Victoria awoke feeling slightly sluggish, but still well-rested. While she hadn’t gotten quite enough sleep, she had slept soundly. She stretched luxuriously and reached out to turn off the alarm just before it went off right at 6:59.
“Good morning Adam!” She wasn’t sure if he would get the message or not but she had a hunch that he had something to do with her being so rested. She tried to link to her phone to text Eugene, but found the software missing.
She really had almost killed herself with that damn program. Lieutenant Karlgaard was going to get a piece of her mind when she saw her next. Grabbing her Epic, she texted Eugene so he would know she was awake, she made her way to the bathroom and took a very hot shower. When she got back to the bedroom she saw Eugene had sent her a message.
“I’m having breakfast in 20 minutes at the Bistro on the main floor. Meet me there?”
She texted back “Sure, give me 30 though.” Now to tackle the problem of what to wear, Victoria had a sneaking suspicion she was going to need to show off the entire spinal column and that was going to involve exposing her back from brainstem to sacrum; not an enticing idea in an auditorium full of bioengineers and robotics designers. Wrapping a towel around herself she wandered out into the main room. To her surprise she saw a small stack of boxes on the coffee table.
She read the note attached to the top box. “Huh, who knew Dmitri was such a thoughtful guy.” Opening the box she gasped in surprise, the biggest package was labeled Emilio Pucci… it was a dress and had to have cost at least a few thousand dollars. There were also shoes from Badgley Mischka, a purse by Giani Bernini and low rise panties that would work with the dress which had a back that tied around the neck was scooped all the way to just before the end of her prosthetic.
“It’s a little creepy to have a guy I don’t really know sending me underwear Dmitri, but at least you have good taste.” She muttered under her breath.
She couldn’t resist and put on the entire outfit. To her amazement everything fit perfectly. “How did you know? Even down to me needing a swoop backed dress. The shoes are just right too which is crazy because I can’t even buy shoes that fit half the time.”
As she turned to survey the results in the mirror, unable to keep the smile off her face, Victoria noticed one more box on the table. It was small and flat and had been underneath the others. “For extra luck.” Said the note attached to the top.
She opened the box and almost dropped it. Hanging from a delicate chain was a gold and silver pendant styled to look like a microchip. The detail was so fine she could barely see it. The chain was just long enough for the pendant to be displayed right in the hollow of her throat. It had to be custom work; she didn’t recognize the tiny signature stamp on the back.
With a quick application of makeup and a couple of bobby pins to hold some wayward tresses out of her eyes, Victoria gave her reflection a critical look. Well one thing was for sure, she was going to turn some serious heads. After a moment’s consideration, Victoria decided not to wear anything over the dress. To hell with hiding; she wanted people to see how beautiful this prosthetic was. She quickly transferred her makeup, wallet, room key and cell phone into the new purse and with one last glance at herself headed out of the room.
It was still early, but there were a few people out and about. Most of them were families and the few in formal dress were either hotel employees or patrons coming back from a late night. As she approached the elevator the door opened revealing a man wearing a rumpled suit who reeked of booze and cigarettes.
“Holy shit, ain’t you all kinds of fucking gorgeous.”
Before she could do more than glare at him, a family exited a room behind her and she heard a child’s voice, “Wow, look at that girls back mommy!”
“Shhh honey, it’s not nice to point.” The boy’s father was trying to whisper but in the quiet of the hallway he might as well have shouted.
“Your dress is really pretty lady!” The little boy was wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap with Pokemon characters on it.
Victoria turned and smiled at him, “Thank you. I like your hat, what’s your favorite Pokemon?”
“What the FUCK is that?” The drunk was staring at her back like she had a live cobra slithering down it.
“Watch your mouth around little ones you jerk!” Victoria reached inside the elevator and slapped the door close button, “Jeez, some people!”
The next elevator arrived a few seconds later and she stepped inside. Glancing back, she saw both parents grab a hand of the little boy, “We’ll get the next one.”
Victoria heard the boy say “But why daddy? She was nice.” The elevator door closing cut off the reply. She sighed; immediate acceptance was expecting a bit much wasn’t it?
The elevator stopped three times to let more people on but Victoria kept her back to the wood paneled wall, leaning on the rail and pretending to examine her fingernails. Most of the men who got onboard stared at her anyway, but at least it wasn’t because of her prosthetic.
The door opened and her phone rang at the same time. It was Eugene, “Good morning Eugene, what’s up?” She waited for most of the other people to get off, shifting her phone from her left hand to her right.
“Just wondering where you are, I’ve been waiting here for almost fifteen minutes.”
“It’s not my fault you got there too soon.” She said with a laugh, “I told you to give me thirty minutes, I’m actually ten minutes early.”
“Sorry, I’m just a little nervous this morning. Now I know how my parents felt when they sent me to kindergarten.” He really did sound nervous; almost panicked.
“No worries Doc, I’m just getting off the elevator. Can you order me a double cappuccino? I need my caffeine fix. I’ll be there in five.” Victoria hung up and stepped out of the elevator.
She wasn’t used to a three inch heel but surprisingly had very little difficulty maintaining her normal long strides. The thigh length dress whispered against her skin and the shoes struck a commanding cadence on the marble of the main foyer.
Feeling conspicuous, she glanced around out of the corners of her eyes and from what she could see every single person in the room was watching her. It gave her a thrill even though it was an uncomfortable feeling to be so much the center of attention.
The morning sun was streaming through the three story tall bank of windows at the front of the hotel and as she approached the bistro a man in a sharp looking restaurant uniform approached.
