Chapter 1: The Bugle Call
Taiyang Xiao Long didn't often get visitors anymore. He lived in a small house alone with his daughter Yang. Or did he? His daughter, once an unending source of energy, now did little more than sit in bed, looking out of the window for goodness only knew what. Maybe nothing. She still ate. She did as much of her work as she could with only one arm, because he made her, but as soon as the job was done, she returned to her bed. His other daughter, Yang's half sister Ruby, had vanished. Run off into the Blue with a few of her academy friends, into danger. Taiyang honestly didn't know which of his girls to worry about more. He had gone back to teaching at Signal Academy, because he couldn't leave his daughter alone by going on missions. Secretly, he had always dreamt of taking her along on missions, but that dream was now a distant, forgotten one. Nobody asked him. He didn't offer. His days were spent waiting for the wind to change, for better or for worse.
The first creaking turnings of the weathervane came when someone walked through the snow, up to his door, and knocked. Taiyang was cooking dinner, and he half considered just not answering. But perhaps, it was someone in need of help. It might be important.
With a deep sigh, he put the lids half on the pots, and opened his door. On his doorstep was a woman dressed in a long black cape and a hood that covered most of her face. On her cheek was an old scar. She looked up at him.
"Is this the house of Taiyang Xiao Long?"
"Are you Taiyang Xiao Long?"
"Yes, I am. What can I do for you?"
"Nothing much. I am here to see your daughter. Her name is Yang Xiao Long."
"I know. I gave her that name. What do you want from her."
The woman pulled back her hood, revealing a face, young in years, but old in the wear and tear that life in this day and age bestowed on it. Her hair was as white as the snow around them, and her eyes were a steel grey blue.
"I want to kick her in the butt till she starts behaving like my friend again."
Taiyang looked at her for a long time. Then, a weary smile appeared on his face.
"Weiss Schnee. I've known you since Yang and Ruby went to Beacon, and now at last we meet." He took a step back. "Welcome. Come in. Dinner is almost ready."
"Thank you," said Weiss. She stamped the snow off her boots and came inside. Taiyang took her cloak and hung it on a peg.
"Where is Yang? Can I see her?"
Taiyang gave a sad sigh, moved his head. Weiss gave a polite nod, and walked to Yang's bedroom. She knocked, and when there was no answer, opened the door. She went in and stood stock still.
Yang was sitting upright in her bed, looking out of the window. From details in the room Weiss could see that sitting there was all that she had done in all the time since the... happenings at Beacon. A dried sunflower was in a nearby vase. The storm had raged over all the four kingdoms, but here, in this unregarded little patch of the world, Yang Xiao Long, Dragon of the Sun, had simply stopped.
Yang slowly turned her head round. "Weiss."
Weiss tried with all her might to keep her face straight. People had called her "Ice Queen", a lifetime ago, for never showing any human warmth. Cold anger had sustained her through most of her school days. Cold anger did the same now.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Do you think that 'Nothing' is the thing to be doing at this point in Remnant's history?"
Yang shrugged and turned her eyes back to the window. Weiss' eyes were drawn to the stump of her right arm. She no longer needed bandages there. It looked like the wound had healed. By all accounts, it had been a clean cut with a very sharp blade. With her right arm, Yang's strength had left her. Lesser persons than Weiss would have burst into tears at the sight of this wreckage of humanity, but lesser persons could go to hell. She opened her bag, and took out a shining metal object. The companion of the one that was sitting on a shelf in this very room, gathering dust, when it should be gathering Dust.
"I've got something that belongs to you," said Weiss.
She stepped forward and dropped the bracelet into Yang's lap. Yang looked at it, and blinked back tears. Her voice sounded dull.
"I've already got one, and I don't even need that."
Yang made a move to push the bracelet off her lap and onto the floor. Weiss leapt forward, and slapped Yang hard across the face. Yang looked at her with a fright in her eyes that brought Weiss closer to tears than even the look of her mutilated body.
"Damn it, Yang! The Yang Xiao Long I used to know would have blocked that and had me on the floor before I could have even said a word!"
"The Yang Xiao Long you used to know had two arms."
Weiss bent over to Yang. "The Yang Xiao Long I used to know would have kicked me in the teeth even with no arms!"
"That Yang Xiao Long you used to know sounds like a right piece of shit."
"Oh she was," said Weiss. "The most annoying, stupid, over-sexed, under-enlightened, arrogant, vain, hot-headed, reckless bimbo it's ever been my honour to share a team with. Are you in there somewhere, Yang Xiao Long?"
Yang stared. Weiss almost missed it. The tiniest spark. The smallest hint of the forest fire that had been her friend.
"Nice tits, though."
Weiss' eyes misted over. "Yes, I'll give you that. The best tits on the team."
"What do you want, Weiss? A nice trip down memory lane? All of our friends? Pyrrha? When she was still alive? Penny, our metallic friend? Blake? Wherever she is? Ruby? Ditto? Even Ren has left, Weiss. So has Nora. Everybody's gone."
