by Barbara G.Tarn
C’ell’andy was confused. He remembered the explosion, and throwing Kol-ian to safety before being half-buried by a crumbling building. Now he felt a numbing pain and couldn’t tell if he was conscious or not. He still had a body and it was probably tied to a machine – he could feel the tube down his throat, but not much else.
He didn’t know where he was, if the darkness was inside or outside of him, or if he was alive or dead. His mind struggled to stay focused, to understand what was going on.
C’ell’andy, do you hear me?
The powerful mind of the Emperor echoed in the nothingness that engulfed him. This was getting scary – he didn’t know how to answer with his mouth full – then he remembered the Emperor was a telepath and he didn’t need to speak. The voice in his head was a mind projection anyway.
Your lower body is badly damaged, and we need to attach a prosthetic to keep you alive, the Emperor continued coldly. But we don’t have anything ready except a horse body. You might not live long enough to have a proper human prosthetic, but it’s still your choice. Do you want to live as a scary-looking cyborg, or would you rather die and be honored for saving my son’s life?
So he was alive, albeit maimed. He couldn’t die now. The Sire had the most advanced technology in the galaxy, so the prosthetic might actually enhance him. He was a bodyguard, sworn to protect the Emperor’s son. If the Emperor saw it fit to save him by attaching a weird-looking prosthetic to what was left of his body, he could only be grateful for the gift.
Let me live, Imperiestra.
You shall live.
C’ell’andy’s consciousness slowly faded away.
C’ell’andy put down the dumbbell with a sigh. Time for the last pull-ups. He didn’t have any abs anymore, and his upper torso muscles had atrophied during the past two months. He’d recovered their strength by now, though, in spite of the added weight of the prosthetic. His biceps swelled as he pulled up the miracle that kept him alive. It looked like a silvery horse body attached to what was left of his hips. In the daylight it gleamed white, which made a great contrast with his dark-chocolate skin.
“Bravo!” Tyro clapped his hands while C’ell’andy finished his exercise.
C’ell’andy’s naked upper torso and shaved head were covered in sweat, but the prosthetic didn’t produce any. He walked to his friend, relaxing as his new lower half moved under his command.
“You’ve recovered your full mass of muscles,” Tyro complimented him. “You look even more fierce than before.”
“I look weird, but I had no choice if I wanted to live.” C’ell’andy sighed. “I think the Emperor used me as guinea pig.”
“Well, you’d be dead anyway if your body rejected the implant,” Tyro said. “But I’m glad everything went well. You control everything now?”
“Yes.” C’ell’andy went through some gaits – walk, trot, canter, gallop – around the gym, then slowed again to a canter and then a walk. He stopped in front of the scientist who had created the artificial body. “How did I do?”
“Perfect. I knew you could do it. You’re ready to go back on duty.”
“I’ll stop to hug my wife and will be on my way.” C’ell’andy grinned and clasped Tyro’s arm. “Thank you, my friend.”
They exited the gym together, and as they walked through the Vaurabi Labs, C’ell’andy’s metallic hoofs clanged on the floor.
“Do you think you can add padded horseshoes so I don’t scare Kol-ian away?” the cyborg asked, frowning with worry.
“Sure!” The pale-skinned scientist was quick to fix the annoying noise.
C’ell’andy exited the Imperial palace and galloped back to his quarters, exhilarated. The housing looked very small with his new body, and his wife giggled as he bumped into furniture with his prosthetic.
“Sorry, I’ll have to figure out a way to sleep,” he grumbled. “So far I lay my head on a shelf with a pillow… let’s see if I can sit by the bed and use it the same way…”
He squeezed the implant between the bed and the wall and sat his horselike body down. Since it was mechanical, it had no problems in doing so. Rotating his torso felt uncomfortable, though, so he decided he’d have to find another solution.
He rose again to his four feet with a sigh and backed out of the narrow passage.
“We’ll work it out later.” L’ill’oretta slid a waistcoat on his shoulders. “I know you don’t have private parts to cover anymore, but you don’t want to be completely naked, especially in front of the Emperor – or his son,” she chided.
He adjusted the colorful sleeveless vest and turned to take her in his arms – his beautiful, pregnant wife who now barely reached his nipples. The implant made him even taller than what he already was.
“Thank you,” he whispered, before kissing her. He was grateful she had stood by him in spite of the maiming that had cost him his manhood. Well, the whole lower half of his body.
“You’re alive. Our child will have a father,” she replied tenderly.
He caressed her round belly, thanking the gods for keeping him alive. He might have a robotic body, but he still felt completely human. He was lucky the accident happened when L’ill’oretta was already expecting, or he might have lost his wife along with half of his body.
“Thanks to Tyro Megnaghy and his wonderful prosthetic,” he said.
“How does it feel?” she asked, curious.
