1.10 Speechless

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One of the silent people pushed Thomas in his wheelchair, and Margo nearly wept with relief. He looked unharmed.

But that was only from a distance. As they approached the cage, Margo saw how furious and terrified he was. The silent people must have done something to make him feel that way. Splashes and specks covered him, as if he'd sat near a canister of juice that had exploded.

"Are you—?" She meant to ask if he was okay, but agony tore through her neck and head, and her words became a wrenching shriek. Someone else, probably Lynn, spoke and screamed.

The next thing Margo knew, she was falling. The pain had made her lose her grip on the cage, and she plummeted. Her bones would shatter. This might be her last second of life.

Someone caught her, and it took her a few moments to realize that she was safe. She hadn't slammed into hard steel. Alex held her in his immense arms. He must have strained his chains to their utmost limit.

"Thank—" As soon as words welled in Margo's throat, agony tore through her with crippling ferocity. It made her cry. She was crying like a baby in front of everyone, helpless and sick. Alex began to say something, and then he grunted in pain.

When the blinding pain ebbed away, it left Margo terrified that it might return at any second. She opened her mouth to ask a question, then stopped herself. Her voice was dangerous. It might lead to raging agony.

Thomas gave her a deliberate nod, and made a zipper gesture across his mouth. He pointed to his neck.

Margo touched the alien collar around her own neck. Thomas wasn't wearing one.

Apparently he wasn't daring to speak, either. He looked frustrated. If only he could project his thoughts, the way telepaths did in TV shows and books. But all he could do was absorb.

Alex set Margo on the floor, and supported her gently until she stood on her own. He looked worried, but his worry was divided between Margo and his mother. And then the cage wall, as it rolled aside in utter silence.

Margo tracked its progress, wondering if this was an invitation to escape, or a cruel trick.

"Follow," Thomas said in a taut voice. "Don't cause trouble, or you will be . . . " His voice grew faint, and he swallowed. "Or you will be killed." His gaze flitted from Cherise to Margo, and he looked haunted. "They mean it. They're not messing—" He winced and shut up.

The silent people must have forced him to speak, and then to stop. They'd done this without showing any hint of their intentions, without any body language or facial expressions or sound. They were far too comfortable with the way Thomas perceived things. These people must be mind readers. Margo recognized one woman, the blonde who'd showed up in the driveway of the Hollander Home.

Thomas, Margo thought to get his attention. Why are we here?

Thomas gave her a frustrated look. He surely knew the answer, but it was too complicated to explain in pantomime. Meanwhile, the silent people began to walk away, one by one, moving with eerie coordination. They had the expressions of mannequins. The blond woman pushed Thomas away.

Where are you going? Margo thought.

No one answered, of course. The milk-white eyes of the silent people made it impossible to know what they were thinking, what they were looking at, or whether they could see at all. Perhaps they peered through the eyes of anyone within their telepathic range, the way Thomas did. Margo's skin crawled at the idea of them using her own eyes and ears.

Cherise was the first to venture out of the cage. She might be obeying the command to "follow," but Margo figured she was trying to keep Thomas in sight.

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