"I need you. I need the Yang Xiao Long I used to know."
Yang shook her head. "That Yang Xiao Long is dead. She died when she gave up her right arm to save her partner, and her partner ran."
"Did you even consider where Blake might have gone?"
"Who cares? Crawled into a hole. Become the terror of the White Fang. Got herself killed the first opportunity she got. A prisoner in the dungeons of the Fall Maiden. Jumped off a cliff. She's gone! Everybody's gone."
"I'm here," said Weiss.
Weiss bared her teeth. "Don't make me slap you again, Yang Xiao Long! Do you realise how hard it is to escape the loving embrace of your family when that family is called Schnee? Do you realise how hard it was to go back into the Grimm-infested shithole that used to be our school, our home, and get that pretty bangle out? With my family on my neck, White Fang crawling all over Vale, and all so you can go 'So what' at me? Not on your life!"
"And all so you can bring me back a bracelet that you damn well know I can't wear anymore because I have no wrist to put it on? Why the hell did you even bother? Just leave me in peace."
"That bracelet is not all I have got," said Weiss.
"Oh? What else do you have? My arm perhaps?"
"Nope. I had to remove that arm from this bracelet, and that was no picnic I can tell you. But what I do have, is twenty million lien that used to belong to my dear father. It's in an Atlas account that nobody knows about. I have the address of a private clinic in Ambrosia, and I have an appointment for you to be fitted with the best prosthetic arm that money can buy." Weiss sneered at Yang. "Want me to lend you a hand, you stupid bimbo?"
Chapter 2: Out of ten, I'd say five
Yang arrives in the hospital, and meets the Doctor.
The aircraft landed in the small airport in Patch, Yang's place of birth. Weiss wasn't coming with her. For all kinds of reasons, Weiss couldn't show her face in Atlas, and she didn't really need to be there to do what Yang was about to do.
Yang picked up her bag, threw it into the aircraft, and pulled herself inside to sit by a window. She winced. Her arm still hurt, and she couldn't even rub it. After all the noise had died down, Weiss had gone back to look for it, and returned to Patch carrying only her Ember Celica. So much for trying to sew it back on. Yang was about to join the ranks of the Cyborgs. It would look weird. It would never feel what her absent right hand had felt, but she would be able to hit harder than ever before. Good. Yang wanted to hit someone hard. Batter his masked head into a bloody pulp and crush every bone in his body. Not in that order.
Outside the aircraft, it had started to rain. Yang leaned her head against the cold glass and looked at the landscape rolling away beneath them. The green forests of Patch gave way to the Ocean, then to the barren tundras, and finally, the snowfields. It was getting dark, and in the distance, Yang could see the lights of a city. In the city was a small clinic specialising in Cybernetics and Bionics. Weiss Schnee had pulled every string she had, and gotten her into this place. Yang could have refused, but then Weiss would have killed her. There were less painful ways to commit suicide. Yang had considered a few, but whatever else, she loved her father, and he had lost enough of the women in his life.
"Arrival at Ambrosia Airport in twenty minutes. Winds are moderate, please fasten seatbelts."
Yang hadn't bothered with it, but orders are orders. She tried doing up the belt with her left hand. The buckle slipped away and Yang swore under her breath. The man sitting next to her held it for her so she could click it into place.
"Don't mention it."
The aircraft came down, shaking a little, then settled on the platform. Yang clicked open her seatbelt, grabbed her bag, and jumped out. She walked to the airport building, and found a man holding up a sign with her name on it.
"Hi. I'm Yang Xiao Long. You were waiting for me?"
"Yes. Follow me please. Can I take your bag?"
Normally, Yang wouldn't have taken that offer, but these were not normal circumstances. She handed her bag to the driver and followed him to his car. They drove for about fifteen minutes, without a word. Then, they pulled into the driveway of a white building. Yang's home for the next couple of weeks. She got her bag back, and walked up to the reception deck. She told the receptionist her name.
"Zhow Long..." She looked at the names on her screen.
"Ah. Got it. Welcome, Miss Xiao Long. Please take a seat, the Doctor will see you in a moment. Coffee?"
"No thank you, I'm fine."
Yang sat down, looked round. There were two other people in the waiting area. One had his arm in a sling. The other was missing a leg below the knee. He looked at her, smiled, then realised sadly that he was probably out of her league with only one leg, and returned to his magazine. Yang stared at the floor. What league was she in?
"Yang Xiao Long?"
Yang looked up, raised her hand. A man in a white coat had just walked up. He stepped over to her and held out his left hand. Yang shook it.
"Hi. I'm Michael Ochre. I'll be doing the surgery on you. Welcome. Let me get you a wheelchair, and we can get you inside."
"I can walk."
"Not in this clinic, you can't. It's the rules."
