like she would break right open.

 

"Címon, Beckers," Baloo bent down to the sobbing woman.

 

"I canít, I canít..... Iíve prayed, she- sheís going to die, Baloo." Rebacca said, unable to rise from the side of the wall where she had crumpled. "What if sheís paralyzed.... Sheís my baby.... she could end up in one of those machines... for years....."

 

Baloo reached down and picked her up off the concrete. He gently took her into his arms.

 

"Shhh... " he could feel her shuddering. Baloo looked down and started as he saw how small she was. Normally, Rebecca, like her daughter was a dynamo of energy, disguising her petite frame. Not today.

 

""I canít even give her her doll... I canít even hold my baby..." She said brokenly. "Why wonít He answer? He didnít answer when David died and he isnít answering now. Why?" In other times the why might have been a complaint, now it was a wail.

 

Baloo paused. He wasnít really suited for this... But he was the one here.

 

"Beckers.... maybe youíve been praying too much?" He said.

 

"What? Iíve been praying nonstop... what if sheís crippled, what if she dies, or canít walk-" Baloo put his hand over her mouth, stilling the incipiant hysteria.

 

"See... Beckersí all those things Caintí happen at the same time." Baloo looked at her. "And the big guy canít do anythign about something thatís not gonna happen."

 

"Well, beckers... maybe yaíneed to just take things one step at a time." The gray bear paused, "I know you think I never look ahead... and your right, most of the time." He looked at Rebecca, "But right now.... ya canít plan ahead, Ďcause none of us know what is going to happen." He paused. "The big guy canít help you about what might happen... we donít know that.. but I guess he wonít be too upset if you ask him for help on what you know is gonna happen."

 

"Like what?"

 

"Well, Pigtails is gonna need help tonight... and weíre gonna need help to get thought tonight... and when that happens, weíll need help to get thought tommorrow... and just keep going like that." Rebecca closed her eyes.

 

"What if I canít make it thought one night?"

 

"Well, then maybe just cut it down to one hour... an then ask for the next hour... take it one step at a time, cause if you take enough steps, youíll get there, no matter how far it is to go." Baloo let his arm loose just a little bit, but Rebecca didnít fall again. She was leaning on Baloo, but she wasnít falling.

 

"Letís...letís go... Baloo... I canít walk-i canít do it alone... could you and Louie help me, and Kit and Wildcat..."

 

"Sure Rebecca.... thatís what weíre here for." Baloo said.

 

It was difficult, every step seemed like a hundred miles... but between them, the two made it to the waiting room, to wait for what came next.

 

 

 

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***

The church had seen better days, Father McAuliffe knew. It had been in a residential section, but the change in the waterfront had lead to many houses being relocated, and so itís congregation was far smaller then the imposing building was sized for. Still, for all the cracks, and peeling paint, the Father wouldnít have any other place. Heíd been baptized her, 90 years ago, and he would be buried here, one day.. proabably not to far away, he thought, with a humerous smile. The Lion, nearly completely gray, with one hand holding a gnarled cane, finished filling the baptismal font, and checked the alter, where Christ, eternally crucified and risen, looked down on the seats from his place on the cross. As he finished, one of his ears twitched. The sound of.. crying? Yes, from the back row. He turned, and carefully began to walk back...it seemed that God had a few other jobs for him to do before retirement, and as always, his thanks came with a prayer to help him do it right.

Back in the last row, there was a bearcub, about twelve or thirteen by his look, wearing a ratty sweater with a cap sitting in the pew where the cub had taken it off. He could read the sound, easily.. someone embaressed by the fact that he couldnít stop crying, but who could no more control it then he could breathing... the sound of mourning.

 

McAuliffe sat down next to the child, and waited. Abruptly, the child looked up and saw him, and started slightly.

 

"Iím sorry... this was just the first place that was open... iíll go."

 

"Why? If you came here, you were meant to be here."

 

"Hunnh?" McAuliffe looked at the child.

 

"Do you know where we are?"

 

"A church...but I donít know which one."

 

"And do you know how to get here?"

 

"No..."

 

"So you were led here, and are meant to be here... simple deduction." He paused. "What is hurting you?"

 

"Nothing... I mean," Kit rubbed his sleave across his face, trying to clear his eyes and sniffled. "Itís not me.. so I really shouldnít be crying like a baby..."

 

"If youíre crying for someone else, then you are far from being Ďlike a babyí... Christ wept for others. Who is it?"

