Jewels wrinkled his nose as Acahya gingerly slid out of the ship’s medical pod. He gave her a shrug and gestured toward the mirror, suggesting she see for herself. Though modern medicine could do wonders—even for those with sensitive systems like the Aztec shaman who had taken a devastating sniper round through her torso in their last dust-up—it wasn’t perfect.
Wincing as her calloused feet met the sterile floor and tenuously supported her as she stood, she straightened with a long, slow exhale. Past the worst of the pain, she let her eyes open, seeing her reflection come into focus.
“We’re halfway to Miami,” Jewels offered. He had shared a cabin with Acahya since their first days on the large yacht, finding that her magical accoutrement didn’t interfere with his more technological pursuits. She was acerbic and more than a little arrogant, but he appreciated her confidence, and there was no doubt that her skills had helped save the crew’s life on more than one occasion—just as his skills at commanding and controlling drones, bots, and even the ship itself, had done. “There they have better doctors, maybe a plastic surgeon—”
She cut him off with a raised hand—her left, as her right didn’t seem to move as readily anymore. She tilted her neck to the left, watching the glossy, starburst scar radiating from the dip above her right clavicle stretch and flex as the skin moved. Turning her head to the right, she found a tightness in her muscles. It’s not that her head wouldn’t move past the center line, it’s that it couldn’t. Forcing it until her neck shook from the effort, she was finally able to see her right shoulder out of the very corner of her eye. She had lost almost half of her old range of motion.
“The auto-doc worked on you for the better part of a day,” he added. “Your magic got the bullet out, but there was a lot of collateral tissue damage—both from when it went in and on the way back out. Nova kept hitting you with saline with the IV wide open all the way back to the boat; you were leaking pretty bad.”
The self-described freedom fighter—though some in the media preferred to call her an “eco-terrorist”—looked down at her right hand, forcing her fingers to clench tight and open again. It was painful—there was no doubt about nerve damage in her shoulder—but it was doable, unlike moving her head to that side.
She tried to flex the toes on her stiff left foot and nearly collapsed from the pain. Jewels caught her and eased her back into a sitting position on the edge of the medical pod. “The bullet got stuck in your hip on its way down through you. Then the spirits pushed it back out—”
She fixed him with a silent glare even as she accepted his help.
“Okay, so you did something magical to push it back out, and it left a heck of a mess behind.” He checked a readout on the surgery pod. “The robo-med here says you need at least two weeks of bed rest, and then a graduated PT regimen to get back your strength without hurting yourself more.”
Acahya snorted in protest, turning her shoulders so she could look at herself in the mirror again, seeing the fresh, rosy scar tissue on her neck and shoulder clash with her olive skin.
“Like an ocelomeh,” she murmured to herself. She saw Jewels’ raised eyebrow in the reflection.
“Prospective warriors—particularly those wishing to become Jaguars—would enter into feats of daring to prove their value to the people, that they were strong and brave enough to defend them in times of need, to be celebrated and rewarded.
“Not everyone who undertook the trials completed them. Some backed out when they saw they lacked the ganas to do what was necessary—there was no shame in this, knowing your own limits. Others failed because they reached too far, beyond their capabilities. Their broken bodies were left where they fell, or were mauled, or were trapped, as warnings to others about pride. The right to be proud had to be earned.
“Those who passed, though—those who passed were marked in some way, scarred by the challenges they chose for themselves. This,” she gestured for emphasis, “reminds me of the stories my parents would tell of them. The stories of my people, of the strength it took to defend those people, even to the last ocelomeh. Not a one ever surrendered.”
Closing her eyes, she rubbed her face with her good hand, finally pulling her fingers through her oily hair. “Is there news from San Juan?”
“The big corpos did not appreciate our little maneuver at the processing plant, but most of the media has been about a plucky little island finally standing up for itself and its people. It sounds like Maria’s making good on her promise, saying that if the government is formally recognized she’ll hold free and fair elections this Fall.”
Acahya grunted with no small satisfaction.
She looked over her left shoulder, to where some of her comfortable seaside clothes had been brought in while she was being tended to by the medical AI. Jewels scooped them up and handed them to her. After months at sea together he was largely as indifferent to her nudity as she was.
“No,” she said almost to herself, pursing her lips after pulling on the old tee stained with dirt from two different continents, and seeing lines of her new scars poke up and out at the worn collar.
“I don’t care how good the surgeons are in Miami. I’ve—we’ve—fought and won for the people of Yucatán, of Amazonia, and now Puerto Rico. We’ve bled for them. Been chased from one ocean to the other for them.”
She straightened again, pulling her hair so that it fell down and across her left shoulder, leaving the top of her scar visible on the right.
“I earned this, paid for it with my convictions—my blood. My strength saw me through the challenges and the trials. My ancestors would respect me as a true ocelomeh. A different place, a different age, but a defender of the people. A Jaguar.”
Prince nodded slowly. He didn’t quite understand her connection to a people who died out some five hundred years before either of them were born, but she didn’t understand his connection to the flow of data and electrons which infused modern life, either. They could respect one another’s passions, even if they didn’t quite “get” them.
As he turned to leave, Jewels called back to her. “Whatever happened to the guy who shot you, anyway?”
Acahya smiled in that predatory way she always had about her, a dark and almost sinister grin that bared her teeth. “I turned his skin and bones to jelly. The last I saw of him he was dripping through a catwalk into the food processor to be mixed in with all the other garbage that plant was serving.”
Jewels let out a slow exhale, trying not to imagine what that must have been like for the guard. Some jobs go sideways and things can get lethal, but there’s a big difference between dropping someone who’s blocking your escape and that.
“Well, I guess he won’t be shooting anyone again,” he offered weakly, not quite sure what the right response could be to that level of savagery.
He quickly left the medical bay, leaving Acahya to get dressed in peace.
This story continues the adventures of Acahya and her shadowrunning crew, as introduced in Team Dynamics, expanded on in ¡Viva Aztlán!, more fully revealed in Plumbing the Depths, triumphing in The Seeds of Revolution, and reliving the past in Smoke Under Water.
Header image from Pixabay.com, a great source of royalty-free stock images