Yang sighed, and sat down in the wheelchair. Doctor Ochre pushed her to one of the wards. There were four beds, one occupied. A woman was in the bed, asleep. One of her shoulders ended in a shiny metal disc. The rest of her body was under a thin blanket. A machine was giving quiet beeps in the rhythm of her heartbeat. Doctor Ochre rolled Yang to the bed opposite. A nurse came walking up in his dark green scrubs. Doctor Ochre touched his medical scroll to the side of the bed. Yang's statistics appeared on the screen above her head.
"Well, Miss Xiao Long, please make yourself comfortable, and I'll be along in a tick to see how you are doing. Oh. Have you eaten anything this evening?"
Yang's stomach growled. "No, I haven't."
"Excellent. We want your stomach empty for the surgery tomorrow morning. Try not to drink too much. Joseph? No food, please."
"Got it," said Joseph. He turned to Yang. "Let's get you into bed."
"I want at least dinner and a movie before that," said Yang. She almost made a note of the time. It was her first joke since... the things that happened.
Joseph laughed. "Sorry Miss. No can do. Doctor's orders." He looked at the scowl on Yang's face. "It's so you don't throw up into your oxygen mask while you're under."
"Huh," said Yang, never short an answer. While Joseph found a hospital gown for her, she took off her coat, the jumper she'd borrowed from Weiss, then with some difficulty, her shirt. She reached round for her bra strap, hesitated, looking up at Joseph. Joseph was looking over her shoulder, holding up the gown for her. Yang dropped her bra on the bed and put her arms through the sleeves. As much of her arms as she had left. She turned round and Joseph fastened the laces on her back. As Joseph put her clothes in the bedside table, Yang got into bed. Joseph smoothed the blanket round her, and poured her a small glass of water.
"This is all I can give you, Miss Xiao Long. Use it only to keep your mouth wet. Are you in any pain? Do you need something to help you sleep?"
Yang opened her mouth to say no, but hesitated. Her arm was hurting, and there was no way she was going to get any sleep now. She had slept badly these last few days.
Joseph smiled. "I'll get you something. Back in a minute."
He walked out of the room, leaving Yang alone with the sleeping woman in the other bed. Her breath sounded slow but regular. The graph of her heartbeat ticked on. The ward smelled of disinfectant. The curtains were drawn, and the lights had been dimmed. She rolled her shoulder, still missing the weight of her arm that had been with her since the day she was born. There were footsteps in the hallway, and Dr. Ochre appeared, carrying a large medical scroll.
"Good evening Miss Xiao Long. How are we doing?"
"Out of ten, I'd say five." Yang raised her hand. Pretend you're happy when you're blue.
Dr. Ochre grinned. "Well, we're here to fix that. If you feel up to it, I can explain to you what we're going to do."
Dr. Ochre pulled up a chair and woke up his scroll. A picture of Yang appeared. She recognised it from when she'd been in the medical scanner in a Vale clinic. Dr. Ochre zoomed in until Yang's breasts took up half of the creeen, then shifted the image to what remained of her arm. Seeing that image made a profound change in Yang. Up to this very moment, she'd refused to believe in the whole project. Weiss wasn't devious enough to avoid being cheated, and Yang had fully expected to end up with an armful of very expensive, but worthless junk. No better than a hook. But Dr. Ochre oozed professional competence. Maybe, just maybe, Weiss did actually know what she was doing.
"There's going to be three operations. First is the neural interface. That's what connects the prosthetic to your brain. When that is healed up, next is the attachment point." Dr. Ochre tapped on the scroll, and some kind of tubing appeared, overlaying the image of Yang's arm bone. "We're going to peel back the skin and muscles, and then we'll basically glue and screw the attachment to your humerus."
"With a drill and a screwdriver?"
"Well, ours are specialised high-precision medical ones, but yes. So at that point, you'll have some interesting metal sticking out of your arm. And finally..." Dr. Ochre tapped his scroll again, making the prosthetic arm appear in red lines. "We attach the arm, hook up the neural interface, and then the rest is up to you."
"How strong is that attachment going to be?"
"Very. Stronger than your bone. You've requested the martial arts model. That's designed to take a beating."
Yang scowled. "I don't want to take a beating."
"You'll be able to throw punches with your prosthetic that would shatter your other hand. You were right-handed, correct?"
"You're going to be even more right-handed now. But don't forget your left. I saw you in the tournament. You use the recoil from your weapons to move. Can't do that if you allow your left arm to become weak."
Dr. Ochre pointed at his scroll. "The neural interface is going to be the tricky bit. You have thousands of nerve endings in your arm, and we'll connect up as many of them as we can. That takes a brilliant neuro-surgeon to get right. Luckily..." Dr. Ochre breathed on his fingernails and buffed them on his white coat. "I am a brilliant neuro-surgeon. Is your arm still hurting?"
"Good. That means those nerve endings haven't deteriorated yet. If they had, we'd have to slice off a bit to get to the live ones."
"With a high precision medical cheese slicer?"
"That's exactly what it's called. Well done Miss Xiao Long. Do you have any questions?"
