Cas looked around at her former cohorts, memories of her time with them gradually returning. She blinked, tried to shake the fog from her head, and sighed.
“Be kind to yourself, friend,” Bertie said, stepping forward. “We know you’re not on the most even footing, so to speak, and things are coming back gradually. For the best, you know, since unlocking all of your memories at once would be quite dangerous.”
Maeve scoffed. “What kindness did she afford us? Were we not but pawns in this ordeal?”
Bertie opened his mouth, but stopped short as Cas raised a hand.
“I barely remember you,” Cas said. Maeve’s lips curled into a sneer. “It would seem I’ve wrong you in some way, however, and I’d be open to discussing that further.” She hesitated.
“Beyond the injuries I caused you recently,” Cas added. “I’m…Er, I’m glad to see you appear to have recovered.”
Raph stepped between the two. “See? What nice progress this has been.”
Bertie chuckled. “We’re on something of a tight schedule, I fear,” he said. “Gavin’s untimely expiration is undoubtedly a sign that Vittorio something’s amiss.”
Cas shook her head. “What is it you need from me next, then?” she asked. “I know it’s my fault the Earth is burning, but what can I do now?”
Bertie chuckled softly, the sound a sour humor–sadness mixed with his amusement. “The best person to answer that is dead,” he said. He smiled. “You took his eye, though, didn’t you?”
Cas reached into her pocket and found what she was looking for by a familiar cold to the touch feeling. She removed Gavin’s cybernetic eye from her pocket and held it up. It vibrated gently in her grasp as small points of light traced paths along the eye’s surface. The pupil lit up, dim at first, and then shot forth a beam of light that pointed ahead.
“Best not dally,” Bertie said. “Battery life on those was never terrific without a power source. We’ll wait right here for you.”
“That’s a conversation for you and Gavin only,” Raph said in response to Cas’ raised eyebrow.
Cas took a step forward along the corridor as she followed the light from the eye. The beam went to the end of the hall, visible as a point of red light where it stopped. When Cas reached the wall, the eye unexpectedly swiveled in her grasp. She nearly dropped it, but managed to hold fast. It pointed to the left-leading corridor, and so Cas followed. She reached the corner, and followed the corridor to the right until she reached another corner. The eye lead her to the halfway point of the corridor and then swiveled to face the wall.
The point of light, Cas noticed, was larger and now formed a flickering X.
“Marks the spot, I suppose,” Cas said. She pressed the eye against the wall, expecting some explosive response. Fanfare. Drama.
Instead she was met with a soft click. A section of wall retreated into the ceiling, and beyond the opening it left was a modest office space. A wooden desk sat in the center of the room. Cas approached and could see it was hand-carved, meticulously and with love of the craft. A small, metal tree stood devoid of leaves on the left side of the desk. A semi-spherical indent interrupted the mess of branches at the tree’s crown.
Cas inhaled as she placed the eye into what looked to be its resting spot, and watched as its light went out.
“Shit,” she muttered. “Tell me the damned battery died.”
Light poured forth from the eye, focused on a single point. It build upwards from the floor, gaining depth and definition until a very lifelike holographic projection of Gavin stood before Cas.
“Hello, Commander,” the projected Gavin said. “If you’re seeing this recording, you likely know I am dead.”
Cas sighed. “And it’s likely my fault.”
The holo-Gavin rolled his eyes and huffed. “I figured I could milk that joke for at least another line or two of dialogue, but no,” he said. “You had to go and rain on my parade. When did you get so dour?”
Cas blinked, stepping back.
“Memory core in the old eye,” holo-Gavin said. “Good for one last conversation. Before we get too far into this…” He gestured at a shelf built into the wall. There were several books and file folders, all analog which was a curious sight given that most everything else was stored in the form of data.
“The one titled ‘The Mysteries of the Isles’,” Gavin instructed.
Cas pulled the book from its resting spot and was surprised it had as much weight to it as it did. She carefully placed it on the desk, and when she opened it she was not met with pages but two crystal glasses and a small decanter.
“Might as well break out the good stuff,” holo-Gavin muttered. “I figured we’d be enjoying it under different circumstances, but I was never very good at gambling. Have a glass for me, would you? You’ll hate it.”
Cas complied, not fully certain as to why. She opened the decanter and was met with a smell like fire and rotting wood. She wrinkled her nose as she poured a modest measure into a glass, then held the glass up and swirled its contents. Before she could let her reservations get the better of her, Cas took a long drink from the glass. It tasted as it smelled, and burned her mouth in a way that made her eyes water and her nose run.
“One of the last bottles of scotch from Earth,” holo-Gavin said. “No age indication, as there was no need. It was one of a small handful. Cost me a small fortune.” He chuckled.
“I told you that you’d hate it, though,” holo-Gavin added.
Cas winced as she powered through the rest of the glass. She poured herself a second one. “To you,” she said as she held it aloft. She sipped it this time, and noticed it was less offensive. Less painful.
“I have so many questions,” Cas conceded.
Holo-Gavin shook his head, motes of dust moving through him where he stood. “If only we had the time.”
“Humor me,” Cas said. “Even just a little.”
“Perhaps, but only a little,” holo-Gavin said. “One question, and then I tell you what you need to know. Then…”
Cas frowned. “Then it’s goodbye, yes?”
Holo-Gavin nodded. “There you go getting all dour again,” he said. “What’s your question? Make it count.”
Cas considered her options. Ever since she had woken up to only the command for her to follow the ashes, and ever since Gavin had begun to pursue her, he had remained something of a mystery. Even with her memories coming back, she wasn’t sure who the real Gavin was or what motivated him.
Holo-Gavin tapped his wrist, and a small timer displayed in the air. It did not have much time left to it.
“I know,” Cas said at last. “Don’t laugh at me, though.”
“Oh ho ho, this should be good,” holo-Gavin said.
Cas held up a finger, and holo-Gavin stopped chuckling.
“Very well,” holo-Gavin said. “What’s your question?”
Cas hesitated, but forced the words to leave her mouth. “Was there a time we were friends, Gavin?”
Gavin smiled. It was a smile of genuine happiness, and for a moment it was as if he had come back to life. “That’s one hell of a question,” holo-Gavin said. “We were far more than friends, though. We were practically family.”