Savek found herself standing at the mouth of the cave when she woke. The first touch of violet pre-dawn was sharpening the horizon. She stared at the Hive construct, her head crooked as her eyes traced the languid movement of its concentric metal turbines. She inhaled its luminous green vapor.
She remembered putting in a full day's work on the Ketch, carefully disassembling the remnants of the gyroscopic stabilization system. The delicate assignment required her normally sure-handed touch, but that day, she was distracted and unfocused. In a moment of inattention, she cracked the gyroscope's ceramic housing, reducing its resale value by half.
"You've ruined it. That's coming out of your share." Kosis was suddenly standing behind her. How long had Savek been staring at the broken gyroscope?
"Flaws diminish the salvage; half portion of Ether and double guard shift. Another mistake, and we leave you behind." Those last words were less literal and more a euphemism mutated over time through Eliksni cultural drift. The Dregs lowered their heads as Kosis strode off in the direction of the Ether tanks, then turned their palms toward Savek in sympathy.
Savek remembered dragging her exhausted body to her guard post. She remembered watching the lazy debris of the Reef float by. She remembered speaking with someone in the darkness. Someone reassuring and powerful. Who was it?
She tore her eyes away from the obelisk and surveyed her body in the thin morning light. Her dry skin flaked. Connective tissue wasted at her joints, and a sickly crust had developed around her mandibles. She was emaciated from lack of sleep and Ether. Her hunger was a void, slowly filling with green vapor.
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