TDWP: The Devil's Mistress
Pairing: (Poly/Multiple) Miranda / Andy / Emily / Other
Rating: M, NC17, NSFW
Summary: After Paris, in a world where bioengineering is a fact of life and sometimes a fashion accessory, Andrea Sachs had few options, except to rise to the top and become mistress of her own kingdom. Five years later, her world is about to change again as a plot by Miranda's enemies brings the editor low and into Andrea's realm. However, no plot is going to hold the Miranda Priestly down for long, and those who tried to hurt her and her daughters, are going to feel the Devil's sting.
Words: BETA and UNFINISHED!
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, which pretty well guarantees that " ownership, " of the some of the characters belongs to others (Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox) and and that this work is entirely based on affection. This is not-for-profit, but for praise or at least enjoyment.
Beta Readers: Thank yous go to - Melanacious, LadyDragonstorm and Bonnie - my extraordinary friends.
A/N - This is a "get 'em together" story/ One Shot.
A/N - This fiction likely draws from several sources for inspiration - it mostly follows TDWP movie canon as a starting point, however.
A/N - I hereby label this story AU. While it starts from the movie core, it is set in a future that has gone wildly different and dangerous. *stamp* AU *endstamp*
A/N - This story involves appendages and physical transformations and happy bits connecting. If phallai offend, perhaps this story is not for you. *stamp* CRACKFIC *endstamp*
A/N - This story involves futuristic sex-slaves and BDSM and some tropes that contribute to a story of that nature. While it's very mild in comparison to some, there's always the hint of "danger" and stories get told and some tying up and whippy kinds of things and maybe a little blood and sex and hints of noncon (though never between Miranda and Andy) and who knows what will trigger some people so *stamp* AltSEX *endstamp*
A/N - This story has serious, definite hints of "bad things that happened to good people." *stamp* TRIGGER Warning *endstamp* That said, this story is also protected by the she-will-never-go-there-clause. Caroline and Cassidy may have been kidnapped and scared, but they are otherwise SAFE. *stamp* Author Safety Zone *endstamp*
A/N - Plural/Poly relationships happen to be one of my favorite playgrounds. This fiction enters that territory and really gets digging in it. *stamp* POLYAMORY *endstamp*
A/N - This story uses a future-world-gone-bad setting, which means that some events are darker and more dangerous and possibly unfriendly. *stamp* MAYHEM! *endstamp*
A/N - I have decided, just for my sanity, that family and really good friend names shall remain generally consistent. Thus, Andy's father's is Richard and her mother is CeCe, etc. This will go for Miranda's family if they ever reveal themselves. The family rule, shall remain consistent across the DWP stories. Though you may see them behaving differently according to their different realities, I shall make some effort to keep characterizations consistent also.
A/N - This story has has big dollops of angst, but it ends well.
A/N - This story is definitely not a series and may in fact be out there.
The Devil's Mistress Ch. 1
- TDWP -
Andrea leaned comfortably back against the luxurious office chair, pressed her steepled fingertips against her plump, red lips, and stared at the tall, greasy man and what he'd brought her. Brown eyes observed two girls of average height for their age, pale skin, light freckles, red rimmed blue eyes, straight noses, and thick, wavy red hair. They were twins, dressed in the grey robes of slaves, barefoot, tied together by hand and foot, harnessed with leads hooped in the front, which he held.
The brunette would have recognized them anywhere, and it made her heart ache, but she hardened her expression. She watched them as they trembled and tried not to stand too close to the man. They were still much too young, for any purpose which could have brought them here, but thankfully mostly untouched. She spied only the bruises gained by hands too rough. His words, papers, and the final proofing of her physician vouched for the other. The papers he offered, she knew, were forgeries, but they were good ones which had been unfortunately made legal by a single stamp from a shady government official.
The twins DNA had been registered and accounted. That was problematic. It meant an obligation of ownership, regardless of who she knew them to be, and that meant a specific time-frame or a very specific kind of fiscal exchange; one which would put her in the position of a bad guy. She had little choice in the matter. It was a case of the laws of the land.