"Can I have a bowl of noodles?"
"No. Anything else?"
Yang shook her head.
Dr. Ochre got up. "Well then, Miss Xiao Long, I'll see you tomorrow in surgery."
A few moments later, a Rabbit Faunus nurse walked in with a paper cup on a tray. She reminded Yang of Velvet Scarlatina, the mage in Team CFVY. According to Weiss, Velvet had performed miracles. Yang was sorry she hadn't seen it. On the other hand, if she had been there, Blake would have died. And Yang would still have her right arm. She sighed.
"Hello Miss Xiao Long. I'm Nurse Grey. I've got your medication here. Take both pills with a little water."
Yang took the pills while Nurse Grey looked at her vital signs. Apparently satisfied, she took the cup back from Yang.
"Good night, Miss Xiao Long."
Yang put her head down. A minute later, she was asleep.
A bad dream. First operation done. Yang gets hooked up to a nice machine. Start of second operation.
"GET AWAY FROM HER!"
Yang's semblance flared up like fire, and she shot forward to Adam Taurus as he was stabbing Blake in the stomach. Her fist shot out, but he moved out of the way and sliced out with his sword. She felt almost a little tap on her shoulder, and then she was spinning, out of control. She crashed to the ground, and the pain hit her, worse than anything she had ever felt before. Yang screamed, and then the world turned black.
Yang sat up, her body slick with sweat. She tried to lean back on her arms and almost fell out of bed. Above her, the machine was beeping in a furious rhythm. There were hurried footsteps in the corridor and Nurse Grey came in. She rushed over to Yang's bedside and put a hand on her shoulder, looking at her vital signs.
"Easy, girl. Everything is allright. You had a bad dream, that's all. Lie down. Careful with the arm. That's right."
"He cut off my arm," said Yang, tears in her eyes. "He cut it off."
"Shh. Everything's going to be allright. You're safe in bed. Want me to call the doctor? Here, have a sip of water. Not too much."
Yang took a few deep breaths, till she heard her heart rate go down. She looked at Nurse Grey.
"There. Much better. Go back to sleep. Do you want another pill?"
Yang shook her head, unable to speak. Nurse Grey pulled up a chair and sat down on Yang's left side. She took Yang's hand and gently stroked it until Yang fell asleep again.
"Good morning, Miss Xiao Long." Nurse Joseph walked up to her. He looked over her head at the display. "Had a good night's sleep?"
"Yeah, thanks." If he couldn't see her meltdown on the monitors, Yang wasn't about to tell him.
"Good. Well, we're going to put you to sleep again in an hour, so don't bother getting up."
Something inside Yang stirred. Weiss had burnt every bridge between herself and her illustrious family. She would have been as comfortable and safe as anyone could have been, but she'd given it all up so Yang could have this surgery. The least Yang could do was honor it. She forced a smile onto her lips.
"Great! What's for breakfast?"
"Some lovely sedatives. They'll help you relax before the operation." Joseph's eyes gleamed. "They taste like orange."
"Don't you have any that taste like bacon and eggs?"
"Very bad for you. Clogging up your veins. I could show you pictures."
"Can I go to the bathroom?"
"Sure. I'll help you."
"I've lost an arm, not my butt."
Joseph held her arm as Yang got out of bed. Together, they walked to the bathroom.
"Can you manage? Pull the red cord if there's any trouble."
Yang sat down. There were so many things that she'd taken for granted. Tying your shoelaces. Putting on your clothes. Doing up your buttons. Using a scroll. She sighed. Wiping your own butt with your other hand. She got up, ran the tap, held her hand under it. Washing your hands. She sighed and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked a mess. Bags were under her eyes. Her hair was even more wild than it used to be. She'd tried brushing it, but what was the point? May as well cut it all... she stopped. Breathed out.
Yang stuck her chin forward. She was going to get through this. Weiss was counting on her. Just maybe, if this went well, she could face Ruby again. She remembered Ruby's last words to her. A simple "I love you". And Yang had said nothing. As days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and Fall into Winter, Yang had given up hope that she could ever tell Ruby again that she loved her too. All the millions of lien Weiss had spent on her would be worth it if she could just do that one thing.
"Don't you dare, Yang Xiao Long. Don't you dare give up."
Joseph helped Yang back into bed, gave her her medicine, and then it was time. Joseph and Nurse Grey did something mysterious to the bed. Yang went sailing through the corridors, to Operating Room four. She wasn't allowed to get onto the operating table herself. Instead, three big men picked her up and gently moved her. Someone poked a needle into her left arm and hooked her up to a massive array of machines. Some of them went bing as they started to monitor things about Yang she'd never known or cared about. Dr. Ochre came walking in holding his hands up in a weird mantis-like way.
"Ready Miss Xiao Long?"
"Ready as I'll ever be."
One of the people there bent down next to Yang's face. She noticed he had cat ears sticking up under his white cap, and smiled, thinking of Blake's little black bow. He tapped on his scroll.