 

"Molly Cunningham... sheís my little sister, kinda... and she has Polio...." Kit talked for minutes, the story slipping out, as well as he had come to live with them. When he was finished, McAuliffe waited for several moments. Kit spoke up again. "Could you like, say a prayer.. I know I donít come to church.... I havenít really thought about it."

 

"I can..." He said, "But you canít be certain how theyíll be answered, only that they will be answered, even if we donít see the answer." Kit looked uncertain.

 

"I hope she gets better." He paused, "I canít even see her... they say I might get it." He paused, then rebelliously, "I dontí care! I should be able to see her... sheís probably afraid, being alone and all that." McAuliffe looked at Kit.

 

"They fear for you... understand that, Kit."

 

"I do... but it still doesnít make it any easier for Molly." Maculiffe nodded.

 

"I know... and believe me, hurting because you canít help someone else is a more powerful prayer then many... more powerful then any I can say." He paused. "But if you still want it, I will pray." Kit nodded.

 

"Oh Lord and Most High... we beseech Thee to extend your arm, and shield Your daughter, Molly Cunningham, from this dread disease, to bring her out of sickness into health as You brought the people of Israel into freedom from slavery.... and I beseech Youóhelp her family, and her friends, to endure this trial, help them to give strength to each other when they have none left for themselves, to find hope when all seems dark, and to rise up from dispair. Amen."

 

"I wish I could say I feel better..." Kit said, when a new voice came into the church.

 

"Kit... oh here you are. Iíve been looking all over, under cars, trees, do you know that those little plastic plants donít have roots?" Wildcat said as he walked in. "Rebeccaís pretty upset... yaíknow they burn everything so Molly canít have her doll."

 

"Oh no...."

 

"Oh, I have an idea.... the doll burns because itís cloth, right?" Kit nodded uncertainly, "So Letís go make a metal doll... then they can heat it up, and it wonít burn! Right?" Kit blinked.

 

"Wildcat thatís great!" He lept up, "... oh, father."

 

"Go...thatís a very good idea.... very good indeed." Kit and Wildcat took off for H4H, while McAuliffe watched them go out the door. Then he turned to the vast room, and looked up at the thorn crowned head. He gave a soft laugh... "That other fellow had to have found the church before I even started praying... Well, I wonít complain about you answering my prayers before theyíre even full spoken.... now, donít think Iím being greedy, but please answer the rest of it...."

 

 

 

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***

Much later that night, Molly awoke again.. She felt real bad, her head hurt and her legs felt like they did when they went to sleep, only this time she couldnít wake them up no matter how much she tried. Her throat hurt and she had a real bad headache. She tried to look around, but it was hard to move her head. As the night continued, she started hearing other sounds....

Deep in the hospital, the iron lungs kept up their rythymn, compressing and releasing paralyzned rib cages. Ahhhhh.... then as it came back down, Looooohhhhhhnnnnn, AhhLoohhnnn, Aaaloone, Alone. Alone, Alone, Alone. Then, the wind came up, causing the high treeís to cast a writhing shadow again the wall where the moonlight fell, looking like clenching claws, grasping and scrabbling against the hospital, trying to be let in.

 

Molly felt worse and worse, as the words kept up from the vents... the hands kept grabbing to get in and to put her in that big box, where she would stay forever and never see mommy or Kit or Baloo again... the room seemed to get more and more strange, as little shadows resolved themselves into scrabbling moving shapes, coming closer to the bed, where she couldnít move. Then a bigger shadow came into the room, looking like a giant red eyes monster. It bent down over her and she tried to scream only she couldnít. Then the monster touched her, and looked out.

 

"Oh my Go- go buzz Dr. Salk, hurry- Sheís burning up!"

 

 

 

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***

In her body, the defenses that had stood against the disease, turned traitor. Now, the burning fever that had tried to burn out the virus was hotter then ever. But the virus had been clever, hiding among the folds of graymatter that made up the childís brain... and now the temperature was up so high that the most vulnerable cells, neurons and support tissues, were beginning to die... But as long as the infection was inplace, the internal furnaces would be kept up.

Now, however, the first flood of antibodies were joining the fray, seeking out the unique chemical lock of the polio virus, and locking it up... causing it to die and become easy prey for the white bloodcells thronging the bloodstream... still, it was a race. And now,with the addition of the fever, one the body was losing.

 

 

 

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***

"Whatís her temperature?" Dr. Salk said, still wearing his bedclothes under his robe.

"104, Doctor."

