99: Joanna

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She sat on her mattress, watching the local news from St. Louis.

Again.

Without anything resembling an internet connection, she had only this television link for news from Earth, but the forty-eight hour news cycle was reaching its end on the warehouse fire and the failed abduction. The window was closing on her chance to learn what happened to her master through the media.

The girl who had escaped her fate was being kept out of the limelight. Joanna worried for her young spiritual sister, a fellow victim of Benjamin, but the news anchors were infuriatingly silent on her as well.

If Benjamin had followed his normal procedure, then the slave stone, with its built-in stealth, was already implanted in her brain and she was under whatever instructions he had given her. For Joanna, those instructions had been to remain silent until he told her otherwise, and to follow him no matter what. What would those same instructions be doing to the girl now? Was she unable to speak and trying to escape her rescuers, desparate to chase after her unwelcome master against her own will, to silence the demands of the stone in her head?

And would the built-in stealth hide the stone from the doctors or not? Would it work against an MRI? She prayed that it would, because if they attempted to surgically remove the stone, the girl would die.

Although, that would certainly be release for the victim of a evil device that even robbed its host of the ability to commit suicide.

But on a subject more vital to her own situation than word of the girl, there still hadn’t been anything in the news to tip her off about Benjamin himself. She ought to have heard from him by now, which meant he had not come through the path in the kriojjin. Her frustration was beginning to mount.

Dhanryo,” Tirith’s voice called from just outside her door. 

Her clansmen normally left her alone while she was watching the news. This must be important. But, from his quiet tone, it did not seem to be some matter of immediate urgency.

“Enter.”

He entered the room and bowed as she turned off the TV.

“The client has arrived in Aum and requests transport to this location.”

Her secret hope died with that one sentence. She had thought it might be possible that Benjamin perished in the warehouse fire, but Tirith had unknowingly just crushed that dream. Careful not to show it, she gave a nod and responded.

“Very well. That location is hazardous. Arrange a second flyer to cover this one who shall retrieve him.”

Her attendant hesitated, then asked, “Will My Lady accompany the flyer?”

“This one is obligated to do so, Tirith. When the client calls for transport from an irregular location, this one shall escort him.”

Tirith scowled. “That is not specified in the contract.”

For a moment, she had a surge of confusion, as she recognized that she had mixed up Mato’khra’s obligations with the duties Benjamin had imposed on her personally through his damnable slave stone. Technically, she wasn’t supposed to reveal those extra duties, just as she could not reveal the slave stone itself, and the slave stone was beginning to issue a mildly painful reminder to her now concerning her mistake.

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Benjamin had ordered through the same stone that she maintain an illusion of independence from him in front of her clansmen. She managed to navigate the present quandary by harnessing that authority in order to craft a lie that simply bore a resemblance to the duty. “The client requested such assistance personally, whenever taking routes outside that one’s normal travels on Chald.”

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The Trohthoan regarded her for a moment, unknown alien thoughts active behind those gray eyes, then nodded.

“A runner shall call once the flyers are prepared, My Lady.”

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