"Here we go. Could you please count down from ten, Miss?"
Yang slowly turned her eyes to him. "Do you want me to count on my fi-"
The room was dark, and spinning like it was built on a merry-go-round. Yang thought of opening her eyes, but it was nice to keep them closed just for a little while. There was music playing softly in the background. Something soothing and classical. Yang tried to remember what it was. Weiss would know. Hell, Weiss could probably sing it herself. She frowned. Something was wrong with her arm. Someone had bandaged up her shoulder really tight. That couldn't be right. Circulation was important. She opened her eyes, and looked.
There would come a morning when she would wake up and not feel the shock of seeing a short stump where her arm used to be. This was not that morning. She blinked, and lifted her head. The room was warm, and dimly lit. Nurse Grey was sitting in a chair, doing a crossword.
"Give us a clue?"
Nurse Grey looked up. "Collection of wild animals held in captivity. Nine letters, starts with M-blank-N, ends with E."
Yang thought about it for a while.
"Nope. I'm stumped."
Nurse Grey chuckled, wrote down the word. "That was a gimme. So brain not quite working yet, but at least you can pun. Was your first word a pun?"
"That age, I probably sucked at it," said Yang.
Nurse Grey shook her head, put away her crossword, and put the Nurse's famous diagnostic hand on Yang's forehead.
"How are you feeling?"
"Good. No pain. Arm still missing."
"Are you hungry?"
Yang's eyes grew large. "Hungry enough to eat my own..."
"Don't you dare," said Nurse Grey, kicking the brakes off the bed. She pushed Yang out onto her ward, parallel-parked her in her spot and turned on the machinery. "I'll go and get you something to eat."
"My stomach loves you."
Nurse Joseph came walking in pushing a very expensive looking machine.
"Hello Miss Yang. Meet your new best friend. You're going to be hooked up to it for the rest of the week. You're going to love it. It's even called NICE. Neural Interface Calibration Equipment."
Joseph pressed a button on the bed, and Yang's head end rose up. He pushed the machine over Yang's legs. Yang looked. It was a box. One side had a mirror, the other had a sleeve. Joseph reached inside the sleeve and pulled out a wire, which he connected up to the socket sticking out of Yang's stump. The machine gave a ping and half the screen, which had been blank, now lit up with many differently-colored dots, blinking, changing color. Joseph pulled the sleeve over Yang's arm.
"Right. Now put your arm in the box next to the mirror. Look at the screen." On the display, a picture had appeared of two hands. "What I want you to do is copy the movement of the hands on screen with both your hands."
"Uhh... You may not have noticed, but..."
Joseph raised a finger. "Don't think about it. Just do it. The mirror is there to help you. Go."
As Yang looked, the hands on screen made fists. She looked at her real arm and its reflection, and copied the movement. A big blob of yellow dots appeared in the mass of color at the bottom. The hands on-screen straightened again. Yang did the same. The movements came faster. Point. Count on her fingers. Turn her hands round. She found that the mirror in the middle helped, by giving her the illusion that her right arm was still there. The machine went ping, and the hands turned from blue to yellow.
"Now try to move the on-screen hands," said Joseph.
Yang tried making a fist. On the screen, the hands clawed and writhed, fingers jittering about as if a piano player had gone mad. The machine chimed again.
"Hasn't quite got it right yet," said Joseph. "Back to learning mode."
The hands started moving again, and again Yang copied the motion with both her hands. The next time the hands turned yellow, they still shook, but they looked like fists. A big grin appeared on Yang's face.
"It gets what I'm trying to do!"
Joseph squeezed Yang's shoulder. "Enjoy yourself."
Dr. Ochre came by a few days later to see how Yang was doing.
"I just flipped myself the bird with a hand that doesn't exist," said Yang. The hands turned blue again, and she started copying the moves again. The movements of the fingers had gone from big to small to almost too small to see. She now had her left arm lying in her lap, and was using only the ghost of her right hand.
"Very good, Yang," said Dr. Ochre. "A word of warning though, once we put in the attachment, that's going to screw all this up again, and you'll think it's all been for nothing. But it isn't. The next round you do with this will only take you a day or so. The more you practice now, the quicker that round will go."
"Right," said Yang, concentrating. Dr. Ochre got up. Yang waved at him, and he waved back.
"Oh do I have to go under? Soldiers get this done with just a belt to bite down on! I wanna see what you guys are doing."
"Not on your life," said the anaesthetist, named Marcus. "We could, but we won't. The general anaesthetic is just to stop the endless stream of arm puns. And hand puns. And finger puns. Are you ready Yang? Count back from ten please."
"Well, I think my puns are very humerus, you just... don't... have... a..."