The only saving grace was that the two people before her were not political or prison slaves. God help those poor souls. No, these girls had either been sold by someone they knew, had to sell themselves to clear a debt, or had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Their paperwork said it was a debt-clearance, which was ludicrous. Andrea had never been able to forget their birthday. They were twelve year-olds, though their paperwork claimed that they were older.
The fact that they were out of the States told her that they must have been traveling, despite all the travel warnings, and it was highly doubtful that they had been without their mother. She knew that was truth without even having to think on it. Their presence here, was not something their mother would ever have allowed; not without dying first.
That did not bear thinking. On the other hand... maybe it did. As there was one other alternative, which she dreaded contemplating, but could no longer ignore.
Without more information she would have to guess and simply acknowledge that, as scared as they might be, the twins were were fortunate in some girls' unusual traits had conserved them. It was sheer luck that brought them so quickly to her; that and her own hard-earned prestige.
She had never been a fan of the slave trade, but it was the reality of the times. She knew how to work the system and there were appearances to keep. Her position, one she had suffered for, clawed and fought to gain and change, required certain choices be made. Her usual choice was to buy a slave or five, hold them for the time allotted on their certificate or allow them to purchase or earn their freedom. If they stayed with her or earned their way, by the time they were done, they had skills they could use. Those who served her were employees, free or bought, with a full pay scale and salary. Some continued with her, some went on to University or some other way - all with the correct documentation and proof of time served. If the slave had some wealth squirrelled away somehow and their government or some greedy family member had not appropriated it, then it was simply a matter of fair exchange.
The woman had already earned her keep, but now she made even more. She had several businesses, most of which she'd inherited, but some which she'd originated. Each performed their own functions. Andrea didn't need anyone else's money. However, she couldn't rescue everyone. She could only try to make a difference to some. Those who stayed with her did so out of loyalty, because she was good at what she did and expert at what she offered, and provided an absolutely safe-haven.
She did not have to speak to the slaver personally, and often didn't. She had a broad shouldered, muscle-bound associate for that. He said it for her. "How much?"
An outrageous price was named, but she understood the reasons; rarity and special tastes and youth and a myriad of justifications. None of which tempted her now. More, there would be little bargaining. She would maintain the forms, as she did not wish to reveal too much. But she had no intention of letting these prizes fall into other hands.
Acquirement was a necessity.
But she wanted to know a few things. She motioned to her other agent, a strong looking female, blonde, green-eyed, with pale, full lips. When she leaned over, the brunette cupped her face and whispered intimately into her ear, "Lisle, find out their real purchase history. Get it from his assistant. Find out if there was anyone with them or in the same cargo. Bring me the list."
The woman nodded silently, then left the room. The greasy man smiled nervously. Andrea signaled her man, Derik, to begin the bargaining.
They arrived at a price, one that was still shockingly high, but somehow oddly more acceptable to the slaver. He seemed much more at ease. The girls still trembled, but enough time had passed that they were beginning to take in their surroundings. They looked at her, while keeping their heads down, in quick flashing glances.
The brunette gave no indication of noticing. "Make the payment."
Moments later, the greasy man had an even bigger smile on his face, and a receipt, and her agent had the leashes to the Twins in one hand and their documentation in another. Her other assistant arrived, carrying a tablet, which she handed to Andrea. The slaver started to sidle away when her attention changed focus.
"Emil, you have not been dismissed," Andrea snapped. Those words caused Derik to move. He blocked the door, while the greasy man stopped moving.
She read through the list and forced herself to pass through one particular entry without appearing to pause. "I want number 4289. Please go get it."
The man cleared his throat. "That one..."
"Surely you are not about to tell me that it is not for sale?"
"Well, we've got interested parties. And there were ... uh... directions, you see, from the original owner. She is not... biddable. And well... we haven't be able to begin training yet. Directions ordered treatment, you know, to get her aged right."
Andrea barely hid the wince. "Treatment."
"Youthing. Body enhancement, strength, flexibility, sexuality. One strange thing; the original owner demanded we keep the color of the hair. But we can change it, of course. We also added features."
"Well, some specific requests. From the original owner."
"You are aware that the documentation does not list an original owner?"
