2.8 In Search of Safety

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The maze of dark, overcrowded, stinky alleyways seemed endless, and Margo guessed they'd never find their way out again without a guide. But the hall guard seemed uninterested in communication. It had a job to do, and apparently that was all it cared to do.

Lynn seemed like she wanted to say something. Several times, she opened her mouth to speak, then seemed to change her mind. The loss of her son must weigh heavily on her.

Privately, Margo wondered if Alex had enough emotional fortitude to survive among alien strangers. She was his age, but she had a wealth of experiences that he'd never had. Volunteer work with inner city kids, and awkward after-school clubs, and hospital work. She'd seen blood and death up close. Alex hadn't left his mansion in ten years.

On the other hand, he should be easy to find. He would stand out even among bizarre aliens. "I think we'll find Alex," Margo said.

"I've never lost track of him." Lynn slouched, hands in her pockets. "There's never been a time where I didn't know where he was."

Margo had one reassuring thought, which was that Alex would cooperate with whatever the Torth wanted him to do and therefore have a chance at survival. But that was as much insult as reassurance. Never mind his impressive scuffle with the guards; Margo suspected that was a one-time fluke, triggered because he'd seen his mother directly threatened. 

"I can't figure out why the Torth put him in chains," Lynn said. "You'll never meet a kinder person. If the Torth can read minds, they must know that about him."

"It is strange," Margo agreed. Alex had gone into that cage docilely, like an obedient slave.

"He doesn't even like violent video-games," Lynn said. "The thought of harming someone would never even cross his mind."

Margo zipped up her parka and breathed through the fabric, trying to filter out the stench of the tunnel. "Thomas liked him, and I'd trust his opinion over a zillion Torth."

"Yeah." Lynn sounded reluctant. "I think Thomas understood Alex right away. He nailed it. Alex thinks too little of himself, and that's his biggest flaw."

They trudged for a while, listening to the babble of alien voices. Margo pretended not to notice the hostile stares. She was increasingly aware of her clothing, her hair, her overall Torth-like appearance. She almost wished that her slave collar would start glowing, just to emphasize her slave status. Maybe she needed to start wearing tattered rags.

"There's something you need to know about me," Lynn said.

The solemnity of her tone caught Margo's attention. She glanced at the older woman.

"Pancreatic cancer." Lynn touched her midsection. "I have less than six months to live."

Margo didn't want to believe it. She hoped it was a tasteless joke. But when she met Lynn's gaze, she saw resignation. "Oh, no." Now she understood why Lynn was so quick to give up on life. "Oh. I'm so sorry."

Cherise turned to look at Lynn with concern. "Sorry," she said in her quiet voice.

Margo didn't like how many alien slaves were noticing them. "Does Alex know?" she asked, just to keep the conversation going.

"No." Lynn hung her head. "I figured I had enough time to tell him." Her bitter tone made it clear that she no longer believed that.

"You still do." Margo hoped that was more than an empty reassurance. "We'll find him."

"I've been in and out of St. Andrew's Hospital for months," Lynn said. "Each time, I combined it with a shopping trip, so Alex figured I'd been shopping, but I think he was starting to suspect. He noticed that I've lost weight. And I'd been busier than usual. I was making . . . well . . . final preparations."

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