Chapter 4: Nasty girls go everywhere
Gratuitous shower scene, including preservatives. Yang meets her arm and licks it. LIKES it. Message from Weiss. Start of third operation.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"The stupid bitch! Why didn't she just run away as soon as she saw him? That's what she does! But right now, this pisshead, who she knows can hand her her butt on a damn platter, she has to go and fight him! And then I have to go and fight him." Yang raised the stump of her right arm to wipe her eyes, noticed her mistake, wiped her eyes with her left. Her lips trembled. "I'd have died for her. If I had to do this again tomorrow, I would. She was my best friend. My partner. I loved her like I loved my sister. So why am I so angry with her?"
Millicent Grey sat next to Yang, one arm round her, gently rocking her.
"Oh sweetheart. You're angry because something really bad happened to you. You're not just angry with Blake. You're angry with the whole world. And that's okay. You're allowed. You're allowed to rage and rant against it, because it's not fair. A girl your age should be thinking about boyfriends and test results and music and things like that, not fighting in the front line of some stupid war. But it'll pass. You're going to give Blake the biggest hug the moment you see her again. I promise."
Yang looked up at Millicent. "I don't know where she is. She may be dead already. She's always getting in trouble. I need to find her. I need to find my sister."
"And you will. If anyone can, you can. But first, you have to get better. And that's what we're here for."
"Shower time!" Millicent Grey walked in. "All this messing about with bowls of water isn't cutting it. We're going to get you in the shower and do something about the state of your hair."
"Hang on. Dr. Ochre said I shouldn't get this wet!" Yang pointed at her stump. Metal bits were sticking out.
Millicent reached into her pocket and pulled out a small foil package. Yang blinked.
"Oh Millicent, I thought you'd never ask, but we, you and I, don't need that! I'm a girl. I'm not going to get you pregnant!"
"If you'd get your mind out of the gutter now and then, you'd know that the venerable preservative has many uses. Soldiers put them on the end of their rifles to stop water getting in. Gimme your arm. The short one."
With some judicious pulling and adjusting, Yang's stump was neatly wrapped in waterproof rubber, and she stepped into the shower for the first time in over a week. Millicent helped her wash her hair, and she came out smelling better than she had for days. It was amazing what a difference it made. While she was away, someone had changed the sheets. Yang got in bed, took a deep breath, hooked herself up to the NICE machine, and started practicing.
"Morning Yang," said Dr. Ochre. He was pushing a trolly with a long cardboard box on it. "Thought you might want to see this."
Dr. Ochre took out a pocket knife and first sliced away the shipping bill.
"Aha. One Fortibras mark twenty stroke MA for Martial Arts. Left hand."
"Uhh," said Yang.
"Just kidding," said Dr. Ochre. With his knife, he cut open the box and pulled out a long slender object, scattering packing peanuts all over the floor for the cleaners. It was wrapped in plastic, which he cut open with his knife. He pulled away the plastic and held it up in his hands, to show it to Yang.
"Whoa," said Yang.
It was an arm. Made of smooth gunmetal grey steel. Yang had seen pictures, but to see the thing right here in front of her took her breath away. Something about it oozed... menace. The deceptive simplicity of it. It was shaped like a human arm. Muscles in the forearm. The bulge of the bicep. The curve of the fingertips. It had the feel of a tool, something designed for long hard work. But it was also a piece of art. It was beautiful. And wearing it... Yang hesitated at the thought. Wearing it, she could be beautiful again.
Yang started to grin. She couldn't help herself. She reached out and stroked the cool hard metal. She looked up at Dr. Ochre, holding up her right arm.
"Put it on. Now."
"You like it? Good. We'll schedule the op for tomorrow morning. But first, this bad boy is going to say hello to our sterilizing equipment. Oh."
"Miss Yang Xiao Long, Huntress of Beacon, you are about to do something now that if the Gods will it, you will do only once in your life. Prepare yourself."
Dr. Ochre held the arm up to Yang's face.
"Lick your elbow."
Violet eyes stared up at Dr. Ochre.
"Do it. It's the last time in your life you'll be able to. You'll be sorry if you don't."
"Get out of here!"
"Go on. Do it."
With a strange look, Yang stuck out her tongue and tasted her arm. Dr. Ochre laughed. He put the arm back in its plastic bag and put it back in the box. As he wheeled it out, he looked back. Yang was hunched over her left shoulder, tongue sticking out as far as she could.
"Told you," he said. "You just had your moment and now it's gone."
Millicent came in with the lunch trolley. This morning, she'd wheeled out Yang's neighbor. She and Yang had never spoken a word. She was mostly asleep, and not very lucid when she was awake. Millicent was quiet. Usually, now she knew Yang could take it, she'd try her hand at some arm puns. Today, though, she'd waived the opportunity.
"Hey Grey. What's up? Why the long ears?"
Millicent gave a little laugh. "Nothing for you to worry about. Hungry? There's scrambled egg and baked beans. Remember, you won't get any dinner."
"Fill her up." Yang looked at Millicent's face. "What's the matter Mills?"
Millicent heaped egg and beans onto Yang's plate and rolled the table over her.
"Lost someone today. Nothing more we could have done." She took Yang's hand and looked at her. "I want you to live to be a hundred, you hear me? I want you to sit in some old folks home, with long grey hair, all wrinkled up, and still making those stupid puns you do."
