Epilogue: Collective Gratitude

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The Upward Governess felt famished, and that was wrong. She'd never fasted long enough for it to be this much of a problem. An injection of NAI-12 always woke her if she tried to sleep for longer than six hours.

The wrongness brought her wide awake. Daylight streamed through the skylights of her ornate cupola, and that was another jarring hint that something was terribly amiss, because she could not recall how she'd spent the night. If she'd eaten her evening desert, she didn't remember. She had intended to watch the Giant die, but the only thing she recalled was setting up missile launchers from orbit, just in case he somehow overcame the inhibitor serum and went on a rampage. Had she fallen asleep in the middle of that task?

She should remember. Her memory was infallible.

Slaves prodded each other, and pair by pair, their terrified eyes focused on her. They had clearly failed to administer her regular dose NAI-12. Because her medicine was gone.

Stolen.

The Upward Governess clutched her sheets in an effort to contain a tidal wave of raw, filthy emotions. HOW DARE HE.

The clues made it obvious what had happened and who had masterminded it. Her medicine was gone from her embrace, and so was her wristwatch medical alert. Of all the people in the universe, only Yellow Thomas coveted her medicine and lived close enough to feasibly obtain it. Only he would have figured out how to sneak into her bedchamber while she was there, without her being aware of it, and gotten away with it. Only he would have risked his life to commit such a heinous crime.

I will see him dead, she thought.

It was a strange thought to have. She had never wished anyone to die until now. She had never killed anyone, not even a slave. The sounds and odors of slaughter were disgusting to her.

Yet he was a criminal, was he not? A traitor to the Torth Empire. He might have found fault with her mentorship, but that was no reason to steal from her, shame her, and ensure her death. Not after all she'd done for him. She had engineered an opportunity for him to join the rulers of the known universe, which was a difficult feat, given the facts that he was a hybrid and a Yeresunsa, raised by savages. She had saved his life several times over. Not only had she gifted him with extra luxuries, not only had she expended her own precious time and effort to persuade other Torth that he was worth saving ... she had done everything possible to enable him to win half of his medicine. He could have become her equal partner.

They would have been unstoppable together.

Instead, the ingrate had snatched away her future. Instead of transforming into an invulnerable adult, she would die as an obese abnormality, weak as an infant. She might only have weeks left.

The Megacosm was probably frothing with news. The Majority would expect the Upward Governess to control whatever disaster he had unleashed. Well, she would, of course. But she needed to get into a civilized mood before she ascended. Her current state of mind was unfit for company.

She demanded a fruit smoothie for breakfast, plus the usual assortment of enriched breads. Her contrite slaves leaped to obey. Other slaves and guards put her through her usual morning hygiene processes, and she savored their stark terror, their certainty of a painful death. They deserved prison for allowing her medicine to be stolen.

But she decided to allow them to live. Replacing slaves and bodyguards was tiresome, and she had more important things to do.

She might as well abandon her secret project, though. It wasn't fair. NAI-12 had given her hope of living to adulthood and beyond. With the boost of an extra year or two, she had been on track to complete a secret new life support system engineered to nourish and sustain a severed-but-living brain. Severed from her biological body, her brain would surely cease to feel gnawing hunger and discomfort. A purely mechanical body would be impervious to damage and illness and aging. Then she wouldn't need medicine. She wouldn't be reliant on the Torth Majority or anyone else.

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