4.8 The Honor of Slaves

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Everything was slick and polished to perfection, and the sterile air was enough to remind Pung that he was nowhere near his Tunnels. Most slave species would have been unable to find their way through this clean maze of utility shafts, but he was an ummin, so he had memorized the holographic map without really trying. Soon he emerged in a vast, darkened room.

He lay down on the ledge and peered downward.

Sure enough, the immense bed was below him, round and covered with embroidered velvet blankets and pillows. But the obese Blue Rank was not asleep, as his owner had implied. Her data tablet glowed as she did unknown things on its surface.

The hiss of air reminded him of what his owner had said about air circulation. The tiny hoops didn't look like the big fans that slaves used to cool their owners in the desert. Pung held his fingers over one, and there could be no doubt that it was a small yet mighty wind. He supposed that a larger version would disrupt the quietude.

He pulled out the faintly glowing vial. Until now, he had not flagrantly broken any laws. He had considered stealing from a Torth, but he had not actually done so yet, nor had he made plans to do so. The plans were all his owner's doing. His owner had commanded him to carry an illegal weapon and illegal technology, and to illegally trespass and illegally deceive bodyguards, but it was still possible that Pung might be considered an innocent pawn. He would not be innocent if he went ahead and did this.

Maybe he should simply hide. He gazed at the vial, trembling. Could he lurk in underused palace gardens, and survive in underbrush until he found a way to sneak out? His owner might become murderous, but what could he do?

Anything. 

If there was one thing Pung had learned about his owner, it was that the Yellow was unpredictable. His owner might commit more crimes, and he might get caught. He might alert every Torth in the city about the identity of his slave accomplice. Then it wouldn't matter how well Pung hid. Every hall guard would be ordered to find him, and even the friendly gangs would turn him in, because hall guards were the real power in the Tunnels, and they were ultimately controlled by the Torth.

Maybe his owner wasn't planning to stay in the city. He had packed for a journey. If Pung secretly followed his owner to the transport bay ... if he could stow away in whatever vehicle his owner chose ...

What a crazy, terrifying idea! Runaway slaves only existed in stories.

The boulevards might be empty enough for Pung to get away with shadowing his owner. But he was likely to get caught and executed, and besides, what sort of friend abandoned everyone in his life? He owed the human slaves a favor. Vice versa, they owned him one. He had debts and favors to collect from half the gangs in the Tunnels. And he couldn't just vanish without any explanation to Kessa or his other friends.

Every good, obedient slave knew that escape was wrong. Pung deserved to rot in prison for allowing himself to daydream such frivolous, impossible fantasies. No more of that. Obedience was a virtue. All he needed to do was focus on what his owner had commanded him to do, and nothing else.

He took several deep breaths. With trembling hands, he unscrewed the vial. Not daring to breathe, he thrust it in front of an air circulator, and watched everyone in room below.

Three slaves in livery stood in attendance near the huge bed. They looked ready to fetch anything for the Indigo Blue Torth, but after a few moments, they began to look sleepy. One suppressed a yawn. 

Their owner lay back, and the glowing tablet slipped out of her hands. She began to lightly snore.

Pung waited until the three attendant slaves stumbled, pinched themselves, and finally fell over. Their collars still glowed blue for a work shift, but they looked like they were in a deep sleep.

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