It's an arm.
It's her arm, in fact.
It doesn't feel like it, lying on the covers of the bed, numb and immobile. Nerila reaches over with her right hand and takes hold of it, the lump of insensate flesh that she knows, intellectually, belongs to her.
She lifts it up and lets it drop.
Not that she expects anything. Just about everybody on the medical staff remembers when she was CMO Janianial and it didn't take too many orders in her new, slurring, voice before someone put her patient records in her hands.
In the hand that works, still.
Her mind works. That's in the file, but Nerila doesn't need the file to tell her that. She was running through cognitive tests before they took her off the ventilator, checking the areas she came up short again and again as the fog of post-anesthesia diminished until she could say to herself Okay, honey, you're all still here.
Her mind works.
Her brain, not so much. That's in the file, but it's something else she doesn't need to read to know. Her left hand, her left leg, useless; the right side of her face numb and slack. You don't need to be a doctor to know what that means, and Nerila's a doctor.
The file has all the details. How long she was technically, clinically, dead for and just what parts of her brain are actually dead, now.
She knows what that means, even as her former staff are talking about therapy and rehabilitation.
Nerila's a doctor and she knows there's only so much functionality you can get back.
I was a doctor. She makes herself say it, silently, over and over. It'll sink in, soon. It won't hurt so much. Or maybe she'll just go numb the way her left hand is numb, and she won't feel the bruising impact of those words. I was a doctor.
Nerila's looking at the ceiling saying those words to herself when they come in, the three of them. Not medical staff, she can tell from the way they stop just inside the door. Not family, because hers is disowned or dead. Not friends, because she's a fucking junkie and junkies don't have friends.
She wants to tell them to Fuck off, whoever they are, but pushing words out of her slackly lopsided mouth takes more effort than it's usually worth, these days.
"Nerila?" It's Pilot's voice, the soft Gallente slur of it and the hesitancy equally familiar. Footsteps come to the left side of the bed, and Nerila turns her head in time to see Pilot gently take her left hand. Saying Don't bother, I can't feel it would take about five minutes, so Nerila lifts her right hand instead, waggles the fingers at Pilot in a silent It's this one that works gesture.
Pilot takes that hand as well. "Nerila, Dr Sanik is here to talk to you."
Sanik. Nerila knows Sanik, not in a have a drink together way but in the way that really matters, as far as the doctor Sanik is and Nerila used to be is concerned: she's read Sanik's meticulous case notes and she's seen the tiny, immaculate incisions left on Pilot's scalp by Sanik's surgery.
Nerila has always believed that you can tell a lot about someone by the way they cut.
Sanik comes to the bed, the other side to Pilot. The third visitor joins Pilot and Nerila recognizes him as well, Invelen's boss, former Sansha or current Sansha depending on who you listened to, Mr Happy Chip himself, Captain Silver Night.
Naqam Heavy BioIndustries.
It's not numb, the place she's been battering with I used to be a doctor. There's a flicker of hope there as Captain Night comes to stand behind Pilot and Dr Sanik starts to talk. Nerila can't crush that hope, although she tries, as Dr Sanik uses words like neural bridging and repair and functionality, as Pilot's face goes pale and paler. Trans-Cranial Micro-Controller, Dr Sanik says finally, the word that's been in the air since she started talking.
Pilot's Sansha friends want to put chips in my head.
The thought holds not even a tinge of apprehension when it's set beside And I could be able to use both my hands again.
"Do you understand, Nerila?" Pilot asks quietly. "It's not, it isn't, what, not like, it ..."
The hands holding hers are cold and sweaty and shaking. Captain Night says something Nerila can't hear, not more than a word, maybe two, and Pilot nods and swallows and falls silent.
"Dr Janianial," Captain Night says, "As Ms Roth was saying, there will be no behavioral control component to this T.C.M.C. No perceptual distortion, or personality modification. It will be purely a therapeutic device designed to replicate neurological functions that are currently impaired, and it will be locked against any tampering. You have my word on that."
There's something Nerila needs to ask, not about Captain Night's promises because right at that moment being a True Slave would be a fair trade for being able to get up off this bed and pick up a scalpel and do the one thing, the only single thing ever, that she's always been absolutely, unquestionably good at. The question she needs to ask is a different one, but heaving it up off her tongue is heavy lifting, the words sliding around her mouth.
Pilot tries to help, Fortune fuck her, she always tries to help. "Your son, Nerila, Dr Sanik can help him too. It's more complicated, but he could - "
Nerila shakes her head. I don't care about the brat. Do what you want to it.
"It's your choice, of course, Nerila, as his mother. If you don't want, well. But Dr Sanik says - "
"Shut. Up." The words are slurred but clear enough to make Pilot blink, her wide blue eyes showing hurt, and Nerila knows she's being unfair.
Fuck fair. Fair isn't that bastard Mitch sweet-talking me into bed and knocking me up, fair isn't Pilot's bitch friend deciding she knows what's best for me, fair isn't seven months of vomiting and backaches that ends with the brat trying to kill me.
Fair can go fuck itself.
The words come out eventually. "How much. Fuction?"
"With therapy and rehabilitation, you could be looking at close to one hundred percent," Dr Sanik says.
"And your son, too," Pilot said.
Close to one hundred percent.
There's a lot that can fall into that gap that close describes. The fine motor control that can slip an ace out of a deck of cards, for one thing. Or keep a scalpel steady.
But close is better than this. Close is a chance.
"Yes," Nerila says. It sounds more like esh, even to her, but Dr Sanik nods.
"There is a team on standby," Sanik says. "We can start as soon as you're prepped for the surgery."
"And your son, Nerila?" Pilot asks.
"Don't care," Nerila says.
"You don't mean that. He's - "
"I. Don't. Care." Her right hand answers her will, pulls free of Pilot's grip. Her left lies limp, and Nerila closes her eyes against the sight.
Pilot, though, Pilot doesn't quit things when she thinks she's right. "Well, medically, though, Nerila. What would you say, as a doctor? Do you want to see his ... chart, is that what it's called?"
"No." She's seen the brat's chart. Seen the brat, too, wheeled down the hall to the N.I.C.U. they have set up for it, by med-techs who couldn't imagine she wouldn't want to and who couldn't understand her attempts to protest. Hooked up to wires and monitors and feeding tubes and oxy-mix.
No, Nerila doesn't want to see the chart. No, she doesn't want to hold the baby. No, she doesn't want to make the decision.
Pilot's not going to leave this alone, Nerila can tell. She's going to sit there holding the hand that doesn't feel like mine asking me to make a choice about the baby that doesn't either until she hears what she needs to.
"Yes," Nerila says. Esh.
The answer makes Pilot smile, happy, and let go of Nerila's hand so the techs can start prepping her for surgery.
That makes it the right answer, as far as Nerila's concerned.
As far as the brat's concerned ... ?
She can't find it in her to care.