 

"Too high... too high by far." Salk paused. The fever would kill her even if the polio didnít... but bring it down and if it is the only thing holding the disease at bay... He closed his eyes for a moment.

 

"Time to earn your fancy diploma..." He murmured.

 

"Doctor?"

 

"Nothing. OK... weíve got to bring it down. Get cold packs and pack her.... also get a icewater bath ready if that doesnít do it. Lets go people!" The orderlies and nurses took off, already openeing cabinets and grapping material, before heading back to the room where Dr. Gozzlin stood gently stroking Mollyís forehead.

 

"I just took her temp again... 104.5.."

 

"Damn."

 

Even so, they couldnít just throw her into an icewater bath... at her temperature, that difference could kill her in minutes through hypothermia. The doctors and nurses took the soaked, cool pads from the table and gently wrapped the delerious, crying childís limbs in them... that way, the part of the body that had the most surface area could cool off, hopefully cooling the blood down that was flowing into the braint. Meanwhile, her head was packed in the same cool clothes.

 

 

 

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***

The big monsters were glaring down at Molly, talking about what they were going to do to her, while they put icy cold things on her. Molly tried to scream for mommy but nothing came out except for coughing. She was shivering and whimpering when another person came walking up, but none of the monsters seemed to see him, which was weird because he seemed more solid then anything else.

"Fear not." He softly said, "Iím here Golden bear..." Molly looked up and saw... Daddy!? She wanted to say hi... but.

 

"Donít worry... I know. Donít be afraid....Youíre going to go back to Rebecca, and be with her for a long, long, time before you come to the Country I live in." He said, face blazing with a light that turned all other things to shadow... except for the doctors and nurses, laboring over her, who no longer looked like monsters, but nice people. He bent down, and kissed her. "Have strength... and faith." He pressed his hand to her forehead, and then she didnít hurt as bad.

 

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

***

"OK... give me her temperature!" Salk said,

"102..." Gozzlin said back.

 

"Still going down... ok, it looks like itís broken."

 

"And the Polio, Doctor?"

 

"Weíve gotta wait for that news."

 

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

***

Deep in her body, the polio resurged briefly, freed from the heat of the fever, but now the immune cells, T cells, B cells and the T "helper" cells were pouring anti-bodies into the bloodstream by the millions.. and billions. Everywere the virus turned it was confronted by legions of the chemical guided missiles. The virus sought to hide in the folds of the brain, but the anti-bodies were there to, homing in and destroying the intruders with idiot detirmination. The war was being won... but how much damage it had done to the body still remained to be seen.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

***

The next morning, Dr. Salk called Rebecca, Baloo and Louie from where they had been napping uneasily.

"Molly almost died last night." Rebecca gasped, turned pale, and swayed. "But the fever is broken... and we think that the polio virus is in full retreat... and she still is breathing on her own, which means that the disease didnít get to her lung muscles." He paused. "This might mean that she is out of the woods... and that means that we can concentrate on figuring out what damage, if any, has been done, and what rehabilitation programme is best for her."

 

"Sheís not going to die?" Rebecca asked.

 

"I donít want to rise undue hopes... but it does look like sheís turned the corner." He paused. "Weíll know later today."

 

There was a knock at the door, and Wildcat was let in by a nurse.

 

"Wildcat... what are you doing here?" Baloo asked, then: "You didnít let Britches come with you, did ya?"

 

"No Baloo... thatís dangerous... HEís waiting outside the gates, and he promised not to move." Baloo still looked worried, and Salk gave a small smile.

 

"If it was that contagious... there wouldnít be a person on the planet who didnít have it, Baloo, relax."

 

"Anyway, I thought about them burning all the clothes, and since Lucyís made of cloth, theyíd burn her too!" Rebecca winced.

 

"Molly already thought of that, Wildcat."

 

"Oh... well hereís what me and Kit made for her," Wildcat said as he handed a doll to Rebecca. She almost dropped it.. it had to weigh at least a pound. She looked at it and realized that it wasnít plastic. "I made it out of bronze and steel.. and Kit an I used the joints from his air board to make the arms an legs bend." He looked very happy. "so, you can heat it up and kill all the germs, without killing the doll!" Salk blinked.

 

"I think thatís a brilliant idea..." he paused, "The moment sheís awake, well give it to her." There were nods all around.

 

"I gotta talk to Britches.." Baloo said, "Iíll be right back."

 

Outside of the hospital grounds, Kit was bouncing a ball off of a wall, looking up occassinally. When Baloo walked over, he caught the ball and stood looking at Baloo.

