Chapter Seventy-Two: I’ll Take That Bet…

Cairbre hadn’t left Irian’s bed since he awakened.  He was crossly learning to walk with no tail, but he wasn’t succeeding very well.  Apparently, the kittychicken’s tail was essential to counterbalancing his wings.   Irian would laugh every time he fell, and pick him up with his remaining hand and pet him for a while.   Cairbre was content with that part, at least.  As Cairbre would totter around, Irian would tap around on one of James’ ever-present datapads.

“What you working on, Irian?”  Namid still wasn’t allowed to share the bed with him, and debriefings and communications with Ouray had kept her quite busy.  None of James’ translator crew knew a word of her language, and it was deemed essential that it stay that way.  With an unbreakable code language and native speakers, they were keeping ahead of the Harvest-but just barely.  James told a story about the Harvest’s history and a similar incident, but he got the names all mixed up with each other and Namid lost her temper with his mispronunciations and wrong names.  Her time with Irian was therefore rather limited.  He normally put the datapad down when she came in and gave her his full attention, but today, he grabbed it as soon as she came in and pointed to it.

Cariad, take a look at this.  You might just like it.”

She looked at the myriad of diagrams.  “I just see a bunch of lines.”

Irian glanced at the screen.  “Oh.  Wrong diagram.  Here, this should work.”  He tapped a few buttons that materialized on the screen.  The desk beside him lit up with a holographic display of an arm prosthesis and a lower leg prosthesis moving through various flexibility exercises.  Namid’s face lit up.

“You mean you think you can walk again?”

“I mean I think I can fight again.  I don’t like this bed.”

James had happened to pass by and see the holographic representation as Irian was demonstrating it.  He stepped in to take a closer look.

“Looks like old tech, but it’ll work.  Nice work for someone who’s never had a real computer before.” 

“Old tech?  Nothing like this exists here.  And what’s that ‘real computer’ supposed to mean?”

“Simple.  We apparently have a lot higher tech than you’re used to.  The fact that you’re chasing us hard on our heels by yourself means you’re quite possibly the smartest person here.  As in this planet.  The Prince probably was your rival, but …”  James trailed off.  The Prince’s death had set off the chain of events that had cost Irian two limbs and the best teacher he’d ever had.  It probably was a sore topic, he thought.

“Well, if you’re so advanced, why did the Prince choose not to fix his body?  That limp was fixable apparently, and the arm as well.”

“He didn’t want to become more machine than man.  He put a big emphasis on not going past the tech that made us able to survive in the harsh environment we created for ourselves.  Some people did.  It wasn’t too big of a deal in our time.  People routinely replaced damaged limbs and organs.”

“Just how routinely, then?”

James rolled up his sleeve.  Hexagonal panels were set into his arm as far as the sleeve uncovered.  “It wasn’t too big a deal.  The arm wasn’t damaged-just augmented.  I’d say you’d be hard pressed to move it even.

“Irian, if you’re not gonna take that bet, we will.”  They turned to see Hariel and Thor at the door.  They seemed rather at ease with each other, and Irian reminded himself that a long time had passed since the scar on his face.  All the same, he did need to have a talk with him…

“Well, if you two are willing to try, I can make you all sorry.  Irian, you up for it?”  James’ face wore a self-assured smirk.  “That is, unless you’re kittychicken…”  Cairbre sat up and brawked at them.  They all laughed.

“Sure, I’ll take that bet.  Sounds like fun.  Arm wrestling then?”

“Sounds fine.  Get Namid here to dress you and wheel you out on deck.  If you beat me, I’ll build your prostheses myself.  If not, you get to sit in remedial class with me.  Either way, it’ll be a good show.”

Hariel and Thor went to find a table, and Namid was searching for Irian a shirt to wear.  “Never you mind, dear, this will suit me.  I’ve not felt the sun in a while.  Tighten up these bandages for me, though.  They’re bothering me again.”

“And you feel up to this?”

“I told you I’m not going to just sit here.”

“All right then.  I don’t care if you beat Thor or Hariel, but I want you to bend the screws off on James’ arm.  I promise I’ll make a great show on deck if you do…”

“How could I resist?”

The other competitors were already on deck when Irian was wheeled out.  The assembled crew clapped for the pair as they emerged into the sunlight.  Namid’s scars were almost gone, but Irian’s arm and leg hadn’t healed well.  Some kind of side effect from the blast, Irian thought.  The sun was bright and warm, and they were far out to sea, as far as he could tell.  No land could be seen in any direction.

“Well, when you’re done squinting, we can do this.”  It was Thor, his face full of laughter even as he taunted.  He was seated at the table already, and gestured to Irian to wheel up and try his hand.  Irian rolled up and James stepped up behind him. 

“I’ll stand here to keep you from rolling and keep you in your chair.  Hariel, stand behind Thor.  This will get interesting.”  Hariel did so, and the two men clasped their right hands together.  James looked at both competitors.  “Ready, gentlemen?  Then GO!”

