An Awakening in Parts
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<- Part I


Part VI


Clicking.

“Scabs?”

The faint hum of machinery.

“Scabs?”

The deeper thrum of an engine, somewhere distant. Too deep to be the crawler, a languid, phlegmy growl in the chest of a dragon.

“Y’ awake?”

A faint feeling of motion.

“Y’… can y’ hear me? Hello?”

Scabs opened her eyes and saw light.

“Gonna need ya t’ answer,” said someone, impatiently.

“Yeah,” said Scabs. She frowned, then winced as a pang of pain ran through her face. There was something off with her voice. A metallic buzzing. It was…

“How d’ y’ feel?” Somehow, it didn’t feel like the questioner cared much about Scabs’ wellbeing.

“Dead,” rasped Scabs. “But everything hurts, so I must be alive.”

“Fuck me, alright,” the questioner said, sounding put-out. “I did my best for you, no need to complain.”

Scabs tried to turn her head and found she was clamped down. “Where am I,” she rasped. There must have been water on her eyes because everything was blurry.

“Wheelbarrow,” the questioner said. A shape loomed above her and cool metal implements touched the raw, hot flesh of her face, inspecting it. “Y’ were very, very sick when Elbows brought ya’ here,” he said. “I’m the closest this pile ‘a rustbuckets ‘as to a cyberthaum. Not that I’m a ‘thaum, just know enough about surgery and tech to get by. Call me Tinker.”

“Thanks,” said Scabs, trying not to sound sarcastic. She was starting to remember how she’d gotten here. “Eithenin?” she managed.

“Oh ‘e’s fine,” said Tinker. “Radioed and Thinfingers grabbed him in a skiff. Came by to check on ya’ earlier. Y’ owe him,” he added. “Keenel wants y’ dead now, and by extension us, because he saved y’ life.”

“My…” Scabs remembered her arms. “My arms-”

“Cut ‘em off,” said Tinker brusquely. “Magerot. Things were lumps of cancer. Don’t wildcast again, y’ fuckin’ organic. It’ll go straight to y’ innards and then I won’t be able t’ save ya.”

Scabs closed her eyes and silently wept.

“What else,” she said. There was that buzzing, again.

“Eh, not much,” said Tinker. “Y’ eyes en’t much good n’more so I wired y’ an ocular t’ yer neural breadboard. Turned off at the minute. Y’ organ bag was split, stuck that back together. Tidied up the hole in y’ filter, but I can’t replace it wit’out a cyberthaum. And y’ got a voice buzzer. Lovely little self-applying one, glyphs ready to go. Went right on yer throat. If y’ want more than that y’ave t’ learn to augment y’sen. En’t a ‘thaum out here for miles but you, and we goin' deeper.”

“An… ocular?”

“Good one too,” said Tinker, perfunctorily. “Don’t even need adjusting. From a watcher drone, I think. Lovely depth perception. Y’ ready for me to turn it on?”

Scabs breathed in, and out. “Could I have a minute,” she said hoarsely.

“Well y’ already had nigh-on eighteen hours ‘a me time,” said Tinker, tapping as he moved about the room. “So I’d rather not, but as it so ‘appens I’ve been in ‘ere most of it and my organics call. Y’ got until I come back.”

The door shut with a harsh snap of plastic on metal.

Scabs breathed in a long, ragged breath and started to sob, long ragged pants accompanied by stinging in her near-blind eyes. She could see colour, just about, and light, but it all swam in a painful haze. The cold. Her eyes had been half-frozen by the cold, and they would never be the same. She remembered the little red poster in the crawler. She wondered what had been on it. What had been so important that someone had taken the care to hang it there? What had been so important that it had been repaired, even when it grew ratty and worn? She’d never see it with her eyes, now. Only through the cold, grey, intermediary precision of an ocular.

Eventually her lungs stopped heaving and the breath stopped sucking in with hisses through her three remaining filters.

She was alive.

She… was alive.

Otchen Revelkha was alive.

He had been charismatic, when he wanted to be. Awkward, when it was effective to be. Intelligent, unless it required introspection. He had not been insane, and he wasn’t cruel. He had never woken up in the morning and decided to do evil. He wanted to help people- no. He had wanted to be right about how to help people. He wanted to be right about how to help people so he could make choices for them, and his intelligence, his charisma, his artful façade of personality, had borne down on her like a storm. He had made her feel needed. Made her feel powerful. Made her feel like she belonged in the world.

Made her into a tool.

Scabs didn’t think he worked on a conscious level. He was like an animal, acting because he did, because trapped inside the glorious thunder of his own mind there was no higher cause but his view of reality, and the more things sacrificed the greater the cause they were justified by.