He managed to squirm. Then finally blurted when he couldn't take her stare any more, "Well, the owner plans on being a purchaser."
"Really, Emil," Andrea drawled. "I expected better of you. I think you would do better to avoid the tax issue, wouldn't you?"
He cleared his throat and looked away from her.
"I will want a list of the features. Follow the original instructions on the hair."
"As you wish."
"She is to be untouched." Andrea said firmly. She knew he knew what she meant. Her rules were always the same. He grimaced. "Save for medical and treatment processes already occurred."
He nodded sharply, relieved.
"My people and I will handle all training. If you have added any emotional supplementation hardware or software, it is to be removed. Alternatively, if this is not something you can process in the next half hour, I will add it to the cost of any fixing I must do and you will see a bill."
He paled and cleared his throat. "Ownership protocols were installed during the first upgrade. We can't rescind that."
She pursed her lips and waved her hand. She was glad she was looking down or Emil might have thought her rage was directed at him. "Fine. You will see to it that no one else has activated the protocol."
"Of course." He looked suddenly nervous.
Andrea looked up, glared and then shook her head. Then she said, "Intelligence supplementation may remain so long as it was an upgrade and not a downgrade. I do not want a stupid slave."
She arched a brow.
"It was an upgrade, but there was a limited patch. Completely fixable. The original owner wanted her smart enough to..." Now the slaver grimaced "...know what was happening and why, and some new skill sets added, but... they wanted other specific skill sets gone. Adding is easy, but we're not at a point where we can do partial wipes..."
"I understand. I do know the processes involved." She knew them far too well, in fact. Andrea clenched her teeth against both anger and memory. She had already arrived at a theory about the mysterious original owner or owners. This was fast closing in on a resolution of her hypothesis.
"We can forward a repair program?"
"We have our own." No way was she allowing a chance of a Trojan to do more damage. She wouldn't put it past these mysterious previous owners. Andrea read further down the lists. "I wish also to procure 4297. With similar expectations and conditions. I will pay cash now, seventy-five percent over the price offered by the original owner or competitors." The purchase of the other slave was random, a shield for her real intentions. The sum offered was no meager amount. The slaver hastily agreed. She could practically see the cash signs in rolling in his eyeballs.
"Oh. One more thing. Emil, I shall be very disappointed in you if I find that you are dealing in children." She glanced meaningfully at the twins. Then pointedly said, "Very. Disappointed."
He swallowed and nodded sharply. He knew what that meant. But also knew better than to mention it.
"Derik, pay the man. Make sure the others are delivered to the house in pristine condition."
Andrea stood up and held out her hand. The big man handed her the leashes. "Young ladies, you are with me."
She began walking. As if they had been trained to do so all their lives, they followed quickly, no doubt having learned in very hard ways the consequence of failure to do so. Andrea began making several mental lists all related to fixing the problems that lay ahead.
- TDWP -
The girls sat in terrified silence as the car glided away from the merchant center. Andrea loosely held their leashes and stared pensively out the window. She waited until they were well away before she turned back to them.
"Caroline." One of the girls squeaked and looked up and at her. Andrea nodded and then said, "Cassidy."
The other girl refused to look up, but Andrea saw a large teardrop fall and hit the grey shift that covered the girl's knee. She reached and lifted the girl's chin. When she was sure they were paying attention she said, "Now, I want you both to listen to me and hear what I say to you. Are you listening?"
They stared at her. Caroline risked and grabbed Cassidy's hand in her own.
Andrea exhaled. "Do you understand what just happened?"
"You bought us."
"Do you know what that means?"
"You own us."
"Do you know what that really means?"
Cassidy's lip began to tremble and she shuddered.
Andrea opened her arms, "Come here."
It was then that they realized that their eyes had not been deceiving them. The sobs came then, but the girls surged toward her. "Andy! Andy!"
"Now." She said very gently. "You must trust me. You will be safe, but you can't go home yet. It may be awhile before you can." Cassidy was pressing into her as if she could hide in Andrea's skin. "You will have a home with me and, I and my people, will take care of you."
"And Mom?" Caroline asked. Her eyes were bright. She too was holding onto Andrea, but she was looking her in the eyes. "What about Mom."
