Updated: Feb 15
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“Hello Angel,” Dr. Jenever said when Igraine entered her bedroom.
With a sulking face, Igraine looked over the Doctor's quarters, corner by corner. At one end were Jenever’s office and library. On the other, her sleeping arrangements and toy atelier.
“Look how she is coming along.” The doctor held up a nearly finished stuffed doll.
Igraine froze. Its stitched mouth. The buttons used for the eyes. The girl couldn’t believe how similar the puppet looked to Anwin. As the doctor handed her the puppet, Igraine’s throat was choking up as a swell of emotions filled her chest. Despite being fourteen, Igraine was squeezing the stuffed toy for comfort.
“Come here,” said Dr. Jenever. “She still needs hair.”
“Can’t you buy that?” asked Igraine.
“Some things you can’t buy,” said the Doctor. “Besides, don’t you think she deserves a part of you?”
Compulsorily, Igraine rolled some ginger strands between her fingers.
Jenever looked her in the eyes. “It should have your hair, don’t you think?”
Hesitantly, Igraine nodded.
“Please, sit down,” said the doctor while reaching for a purse with grooming supplies. “Good thing you’ve been growing your hair.”
Igraine shivered when the doctor brushed the back of her neck. “Your hands are cold,” she remarked.
Jenever didn’t reply as she brushed her red locks, whispering, “This will look wonderful on her.”
It was the middle of the afternoon. Not that it mattered. All the waking hours in Sanctuary looked the same.
Igraine was stroking Anwin’s ginger mop as the doll was lying on her chest.
Anwin’s internal components were buzzing like a light bulb as she clenched herself to Igraine like a babe.
Usually, the doll was so rumbustious it made the Associate wonder how Anwin could be this peaceful when they went to bed. Her eyes shifted to the clock. “Two PM…” sighed Igraine. “I need to get back to work.”
As Igraine was carrying Anwin to her pen, the doll started to protest. “Don’t be difficult,” she warned while putting the doll down.
But Anwin stamped her feet vindictively.
Igraine used her manipulator to move the tennis ball closer to her, but the doll kicked it away in rejection.
Realizing the ball had lost its novelty, Igraine looked around for something to amuse the doll. Upon seeing her desk, she got an idea. “You want to draw?”
After a brief pause, Anwin nodded.
Igraine set the doll on the desktop. “Now. Here is your pencil and a sheet. You can only draw on this, alright? You get that, Anwin?”
Anwin was already reaching for the pencil.
“Alright, there you go.”
The doll struggled to hold the pencil in her three-fingered hands as she tried to scribble.
“The other end, dummy,” she said, turning the pencil around.
And so Anwin put her first lines to paper. While Igraine was going over a rapport, the doll doodled away while laying on her tummy with her feet in the air.
Reading over a report, Igraine tried to immerse herself in the ongoing investigation. But all she could think about was Anwin, and what to do with her if she were to visit any location. She looked to her side when Anwin was pulling at her sleeve to show her a depleted pencil tip.
“Need me to sharpen it for you? What did you draw?”
The doll proudly held up the paper that was nothing but a cloud of poorly shaped circles and scribbled lines.
“Oh, that’s…” Igraine was reminded of a family gathering when she was nine or ten. Back home, her family, consisting of qualified magi active in various branches of government, had gathered to congratulate her older sister, who had just finished school. Igraine wanted some of that praise as well. But without a manipulator or academic interests, she would impress them with her latest drawing. After getting the room's attention, she got to show the family her creation. But instead of the acknowledgment and praise she expected, their faces contorted.
This was the oldest and strongest memory of rejection she possessed. The looks of disapproval from her family. The embarrassment of her parents. And Igraine was so proud of it too. From that moment on, Igraine became increasingly aware that she wasn’t living up to even the most minimal expectations of her family or educators.
“That’s… Alright.” Igraine sharpened the pencil and handed it back to the doll. “How about you try drawing me now?”
The doll nodded and then lay down to start on her assignment. A moment later, Anwin was pulling at Igraine's sleeve again.
Igraine frowned her eyebrows as she studied the crude drawing of a stick figure, probably resembling Anwin. Beside her was a more prominent figure that, instead of a head, was crowned with two crudely drawn eyes with a remarkable attempt at detail. Her right eye had an iris, corona, and even veins, while the left was an attempt to portray the details of her ocular implant. She lowered the drawing. “Is this how you see me, Anwin?”
The doll looked at her as if she didn’t understand the question.
Igraine reached for the folder related to Anwin. “Let’s keep it safe, alright,” she said while adding the drawing to the report. “You know what? Let's go outside for a change.” She reached inside a drawer of her closet. There, beside a pair of rudimentary leather puppet shoes, Igraine had a small rag doll with a fluffy bunny head that looked like something a baby might have chewed on. But she hadn't found this doll among the other of Dr. Jenever's toys but her grooming utensils. Still, it looked appropriate for Anwin. But for now, she just showed Anwin the shoes. “Look what I found in storage. Let's get them on!”
After struggling to get Anwin dressed, the doll was walking unevenly on her new footwear.
“That’s so your feet won’t get dirty. You know what else it does?”
Anwin shook her head.
“It makes little dolls fly!” Anwin was spreading her arms as Igraine used her manipulator to lift the doll through the air right into the pram. Anwin was looking intrigued at her new shoes as Igraine headed for the surface elevator.
Upon approaching the exit, the guard of duty looked at the pram. His eyebrows rose in surprise as Anwin waved at him. “Associate. Is, that, allowed outside?”
