Hi, I'm really sorry for the delay in updating. Thank you to everyone who's been reading, and especially Rebecca Lissenden and Aggie Deneys for reviewing. Please let me know what you think, constructive criticism is very welcome. I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to DC.
"What?" Terrific's dismay was clearly written on his face as he gazed at his friend. The Flash looked drawn and tired, his face uncharacteristically grave.
"There is no antidote," he repeated wearily. "The diagnostic computers can't even identify the poison."
"Did you check with Oracle? The Watchtower?"
"Both, and I've taken copies of his test results and blood samples to S.T.A.R. I even sent a copy to Batman. None of them have got a clue what to do."
The two men were standing at the door of the JSA infirmary. In the centre of the room, surrounded by various monitors and devices, lay Dr. Mid-Nite. Michael had been shocked by the changes in his friend's appearance; Pieter's normally pale skin was bone grey with pain and exhaustion, and his body was wracked with violent tremors. Faint, irregular bleeps from the monitors betrayed his racing heart rate and burning temperature, yet despite all their efforts they were no closer to finding a cure than they had been an hour ago.
"He still hasn't regained consciousness," Jay told him quietly. "And his pulse and temperature are still rising despite everything I tried. If we tried to take him off the meds now he'd be dead in a matter of hours, but I don't know if his body can take much more of this."
"It can't," said Michael hollowly. "We have to find an antidote, and soon."
Jay sighed heavily. "Why did it have to be him?" he muttered. "At least if it were one of us we'd have a proper doctor looking for a cure."
Michael nodded in agreement. "We'll just have to do our best. There has to be a cure somewhere."
"But…" Jay began, but broke off abruptly as Stargirl entered the room and crossed over to stand next to them.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, you have a call from Dr. Klyburn from S.T.A.R."
"Does she have any information about Mid-Nite's condition?" asked Michael quickly.
Courtney shrugged. "I don't know. She didn't want to talk to a kid."
Jay glanced at her sympathetically. "Don't take it personally Court, she doesn't know you."
Courtney nodded. "I guess. What should I tell her?"
"Don't worry about it," said Michael. "I'll talk to her." Casting a final glance at his friend, Michael left the room.
A few minutes later, he entered the monitor room. On the communications screen was the image of an attractive redhead, her brow furrowed with impatience. Her frown deepened at the sight of him, but Michael was too preoccupied to notice.
"Dr. Klyburn, it's Mr. Terrific. Is there any news?"
The doctor shook her head.
"I'm afraid not. It's a type we've never come across before." Her eyes softened slightly as Michael's shoulders slumped in dismay. "We will keep trying," she promised. "I've got my best people working on it." Michael glanced up and gave a forced smile.
"Thank you." Dr. Klyburn nodded.
"You're welcome." Her tone became more businesslike. "But I'm afraid we have a problem." Michael sighed.
"What is it?" he asked resignedly. The doctor glanced at him sympathetically.
"Please understand that I would not ask this if there were any other way." Michael frowned.
"What exactly is the matter, Doctor?" Klyburn took a deep breath.
"Do you remember the Terrible Trio?" Michael nodded.
"They operated in Gotham until Batman drove them away, then they began an operation in Portsmouth. They were arrested, but escaped, and their whereabouts are currently unknown." The doctor smiled.
"That's right. Well, recently the Joker murdered one of Gotham's most influential businessmen." She shook her head. "It was a perfect crime. We have no idea how he managed it, and we don't know where he is now." Michael leaned back in his chair.
"That's very interesting, but I don't see how it concerns Mid-Nite."
"I'm coming to that. Shortly after the crime was committed, Volper of the Trio went to the police and said that, in return for amnesty and protection, he could tell them everything they needed to know." Michael grimaced.
"I have a feeling I know where this is going," he muttered. Klyburn nodded.
"Somehow, the Joker found out about the deal," she said. "Volper was being transported to a safe house when the Joker attacked. Most of the escort were killed, and Volper was left with dreadful injuries." Michael nodded slowly.
"I understand your problem, but you must see that there's no way Mid-Nite can help in his present condition. Besides, you must have people capable of taking care of him?" Klyburn shook her head.
"His basic injuries, yes. But he suffered severe trauma to his abdomen, specifically his pancreas." She took a deep breath. "He needs a pancreaticoduodenectomy." Michael stiffened. Pancreaticoduodenectomy was one of the most difficult surgical procedures in the world. He glanced up as the doctor continued. "We have no one capable of performing this procedure," Klyburn said. "Without Mid-Nite, Volper will die." Michael's eyes blazed.
"Weren't you listening?" he snapped. "He isn't even conscious, let alone capable of operating. Surely there are other surgeons who could do it." Klyburn shook her head.
"None that can get here in time. Mr. Terrific, I understand how difficult this must be, but we have no other choice. Mid-Nite is our last chance." Michael shook his head adamantly.
"I don't care. If we were to wake him up, the poison would kill him in a matter of hours. I can't take that risk." Klyburn spread her arms appealingly.
"Shouldn't that be his decision?" she asked desperately. Michael glanced at her in surprise and she continued quickly. "Do you think Mid-Nite would want Volper to die?" Michael scowled.
"Of course not," he grunted. "But saving Volper's life could easily cost him his own."
"Then do you really have the right to make the decision for him?" she repeated. "And what about the Joker? If we can't apprehend him, he'll be free to murder more innocent people. Would Mid-Nite want that?"
"Alright, you've made your point." Michael was silent for several minutes, then he sighed. "Fine." Klyburn beamed at him and he held up a warning finger. "I'm only going to ask him," he said sternly. "I'm not forcing him to do anything." The doctor nodded.
