Tin Man’s life flashed in memory the way that it always did when rebooting—at least, the part of his life stored within his crystal drive.
He had been traveling with Dorothy, climbing over a razor-backed ridge of gray karst rock, when the Chimeras struck—dropping from the low-hanging fog.
The first inkling of attack came when a huge weight slammed into his back, knocking him over a precipice onto sharp boulders, and suddenly a Baboon was biting at his throat with dirty yellow fangs, hissing “Die, you motherfu—”
Its hands smelled of dung and filth; its breath stank of morning kimchee.
It wrenched Tin Man’s head, as if trying to snap his neck with superhuman strength.
Tin Man was so shocked, he barely had time to shout a warning, “Dorothy!”
He activated the vibroblade on his axe and felt it hum to life in his hand.
Something batted the axe to the ground—a fluttering wing, enormous and bat-like. Only then did he realize that his attacker was a Chimera, a life-form cobbled together by a mechmage.
Dozens of others dropped out of the cloud forest, wings fluttering in a blur. They hurled Scarecrow to the ground, scattered his straw, and snatched up Toto and Dorothy.
Tin Man could not see the Lion and hoped that the coward had made his escape. As the Winged Baboon hit his kill switch, Tin Man marveled at his attackers.
They were perfectly fitted to their humid terrain, where mountain escarpments split the jungle. Such creatures, with DNA from humans, baboons, and giant bats—flying foxes perhaps?—would easily haul ore from the Witch’s bauxite and platinum mines.
Tin Man wondered, Do they even know how beautiful they are?
Dorothy’s eyes were flat blue, the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. Her young face was pale from shock, emotionless, framed by strawberry hair the color of bloodied water.
“Oh, Tin Man, are you all right?” she begged, leaning over him, trying to help him up. He pushed away her hands and tried to rise on his own power.
As he rebooted, memories burst upon him in waves—flashes of his past life as a machine—while sound files all roared at once, louder than the crashing of the sea.
All that came to him now were the mech-memories. Nothing from before, nothing from the days when there had still been a fleshy component to him.
Once, he had been a man. Then he lost a leg and had it replaced with cyberware. As he had aged, more parts came—an artificial lung here, a kidney there, drives and programs to enhance his failing memory—until only a shriveling brain had been left to the cyborg, powered by a dying heart.
He was not sure when he had quit defining himself as a man and accepted that he was a cyborg.