The good thing about being handicapped was that people were unlikely to say no to you. That was a lie. There was nothing good about being handicapped, least of all when people rushed to offer their assistance. But once in a while, you could take advantage of them, and then feel horrible about it afterwards.
Diana liked to do things herself. It was a way of taking control of her life. But there were some things she couldn’t do, for obvious reasons. Not in this world, at least.
The climbing instructor found it very hard to understand what Diana was going on about when she talked about wanting to climb the same as any able-bodied person. It was clear Diana couldn’t use her legs. She didn’t have any.
The instructor was ready to show the full range of grips and techniques for arms and upper-body. As a way to increase upper-body strength, climbing was an excellent form of exercise. There was a whole program to help climbers get stronger and to increase core stability. Surely that was what someone in a wheelchair would want to learn.
But Diana didn’t want half the program. She wanted to know about the whole thing. A whole person’s skills and techniques.
She tried to explain, but it was hard because of the NDA.
There was a new, experimental type of prosthetic limb, she told the instructor. That part was true. There were many, although none that Diana had ever found comfortable. She implied that she was in the process of learning how to use such limbs, and understanding the mechanics of climbing, something she had never done, would help her become more proficient. That was the angle she went with.
She kept the details vague. She didn’t want to lie. Not a full lie. Just half a lie. A half-person’s truth.
The instructor accepted Diana’s reasons. Why she needed to be convinced, Diana wasn’t sure. People wanted to feel things made sense, she supposed.
There was talk of a harness, of gear and breathing exercises. Diana didn’t want to actually climb the multi-coloured pretend wall they had at the centre, she just wanted to see how it was done. The instructor agreed to demonstrate.
Diana watched and asked questions. A lot of questions. The instructor was surprised at how detailed and specific they were. She showed Diana how to approach the problems, the very specific problems, that she wanted to know about.
It was amazing what the lithe woman could do with just her arms, but having legs made it even more impressive. There was nowhere the young wiry woman couldn’t reach. It was enough to make even a fit and healthy person envious. Not many people were this limber.
Diana videoed some of it on her phone. Just the important parts. She was wary of coming across as some weirdo who lied about robot limbs so she could take pictures of girls in yoga pants.
It was helpful to see how you were supposed to position your feet and legs for maximum power. It was all levers and correct sequencing. It was still very hard to put into practice, she soon discovered, even with an artificially superior body.
The other tool she hadn’t considered was friction. Fingers could hook and claw, but feet were harder to grip with. Her warrior’s boots were solid and heavy. Great for charging around a battlefield, not so useful for imitating Spider-man.
The instructor’s footwear had looked flimsy, but they stuck to the wall like glue. She could get purchase where there was nothing to cling to.
Going through her inventory, Diana pulled out numerous herbs and plants she considered useless, but had stored away just in case. Good thing, too.
She coated the soles of her boots until they were sticky and frankly disgusting. She would have to be quick, though. The more dirt they attracted, the less adhesive they would become.
It was the last night before her time was up. She leaned her hands against one wall and walked her feet up behind her on the wall opposite.
Slowly she went horizontal, pushing out from either end. She had chosen to make her character extra tall so she’d have a view of the world that had been denied to her in real life. It proved to be barely enough. Once she was in place, she inched her way up.
It was a matter of timing. She had to do it in the right order, with no pauses. If the pressure eased off, she would fall straight down. She could feel the bottom of the pit trying to pull her back, like there was a string tied to her belly button.
A couple of times she messed up and moved the wrong foot, the wrong hand, and only just managed to correct her mistake. It was easy to get confused with no practice.
When she reached the top, another problem presented itself. How to get out?
There was a lip she could feel with her fingertips, but she couldn’t get her head back enough to take a proper look. The muscles throughout her body burned angrily. That didn’t bother her too much. She liked the feeling. Her finger scurried a little higher, like spiders, and she hooked the ledge with the tips, just as she’d been shown. She let her feet fall, hefting herself up and over the lip.
She tumbled over the other side, and realised it was a wall, raised above the ground. Her well had been a tower.
The fall was as far as the climb. It was okay, though. She had built herself for power and endurance. Her health pool was very large. She hit the ground with a thud and a large red 64 floated off into the night sky. Not even half of what she had.
She lay there, looking up at the amazing starry sky. It was breathtaking, or would have been if the fall hadn’t winded her already.
“Persistent, aren’t you?”
Diana leaned her neck back to see the Old Alchemist standing there, upside down in her vision. At least this fight would be on the ground.
“Do you have a name?” asked Diana. “Old Alchemist seems a bit impersonal.”
“No. They never bothered to name me. They called me N-26 when they wanted something.”
Diana frowned. What kind of name was that? She sat up. “Do you want to fight now?”
“Not really. This way.” The Old Alchemist walked off. “You look like you could use a drink.”
Diana got to her feet and thought about drawing her weapon. She didn’t have much time left to complete the quest. But it felt impolite to kill her when she was serving beverages. Maybe later.