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cut up angels

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Greta hits the jackpot, a hidden cache of components untouched by the mold. That means working electronics and she spends the afternoon haggling with the techs. It's a great haul and they're flush for the first time in months. Greta looks forward to a few lazy days spent in bed, eating too much and pressing kisses against Victoria's soft skin.

When she gets to their tiny home, Victoria's already there, and Greta's stomach drops when she sees Victoria's face.

Victoria is pale, with two spots of bright red color on her cheeks. She's visibly sweating, dark hair sticking to her skin, and at the same time, she has her arms wrapped around herself like she's cold.

She looks scared and that absolutely terrifies Greta. Victoria is the strong one, the one that's gotten them through so many scrapes.

Greta drops her satchel and reaches out, almost recoiling at the sheer amount of heat that's coming off of Victoria. It's a retrovirus. The goddamn g-hackers created new retroviruses faster than the docs created vaccines, RVs that subverted the nanomeds, reprogramming them for the lulz. It was nothing but a joke to them.

Greta wants to scream and cry at the unfairness of it all. They'd gotten vaccinated for the first time this year, after scrimping and saving their credits, and it was all for nothing.

Greta wraps her arm around Victoria's waist and helps her into their bedroom, gets her into the bed. She rushes into the bathroom, pulls the spare sheets out of the closet and soaks them in cold water. She covers Victoria with them, trying to bring down her body temperature.

The heat is a sign of how hard the reprogrammed nanomeds are working, reshaping Victoria's body into something unknown. The g-hackers like creating impossible things, shaping human bodies into unicorns and dragons, minotaurs and nagas.

Not all of the transitions are survivable. Truthfully, most of them aren't. Greta doesn't let herself think about that.

Greta ties back her blond hair and works to keep Victoria's body from burning up, feeds her as many high calorie rations as she can, trying to replace the nutrients being used to rebuild her body, cell by cell.

Victoria's delirious, talking to people who are long gone, asking Greta about things that happened years ago, crying for her mom.

It's clear that it's a losing battle; Victoria is shedding weight and her skin is strangely translucent, the veins and arteries darkly prominent. The area between Victoria's shoulder blades is inflamed, and she's constantly trying to scratch like a fractious child.

Victoria is a born fighter, she fights the RV, and she fights Greta, struggling against the wet sheets, refusing to eat until Greta is biting back tears. Greta risks a trip outside, trying to buy injectables that will sustain Victoria without Greta having to force feed her, and they cost dearly.

The reddened section of Victoria's back starts to change, and when Greta touches it, rubs her fingers gently against it, Victoria whimpers. There's something under the skin, something hard, but Victoria is restless and Greta is afraid.

She falls asleep next to Victoria, exhausted and filthy, and when she wakes, Victoria is unconscious, her back rising and falling with her rapid breathing. And— Greta closes her eyes for a moment, swallowing hard. There are bone spurs protruding from Victoria's back, as long as Greta's hand, sharp and bloody.

Looking closer, Greta can get a sense of the movement of the corrupted nanomeds, like a flowing stream, as they reconstruct flesh and bone.

Victoria is still fevered, and Greta uses the last of the injectables. The nanomeds shift into overdrive, and Greta watches as they build sparkling webs, glittering traceries of light in the air over Victoria. It's beautiful and hypnotic, and Greta sings softly, all of their favorite songs, trying to keep Victoria anchored to her.

It's another full day before the nanomeds are done, Victoria's eyes open and they're clear for the first time in what feels like forever. There's cognizance there, and Greta lets out the breath she's been holding. Sometimes the RVs do more than just reshape the body; sometimes they rebuild the brain, stripping away memories, thought, awareness.

Victoria sits up stiffly, flexes and her wings unfurl, a rainbow of jewel-toned feathers, spots of brilliant magenta, chartreuse, amethyst, turquoise. They sweep up and back, stretching across the length of the bed and more, a dance of color.

Greta catches her breath, because Victoria is beautiful. She reaches out carefully, runs gentle fingers over the scallop-shaped feathers, marveling at the iridescence.

Victoria turns to look over her shoulder, and she smiles when she sees the wings. She's concentrating; Greta can tell by the wrinkling of her forehead, and after a moment, her wings start to move, fluttering, stirring the air. There's a low-pitched humming sound as Victoria's wings move faster, blurring, creating a breeze that teases at Greta's hair.

She looks at Victoria, who's delighted, and the relief that rushes through her makes her giddy and light-headed. She laughs, and Victoria echoes her.