“I’m getting used to it. Controlling four legs instead of two is tricky at first. Unfortunately it was the only implant ready and available when I was taken down.”
“You look gorgeous,” she assured. “Like our legendary man-horses!”
He chuckled and gently squeezed her in his powerful arms.
“I better go and see how Kol-ian is doing,” he said, then kissed her frizzy hair. He knew he hadn’t been replaced, and the little prince he’d protected from the explosion was locked in his room since the accident – two long months to attach the implant to his ruined body, make it work, and then for him to learn to control his new lower limbs through a neural interface inserted at the back of his neck.
“Sure.” She sighed. She was on maternity leave, which had allowed her to care for him before she got too big and needed care herself. “See you tonight.”
They kissed and C’ell’andy left their apartment to go back to the palace. He walked to the higher floors and the little prince’s room, mostly ignored in spite of the obvious prosthetic. He knocked before the door slid open and he entered the child’s apartment – an antechamber for playing and reading, and a bedroom.
“Prince Kol-ian?” he called, not seeing him on the couch as he expected. “Are you hiding?” he chided, stepping forward. He reached the bedroom and heard a ragged breath coming from behind the big bed.
“Why are you hiding, my prince?” he asked, stopping at the door.
A tuft of raven hair followed by a pair of big black eyes peered over the bed. The eyes widened and C’ell’andy heard a gasp. The head vanished again.
“Prince Kol-ian, may I come forward?” C’ell’andy asked. “Why are you afraid of me all of a sudden?”
“I’m not scared.” The childish voice was muffled. “I’m ashamed.”
Startled, C’ell’andy crossed the room and reached the corner where the prince was hiding. Kol-ian Vaurabi was six and his eyes were wide with pain, shame, guilt and who knew what else.
C’ell’andy’s impulse was to grab him and hold him to his chest. He followed through with it and picked Kol-ian off the floor. The child looked even smaller next to his mechanic body.
“Why are you ashamed?” C’ell’andy asked, puzzled, looking Kol-ian in the eyes and stroking his back with one hand as he held him with the other arm.
The child sniffed and lowered his eyes. “Because Granny is dead and you are maimed, and it’s all my fault,” he whispered.
“No, it’s not your fault,” C’ell’andy assured. “What makes you think you have anything to do with this?”
Barely a whisper. “They were trying to kill me. Because I’m the Emperor’s son.”
C’ell’andy sighed. “Well, that’s why I’ve been appointed your bodyguard. So nobody could hurt you. That’s why I’m protecting you. Unfortunately I couldn’t save your granny.”
Kol-ian sniffed again and glanced at his horse body. “You look funny.”
“Do you want to ride me?” C’ell’andy suggested with a smile.
C’ell’andy moved Kol-ian to his metallic rump and wrapped the short arms around his waist. “Ready for a ride?”
“Yes!” Kol-ian said, finally loud. Soon he was all giggly, and his shame was forgotten while C’ell’andy caracoled between the two rooms making horse sounds.
The cyborg finally took the child off his back and threw him on his bed, where he landed with a soft thud and a final giggle.
“Thank you, C’ell’andy,” Kol-ian sighed, curling up. “Will you tell me the story of C’est’aran now?”
C’ell’andy realized he couldn’t really sit on the boy’s bed like he used to. Drat, this prosthetic can be very impractical in some situations. He couldn’t lie to sleep, he couldn’t sit… but the happiness of the little prince riding his implant was priceless. Kol-ian was a gloomy prince – the second-born of the Emperor – who had found some affection only with his late grandmother.
The Imperial family was quite cold and used to hiding their feelings. Some said they didn’t have any, in spite of being Sire and telepaths and superior to other Humanoid races like C’ell’andy’s. But the cyborg knew Kol-ian had feelings, much like his mother used to.
It had been mostly his maternal grandmother who often made the child smile. Except the aging woman had been killed in the assassination attempt and Kol-ian was left with only his bodyguard, now a cyborg, who could still tell him stories of his home world, Ulba’wis.
Kol-ian listened wide-eyed for the umpteenth time to the story of C’est’aran, a hero from Ulba’wis. The Humanoids living there were warriors and had plenty of stories about wars and great adventures, while the Sire had lived in peace for centuries, until they’d become the dominating race among the Humanoids and had formed the Galactic Empire. For some reason, Kol-ian preferred Ulba’wissian stories to Sire stories.
“You will have your own child soon?” the boy asked when the story was over. He looked worried again.
“Yes, in a couple of months,” C’ell’andy answered, caressing the child’s black hair.
“So you will tell him or her your stories.” Kol-ian averted his eyes, disappointed.
“No, I will still tell them to you. It will take some time before my child will be able to listen to my stories,” C’ell’andy assured.
“Really?” Kol-ian brightened again. “Tell me another, then!”