 

"Papa Bear... howís Molly?"

 

"The docs think she might have turned the corner, but theyíre waiting to be sure.... I donít blame Ďem." He paused, "That was a nice thing you did."

 

"Well, I can always get Wildcat to help make another airboard." Kit said, feigning unconcern. Baloo reached out and took him by the shoulder.

 

"No, Britches... that was a real nice thing you did.... I know how much that means to you... and Iím real proud of you.... Thereís a hotel not two blocks up the street...weíll stay there, all of us, until this thing gets worked out. OK?"

 

"OK, Baloo." Baloo noticed his eyes.

 

"Been crying?" Kit looked away for a moment.

 

"Yeah..."

 

"Donít worry about it, Iíve done a bit myself over the past few." He looked back at the building. "Britches... the docs think sheís over the disease... but they doní know how much itís cost her yet..." he paused again. "Beckers... sheís only one person, and if Molly needs a lot of help, well, weíll have to look for short term stuff... so we can stick close to Cape Suzzette, Rebecca and Pigtails....."

 

"OK... I understand, we can help Rebecca with Molly... but Baloo, we donít know that yet, do we?"

 

"Naw... an youíre right... we shouldnít borrow trouble." Baloo said.

 

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

***

Molly woke up. She was tired and still didní feel really good. But bright sunlight came in the room, and the trees outside looked like trees.

"Hello, Molly." One of the doctors leaned over the bed, a kind look on his face. "Can you tell me who I am?"

 

"Youíre the doctor that was here... with Dr. Gozzlin." Molly said.

 

"That he was," Dr. Gozzlin said, moving into her view. "How do you feel?"

 

"Tired."

 

"Do you hurt?"

 

"No."

 

"How are your legs?"

 

"They still feel asleep."

 

"mmmm....í Dr. Salk said. "well that happens a lot if youíve been in bed for a while. Tell you what. Is it okay if Dr. Gozzlin holds you on his lap while I check them?"

 

"OK." Molly said, drowsily. When he lifted her the pins and needles in her legs got worse, before he sat her on Dr. Gozzlinís lap.

 

"Now Molly, I want you to tell me if you feel anything, ok?"

 

"ok."

 

"Here?"

 

"no."

 

"Here?"

 

"no."

 

"Her-"

 

"Ouch! Dr. Gozzlin was better then that, he didnít hurt." At the spirit in the childís voice Gozzlin grinned. Salk was already grinning. The leg had twitched... not as far as it should have, but a lot more then it could have.

 

"Sorry, Molly. Now, are you hungry?"

 

"A little..."

 

"Iíll send a nurse to feed you... but donít expect to eat too much at first."

 

After a few minutes, a nurse came and Molly ate, but only a little before she felt full and tired. Then, the Nurse presented a bundle to her.

 

"Here you go, dear.... when your Uncle Wildcat heard that you couldnít have Lucy with you, he and your brother made this for you... you donít worry about here getting burned up... she can take it." She finished, unwrapping the bundle for Molly. Molly squealed as she saw the gleaming bronze and steel...

 

"It looks like Lucyís sister..." She hugged it to her cheek, feeling the coolness. The nurse smiled, before tucking her in, the child already drifting off into sleep... a natural, restful sleep.

 

The next few days passed slowly. Dr. Salk and Gozzlin both agreed that the worse was apparently over, but that Molly should stay isolated until they were certain. Louie stayed, cajoling, bribing and occasionally threatening Baloo, Kit, Rebecca and Wildcat into eating, while neglecting his food himself. Dr. Gozzlin had to go back to his office, he had other patients, some of them just as ill of other ailments, but Dr. Salk continued to give the family updates.

 

"Sheís having difficulty walking, Ms. Cunningham." He said at one of the meetings. "But that is too be expected, and itís far less then it could be..." he paused, "Sheíll need a fair amount of physical therapy, some of it painful, but if she goes through it, she will recover almost all, or even all functioning of her lower limbs, though sheíll probably always have to work a little bit harder then others to achieve the same results, at least in the legs. Her endurance and upper body strength will probably be the same, or even greater, compensating, you know." Rebecca nodded. The meeting was off the hospital grounds, in an outbuilding, so Kit was also in the office with the others.

 

"Now, that means that all of you, especially you and Kit, Ms. Cunningham have to let her do these exercises, to walk, swim, everything. Iím not kidding you, any misguided attempt to spare here some pain now could leave her permanently handicapped." Rebecca nodded, and then Kit did, before speaking up.

