“So,” Jenny thought out loud as she and Horizon left the canteen. “In order to figure out what all is going on in your head, you need to kill an asshole oligarch?”
“No,” Horizon replied. “If he’s still alive I won’t be able to kill him because my implants would recognize him as my commanding officer and stop me.”
The squirrel paused to consider her statement. “Wait, if they won’t allow you to harm your commanding officer than how did you manage to set off that bomb?”
Before Horizon could answer an angry male ermine in a hospital gown rounded a corner and spotted them. “Hey, you!” he shouted and held up a plastic-covered hand towards Horizon. “Look at what you did to me!”
Horizon recalled his face after half a second of scanning, she’d last seen him in the harness of a rescue drone after another one had cut off his fingers. She glanced at his plastic digits and recognized them as the simple mechanical prosthetics that were given to people as a placeholder until they could obtain proper bionics. “I’m sorry,” she started to reply.
“You bloody psychopath!” he cut her off. “How is this saving someone? How am I supposed to work with these clumsy things?”
“You wouldn’t let go!” Horizon shouted back.
“Oh, and I suppose cutting off fingers makes perfect sense for a ghul like-” before he could get another word out the posthuman raccoon acted. Seemingly in the blink of an eye Horizon crossed the five meters between them and clapped her hand over his mouth.
“I am not a ghul,” Horizon informed him with one claw pointing at his eye. “Have I made myself clear?”
The ermine tried grabbing at her arm with his mechanical digits, but she barely felt them. After a few minutes of fruitless grasping, he reluctantly nodded.
Horizon released his mouth, “those are just temporary. You’ll get better replacements soon.”
He gasped multiple times before replying, “they said there’s a waiting list for bionic limbs. It’ll take three to six months for my new fingers to come in.”
The raccoon looked at the ermine skeptically. “That long?” she inquired.
“Unfortunately yeah,” Jenny caught up to them, huffing slightly. “I’m one of the bio people. We’ve only got so many medical-grade printers and each limb must be custom designed. Even those plastic things you’ve got had to be specially printed for you.” She pointed to the ermine’s mechanical prosthetics.
“And it’ll be three months or longer before you can make me a set of proper fingers?”
“If you’re lucky,” Jenny retorted. “We shuffle the list around a bit after every disaster based on need. You’re ahead of the guy who stuck his foot into the backblast of a thruster, but if someone lost a full hand or even an arm, they’d jump ahead of you.”
The ermine started to whimper under his breath, “isn’t there anything you can do to speed things up a bit?”
A virtual voice whispered in Horizon’s ear, “there actually might be something you can do.”
Jenny groaned and rubbed at her temples in frustration, “look. Everyone on the list has a story. They’ve got a family to feed, the Company will put them in debtor’s prison…”
You can’t be talking about doing that, are you? Horizon thought back at the AI.
“But she’s directly responsible for maiming me!” the ermine’s voice rose again as he pointed towards Horizon. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you people!”
“I admit, he doesn’t quite seem like Paladin material,” Sam chuckled. “But there is something else you can do.”
“She’s not in charge of bionics or tissue engineering,” Jenny fought back on her girlfriend’s behalf. “So no, not particularly.”
Horizon’s eyes shot to the side at the figment of a red panda in her peripheral vision. Please explain.
“I can reprogram some of your leukosynths to regenerate his fingers and then self-destruct.” As Sam spoke, Horizon noted that the irate ermine and her girlfriend appeared to be moving in slow-motion. “In two weeks, he’ll have a set of digits indistinguishable from the ones I amputated.”
At least you’re admitting fault for this one, Horizon snarked. But even as she subvocalized those words, she was confronted again by the feelings of guilt she harbored. Let’s give him the offer and if he refuses then so be it.
The external timeframe returned to its normal rate and the ermine started shouting again, “-maybe if you so-called “Friendlies” hadn’t let her join in the first place-”
“I might be able to do something to help,” Horizon interrupted. “Mr.…”
“Yannis,” the ermine replied. “My name is Yannis.”
“Mr. Yannis,” the raccoon continued. “My microbots might be able to give you new fingers in just two weeks.”
Yannis looked confused, “what do you mean? Aren’t your microbots inside your body?”
“Yes,” Horizon thought hard about how best to explain. “But I could temporarily introduce some to your system.”
The ermine’s eyes widened in surprise; Jenny gasped. “You can do that?” she asked.
Horizon nodded, “I would set them to self-destruct once your fingers were regenerated.”
“How come you haven’t done this before?” Jenny inquired with exasperation. “Do you know how many people we could take off the prosthetics waitlist?”
“Sam just told me that it was an option,” Horizon explained.
“Look, I know that you don’t want to create more posthumans,” the squirrel continued. “But this is completely different.”
“Wait,” Yannis interjected. “What do these microbots do, exactly?”
Sam whispered in Horizon’s ear again, “just repeat what I say.”
