When she's seven years old, Gracie sees a gunship for the first time.
She also dies for the first time, but it's the gunship that she likes to remember. Big enough that it looks to her small eyes like it could swallow the sun, and she thinks: I want it.
But she's only seven. She doesn't get a gunship.
Instead she gets to be a distraction, gets to slip through Ms Blake's back garden with Branwen and play lost, while Eito and the rest of the older kids get to go inside to see what they can find.
I don't want to be a distraction, she had thought, I want to fight, let someone else be quiet. But if she had said anything Eito might not have let her go at all, and that would have been worse.
Worse even than being stuck with Branwen, who is almost ten. Close enough to ten, she said, that she should be allowed to go inside, but Eito had been firm. The rule in the Black Stars was that you had to be ten to do the really risky jobs, any younger and you got extra protection.
So she's in Ms Blake's back garden with Branwen, staring at the three sided garage and watching the sun dance on the gunship, and she wants it.
"I wanna see it," she whispers, tugging on Branwen's hand. "See it close."
Branwen glares at her. Gracie had thought they could be united in being mad at Eito, but Branwen had decided that if she had to be stuck being a distraction she would at least spend all her time reminding Gracie who the older one was.
"Don't be silly," she says. "That's not our job."
Gracie had never liked her anyway. She was the only one who wouldn't let Gracie watch her clean her gun.
"But we're being a distraction," Gracie frowns. "We can be a distraction in the garage! It's even better than the garden!"
"No --" Branwen starts, but Gracie's already pulled her hand away and she's running, running for the light because she is seven, she has a family and they've trusted her with this job and she's going to be such a good distraction maybe Ms Blake will even tell her about the ship and then --
The earth explodes beneath her feet and she's flying and Branwen -- is Branwen screaming for her? They're supposed to be quiet --
The gunship is so close, too close, and before everything goes dark she thinks, oh, no, Eito is gonna be so mad.
She wakes up crying for Branwen in a bed softer than anything she's felt in her life except for a square of velvet she nicked from a street vendor last year. She's seven, she should have known better, she's not a baby like Josie, and now if the mission went bad it's her fault.
She's not a baby. She knows what to do. Gracie stops crying almost immediately, looks around to see if she's alone. She is, but there isn't anything other than the bed in the room.
The bed is so, so soft, but even that can't distract her from the itching in her chest. When she pulls down the covers, she gasps. Her entire body is glowing with medigel, bright bright bright like the sun was against her chest and her feet, paler everywhere else.
Gracie remembers the black, and wonders if she can cry while she thinks. It's allowed, if Eito isn't here, right?
But before she can decide, the door opens, and a shadow appears, thin in the light.
"You just keep getting younger and younger, don't you," a woman's voice says, and Gracie recognises her as soon as she steps into the light. Helena Blake.
She's in so much trouble with Eito she's not going to see any dessert rations for months, Gracie thinks miserably.
But she knows what to do. Stands up as tall as she can. "Gracie. Amsterdam Black Stars."
Ms Blake has to give her back. It's the rules, with the gangs, if you capture a child and you can't prove they did anything wrong and they want to go back.
...Could Ms Blake prove she'd done something wrong? She didn't think being in her back garden was wrong enough that Ms Blake would go to the police, but the Stars did have friends in the police. And Ms Blake was old, so she probably had more friends than Eito. Maybe even more than the people who usually hired Eito.
Ms Blake shakes her head. "Oh no, child. You died in that garden, I'm not sure I want to send you back just yet."
Died? Gracie looks down at the glowing medigel. Medigel wasn't supposed to be able to bring you back.
Her skin still itches, like there's little sparks crawling in her blood that just want to --
-- want to --
She narrows her eyes at Ms Blake and suddenly the energy isn't in her blood anymore, it's outside her pushing up and up and up until it's surrounding Ms Blake and she's hovering in midair, surrounded in blue.
Gracie yelps in surprise. Ms Blake laughs. Gracie shuts her eyes and sends her falling to the floor.
Biotics, she thinks, and she smiles. Eito was always saying the Stars could use a biotic. Maybe she wasn't going to be in trouble after all.
Ms Blake stands up, brushing off her trousers with a smile. "Fell into a crate of eezo first. My medics did what they could, but you're very powerful, my girl. I think you should stay under observation."
Eito only put people under observation if he was gonna make them leave the gang. Gracie doesn't like the sound of that at all. "Amsterdam. Black. Stars." she says instead. Crosses her arms and tries to sound just as rude as Branwen always does when she's being bossy. She needs to find Branwen.
"I suppose you're going to tell me that you have medics too," Ms Blake sighs. Gracie's glad she doesn't have to say it, because she's not supposed to say anything but her name and her gang, and Ms Blake is trying so hard to get her to trust her and she's tired.
Gracie nods, because that isn't really telling.
"Well, you do have the resources," Ms Blake says, and Gracie nods again. The Stars are the second biggest gang without adults in Amsterdam. "How old are you, Gracie?"
Gracie hesitates. Holds up seven fingers. The medics probably knew that already anyway. Please send me back, she thinks, wishing her biotics meant Ms Blake would know what she was thinking. Send me back, you have to, it's the rules and they're my family.
"Are they?" Ms Blake asks in surprise, and Gracie claps her hands over her mouth in horror when she realises she must have said that out loud. So much trouble. "Well," she says. "You need one more sleep cycle for the medigel to be fully absorbed. What if I let you go back after that?"
Gracie considers. She's tired still, and the gel is itchy. The bed is so soft. It can't hurt, can it?
She nods, and Ms Blake smiles. "Sleep then, girl. I cannot take you back, but I can make it look as if you escaped."
Gracie thinks, as Ms Blake shuts the door behind her, that she's too nice to actually be a crime lord for very long.
When she wakes the second time, the door is slightly ajar and there's a piece of paper on the floor.
Come back, if you need to.
Gracie isn't a baby, she rips it up before she checks that the hallway outside her room is deserted and runs for the exit.
But she doesn't ever stop thinking about it.