By Max Fauth

Note: This takes place after "Loose Ends 2," and before "Knocking on Heaven's Door."

Eyes blinking, she slowly came into consciousness. The anaesthetic had left her with a bad taste in her mouth, and her body felt oddly numb. Hardly surprising, given what she'd just been through. She lay in bed for a few minutes, lazily watching the blank ceiling above her. Feeling slowly returned to her skin, registering the soft sheets around her. She tried moving a little, just to see what worked. Fingers, toes, they all seemed there.

Right. Time for action.

She quickly threw off the bed sheets and looked down. She was clad in a simple, blue hospital gown, done up at the back. She looked at her hands, noting that her skin was already darker than before. Just like last time, she thought. She quickly felt her chest, noting the distinct change. She ran a hand over her head, feeling only rough stubble where her hair had been.

Gotta fix that.

She stepped out of bed and discarded the robe. She didn't need to look for cameras; she knew her privacy was assured in here. She stepped past the bench and through one of the two doors in her simple room. Beyond lay a small yet functional bathroom, notable only for the total absence of mirrors. As requested, a bottle of hair growth formula stood on the sink. She seized it and stepped into the shower recess.

A few minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom, thoroughly cleaned and dried off. She stepped up to the small bench, reached into the cupboard and pulled out one of three small packets. It was a cup of instant-heating, high-protein soy. As far as she remembered, it had the same taste as wet cardboard, but it was exactly what she needed right now. She pulled the key out of the small element at the base, and opened the lid slightly.

As her meal heated itself, she straightened the bed and laid out her nightgown. Instead of getting dressed, she looked over her body. Her musculature was intact, and she was once again completely hairless. She took the opportunity to stretch out, shaking out the last cobwebs from her anaesthetic slumber. She had no idea how long she'd been asleep; no idea what time of day it was, nor even what day. But for now she didn't worry; she certainly wasn't ready to face the world just yet.

That's what this room was for. A waiting room, allowing a patient to recover from, and familiarise themselves with the changes surgery had enacted. Her changes were pretty drastic but, she ruefully noted, not as drastic as some. Running her hands over her face, she recognised its shape, noting how it had changed. She was glad for the lack of mirrors; it felt more personal to her to be without them. As if these changes were for her to feel, not anyone to look at.

The sound of bubbling water broke her out of her reverie. Her meal, if indeed tofu and water could be called that, was ready and waiting for her. She quickly ate, noting just how hungry she was. Out for a while, clearly. Her meal out of the way, she turned her thoughts to the day ahead. She'd been given a timer, and had been told to wait at least a full day for the changes to take effect before emerging from her room.

With nothing else to do, she stretched out on the floor, spread-eagled. What had she done, so long ago, before all this? Before her life changed? Work out. She remembered how she used to exercise a lot before getting her cyberware. She raised her arm to look at it as she thought. Her muscles were all artificial, her nervous system had been replaced, and her bones had been modified. She was stronger, faster, and more flexible than most humans could ever be. It also meant she'd be strong, fast and flexible for the rest of her life, even if she didn't bother exercising. But still...

She quickly sat up, bending her legs and drawing her knees together. She placed her forehead against them and leaned back, before starting her familiar sit-up routine. She was moving faster than she remembered, and was rolling her back more than she expected. She straightened out her legs, and could still reach her knees with her forehead. Trying one more test, she parted them and continued her sit-ups, going from flat on the floor, reaching up, rolling forwards and pressing her forehead to the carpet.

She stopped and shook her head in disbelief. Had she done that? She hadn't really worked out since her modifications, so long ago, and it seemed hard to believe she'd changed so much since the old days. She quickly rolled over, and began her press-ups, noting the ease with which she lifted herself off the ground. After a while, she raised herself up on her fingertips and continued, noting her increased strength. She suddenly stopped mid-lift, supported above the ground only by her middle fingers and toes. What was it she'd seen once on TV? She carefully laid her hands flat, and lifted her legs up off the ground, until she was perfectly vertical. She took a deep breath and continued her press-ups.

When she finished, she had well lost track of time. She lay back on the bed, laughing at her performance. Who knew? All this time, and she'd never pushed herself like that. She couldn't help but feel elated, couldn't wait to get out of here and start her life. How long did she have left in here? She suddenly yawned. Where did that come from? After such a long sleep, she couldn't be tired again now...

Again, her eyes fluttered open. This time she was lying on her front, looking out at the room through her hair. Her hair? She reached up and felt her head. The stubble had regrown itself, thanks to the formula, and her new hair was now spread all over the bed. Rolling over, she could see it trailing down her side, longer than it had ever been before. Her skin had changed as well, reverting to the darker colour her friends had known so much better. But that would take nearly a day, she thought, even with the formula. Just how long had she been napping?

A loud growl answered her question. She was starving again. It was a quick matter to heat and devour the other two soy snacks. She stepped into the shower again, cleaning herself up to leave. As the water ran over her body, she couldn't help but fidget with her new long hair. She'd have to cut most of it off, after all. But then again, who said she had to be *exactly* the same? Maybe she'd keep some of it.

Soon enough, her timer beeped. Twenty-four hours of recuperation were up. For the first time since waking she put on the hospital gown and stepped up to the door. Taking a deep breath, readying herself for the outside world, Aoi stepped out.

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