 

"How bad is it going to hurt her, doctor?" Salk smiled.

 

"Not as bad as Iím making out, but there is a sad tendency in our culture to well... think that the formerly ill need to be babied. She doesnít. She needs the most she can take, no more and no less, and Iíll give you the guidelines, and Dr. Gozzlin will modify them. You see heís going to be seeing you at regular intervals, starting at once a week, and you are of course to take her back right away if you see anything unusual."

 

"Dr. Salk." Rebecca asked, still looking a bit fragile, "What is the chance that Molly could have a relapse?"

 

"Very low. We know that once someoneís had Polio, theyíre immune to that particular strain forever... in fact that is one of the routes were trying to develop a vaccine from... theyíre other strains, but Iíd say Molly has less of a chance of contracting them then you or I do..." Rebecca nodded, still not satisfied. Nor would she be, Salk knew... if other cases were any indication, it would be a long time before any sniffle or fever went unchecked in the Cunningham household.

 

"And now, I have another visitor..." He said, as the door opened and a nurse emerged, holding Molly in her arms.

 

"Mommy!" Molly held out her hands to Rebecca, and whatever the problems her legs might have, there was nothing wrong with her arms.

 

"Oh God, baby..." Rebecca grabbed her and hugged her, as the others came around her. Rebecca smothered her daughter with kisses and hugs until Molly protested.

 

"Mommy... Iím ok... but did you make certain to feed Lucy like Louie promised."

 

"Oh yes, Sweetie... and we have food for you too... just as..." Rebeccaís voice temporarily failed her and she just hung on to her child, redeemed to her. Kit and Baloo were hanging on to both of them, as Molly looked around with all the energy that she had possessed before.

 

"when...When can she go home?" Baloo asked Dr. Salk.

 

"Right now." Dr. Salk replied. "The fevers broken, the virus looks like itís been well and truly thrashed, and the best cure for the remnant is to return to normal surroundings... and exercise." Baloo looked at Molly laughing with her mom and Kit.

 

"So Kit, can I play horsy when we get home?"

 

"OK..." Kit said,

 

"Gee Kit, donít you need a horse to play horsy.. and Mizz Cunningham said no pets, that one pig was enough.... oh wow, if we get that back she can ride it like Rebecca did..."

 

"Wildcat...."

 

"Yah, well doctor, Iíd really like to-" Baloo stopped, feeling an odd tightness in his throat, "I mean, excuse me.." He tried to clear his throat, and it worked a little, but now he was having a hard time seeing, what with all the extra moisture in his eyes. "What I mean is if you ever need anything that I can give.. you call.." Abruptly he had to turn around and look at the wall for a few minutes, what he could see of it.

 

As the group headed out for the car, Salk came with them talking to Rebecca and Baloo.

 

"Now remember what I said about the physical exercise and therapy... donít underdo OR overdo it. If it hurts while sheís doing it or if her legs are a little achy afterwards, thatís normal, but continual pain, sudden weakness, or a loss of feeling when sheís not exercising, needs to be checked... it could indicate that we need to change the regimen to prevent permanent disability."

 

"I understand, Doctor. And thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart." Rebecca said, holding her sleeping daughter. Salk had explained that she wouldnít have much endurance for a few days, so to expect her to drop off to sleep after excitement.. which was normal and healthy.

 

With another round of thanks, Rebecca and the rest got into the car and made the drive back to Cape Suzzette. Salk watched them go, then turned around and looked at the building, with itís rooms, itsí Iron Lungs, doctors, labs and nurses.

 

"Must be pretty pissed off that you lost today, you bastard." He said to the disease. "Well get used to it, because one day youíre not going to win anywhere... and that is a promise!" He said as he went back to the war.

 

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

***

Time has a way of healing wounds, and Molly seemed to bounce back fairly quickly... with the exception of her legs. For weeks afterwards, getting across the living room was difficult for her. She tried to crawl, but Rebecca refused to let her.... and bit her lip as Molly walked, tears brimming in her eyes from the effort. Once she asked Dr. Gozzlin if she could...

 

"No!" he said, "Rebecca, get her used to crawling, and the muscles will get used to it... youíll set her back years." He paused, "Thereís a rehab group for children... itíll help her, and also keep her from feeling singled out. They have a meeting tonight... can you go?" Rebecca who had a loan meeting, four clients showing up, and an invite to a dinner ball, nodded unhesitatingly. "Good. Hereís the address."

