Freya opened the window to the sounds of her parents arguing in the living room behind her. They always argued at home. When they were out, they were all smiles. It drove Freya up the wall as the arguments seemed so stupid to her.
Freya eased out of the window and pulled her bag out after her. She closed the window and trotted away. She could have left through the front door, but that meant going past her parents. She doubted they would have noticed her leaving, but she wasn’t willing to be drawn into their argument either.
The library was open late. She usually went there when things got too bad at home. To the point, her parents often picked her up from the library when they found her no longer in her room. They had scolded her the first few times, now they didn’t even bother.
The librarian greeted her quietly as Freya passed her desk. It was easy for Freya to disappear inside the books. She particularly liked the books about science. She hoped one day she could be a surgeon or a doctor of some sort. Maybe then she wouldn’t have to worry about people arguing around her. Cells and blood didn’t talk back. That would be safe.
A chime reminded her the library was closing soon. Her parents must still be arguing if they hadn’t noticed her missing yet. She wondered if one day they would completely forget about her.
Freya put away the books she had been reading and bobbed a head to the librarian as she left.
Outside it was raining. It usually rained at night. She liked it. The rain made everything clean and fresh again. Not that the air in the Shield was bad.
The Charter was clear on that. Any vehicles had to be specially modified so they ran on clean energy. With the power from the Shield no one used anything but electricity for transport or industry anymore. Though there were rations on power. You had to be rich or powerful to have unlimited power. Most people had their stipend and never shelled out for the extra. So to own a car in the city was usually unheard of. It did mean that people tended to stay in their neighbourhoods instead of wandering all around the city.
Freya skipped down the stairs, thinking of where she could go next. She didn’t want to go home. Not if they were still arguing. She tapped her lip with a finger as she thought and with a smile decided to see if the stray dog that lived under the bridge had her puppies yet. There weren’t many animals inside the city so when Freya had seen the dog, she had followed it to see if it had a home.
Once near the bridge, she called out for the dog. It usually came to her call. Today it didn’t. She frowned and she looked into the shadowed depth under the bridge.
There were several old buildings that had fallen down near the bridge. Since the river didn’t flow much, they had left the buildings in the mostly dry riverbed. She would have to climb over one of the broken buildings to get to where the dog usually slept.
She wondered if she was having her litter right then and that was why she hadn’t come. There was a niggling worry at the back of her head. There had been catchers out lately. Dogs were rare and rich people wanted them as pets. Did one of the catchers grab the dog? She hoped not, as Freya had few friends and didn’t like the thought of losing another one.
Freya crawled onto the old building. She could hear the skittering of loose rocks and rubble falling as she made her way. It was dark so she misjudged her step and instead of placing it on something solid, she put it through a hole.
She yelped in genuine pain. Taking a deep breath, she tried to pull her leg free. Her shoe was stuck. She wriggled her foot and her leg and tried again.
It started slow enough, first the slide of the brick wall under her hand, then more. Her foot was free but now she was atop an avalanche of debris and rubble.
She scrambled to keep her balance but loose bits were now hitting her on their way down. One hit her on her arm and she lost her balance and went down. Darkness reigned as copper-tasting pain washed through her.
Freya woke up to a sense of floating. Faces formed above her. They wore white coats and she realised she was in a hospital. She glanced over and there were her parents. Her father held her mother as she sobbed against him hopelessly.
When her parents saw she was awake, her father came over to the bed and held her hand. His voice was brittle. “Are you all right, Sweetie?”
Freya nodded. “A little groggy though. What did they give me?”
He chuckled weakly. “Always the future doctor. I’m not sure. Something with morphine in it. Because you see, Sweetie, when the rubble fell you were very hurt. Especially your spine.”
Her heart dropped and she tried to move her toes. She reached down with her hand. She could feel her waist but not her legs. Her hands trembled from more than the drugs as she carefully laid them on her lap.
She looked at her Dad. He reached over to hold her hand again. He had tears in his eyes. “it severed Your spinal cord at the Lumbar something or other—Well, I’m not sure. You can ask your doctors later. But you know.”
