Joanna switched off the television and considered what she had just seen as she lingered over the last bites of her breakfast. A sip of her treasured instant coffee washed it down as she thought.

She had no idea how Benjamin had rigged a TV to pick up Earth broadcasts on Chald, only that the set connected to a peculiar-looking box. He must have set up some similar device in St. Louis, where the signal originated. The cognate position of St. Louis lay far to the north of her base on this world, but distance apparently didn’t matter to the connection.

The TV ran off the tiny solar-and-battery setup that also provided her with electric lights at night and a fan in the daytime. The amenities here weren’t much, but vital to her sanity. Given the semi-tropical mugginess of their location, she was especially grateful for the fan. The sea surrounding their barrier island home might occasionally bring cooling relief, but most of the time it simply raised the humidity of this hot environment to an intolerable degree.

Her Gireidil clansmen would eventually have the means working for light and cooling, but the power sources were not yet available in this keep they had only taken over for their base that winter, when they relocated to this continent.

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With a sigh, she pondered what might happen next. She kept checking the TV, hoping to somehow get news of her absent master. With no ‘cable TV’– the last cable companies had shut down in St. Louis when she was in elementary school– and no internet for streaming and other information sources, it was an exercise in frustration. He should have long since shown up with yet another new slave, but if the news reports were correct, this time that slave seemed to have escaped her fate. That had never happened before, for Benjamin’s operation.

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The news still centered around the fire and the missing policeman. That warehouse… all the reports said that the fire which had destroyed it was unnatural. They showed a repetitive stream of pictures of the warehouse, the policeman, and a security camera shot of the mystery ‘spook’ who looked suspiciously similar to the natives of this world, except for her peculiar wardrobe.

She hated it when they started parading pictures of the missing girls. It reminded her of her complicity in their abductions, and of her own ugly situation. But the news had now added grainy pictures of Benjamin, taken by a security camera. He had always prevented cameras from picking him up in the past, so this was a new break for the Earth authorities in the ongoing serial kidnapping case.

The news station continued to report no bodies discovered in the wreckage, which meant he must still be alive. They ought to have found something by now. She would frankly be happy if he died, and she had begun to have her hopes… surely though, if he had come through the castle, he’d have contacted her already. Instead she continued to have no idea what had happened to him.

From near the door of her bedroom, the sturdy, battle-scarred Gireidil warrior who served as her Trohthoan, her ‘attendant’, cleared his throat to remind her of their company.

“Oh, fine,” she groused in English, a language her attendant didn’t know, and stood up from the mattress she’d been seated on, doing what she could to straighten her ragged clothes. The task was nearly impossible. It was becoming critical that Benjamin bring her some replacements on one of his returns from Earth.

“This one is shall see the visitors now,” she declared in the Bruxilan language they had in common.

A party of war beasts waited outside the gate. They’d arrived just after she started watching the morning newscast. It seemed rude to her to make them wait, but her attendant had insisted she finish what she was doing rather than rush out to them. Protocol demanded a certain proper order to things.

The crest of each monster sported the triple rings of the Utichit Ilidi, the Ilidi people, the logo that she couldn’t help but see as a three-set Venn diagram. The beasts clearly felt uncomfortable, approaching a Gireidil stronghold, but, more critically, approaching her. She still found it amusing that these enormous creatures who appeared to have emerged straight out of a fantasy movie feared her. It was one of the few perks on this job.

She folded her arms, did her best to look commanding, and triggered the communication pattern in her weapon stone. It was a convenient little trick that gave her a radio just like the one the war beasts carried in their heads. The radio would allow her to hear their replies. Her attendant, standing beside her, would hear the conversation on his headset.

Ignoring how ridiculous she believed herself to look, in an outfit that seemed ready to give up and fall off her at any moment, she squared her shoulders and obeyed the slave stone in her head that was driving her to act like the perfect chieftainess of a Gireidil clan. She remembered just in time to speak in Bruxilan instead of English.

“This one is informed that one brings information.”

- my thoughts:

Major character intro here. Also, it's a two-parter. Continued next chapter. Back to Jack after that.

As an apology of sorts for locking advanced chapters beginning today, I am mass-posting five free chapters first. I am then mass-posting two weeks worth of advance chapters. So today is a mass post of five free plus eight locked chapters.

I am considering raising this to three or four weeks. Regardless of how far ahead the advance chapters go, I will be unlocking chapters at the current posting schedule of Mon-Wed-Fri-Sun, starting Monday.

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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