Had he enjoyed what he did? What he did to her? Scabs wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she hated him, and that he had led her down his straight and narrow road that cleaved through the obstacles and objections and let her become a monster, all of her own volition. Made her like him.

And she hated, him.

He had cost her so much, but what was worse was how much she’d cost others.

He’d called it ‘The Device’, because that made it sound smart, and tactical, and neat. But it was just a bomb. A big, thaumically-enhanced, eighty-charge, dodecahedral bomb, which he’d slapped a drive with the smuggled schematics for in front of her and told her, build.

Scabs hadn’t expected it to work, the way she’d left it. Half-complete, the ignition- the only part she really understood- crushed underfoot, the rest of the device threatening to explode if she moved wrong.

But she’d still left it there. In that back-end apartment, in the room that had become a workshop. That had become a prison.

She’d done nothing. Just up and ran in the night, and ran, and ran. It wasn’t hard to leave Emtu-Rafich. She got on a freight train going topside and then there she was. Seeing the sky for the first time in years, or rather staring upwards into the infinite smog as she shivered in her thickest coat. The ring right above her, a fading pen line dissolving into the grey soup of the atmosphere. Emtu-Rafich was in the centre of the band. She could go east or west, find another bandcity and disappear. But north and south were the wastes. Empty. Flat. Cold. Beyond everything.

She was on the northern side of the city, so she followed the traintracks north.

She found a way into the undercroft and made her way like that for a while. Passing through the tunnels dug by smugglers through the collapsed ruins of ancient bandcities. There was life down there. People selling and stealing and living and fucking and dying. She bought a coat from a trader working and apparently living out of a room carved out of the ancient rock the tunnel bored through. The price was on a tag on the coat, a scrap of cardboard carefully cut to shape with neat handwriting in blotchy pen. They claimed they’d very thoroughly cleaned the stain from the organ suspension fluid off of it.

Eventually she passed through the band proper and out into the outskirts. Factory factions. Shafttowns. Independent communes. Trading stations.

She took lifts from whoever was going north. They asked no questions. There were always people fleeing into the wastes.

She’d taken the first chance she could to go with a scavenger band.

She’d expected to be cut up for scrap.

She’d expected to die.

She’d wanted to.

But she hadn’t.

Instead, here she was.

Still alive.

And for once in her life, nobody was trying to make them trust her.

Except Elbows. But she had a feeling that what Elbows said was what Elbows meant.

She felt the front of her teeth with her tongue. Some felt loose and she could taste, faintly, the tang of iron. Blood or the buzzer?

The door opened again. “Aight,” said Tinker. “Time enout’. I’m turning the ocular on.” He skittered closer towards her and reached behind her head, tapping on a keyboard with a series of rapid clacks. He stopped.

“Five,” said Tinker. “Four. T’ree. Two. One. Ocular.” He smacked a key ceremoniously.

Nothing happened.

“I still can’t s-” started Scabs, and then an image burst in her head like a plexiglass pustule. The image shimmered and wavered and she cried out as her occipital lobe started receiving nauseating input from a foreign body, every muscle in her body spasming as she temporarily lost control of her brain impulses. She could see, twice, and the second vision was separate from hers in a way she could not easily comprehend. The colours, too, were wrong, the tones shifted from what she knew into impossible shades overlaid in static-shimmering grey. Slowly, Scabs became aware that she was screaming.

“Y’ can close the ocular, y’know,” said Tinker. “'Ere, let me-” a sudden ping of pain ran down her spine from a place just to the left of her head as something Scabs didn’t know she had twinged. She focused on the impulse, remembering how she had first learned to control all her augments, and snapped it off after a few tries. Fortunately the Ocular went completely dark.

“Y’ did alright for the first time,” said Tinker. “Most scream for a fair bit longer, some for less.” He paused. “Maybe close yer eyes when y' turn it back on,” he said, helpfully.

Could have told me before I… bastard.

She opened her eyes and squinted fiercely into the light. She tried to remember what it had been like to see. It felt so close, like if she could just, just squint hard enough, she'd be able to see again. The wipers on her eyes went up and down, and up and down, but the watery image did not resolve into clarity.

She remembered being so afraid of this. But now, all she felt was tired.

“Fuck,” said Scabs, quietly. She discovered that she could move the ocular on the arm it was attached to or click it into place on the side of her head, distantly aware of the sensation of the faintly whirring polymuscle. On Tinker’s belated suggestion, she closed her eyes and steeled herself to opening the ocular again.

