1.7 Ignorance, pt 2

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"I'm sorry," Thomas said in the alien's slave tongue. The cadence felt strange and brutish. "I am not a Torth. I will not harm you."

This time, the slave understood what he'd said. It dropped the tray in shock. A thick liquid, something like lentil soup, splashed across the floor, and the slave frantically mopped the mess with linen napkins. Thomas sensed its panicked thoughts. Messes were bad. Messes could mean death for a slave. Gyatch felt more frightened and confused than ever, because Torth only spoke commands, never apologies.

"I am not a Torth. I'm sort of a prisoner here." Thomas wondered how he could convince the alien slave. Gyatch dared not trust him, and dared not displease him.

Normally, Thomas would not let anyone see him as weak. But he phrased a begging question. "Will you please lift my case for me?" He said it the way slaves spoke to each other, rather than using the command form of the language.

The alien obeyed.

Thomas reminded himself that this slave shouldn't be his caretaker. It was obeying because it feared death—like Thomas himself. Neither one of them was likely to live to old age. Fear of death was the goad that drove Thomas to work late hours and endure painful physical therapy sessions and injections of NAI-12.

"Thanks. Put it on my lap," he said in the slave tongue, wishing he didn't need to ask a slave to do things.

Gyatch didn't seem to mind at all. It felt safe, being useful to a Torth.

Even so, Thomas rolled up his sleeve on his own, and then he lifted his injection pen and pressed it to his bare arm. Micro-gravity made everything easier than normal. If only Cherise could see him. It looked as if he'd suddenly gained a lot of strength.

His dehydration made it nearly impossible to find a vein. He took a guess and hoped the pain meant he'd succeeded.

"Do you have any water I can drink?" he asked Gyatch.

The alien offered a squeeze bottle with an attached straw. It smelled fruity. The beverage might be something innocent, like apple juice, but for all Thomas knew, it might be something toxic to humans. He began to ask . . . and paused, because he sensed other people enter his range of telepathy.

Torth. Three of them, but three seemed like an army, because each Torth contained a whispery horde of distant Torth voyeurs.

At least Thomas and Gyatch were safe, because the Torth were on the far side of the quartz-stone wall . . . which rippled and vanished.

Just like that, as if it were smoke.

The three Torth, all adults, stood in a glowing hallway, athletic physiques enhanced by high-tech bodysuits. Thomas was used to mastering any technology he saw, but here he was a neophyte, unable to even guess whether he was on a spaceship or an alien world.

One of the Torth aimed a thought at Thomas, in English. Done with that slave?

Thomas stared at her. This was the same woman who had visited him outside the Hollander Home, but he barely recognized her, with her hair curling like smoke in the low gravity, and her formidable bodysuit. All three of these Torth seemed to have diverse ethnicities, but identical eyes: milk-white, wet, and empty. No pupils.

Thomas could see through their eyes, so he knew they weren't blind. They saw every pore of his skin, every hair on his head. Rapid-fire images overlaid everything they saw, apparently streamed from distant minds they were connected to. These Torth shared everything they saw with distant Torth, who likewise shared everything they saw. The sheer volume of imagery that ran through them was staggering. To Thomas, their minds seemed to sparkle.

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