"We did not part well Caroline. But I will take care of her. I will make it better, but..."
"They changed her," Cassidy whispered.
Andrea nodded. "Yes. We will have to see how much."
"Will we be able to see her?"
"I don't know. I don't know what they've done. But I will do what I can."
"Why didn't you come back?"
Andrea thought about it a moment. She could have said, and it would have been the truth, that she simply could not return. But instead, she said, "So I could be here for you now."
It was apparently the right answer.
- TDWP -
She had known it was going to be difficult and not just because the other would refuse to grasp the truth. Andrea let her eyes travel the newly perfected form of Miranda. The older woman had been only modestly reshaped. She had always been healthy and fit and lovely to look at. Now the curves were a little more accentuated and some lines gone. She had been rejuvenated to her prime. Wealthy women would have paid to look as good. Some did.
"I assure you, I am not lying about your current status." Andrea said firmly. She saw no point in hiding the truth. "Do you want to read it?"
The silver-haired woman's lip curled up in a snarl and she snapped a hand out. Andrea's expression remained neutral. She handed the other woman a copy of the document.
Blue eyes quickly ran over the page, as if habit alone would translate. Then she stopped. Confusion washed through her face, then understanding. She looked up at the woman claiming to be her owner. "Wha..."
"Your original owners did not approve of your ability to read. Or write. Or speak."
"Orig o-ow..." The woman's face twisted into a frustrated grimace and she flung the paper away.
"Needless to say, as your current owner, I completely disagree with their assessment. There are, however, several realities which you must confront. The first of which is that it will be a day or two before we can implement some fixes for you. We can undo the basic mental blocks in a single procedure, but our surgeon recommends a period of rest for you. You have been through a great deal in the last seventy-two hours."
"N-n!" The older woman's fist clenched and unclenched reflexively.
"Yes."Andrea said evenly. "And you will allow that rest, not for me, though you must and I shall order it if you resist, but for your children."
Miranda's eyebrows shot up and a murderous expression crossed her face.
"You can try, and you're welcome to it. But you won't like what happens, Miranda." It was the first time Andrea said her name out loud.
Then, because it was inevitable, the woman lunged. She was inhumanly fast.
Andrea did not even twitch as she said sharply, "4289 kneel."
With a inarticulate cry, the woman commanded fell to her knees.
Andrea had always been compassionate, however. Time had provided a kind of strength, which allowed her to hide it some, but she still felt it strongly. She let her voice carry the feeling, "They installed an owners protocol. I activated it. I had the choice not to, of course. But I thought, perhaps, you would not want this in the hands of a stranger. You must know, that it is ... about as permanent as such things can be. Death do us part, Miranda. And even then... I still hear my mistress' voice sometimes."
The editor's head snapped up and she stared at Andrea.
The young woman nodded. "It is not a story I can share, Miranda. Just know, as my mistress was where I was once, so I have also been where you are now. You may trust that I will not do to you, what I would not have done to me."
Andrea firmed her gaze as she watched the tears fall. "There is more, of course. There always is. You will grow needful. But the truth is, you can survive it, if you will be practical. Just, when the urge is upon you, try to be discrete. I or a permitted surrogate will be there for you."
Miranda's stare grew long, and Andrea let it go on until the other woman finally looked away. "Finally. Your girls are safe."'
"Ca..." She tried to get their names out, but could not get past the first syllable.
"Yes. Caroline and Cassidy. They're safe here. They know you've been through forced bioengineering. They know that they have to wait to see you. I wanted to give you a chance to decide if you want to see them as you are now... or to wait until you could speak to them.
Miranda hissed, and pressed her palms against her knees.
"4289, if you want, you may stand."
Tentatively the youthful looking woman who had been her boss in another lifetime, stood up.
Andrea was careful in her phrasing, "Do you want your daughters to see you now?"
Miranda looked away and shook her head.
"Okay. Okay." Then, because she couldn't resist it, not really, Andrea stepped closer to the woman. She laid her palm against Miranda's cheek. The silver haired woman pressed against her touch, unable to avoid the impulse. "We will make it okay, MIranda. Please, trust me in this."