Yang looked into Millicent's eyes. Apart from Dad, Millicent had been the first to wish her a long life not because she needed her. Okay, mostly because she needed her, but out of a genuine wish for her to be well. Yang smiled.
"I'll give it my best shot. I promise."
Millicent came in with a message from Weiss.
Haven't got news from Blake yet, but she may not be in any position to allow herself to be found. Ruby still missing except I know she went to Haven with what remains of JNPR. Get well soon, and I mean it. Your dad is nicer than my dad. His cooking is amazing. Can I keep him?Ice Queen
She was still staying with Dad in patch, and if you read between the lines, you could see she was getting restless and anxious. Yang was in a little bubble, with people who cared for her. Weiss had to be very careful not to expose herself, or Schnee Dust Company's goons would no doubt descend on Taiyang Xiao Long's small cabin and take Weiss back into the loving care of her family. Yang knew her father. Heads would roll before he'd allow it, but he was not an army. There wasn't a lot of time left before they had to move again. Time to get on with it.
"For the last time. No! You're not just getting a local for this. Pun down from the shoulder, Xiao Long."
"Shoulder to cry on, elbow room, twisting my arm, wrist..."
Okay, I want to know. How many of you tried to lick your elbow after this chapter? Can't do it, can you?
Chapter 5: Forewarned is forearmed.
Whole again! Firmware upgrades and optional packages. The first punch of Robo-Yang. Time to leave.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Yang woke up. She recognised the music and the smell of the recovery room. She steeled herself for the shock and opened her eyes. Her eyes turned to her right side, and... she closed her eyes again and tears rolled down her cheeks. Next to her on the blanket was her arm. She was wearing a beautiful dull metal glove and her arm, her own arm, was in there. She put her head down on the pillow and laughed out loud.
She was whole again.
For the occasion, both Joseph and Millicent were there. Yang grinned, raised her arm. She frowned.
"It's not working!" Yang stared at Millicent, suddenly afraid. "Has something gone wrong?"
"We haven't turned it on yet," said Joseph. "We don't want you to bash yourself with random nerve impulses. It doesn't know you yet."
Together they took the brakes off Yang's bed and rolled her back to her ward.
Dr. Ochre was waiting for her, all smiles. "Hello Yang! How are we feeling?"
"Well, once you turn this thing on, ten out of ten."
"Let's do that then."
Dr. Ochre pulled a wire out of the NICE machine, and connected it up to Yang's arm. Yang took a short breath as she felt the arm jolt, come to life.
"Good. Now, we download all the knowledge you have been building up with the NICE, and then, we see how well it goes."
Progress bars are never fun to watch, but Yang had no choice. With a final bing the process completed, and Yang looked up at Dr. Ochre.
Dr. Ochre waved at her.
Yang took a slow deep breath, and... waved back.
"Yes," she whispered.
The doctor held out his hand to her, and Yang took it.
"Congratulations Miss Xiao Long. Now all we need to do is configure the options, and then, practice, practice and more practice." He reached out and disconnected the wire connecting Yang to the NICE machine. "Say goodbye to your friend. From now on, you practice with your own arm."
Yang patted the machine on the head, and Joseph wheeled it out. Yang looked at Millicent, who was beaming at her. She raised her right hand, and Yang slapped it.
"Ow! Careful with us fleshlings, will you? We're not all made of metal."
Dr. Ochre cut open a cardboard box and produced a brand new scroll for Yang.
"What you have now is basic motor skills. So let's add some optional packages. This, Miss Xiao Long, is the fun bit." He pulled out a wire and connected the scroll to Yang's arm. "Just look through the collection and see what you want. When you finish playing with yourself, shout, and we'll get you into the dojo."
Since the Tower at Beacon had come down, Scrolls had turned into expensive paperweights for all but the simplest things. The geeks were trying their hardest to get some kind of communications network going, but Yang hadn't had to use a scroll for months. She was using her left hand for the subtle work and holding it with her new hand. There was such an enormous library of options. Some of them, like the drum computer, were just silly. Twenty ways of tapping along to music. Climbing options. Apparently, the fingers could be locked in position without expending energy. Which meant she could hang herself out to dry after a shower. Useful.
Yang flipped to the Martial Arts section. Several functions for wielding swords. Meh. Hand shapes for striking. Chops, punches, jabs, and stabs. Oh yes, give me that. Ah. Blade capture. The idea of just grabbing someone's blade and holding on to it while she pummeled the wielder with her left hand, sounded like a really good idea.
The handwriting options looked like an excellent idea at first, until she realised that she couldn't think something and have her hand write it automatically. It would have to come from her scroll. Oh well. Put it on. What's next?
