Business Before Pleasure, 1
Posted on June 30th, 2012 by Leda Harper
The rest of the crew had been ready and eager to go, departing in chattering bunches, hauling their bags for points scattered far and wide across Earth. Leda had been happy to let everyone else go ahead of her. She wasn’t the only one to linger – some of the nonhumans hadn’t been in any particular hurry either, though many had been hauled off by friends.
At length, she was the last not assigned to other duties on board the drydocked Atlantis, and with a faint internal sigh of reluctance she scooped up her pack and had herself transported down to the Academy.
She arrived a bit before dawn, and set out across the campus with her usual ground-eating stride. Earth was wrong, as always, its gravity too light, the air too thin. It had taken time to appreciate the beauty of the place. Sol’s reddish-rose rising tint laid a warm wash over glass, steel and marble as she cut across one of the lawns, homing in on the medical complex where she’d spent too much of her time the last five years.
Activity was at a useful minimum this early. Leda made her way through the quiet halls, working her way back towards the orthotics research offices. The heavy main door was closed, but the entry pad still recognized her thumbprint and the long code she tapped out. She sidestepped the sliding panel impatiently.
Dr. Jedlicka looked up in surprise. “Leda! You’ve beaten everyone in.” The older woman grinned as Leda bent to kiss her temple. “As usual. The erector set’s back in room three, Dr. Burseen’s on his way in, and has the Major cornered you yet?”
“Leighton has left precisely one message. I haven’t gotten around to responding.” She let out a brief hiss of breath. “Not particularly looking forward to it, either. Any new landmines since I shipped out?”
“You’re in luck. It hasn’t been long enough for too many new tempests to brew. Please be careful.”
They exchanged a level glance.
“See you in a couple,” Leda said at length, quirking a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.
Room three was the one they’d adapted for her use over the long months of rehabilitation. She tossed her pack onto the bed, closed the door and rapidly stripped out of boots and trousers, flexing long metallic toes as she stood precisely in the outlines she’d sketched two years ago in paint pen.
The decoupling process had become rote with practice, but it always felt odd. Leda closed her eyes and ran internal commands, the computer nestled deep at the base of her spine responding.
Sensation went first – she hated that, the tactile feedback from her prosthetics wasn’t quite the same as what she got from her own skin, but she’d grown accustomed to its presence. Then muscular control, as the heavy synthweave shut off. She was dead from the waist down. With practiced ease she reached back, peeling dense layers of synthetic muscle away from the stalk of her lower torso, starting with the hips and working her way around until the ball joints were all that held her together.
With another mental command and a heavy chak, those too let go. Leda reached up for the monkeybars they’d installed at her insistence and hauled. With a few lingering clicks she lifted free of her prosthetics and hand-walked down to the far end, where the erector set waited – similar legs stripped of the armor, most of the muscle layers, and all aesthetic value.
She hesitated, enjoying the flex of her shoulders and the brief sensation of lightness, detached from over a hundred pounds of machinery. When she finally set herself down into the replacements it was with a determined shove against the monkeybars and another heavy chak as the hip joints engaged. Leda drew careful breath as the interface hooked up, feeding her data on balance, pressure, movement.
One palm settled low against her abdomen. With the pad of her thumb she absently stroked the interlocking, flexible bronzy plates that started a couple of inches south of her navel, and she glanced past to the skeletonized metal of her current legs. She told the toes to curl and they did, natural as breathing.
Jed had laid out a skirt for her – wraparound, two buttons, simple, black. Leda fastened it on and stuck her head out into the hall. “We in the lab today or what? I presume Engineering wants a crack at these things for a tuneup.”
“We’ll keep it short. I’m sure you’ve got places to be.” Dr. Burseen glanced up, and she couldn’t help her grin; his company had made a lot of this more bearable. “Just leave the working set. We’ll whip through the physical and get you out of here. How have you been, Miss Harper?”