3.1 Slaves Who Lie

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Kessa adjusted her hat folds in preparation for work. She listened to Cherise's question in the slave tongue, and repeated it with corrections. "Where do children of the Torth dwell?"

Cherise nodded at the corrected grammar, and repeated the question in both languages.

While the humans straightened their grimy clothes, Kessa did her best to answer in the human language. "Torth do not have children."

The humans gave her a pitying look, the way they did whenever they doubted common knowledge, which was often. Margo and Cherise spoke among themselves. Kessa listened carefully. She could understand a lot of the human language, after many languages sessions with them.

"They probably lock their kids in a prison somewhere." Margo sounded dejected. She dutifully scrubbed floors and windows during their long work hours—sometimes Lynn forgot to work—but she looked dingier and sadder with every wake cycle that passed. All three of the humans wore grimy rags. Most of their fine clothes had been bartered away in exchange for better footgear and fresh food. They'd bundled their hair under scarves in order to hide it from dangerous slaves, and to fit in better with the slave population.

"That makes sense." Cherise sounded disgusted. "They hate noise, and babies cry. But Thomas would know enough to be quiet. I don't think they'd lock him up with other children."

The humans often spoke of their world and their missing companions, especially the mind reader who would supposedly rescue them. Most of what they said ranged from fantastical to impossible. "Thomas is a child?" Kessa asked in the human language. "Truly?"

"Yes," Margo, and Cherise nodded confirmation.

"That is very strange." Kessa had been about to lead the way out of their bunk-room, but she found herself gawking in disbelief. She closed her beak. "I will tell other people. They may be more . . . more . . ." She searched for a fitting word in the human language.

"Helpful?" Margo guessed.

"Curious?" Cherise guessed.

"Curious." Kessa liked that word, and she thought it fit better. "They may help more."

She hurried out of the room, knowing the humans would follow, as always. They seemed to have poor memories for finding their way around the city. Anyhow, she didn't like the way most of the bunk-room's occupants looked at the humans. Margo kept returning to illegal topics no matter how often Kessa warned her not to.

A gang of brutish slaves blocked the tunnel. Hulking slaves from the place known as Mer Nerct leaned against the curved walls, their imposing heads balanced atop triple-jointed necks. Furry govki and lesser species lounged between them. A few ummins blocked the stinking sewage gutters.

Kessa hesitated. She'd seen vigilante gangs like this, and their purpose was always to rip apart slaves who had wronged a lot of people.

"I don't think they're here for us." She gestured for the humans to stay where they were, while she timidly approached the gang. "Let me learn what they want," she said in the human tongue. "I will signal if it is safe."

Two of the gang members were familiar faces from her bunk-room. Ghelvae, the bitter old ummin, stood in front with his thin arms folded across his filthy rags. He looked smug as Kessa approached. "There she is," he said to everyone listening. "Kessa the gullible idiot."

Kessa didn't bother to hide her impatience. Everyone in the city seemed to want to insult her. Slaves hassled the humans, throwing feces at them, and they gave Kessa a hard time whenever she blocked their attacks. It was nothing new. No matter how often she explained that the humans were friendly and harmless, most slaves refused to believe her.

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