Freya nodded. It was permanent. She was paralysed. Her father’s hand tightened in hers and she knew he would be there for her. She cried then. Her mother who was blubbering came over to her other side and gave her an awkward hug.
They all looked up when the doctor came in with a nurse. He looked grim so she knew his news was not going to be good. He picked up her chart and automatically went through it but she knew he was avoiding something. She blinked her tears away and steeled herself.
Freya said, “Just tell it straight, doctor. I’m paralysed.”
He jerked up his head at her voice and frowned at her. “I wouldn’t put it in so few words.”
Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the doctor. “But that is what is wrong. I’m going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
He hesitated and she knew he wanted to just nod his head. Instead, he said, “We will try everything in our ability to help you. We have some excellent Bioware options.”
Freya snorted at that. The doctor looked confused. Was she not acting like he expected? Well, he could just get stuffed. Her life was pretty much over and she didn’t have time for doctors that wanted to soften the blow.
A small girl about her own age jumped on the bed next to Freya and said, “Hello.”
Freya eyed the girl. She had a pink streak through her hair and had some Asian background in her lineage as she had softly slanted eyes and the rest of her hair was black as obsidian and smooth as ice.
The girl poked her in the chest. “Does it hurt?”
Freya smacked away her hand and said, “Stop that! And no, it doesn’t hurt. The spine was severed.”
The girl looked thoughtful. “You know I can fix that.”
Freya turned her head away and said, “Go away and annoy someone else.” Tears pricked Freya’s eyes at everything she had lost.
The girl’s voice was serious. “Well, if you don’t want a Bioware implant, I can understand. Wait, no, I can’t. Life would totally suck without a Bioware implant.”
Freya glared at the girl. “I’ve already had the Bioware doctors in here. They say the damage is too extensive and that they can’t make anything intricate enough to give me any significant use of my legs.”
The girl wrinkled her nose. “They are just lazy. They can do it but it is a massive amount of work and well, you are pretty much nobody. Professor Nasser said I should look at your case.”
Freya frowned. “But you are just a little girl. Professor Nasser? Wait, isn’t he one of the Shield Makers.”
The girl nodded and jumped off the bed and picked up her chart. Flipping it over, she perused it like the doctors were in here periodically.
The girl answered her absently, “He is friends with your mother from when she worked with the city Council. She cashed in every favour she had to have him fight in her corner. He got me.”
The girl looked up and grinned. “And I am just awesome. We can rehabilitate some of what it here but we will need to put in an extensive network of Bioware for you to gain movement and feeling.”
This was all surreal.
“Wait, what? Feeling.” Tears actually pooled in her eyes, then she wondered if this was all just a prank. She narrowed her eyes and glared at the girl.
“Are you just pulling my leg?”
The girl looked up from the chart again and said, “I don’t think that would achieve anything at this stage but there will be some physiotherapy involved in your rehabilitation.”
Freya stared at the girl. “Who are you?”
The girl put the chart away and came back to jump on the bed next to her. “I’m Halcyon. But you can call me Hal.”
The name was familiar. Freya gasped when she realised she had just read an article on her in the magazine left by one of the nurses. Halcyon was a genius when it came to innovative ways of incorporating Bioware into the human body.
If this girl said she could put in Bioware that would allow her to walk, she actually believed her.
Hal stepped back a little and said, “Okay, try that?”
Freya flexed her toes a little. It was hard to move even that little bit like she was trying to move through a Newtonian fluid.
She shook her head. “It is sluggish.”
Hal flicked her hand to wave off the concern in Freya’s voice. They had been at this for a while and Freya was frustrated. She knew she shouldn’t be. Moving her toes was more than what she had been able to do last week.
Hal had managed to put in Bioware that bridged the gap in her spinal column but they were still having trouble working out the signals. For everyone, they were slightly different. Yes, it was all in the same part of the brain and all motor functions were very similar but to figure out what messages the rest of her body would have sent back to the brain was difficult.
Hal stepped forward and placed a hand on her ankle and said, “Okay, I think I know what the problem is.”
Freya closed her eyes. She wasn’t ready for another lecture. But Hal plowed on. “You are thinking too much. This is your body, Freya, it does, it doesn’t think. You know this instinctually and now you have to process it differently but I think you are overthinking it. Keep your eyes closed and I’m going to do something and you tell me what I am doing.”