 

"Mommy.. what if everyone laughs at me?" Molly asked, a hint of fear in her voice.

 

"Donít worry, nobody will." Rebecca replied as the taxi stopped in front of the building. As they entered, she could here the sound of children and adults. A woman looked up.

 

"Oh, youíre Ms. Cunningham and this is Molly." She looked at Molly, in Rebeccaís arms and then looked at Rebecca.

 

"Ms. Cunningham, thereís one thing I have to tell you and your daughter. I understand itís difficult, but in this building, everyone walks on their own... we donít help them up after they fall, unless they absolutely cannot do it themselves." Rebecca began to get angry. How dar-

 

"Does everyone do that?" Molly asked.

 

"Yes, Molly.. .everyone follows that rule."

 

"Then I shouldnít be up here in Mommyís arms right now." The six-year-old asked, "Should I?"

 

"No." The woman said.

 

"OK... Mommy, can I walk in there?"

 

"Are you certain, sweetie?" Rebecca said, as she put her daughter down. Molly immediately began to stump towards the open door with the painfully careful gait that was so unlike her previous bounding run.

 

"Very nice..." the woman next to her murmured.

 

"What?"

 

"Oh.. that level of self-confidence is very unusual in children that young, especially ones who have suffered a serious illness.... how does she react to pain during her therapy?"

 

"She cries... and gets frustrated when she canít do it." Rebecca answered. "But she doesnít ask to stop."

 

"Well, in that case, weíd better follow her, since sheís rapidly outpacing us." The two women entered the room. Rebecca looked around and noticed people from all different walks and jobs, mothers in expensive dresses next to laborers and clerks.

 

"This is a nice building." Rebecca said, looking at the furnishings.

 

"It is, isnít it... the Vandersnootís bought it for us... there son almost died in a car accident... when they found out that only rich people had access to this kind of rehab, they bought the building and put in enough money in the bank so interest pays for the upkeep." Rebecca blinked, that was something she had never known about the Vandersnootís. The woman saw her gaze and continued, "Donít spread that around, though.. one of their provisions was that there was to be no publicity about it." Rebecca nodded, as she watched Molly continue forward, where one of the aids directed her to walk around the track in the colorfully painted room. Next to here, there was a small coyote boy, about her age, wearing somekind of brace on his leg... that looked to weigh about as much as he did.

 

He looked over to the Golden bearcub, already gasping as her leg muscles protested the effort.

 

"Does it hurt?" He asked.

 

"Yes." Molly said, "Does it hurt for you?"

 

"Not as bad today... The doctor had to rebreak my leg?" Molly blinked.

 

"What does that mean?"

 

"I fell down some stairs and hurt my leg.. but when it healed it was all twisted because I fell down again afterwards, so the doctor had to break it again and reset it." The coyote said matter of factly.

 

"Oh." Molly said. "My Names Molly Cunningham."

 

"My Name is Jereem Kalin." Molly looked at him, then had a thought.

 

"That..."

 

"brace."

 

"doesnít it make it hard to walk?"

 

"A little...what about you?"

 

"I had Pollywogs..." Molly said, Jereem paused then brightened.

 

"Oh! Polioo?" He said, sounding the word out carefully.

 

"Yeah... it makes both my legs real tired... Mommy takes me out swimming and walking, but itís going to be forever before I can play Dangerwoman again." This was said with frustration.

 

"Well maybe we could race around the inside track." Jereem said, "I have one real bad leg, and you have two sort-of bad legs, so itís even."

 

"OK... ready, set, go!"

 

Rebecca had spent the time talking to the other mothers. She realized just how comforting it was to be able to talk to people who understood, who didnít try to change the subject, not because they were cruel, but simply because they had not the slightest idea of what to say. She resolved to never, ever say anything bad about the Vandersnoots.

 

Later, as the meeting was breaking up, Molly came stumping over to Rebecca, looking tired, with a boy next to her, a small Coyote with a brace about her age.

 

"Mom, can Jereem come over sometime?" Molly asked,

 

"Hello, Ms. Cunningham," The boy said. Rebecca liked him instantly.

 

"Rebecca, Jereem, Rebecca." She paused, and saw his mother, a timid Coyote who hadnít joined the meeting much staying on the periphery. "Let me ask your mother." Walking over to the woman, Rebecca introduced herself.

 

"Would it be ok if your son came over to visit my daughter?"

 

"Wouldnít it be too much trouble?" The woman said, "I do not drive."