Something caught her eyes: Advanced Strength Cap Management. She read the explanatory text:
Your Fortibras-20/MA can exert a pressure of 4000kyo using the maximum force grip. The "soft touch" option limits this strength to that of a typical human being, to avoid injuries or damage to equipment. The "mountaineer" setting is designed to support your weight without damaging the support you are hanging from, whereas the "uncapped" setting removes all limits and gives access to full servo strength. Fortibras recommends leaving the arm on "soft touch" at all times unless more strength is needed. Fortibras Enterprises accepts no liability for damage or injury caused by unintentional use of the high-strength settings.
Hmm. Yang downloaded the module into her arm and made a note to find something she could crush just to see how strong she was. Hello Junior. Remember me? One section in the option library was called "Miscellaneous." This was a weird grab bag of odd things. Bend your fingers all the way backwards to hold something on the back of your hand, which would be a perfect way to freak out people. Pass. People would be freaked enough as it was. A library of insulting hand gestures for all the four kingdoms. Honestly. Someone had too much time on their hands. Make any finger osscilate at any frequency between thirty and a hundred times per second. Osscilate? Yang looked up the word. She blinked.
She decided she could do with some osscilation in her life and installed the module. Trying it out here and now was probably a bit... rude.
Yang had some fun with the diagnostics. They tested her arm by bending and flexing all the fingers in order, turning her wrist, bending and stretching her elbow. It was nice to see all the green "Pass" lines show up. Many of the modules were designed to be used with a scroll, such as the scales and the thermometer. Some of them were obviously only made to test some part or other, and only left in there hoping someone, somewhere, would find them interesting.
Yang flipped her new scroll shut and unplugged herself. The wire rolled itself up and disappeared inside the scroll. There was only so much you could do with this. It was an arm. Time to do army things with it. She got out of bed, and picked up her bag. It felt incredibly light. She put it on the bed and pulled out her old outfit, with long trousers because of the weather. She tried to undo the laces of her hospital gown and failed. Who puts these laces on the back anyway? Never mind. She pulled it over her head, and got dressed. It was hard going. Her new fingers were nowhere near as delicate as her old fingers had been, but practice makes perfect. Last came her weapons. The Ember Celica. She had to adjust one of them slightly, but they fit well enough. Yang pulled back her arms, and shook them forward. With a dizzyingly familiar noise, her battle vambraces extended. She hit the button, and with the smooth action they had always had, the Ember Celica turned back into bracelets. Yang walked out into the corridor, and found the nurses' office. Millicent looked up, disturbed, then blinked.
"You're not supposed to be out of bed!"
"Lots of things I'm not supposed to be doing. Did you say you had a dojo somewhere?"
The dojo turned out to be a middle-sized place with a few punching bags, a boxing ring, and some weight lifting equipment. It was normally used for physical therapy, but today, Yang had it to herself. Yang and Millicent sat on the floor, waiting for Dr. Ochre.
"So what options did you go for?"
"Not too many," said Yang. "Most of them are for nerds. Just the martial arts stuff and a few odd bits."
"Install the Oscillator?"
Yang laughed. "How would a nice girl like you know about things like that?"
"I wrote it."
"You're a good woman, Millicent Grey."
Millicent rubbed one of her long rabbit ears to make it stand up straight. "Word to the wise. If we see a sudden spike in your heart rate, we will come looking."
"And we're not allowed to join in. Health and safety rules."
"They just want to suck the fun out of everything."
Dr. Ochre came in. He hooked up Yang's scroll, set it to trace the movements of her arm, and hesitated. "You don't have any pockets?"
Yang took the scroll from Dr. Ochre and put it in her top. "Courtesy of Mother Nature."
"Right." Dr. Ochre pointed at one of the bags. "Throw a punch."
"Sure. If anything is going to break, then it's best if it happens here. We don't get many warranty claims from Huntresses."
Yang walked up to the bag rolling her shoulders. Oh, she'd missed this. She raised her fists, gave the bag a little push. Her iron fist shot forward, turning in exactly the right way, and the bag flew. Yang's face became one big happy grin. This had felt exactly right.
Time's up, Bombshell. Still no sign of Blake, but your stupid little sister is up to her neck in trouble. Don't go home, they're watching you. Head for the place where you first got Ren's clothes off. I'll join you there. Last message, they can read this. Hurry.Ice Queen
Millicent and Joseph wheeled Yang to the exit in a wheelchair, because Rules. Dr. Ochre was waiting for her at the reception desk. Yang got up, checked that her arm was on Soft Touch, and hugged them all. Millicent was last.
"Remember what I said, Yang. Live to be a hundred."
"I'm gonna live forever or die trying," said Yang. "Until better times."
"Beware the Thousand, Yang. Rabbit underground, rabbit safe and sound. Frith guide you."
Yang smiled at all of them.
"Thank you. Thank you so much."
She turned round, and set off for the airport. There was a little fleabag motel in Vale where she needed to be.
And with that, I think I'll leave the RWBY fanficcing to others for a while. I have other airships to burn down, and scientists to rescue. If you like my writing, feel free to visit me at the Algernon Expeditions on Wordpress.