41. Phoenix Rising
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Hey all, just a quick update for you. I am in process of buying a house and moving! This is great for me, but does mean that there may be some delays in upcoming chapters. I am very sorry about that, but it is what it is. Rest assured I am still working hard to finish Slipspace and it really is getting to its end. More is still to come and I even have a new story coming down the pipeline!

Thank you all for your generous support and never forget that you are amazing!

-Jessica Rae

Everything felt strange. I was not only feeling an odd sense of dissociation having, to my perspective, moved from one side of the room to the other without having ever actually moved. Additionally though, I was really not quite able to move. Everything felt jumbled to my mind. Touches were fuzzy and dislocated, limbs didn’t quite match up with where my brain thought they should be. About the only thing I was able to experience without significant effort was sight. Evidently, the non-biological components of my new eyes eased the communication difficulties.

This was to be expected, however. I knew well that it would take time to acclimate to my new body. There was a reason that the rehabilitation process was almost as long as the time needed to prepare for the procedure in the first place. Sure, I was in my new body, but I would have to relearn how to be a human before I would be able to use it efficiently. I could hardly care less, though. This was a dream come true and I couldn’t be happier.

Despite really wanting to ask how I looked, I couldn’t make my mouth and vocal cords work together to form the sounds and could only manage a quiet hum.

My friend apparently spoke mumble fluently, though, and managed to translate well enough so that she could answer me. “You look great, Adresta. I don’t think you are going to have any reason to complain.”

Eyes flickering over to the other face hovering over the pod, I discovered that Doctor Hayes also spoke fluent mumble and she smiled at me in turn. “It looks like the process went as smoothly as anyone could hope. We’ll have to do some more testing over the next few days, but initial data shows that your neural migration was a complete success.

Things were still off, but my soul felt at home finally and I knew that things really would be okay.

“Now comes the hard part for you, Miss Matson. Our task is finished. You just have to do rehabilitation. I hope you are ready, it’s rather awkward at times. You can’t talk right now, I am aware, but do remember,” the doctor said with a smirk, “you already agreed to all of this when you got here.”

That I had, but I was more than willing to put up with anything they threw at me after being given perhaps the biggest gift I’d ever received. So began the next phase of my time at the Celeste Institute.

Bodily awareness exercises were the first parts of rehab to begin and they started almost immediately after I was taken out of the pod. As with the tests I’d done with the biotechnician, instruments were used to stimulate sensory responses from bits of skin. Only this time, it wasn’t just a sample section. I found out quickly that my new skin was a lot more sensitive in some places than before and a number of ticklish spots were discovered, mostly on my sides and behind the knees of all places.

Much to my embarrassment, the medical assistants had to make sure that every inch of my body was responding appropriately, so there were some times that a female tech was brought in specifically to poke and prod at more sensitive areas of my body. The woman did make a few jokingly lewd comments about me needing an intimate partner to probe deeper at some point, but was otherwise entirely professional.

Speech therapy started soon after. I was anxious to get that done not only because I wanted to hear my new voice, but also because not being able to communicate effectively with my caretakers got old very quickly. Five days post-transfer, I was able to talk again. It wasn’t completely smoothed out yet and some sounds were still difficult, but the dulcet mezzo-soprano that felt most comfortable for my new vocal chords was music to my ears and lightyears better than the low-end tenor I had managed before after some voice training.

The physical exercises began around the same time as well. Gross motor skills came easily enough to me, but I knew that the fine motor skills would take time to tune in. What that meant for me practically though was that I was starting to get some independence back. No more was I forced to be fed through a nutrient line in my arm. I had graduated to soft foods, though they weren’t much improvement taste-wise.

On day six I was allowed to actually eat solid food. My first meal consisted of macaroni and cheese, some crackers and pudding for dessert. Simple though it was, the meal was amazing after spending far too long surviving on what equated to baby food. I’d hated the stuff in the hospital, and while it was better quality at the Institute, it wasn’t a huge difference and I was thrilled to get back that bit of normalcy.

Even after only a month of being stuck with a single arm, it felt odd at first having my right arm back. The added strangeness of the difference in reach made for a number of funny situations where I would reach for something with my left hand, be unable to reach it, and then realize that I could much easier grab it with my right.

Day seven saw me standing up on my own feet again finally. I was unsteady, but the new position allowed me to, at long last, get a good and proper look at myself in a mirror.

To say I was impressed was an understatement. I had gone from an average looking typically male body to a well above average female presenting one. Out of a fit of childish impulsiveness, I had made the eyes of my body image file a bright purple. Now, brilliant amethyst irises glittered back at me in the mirror from behind the chestnut brown locks that now framed my face.

The readily apparent cyberware exposed in my neck wasn’t as distracting as I had feared, though the wiring that made up my new sub-vocal communications suite did quite obviously mark me as an augment rather than a baseline human. It was strange to see my skin so entirely unblemished by the scars I had received over my years, but it was blissful to touch it and feel the soft give I now possessed rather than the thickened and life-worn dermal layer I had worn before.

