Firanel felt the first stirrings at the age of thirteen. For her, it started in her temple, a slow but pervasive ache that soon spread to her jaw. By the time she told the Elders, Firanel could barely talk, but her soft voice brought praise and exultation. She had been chosen; she would become complete. Her time of change was approaching.

In the growing months, Firanel lost her speech entirely. The thin web of metal that had sprouted on her face, glittering and spiderlike, took as its root the jawbone that had prompted her to seek the Elders when the change began. She was moved to the temple, where anointed Complete Ones saw to her needs and murmured quiet prayers under their breath when she passed. Sometimes she missed being able to talk, but the Complete Ones sensed this and assured her that her other half would provide.

Each anointed one was different, their changes manifesting in different ways. Sister Daael’s right arm was entirely composed of smooth silver metal. Brother Sikvit’s eyes had atrophied entirely, replaced by glowing ocular cameras that the other half had created in his smooth sockets. Brother Mahe had to wear altered robes to accommodate his gleaming steel prehensile tail. Firanel had doubts sometimes—they were all so devoted, so serene; how could she have been chosen to be among these worthies, to have an other half? The Complete Ones all knew her thoughts. They gave her secret smiles, and each told her that she would understand soon.

The metal spread down Firanel’s throat, growing and blossoming into a lattice that soon reached her lungs. For three weeks she was sick, moaning in her pallet, soft clicking sounds issuing from her metal-filled mouth as she moved. The Complete Ones cared for her, making cold compresses for her forehead and feeding her through soft plastic tubes. At last, her other half completed the meld with her stomach, and she was able to eat again, the food broken down and digested by the new metal parts of her body. The anointed ones congratulated her, telling her it was not long now, not long.

When her time was near, Firanel went into hibernation, the only way for her other half to complete the final changes. The anointed ones placed her in the temple and held watch for her in shifts, praying over her silent body. The metal web covered the right side of her face, whirring and glittering in the soft temple light. Its arms spread across her pale skin and into her mouth, down her neck and into it, the visible portions only a small fraction of her other half’s presence within her body. When she was ready to wake, all of the Complete Ones knew. The signal traveled on airwaves particular to the chosen, calling them together, linking them for the birth of one of their own.

Firanel was aware of the link as soon as she woke. Her smile clinked when she opened her eyes, the metal bars and threads that filled her mouth brushing together to make the sound. She sat up, gazing in wonder at her new partners, her new friends. They all turned expectantly to her, waiting, ready to experience the uniqueness of the newest Complete One.

Exultant, Firanel turned to face her brothers and sisters, gazing at their half-flesh, half-metal forms. She opened her mouth, jaw unhinging, the clicking, leglike rods of segmented metal reaching outwards, welcoming her brethren through her lips. Firanel’s throat thrummed and vibrated, and from the slick metal legs inside, her new voice emerged.