Ilena eased herself back into the water, the heat forcing her to move slowly, gradually settling into the tub in millimeters. As she finally set her back against white ceramic, she finally commanded her muscles to release their tension fully and relaxed. Her eyes slowly closed and she allowed herself this moment.
Clearing out the spa hadn’t been cheap. Even a lackluster business such as this one, located in the Corridor and not in the Corporate Sectors, commanded prices beyond most of the inhabitants of the CZ and was a luxury not even imagined. Omid had recommended the place when she asked, somewhat sheepishly, about a place she could get ‘cleaned up.’
The last few weeks had moved quickly. She didn’t realize there was so much money to be made, working for the right people. That first payday had gone almost entirely back into her community. A few rifles and a shotgun for the guards, even a Ruger 100 for their overwatch point. New clothes and bedding. Toys for the young ones. Life was hard in the Zone and 10K went a long way to making it just a bit easier.
She sighed heavily and opened her eyes. Without moving, her gaze drifted to her right arm, draped along the side of the tub. Gun metal gray plates covered rows of coiled polymer serving as muscles, servos working quietly with each movement. A marvel of technology and perhaps the single most important possession she had. She flexed her hand and watched as the inch long razors sprouted from her finger tips. She’d killed a man with those not 48 hours ago, yet now they gleamed brightly with no trace of the gore she’d cleaned off, shortly afterwards.
An image flashed in her mind. Screams and gunfire. Bizarre faces and chittering voices. Anyone who thought the Zone was free of bugs was a fool. Ilena had seen them. She’d almost died that night. A lot of her friends did. She opened her eyes again. Her arm rested, unmoving, razors shining in the soft, yellow glow of the overhead lights. Her gift. Her reminder. Her salvation.
She closed her eyes tight and submerged herself completely. Enough ‘relaxing’. She washed her hair roughly, the tangles and snarls catching her fingers. Fuck it, she needed to get it cut, anyway. She took no more joy in the comforts of the bath and after cleaning herself thoroughly, she rose from the water. Stepping out from the tub, she caught herself in the mirror. Tall and lean, with broad shoulders, she thought of the warrior women of old, Valkyries and Amazons. ‘Shieldmaidens’. That’s what she was, almost literally. Except she imagined they didn’t have her thick features, her mild but noticeable underbite, or a set of… tusks.
She dried off and dressed herself. New clothes. Clean. She stepped out from the bathing room and allowed herself to be led by the stylist to a chair. The women had her work cut out for her, Ilena thought. ‘Cut out’ was apt, as she went to work with the scissors. It took an hour and a half. She had no nails to be manicured, she still had her left arm, but at the wrist her left hand had also been replaced, a casualty of the same horrific night she lost her arm. She sure as fuck wasn’t going to let someone touch her feet.
There are limits and some comforts are anything but comfortable.
Still, she was modestly pleased when she saw herself in the mirror. The stylist fawned over her, but that was her job. She wasn’t going to star in any trids anytime soon… or ever. But at least she wasn’t a shag-laden horror that reeked of garbage.That was a luxury indeed.