It began with a sonorous roar. The process of warming from cryogenic temperatures was necessarily slow. The roar was a single cycle of the pump located near her head. Terra wasn’t consciously aware of it until the roar repeated for the 10th time. One more revolution of the blades.
She woke and stepped from the tank. Or so it seemed to her. In the tank, she was weeks away from being able to move. The ship’s computer provided a chimeric framework for her to begin the process of assimilating to the waking world. At first, the process was entirely entopic, coming from within herself but after a while, she started hearing the ship’s systems and the moving parts of the tank. At the moment Terra wished herself to step from the tank, the computer shifted chimeric space to accommodate her desires.
She looked down and saw the curve of her breasts, as her hair fell to either side of her face, obstructing her view. There was a vague sense of incorrectness, not unreality or wrongness, only that the data was somehow not correct. Her hair was very long. Too long. It suddenly pulled upwards, shrinking to bob length. As she pushed her hair away, she examined her hands. Small, familiar scars were missing.
She will herself a mirror, but that was not how the ship’s computer allowed chimeric space to work. Instead, she had a sense of dislocation as she peered at herself from the outside. She was naked of course, but that would change soon. The sense of inaccuracy plagued her. Her nails were painted bright pink, which pleased her. She lifted one foot and as her hand touched it, her point of view shifted back a normal, internal view. As she touched the sole of her foot, the calluses she was so used to vanished. Her feet were soft and wrinkled, as if fresh from a bath. And perhaps a pedicure, because her nails were the same pink as on her fingernails. She was beginning to mesh with the real body again but the sense of incompleteness was still there.
She reached for her left breast and found the lump on the underside. A sense of alarm and disquiet filled her. This was not right and the chimeric space boiled with warnings.
“Make it right,” she commanded. There was no sound of her voice. She was weeks away from speaking, but the computer complied with her mental request.
The skin under her fingers twisted and changed. The lump was gone, replaced with a small scar and a slight divot. On top of her left breast, three raised scars appeared. Each was the size of a large paperclip. One was the standard mediport, the other two were packed with machines for the sleep process. On her right upper arm was a bump where the diagnostic equipment was hidden. Her hand traveled to the back of her right hip, and she discovered another scar. It was large and star-shaped, bigger than her hand. Soon, a machine grew to fill the space made by the scar. She was vague about this scar, but she recognized the machine embedded in it. It was loaded with nanobots, the ancillary power supplies and the reload port.
She had dodged cancer, she had dodged artillery and now she was augmented. Terra felt a surge of determination, she felt alive, refreshed in her chimeric space. Clothing was being applied from the fabric of chimeric space, light greys and whites. With a thought, Terra willed the colors brighter and deeper, shades of red and blue.
“Incoming!” she screamed. Vera and the medic took cover in a ditch. The shelling was incredible. Small mortar rounds rained down in the dead space behind the ditch by the dozens. When one blast ended, another appeared a meter or so away like a fountain gone wild. The APC was hit hard, the manipulator arm with the blaster crashed to the ground a few meters from their position. Dirt kicked up from both lips of the ditch. Exposing herself would be suicide. There was a whump as the mortar redirected on her position. There was no way to run except parallel to the fire. So she ran left, the medic lumbering along behind her.
There were no rounds falling around the arm. She checked the blaster and found it operation. The umbilical was still attached and receiving power from the APC. The 25-meter arm was detached from the side of the APC, but meters of umbilical snaked back and inside the vehicle. She couldn’t see anyone besides the medic. Her squad was either pin in or behind the APC. She could see dozens of enemy troops advancing on the APC. The mortar rounds thankfully slacked off.
The blaster was huge, 2 meters long or more. It was not so heavy that she couldn’t lift it. She placed it on the ground and reattached the blast shield that had fallen off when the arm collapsed. It was almost as light as her suit’s armor.
“Private! Don’t you dare!” yelled the medic.
“We’re gonna get overrun. Stand back.”
“There’s a reason that’s on an arm. Back scatter… Bremsstrahlung.”
She pulled supplemental plates of armor off the left side of her suit and placed them over the armor on her right arm, leg, right hip and heart. The suit opaqued her face shield. She was breathing so hard the HUD fogged up. She wished she had more head cover. Her suit indicated motion behind her, the medic had run for the APC to get something solid between him and the blaster.
“Run faster,” she muttered.
Vera launcher herself over the rim of the ditch, leaning over the broken arm of the APC. She hoped the arm would provide more shielding. Enemy troops were cresting the small hill to her front. She fired on them.