- TDWP -
Andrea left Miranda to give her a chance to think and recuperate. She would check in on her in a few hours, but now wanted to go talk with the girls and let them know their mother was in safe hands. She had given Miranda her own space in the compound, one separate from others. The habit of considering her needs still rode strong in the brunette.
She crossed the courtyard and entered the main abode, first level. People scurried about on errands and business. No one stopped her, but Lisle seemed to appear magically by her side, tablet in hand, ready to take notes. Andrea did not stop walking. "So, what does the paper trail tell us?"
"How far back would you like to hear?"
"It seems 4289 has scads of frenemies, but only a few real ones- either direction. I've narrowed it down three possible persons, all with strong motives, but ones only with the actual funding to accomplish this."
"One Stephen Tomlinson. One Irv Ravitz. One Jacqueline Follet."
Andrea slowed her steps and turned to Lisle. Those were names that she hadn't heard in years. Her fist clenched and her eyes narrowed. Her enhanced intellect was already beginning to create possible scenarios for how this situation had come about. "I see. Continue."
"The paperwork begins at Herzog Bioengineering Enterprises..."
- TDWP -
Andy stared at her terminal and considered the message she'd just typed. It would not be enough, she knew, but despite what Lisle told her, she knew at least three people would be frantic to know where Miranda was. She could not let them linger in fear, but neither could she risk giving them access to more than the basic information.
Miranda and her children are alive and in safe keeping. You will be notified when Miranda will be available. Keep Runway running...
Andrea shook her head quietly and stripped out all headers, revised routes and spoofed locations. By the time she was done inputting the hacks, the letter was untraceable. Then, she pressed enter and it was away.
- TDWP -
"We do have one temporary option for communication. I am strongly considering it, as you now have the components necessary to allow the option. However, I will not have you abusing it. I can't afford the interference and neither can you."
Miranda's jaw flexed, but was listening. Her body was tense, as if each new second in this condition was a personal strike against her dignity.
Andrea had seen the reaction many times, but had never regretted it quite as much as now. Feelings she thought long sequestered conflicted with the realities of the present. She did not ignore them, but neither did she give them much footing. Too much was at stake. She could not appear weak before this woman, not before Miranda understood and was coping better.
"The original intention of bioengineering was to help people. The neural interface was designed to operate non-verbal commands and provide an alternative speech ability. I can allow the application of the technology now, while you recover and wait. Or you can sit here and stew. I had hoped that you would actually sleep, but I realize it was perhaps unrealistic of me."
The older woman glanced away from Andrea. She ignored the lump in her throat that was caused by seeing the ache in Miranda's eyes. "Understand, abuse the privilege and I will rescind it."
She spotted the brief nod and accepted it as agreement. "4289, unblock alpha two - neural interface."
"I don't feel any different." The words filled the room, dulcet, but slightly mechanical.
Miranda stepped back, looking dismayed.
"The interface allows your thoughts to be translated to local speakers via the terminal stations and when mobile, through a lapel pin. You don't have to make every thought known. More, if you will close your eyes, you may notice that you now have a menu. You may not be able to read text on paper at the moment, but you can translate it. I strongly recommend accessing the Help menu and enacting the training protocols."
Miranda's expression tightened, but she closed her eyes. Andrea watched as the woman's eyes moved under her eyelids in REM-like motions. It didn't take long. Miranda's eyelids snapped open to reveal as intense a gaze as Andrea had ever received from the woman. "I... thank you." This time the sound was narrower, more focused.
Andrea nodded. "You're welcome." She nodded at the two chairs set companionably by a window. "Let's sit down. I have some questions."
She watched as Miranda hesitated, then made the choice to be cooperative. Andrea let go of a breath that she'd been holding. She waited until the other woman was seated, and then asked, bluntly, "How the hell did you get here, Miranda?"
Stormy azure eyes found hers. The anger, Andrea absolutely understood. And the fear. She reached out and clasped Miranda's forearm. "I can only help you but so far, if you do not tell me. I can help you more, if I know where it started for you."
Miranda firmed her lips and looked away. The brunette could see the trembling. She wasn't even entirely sure that the other woman would remember, but she still had needed to at least ask.
