Circle of the Beryl
© 2004 Charlotte Babb
Crila Maragorn sat in the healers’ outer pod, bracing herself against the agony in her left arm. The cut wasn’t that bad, no more than a lucky scrape from a Depth dweller’s blade that had connected before its owner died.
But it burned like the Core itself, worse than any infection she’d ever seen, burning the flesh black and moving up her arm almost as she watched. The Service Medics just shook their heads and suggested she get her affairs in order. Crila didn’t give up that easily. She’d nosed around every contact she had, from Malik to the old Neek who ran the Chow Down on LevThree. They all said the Ophidia were her only hope.
At least the place was clean, not the smoky, reeking, voodoo lair she’d expected. She could hear the somasar dripping out its hypnotic music somewhere behind the exam pod.
Nobody would talk to her about how the Snake healers worked, but they all said she couldn’t last without their treatment. Finally a green-scaled hand beckoned her to enter the exam pod. Crila steadied herself on her feet before she rose. Even to a healer she would not betray weakness.
The Ophid gestured towards a chair. She said nothing. The humanoid part of her body was only about five feet tall, but her reptile tail was coiled underneath her, eight or more feet of green-scaled muscle and bone. Crila had heard that the Ophidia trained as warriors or bodyguards could launch a venomous strike from twelve feet away. She didn’t want to know if healers had the same ability.
Crila sat down and the chair adjusted to her body weight and length. Crila did not release her arm. The Ophid passed her hands over Crila, reading her aura. She took the arm gently and laid it on the arm rest. Though the Ophid’s movements were gentle and slow, Crila nearly cried aloud with the pain. It had gotten worse in the minz she had sat, waiting.
“It must come off,” hissed the Ophid, her forked tongue flickering briefly over Crila’s arm. “But you can survive if you accept treatment.”
“Cut off my arm? No.” Crila tried to sit up, but found that her center of gravity had moved. The healer held her in place with one finger on her chest.
“Then you die, perhaps a strechiz, perhaps less. When the poison reaches your heart, you will break your ribs in convulsive pain.” The Ophid’s face was impassive, her eyes dark green with a vertical slit that narrowed as she inspected Crila’s arm again. She held Crila’s wrist and flicked her tongue again, several times.
The pain phased out, but her hand went limp. Crila did not dispute the Ophid. While they were not trusted implicitly, not one had ever been known to lie. Would Crila give her left arm to live?
“How much do I lose? All of it?”
“With immediate surgery, you can save the section above the elbow. In five owerz, we will have to take the shoulder as well. This has been neglected far too long as it is.” The Ophid settled back on her tail. “What do you offer in payment?”
“I have credits, of course. How much?” Crila had squirreled away credits that even Malik didn’t know about. Cold, hard credits were a girl’s best buddy.
“What sort of prosthesis will you require?”
“I would like a hand that works. What, you can’t regrow one?”
“This poison makes regeneration impossible. For a mere five megacreds you can have a stump. This guarantees that you will not die from the poison and that you will be immune to it. In your line of work, however, I would think that a stump would not be an asset.”
“How do you know my line of work?”
I know that you are Crila Maragorn, that you work at Dhamu’s as a bartender, and that you are affiliated with Malik Blayne, which is how you found your way to me. I have my contacts as well.” The Ophid smiled. Her fangs were recessed, but she had enough other teeth to make the smile more threatening than friendly.
Whatever the Ophid had done to make the pain go away was wearing off. Crila was not one to put off making a decision in any case. “Tell me what my options are. I would like to be as versatile as possible.”
“I will prepare for the surgery while you discuss your options with my associate.” The Ophid undulated out of the exam pod.
Crila tried again to get out of the chair, but found that it would not release her. She also felt a bit groggy, probably from the pain, which began to reach above her elbow like lava in her veins. If time was of the essence, she wished the associate would get its tail back in the pod, now.
An L’Talton waddled in with its feathers ruffled around its tool apron. With its crest a bright shade of orange over its yellow body, it was probably male, but Crila didn’t ask. Behind it was a cart of body parts, some humanoid, some mechanical and some that looked like a teenage tinkers’ wet dream: shiny metals, bright plastalloy, and some merely skin, scales or fur.
It took a look at Crila’s arm and trilled a long whistle. “Bad shape. Cut soon?” Its voice whistled out of its throat like some bad analog recording. This L’Talton had no bedside manner. They didn’t actually speak, but could learn to mimic speech sounds. Their birdsongs were very complex, and they were usually chatty as well, but not this one.
It held out a metal arm, smooth and shiny, like a jewelry display. The arm was about the right size but Crila shook her head. “I need one that will work, not some useless piece of jewelry.”
The L’Talton raised its crest and fluffed out its feathers, insulted. “All complete articulate!”
“Will it stand up to bitch-slapping a Vamir?”
The L’Talton’s eyes narrowed as it jerked the arm away. “No say want weapon!” It selected another arm, one that would have fit a good size Modajai, with a rocky skin texture to match. It handed the arm to Crila, who almost dropped it. It snatched the arm back, cradling it a bit before returning it to the cart. “No stock. Must build special. Cost more.”
“How much is the silver one?”
The L’Talton cocked its head and stared off beyond Crila, possibly listening to some kind of communicator, or maybe just counting on its three-toed, clawed feet.
“You not have creds.” It turned to go.
“What do you know about what I have?” Crila struggled to get up again, fighting the chair and the shooting pain in her arm to sit up. She wasn’t taking this stuff lying down. “I can get whatever I want.”
The L’Talton trilled again, obviously laughing. “Heart comes. She tell.” It left, still trilling.
Crila fought a surge of panic. Malik could probably get her anything she wanted, but would he, and did she trust him enough to be in that much debt to him? She’d seen him shaft one of his lackeys who didn’t come through on an assignment. Was she valuable enough to him to depend on his getting his investment back?