I would hope not. Will you let me know what he decides as soon possible?"
"Of course. I'll be in touch." Klyburn nodded, and the screen went blank.
Michael stood for a moment staring at the blank screen. He was filled with conflicting emotions. He knew from conversations with Batman how evil the Joker was, and the opportunity to capture him was too good to miss, but the thought of further endangering Mid-Nite's life made him sick to his stomach. Unfortunately, he knew Pieter well enough to know how unlikely it was that he would even consider allowing another person to die. Still, it had to be his decision. Reluctantly, Michael turned and headed back to his friends.
As he entered, Michael saw that Alan and Ted had joined Jay in the infirmary.
Any change?" he asked as he crossed to join them. Jay shook his head.
"Nothing," he replied glumly. "I don't know what else to do." Alan's face was lined with concern.
"We're running out of time," he muttered. He glanced at Michael. "What did Dr. Klyburn have to say?" The chairman sighed.
"They're still working on it, but we have another problem."
"Just what we needed," said Ted sarcastically. Jay nodded in agreement. Michael gave a slight smile, then proceeded to explain the situation, being careful to point out the risk as well as the opportunity.
There was silence for several minutes as the three heroes digested his words. None of them looked very happy. Ted cracked his knuckles absentmindedly.
"So let me get this straight," he said. "Pieter's the only person who can do this op in time, and if he doesn't, the Joker escapes." Michael nodded, but Jay was frowning.
"But you said that, if he's conscious, the poison will act much more rapidly. We may not have time to find an antidote before the poison kills him."
"And will he even be able to operate in that condition anyway?" asked Alan. Ted snorted.
"This is Pieter we're talking about," he pointed out. "When Johnny Sorrow gave him a heart attack he rejoined the fight almost as soon as Dinah resuscitated him. We'd have to tie him to the bed to stop him operating." Jay glared at him.
"This isn't a case of punching some monsters," he said acidly. "This is one of the most complicated procedures there is. Even for someone as good as Pieter, the mortality risk is very high, and then we'd probably lose Pieter too! We can't risk it."
"I agree," said Alan. "Pieter's not the only surgeon capable of doing this procedure."
"But he is the only one who can do it in time," argued Ted. "Alan, do you really want the Joker to get away with what he did?"
"I'm sure Batman will catch him. He always does."
"But not before he kills again," said Michael quietly. Jay looked at him aghast.
"You're not saying he should go along with this?" he asked incredulously. "Michael, this could kill him." Michael shook his head.
"I'm going to say what he should or shouldn't do," he said firmly. "This is Pieter's life we're talking about. He's the only one who can decide what to do."
The other three heroes couldn't argue with him. Michael turned to Jay.
"Wake him up," he ordered. Jay's lips tightened, but he did as he was asked. For a few minutes there was no change, and Michael began to wonder if they had left it too late. Then the bleep of the heart monitor increased, and Pieter stirred slightly. A moment later, his eyes flickered open. His face twisted into a grimace as he raised his head slightly and his sightless gaze travelled round the room.
"What…" he began hoarsely. Gently, Michael pushed him back down.
"Don't worry, it's us," he said. "How do you feel?" Pieter clenched his teeth as a spasm wracked his body.
"I've felt better," he replied honestly. He gave a nod of thanks as Jay passed him his glasses. "What happened?"
"You were poisoned," Michael told him. He hesitated. "Pieter, we haven't been able to find an antidote. I'm so sorry." Pieter closed his eyes briefly then re-opened them.
"You have nothing to apologise for," he said quietly. "I know you did all you could." He tilted his head slightly to one side. "Is that why you woke me up?" Michael sighed and shook his head.
"I'm afraid not." He hesitated a moment and then continued. "Pieter, something's happened. We need your help." Pieter's expression didn't change.
Pieter listened in silence to his friend's words. As Michael finished, Jay leaned forward.
"You don't have to decide anything yet, son," he said anxiously. "You can take some time to think about it." The doctor shook his head, winced, and stopped.
"There's nothing to think about. I'll perform the surgery."
"Pieter," Alan began, but Pieter cut him off.
"I'm a doctor, Alan. I have to do this." He paused. "If I'm dying, fine, that doesn't mean Volper has to die too."
"But with a little more time we might be able to find an antidote," protested Jay.
"And we might not," the doctor argued. "I'm not spending my last hours in bed when I could be doing something useful." Ted cleared his throat.
"Not that I'm disagreeing with you," he began, "but are you sure you can do this, doc?" Pieter frowned slightly and the pugilist continued hurriedly. "I know you're good, but this op's risky even when the surgeon isn't about to collapse at any moment. No offense." Pieter's lips twitched into a slight smile.
"None taken," he replied. "But I've never let injuries affect my surgical skills. I don't intend to start now." Jay rubbed his eyes in frustration.
"Pieter, you are by far and away the most stubborn man I have ever met," he muttered. Pieter's smile widened.
"I'll take that as a compliment." His gaze turned serious. "I can do this, Jay," he said firmly. "I know I can."
Michael had been listening in silence, but now he stepped forwards.
"Pieter, are you absolutely sure you want to do this?" he asked quietly. Pieter nodded.
"I have to," he said simply. Michael sighed. He'd seen that expression before. It would take a miracle to change Pieter's mind now. For a moment he considered arguing further, but almost immediately decided against it. It would do no-one any good and they were running out of time.
"Very well. I'll inform Dr. Klyburn. We'll leave as soon as you're ready." He just had to hope that he was doing the right thing.