"I had promised the girls that this time, they could come with me to a fashion week overseas. London was safe. Everyone said so."
"Almost." Miranda clasped her hands together and leaned forward. "I should have listened to Emily, but it seemed as if she were just saying the crazy rumors she'd heard from her cousins. But London had always been civilized. I couldn't imagine that any of them were true. England is no backworld country."
"It wasn't," Andy said. "But you know how rapidly things have been changing."
Miranda grimaced. "Too much. It's been unreal since you left Andrea. Technological leaps and most magazine profits down. Not Runway, but they wouldn't listen. They wanted to whore out Runway. I had to fight for them. For my models. Promised unheard of profits, if they let me do it my way. The only way to keep the magazine was to become something I never thought I'd be."
It was an unexpected revelation and Andrea knew it meant that Miranda's focus must have been precariously threatened. "And did you?" She asked the question without judgment.
Rage colored Miranda's cheeks and she refused to look at Andrea. "It took doing. Only the willing. Only the highest prices. Only the best. I sent them to get educated. Overseas, before it all went bad. Someplace prestigious. Emily found it, somehow. They all came back... ready. Irv had nothing to complain about."
Andrea blinked rapidly and looked away. "It must have been difficult."
"It was business. I just stayed focused on what is always true about business. Be the best. Demand the best. Get results. To be the standard instead of merely setting the standard. In the back of every Runway issue we included what had to be included. Stylish, slick advertisement. Quality and discrete. Nothing..." a snarl formed a curl at the edge of Miranda's lips. "... gauche. If we were to do this, we would do it right. It took three years, but by then we were firmly established as a leader in a growing industry."
"Who made you do this, Miranda?"
The woman's words were ice. "Whom else? Irv Ravitz, of course. The erstwhile Chairman of the Board."
"Shit." Andrea grimaced. "And, of course, you couldn't quit. It would have left everyone vulnerable."
"And destroyed everything, everything we'd built."
"So you continued to run the magazine, as if nothing had changed. Yet everything had."
"Yes." Miranda looked as if she wished her hands were holding something or throttling someone. "And of course, where Runway led, others quickly followed. Once we established ourselves, I was finally able to oust the bastard. But by then, it was too late. We were in business and the profits, as promised, were rolling." She sighed. "The only saving grace is that they let me continue to do it my way. I had that much pull and it turns out that even the sex industry relies on fashion."
"Thus Fashion week. In London. God." Andrea could not stop the chide, "There are reasons for the state warnings, Miranda."
"We were aware. We had guards. Everywhere. We never went anywhere without them. Not I, or my girls or my people." She continued with her story. "After the shows, we were going to take in the sights. Roy was with us. We did not go out alone Andrea. We did not."
"They shot them all. They shot him." Miranda's hands were clenched in tight fists. "I watched as he fell. God, Andrea, Roy died right before my girls' eyes as he tried to shield them. Then, then we were grabbed. I remember, fighting. Hitting people. Then, it hurt. Everything hurt."
"Stun gun, most likely. Do you remember what happened next?"
"Dark places, long rides. The girls were with me. I thought... it was a kidnapping. I hoped for it. Then we were brought to a facility. Heard them laugh about the location and what it meant. They never quite said the name and I couldn't quite see the sign. They hit my girls, pushed us away from each other. They took them away... they took them..."
"Miranda," Andrea interrupted. "You may not be ready for the girls to see you. But perhaps... would you like to see them?" This was the part she dreaded. Miranda was very protective of her daughters. She had no doubt that the woman had fought like a tiger until she could not. The sight of her under-aged children in slave collars would be a trigger, of that Andrea was certain.
"What are you not telling me, Andrea." It was the first time the other woman had used her name and the brunette felt a rush of emotions. None of which were useful to the present moment. But one thing was apparent, Miranda could still read her. Andrea wasn't sure if that boded well.
"The only reason you are in my care, Miranda, is that your children were brought to me first."
Oh, she had Miranda's attention alright. That fierce gaze was amazing. "You must understand that I had only a few choices. I could buy them or not. The paperwork on yourself and your daughters are signed and sealed. Your bio-info is in the manifest and on state records."
