1.2 Electrified

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Alex wondered if Pung knew how to use the blaster glove. It fit the alien poorly, with the wrong number of fingers. He shielded it, clearly worried that someone would steal it from him.

Only telepaths were supposed to wear blaster gloves. They could cause a gory, explosive death just by pointing and thumbing. Alex had survived every arena battle with the dark expectation that he would fail and get blasted to death.

"Please." Thomas sounded pained. "Just give me my glove. I'm not going to attack. I'll just dial in a code to turn off the barrier."

Margo scanned the jungle, with its vines and sandy floor. "Why is there a barrier?"

"To keep the farm slaves corralled in their farm," Thomas said. "This region is all farms, and the hunters may assume that we won't get past any of the electrified border fences." He gestured as if everyone could see the invisible fence. "They won't know that I've memorized some entry codes."

"You did?" Margo studied him. "Why this one?"

"I memorized several million codes," Thomas replied. "I was bored one afternoon."

Alex wondered how risky that had been. Thomas must have subconsciously guessed that a few million codes would be useful.

Margo gave him a look of incredulity. "How long did that take you?"

"Fifteen minutes."

Alex tried not to stare at Thomas, and marvel. No wonder he was so emotionless. A memory like that could crush the childhood out of anyone. Thomas must have absorbed Torth life experiences at a hyper-intense rate, plugged into their network of minds. It was a wonder he was still sane. It was a miracle that he'd been able to rescue anybody. How human was he, beneath a burden of knowledge that must be more crippling than any disease?

Thomas gave him a resentful look, and Alex knew that his thoughts might as well be broadcast.

"Do you see those dead animals?" Thomas gestured, and they all looked towards the jungle floor. Unidentifiable clumps of dead fur lay aligned in a row.

"That's because the fence is electrified," Thomas said. "Give me the glove so I can turn it off."

Light flashed in the undergrowth. Something small and furry dropped to the ground, dead.

"I remember a place like this," Kessa said, gazing at the dead animals. "On the slave farm where I grew up, no one could wander far."

She gently touched Pung's shoulder and spoke to him in a coaxing tone, in their language of clicks and murmurs. After a moment, Pung yanked off the blaster glove. He handed it to Thomas, his hooded eyes full of mistrust.

Alex didn't like to think about Torth technology. They had invisible electrified fences, windows that showed distant views, and furniture that defied gravity. They customized blaster gloves for children to use, so someone like Thomas could murder a slave on a whim.

He forced himself to relax, to accept the unfairness. The Torth had forced him to wear a helmet that spurred him into rages and self-loathing despair. He'd be damned if he went back to that mental state. Not even in his memory.

Thomas tapped the palm display with professional speed. A mesh-like fence materialized in thin air, billowing in the breeze, blocking their path. Electric sparks shimmered along its metallic surface.

"There we go," Thomas said.

With another tap of his display, the dancing sparks died.

"Weptolyso," Thomas said, driving forward. "Come up front. I need you to lift the fence so we can drive under it."

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