I snap the arms back into place in a moment, test linkages and fit the legs back in a moment later. Orien lets out a breath and flexes his limbs, stands, stretches slowly. His synthskin is state of the art: aside for hearing a few automated systems regulating his body below it, one would never think of of the medics of Docking Station McLan had over sixty percent of his body as synthetics. All limbs, one lung, part of his torso, some of his head: the bomb had taken out four soldiers; another battlefield surgeon had managed to save his life.
He’d retired to being a medic here: have too many synthetics and one was considered more a hazard than useful on battlefields. At the very least, one became more costly to upkeep than a regular shoulder. I’d noticed his left shoulder being off, offered to help, fixed linkages and then got a little carried away with other repairs.
“And you’re a vehicle mechanic,” Orien says, flexing a hand. “You have a gift for this, you know.”
I flush; it’s one of the benefits of a projection. I can show emotions better with it than with my real body. “I had a friend with cybernetics long ago: the principles are the same and I try and keep up with developments. It’s easier to fix limbs if you fix them all at once, even if it’s not comfortable for you to be without them. I prefer a holistic scan of an entire system to fix the root problems rather than patch each piece up alone; and my scanners are pretty much designed for that so it doesn’t take as much time.”
“I did notice that.” He pauses, studying me thoughtfully. “Could you lower your projection for me?”
I pause, but I did just remove and fix all his limbs. I flick the projection off: under the image of a human male is my chassis, my real body: a mind transferred into a cylinder on treads that tapered off to a viewscreen at the top my ‘face’ was visible in. People find it easier to interact with transfers when we have a face. Orien just looks me over critically from botton up to top and down again.
“What do you need fixed?”
“I’m fine,” I say, and my vocal interface is too quick.
“That is what I said as well. Mechanics get damaged: you’re going to need someone else to be able to fix you sometime, Dar. I barely knew you. You barely know me.”
He says nothing else. I gulp, move back. Pace the room, rolling from one side to the other nervously for almost a minute before I come back in front of him. He’s just watched, said nothing. I realize I didn’t put my projection back up before pacing. “I’m not...” I trail off into silence.
“It doesn’t have to be today. Just some day,” he says quietly, reaching out to poke my chassis with a fingertip before pulling it away. “You’re a good mechanic, Dar. And you’ve been around for a long time, as transfers go. You’ve adapted your body, changed it, modified it. I imagine another mechanic can repair you, but it will take time you might not have.”
And under it: would I want someone to? is unvoiced, a question I never have the same answer to whenever it is voiced. I haven’t been good at trust for a long time. I know that. “I know,” I say, to the voiced and unvoiced. I stop. Stare at Orien. “I’m scared.”
“And I wasn’t?” he says, but mildly.
I undo linkages, trigger commands. My projection flickers, and then appears a good two feet from my body even as my chassis opens up in the middle.
Orien stares into my body, then over at me. “I assume there’s a practical reason you made your projection able to, ah, project?”
“I can check my body for scuff marks and damage I might not notice.” Projection-me shrug. “And it helps a little when fixing errors. I can see through the projection, my sensors and the viewscreen all at once for a time, if I need to. I’m just using the projection right now.”
“Fascinating.” He begins doing scans over apps and linkages he recognizes as I watch, biting my lower lip and trying not to look as scared as I feel. Orien begins asking questions about modifications, about some things I’ve done to my body and shared only with the transfer community. I tell him, because some people outside the community should know. Explain how my ‘mind’ is spread throughout the chassis, how I can replicate my core from most any piece if I had to.
“Have you had to do this?”
“Twice. The damage was never extensive enough to really worry me.”
“Huh.” Orien points out a few linkages I can improve, checks other systems, gently disengages a few for a closer look. “You modified a battery drive to charge with movement. He holds it between his hands. “And two smaller ones, judging by links, but this is the main one?”
“It is.” My voice is small even to my ears.
Orien looks back at ‘me’. He pauses. “Are you all right?”
“I didn’t damage –.”
“No! I’m fine It – I’ve never had someone hold my primary node in their hands in-in a long time.”
He smiles. “So I’m holding your heart in the palm of my hands?”
I giggle at that; I’ve never done that, not in a long time either. I’m terrified, and cover it with words: “I can run without it for enough time to make a new one, but this is – scary.”
Orien replaces it, triple checking his work, asks a few more questions and then pulls back. “I think that’s more than enough for today; we can look over your treads and hoverjets and limbs a different time.”
I let out a breath and close up my chassis, check everything is working and disengage the projection. I engage a couple of limbs to run them over my chassis, making sure everything is locked down out of paranoia even if I know its fine.
“Everything okay?” Orien asks when I’m finally done.
“Yes. Thank you,” I mumble.
He stands and a wall slides open to the left of me to reveal a large room with ten charing ports. Everything from medical supplies to small servitor-bots could be charged in here even if the rest of the ships grid failed. “I use this for charging in private. If you want to join me?”
I normally book a small charging room for myself once a week for an hour, sometimes two. Lock it down, charge. Be nervous most of the time. I can use my limbs a little when charging, but I can’t disconnect easily or activate the projection. I say nothing, not moving.
“I did hold your heart in the palm of my hands,” the medic says with a grin.
I have to grin back at that and move into the charging room, set one of the units up and plug into it. Orien connects into the one beside it, sitting down. He shuts down every system he can, going into a deep sleep. Trusting me to do nothing.
It’s been a long time since I’ve used a charging station long enough to charge every one of my systems. I relay commands, relax, let myself drift into the noise. Let the medic hold my trust, and it feels good to trust anyone this deeply.