© 2004 Charlotte Babb for Port Nowhere

Crila Maragorn flexed her left arm in balance with the right, making precision moves that caused the aiming light to describe intricate arcs on the walls of her pod. The prosthesis on what was left of her left arm was heavier than her right arm, and it was taking a lot of practice to keep herself in balance while she practiced the dance moves that would be required during the ritual. The dance was intricate and not designed for a person with feet instead of a ten-foot reptilian tail. The Sisters had modified her steps and even created a solo part for her. Everything they did was music and dance and art: always a performance. She wondered if they ever let their hair down–not that they had hair on their scaly skulls.

She was used to using the prosthesis at work, tending bar at the Starview Lounge. She could balance a tray of drinks or stir the most delicate tinimar to the satisfaction of the most fastidious customer, even better than she had done with her flesh arm. Her new arm was very responsive. She had even begun to feel some tactile sensations from its surface due to the bio-link nanobots that the L’Talton had used to attach it.

She stepped and turned on the ball of her foot, swinging her prosthesis around for momentum, making the rotations that would have been her wrist and hand mimicking a snake’s head. It was a beautiful movement when Heart of the Core did it, but her arm only made light dance on the wall. Again she felt the difference, the exclusion. First she was Halsan/Human, now a non-Ophidian dedicant.

Crila had to give the Ophidia credit, though, and not just because they could crack her accounts, even her most well-hidden accounts. Every training session she had attended had brought her another attachment for the prosthesis. JayRand seemed to delight in developing them. She had projectile weapons, injectile weapons, power tools, even a cache of nanobots and an interface with built-in programs for drilling, comsys cracking and brute force bio-linking. What she did not have after eight quintens of training was a mission or an understanding of exactly what the Circle of the Beryl wanted from her.

While the Ophidia had never been known to lie, they were not known for open and aboveboard negotiations either. But they had her caught in a net that supported her as much as it held her captive; she was in too deep not to play along. Malik Blayne had pumped her for information, and she had told him everything she knew, but it amounted to nothing.

Dripping with sweat, Crila wiped her face and went to her water pod to take a shower. She could shut down the prosthesis with a thought, closing it to keep the inner workings dry, although it seemed impervious to anything it had been exposed to so far.

She felt very alone. Malik just wanted her to spy on the Ophidia, as no one knew much about them. The Ophidia wanted her to spy on Malik and Core knew who else. She didn’t like being between the Rock and Nothing, and that was where they both had her.