Freya was frustrated but she knew that Hal was on her side so she did as she was asked. Hal placed her fingertips on the sole of her foot. Then Freya yelped and pulled back as Hal started to tickle her. Freya struggled a moment as Hal had kept a grasp of her ankle. Her eyes flew open and she finally pulled her leg free.
It was easy. She looked from her feet to Hal. “How did yo—I mean what was—”
Tears blurred Freya’s eyes and she looked at Hal and said, “Thank you.”
Hal waved it off with a graceful flick of her fingers. That girl really did have miracle hands.
The timing had been good. Freya was able to graduate with the others, though she had been on an accelerated pathway. She had managed to clock two doctorates and she had only hit her second decade last year. There were others that had done better in the University community but people were impressed that someone from the fringes of the University hill had managed to do so well.
When she stepped out of the crowd, Professor Nasser approached her. Freya smiled at him. She knew he was the reason she had done so well. There was a lot you could accomplish when you had the backing of some of the greatest minds in the city.
Nasser had convinced his colleagues to mentor her and that had accelerated her learning. She knew there wasn’t anything really special about her.
Professor Nasser managed to get through the crowds to her and patted her shoulder. “Excellent, my dear.”
His wife came up behind him. Though both were near in size, they both exuded a charisma that took up much more space.
“Oh, Sweetheart, you were awesome up there.”
She shook her head. “I wanted to thank the both of you. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
Doctor Nasser flicked away the praise. “Nonsense. It was selfish. With your doctorates, I can now convince the Council to let you work with me at my lab. You can head up one of my pet projects.”
She wiggled her eyebrows. Doctor Nasser had been hinting for a while she wanted her to work with her. It had been more than she had hoped.
Freya enjoyed the familiar sound of metal on ceramic as her family ate dinner. Her parents had been talking about their day when they started to speak about how beautiful the graduation had been.
Freya steeled herself. She knew where this would lead. But she didn’t want to give up this moment. Where everything was beautiful and they were all getting along.
She sighed when her parents’ voices started to rise.
“Of course she will go into neurology. That is one of her specialties. She will be curing people of brain tumors and she will be famous,” her father growled.
“But that isn’t her only specialty. She likes to work with people and surgery will isolate her too much. She needs to be around people,” her mother countered.
Freya reached forward and touched her mother’s hand. “I already know what I’m going to do. You two don’t need to argue.”
They frowned at her and her father said, “Sorry. I suppose it has become a habit with us.”
She just shook her head. Her parents didn’t seem to mind the arguing but Freya hated it. When she had gone off to study, she had told them she was going to go live in the dorms and why.
They had been shocked and saddened. They had both tried to avoid arguing in front of her when she came to visit. Freya appreciated that more than anything else. She knew her parents loved her and that was a gift that no one could equal.
Freya smiled softly at her mother and told both of them. “Doctor Nasser wants me to work with her in her lab.”
Her mother clapped her hands together in excitement. “Oh, that is wonderful dear.”
Doctor Nasser pulled her closer and put her arm into hers. “Don’t be so nervous. You know this stuff inside and out.”
Freya gushed. “But everything is just so… well wonderful.”
Doctor Nasser smiled. “I remember when I was as wide-eyed as you.”
Her look went dark and Freya asked, “Are you all right?”
The light returned to her eyes and she pretended it hadn’t happened. “Oh, yeah. Just it is hard to forget the past but you sometimes have to or it can darken your present. Come on, I have some people to show you off to.”
She smiled at the doctor and the famed Shield Maker. “Don’t you mean people to show me to?”
Doctor chuckled. “No, show off.”
An older man came out of the room and Doctor Nasser said, “Oh, Portland, come meet my new lab tech. She is Freya and she is awesome.”
Portland smiled. “You say that about all your lab techs.”
Doctor Nasser asked, “Have you been able to talk to the Council about that issue we talked about?”
He waved it off as he answered, “Yes. They have already put in some strict restrictions. Don’t worry, no one is going to get hurt.”
He patted Doctor Nasser’s shoulder and said to Freya, “Nice to meet you.”