 

"Nonsense... I could pick him up from school... and drop him off home... it wouldnít be any trouble at all." The woman looked at her, then nodded with a tiny glimmer of a smile.

 

"I would be happy... my son has few friends." Rebecca smiled.

 

"Great..." Behind her, Molly and Jereem grinned at each other.

 

"Great!" Molly said, "When I get better and can be Dangerwoman again, you can be my Trusty Sidekick!" Jereem blinked, then looked at her.

 

"I listen to that radio show... isnít that the person who always gets captured?"

 

"Donít worry, Iíll rescue you..."

 

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

***

Present day:

By the time the story ended, they had come to H4H, and Molly was getting rebellious again.

 

"Look, itís not Polio, and Iím not going to scare mom for nothing..."

 

Michael stepped in front of her, and didnít let her move.

 

"Molly. Let me put it this way. Either you tell you mother, Mac, Kit, Baloo, or somebody... or Iíll do it. You donít have any other choice now." Molly glared at him then looked back down to the ground.

 

"Michael... you donít know how scared Mom was... for along time afterwards Iíd be under the covers and sheíd come and... just sit by the bed for hours." Michael nodded, then answered.

 

"And if she finds out you had something, and didnít tell anyone because you were afraid of what sheíd feel... and so it got worse? How do you think sheíd feel then?"

 

"But.... if I donít let it get to me, I canít have...Iím...Michael, Iím really scared." Molly said, hunched in, like a cold wind was blowing. Michael held her in his arms.

 

"Look....Iíll go with you and Weíll tell Mac..." He held his girlfriend. "Iím not going to leave you, and neither are Jereem or Hannah..." he put his hand to her cheek and brought her face to his. "and weíll deal with this, just like weíve dealt with everything else, but putting something off doesnít get it done." He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Ready?" Molly nodded, leaning into Michael like she wasnít certain of her footing, and Michael led them into the building.

 

Mac was alone in the building, helping finish some paperwork that Rebecca had left for him to do... he couldnít blame her... the baby had evidently NOT liked last nights dinner, and had been making itís dislikes known all day... Becky had finally gone home to rest and try to deal with the morning/afternoon, and evening sickness as she had put it. He looked up and saw the teenagers.

 

"Hi fellow-whatís wrong?" Mac hadnít made one star by not noticing his surroundings. Michael sat Molly down and then looked at her. His stepdaughter looked up at him.

 

*Lord of All...Iíve never seen her look this scared* Mac thought, then sat back as Molly told him what had happened, along with occasional prompts from Michael and Jereem when she was trying to avoid certain points.

 

By the time she was finished, Mac picked up the phone and gave a quick call.

 

"Hello, Is doctor Draven in? Good."

 

"Draven, this is Mac....yeah that Mac. Remember the shipment of clamps that.. fell off that truck? Yes, Iím calling that favor in... I need a check up on the QT of one of your aids... Molly Cunningham.... yeah, the same. No Iím not planning on breaking Michaelís kneecaps, itís not that kind of checkup so the rabbitís safe." Michael turned red. "She had polio a while back... six or seven, and she thinks sheís having a relapse... Why? Because you know her, youíre the closest, and her pediatrician retired five years ago. And also youíre the best I know... thanks." He hung up the phone...

 

"OK, Dravenís ready for us.í

 

"Now... canít we wait?" Molly asked.

 

"Nope... Look, Molly, there are three answers youíre gonna hear... one, you have it. In that case you need to be in a hospital NOW. Two, you donít have it, but something else, and youíre gonna feel pretty silly if you drop dead of something a purple pill can fix... Lastly, this is something else entirely, in which case going to the hospital is still the first step. " Molly nodded, and got up, Michael still at her side, and headed outside.

 

At the hospital, Draven shooed everyone out of the room, and conducted a physical of Molly. Michael waited with the others, and Mac paced, going out once to smoke one of the hideous Thembrian cigarettes he had officially given up, but still occasionally smoked when he could hide it from Rebecca.

 

Finally, Draven called Mac in, with Michael and the others waiting outside. Walking in, Mac sighed in relief. Molly looked embarrassed not stricken, and Draven looked seriously amused and exasperated.

 

"Ok... my aid, Dr. Molly Cunningham, diagnosed herself with Polio.... Iím happy to report that she should be sued for malpractice." Mac looked at Draven.

 

"What she had was a pinched nerve and strained ligament... from that fall down the stairs several weeks ago."

 

"That was two weeks ago." Mac said.

