I was born incomplete, unfinished.
My right leg ends in a stubby knee. The corresponding arm never developed past the shoulder.
People always think these undeveloped limbs are the error, but it’s the full-length, ‘healthy’ limbs that make me wrong.
I’ve spent my whole life trying to fix God’s mistake.
When I was old enough, Mama and Pappa bought me a plastic prosthetic leg. It was slick and it slid against the stub of my knee, birthing goosebumps.
It was wrong, but they couldn’t know that.
On the holo-screen, I saw men and women more metal than flesh. Glistening steel connected to bone and muscle, woven under their skin. Powerful arms, piston legs, pulse-cannons, and jets, made one with the human body.
My breath caught. For the first time, I realized what I could be:
I come home from the surgeon with my stubby knee and a metal leg connecting at the hip in place of the ‘good one’ I was born with.
Leaning on a crutch, I hobble forward. Each step is a thrill, electricity skittering up my spine. I can hear the tiny whirring of my leg.
It is good. Right.
Even if Mama and Pappa can’t see that.
There’s a glimmer of pride in Mama’s eyes when I show her my enlistment papers. For a second, she thinks I am normal.
For a second, I feel normal.
I can’t tell her why I really did it. Can’t confess that it had nothing to do with patriotism or duty or honor.
Turns out I don’t have to tell her. She later finds the UISR Marines “Augmentation: Your Best Body, Your Best Weapon” pamphlet in my desk drawer.
“I should have known,” she says. A dead flat glaze—defeat or disgust?—replaces the glimmer in her eyes.
I am 78% augmented. I am 78% whole.
Two robotic legs, two synthetic arms, a DNI chip in my skull.
I move freely. Each step makes the ground tremble and I tremble with it. Minute vibrations purr in a comforting rhythm better than any heartbeat, warmer than the soft lull of a sleeping lover’s breath.
It feels so good to be 78% right.
There’s more progress to make. Every firefight with the Gambazi offers the chance to earn more money and thus earn more augments.
Mama doesn’t speak to me anymore.
Pappa still writes, but his emails always contain at least one plea—veiled or overt—to seek ‘help’.
I shouldn’t let that hurt me.
My body rebels.
They’re tearing me apart from the inside. They’re destroying all the work…. And the Marine doctors only stand by, useless.
Screaming, I beg them to fix me.
But the Gambazi Virus cannot be fixed. My traitorous flesh is rejecting the metal.
I am coming undone.
One by one, they disconnect and haul away the best parts of me.
The pain is horrendous, but the emptiness and silence are worst. There’s no heads-up display filtering my world. No gentle hum of gears and processors to soothe me.
I am a filthy lump of flesh tangled in sweaty hospital sheets. My arms, my legs…my everything, all stripped away.
General Vora visits, brings my honorable discharge papers. A shiny gold stamp on a slick piece of paper. My augmented body—my best body—has been reduced to rubble. They want no part of the aftermath.
I want no part of it either.
I beg the nurse to end things for me; if I had hands, I’d do it myself.
Mama bursts into tears, but does not recoil. She flies to my side, brushes stray hairs away from my sweaty brow. Pappa stands behind her, jaw working as he takes in the wreck of my body.
“Mama?” I choke out.
I never thought she’d come.
She wraps her arms around me, pulls my head to her chest. Warm—I forgot how warm skin can be, how comforting.
“Mama?” I rasp again.
“I’m so sorry, baby.”
Pappa steps closer, settles his hand lightly on my stump of a shoulder. “W-we’ll find a way, Natasya. If it’s what you want, I swear, we’ll find a way.”
They still don’t understand, but they found a way.
It’s not quite right. Body and machine are not one—my nerves aren’t entwined with the mech-suit’s wires. My flesh doesn’t touch the metal of its hulking body; instead, I am cradled in soft cushions.
Plastic glasses enable me to control the suit with head and eye movements and vocal commands.
I control the machine, but it is not a part of me. There’s a disconnect, a fractal delay between the thought and the action that can never be erased.
I force smiles for Mama and Pappa, but keep a knife under my pillow. Sometimes I stare at its sharp edge and consider again an escape from this wreckage.
But a faint hope stays my mech-suit’s hand: hope for a cure to the Gambazi Virus that lies dormant in my veins.
I don’t want…I can’t die as I was born, incomplete and unfinished. Somehow, someday, I will assemble all the best parts of me. I will be whole.
Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction. Over fifty of her short stories have appeared recently in Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and more. To learn more, visit www.alexisahunter.com.