Torth vehicles could be as quiet as wind, so Kessa wished trees weren't blocking her view. They would take everyone by surprise when they showed up.
They'd harvested adolescents from her slave farm by surprise. Village elders tried to predict the regular arrivals of Torth, and what they would collect each time, but the alignment of the moons meant nothing, and neither did lucky eggshell shards. No one could guess when the Torth would show up on a slave farm, or when they would take more than the usual valuables.
"You've invited deadly trouble, Irarjeg." The chief elder seethed. She hardly glanced at Kessa's friends. All of her attention was on Irarjeg and his blue-painted crew.
"I saw the big one command sand to rise up and fly!" Irarjeg pointed to Alex. "We all saw." He looked to his crew for confirmation, and some nodded in agreement. They were all dusty from the sand explosion.
Two junior elders from the village exchanged baffled looks, but the chief elder remained firm. "Torth have many devices," she said. "I'm sure they tricked you, and I'm sure it was easy. You should know better than to trust anything they say or do."
"They are not ordinary Torth," Irarjeg said emphatically. "Do you really wish to infuriate someone who can bury us alive under sand?"
"You are a fool." The chief elder gave him a disgusted look. She signaled, and her delegation raised their slingshots. "We will not shelter or help any of these supposed runaways. And Irarjeg, if you keep arguing, you can die in the wilderness."
Irarjeg gave Kessa a helpless look. But although he had misjudged his people, Kessa figured the elders must have good reasons to reject strangers. Everyone she'd seen on this slave farm looked healthy. No one was scrawny, and no one limped from a badly healed injury. The elders must be doing something right.
"Please, wise ones." Kessa stepped forward. "None of us are Torth. We are being hunted by the—"
The chief elder interrupted. "I'm sure they told you what to say, city slave."
Her people fitted rocks into their slingshots.
"I speak to you of my own volition," Kessa said. "The words I speak are my own. We—"
"That scar around your neck was made over a lifetime of slavery," the chief elder cut in. "And you look as old as the desert. You're no runaway. They took off your collar, and fooled you into believing it's real freedom." Her tone hardened. "Get away from my village. Get out of our slave farm, or we will hunt you down like animals."
One of the other elders sounded glum. "If they're really being hunted by Torth, it seems we'll do the hunting."
Kessa struggled to think of an argument, but she would never persuade those who believed she was a mindless slave. She was all too aware of her filthy rags and scrawny condition.
"Kessa," Alex said. "Will you translate for me?"
She nodded, although he would never persuade the elders that he was a slave, or anything other than a gigantic threat that needed to be gotten rid of. He wouldn't be able to terrorize them into compliance.
But Alex surprised her.
"Your highness," he said, speaking directly to the chief elder. "If you help us survive, then I promise, I will obey your commands. I will do anything in my power to help your village."
Kessa held his gaze, making sure he was serious.
"Sweetie," Lynn said cautiously. "Maybe you shouldn't promise to enslave yourself. That's a little much."
"We're asking them to risk their lives to save us," Alex told her. "If I can grant their wishes, I will grant them." He picked at the metal skirt he wore. "I wish I could offer more than promises, but I have nothing else."
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Colossus Rising [#SFF] [#Galactic] [#Complete]Science Fiction
All spacefaring civilizations are absorbed by Megacosm users, or else enslaved by them. Anyone who dares to question the elected rulers of the Megacosm--or worse, defy them--will suffer death by torture. Only Thomas escaped that fate. He severed hi...