67. Custody

“Because they’re mine,” said Alex. “Sakhr gave them to me to make them cooperate.”

“You have nothing to gain from her,” replied Christof. “I don’t see why I should hand her over.”

They were arguing in Sakhr’s office while Sakhr was trying to work. They might as well have been arguing in a supply closet for all the interest Sakhr had in this conversation. Yet they kept turning to him to settle matters as though he was their parent. He was trying to attend to a multitude of issues that had come in, one being a staffing problem involving one of Victoria’s private estates along the Rio Jari down south. It seemed like a nice place: rustic, out of the way, private. He could leave for there and not tell anyone. Not the military. Not the ministers. Not Alex, or Christof, or Quentin, or anyone.

“There is plenty to gain,” Alex argued. “That girl is the far seeing one’s friend. If can get her back—”

“How? What are you going to do? Torture the friend and hope that the girl is looking?”

“That’s exactly it. Trust me. I’ve seen her mind. That girl will be watching Helena constantly.”

…Except disappearing wouldn’t work, Sakhr thought. Victoria was alive. He’d known in his gut that she was, but having Victoria rescue that girl just reasserted that Sakhr would never be safe. She was out there. She was watching. How else could she have known exactly when and where to be last night? In some ways, Sakhr was glad. She’d died too suddenly before. He and Victoria hadn’t… battled. Not to his satisfaction. Now she could witness him taking everything she’d worked so hard to build.

“This is not who we are,” Christof said. “We’ve been back in this world for a week and all we’ve done is prove exactly why Victoria locked us away to begin with.”

“First of all, her name is Katherine. Let’s not play into her make-believe. Secondly, nobody is asking you to do anything you don’t want to do, but Sakhr and I are trying to keep us alive.”

Of course, now Victoria had an edge, thanks to these bumbling cretins. She must have been watching all along, but now without the Korean, he could never stare back. There was no point in going after them. They could be in any place and in any body. Only exemplars could find her, and he sure as hell wouldn’t trust a task like that to the breed of stock Alex had been recruiting. Maybe once he had true loyalists of his own, except that was so far down the line he wouldn’t even waste time thinking about it.

If he could just get her coordinate location. Cruise missiles don’t ask questions.

How he did love having a military at his disposal.

“We don’t have time for your sentimentalism,” Alex said. “Sakhr gave the tortoises to me, not you, because he knew I’d get results.”

“And what do you have to show for it? Paul hasn’t given you his glyph, and now you’ve lost a tortoise.”

“Not my fault.”

“Either way,” Christof turned to Sakhr. “I’m keeping Helena.”

Alex turned to Sakhr too. “I’m not done. Give me the princess, and I can get the other one back.”

Sakhr could no longer pretend they weren’t there. Sibyl sat to his left, quiet, obedient. Why couldn’t the rest be like her? He reached his hand out, and she responded by offering her plaque.

Hundreds of auras bloomed to life. Officers in nearby spires focused on their duties. Faux exemplars in Sakhr’s own spire procrastinated—all of them handpicked by Alexander. Sakhr could even sense those damn osprey that no one had yet to remove from the bridge spire. He’d have to remember to talk to the admiral about that. With Victoria alive, Sakhr’s no birds policy was more important than ever.

What mattered right now were the two aura’s before him. Like fingerprints, they were wildly different, though both were housed behind bickering mouths. Also, both were being genuine. No hidden agendas today.

“Alex. Let Christof keep the girl.”

“Wait. How about this?” Alex replied. “I promise I won’t do anything to the girl for twenty-four hours. I’ll just put a sign above her threatening what I’ll do if she doesn’t come back.”

“No, Alex.”

“Forty-eight hours. The far seeing girl will come crawling back.”

“No, she won’t. She’s with Victoria, who won’t allow her. Ergo, there is no point.”

“The girl could escape her.”

“She won’t.”

“It’ll at least make it harder for them. Katherine will have to waste time making sure the girl doesn’t slip away. Come on, Sakhr. Since when do you pass up potential advantages?”

Sakhr’s response was delayed. It was a potential edge.

With his hand on Sibyl’s plaque, he could sense the effect his silence had on the two. Alex’s anticipation grew. The effect on Christof was more a pronounced dread. This was important to Christof.

“No,” Sakhr said finally. “Christof keeps the girl. We’re not subjecting a girl to mindless misery for minor gains. And she may come in useful later.”

“Thank you,” said Christof.

“You’re making a mistake,” said Alex. “You’re being weak.”

Enough, Alex.” He turned to Christof. “Do not lose that girl. Keep her alive. Keep her secure.”

“Yes.”

“If there’s nothing else, you can go.”

Christof and Alex rose. Sakhr motioned to Alex. “You stay.”

Alex sat back down. Christof glanced at both of them while leaving. His face was neutral, but Sakhr sensed the suspicious shift in his aura. Nothing could be done about that. Alex had been right when he said Christof got caught up in sentimentalism. Sometimes sordid affairs were necessary. And Christof didn’t have the right mindset.

“So,” Alex said after Christof was gone. “You’re hogtying my work so Christof can sleep better?”

“He’s right. We never used to do these sorts of things.”

“We never had the world thrust on us before. We have enemies now.”

“That may be so,” said Sakhr. “Let Christof have this victory. I want to know where you stand with Paul.”

“Peachy.”

“Are you making progress?”

“Yes.”

“Because from where I stand, it looks as though you’re just having your own fun. I gave him to you because I—”

“I know what you want, and I will get it.”

“I see. And once you have gotten this glyph, you plan to bring it straight to me?”

 Sakhr’s hand still rested on Sibyl’s plaque. His gaze was direct at Alex.

This wasn’t lost on Alexander. “Is someone having a case of the paranoids?”

“Do you?”

If not for the plaque, the delay in Alex’s response would have raised Sakhr’s suspicions, but his aura was much too playful, and when he spoke, he returned Sakhr’s burning gaze.

“Yes,” he said. “Once I have the glyph from Paul, I will bring it to you. Do you feel better now?”

“How much longer do you think it will take?”

“He’s on the brink. Twice he’s almost written it while in a daze. Give me another day or two. Is that good enough for you?”

“It will have to do.”

“Anything else?”

“No. No more.”

Alex rose and headed toward the door.

“Oh one last thing,” said Sakhr.

Alex looked back. “Yes?”

“Doesn’t the far seeing girl have a family?”

A smile crept onto Alex’s face. “Yes, she does.”

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