"Are you telling me that you bought my children as though they were common slaves."
Even mechanical, Andy could feel the iciness of the accusation. However, she met her former boss' enraged gaze with calm intractability. "Yes, Miranda, that is exactly what I'm telling you. Would you rather they had been purchased by someone who did not know who they were and did not care about their age? At least with me, they are safe and secure. Would you rather the three of you had been split? Because I assure you, you were not slotted to be sold together. Tell me, Miranda, which would you have preferred?"
She might as well have been punching the other woman; each revelation was a blow. However, there was no easy way to offer the truth. "You were, as soon as they took you into that building, no longer your own agents. Your rights were stripped by procedure and paperwork. The only saving grace is that whoever did this to you, had no interest in enhancing your daughters." Miranda whimpered, but Andrea continued on. "However, another owner would have. You may be sure of it. Their enhancements would not have favored your daughters. Mine will."
The older woman's gaze snapped back at Andrea.
"They are slaves. Their documents will always mark them and it would be way too easy for some sleazebag to try to re-enslave them without certain advantages. I have to protect them. They will receive the same benefits as others who have found their way to me. Enhanced intelligence, enhanced skills of their choice and a bio-marker that shows that they are mine. They will only receive the good, Miranda. Just as you will. Understand?"
"I..." Grief colored Miranda's skin, her expression.
"I can try and find another owner for them, if you prefer."
"Then you do understand." Andrea shook her head. "Quit being so stubborn. I am not your enemy."
"I know." The words were said quietly. "I understand."
Andrea thought it was time to bring the topic back around. "Can you think of anyone in particular who would have done this to you, Miranda?"
Ah. That did it. The older woman gave her a 'don't be stupid' look. How refreshing. "I can't imagine who would have done this to children, and I would love to be able to claim that everyone loves me, Andrea, but you know as well as I do, how much betrayal was in my previous industry. Just multiply it and you will know how many hate me now."
Ooh. And there was the zinger Andrea had been waiting for. A part of her wanted to leap on it, to grab it as an excuse to have it all out. The other part just sighed. "It was not by choice that I did not return. Your intelligence has been enhanced. Surely, you have surely figured that out by now."
Miranda, who had been winding up, crumpled. "I am..."
Andrea raised her hand. "Don't. It is unnecessary and there would have been no way for you to know. If you had, I am sure you would have tried to charge to my rescue."
"You believe that of me, even after ..."
"Miranda, I was hurt for my friend. I was confused for myself. But I soon learned how petty those worries were. Yes. I believe that of you. Do you believe it of me?"
The other woman's lip twitched into a semblance of a smile. "Belief has nothing to do with it. Apparently I am learning first hand."
Andrea's smile was also slight, but also there. "No doubt you will test all my restraint as well as my patience. However, you must be aware that there are limits to what I will allow even from you. For example, I will punish you if you are insolent, especially if there are witnesses." Miranda blinked at Andrea, whose expression remained serious and nonthreatening. She continued, "But we shall learn who you are now together. It is ... I assure you... not completely awful. Not now, any way."
"Miranda." She let the silence rest between them, then said, "I offered to let you see your daughters, but then distracted you with the details. I simply did not wish you to be caught off guard. I can offer you a display, or I can take you to a place where you can observe them in person. Would you like to see what lies outside of this room?"
"Yes." Miranda said firmly. "I would."
- TDWP -
Andrea was fairly sure, if she remembered the subtle reactions of her ex-employer, that Miranda had been both pleasantly surprised and amazed at what was there to be discovered. Her compound was expansive, a place for business, pleasure and refuge. They took a route through the well kept and beautiful courtyard, heading on a diagonal towards the east court; the training grounds.
They took an uphill incline, walking into the corner building. It was a modern facility, sleek, white but not entirely pristine. Doors to offices, classrooms and bulletin boards held notices, cartoons, motivational posters. They walked past a library and Andrea smiled as she watched Miranda slow down to look in. "This is a school," the older woman remarked. It was odd hearing the voice come from the tiny speaker hooked onto her shift, but Andrea was getting used to it.
