4.15 A Matter of Justice

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"Stop!"

"Turn around!"

Thomas ramped up the speed, and ignored the runaway slaves. They hadn't been worth rescuing. Had they? To die among them meant an ignoble, pathetic end. And no matter where he went, his death was inevitable within days or months. His few remaining vials of NAI-12 were too little, too late. So why not die among his people, the Torth? At least the Torth didn't hate him. Trillions might join his mind while he suffered and died, and surely that was better than dying alone.

The runaway hall guard took a menacing step towards Thomas, but paused when he saw the lack of reaction. Nobody quite had the nerve to attack an insane telepath.

The ummin named Kessa spoke to Thomas in her careful English. "If we go back," she said, "we will all die. Including you."

Couldn't they see that he was dead already? Whether he died from his genetic illness, or death by torture, the way his nameless mother had died ... he deserved it. Not only had he betrayed his people—not only had he committed inexcusable crimes—but he was a criminal by the standards of slaves species, as well. His innocence was gone.

"At least I'd die with a shred of honor," Thomas pointed out.

The valor of returning would make him memorable, as far as renegades went. Maybe the Torth Majority would allow him to bask in the Megacosm in between bouts of torture.

He yearned to ascend right now. But few Torth would deign to share their minds with a renegade criminal, and those would be hunters like the Swift Killer. Not the bliss he wanted. First, he needed to prove how much he regretted his crimes, so the Torth Majority might show him a tiny bit of mercy. Then he might have a chance of inhabiting stronger, better minds for a few wonderful moments before he got tortured to death.

Lynn shoved his hoverchair against the railing. "We can figure out how to drive this thing ourselves."

She pushed glyphs, but of course the controls were purposely complex, to prevent slaves from figuring out how to operate machinery. Everyone could see by her frantic expression that nothing was working for her.

"Are you going to send us all to die?" Margo asked Thomas sadly. "Are you going to hang Alex back on that cross?"

The words made a sharp feeling twist inside of him. It felt like being confronted by the Torth Majority. Hadn't he left the city for more than one reason? His old promise to his human foster family might be tenuous, but the way the Torth Majority had forced him to hurt Cherise ... to sentence Alex to death ... that bothered him.

Chaining up Alex to die ought to be unjust to the Torth as well as to slaves. If Thomas was certain of anything, it was that. He should not be relatively free and healthy while Alex lay injured on the floor. Alex was a dangerous Yeresunsa, but Thomas was also a Yeresunsa, which meant he was also dangerous. They ought to share the same fate.

Had the Torth Majority made a grave error in judgment?

Thomas reached for the control glyphs, and they sloughed off speed. He couldn't just ignore that question. It felt enormously important. Maybe he was flawed, to care so much about justice, but when he imagined letting the Torth Majority finish killing Alex ...

"No," he realized. "I guess I can't do that."

The runaway slaves watched him with wariness. Their stolen hovercart drifted in a trough between hills, pushed by the wind.

Thomas felt similarly unanchored. His stomach twisted into new and painful knots. He felt like a bottle under pressure, looking from the glowing horizon to the opposing darkness.

The city, or the unknown. The metropolitan glow beckoned to him, offering familiarity, and offering to torture him until his mind broke.

The opposite direction was a vast, mysterious future where anything might lurk.

On the floor, Alex stirred. "Thomas?" he said weakly.

Lynn gave him a motherly look of concern. "You need rest, sweetie."

Thomas needed to decide what to do, where to go, but there was more at stake than eight lives. If he helped the runaway slaves survive, and if they later killed people—if Alex went berserk and destroyed a city—then the Torth Majority would have been right all along. That would prove that Alex's execution had been justice after all.

Thomas didn't want to be responsible for a deadly rampage that resulted in millions of deaths. Maybe he should connect to the Megacosm right now, confess his crimes, and let the Torth Empire take care of business.

Then again, if Thomas enabled an epic disaster, that would prove that the Torth Majority should have condemned him alongside Alex from the start.

But they hadn't.

The Majority made a mistake, the inner depths of his mind whispered.

Justice should matter.

Starlight bore down on them. Alex made an effort to sit up, to see everyone, chains rattling. Unlike the others, he emanated gratitude, untarnished by any hint of resentment or anxiety. "I owe you my life," he told them all. "You saved me."

*** Two chapter update, because HELL YEAH! --> --> --> Posting the next one within a few minutes. ***

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