4.10 Pursuit of Knowledge

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At times, like now, Kessa wished she could force the humans to learn every limit of being a slave. "You cannot escape," she told Margo yet again. "How many slaves do you see walk around freely in the city while off-duty?"

Margo spoke through clenched teeth. "I don't care."

Her look of betrayal made Kessa feel ashamed, as if she had somehow wronged Margo by asking the hall guard to block her path. Weptolyso leaned in the doorway with his spiky arms folded. At least he didn't seem weighed down by guilt or shame. To him, this was just his job.

Really, they ought to be fast asleep. But Kessa would stay awake for as long as she needed to. "We belong in a bunk-room during our sleep period," she patiently told Margo. "If you leave the Tunnels right now, your collar will hurt you." She touched her neck, recalling the awful pinching sensation. "It will hurt for days."

"You have no right to make decisions for me," Margo said furiously. "The only thing I have left is my free will. That's it." She plucked at her rags. "My clothes, my dignity, my home? Everything I have is gone. And now you're claiming my last shred of freedom. I can't ..." She seemed to struggle for words. "I know you're trying to save me. I love you for it, Kessa. But I can't live like this."

"You can," Kessa insisted. "I lost my home, my family, my mate. Yet I am still here."

Margo locked her fingers together, as if to keep herself from hurting Kessa. "No one deserves to live like this," she said in a measured tone. "You accept horrible things because you don't know any...." She stopped herself, but Kessa could guess what was left unspoken. You don't know any better. 

Margo believed that Kessa could never comprehend all of the wonderful things the humans had lost. Those who fell from paradise were fundamentally different from lifelong slaves, who could never comprehend their superior knowledge.

Well, maybe that was true. Written communication was too complex for Kessa to memorize in a few nighttime sessions. Maybe she ought to feel inferior due to her ignorance, but instead, she felt her usual burning desire to know everything. She wished she could read minds. 

If only Margo understood how important knowledge was. Such a treasure should not be thrown away or killed. "Please," Kessa said. "Stay for one more work shift."

Weptolyso stabbed his spiky arm across the doorway as someone tried to squirm past him. 

"Kessa!" a familiar voice gasped. Pung peered past the guard's arm, gasping for breath as if he'd run all the way from the city above. "Humans! Come with me. I have something to show you."

Whatever emergency Pung was panicked about, it was the wrong time for it. Kessa shook her head at him.

"Humans, these are for you." Pung pushed ornately folded robes through the space beneath Weptolyso's arm. "Payment of my favor. You can repay me by coming with me right now."

Kessa hissed. Those robes were far too fine to belong to slaves. Pung had gone too far, and instead of smuggling food from kitchen refuse, he had stolen from a Torth. This was a night of bad luck. Everyone she knew was possessed by spirits of mischief.

"I don't believe it." Margo sounded dazed as she stared at the bundle of robes.

"Believe it," Pung said. "Look." He waved a Torth device, and his collar suddenly went dark. 

Kessa stared. A slave should not be able to do that. 

"I can deactivate collars," Pung said, breathless. "Now come with me! We have no time for explanations."

Cherise strode forward and snatched the robes. Her face was full of deadly determination. Lynn leaped to her feet.

"Stop!" Kessa shoved herself in front of the doorway, blocking it along with the hall guard. "You cannot escape. This is a trick." How could Pung be such a witless fool? If they left the Tunnels and tried to escape, everyone in the city would stop them. 

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