"Yes. We conduct intensive training here, for all sorts of occupations; sex trade, media creation, accounting, computing, so on. We have labs, are part of an educational consortium, but our training facility is specialized."
"That... is an interesting list, Andrea." Miranda gazed speculatively at the younger woman.
"It gets more so. As a member of my household staff, you have full liberty to investigate the options that capture your attention. I do not place limits on my people unless it is for their safety." She gave Miranda a sly glance, "Say, perhaps you might find publishing fascinating." She hid the smile at Miranda's reaction. 'Let her absorb that,' she thought.
They had arrived. "Ah. Here we are." Andrea began to slow. "Are you sure that you don't want them to see you?"
Miranda grimaced. "I am sure." She was worried and would not articulate it. So much had been stolen from her.
Andrea could imagine the concern. "Whoever did this to you wanted you to suffer. You will know your children. I can almost guarantee it."
Miranda shot her a glance of surprise, inhaling sharply at the insight. Then she nodded. "You have thought this through."
"From several angles." Andrea propped a door open and waved Miranda into a darkened room. "Observation room. All the classrooms have one adjacent." She pointed at a set of soft chairs that were positioned toward a blank screen. "Please, have a seat."
Miranda selected one toward the middle and Andrea moved toward a flat unit by the screen. She depressed a series of buttons, and the screen opened silently, revealing the interior of a small room with desks and a smart board. A tall, curvaceous woman was at the front, writing on the board, while the girls were at desks, looking studiously at terminal monitors.
Andrea watched as Miranda shifted forward in her seat. Her hands lay flat on the ledge that was part of the border of the screen. But what was most remarkable, was the relaxing of a terrible tension that was being carried. Andrea had to revise her understanding of Miranda's body language in that moment, as her ex-boss transformed from a woman in agony, to something much more... regal.
"And what do you have my children learning?" If it had been any other person saying that, Andrea might have taken offense, but the words were delivered mildly enough for Miranda. So she responded to the tone, rather than the words.
"Right now they are being tested to determine their current scholastic aptitude. We can't chance accessing their scholastic records." Miranda nodded.
"Practical," Miranda said, as if seeing her children finally allowed her to understand things more clearly. "Someone could be watching."
"Exactly. I have no interest in revealing you too soon." Andrea said. Then she shrugged. "I did send a note to your three most faithful at Runway. I told them to carry on, until they heard from you."
Miranda exhaled slowly and Andrea observed as what seemed to be another weight lift off. It was not quite as striking, in terms of body language shift, but was also palpable. Then the silver-haired woman indicated the classroom. "The woman in there. She is striking."
"Nicolette is one of our best instructors. Her husband was the one who sold her, for being too frumpy. She was upgraded. Not that it mattered to him by then." Miranda hissed and Andrea offered a grim smile, "You've surely seen the statistics. I assure you, the drop in divorce rate is not because people suddenly wanted to stay married."
"Is everyone here ..."
"No. Not everyone. But you'll soon figure out who is and isn't. When you have a chance, look in the mirror." Miranda looked at the younger woman with an arch expression. Andrea lay her fingertip under her own right lower eyelid and gently tugged down. "You'll see a blue dot somewhere on the inner lower eyelid. That's a bio-marker. There's also one behind the right ear. One holds the genetic template information about all the changes made to you. That's the inner eyelid. Most of us are under when that one is applied." Miranda only just barely hid the flinch. It occurred to the younger woman that she must hate hearing about Andrea's experience, but the brunette was not ready to evaluate why. She continued, "The other is reserved space for the owner's bio-mark. Stings like hell when applied. It's not necessary for it to hurt, just traditional." Andrea's attention turned to Carolyn and Cassidy. "I will make sure that the girls have some anesthesia for that one. Adults, however, must deal. Traditions have a certain importance and it is certainly memorable." Andrea returned her attention to Miranda. "And I don't want you to forget to whom you belong."
If the older woman was taken aback by that statement, she did an admirable job disguising it. Or maybe she never even heard it. After Andrea's small demonstration, she had returned to looking at her daughters, a grave expression on her noble features.
- TDWP -