97: Ria

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The suburban home under her surveillance bore little resemblance to her usual workplaces. This was the first time they had clear knowledge of the slaver’s target, and thus the first time she was working in such an environment.

It was not possible to blend into the background as an ordinary citizen. Her usual disguises had no value here. And thus, she wore the T’hana for its useful ability to blend into the dark and deflect attention.

She checked the hidden ‘cam’ ethe again. The daughter had been on her tablet earlier, on her stomach on the bed, chattering with some friend, and she was still in that position, only with her cheek now pressed to the comforter, having fallen asleep in the middle of the conversation. Ria shook her head a little. She had been certain the girl would get too cold and wake up eventually, sleeping without a blanket in her pajamas like that, but it was nearly dawn, and she was still sound asleep.

The ‘elder sister’ posing for the boudoir photos had turned out to actually be the mother, the ‘younger sister’ in the glamor photos was her daughter. On the surface, they were an eminently Osril family. If not for the signature of the blood that Ria could clearly feel, the proof of their Ilidi ancestry, she would have thought the slaver had made a terrible mistake.

Many such small families, often a single mother and her daughters, existed throughout the world. Little fragments of the Alwarzi tribe, scattered by the damage they had taken toward the end of the Great War. Ria’s own upbringing had been similar, one of three daughters of a single mother, her mother’s family having bred her in vitro, using the seed of dead soldiers, purposefully selecting for females to recover their decimated population more rapidly. The shortage of male buyers had already led the family to use Ria’s elder sisters for the same purpose.

Ria had thought she was one of the lucky ones when her bride price was paid, one of the few who would have a living husband or a special ‘profession’. Her horror when she learned her real fate was still a fresh and painful memory. It made little difference to her that her family had received a proper compensation, unlike this slaver who stole away his new victims in the night.

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But this target troubled her. This particular mother, clearly one of the highest of the highborn, was leading a completely Osril life as a robotics technician, after having birthed only a single child, and her daughter was not undergoing any of the training Ria had undergone at her age, either in seduction or flux. She was leading a completely normal teenaged life, entirely detached from the Alwarzi world.

It was no wonder that Master’s investigators had not known about this target. It was only a fluke that Ria had discovered her in time. But how could it have come about, that they were living so far outside the Alwarzi domain that they did not even appear in the local records?

She was beginning to assess whether to change her location due to the coming daylight when her miniphone chirped in her ear.

The T’hana’s stealth allowed her to use voice control without being heard, as long as she kept her voice down. She said, “Answer.”

“Little sister,” senior sister Amis said in Bruxilan, “One should return now.”

“It is still during the at-risk time, senior sister,” she noted. All prior abductions had been between 10 p.m. and six a.m. She had intended to guard until eight.

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“The slaver has left Earth. The departure was observed at the Aum transport station. The targets are safe for the time being.”

A strange mixture of frustration and relief filled Ria’s heart. Frustration that her quarry had once again eluded her, even passed out of this world to evade her righteous anger. But it settled on relief, that the child within would awaken not to nightmare fear and inescapable bondage, but to her pleasant, normal life.

For one more morning, at least.

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