And go they did.  Irian flexed the muscles of his arm, and the cords in Thor’s neck stood out as he fought to keep his hand at vertical.  Irian yawned and started pushing Thor towards the table.  Thor’s face was crimson and his bread was coming in ragged gasps at the exertion to simply slow down Irian’s slowly advancing arm.  Five minutes later, his hand came to rest.  He had never moved Irian’s hand back.  Thor was a good loser, though, and Hariel switched out with him.  As he stood up, he rubbed his shoulder.  “Where did you get so strong?”

“I dragged in the boats by myself.  Also, there was plowing, and moving the boats to higher ground…”

“Sounds like you were the plowmule.”

“I was.”  Laughter erupted across the deck.  Irian rubbed his elbow and held his arm out for Hariel.

“I’ll not go easy on you.  But you know that by now.”

“At least armwrestling you won’t cost me an eye.”  He grinned and grasped Hariel’s outstretched hand.  His grip strength was surprising, and as soon as James said “go,” Hariel was working on pushing Irian’s hand down.  All of a sudden, the grin on Hariel’s face was replaced by a look of fear.  The hand, which had gotten to halfway down, was tightening on his, and at the same time, the same implacable progress was pushing his hand down toward the table, and even Thor holding his shoulders down wasn’t enough to keep him form being pulled off the barrel he was using as a chair.  Hariel found himself on the deck staring up at Irian, who extended his arm to him on the deck.  “Here, get up.  You gave me a challenge, at least.  You’re stronger now too.  I’ll have to get out of that bed if I don’t want to find myself out of a job.”  Hariel grinned in reply.

Finally, James let go of Irian’s shoulder and seated himself across from him.  The two men clasped hands, and their seconds took their places-Hariel with Irian, and Thor with James.  They stared at each other across the table. 

“Can I take him, do you think?”  Irian’s voice was calm and confident.

“I don’t know.  But ye gods, you’re strong.  I’m glad we’re on the same side.”

“Remind me to ask you about that sometime.”

“Of course.  Sorry about the eye.”

“It still sees.  It’ll do.”  James was watching the discourse with the eye of a man who’s confident of his victory-the dismissive tone of a man who feels his opponent is below him.  As the two men talked, he removed his shirt.  Hexagonal patches dotted the flesh of his arms and torso.  Some of them sank in, a bluish glow emanating from the recessed edges.

“Are we going to do this?”

“Of course.  I think you needed a few minutes for your implants to spin up?”  James was shocked-had Irian researched his implants on sight alone?  “If you’re ready…”

“Of course-I hope you’re ready, boy!”  Both men flexed, and the table groaned.  The crew pressed in close as the two men broke out in a sweat.  Irian grunted and pushed, as James matched him push for push.  The crowd held its breath, waiting for any of them to gain an advantage.  Just as James thought that he was going to push over Irian’s hand, sparks flew from the recessed panels in his arm.  The cracks grew dimmer, and the other panels opened up, giving him a snakeskin appearance to his torso as the generators for his arm was taxed to the limit.  James was starting to go pale.

“You can let me go now, or I’ll burn out the motors in your arm.”

“Try it, boy.  You know what the generators in my arm can do, can you outmatch them?”

“And if I can?”

“I’ll fix your arm AND kiss your kittychicken.”

Irian smiled.  His knuckles went white as he pressed all of his strength into pushing down James’ arm.  The crew thought he was bested still when a groan of overstressed metal sounded from James’ arm and his fingers popped free of their joints and hit the table, followed by his hand, and then his forearm.  Irian had torn James’ artificial arm off with his flesh and blood one.  He sat back, obviously pleased with himself.  James swore and picked up his burned-out forearm.  “How did you do that?”

“Easy.  Your arm is weak against sideload.  You designed it to hold a pistol, not to box with.  With the linear forces of recoil, it copes just fine.  For general lifting, it’s decent.  But against an opposing force, it’s weak.  And your other arm is, as well.”

“Is it now?  That’s my sword arm, you know.”

“Of course it is.  Bad shoulder joint design, weak hand for extra dexterity.”  Irian leaned forward to point at barely visible joints.  “This should be reinforced, and that generator should move… there.”

“And how do you know this?”

Irian reached out and with a deft motion snapped off James’ arm at the shoulder.

“I studied.  You’re all out of arms now.  So does this mean I win?”

“Yes, it does.  And as Hariel said, where did you get so strong?”

Irian shrugged his remaining shoulder.  Namid burst through the crowd and deposited herself in Irian’s lap.  She set Cairbre down on the table.  “I brought your date!”

And James, bereft of arms, was unable to escape.  Namid held Cairbre for James to kiss as the crew erupted in cheers.  James, red-faced and damaged, tried to slink away.  Namid stopped him. 

“Come on, one of these pretty girls will hold a mug for you to celebrate with us.  We finally got him out of bed, and that’s worth a party!”

Published in: on February 21, 2011 at 1:43 am  Leave a Comment  

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