She focused on the walls of the little operating theatre, avoiding looking at her body. Its field of vision was limited, a vertical oval of sight with edges far more defined than her eyes. She could see from them in their entirety, without the centre-focused vision of her organic eyes. The colours were grey-tinted and sharp and the perspective was strongly zoomed in, though Scabs managed to zoom back out a little. She raised it awkwardly and looked over her head at Tinker, standing to her right. As she’d expected he had multiple legs and a slew of thin arms dotted around his torso but he was surprisingly humanoid. His head was a featureless, shining capsule but for two clusters of two oculars each paired with a human eye. She was reminded of Scuttleteeth. Maybe they were from the same bandcity. The design philosophy of his limbs seemed about right.

“I’m getting the hang of it,” said Scabs, for lack of anything better to say. “Thanks.” She turned the ocular towards her head and noted that the flesh of her face was pockmarked by scars, her augment skull clamped down to the table with wires leading out behind it to a terminal against the wall. She looked down her body. It was covered in a sheet. Tinker had at least a little thoughtfulness in him.

“Could I see my arms,” asked Scabs, managing to get the words out without stumbling.

“Forewarnin’,” said Tinker. “I replaced one’ve ‘em with a quickgraft. I wanted to do both but one went wrong and I ‘ad to cut it off again, and that was all we got. Good news is that Eithenin saved one of yer fancy ‘ands, so y’ got that.”

“Left or…”

“Right arm. Eithenin said you favoured tha’ one when I asked.” Tinker moved and yanked the sheet off, revealing her body beneath.

“All right,” said Scabs through her teeth. “Not so bad.”

Both her arms were cut off just below the shoulder and the left stump was wrapped in bandages beneath a clingfilm wrap. But from the right grew the ersatz growth of a cheap augment arm, a skeletal tube of bracing struts with a thick rubber pipe running down the centre, probably containing the nerve wire. A surprisingly neat job had been made of joining her symmetrical augment hand to the steel, Tinker obviously more comfortable working with metal than flesh. She tried flexing the fingers and moving her wrist. It felt secure, more than it had ever felt on her flesh and bone arm, despite how thin the arm struts seemed. Her broken breather filter was soldered shut with a metal plate.

“Just temporary,” said Tinker. “No ‘eavy lifting.”

Scabs tried a light glyph. It was much harder to spark it into glowing light than it had been, her rigid new arm lacking the slight movement she had come to expect from her organic one and throwing even the simple patterns of the glorified torch off. But she lit it. The effort tired her.

“Yer good to stand,” said Tinker. It didn’t sound like a question but Scabs decided to treat it as one.

“Yeah,” she said. “I feel well enough to stand.” She felt well enough to sleep for a year in an endless pile of blankets.

Tinker grunted and started disconnecting the cables leading from Scabs’ head to the console. Scabs felt a slight tugging on her skull and a shivering in her brain, but she knew that it was imagined. The port to her neural breadboard was just under a panel, and besides the brain didn’t have pain receptors. Even she knew that.

Tinker opened the clamps on her augments and Scabs sat up gingerly, the plates in her midriff sliding and her stomach lurching.

“Fuck me,” she gasped. Every time she moved it felt like someone was putting her innards in a centrifuge.

“No thanks,” said Tinker. Scabs gave him a sideways look.

“I’m joking,” he added.

“Oh,” said Scabs.

“Because sex’s funny,” added Tinker.

“…Yeah,” said Scabs, managing to swing her legs off the operating table and bracing her legs to take her weight. “You… might want to… work on that.

She hit the ground. Her legs held. Her polymuscle hadn’t been touched by the cold. It would outlive her by centuries, most likely, wherever she ended up mouldering. She took a few steps, trying to keep moving through her wobbliness.

“Where’s Eithenin,” she said, trying not to let how much she was leaning on the doorframe show.

“Up someplace,” said Tinker dismissively, already tidying away his tools. “Go find ‘im.”

Scabs opened the door and stepped out into the corridor. Wheelbarrow’s rumbling was more pronounced here, and looking back she could see that Tinker’s… operating theatre? Worksop? Was stabilised and connected to the corridor by a gently flexing rubber seal. Wonder how they did that, she thought. But Wheelbarrow was definitely moving, the deep throb of the engine running up her legs and tickling her cheeks. The parts Eithenin had got must have been enough to fix it.

There was a ladder at one end of the corridor, and an airlock at the other. Scabs looked towards the ladder. Up, he’d said. As good a direction as any. She clenched her teeth and took a step, hand scraping unsteadily along the wall.

She needed to talk to the ringworker.

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