“May I get you a table miss?”
“No, that’s OK I’m meeting someone and he’s already here waiting for me.” Victoria gave him a smile and pointed to a table in full sun where Eugene sat smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee.
“Very good, allow me.” He offered his arm and she laid her hand on it, letting him lead her to the table. She heard a sudden intake of breath when she stepped in front of him so he could pull out her chair, but he made no comment about her prosthetic.
Eugene started when she sat, he had been staring off into space obviously lost in thought.
“Victoria, you look stunning! Where on Earth did you get that dress? It’s quite… daring I must say.”
“You like it? It’s a present from Dmitri, who knew he had such good taste?” She resisted the urge to stand up and twirl in a circle to show off the full effect. “I didn’t know you smoked, you really should quit you know?”
He stubbed out the cigarette and gave her a guilty look, “Yeah, I actually quit about five years ago, I’ve just been stressing out lately and falling back on old habits.” A waiter arrived with a steaming cappuccino on a tray and set it before Victoria with a flourish.
“Pardon me but would you like anything for breakfast Miss?”
“I’m actually ravenous; can I get an order of steak and eggs, meat rare, eggs over hard with a side of bacon?” The waiter blinked in surprise. “Sorry I know it’s not really Bistro fare, but I’m really hungry.” She gave him a winning smile.
“Certainly. Sir, are you just having coffee?”
“Yeah, could you leave me a carafe?” He was spinning a black Zippo lighter around and around between his thumb and middle finger and staring out the window again.
“Eugene. Hey Doc!” He jumped like she’d poked him, “Take it easy, everything’s going to be fine today. Seriously, you’re making ME nervous. What’s up?”
“There’s just so much riding on today you know? Say, ‘The Kai’ doesn’t mean anything to you does it?”
Victoria felt as though someone had tapped her on the inside of her forehead. “It sounds sorta familiar, why?”
“I just heard someone mention it and it’s been bugging me ever since.” He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair.
Reaching across the table, Victoria took his hand, “Hey.” He looked straight into her eyes, “It’s going to be OK. Better than OK, today is going to be epic!”
“Well they certainly aren’t going to be prepared for you that’s for damn sure.” He gave her a roguish grin, “How the hell did Dmitri get your size so accurately?” A frown flickered across his brow at the mention of her former schoolmate.
“I dunno; he must be really lucky. The shoes even fit perfectly!” Deciding not to mention the fact that she was probably wearing five or six thousand dollars’ worth of clothes and accessories she took a sip of her cappuccino and sighed in complete satisfaction, “This coffee is absolutely amazing.”
Eugene looked at her, “Are you ready for today?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? It’s not like this is some stage performance right? All I have to do is show them my capabilities and you do some talk about how it works, or is there something more that I’m missing?”
“There may be some people who want to question you about the procedure, your recovery time, integration, any problems you might be experiencing and who knows what other things they’ll come up with.” He chewed a hangnail and gave her a circumspect look.
“Do you want me to tell them?” His eyes widened, “I’m only teasing Eugene, I can just show them my daily records. Hell I could even jack in and show them historical reporting if they wanted.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. They have a projector system in there that I was going to use to show my technical papers and talking points.” He was beyond whatever misgivings he’d been having and on to the science and thoughts of showing off his invention.
“I haven’t done a diag yet today so they could see an unscripted unprepared live demo. What do you think of that? I mean it’d be a bit of a chance but it’d definitely show our confidence in the system and its performance.” She said.
“You really have thought of everything haven’t you?” Eugene asked, taking a big swallow of coffee.
“I’m trying. This is kind of a big deal for me too; maybe not as big as it is for you but it’s very important to us to make a good first impression.”
“Toria, I need to talk to you about something.” She looked at him over her coffee mug and raised an eyebrow. “You keep referring to yourself as ‘us’ … and it’s a bit disconcerting to be honest.”
She was about to reply when her food arrived, interrupting the conversation. After the waiter set everything down as well as a full carafe of coffee, Victoria realized he was right.
“Huh, I guess I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately. I didn’t even notice, I wonder if anyone else has.” After the first bite of her steak the rest of it seemed to evaporate. It was delicious and she had finished the meal before the waiter even had the chance to come ask if she was enjoying the food.
“Well, I guess we should get going? I need to stop by my room before we go so I can clean my teeth and fix my makeup.” Victoria was standing up while Eugene was signing the bill. The waiter paused, and then turned to her.
“I was talking to Dr. Arlington before you got here; I just wanted to say I really appreciate what you’re doing. My brother got paralyzed by an IED in Iraq and this kind of technology would change his life. So thanks for taking the risk and having the operation done. It takes some real courage to attempt something like that.” With that he turned and walked briskly back into the restaurant.
She was so stunned that she didn’t know how to respond. Eugene came to stand next to her, smiling from ear to ear.
“It’s that kind of appreciation that really makes what we do worthwhile. You really did take a chance on me Victoria and he’s right. It takes a lot of courage to be the first to try an untested, unknown piece of technology like this.” His smile got wider, crinkling the corners of his eyes, “I will never forget how sincere your gratitude was when you were first leaving the hospital. I promise not to let you down.”
He took her hand and the contact was almost like an electric shock. “Come on, I want to get into the auditorium early so we can make sure we’re all set to go. We need to stop back by our rooms to get the equipment too.”
She followed him, not letting go of his hand. His enthusiasm pulling her along as though it was a physical force. “Well Adam, here we go!” She thought, “Time to reveal ourselves to the world!”