“It's for research purposes,” she replied.
Shaking his head, he reached for the door controls. “Of course, Associate.”
As they entered the gloomy platform of the surface elevator, Anwin looked at Igraine.
“Don’t worry. We are going to see something beautiful,” she assured her. But when the iron-cast elevator roared to life, Anwin ran up to her, demanding to be comforted.
Holding Anwin to her shoulder, she waited till they had reached the Bastion above ground. A moment later, Igraine was squeezing her eyes against the sunlight and entered the inner court of Pendleton Manor.
Igraine smiled as she watched Anwin motionless peering at the sky. This reminded her of a time leading a group of Scavs to the surface of Elysium. They had lived in the tunnels of Elysium's underworld for so long that the infinite sky terrified even the bravest of them. Her smile faded when thoughts of Nier came to mind. “You like it, Anwin?” Igraine asked the doll who was distracted by the flight of ducks passing overhead. She sat down on the bench. “Alright then.” Leaning back, she closed her eyes to enjoy the warm glow of the sun. After a while, she heard the pram creaking.
When she checked, she saw Anwin flapping her arms like a bird. “You want to fly?”
“Alright!” Igraine unclasped her manipulator and lifted the doll from the pram. Anwin reached for the leaves drifting her by as Igraine moved her friend around in circles before guiding her into her lap. Satisfied, the doll sat down, allowing Igraine some peace. Sitting there half asleep, Igraine felt a presence. When she opened her eyes, the silver-haired girl, under Miss Taylor’s supervision, was standing in front of her. She was looking at Anwin while holding a stuffed doll of her own. “Oh, hello.”
Startled, the girl looked Igraine in the eyes.
“Were you looking at Anwin?”
After a pause, the girl nodded.
“What’s your doll's name?”
The girl hesitantly raised the doll’s head in front of her mouth. “Dol-ly,” she whispered.
“Oh.” Igraine was surprised she spoke English. “Where is Miss Taylor and your brother?”
“Jacub is not my brother…” she replied.
“Oh… What’s your name?”
“Hello Esa, I am Associate 244.”
Her eyes lit up. “Mr. Bird was an Associate too.”
“Mr. Bird?” Igraine assumed it was how children called him. “Did he bring you here?”
The girl nodded.
Meanwhile, Anwin was reaching for the other doll.
“Anwin! I told you, you can not just take other people’s toys.”
Esa’s big eyes stared at Anwin while concealing her face behind Dolly.
“Anwin, why don’t you say hello to Esa and Dolly? Wave your hand at them. That’s right. Good girl.”
Esa made Dolly wave back. “How do you do that?” she asked.
Igraine smiled. “Anwin is a… She is really alive. Aren’t you, Anwin?”
“Good. Esa, do you mind if Anwin can hold Dolly?”
The girl agreed, and together they put both dolls in the pram. Anwin touched Dolly, but when nothing happened, she seemed somewhat bewildered. Igraine considered explaining this to Anwin but realized she was about to tell the doll that she and Beta were the only ones of their kind.
“Esa!” cried Miss Taylor from behind the shrubbery.
Without saying a word, the girl grasped her doll from the pram and ran off.
Igraine got up as well and pushed the pram hobbling across the brick square. “Sorry, Anwin. I’m just not in the mood to speak with Miss Taylor,” she said as the doll was bouncing on the mattress.
Back underground, Igraine was pushing the pram into the common area. Seeing its glossy interior and angular patterns connecting every surface into a cohesive whole made her melancholy. This was the only safe place for Anwin. The doll’s only blessing was she lacked awareness of her predicament, for now. Although Igraine was fully aware of how privileged she was, this was not the life she had chosen for herself. She remembered what an old flame of hers once told her. Only in Arkology could she build a legacy for herself. She didn’t want to acknowledge it, but he might be right.
A vibration ran through the pram’s handle as Anwin was bouncing up and down on the mattress again. But just when Igraine wanted to stop her, she spotted a woman sitting at a table in the common area, attended by an oriental manservant. Her left leg had been fitted with a metal brace, and a crutch was leaning against her chair. Despite being Igraine’s age, she dressed like a soldier from past wars, down to wearing a blue tailcoat with red epaulets. It was just one of the eccentricities that made Igraine keep her distance from the girl who would become the 7th chairman of the Association of Ishtar.
The Chairman looked up from the book she was reading.
“Oh, Associate 244.”
Igraine sighed and turned around. “Oui, Chairman.”
“Don’t we say good day anymore?” She asked while her servant was pouring tea. “Care to join me?”
Igraine forced a smile. “I’d be delighted.”
As Igraine was sitting down, Letzia was eying Anwin, who in turn was curious about the chairman’s uniform. “I heard about your new friend,” she remarked.
“Of course you have. But surely not anything that concerns the chair’s attention?”
“Are you aware of C-243’s origins, Associate?”
“Then you know the ones who delivered C-243 to Istanbul are still at large.”
“I assumed it was Riche, Bosset, & Suun?”
“We would have made them admit it if they did. No, I suspect an old acquaintance of mine is involved.”
“It doesn’t matter right now,” Letzia said. “ Maybe I’ll tell you about it some other time when I have more proof. For now, I want you to investigate a suspected Rift location.”
“I am in the middle of something,” Igraine said instinctively.
“We’ll find accommodation for your ward,” the Chairman assured her.
“We might locate traces of P-25.”
Igraine’s eyes became larger. “Where?
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