The tugging on my right foot wakes me up. Light filters through the avalanche of garbage on top of me. I can't move.
"Aren't you a sexy piece of trash." The tired but playful voice of a young woman reaches my ear. Then someone drags me out of my table scrap cocoon, every loose pipe and banana peel dragging across what's left of my skin.
"I don't know if that's a compliment or not." I reply as soon as my head pops out of the landfill.
The protective denim jumpsuit looks like it's seen better days. The various paints and grease stains on the clothing extend the pale, dirty skin of the woman pulling on my leg.
She stands very still, metallic arm supports whirring softly. Her mousy brown hair is cropped short, and very poorly at that. The longer strands on top are pulled back in a blue, sea glass barrett. The stranger looks strong, like she might not even need the arm supports to pull a body out of a landfill. She looks like a threat…a threat with really long eyelashes and shiny hazel eyes.
I blink once and she screams bloody murder, falling back and tumbling down the trash hill. It startles me, and… honestly, kind of hurts my feelings. For a moment, I think she's frightened because I spoke in my native language. That is, until I look down at my leg and see the twitching gold and tungsten gears doing their thing beneath the fiberglass casing of my leg. Bits of inactive nanoskin cling to my thigh and I realize my skin regeneration apparatus must have been broken in my escape.
My human hand jumps to my face. No wonder that stranger screamed, the whole right side of my face has burned off, revealing more glass and metal. I bet from the proper angle, she can see the human half of my brain.
"I'm okay!" I hear her shout from far below. My clockwork parts don't work. I blink again and remember that half my face is gone.
A scuffling sound informs me the stranger climbed back up.
Threat or not, I'm half paralyzed and she's the only sentient being I can see nearby. "I can't move my right side." I confess, still afraid to ask for help, but hoping it will be offered.
"Cool. Cool. That's cool…" she nods along with her words.
The stranger takes a screwdriver from her shiny pink fanny pack. "I'm gonna steal your leg now."
I blink...or, I wink, I suppose. "You can't-- you can't do that!" I sputter.
The stranger chuckles, "well, it kinda looks like I can."
I try to slap her away with my left arm, but I'm so weak. The stranger grabs my wrist and gently tucks it behind my back. She smells like metal and chlorine...at least my olfactory senses are still working.
I swear in my language.
"You're full Stayron tech? That's interesting. Not a Brighten then." The stranger comments, loosening the screws in my hip. "It's weird they programmed ya to speak Deilic with a Stayron accent."
"I'm not programmed. I learned it on my own."
She snorts, "okay gorgeous. Who built you? They lookin’ for an apprentice? Cuz this body is a work of art."
I gasp. "That's inappropriate!"
She stops disassembling me. "What's your brand?"
"I'm not a robot! I'm...I'm Aubrey…"
The stranger peers into my head, getting herself a proper view of my left side brains and the half bone skull fused to fiberglass of my right side.
She nods and purses her lips. "Nope."
As she rises to her feet, the panic sets in. "Wait! Wait, please! Please don't leave me!"
"I don't fuck with cyborgs no more. Not me."
"Wait! The--uh-- the person who built my right side, they would definitely take an apprentice! I could introduce you!"
"Hah! Yeah right. The engineer that built ya will be rottin’ in prison the second they step foot in this country." She drops her screwdriver into the cross-body fanny pack and zips it up. "Anything that high tech is Carbon Copy patent. Honest, babe, I like a little danger, but not that much."
"I have money!" The desperation cracks my voice. "I have connections!"
The stranger offers me a mock salute before sliding down the hill of junk.
Panic flattens my vision. My human side aches, my mechanical side feels numb. I don't know what to do, but shout more bribes.
"I-- I make a very savory risotto!" I call out.
I hear a commotion, then a body scrambling up the junk pile. My eyes target the sound and I see the stranger return. She drops to her knees and hastily fixes my side.
"You're back!" I exclaim. I notice the quickened pulse in her neck and the fresh sheen of perspiration on her temple. "You're sweating."
"If I get this leg moving, d'ya think you can run?"
I nod. My eyes drift past her, drawn by shouting in the distance. They must have found me.
The stranger blurts “They’re after-”
“They are after me-” In my brain fog, I accidentally cut off the stranger.
“They’re after- “
“They are after you?” I cut her off again.
“I apologize.” I grimace, “Are they after-?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She talks over me. “They’re almost here and we gotta git!”
"If you fix my arm too, I can neutralize the threat." I explain as calmly as I can.
"Autumn, was it?" The stranger extracts some kind of bronze sheet from my leg.
“Aubrey,” I correct.
"Y'see, Aubrey, if I do that, you could potentially neutralize me too."
I note the way she elongates po-ten-tia-lly and neu-tra-lize. She may be teasing me. This Deilic dialect is a little more difficult to grasp.
I hear a click, and suddenly I can feel my leg again. It feels really bad.
The stranger lifts me by my dead arm and helps me to my feet. Holding my dead hand, she straps on a pair of protective goggles, and takes off with my glitching body in tow.
My pain receptors attempt to switch off, but something is jammed. It feels like running on a shattered leg bone. I lose consciousness briefly.