Horizon listened and spoke, “I’d apply a fluid suspension of my microbots to the stumps of your fingers. Over the next two weeks they’d take calcium from your blood to assemble new bones while stretching soft tissues over the bones. It’ll be itchy and uncomfortable, and you won’t be able to wear any prosthetics while they’re growing, but once done you’ll have a set of fingers with the same capabilities as your old ones.”
Yannis stared down at the clumsy mechanical prosthetics he’d been issued, he flexed the muscles to make them spring open and closed. “Just two weeks?” he inquired.
“Give or take a couple days,” Horizon confirmed. “Depending on the finger’s length.”
“And they’ll leave once they’re done, right?” the ermine seemed to have just a few lingering doubts. “They won’t mess with my brain or anything?”
“No, they’ll be specifically programmed to affect nothing but your fingers,” Horizon reassured him. “They won’t leave your hands.”
He paused, gave it a bit of a thought, and finally decided: “Okay, let’s do it,” he held out his hands.
“Now?” Horizon blinked in surprise.
“Yeah,” Yannis waved his prosthetic fingers at her. “Before I change my mind.”
Horizon took hold of the prosthetic proffered to her in both hands and carefully undid the straps holding it to his thumb and palm. She unwrapped the gauze around his stumps, revealing the carefully glued-on synthskin. “I’m going to have to cut this open,” she cautioned. At his nod Horizon focused on the blunt claw of her right thumb and a razor-sharp titanium needle slid out of the tip of the claw. She held his right hand tightly in her left and brought her right hand to within half a hands breadth of his stumps.
She flicked her thumb once, and a bead of dark red fluid appeared on the tip of her index finger, with a second flick the synthskin covering the stump of Yannis’ index was sliced open. Before he could say anything, she pressed the bleeding tip of her index finger into his stump, just as he started to bleed a lighter fluid. “What are you doing?” he demanded when she withdrew her finger.
“Blood is the only suspension of my microbots I have available,” Horizon explained. Already her dark blood had scabbed over on both their fingers. She proceeded to cut their middle fingers, “don’t worry about infections. The only microbes in my system are the ones I allow.”
“You know,” Sam added. “If you gave me a few hours I could repurpose a gland or two for producing leukosynth suspensions without you needing to cut yourself.”
Horizon cut and applied their ring fingers. He wanted it now, she thought. And I think the blood helps convey the proper weight to this decision.
After applying her blood to the stump of Yannis’ pinky finger she released his right hand. Garnet-like scabs covered the stumps of all four of his fingers, save the intact thumb. He turned it around, looking at it from all angles. “What’s that tingling?” he asked.
“That’s the microbots starting their work,” Horizon explained. “Try not to apply too much pressure on top of them, they won’t like it.” She started to reach for his left hand.
He withdrew the hand before she could touch it. “Uh, I think I’d like to wait and see what happens to my other hand,” he explained. “And the prosthetic is still more useful than a hand without fingers.”
Horizon nodded in understanding, “fair enough. Keep me updated and tell me if something happens.” The ermine nodded and turned to leave. As soon as he turned the corner Horizon heard him break into a run.
Jenny grabbed at Horizon’s hand, the cuts she’d made were sealed and the scabs were disappearing back into her skin. “Think he’ll be back?” the squirrel asked.
The raccoon shrugged, “I don’t know. He seemed scared of me.”
“A bit suspicious, don’t you think?” Sam appeared behind them. By the motion of Jenny’s eyes Horizon supposed that the panda was visible to the squirrel as well. “I mean, he came in so aggressive and then just became all submissive and deferential.”
“I probably just shocked him when I ran up and grabbed him,” Horizon suggested.
“The blood was a nice touch,” Jenny added. “Was that really the only way to transfer them?”
Horizon sighed, “Sam says that she could have repurposed one of my glands given enough time.”
“A few hours and I could make you lactate healing potions,” the AI said, pointing a finger at Horizon’s chest.
Both Horizon and Jenny’s eyes shot wide open, and they gave Sam an incredulous look. “What?!” Horizon asked.
“I mean, they’re big enough to host a couple nanofactories, they have ducts to the external environment, and you’re not currently using them.”
Jenny scowled, “I beg to differ on that last point.”
Sam grinned sheepishly, “well, you could still use them for that purpose. Might be a little sore for a day or two after the conversion…”
“Don’t you have an analysis to run?” Horizon interrupted.
“Okay fine,” Sam disappeared in a blink. The two were left alone.
Horizon caught Jenny’s eyes staring on her chest for a moment. Then the squirrel caught herself and focused on her face instead, “you thinking of giving anyone else leukosynths?”
“Maybe,” Horizon sighed. “At least now she’s given me that as a possibility. Though I think I’d rather keep it a rare occasion instead of reworking yet another part of my body.”
Jenny nodded, “yeah. It would be nice to knock some people off the prosthetics and transplants list, but we can do that in a more clinical setting. Besides,” she rubbed her biomodded womb. “If either of us were to embody some sort of maternal archetype, it would be me.”
That elicited a snort from Horizon. She checked the clock in her HUD and realized how late it was, “come on, you should get some rest. It’s been a long day.”