Author: Veronique Aglat
Devo was in bad shape. Red oil flowed freely from his arm implant. Lena reached into her bag and extracted a fat little jar with a screw top. She pulled her patient under a giant bamboo leaf. It would have to do. Hopefully, the drones wouldn’t spot them.
“Hold still,” she said.
“How can a metallic implant hurt as much as my flesh?” he said, grimacing.
“They connect it directly to your brain,” she said. Devo knew that already, but no one really understood until they got hurt.
“Can you fix it?” he asked.
The jar contained a slimy paste. Lena dabbed the implant and localized the cut.
“It’s the hose,” she said. “It’s cut lengthwise.”
She applied paste along the cut. It provided a temporary seal. She leaned back to examine her work and evaluated Devo’s chances of survival at 50% after 24 hours. Too bad, he had an easy smile, a small nose and a square jaw, which Lena liked.
“Go, girl! You fixed me.”
“It won’t last, you have to go to the medic building”, she said.
“The medic building! It’s too far. I won’t last out in the open.”
Devo sat heavily on the ground, his adrenaline spent.
Lena closed her bag. She pulled the automaton bird from its special pouch and prepared to phase back to her base.
“Good luck,” she said and pressed the deployment button.
She tried again.
“Looks like you’re stuck with me,” said Devo. “We both have to walk back. Unless you want to get on the transport.”
“The transports are only for healthy miners,” she said in a monotone.
He knew that too. If you got hurt mining, you were on your own. There were hundreds of healthy miners on the sidelines, waiting to make it big in the Barrens. The vast majority of them died before their 20th birthday.
Lena looked up; the bamboo leaf was a flimsy shield against the drones. How had she thought it sufficient a moment ago?
“Come on!” she urged. “We need to find better cover.”
She pointed to a palm grove about a hundred meters away.
“Protection,” she said.
They ran. As a miner, Devo had scored highest in Strength and Vitality. Lena couldn’t keep up with him. She scanned the sky frantically, expecting the drones to spot them. They lucked out. Devo was already pulling palms together when she arrived.
Now that they were safe, Lena examined the automaton to assess the damage.
“If you fix it, will you transport both of us back?” asked Devo.
Birding a live miner could result in the death penalty. The Law stated that only implants could be flown. The best outcome a medic could expect for flying through time and space with a live miner was Forced Labor, and only in very special circumstances. For instance, if the miner was the father of their child, or their son. Devo meant nothing to her.
“Sure,” she said.
Her hands worked fast. As a medic, she had scored highest in Dexterity and Intelligence.
“What are you doing?” he asked every two minutes.
She finished dismantling the wings. The chip in the center was fried. She needed to find a miner’s corpse; their brain implant contained the spare part she required. She slanted her eyes to Devo’s injury.
“I can’t fix it,” she said.
He grunted in disappointment.
“Look, you have a better chance of reaching the medics without me,” she said.
He nodded. He had also scored high in Self-Preservation, Lena guessed.
“Let me put another layer of sealant on the crack.”
He extended his arm, but his eyes were already scanning the jungle. She took out a grey substance and stuck it to his implant.
“There,” she said. “Run for it.”
He did, for about fifteen seconds. The explosive she detonated tore him apart. His cries of agony attracted a handful of dragonfly drones, which ripped him to pieces while Lena waited, buried under palm leaves.
Back at base, she received a promotion for using the miner as a source of spare parts. Many admired her ingenuity. As Team Leader, a title that granted her supervision of thousands of flying medics, she added a set of emergency wings to every medic’s base kit. She had stomach cancer, which melted sixty pounds of muscle from her body. She developed psoriasis. Her daughter died of anorexia. Her youngest son became a miner.