 

"The one she told you about was... not this one." Draven paused and flipped a book open. "When she fell, she bruised the ligament, and also pinched this nerve. Now the normal method to deal with this is a program of mild exercise... but Molly decided to try to exercise the daylights out of it, which made the problem worse..." Molly looked towards the floor, face burning.

 

"Any damage?" Mac asked.

 

"Nope... " Draven paused, then looked over at Molly. "Thatís why you suddenly couldnít come in over the last several weeks...you thought you might infect people here."

 

"Yeah." Molly said quietly.

 

"Well, donít be embarrassed.... thatís more then a lot would do...but youíve gotta start treating yourself like you do everyone else..." Mac nodded.

 

"Thatís right Molly... Thanks doc... you want to come out? This calls for a bit of a celebration."

 

"Naw... the devil finds work for idle hands, and Iím still paying for my second year med school pranks..."

 

"Well putting the deans bed on top of the flagpole, with the dean still in it WAS a bit much." Mac nodded to him, and headed out with his stepdaughter. Molly looked miserable.

 

"God, theyíre going to be angry with me." She said softly.

 

"Might be surprised." Was all Mac said.

 

When they got out, Michael and the others crowded around to ask what the diagnosis had been. Michael hadnít sat down once, stalking back and forth, occasionally slashing the air in a way that reminded people more and more every day of his granduncle. Molly spoke so quietly that she had to repeat herself several times. When she finally was understood, she felt herself lifted from the ground into a bearhug from Michael, who hugged her fiercely.

 

"Oh God... Oh thank God..." Her whispered into her hair.... Then, realizing that this was possibly not the behavior you displayed in front of someoneís stepfather, he put her down.

 

"Donít mind me...." Mac said. "But you might want to Mind Rebecca over there..." He paused, "Draven sent word out midway through that whatever it was, it wasnít polio, so I had Kit pick her up..." Molly looked up and saw Kit and Rebecca standing in the door. Rebecca walked over towards her daughter and gave her a hug.

 

"Sweetie...." Rebecca murmured into her daughterís shoulder, as her baby was now a full head taller then she, as she hugged her.

 

"Yes, mommy?" Rebecca looked at her daughter,

 

"You donít have to do it alone... and so you donít need to keep anything from us... because weíll handle it together, even things that are too heavy for one of us." She pulled back, and looked at her daughter again.

 

"Now.... Weíre going to go celebrate, but first, Iím going to kill Mac for not telling me the minute you told him... and," She sniffed, "Oh lord Mac... not those cigarettes... theyíll kill plants at ten feet." Kit smiled.

 

"They were a secret weapon during the war... send the Colonel out in a nicotine craze and every plant for a mile would die... great for clearing underbrush... in fact that was how he got his Star." Rebecca blinked at Kit, then looked over at Mac, half believing it from the noxious smell.

 

Mac looked sheepish, and gathered his wife in his arms.

 

"Now Rebecca.... the stress was there, and I smoked it outside, on the sidewalk... and any plants there are weeds, so Iím doing my civic duty." Becky laughed, then looked over at Molly, as she walked out, Michaelís arm around her.

 

"Not making a prediction... but they do make a wonderful couple." She said softly to Mac...

 

"You got that..." Mac said, equally softly, so neither could hear.

 

Walking next to Molly and Michael, Kit grinned at Molly.

 

"How are you doing?"

 

"Embarrassed...."

 

"Donít be. Not a person here thinks you got anything to be embarrassed about..."

 

"Thanks." Molly said.

 

"Well there was that popfly three weeks ago... I wasnít going to say anything about it," Michael said, "But since it was before you hurt your leg, I just couldnít resist that a blind man with a hood on could have seen that."

 

"Hmph! You were going for it too."

 

"Yes... and so if a blind man could see the ball... then what do we say about a bear that canít see the six foot tall tiger who is already standing there ready to get the ball!" Molly blinked, realizing how easily Michael had mousetrapped her, and laughed and leaned into him.

 

"I guess I just run into you and then yell at you for no reason, especially when you try to make me do the right thing." She said to her boyfriend.

 

"Oh, congratulations Michael." Hannah said softly.

 

"For what?"

 

"It sounds like youíre married." She said in the same voice. Michael paused, then exploded in laughter. Molly looked at Hannah unbelievingly, and then started to laugh, feeling the tension drain out of her. Kit grinned and looked at the two of them.

 

"Well if you can shake off wedded bliss, I have a cargo flight Iíd like some company on... " He started, as the family walked out into the city.

 

END.


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