Every time I shifted position I was rather happily reminded of my new feminine assets, too. Despite having lost a good forty kilos and fourteen centimeters of height, my hips were significantly larger than before. I constantly caught them on the support rails I was using to relearn how to walk with an entirely new gait. Of course, the breasts that hung from my chest were a wonderful addition to my life and, despite them being somewhat smaller than I would have liked, I was thrilled for them to be there. Going through potty training for a second time was a bit embarrassing, but I found the equipment involved to be more than satisfactory.

What may have been my favorite part of the whole recovery process though, aside from the euphoria I got from my new body, was Echo being by my side the entire time. She laughed at me while I unsteadily took my first unassisted steps since the transfer. I was mercilessly teased every time she caught me (completely innocently) touching myself in sheer wonder at my new form. On the night of my first proper bath, I even got to experience the absolute bliss of having my hair brushed out by the incredible woman. I could have sat in that chair forever just to keep feeling her hands pulling the brush through my shoulder-length hair.

Even better were the small touches of affection we shared. We hadn’t really talked about us, but it was obvious that something had changed. The hugs felt just a bit warmer, the smiles a little brighter. We would brush up against each other and my skin would tingle ever so slightly. When we looked at each other, our eyes would linger just a little longer than strictly necessary. She was giving me time and space to readjust, but I knew that something more was still yet to come.

Day eleven saw my release from the rehabilitation ward and I was allowed to return to my quarters with Echo. There would still be another couple days to make sure I was fully settled in my new body, but I was otherwise cleared to start simply living my own life. Thankfully, the Institute had provided some comfortable, though simplistic, clothes for me to wear post transfer. I’d need to go shopping quickly after leaving, but I was clothed in the meantime. Since I was still a little unsteady on my feet, I still had to lean on an assistant to make it the entire distance to the residence wing, but we made the trek without issue. For the first time in nearly two weeks, I was finally given some privacy with the girl I had grown so attached to.

Sitting on the couch with Echo felt so much different now. I was comfortable in ways I could hardly describe, both with my body and the girl I was next to. Never in my life had I felt so entirely content in my life. For the sake of my recovery, I had put all of my other troubles out of mind, to be dealt with another time. Without that negativity clouding my mind, I could just relax and allow myself to experience complete peace.

Both of us were in pajamas and curled up on the couch under a large fluffy blanket and holding mugs of hot tea in hand. What had begun as another night of games and movies had devolved into us just sitting around, trading stories about recovery post-transfer. I entirely failed to keep the silly grin off my face, not that I was really trying to. I was enjoying this moment far too much to bother. Echo seemed to pick up on that too because for a minute, we just sat in companionable silence.

It wasn’t to last though. My companion’s voice reached my ears with a soft tone that communicated far more feelings than mere words could.

“You know that I like you, right Addy?” she started. “Because I really do. I think you are an incredible woman that has survived so much in your life and overcome horrible circumstances to become a truly wonderful person despite your past.”

I swallowed thickly and blushed. “I uh.. Thank you… I think you are pretty nova too.” The words felt inadequate in light of Echo’s statement, but my heart was pounding too much to think clearly.

Her hand found mine and grasped it like one might a treasured possession. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I would consider it before. Seeing you over the last week, seeing you just absolutely come to life, it’s made me really happy. Thank you for letting me be here with you.”

Making words actually come out of my mouth was becoming difficult and, for a moment, it was all I could do to nod in response. Once I did find my tongue again though, I said what I had really wanted to ever since the morning of my transfer.

“What happened, the night before transfer day, I don’t think I was quite ready. My nerves were all over the place, I was too aware of my old body… I just couldn’t do it.”

I met her eyes with nothing but my raw emotions showing on my face. She nodded understandingly and waited for me to continue.

“D-do… Do you think we could try again?”

In that moment, I could almost hear her heart melting in time with mine and Echo looked back at me with an expression I would never forget as long as I lived.

“Oh Addy…” It was all she could say with her words, but the girl’s actions spoke far louder and more clearly.

I felt her hand brush against my cheek and I leaned in. There was no hesitation this time. I had no excuses to shy away, nor did I want to. I was me, at long last, truly and wholly me. My feelings were real and undeniable. I could tell just looking at her that Echo’s were too.

Her lips were soft against mine when they finally met in the middle and I could have died happy right then and there. Luckily, my greedy heart got much more than just that small touch.

We stayed like that for a bit before somehow mutually silently agreeing to back away. Words had gotten hard again, but I bravely pushed a few out. “So… does that make us…?”

A small laugh came from Echo as she smiled, a look that outshone any star I’d ever seen. “Yeah, if you want it to. I would like to try.”

I nodded enthusiastically. “I’d like that very much. Does that mean I can kiss you again?”

The laugh wasn’t as small this time. “Yes, yes it does.”

And so I leaned in again and gave a much fiercer kiss to my new girlfriend.

Gosh, I loved the Celeste Institute.