Description of this challenge – The novel from which this opening line came is "Contact" by Karl Sagan. For those who haven't read it, it is probably one of the most important and wonderful pieces of science fiction of the previous century, written by a man who was not only a wonderfully skilled writer with a true sense of poetic storytelling but also a great scientist (and an astronomer at that) and later on a great philosopher. Many scientists abandon science later in life to do rather bad philosophy, Sagan was the rare exception who expanded from science into excellent philosophy and his comprehension of the role of religion in a scientific world (and the horrible impact that fundamentalism has on human knowledge) was significant. In fact the greatest single conflict in the novel comes to be between hardcore fundamentalism and scientific pursuit – at a point where it is crucial to the very future of humanity that rationality must win fundamentalists are cashing in on the resulting fear to push their agenda. The conflict Sagan foresaw is raging today (although it's major battleground is biology rather than space exploration for now) but his ultimate conclusion on the debate is one which we can but hope to reach in real history, with the force-for-good potential of religion finally truly realized as an ally of science rather than an enemy. Having said that, read the book – don't watch the Jody Foster movie. It's attrociously horrible what that movie did to Sagan and most of the truly great philosophical points Sagan made are glossed over or left out entirely.
By human standards it could not possibly have been artificial, it was the size of a world. Her world. Her whole world was now in that bright white spot on the X-ray. The oncologist was still droning on in that detached voice of a doctor who has given the same bad news too many times and knows that nothing he says will really make it feel any better.
She thought about all the cancer patients in movies and on television. Some of them sell their property and use the money to spend that last few months after the news doing all the things they always wanted to do. Visit Venice or take a cruise. Some of them chose to reconcile with lost friends and family. On television and movies it was always so touching. But she also knew that in real life most terminal cancer patients go home, and cry for a few months about how soon it all ends and then as the pain gets worse spend the last months weeping and wishing that the end would finally come so the pain can end.
"What kind am I ?" she wondered, Less than a year, that's what the oncologist had predicted, while taking pains to point out that these estimates were best guesses rather than prognostication. Some patients outlive their predictions by several years, some don't make it all the way there, it's averages – a bit useful for planning the closure of ones affairs but that's about it. Cancer doesn't follow schedules.
"It sure didn't follow mine" she thought, "my schedule didn't include an appointment at all". She felt shattered, her eyes focussing only on that bright spot till it felt like it would burn into the back of her retina. The oncologist politely excused himself, experience having taught him when the time was best to leave the patient alone to digest the bad news.
"What have I done to deserve this ?" she said out loud, "I never smoked or drank, I always wore sunscreen, I was a fucking vegan for crying out loud… I did everything right". But the bright spot was still there, covering half her liver, too big for a transplant, and by the time there was symptoms and she went to the doctor it had spread throughout half her body anyway. Too late. She'd done everything right, practically phobic of cancer all her life – but it had found her anyway. You could mitigate and reduce risk – you could never quite escape it.
It occurred to her how silly it all felt now. At any given time she could have been run over as she cycled from the organic food market. Instead she now wondered if she'd missed out on life ? All the steaks she never ate, never even trying one cigarette, never a glass of wine.
Suddenly, she knew what kind she was. Artificial ? No, this was mother nature at her cruelest. When you're own body declares war on itself. Well, she had nothing left to lose did she ? And her love for nature was fading fast. She walked out of the hospital and hailed a taxi. She pulled out her cellphone and called her boyfriend.
He was there to ask how it went and what the doctor said but she cut him off: "We'll discuss that later. Right now, I want you to do one thing and one thing only before I get home. I want a fucking steak dinner, a glass of really good red wine and a fucking cuban cigar.", she'd missed out on these little pleasures even in moderation and the beast had come for her anyway. She'd been cautious all her life, and it had found her anyway. Well now it had, the least she could do was throw caution to the wind and go on a fucking binge. For once in her life, she had nothing to lose, so she may as well go overboard.