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<- Part I

Part III

The girl from the city had had nice eyes.

What was it she had said? Given or taken, that was it. Given or taken, given or taken…

In the end, it had been a very transactional affair. The drone had given their eye up willingly and had worked for her diligently with the replacement ocular until they died of- and she had made the surgeon perform an autopsy to check- “causes unrelated to the replacement of their eye”. Sometimes the Olristaan accused herself of forgetting which eye had been replaced but that was a lie. It was the green-gold one. The drone had had beautiful eyes. They had known it, too; it was why they had volunteered. She never forgot the price they had paid. It greeted her in every reflective surface.

Sometimes- rarely- she fancied that part of the drone lived on in her. But that was silly. They were dead, their body repaired, upgrades and alterations made and pushed back into service with a new name and a new brain. Their mind, housed in that odd, greyish gunk, was gone. She had worried about preserving it, perhaps as a reward for services rendered, partly to assuage her own guilt, but it was impossible. She knew of Olristaans who had transferred their minds to silicon but it never worked. All that remained was a deathmask of a person, a singular imprint, barely enough to walk straight, let alone lead. They were left unfit for service. Her drones often told the story about the cruel Olristaan who’s attempt at immortality had been cut short by a crafty drone who had tricked them into walking into a furnace by sweeping behind their feet, guiding their stumbling footsteps closer and closer to the heat as they issued nonsensical orders and lashed out at random. An amusing story.

But the city girl… ah. There had been something else about her, more than her probing an old scar. She watched as the dawdling engines of the transports ramped up into a deep, full-throated rumble, snatching together her wandering thoughts.

The Olristaan had little in the way of thaumic ability. Not enough for a spark, barely enough to sense the magic that clouded around some people like a stench. But she’d felt something in the girl when she’d touched her skin. It wasn’t raw power, that was sure. She’d seen that, felt that. That kind of thaumaturgy was metallic, acrid, like the smell of ozone clawing your mind. And she knew what talent was and this wasn’t it- the girl moved, acted, like you’d expect anyone leaving the deep, dark, atmosphere-moderated, temperature-controlled safety of a bandcity to move and act, albeit much more awkward. No. There was a core of something familiar in her that the Olristaan had sensed, something she was trying very, very hard to repress. Something in her eyes.

The Olristaan strode over to the lead transport and ducked into the cargo hold. She recognised the feeling that girl had exuded, the feeling that had seeped into wherever it was inside her that magic came from. It was hard to name it. Fear, perhaps? Desperation?

As she sent the order to move out in radio Blink and clambered up into the transport’s low cabin, crouching and settling into a seat at the back that was rather too small for her extended anatomy, she pondered the question further. Her world was falling apart- her life, the lives of her drones, at risk- but she could not stop thinking about the city girl’s grey eyes and what she had seen in them.

The transport left the gate and at last entered the wastes. The other two followed close behind. Then there was, but for regular checks, radio silence. A few hours later, when the outpost had long ago faded into the haze, the Olristaan realised and chuckled slightly.

It was guilt and denial. That was it. How amusing. She hoped that it didn’t make the little mage do anything irrational. On a hunch, she Blinked a brief message to the radio operator to scrub through news broadcast recordings from about a week ago concerning bandcities and waited. After about ten minutes of quadruple-speed news summaries the Olristaan held up a finger and the drone paused the reel. She reached over, rewound a little, pressed play, and listened.

The Olristaan would have widened her eyes if she could. “My, my, child,” she whispered. “That is… unexpected.” But the dates and description lined up too neatly for it to be coincidence. She licked her lips beneath her filter guard.

Little Scabs with the grey eyes and the magic. Did she know just how much blood was on those hands?

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