Catriona sat in her car, head bowed and white-knuckled hands clenched on the steering wheel. She leaned her head back against the headrest and tried to absorb the test results. It couldn’t be worse.
Stage IV ovarian cancer.
Intensive chemotherapy might--might--give her a few more months, but would those months be worth living? Should she call hospice care now or wait, because she was fairly sure she did not want to endure the misery of chemotherapy. She sighed and let the tears fall unheeded as she wrapped her mind around the dismal prognosis.
She was going to die, sooner rather than later.
How would she tell her husband? Her children? Her grandchildren? Her elderly parents? Should she quit her job now and enjoy what time was left to her? What about insurance? She sighed again, sniffled, not knowing the answers and too stunned by the diagnosis to fully accept it yet. It didn’t seem quite real.
She drove home, went about her usual routine, claimed to be tired, and went to bed early. Her husband glanced after her retreating figure, questions and concerns unspoken. Catriona would tell him what was bothering her when she was ready and not a minute before.
The next day she got up and went to work as usual, letting her subconscious mull over her situation until she could figure out what to do. Her coworkers never suspected anything.
Thelan, captain of the palace guard, led three of his most trusted warriors through the dim, oily interior of a building where the horseless chariots of humans waited patiently for their owners’ commands. He could hear their thoughts: What is this place? What are those hulking metal beasts? In all his seventy thousand years, Thelan never thought to be grateful for such a distasteful environment as the humans built themselves. But it was there the oracle had sent him, there he would find his fate.
They heard a mechanical noise, the din of human voices discussing inconsequential things in their rough, rude tongue. A box opened and disgorged its passengers. Thelan had ridden in one during one of his intelligence-gathering sorties. It was called an elevator. He wasn’t entirely sure how it worked, but the mechanism performed with admirable efficiency. Humans, for all their shortsightedness and crudity, exhibited amazing ingenuity.
There she is, he alerted his men, communicating with them mind to mind across the common path. They followed the direction of his gaze and found themselves puzzled. The woman identified was no beauty among humankind. She bore a weary expression on her aged face and wore unflattering garb.
You must be mistaken, Captain, his lieutenant protested. Surely, the oracle would not burden you with an old woman.
Thelan, too, had been surprised by the woman revealed by the oracle; however, he could not argue. One only argued with the oracle at great peril.
The oracle identified this female and provided the coordinates to secure her.
The other three warriors did nothing so crass as shake their heads with disbelief, but he could feel their tamped-down incredulity.
You have the simulacrum? he confirmed.
Aye, his lieutenant replied.
We’ll need a few drops of her blood to activate the decoy.
The three warriors nodded.
The woman walked toward one of the shiny metal carriages parked in a somewhat darker corner of the parking garage than most of the other vehicles. Emerging from their concealment within a separate plane of existence, the four warriors surged forward and surrounded her. The abduction took all of three seconds. A silver blade pricked her arm which bled several drops onto the golem. The lieutenant tossed the activated simulacrum into the vehicle. It twitched and grew and transformed until a perfect facsimile of the woman rested unmoving in the driver’s seat.
“Sleep,” Thelan commanded, exerting his will upon her unprepared and unprotected mind. The woman slumped in his arms. He spat a quick spell that transferred the unattractive garments she wore to the golem. In deference to his mate’s modesty, one of Thelan’s guard shook out a blanket and wrapped it around her aged, pudgy body.
Remind me never to seek the oracle’s assistance in procuring a mate, one of the other warriors commented acidly as Thelan hoisted the unconscious woman in his arms. His captain threw him a dark look that promised retribution sooner rather than later.