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Kessa led the way between stacks of junk and bartering slaves, and hoped the din would make it impossible for anyone else to overhear what Margo kept saying.

"I need to see Alex," Margo said again. "You promised to show me where the prison is."

Kessa wished she could take back her promise. Instead of plotting something impossible, Margo ought to be safely hidden with Cherise and Lynn.

"If you won't take me to the prison during our first meal break," Margo said, "then I'll leave on my own. I'll find it myself."

A slave with heroic aspirations was a dead slave. "Think about how Cherise and Lynn will survive, if you die," Kessa said.

Cherise and Lynn were hidden in the bowels of sewage shafts. Pung had enlisted his gang friends to make sure that no one would report the humans, with their active-duty glowing collars. That way, they'd have a few wake cycles to lose their violent rage. They needed to avoid Torth until their minds had healed a little bit.

"The only reason I'm not with them, down there in the sewers, is because we'll move faster without Lynn." Margo looked ready to fight.

Her righteous anger reminded Kessa of her long-ago mate. She had not been able to talk Cozu out of his plots, either. 

Kessa stopped, which forced Margo to stop and look at her. "You look determined. That is not a good look for a slave. If you cannot be good, then you must stay hidden."

Margo stood with more confidence than any slave had a right to. "I'll take any risk to speak to Alex. I'm done obeying laws just so I can look forward to a life of drudge work. Okay? You can't talk me out of this. So stop trying."

She walked past Kessa, towards the distant light of the Tunnel mouth. There was no way an elderly ummin could stop her.

Resigned, Kessa caught up. "I will take you during our meal break," she said. "But only if you are a good slave. You should think about drudge work today. Convince yourself that everything is as usual. No matter where I lead you, pretend that we are on our way to Leftovers Hall for a typical meal-time."

Margo trotted alongside her. "Thank you." She glanced at Kessa, giving her grateful and curious looks. "Have you . . . ?" She proceeded with caution. "Have you done this before?"

"Once," Kessa said.

Margo looked fascinated. "You got away with doing something the Torth have a problem with?"

"I was the only one." Many bright-eyed slaves had plotted with Cozu, eager to stow away on a cargo transport and escape their city. "Everyone else was hunted and killed," Kessa said. "I am certain that some protected me by never thinking of me."

That must have given Margo a lot to think about, because she went silent for the rest of their commute to work.

Soon Kessa had a lot to think about, as well, because the upper city seemed to be in the middle of a mass exodus. Traffic was more hectic than she had ever seen, mostly hovercarts laden with Torth and supplies, all streaming in one direction. Perhaps this was the best time to act unusual. All the Torth seemed distracted, zipping by on fast-moving platforms, not paying attention to foot traffic or slaves.

Kessa's owner nearly ran her over. When she recognized her personal slave, she piloted her hovercart into a lounge area and waggled her fingers in an impatient beckoning command.

It was the start of Kessa's work shift, but ominous and unusual. Kessa gave Margo an apologetic look. Together, they boarded the hovercart, and obeyed signals to stand in the rear, between supplies and other slaves. Three Yellow Ranks sat up front.

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