There was an answering boom from the APC as all the capacitors released their power. The dense nitrogen atmosphere carried the sound too well. It glowed pink for moment. The suit’s sound dampening electronics were gone the instant she fired, the thunderous sound made her ears ring. Her HUD starred immediately and speckles of light danced in her eyes.
The first shot took down a group of four, but on the way to the target, it fried 6 others. They dropped like puppets with cut strings. The survivors went every which direction. Some went prone where they stood, while more than half sprinted or boosted back over the edge of the hill. The six dead men made a mistake in clustering close on their descent from the crest of the hill. Vera guessed there was a trench on the leeside.
There was a thud and flash to her front. A tank lobbed a shell at her APC, even though it was not in the tank’s line of sight. She wished she had checked her radar for drones before it fired. She saw none. Every rock and divot on the hill could be a camera or sensor.
She heard a crack as her shoulder laser fired on a mortar round. Behind her, the APC was whining as the first bank of power storage topped back up. The tank pivoted to put it’s thickest armor on Vera, the target.
That wouldn’t help.
She climbed on top of the arm to get the right angle. The turret started to track her. The tank stopped moving as she depressed the trigger. So did the men surrounding it. There was no streak of light, just a flash. And those crazy speckles of light in her eyes, some of which burned into her HID. Theoretically, there was a beam of electrons, but she couldn’t see it. The air surrounding the barrel and blast shield briefly glowed pink at each pull of the trigger.
Vera’s body armor was oozing tungsten carbide, curls of black vapor wisped away. The radio was crackling with the sound of a hundred different shorts in her suit. She thought she heard someone order a cease fire. She imagined that it was the medic. After the third shot, she glanced back behind her. People were lying on the ground around her APC, crawling from cover to cover.
The second and third tanks were stopped just as easily as the first. She felt gore rising up in her throat as she realized she was wet, possibly soiled.
The enemy was massing behind a low rise in the terrain. She fired into the base of the rise to devastating effect. Three more blasts. A few men tottered from cover and fell to the ground, dead. A handful of men started their retreat.
Vera slipped from the arm and into the mud. She tried to use the barrel of the blaster like a crutch to keep herself upright, but she had to let go as she toppled forward. The suits jet’s refused to fire, but Vera managed to brace herself on the manipulator arm. She kept her feet but the mud was slippery. She commanded her face shield to clear, and it partially worked. The view was obscured, like streaks of grey-white lightning over her faceplate.
She saw friendly faces running towards her. She struggled to get her helmet off before she vomited. For some reason, it wouldn’t unlock. Her right fingers wouldn’t move correctly. She stared stupidly at the charred glove. No wonder why she couldn’t get her helmet off. Although her boots were muddy, she could see patchy burns on both her legs. The right was much worse than the left.
Someone roughly jammed a C3 cable into her helmet port.
“Goddamnit!” yelled the medic. “Stop trying to take your helmet off,” he sobbed.
Soon there were more people around her, lifting her, carrying her back to the APC. Some of them looked like they were retching, their chest heaving.
“Martin… Why are you crying? We won.”
Vera examined her legs. Or at least the place where her leg used to be. She was missing her right leg at the hip and the left below the knee. Her right arm was also missing at the shoulder. Surgical scars covered her torso. Like Terra, she suffered an electronic discontinuity when summoning a mirror. Outside of her body, she saw her own handiwork and that of the surgeons.
Her left eye was a warm hazel color and the right, the milky blue of a cataract. A wispy halo of white hair covered her head. She was waif thin and sickly. But her face was carved to the perfection of gorgeous specimen of beauty by a well-meaning surgeon. Not a crease, wrinkle or spot blemished her face or neck. It was the face she was born with, but subtly different.
She didn’t contemplate the damage to her buttocks and more sensitive regions, but again, she knew those areas were repaired to an unnatural state of beauty next to the wreckage. All this was true.
Chimeric space didn’t like her much. Her left leg, right arm and leg flickered in an out of existence. Again, this was also true. They were gone, but she deeply desired that this was not true. There was an ominous fog of warning around her space.
She breathed deeply. The lost limbs faded away, taking most, but not all the warnings with them. She wished not to see anymore and her perspective shifted to the entopic.
It was better to be herself than an outsider. She could be herself, but did not desire to see her body anymore, if ever again. As she wished, she was clothed in the concept of cover, a fog of pure, soft gold.
She thought of the medic, Martin, whom she had saved.