The bed was wider than a hospital bed should be. She was in a private room, no curtains separating her from other patients, but no windows to the outside world. Yet somehow the light was warm and natural, as if the sunlight had trickled down into whatever deep place she had woken up in.
Of course she knew where she was, where she’d been for the last few weeks getting ready for this first moment of waking up, of trying her new arm.
She looked to her right and all she saw was a pile of grey dust.
Why they left her alone like this she didn’t quite understand. Somehow this pile of dust, these “nanites” were going to be her arm, but none of the doctors or nurses had told her how it was actually going to feel. Maybe they didn’t know. The piece she couldn’t see was the interface. It had been inserted a few days before, but she’d been asleep for that, been asleep for days recovering as they rebuilt her piece by piece.
She thought about lifting her arm an inch off the bed. Cora watched with fascination as the worthless pile began to wave and shimmer, like one of the bed-sheets in the wind. But it had no substance, no form of an arm, and it moved in ways she really didn’t think she was controlling. Even as she watched, the dust settled back into an indistinguishable lump.
Maybe moving the whole pile was unrealistic. After all, what had her real arm been but a bunch of flesh hung on a piece of bone? Her body only had to contract a few small tendons to move that bone, and everything moved with it.
Cora closed her eyes and thought of a wire hanger, like the ones she used to get with her dry cleaning. She bent out the hangar in her mind until it was straight, then bent it again in the middle where the elbow should be, and once more a few inches above her “hand.”
She opened her eyes and saw the hanger. A small portion of the dust had formed a rod that was sticking out of the stub of her body. She bent the rod this way and that and her new arm moved with her, thinner than a pencil, but still under her control.
She thought about flesh but somehow that seemed still too heavy. Instead her wire hangar became the trunk of a tree, with branches sticking out at intervals. The silvery particles were forming a crystalline-like structure, slowly beginning to cross and interleave, like the wire frame of paper-mache.
Just then the door opened and her commanding officer stepped in. It had been weeks since they’d seen each other, not since the first day of this, and Cora snapped into a salute almost by instinct. The sharp branches of her tree poked her forehead, and she thought she felt a small drop of blood forming.
“At ease, Lieutenant.”
Cora moved to put the arm back in the pile of dust but found it had dissolved on her top sheet. She leaned a little to one side to allow the nanites to fall into the pile. Her commanding officer leaned over and with the tip of his thumb brushed her lip ever so gently.
“You had a little of your arm on your mouth, Lieutenant.” The gesture was playful but also showed some of the almost fatherly concern the commander was barely trying to hide.
Cora smiled. “Yes, sir. Better than my foot.”